I get on well with European diplomats. Several are on my private mailing list for page 3 calendars
To Belgrave Square for lunch with Dr Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, Germany's ambassador to London. This will surprise some Diary readers, who probably assume the political editor of the Sun is barely on speaking terms with Europe, let alone interested in breaking bread with its envoys. True, we once invaded France with an armoured car and invited readers to face the Channel and "bawl at Gaul". But today we have excellent relations with the representatives of our EU partners, many of them avid readers of the Currant Bun. Several are on my private mailing list for page 3 calendars.
It may be that His Excellency originally set out to persuade me of the error of my views on ever-closer union and to seduce the Sun into supporting the ghastly euro gamble. But we have become good friends and discuss matters other than politics. His great ambition is to see the German language taught more widely in British schools, and he is hoping to set up a foundation to encourage children to make a start at the age of five. He is also one of the few envoys who go out to bat for their country on radio and TV, appearing so frequently on the Today programme that he is thinking of installing an ISDN line at the ambassador's residence. His Excellency also nails the lie that Germans have no sense of humour, contributing the occasional article as "The Hun who Writes for the Sun". Watch out for his next one - "How to speak German".
And, speaking of Germany, it is Chancellor Gerhard Schroder who confirms speculation about a 7 June election. Everyone knows this is the new date because the Sun told them so weeks ago. No 10 pretends it can say nothing until the Queen has been officially informed - as if, being one of our most regular readers, she doesn't already know. But today, Downing Street is in a bind. It is obliged to explain why the PM has suddenly cancelled his May Day visit to Berlin for the annual gathering of EU socialist parties. Deftly, the parcel is passed to Schroder. "The chancellor understands entirely why the prime minister has to focus on the domestic agenda at this stage," a spokeswoman volunteers, unprompted. What stage? What understanding? Does that mean the election? "Come off it, we're saying nothing. Everyone knows the position," is the response. So Blair is prepared to tell the president of the European Commission and Germany's chancellor before he tells Her Majesty?
Monday: Ronnie Biggs has landed. His sensational story fills the pages of the Sun, pushing politics to the back of the book. The mission to bring him home has been run like a seamless military operation. It reminds me that I was the first journalist to knock on Charmian Biggs's front door in Alpine Road, Redhill, Surrey, after her husband did a runner just in time to evade the police almost 40 years ago. She told me through the letter box to leave her alone, although she chose other words to express herself. I was in Australia later, when she and Ronnie were tracked down. He escaped then, too.
At Westminster, Alastair Campbell makes his final appearance before the Lobby in civil servant mode. The hacks are in open-necked shirts, to mark the bank holiday they are missing. Alastair, in suit and tie and formal to the end, refuses to allow the words "June the seventh" to pass his lips, despite what we think is ingenious questioning. Judging by the deadpan way he fends off questions about the Prime Minister and the election announcement, he has already made the spiritual shift to Millbank Tower's control and command bunker. Humility will be the Prime Minister's theme. But not Alastair's.
Tuesday: Alastair resigns as the Prime Minister's official spokesman and disappears from our ken for a few days. His place is taken for the duration by the deputy PMOS, Godric Smith, a real civil servant, who tells us all about the PM's day. He will leave Downing Street 15 minutes before his lunchtime audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Why is he going now, and not tonight as usual? What will he tell her? Everything will become clear at the appropriate time, soothes Godric. Then an engagement in London at 3pm. Where exactly? All in good time. In fact, we already know. The BBC and ITN have been tipped off to have their O/B vans ready with engines running at "the Elephant end of the Old Kent Road". A quarter of the Lobby rushes outside to phone their offices with the news. The rest of us go through the motions of interrogating Godric. The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, asks about the "real story" behind the appointment of a new bishop. Godric is bewildered by this lurch into religious matters. "That was a joke," explains Andrew, struggling to stop his mobile phone ringing out several bars of Scotland the Brave.
Tony Blair's mystery afternoon engagement turns out to be a speech at St Saviour's and St Olave's, the third most improved comprehensive school in the country. Paradoxically, it was deemed unacceptable for the education of Harriet Harman's children - shortly before she was dumped from the Cabinet. The PM arrives to a fanfare of song from the school choir. They sit, slightly bemused, as the shirt-sleeved premier humbly admits that he hasn't done everything right, but then which world leader has? And can he have a second chance? "Earlier today," he says, "I saw the Queen at Buckingham Palace to ask for a dissolution of parliament so that there can be a general election on June the seventh." Phew! We got it right. Not that we ever had any doubt, but . . .