When Charles Clarke called Prince Charles a stupid old buffer, my immediate reaction was that the Education Secretary had just returned from one of his legendary long lunches.
I then realised that the outburst had nothing to do with Clarke's opinion of the most dysfunctional family in Britain, but everything to do with a future leadership election. This became obvious when John Reid joined in the attack on the daft Prince. Both these ministers laughingly believe that they could one day be leader, and both know that a bit of royal bashing goes down well with the troops, even if Tony Blair hates it. Until now, anyone who breathed an anti-royal sentiment was bollocked by Downing Street but, with the PM having announced his impending retirement, ministers have broken ranks.
I learned how deeply Blair feels about the royals when I leaked Gordon Brown's intention to scrap the royal yacht. Blair went bonkers - until the Sun revealed that 80 per cent of the public agreed with the idea.
I know Reid is a republican like me because, when we were communist students together, we both refused to stand for the toast to "The Queen" at an Edinburgh University bash. The Chancellor has diplomatically kept quiet on all things royal, but thinks most of them are a complete waste of space. You can tell that by the number of the Queen's special banquets he has attended. None.
Though most of the cabinet think the royals should be sent back to Germany, new Labour will officially respect the monarchy as long as Blair remains PM. When he goes, Prince Charles may find the only living things that take him seriously are his plants.