By Paul Goodman
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I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!
The words in a speech that move most deeply, more often than not, aren't actually deployed in it. They are: I was there. Lords Jopling, Wakeham, Fowler, Waddington and Tebbit have spoken in the Lords, as has Lady Williams from the Liberal Democrat benches. My old boss Lord King of Bridgwater is there, and has spoken, too; Lord Howe was present, but has apparently left. Lord Heseltine is absent. But in that other sense, he was there.
There have been some fine speeches in the Commons – Ed Miliband's was beautifully judged, both insightful and honest – but even the Cabinet member from the Thatcher era who has spoken, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was a relatively junior one at the time. (The Labour benches, by the way, are conspicuously empty: how much is boycott and how much absence is impossible to say.) This is why the Lords, this afternoon, has been the place to be.
Which helps to explain why some senior Tories have, reportedly, drifted from the lower house to the upper one to watch proceedings: Sir George Young, David Davis, Andrew Mitchell have apparently been there. As expected, the mood has been consensual and cloudy – and, therefore, most unThatcherite. Only Tebbit has cast a searchlight through the mists in the direction of Howe, who was seated on the benches nearby.
"I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret," he said of his decision to care for his wife and not to return to Cabinet after the Brighton bomb. Tebbit can say more in fewer words than any politician I can think of, and the remark was a poisoned stilleto plunged home with deadly skill. Those pithy words have more cut-through than Glenda Jackson's Oscar-winning performance in the Commons. And they would. Because he was there.
But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.