The recent crisis surrounding the Leadership of my Party has been well-documented in the national press, but there have been some minor episodes as yet unrecorded.
For me, there was a personal first. Following every vacancy in the Leadership of my Party, I have backed the losing candidate. When we deposed Ted Heath in 1975, I supported William Whitelaw. Margaret Thatcher was duly elected. When we deposed Margaret Thatcher in 1990, I supported Michael Heseltine. John Major was duly elected.
When he resigned in 1997, I supported Kenneth Clarke. William Hague was duly elected. When he resigned in 2001, I supported Kenneth Clarke. Iain Duncan Smith was duly elected. I am the sort of tipster you don’t want to meet at Newbury Racecourse.
This time round, with a one-horse race, it was difficult to get it wrong. Liam Fox came into my office, and asked if I could count on his support. There was a pause and I began to explain that, respectful of the talents that Liam Fox had, I was unaware that he was a candidate. “No, he said. I don’t want any support for me. I want support for Michael. Can we count on you?”
There was another pause. Which Michael did he mean? Howard? Ancram? Or some dark horse with the same Christian name?
Howard. I explained that, with my record of backing winners, it was a bold candidate who enlisted my support. Undeterred, he asked me to sign the nomination papers which I duly did. And, after 30 years in the House, I have backed the winning candidate – along with 160 of my 165 colleagues.
Following the election, some of my more ambitious colleagues will have been waiting by their telephones for the summons from the new Leader to populate the Front Bench. But not me. Been there, done that.
At one reshuffle, No 10 left a message with my private secretary to return a telephone call. I dialed the number I was given and - spoke to a hairdresser in North London. Wrong number. And finally, less happily, I was summoned to No 10 in 1986 during another of Mrs Thatcher’s reshuffles.
What you need to know about reshuffles is that the dismissals take place at the beginning of the day; and the promotions take place in the afternoon. I was summoned at 1pm, and was unable to work out whether this was at the end of the morning; or the beginning of the afternoon.
My Private Secretary solved the problem. He rang up No 10; would it best if Sir George used the front door at No 10; or the side entrance into the Cabinet office. There was a short pause; “Sir George may want to avoid the media” I used the Cabinet office entrance, and was duly dismissed from the Government.