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Sergeant at arms

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Political correspondents can be dull creatures once removed from their natural Westminster habitat, but not John Sergeant, now retired and on excellent form speaking at the British Council for Offices dinner last week. His dry, deadpan delivery was in marked contrast to many flashier after-dinner speakers and was much appreciated, especially his Margaret Thatcher stories. He recalled the time she paraded Geoffrey Howe in front of an aeroplane full of correspondents, announcing: 'Look, Geoffrey's got a new jumper.' And the time he annoyed Mrs T and disconcerted President George Bush by asking at a televised press conference which was the most important country in Europe as far as the US was concerned (this was just after the Berlin Wall had come down, so the real answer was Germany, but? ). His gloomy conclusion about Tony Blair was that Iraq was his version of Mrs T's poll tax.

Both had gone slightly mad.

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