Tories united after their win – in efforts to keep Boris out of No 10

16 Jun


Sometimes the figures do lie. On their first day back in Westminster there was no mistaking which side had enjoyed the election result more. Labour MPs were walking around Portcullis House with wide grins and were happy to chat to anyone. Even me. I found myself having conversations with some MPs I didn’t even know I knew. The Tories not so much, as they were gearing up for the meeting of the 1922 committee later that afternoon. One Conservative MP told me his sole concern was to prevent Boris Johnson from taking over as prime minister. This was a sentiment that appeared to be widely shared, as the 1922 committee ended with MPs filing out with forced grins all declaring their undying support for Theresa May. “There was none of the Maybot about her speech to us tonight,” said one MP, not altogether convincingly. I couldn’t help feeling that if even senior Tories are calling the Supreme Leader the Maybot, then her days in office must be numbered. Maybot 2.0. The same as Maybot 1.0. Just with a malfunctioning empathy software update.


During the general election campaign, my good friend Stephen, who was diagnosed with brain cancer just before Christmas, died. Because of work commitments I was only able to make it to the tail end of his funeral. But what a funeral it was. After a requiem mass in Frome, everyone was invited back to the family home for what has to be the saddest, happiest party I have ever been to. There were plenty of tears but also laughter. Not to mention dancing to numb the senses. It turned into a very late night and there are many conversations with Stephen’s family and friends that will stay with me. But one image dominates above all others and that is of their dog, Billy. Billy is usually the most social of dogs and keen to be the centre of attention, but throughout the party he kept himself to himself. Not in an unfriendly way, but as if he knew that the most important person was missing and was on the lookout for him. He couldn’t quite accept that Stephen wasn’t coming back. And neither can I.


Michael Palin has donated his notebooks and diaries to the British Library and it’s a fair bet that what most people will be interested in will be the Monty Python archives of how the comedy sketch show took shape. But I’m fairly confident that the Python stuff means far less to Palin than it does to his admirers. It was my good luck to interview him about his diaries twice last year – once for a Guardian event and again at the Hay festival – and, while working out how he would like the shows to go, I asked him if he had any particular favourite entries that he would like to read out. I had imagined he would choose something either from the Python years or from his time as the country’s favourite explorer. But what he wanted was a short extract about the bloke who had been cleaning his windows for years. “What’s remarkable about him?” I asked. “He’s terrified of heights,” Palin replied. It was an inspired choice and went down a storm at both events. You won’t learn that sense of comic timing at the British Library.


My son has just blown all the money he has saved up working during the university holidays on a one-month surfing holiday in Bali. I can only admire his sense of adventure. When I was his age, my parents kept urging me to get out more, rather than hang around watching TV and taking drugs in flats that would now be considered unfit for human habitation. Having realised they were never going to get me out of the country, my parents came up with the idea that I should at least make an effort to travel round Britain. I couldn’t think of a decent reason to say no, so I agreed. I made it to Colchester for my first night, where I booked myself into a youth hostel and spent a long, boring night on my own. My social skills were – and still are – limited. The next day, I decided I had done enough travelling and headed back to London. Even today, I still get that same sense of relief every time I arrive back in the capital. For me, the best part of going away is always the coming home. It drives my family mad.


When I first saw the images of the fire in the Grenfell Tower block, my feelings were of shock and disbelief. Shock at the suffering of those trapped inside and disbelief that a fire that had apparently started in a fourth-floor flat could have ripped through the building in a matter of hours. Over the next two days that numbness has turned into anger. And anger that appears to be universally shared. Politicians often get a bad press – not least from me – but it was a privilege to be able to sketch the emergency Home Office hearing that took place in Westminster Hall. MP after MP spoke passionately that outrage wasn’t enough: those who were responsible should face criminal charges – if necessary at government level – and action must be taken to help the survivors now. Unusually for parliament, whose proceedings can often move at glacial pace, MPs got their wish as the housing minister, Alok Sharma, voted with his heart, not his head, and made up government policy on the spot by promising that all those who had lost their homes would be rehoused in the local community.

Seconds after it had passed through, Theresa May decides to join in the Mexican wave at the France v England football game at the Stade de France, Paris

May: ‘Is this what a human looks like?’ Macron: ‘Non’. Photograph: Matthew Impey/Rex/Shutterstock

Digested week: MayDUP

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