Diary - Adam Boulton
Americans put British journalists in their place. I discovered this at a Democratic convention where
And so there was no reshuffle. Instead, Peter Mandelson was sent to Brussels. The European Commission rather than the cabinet seemed acceptable to Peter's many enemies: they think they've seen the back of him (for the next few years anyway).
I've always got on well with Peter, for the very surprising reason that, despite his serpentine reputation, he's never lied to me in more than 20 years of professional interaction.
A bully? Only to those who let themselves be bullied. A social climber? Less than those journalists who crowd round the "star" at every reception. Given more chances than most? True, if Peter wasn't Peter, "Tony" wouldn't have had him back for a third go. But then Peter has also been subjected to more unfair vituperation than most: if Peter hadn't been Peter, he probably wouldn't have needed three goes in office.
In fact, Mandelson's problem could actually be his lack of guile - if he thinks a reporter is a stooge of Conservative Central Office, he can't stop himself telling them so, in public. He finds dissembling difficult. In the days following John Smith's death, I was gently teasing him by suggesting that he must be torn on whether to support Gordon Brown or Tony Blair as the next Labour leader. He refused to tell me which way he was leaning: "Work it out!" I did and so, of course, did he.
What's all this rubbish about breaking the liberal consensus of the 1960s? Which prime minister was it who gave Mick Jagger a knighthood? According to Sir Bob Geldof, Jagger's is the only genuine rock'n'roll honour because Sir Michael has done f*** all for anyone or anything else except music. At least the New Statesman's deputy editor is pleased. She's been praising Blair and "the new puritans". Standards have gone soft in this magazine. As a schoolboy in the 1970s, I was fascinated by a lengthy debate in these pages as to whether, in the quaint locutions of those times, "socialists" could take taxis and order double whiskies. By these rigorous standards, the decision by Sir Peter Davis, outgoing chairman of Sainsbury's, to forgo a £2.5m bonus is mere self-indulgence.
Nowadays, taxis count as necessary "public transport", thanks to the decline of the Tube, buses and rail. But as late as 1985, there was a frisson of disapproval when Neil Kinnock decried "the grotesque chaos of a Labour council - a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle around a city handing out redundancy notices". Much better if Derek and the Militants had taken the P45s round on the buses - although they'd probably called them out on a strike.
The definition of public transport gets ever more elastic: isn't Barbara Amiel alleged to have refused to mourn Concorde on the grounds that "[she doesn't] use public transport"?
To help us while away the torpor, Tony Blair staged one of his monthly news conferences. The Prime Minister chooses the date each month, but this doesn't always work in his favour. We had a glorious run this spring when a news story broke fortuitously on the morning of each press conference. February: Clare Short claims British spooks bugged Kofi Annan. March: Bev Hughes resigns over eastern European immigration. April: government plans for an EU constitution referendum are leaked.
Mostly, though, the Prime Minister's answers are notable for what they don't reveal. At the first monthly event back in July 2002, I asked if Britain would go to war against Iraq and was told it was far too soon to consider such matters.
We TV correspondents tend to ask the first round of questions - which leaves us just sitting there for about an hour with plenty of time for doodling. Looking through my notebooks, I find I've been working on a Groundhog Day logo. The sketches by my neighbour Andrew Marr are of higher quality - occasional Italian palazzos, but mostly obsessive caricatures of the Prime Minister.
Print hacks often end up writing about fellow journalists. Thus Quentin Letts on me in the Daily Mail: ". . . Ursine, Boulton. He looks at politicians the way a Yellowstone bear will inspect a sausage roll on a picnic table . . ." I've been compared to worse things than bears - especially during games of Chinese roulette. The rules are simple. One member of the party goes out of the room; the remainder choose one of their number. The questioner returns and asks each in turn: "What sort of animal/ flower/drink/etc is the subject?" The fun comes from the players finding out what the others actually think of them. A husband who fancies himself as a lion may be judged a worm by his wife - and all their friends now know it.
What with summer parties and summer dresses, there are worse places for a British political journalist to be this week - for example, at the Democratic convention. A hundred days to go before the presidential election, and Americans treat "no votes TV" with brutal contempt.
The squadrons of BBC journalists in Boston are reduced to interviewing
C-list irrelevancies such as Jerry Springer and Al Franken. I got the message back in Atlanta in 1988 when the sign "Foreign Media Area" was taped on to the arrow pointing to the garbage elevator.
Adam Boulton is political editor of Sky News