By the time he took his leave, Mrs Beckett was leaking like a rusty bucket

Last updated at 09:29 28 June 2007


GO on, cried the newspaper photographers, 'give 'er a kiss.' But the new-minted Prime Minister and his wife Sarah, standing at last outside the shiny black door to No 10, ignored their cheesy request.

Those Blair people used to pull every corny trick in the book. The Browns may prove to have more self-respect.

No flag wavers had been bussed in, as they were in 1997. There were no cheerleaders. Apart from a small pen of antiwar protesters who had been parked as far away from No 10 as possible, the only souls present to witness the new PM's arrival were the media, coppers and a Cabinet Office Herbert with a furled brolly.

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The kissing-of-hands at Buckingham Palace had taken a long time. Rumours started to circulate. Was Gordon telling the Queen she was out of a job? Was Her Majesty giving him some nosebag? It was almost 3pm by the time Downing Street's security gates swung open and a Prime Ministerial Jag, blue lights flashing in its grille, disgorged the new First Lord of the Treasury.

Again we saw his curious gait. As Mr Brown steered his wife (pretty in red and cream) towards the door he did this strange, goose-reared waddle, the bottom pushed out as though constipato. Then he gave a little speech, not much more than a regurgitation of familiar lines although delivered more calmly than some of his past pronouncements.

There was also something about his school motto. What? Was this Prime Minister Adrian Mole? Reporters started to laugh and Mr Brown's lips twitched wryly. It was the only hint of unscripted humanity. The rest was deadly serious. Stiff. Starched. We could be in for a dry few months, by God. It'll be salted porridge for high tea seven days a week, laddie.

In his speechette he talked about using 'all the talents' in his 'work of change'. It was almost as if he was describing a national emergency rather than an 'orderly transition' from the government in which he was Chancellor.

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Blair final PMQs

London SW1 was full of security bods, some with guns and earpieces, others (not least the arch- Blairites) with bulletproof jackets. Helicopters chattered overhead. MPs were feverish with excitement, gossiping about who was going to be chopped, who promoted.

Hot talk swirled in the cloisters. Patricia Hewitt had apparently held a goodbye party even before being sacked. Hara kiri! A funeral pyre was being prepared for Margaret Beckett. Oh, juicy, gory goings-on. Backbenchers scuttled her and there, gassing, laughing, beaming at the instantaneous nature of disaster.

The removals van had been at Downing Street early, loading furniture, exercise bikes, etc.

No sign of Cherie's broomstick but we had evidence of that in short order. Inside Downing Street, last-minute clearing out and cleaning. Two cleaning ladies finally left the premises at 2.10pm, well puffed out.

In the courtyard outside the House of Commons the chauffeurs of the Government car service huddled, talking idly about which ministers might get the chop. Who would they be taking home tonight? Who would they be collecting in the morning? Outside one of Westminster's canteens I bumped into Tessa Jowell, looking almost carefree, full of chat.

Mr Blair's last act was to take Prime Minister's Questions. The overspill galleries in the Commons were pressed into action. Members of the Blair cadre were dotted around the place, doing their best to bite their lips and be brave. Cherie and children, including sweet little Leo, were present, she pointing out various people (including the wotten, wotten Press) to the young shaver.

Ah, Mrs Blair, always one to be relied on to shatter the cross-party, emollient, hands-together tone of a day. When they finally left Downing Street she was last to get into the limousine. Ever the gracious Lady Muck, she turned to the media and said: 'I won't miss you'. Believe us, dearie, the feeling is mutual.

Back in the Commons at PMQs, enter oily baldie Quentin Davies (ex Con, now Lab, for Margaret Thatcher's home town of Grantham). Here was the floorcrosser's moment. Defector Davies, grinning emptily, was goosesteppedto a seat on the Labour benches and had to kiss his neighbour, sturdy Kali Mountford (Lab, Colne Valley). Yum yum! Kali opened her lips and voluptuous bosom and Mr Davies was briefly lost to view. Now he knows how the average sausage roll feels in big Kali's vicinity.

Mr Blair's voice almost let him down. He sounded breathless. Tiny checks crept into his delivery. He managed to keep going but I'd say he nearly choked while he talked about our Iraq dead and the bravery of our troops.

There was a lot about Iraq. The half-hour session was turning all sombre on us. A tousled David Cameron did that deadly thing of laying on the public school charm.

What a low trick! He thanked Mr Blair for his public service. Mr Cameron pitched it just right. Mr Blair said that the Tory leader had been 'most proper, correct and courteous' in their dealings. Sir Ming Campbell, ditto.

Just when things were in danger of ending in anticlimax Mr Blair retrieved the moment by talking about his P45 and by teasing Eurosceptic Tory Sir Nicholas Winterton ('au revoir, auf wiedersehen, arrivederci'). The Speaker called Richard Younger-Ross (Lib Dem, Teignbridge), the House's club bore.

EVERYONE groaned. Mr Younger-Ross produced a question about disestablishmentarianism and even after his first two words Hon Members were shouting 'too long!' Mr Blair delayed his shot for a perfect millisecondand then said: 'I think I'm really not bothered about that one.'

The half-hour ended with much creaking of the garden gate - the unmistakable, Old Testament voice of the Rev Ian Paisley (DUP, N Antrim), who proceeded to deliver a brief homily.

Then, deep into injury time, Gorbals Mick gave the floor to the Father of the House, Alan Williams (Lab, Swansea W), who, entirely in character, uttered a few ill-chosen, partisan, bad-mannered words. Nasty little piece of work, Williams.

By the time Mr Blair took his final leave Margaret Beckett was leaking like a rusty old bucket. Tough old Mother Beckett in tears! A boulder bleeds.

Mr Blair told us that the Commons was a place that made men walk tall. It was a place he said had always made his spine tingle.

Another Blairite Cabinet minister, John Hutton, was looking distinctly snuffly. Hilary Armstrong was watering up. There were even tears on the Tory benches. I did not see it myself but am told that Lichfield's fragrant, bewigged Michael Fabricant was doing a passable impression of Stan Laurel blubbing after a mishap. Call for the Kleenex, Petunia!

Lib Dem and Labour MPs stood and clapped. Tories were initially aghast at this solecism but at a signal from David Cameron they stood until the whole House was applauding, standing.

Just one figure remained in his seat - the about-to-be- ex-Prime Minister, and ex-MP, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

What a to- do. Brief Encounter held nothing against this weep-fest. Mr Chips was taking his leave. Personally, I won't miss him for a moment. But Labour might.

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