Thursday, November 08, 2007

Top 10 Tory twits

The increasingly unmissable Tara Hamilton-Miller has produced a list of the top 10 Tory twits for this week's New Statesman. It must have been difficult to limit it to just 10.

1 During party conference in October 2003, Iain Duncan Smith was trying to get through what was to be his last few weeks as Tory leader. Sky News political editor, Adam Boulton, asked troubled Iain how he would react if he was told that the necessary 25 MPs had called for a vote of confidence in him. IDS mumbled something about a phone booth. Boulton looked confused. IDS repeated: "Go and put them in a telephone box"; adding: "Is this live?" Two bewildered press officers stood by. One reassured the other: "I think the phone box thing must be an old-fashioned phrase we're too young to remember."

2 In 2003, the constituents of Slough were treated to two possible parliamentary candidates who had to stand down. Under the headline "Tory gun nut", the Sun newspaper featured photographs of candidate Robert Oulds lounging on a bed holding a revolver and posing with an AK-47. At the time, many in Conservative Central Office were more concerned about his shoddy bed linen. The second was Adrian Hilton, who wrote an article suggesting that the EU was a "Papist plot" and was forced to resign three weeks after his selection.

3 A shadow secretary of state, who shall remain nameless, decided to sing and briefly weep to a Radiohead song in a northern university student union (determined, clenched, porcine fist punch ing the air during the rocky bit). She sang with such feeling that even the greasy left-wing undergraduates in the smoky basement were moved enough to keep the experience private.

4 Well-liked MP How-ard Flight was forced to resign after he was taped at a private Tory meeting saying that the £35bn spending cuts recommended by the James review into tax would be "just a start" for an incoming Tory government. This is not totally mad. What is questionable was his appearance live on Newsnight four years previously. Howard talked about tax cuts, wearing full white-tie.

5 David Davies, MP for Monmouth, is often confused with the shadow home secretary David Davis. Last year, the nation woke up to Mr Davies on GMTV talking about why every home in Britain should have a stun gun. A normal domestic scene in his kitchen was interrupted, as boyish Davies brandished a Taser gun at the camera and looked menacing. His smiling family tucked into cornflakes.

6 Tories love to combine their obsessions. In 1983, Lady Olga Maitland caused a stir when she managed to amalgamate her two pet subjects, nuclear weapons and families. She considered calling the group Families for the Bomb, but instead settled for "Families for Defence".

7 During the 2001 general election, Oliver Letwin, as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, suggested the Tories might curtail future public spending by £20bn a year. When this proposal came under attack, he went into "hiding". Journalists and camera crews competed to find him. Reporters dressed as Sherlock Holmes with basset hounds turned up at Conservative Central Office. When Oliver was eventually tracked down in his constituency by the BBC's Newsnight, he was taking part in a Roman debate and wearing a toga. As he made swift efforts to unravel himself from a bed sheet he had creatively pleated into a convincing gown, he repeatedly trilled: "It's all a jolly jape; it's all a jolly jape."

8 John Redwood gets a special award for a lifetime contribution to Tory bizarre. Much is made of his pretending to be fluent in Welsh while singing the national anthem, but this is small beer compared to his Hello! magazine photoshoot in 2004. The startled Vulcan was pictured with his former PA/sweetheart Nikki Page. He wore denims and a black polo-neck and had draped himself over various soft furnishings. The huggy kitchen photos are particularly hard to erase from the memory.

9 The hunger of matchbox-size John Bercow to be an MP was clear from the start when, in 1996, he hired a helicopter for £1,000 to enable him to pursue selection to two safe Tory seats on the same day - Surrey Heath and Buckingham (he won Buckingham). A pleased Bercow said: "It was the best £1,000 I've ever spent"; adding: "I hope people think of me as resourceful and not someone who is enormously wealthy and flash."

10 A few years back on the morning of the Queen's Speech, a female MP not afraid of experimenting with clothes turned up at the Tuesday morning team meeting apparently dressed as an ice-cream seller. Her outfit for the royal occasion inexplicably consisted of a white coat and a white porkpie hat. She stared blankly at the waggish shadow secretary of state who asked her for "two 99s with flakes".