And so to Highclere Castle, on the northern boundary of the constituency, to watch the annual cricket match when the Lords and Commons play the home team, hand-picked by the Earl of Carnarvon. A new member from an urban seat wonders how many of his constituents have a cricket ground in their garden.
This contest confronts the local member with a conflict of loyalties; which side should I support?
The Earl is a generous benefactor of many local causes, a friend and the owner of a significant chunk of the North West Hampshire constituency. On the other hand, the Parliamentary team is populated by those with whom I rub shoulders most days of the week when the House is sitting (and when they are not away playing cricket).
Neutrality seemed the best option. I have played for the Lords and Commons team in my time, but that was twenty years ago – some ten years after I stopped playing for the Parliamentary Football team. Our soccer record was not a good one. The eleven of us were meant to play as a team, but partisan rivalry got in the way. The Tories would only pass the ball to other Tories, and the Comrades also tried to keep the ball to themselves. The only thing we agreed on was that there should be no Liberals in the team. We were, unsurprisingly, frequently outplayed.
The cricket team was more broad minded. We tried not to run each other out and, when umpiring, applied traditional village cricket rules; if the batsman had just come in and had scored no runs, he was not out, however confident the appeal. If he had been in for a very long time and had scored no runs, he was out – however subdued the appeal.
Coming back to the present time, I asked the Captain of the Parliamentary team who was playing and he showed me the list, with a balance of the elected, the appointed, and the inherited. There was a name I didn’t recognise. “Who is he?” I asked “A new Labour Peer?” The Captain coughed apologetically. “No; he works in the Refreshment Department, but I’m told he is a very useful bowler.”
The sun shone; a bar was opened and Pimms was available; willow struck leather and, for a few moments, those running the country were able to put on one side the troubles that dog the week at Westminster.