To say the Lib Dem leadership race is hotting up would be an insult to the laws of thermodynamics. Even "warming up" might be putting too fine a point on it. With the candidature of Chris Huhne we reached the stage where a Lib Dem was standing for leader who even the Lib Dems have hardly heard of. Are there any more runners out there?
As it is, at least two of the contenders make the celebrities on Big Brother look like celebrities. Come to think of it, maybe that's how the contest should be run: two weeks on prime time, the candidates assembled as housemates. "Day 8. And Ming Campbell is in the hot tub with Mark Oaten and Chantelle." Chantelle? Well, of course. There has to be a wild card in there somewhere, and none of the current runners is nearly wild enough. Oaten may even have qualified as a "mild card" entry.
But at least there are a few silly names in the hat. Since a lot of what passes for political debate is essentially name-calling, it's good to know there's a party that's prepared to exceed its quota of rib-tickling monikers. We know about Vince Cable and Lembit Opik (not so much a name, more a bad hand at Scrabble), but there are so many more among the Liberal Democrat ranks. Elspeth Attwooll. Lord Mackie of Benshie. Dr John Pugh. The Earl of Mar and Kellie. Baroness Michie of Gallanach. Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. Since they possess such glorious names, is it asking too much for them to put them all forward, if only to cheer everybody up on a dull January day?
The centre ground is getting more crowded by the hour. We've now got a situation where the left wing of the Labour Party could join the Lib Dems, the right wing of the Lib Dems could join the Conservative Party, the right wing of the Labour Party could skip a generation and join the Tories, and the privatisers and warmongers in the Conservative Party could join the Blairites. The exception is George Galloway, his party's only MP, which means that every time he contradicts himself there's a leadership crisis.
What's clearly required is a transfer system, as in football; a two-week window, during which bids may be made for MPs from rival parties. Already David Cameron has declared his interest in strengthening his squad with a few Liberals: a tempting prospect for players who are happier out on the right. The Conservatives at least offer the possibility of promotion to the Premiership within the next few years, while the management crisis at Lib Dem headquarters has led to serious ructions in the dressing room, with stories of the team's star players barely speaking to each other. Unless morale is restored there is a real chance they may once again be relegated to the Conference League.
Meanwhile, caretaker manager Ming Campbell is seeking to stop the rot by tapping up Labour in the hope of landing a world-class leftwinger. Back in the Premiership, Tony Blair has kept Labour at the top by regularly rotating his squad to compensate for injuries and resignations, though Stevie Byers has not played a competitive game for a couple of years and is rumoured to be seeking a move, possibly to Europe, where his former team-mate Peter Mandelson is on permanent loan.
For the Lib Dems it's a tough career choice: do they sacrifice regular lower-league fixtures, and the odd cup run, for a seat on the bench with a Premiership side?
And what of Blair himself? As any England manager will tell you, being in charge of the national side opens you up to all sorts of offers. While he has stated that he wants to stay on beyond this summer's World Cup, the pressures of the job may yet force him to seek lucrative employment elsewhere. As that doyen of political commentators, Jimmy Greaves, famously said, it's a funny old game.
My Blair teeth are starting to hurt. The dentures I use when impersonating the Prime Minister are now so uncomfortable that they are making it difficult to speak clearly. I was thinking of getting a new set. Then I thought, well, they're quite expensive, and he won't be around for that long. Funny how change often manifests itself in the little things.