New Forest East



By Quentin Letts

Daily Mail – 12 May 2000 [Extract]

... The old stereotype of a Tory MP was of an elderly military man, pinstriped, waistcoated, perhaps moustachioed, probably double gusseted. That no longer applies, but the modern counterpart, though sleeker and clean shaven, is barely any less clubby and male.

Their ringleader is Eric Forth (Bromley & Chislehurst), and there he duly was yesterday, second row back, screwing up his eyes in disbelief at the feebleness of Miss [Julia] Drown's little speech.

Around him sat the small knot of Tory parliamentarians who, with little recognition or thanks, keep the business of Opposition politics going at Westminster.

John Bercow (Buckingham), Graham Brady (Altrincham), James Gray (N. Wilts.), Nick St Aubyn (Guildford), Owen Paterson (N. Shropshire), Julian Lewis (New Forest E.), Desmond Swayne (New Forest W.) and Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) are all in their first Parliament.

Unlike Blair's Babes, they have quickly picked up the complex rules of Commons debate. Forth's Furies, you could call them, though a Labour supporter might prefer Forth's Frothers.

They have become highly competent debaters, acute scrutineers. They speak without notes, manage to cast their voices over the din, and are fearless in attacking Government obfuscation.

Yet, the contrast yesterday between them and droning Miss Drown was not entirely a happy one. In their regulation dark blue suits and with their intelligent airs, Forth's Furies undoubtedly cut a striking dash, but one felt a twinge of sympathy for the lone woman. Down on the floor of the House it must be nerve-wracking to stand in front of such a squad.

... In the Chamber there is a real need for rigorous, robust analysis. So thank goodness Forth's Furies are there to defend our interests. But in the outside world the Tories need to realise that dark suits and intellectual toughness are not enough to win over an electorate. A little more sympathy would not go amiss. They could do with a woman's touch.