And so it’s back to the backbenches for the Member for North West Hampshire. My departure had been widely predicted; bonds in George Young have been yielding over 7% for most of the summer, and my friends in the City tell me that this indicates that exit from whatever Zone you happen to be in is imminent. And so it was. There have been vivid descriptions of the exchanges between my fellow departing Ministers and the Prime Minister; and I just want to reassure readers that, in my case, there were no protestations, tears or hysterics. Or indeed wine. It is the third time I have left Government- a score of almost Mandelsonian proportions – and I am now familiar with the routine. A few days in the decompression chamber and then back into the real world. And, in any case, there are many excellent colleagues on the backbenches who deserve a turn at the wheel.
The logistics of a Government reshuffle are complex. Although an outgoing Minister will have known for up to a day that he or she is heading for the departure lounge, secrecy is meant to be preserved and the Minister has to remain at his post until his successor arrives. The time of that arrival is not known in advance; nor indeed the identity of the new incumbent; but, once both are known, things move quickly. I had about 15 minutes to get some champagne out of the fridge, share it with my hardworking staff and make a short but sincere valedictory oration of appreciation for their support for the last two and a half years.
I strode out of the office with my head held high; and then realised I had nowhere to go. The man for whom I had vacated my office had his office at the Department of Health, where I would not be welcome as they had a new Secretary of State there. The MP’s who had newly joined the Government from the backbenches were busy getting briefed in their new Departments. Clearing out their offices in the House for the old sweats would be at the bottom of their priorities. But, until they move out, us old sweats are homeless. I am living out of a cardboard box, working on the edge of my secretary’s desk on the perimeter of the Parliamentary precincts, answering the many letters of condolences constituents have been good enough to send.
I telephoned the Whip in charge of accommodation in order to solve the problem and get a proper office. There was no reply. He too had been reshuffled.