There was a slightly misleading story in last week's Sunday Times, claiming that I'd been asked to provide Gordon Brown with jokes to lighten up his image. He did indeed approach me for help with a speech ten years ago (I declined), but as his visit coincided with the arrival of an interior designer I was employing to do up my flat, the then shadow chancellor actually spent longer discussing the finer points of home decoration ("um - how about a dado rail?"). The more serious request for our services came from Jonathan Powell, within weeks of Tony Blair's victory in 1997. Our producer, Geoff Atkinson, was so enraged by the presumption that we'd want to write for the new prime minister that we've been taking it out on him ever since. The irony is that it's Blair and Brown who provide us with most of our best material, not the other way around.
The transformation in Blair's fortunes continues to amaze me. This time last year he was all but finished. Carnage in Iraq; his closeness to George Bush; discontent in the Labour Party; and a chancellor pricing dado rails for No 10 made it look only a matter of time before the Prime Minister left to spend more time with his mortgage adviser. One year on, his position appears wholly different. And yet, what has changed? Iraq is still in flames. Bush, PFI and ID cards are still open wounds. Gordon Brown is still tapping his foot and looking at his watch like a desperate man outside a lavatory cubicle ("How much longer are you going to be in there?").
Meanwhile, Blair has breezed through the autumn conference, won the election (despite the best efforts of the opposition and Alan Milburn), clinched the Olympics and, for two days at least, concentrated the attention of the G8 on the problems of Africa and climate change. All was well, until a fortnight ago, when the weapons of mass destruction finally turned up at King's Cross on the backs of four British citizens - and even then, perversely, Blair's response was apparently judged to have strengthened his reputation. It is considered tasteless to point out that the attack was a consequence of his actions, as Chatham House has just done, and as the Joint Intelligence Committee itself did on 10 February 2003, when it warned that the threat from al-Qaeda "would be heightened by military action in Iraq". ("Time will tell," said Blair.)
What's bizarre is that we continue to give Blair the benefit of all doubt, when the reality is so different. He talks of Africa as the scar on our conscience, yet Britain's arms sales to that continent have almost quadrupled since 1999, now topping the billion-pound mark. He talks of holding a great Olympics in London, yet he puts John Prescott in charge of the building project. He talks of global warming, yet, the day before, he jets to Singapore for 24 hours. As does Chirac. On a separate plane. Surely it would have sent a better signal if they'd shared an aircraft. Imagine the arguments about the direction of the plane and how Britain got a discount on the ticket. "Look, Jacques, what I would say to you is simply this: I'm not prepared to discuss giving up my fare reduction unless we conduct a fundamental review of Regulation (EEC) No 2409/92 of 23 July 1992 on rates for air services."
The common feature of recent events is that Blair was doing what he does best - talking. Hence his Olympic success. He's a salesman: he sells dreams. He could sell sand to the Arabs. Indeed, he's trying to sell democracy to them at the moment, except that quite a few of them (and us) are being killed in the process. On climate change, he declared his desire to "give ourselves the pathway into a process that will allow us . . . to get back into agreement". Did he say that, or did some satirist write it?
Last weekend's Fairford air show brought the renewed spectacle of B-52 bombers over our house, reviving memories of the Iraq war, when we would watch as they left each morning and be shaken awake as they returned at 3am. At that time, I was being plagued by nesting rooks that were attacking our doves, and by moles that were destroying the lawn. For a brief period I wondered about the prospect of bagging a rather special "Macnab". Not the traditional grouse, stag and salmon caught on the same day, but taking out a rook, a mole and a B-52. I could have called it a Rumsfeld. But if that's my reaction to seeing a B-52 take off to bomb Iraq, is it any wonder al-Qaeda has no shortage of recruits?