Was it Andy wot won it?

It should be the best of times. There is nothing that can quite top the sensation of being certain that one is about to win, yet having to keep quiet about it so as not to tempt the fates. The Manchester conference was packed with people knowing and not telling. Everyone is in on the most delicious secret. It should be a hoot.

And yet, rather than enjoying an excess of vim and pip, I have been filled with deep foreboding. In part, Manchester is to blame. Apparently it does this to you, and having now visited the city once, I shall not be repeating the mistake. There is London and there is the countryside, and anything in between, without exception, tends to be a mistake.

In part, the fault is with the insufferable Coulson. Ever since the navvy's navvy Mohan cleared page three to weigh in behind us, "Coulo" has been cock-a-hoop, strutting round the main stage and wearing an "It Was ANDY Wot Won It" T-shirt. This is not only de trop, it is factually incorrect. The credit lies with the Frauds for bringing James Murdoch on board. An invitation we will almost certainly regret. The Sun's support was once of use for keeping the lid on dirty linen, but now that this is aired on the internet it serves little purpose. A few lame headlines is no exchange for being in hock to a Murdoch. Ultimately, this will be another "Coulo" blunder.

Nor is he the only one going awry. Boy George "Row, Row Together" Osborne's attempt to reinvent himself as an homme grim and sérieux with more chins than he has children was surely misguided. But he has been in a twitter all week. "They think I'm fucking Clegg," he exploded to me at the Boden party.

“God, those Liberals will jump into bed with anyone."

“Very droll, Gideon. Eight out of ten focus-groupers think that I'm Clegg when they see me on TV, and, nearly as bad, that Clegg is me. It's doubly infuriating."

It is hard not to feel sympathy with the focus-groupers' confusion. Osborne and Clegg were, after all, both day boys and they, as a breed, are notoriously difficult to tell apart. What's more, if the public think The Boy is running the Lib Dems, it would explain why they have been so becalmed in the polls. And as we mulled over it with Alan Duncan, the only man prepared to drink in this blasted town, it struck us that, with a bit
of sleight of hand, we might be able to reassure the City by swapping Boy George for Uncle Vince, without the voters being any the wiser. That's serious politics.

This article first appeared in the 12 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Barack W Bush