Appearing in the Daily Telegraph is something which MP’s have been anxious to avoid of late. So when, last week, colleagues in the tea-room told me that I featured in it, I was unamused. The paper had already turned me over once.
I then read the offending piece from the Mandrake column, reproduced below.
“After I disclosed that Lord Falconer, the former lord chancellor, has been trying to get himself into shape - he appreciates it may take a while - Sir George Young , the former Tory cabinet minister who is positively skinny in comparison, has also been working out with a vengeance.
His friends in Parliament are talking him up as a replacement for Michael Martin as Speaker of the Commons, but the "bicycling baronet'' - who lost out to Martin the last time around - worries that his adversaries could make an issue of his age and wants to demonstrate that he has the vigour to push through the necessary reforms in the House of Commons.
"The old boy has been a regular in the Commons gym over the past few months, where he pumps iron and pounds the exercise bike like a 20-something,'' says one admiring colleague.”
I read the piece with disbelief. I am all in favour of the House of Commons Gym and the beneficial impact it has on the parliamentary waistline; and I have been to it. In fact, I went the day that the former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, opened it ten years ago. But I have never been back. I get rid of the calories not on an exercise bike, but on a proper bike, which has the merit of taking me somewhere I want to go to when I push the pedals. And the only pumping I do is the tyres on the afore-mentioned bicycle. The column, as MP’s know to their cost, was the figment of a fevered imagination. Someone’s glasses, steamed up by perspiration, had failed to focus on whoever it was.
But is there an opportunity here, I asked myself. Who is my look-a-like and could I recruit him to attend those fetes in North West Hampshire that a crowded diary in June and July precludes from visiting? I could lend him the bicycle and the straw hat, and he could wander round the perimeter of events, giving a regal wave.
I contacted the journalist to find out the name, but he could shed no light. He was simply the passive recipient of inaccurate information - for which I hope no payment was made. And to date he has failed to correct the story. But, on balance, perhaps this is a story I can live with.