Dr Julian Lewis: The speech by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) sums up the way in which it is possible for a Labour Back Bencher completely to misread the mood of the House. Until she spoke, Conservative Members rather appreciated the irony, wit and good humour of Labour Members giving my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr Forth) what I am sure he would be the first to acknowledge is a taste of his own medicine. Instead of their wit, style and grace, she indulged in sour, humourless whingeing.
My right hon. Friend does not even have to open his mouth in a debate as the hon. Lady attempts to interpret every twitch of an eyebrow and every flicker of expression. She is slightly living in a time warp–something of which I have occasionally been accused. She reminds me of those Kremlinologists who used to try to determine what was about to emanate from Moscow by judging the expressions of Brezhnev and Chernenko on the podium.
Mr Peter Bradley: I am indebted to Andrew Roth's biography of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr Forth). I am sure that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) will be fascinated to learn that, while at school, the right hon. Gentleman was a communist. [Laughter.]
Mr Forth indicated assent.
Mr Bradley: Does the hon. Member for New Forest, East agree that once a red, always a red and will he be joining us in the Lobby tonight?
Dr Lewis: I am delighted to have that piece of information. It only goes to show that, in order to rectify the terrible mistake of his youth, my right hon. Friend will need to go much further to the right than he has already done.
Mr Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that one pre-eminent qualification of my right hon. Friend for the appointment is that, unlike the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), he did not have a charisma bypass operation at birth? [Interruption.]
Dr Lewis: I disagree with my hon. Friend only in that he takes for granted the outcome of the nature-versus-nurture argument. The operation may not have occurred at birth; it might have been when she realised that she was an inheritor of a great deal of money. That is always very embarrassing for a Socialist. [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The debate is going downhill. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman returns to the main point.
Dr Lewis: Thank you for that guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I greatly regret the downhill contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr Bercow), which distracted me from the straight and narrow.
Ms Ward: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his support for his right hon. Friend – as may many of his colleagues – when they realise that, according to Andrew Roth, he campaigned for the entry of the UK to the European Community.
Mr Forth indicated assent.
Dr Lewis: I am indebted to the hon. Lady for pointing out that fact. I was not aware of it. I might seriously reconsider my support for my right hon. Friend, but for the fact that he still has time to make good that deficiency.
In conclusion, I make two serious points. The first is that, if my right hon. Friend does such a great disservice to the House as is alleged, why has he been selected as one of the final four in the competition for Opposition politician of the year? I am sure that that will be acknowledged on both sides of the House. [Interruption.] The Government–
[It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16(1).
The House divided: Ayes 87, Noes 108.]
NOTE: Despite this sad rejection, Eric Forth still won the title of "Opposition Politician of the Year". Subsequently, on 21 February 2000, the House of Commons reversed its vote and appointed him to the House of Commons Commission, nem. con.