Iain Dale

In the Tory party of old, elections for the chairmanship of the back-bench 1922 Committee, which plays an important role in organising leadership elections, would have been conducted with all due decorum and the odd nudge and wink. Sadly, those days have departed. A fascinating letter has come into my possession, extolling the virtues of John Butterfill, the largely anonymous MP for Bournemouth West. Penned by the unlikely duo of Cecil Parkinson and Steven Norris, the letter has been sent to all Tory MPs. One joked to me that Butterfill must be going for the "leg-over vote". So amateurish is the Butterfill campaign that the letter was even sent to his rivals Gillian Shephard and Michael Spicer.

If I were Spicer, I might well feel a little annoyed at Parky's endorsement of Butterfill. Central Office insiders recall the days in the 1980s when Spicer was Parkinson's deputy chairman at Central Office. Their eyes glisten over when reminded of the millions spent by this fearsome duo on a new computer system that didn't work.

I was on the show that exposed Richard Caborn, the new sports minister. He was a guest on Radio 5's Sunday Service, which I presented with Charlie Whelan and Clare Balding. As all the world now knows, we asked him some sports general knowledge questions and he didn't get one right. We would never have had that kind of fun with Denis MacShane, our original choice for the programme and a newly appointed junior minister at the Foreign Office. The euro-fanatic MacShane readily agreed to come on, but was then pulled by the FO mandarins. I'm sure the names of European leaders and capital cities would easily trip off his tongue - and all in the correct accent.

After little more than a week, the Tory leadership contest has already turned into a soap opera. We have Michael Portillo playing the handsome but flawed hero, with Ken Clarke as the long-lost brother who wants to come home but his family won't have him. Iain Duncan Smith is played by Ken Barlow (without the hair), while Ann Widdecombe's matriarch character has sadly been written out after firing a gun that blew up in her face. And now comes the rugged figure of David Davis to rescue the ailing family firm from ruin. When he was a government whip, Davis was known as DD of the SS, or Lord Vader (as in Darth). So to say he has a reputation for getting his own way is somewhat of an understatement. No wonder he counts Alastair Campbell among his best friends.

The publishers Fourth Estate must be expecting Jim Naughtie's forthcoming book about Blair and Brown, The Rivals, to be an absolute corker. The latest Bookseller magazine carries a hugely expensive glossy insert about the book that must have cost close on £10,000. Normally, publishers only spend this kind of dosh on Jackie Collins or J K Rowling, so I wonder what Routledge-style "killer fact" Naughtie has up his sleeve. Bearing in mind his rumoured £300,000 advance, expectations are already very high.

Nice to see the Hansard Society publishing a worthy tome on the future of parliament and how to make government more accountable. Unfortunately, I suspect that few people will ever get to read it, at a price of £35.

I hear that the editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon, has formed an unlikely alliance with the right-wing Tory MP John Bercow, whom he challenged at the election for his Buckingham seat. It seems they are looking to emulate Norman Tebbit and Austin Mitchell by touting a political-debate programme idea to TV broadcasters.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to the launch of a new book on the future of the centre left called The Progressive Century by the new Labour honchos Neil Sherlock and Neal Lawson. However, I wasn't so sure about the suitability of the former GLC headquarters as the venue. Echoes of the past, I would have thought, rather than a vision of the future.

Iain Dale is the owner of Politico's Bookstore. Paul Routledge is on holiday

This article appears in the 25 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The slow death of Tory England