I was quietly making my way up an obscure back staircase to Committee Room 14 in the Palace of Westminster on Thursday morning to cast my vote in the leadership ballot, when a cavalcade of vehicles with motorcycle outriders swept up behind me. A dozen men with curly wires behind their ears mumbling surreptitiously into their sleeves; a nervous young Parliamentary secretary and a couple of nameless flunkies herald the grand arrival of the (current) Prime Minister.
We exchange a few pleasantries – after voting in person for her successor she is off to a Memorial Service followed by a quick flight to Brussels for her last ever summit, her PPS in stripey trousers hurrying his boss to vote (so that he can get off to catch the first race at Ladies Day at Ascot). The PM sets off to climb the three flights to the Committee Room Corridor, a stern look from a bloke with a magnum in his armpit encourages me to get the lift instead. Maybe that’s why she’s PM, I’m just a humble backbencher.
Yet in a few weeks’ time all of that will be over. The flunkies will disappear, the important engagements, everyone deferentially calling her “Prime Minister.” It will all be gone. It must be an awful shock to the system to come down to earth with a bump like that. Lower down the scale, spare a thought for Sam Gyimah who achieved fame by securing no votes at all in the Leadership race; and Rory Stewart who flew too close to the Sun, made a mess of a TV hustings, and crashed and burned in a most ignominious way. Think back to the great and the good of the past- John Major, Gordon Brown. Who truly remembers them now? And as for the lesser lights in even more recent governments, they have disappeared without trace.
Politics is a transitory business. Perhaps that is why I take such satisfaction from doing the things I find interesting, albeit not particularly high profile (defence, polar regions, environment, parliamentary democracy); maybe it’s why I find observing the very great and the very good as they rush around in ever decreasing circles so wryly interesting and amusing; it’s why I can find time for some real life in Wiltshire; and why I like my constituency work so much.
I also get a kick out of my collection of Parliamentary and political archives and memorabilia, and from the very few permanent memorials, which will be here after I am gone. I am proud, for example, of my seven published books so far (eighth is with publishers now- an anthology of these columns over twenty years- book your copy early to avoid disappointment.) And on the odd occasions when I am asked to unveil something with my name on it (a bus shelter in Hullavington, Housing Association HQ in Chippenham), I allow myself to dream about my descendants revisiting the spot, hacking back the overgrown ivy covering the stone, and rubbing up the brass plaque to discern my otherwise long-forgotten name.
They fly forgotten as a dream melts at the break of day…..