So often we are informed that yet another exotic creature is about to be wiped from the face of the planet.
Barely an ad break passes without some aorta-tugging plea flashing across our television screens on behalf of the Asian snow leopard or the cuddly orangutans of Borneo, showing the poor beastie in various states of distress.
Perhaps in more clement political times a generous benefactor will choose to take up the plight of that other rare, possibly soon-to-be-extinct creature: The Westminster trencherman.
Thank goodness then for Ken Clarke, who popped in to the Press Gallery lunch yesterday to offer us his two ha’pporth on the state of the nation. Popped in? Gently hobbled is probably a more accurate description. As a parliamentarian of 49 years, those post-Newsnight beakers of Pouilly-Fume and late nights in Ronnie Scott’s may finally have taken their toll
Time was when this colourful being roamed across the parliamentary estate freely. Rotund of belly and red of nose, it could often be seen skulking hesitantly across the cobbles of New Palace Yard circa 4pm, two bottles of Medoc to the good with aspirations on a few whiskies in the Strangers’ Bar once the sun was across the yardarm.
Now, thanks to the ceaseless march of modernity, they have all but been destroyed.
New Labour greedy guts Sion Simon, who once scoffed 52 oysters between debates, has long since moved on. Deputy Opposition leader Tom ‘two dinners’ Watson has taken to dieting.
Even Sir Nicholas Soames, whose weighty lunch bills at the wallet-spankingly expensive St James’s trough-house Wiltons is on the rabbit food these days.
Thank goodness then for Ken Clarke, who popped in to the Press Gallery lunch yesterday to offer us his two ha’pporth on the state of the nation.
Even Sir Nicholas Soames (pictured with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall), whose weighty lunch bills at the wallet-spankingly expensive St James’s trough-house Wiltons is on the rabbit food these days
Popped in? Gently hobbled is probably a more accurate description. As a parliamentarian of 49 years, those post-Newsnight beakers of Pouilly-Fume and late nights in Ronnie Scott’s may finally have taken their toll.
The Father of the House and lunch. Not since Cohiba met Armagnac has such a successful partnership been forged.
When he was health secretary, I remember him once ascribing a lacklustre performance at the dispatch box to putting away ‘two dozen deep fried oysters and a few pints’ moments earlier.
Deputy Opposition leader Tom ‘two dinners’ Watson has taken to dieting
Plenty of fire in that heaving gusset remains. Between gentle slurps of Cotes du Rhones, the arch-Europhile said he wasn’t impressed much by his contemporaries. ‘Quite the maddest situation I’ve seen in my lifetime,’ he sighed when speaking of the status quo. He’d never known the political class to be held in such contempt as it is now.
He despaired of his party’s leadership contest: ‘Being licked by a dog, wearing funny clothes, hugging children – it’s all nonsense.’
He clearly doesn’t regard Boris an homme serieux, though queried whether a row over ‘spilling wine on the sofa’ – a reference to his recent tiff with girlfriend Carrie Symonds – was really a test of his suitability as leader.
Years of cigar smoke have left his vocal cords sounding like they’ve been marinated in something dark and rich – Ronseal? A qualified QC, his speech flows like cursive handwriting – each word runs into the next without pause. ‘IveknownJeremyCorbynthirtyyeaaa aaarrssandhisfollowersjustgetsca- aaaarieRRR…’
He lamented the lack of experience in the House. Unlike himself, most ministers now scarper off to earn money once they return to the backbenches. Almost half our MPs, he pointed out, arrived after 2010.
He’d prefer Theresa May (‘a shy lady’) to hang around for bit and fulfil a parliamentary role. ‘A bit like David Cameron did for a couple of weeks,’ he chortled.
As a former chancellor, he hopes the next one possesses a modicum of economic nous. ‘I at least had an A-level in economics,’ he grinned. He rates Philip Hammond, though admits ‘he doesn’t go out of his way to be charismatic’.
Does he worry his punchy views might get him in trouble with the party? ‘Noooo. I don’t need to be made minister for nuts and bolts.’ Besides, he added wearily: ‘I’m not standing again for Parliament.’
People, for just a few pounds a month you can keep Ken in Westminster, helping to pay for the necessary on claret and cigars. Please. Please.