Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Charles Clarke ate two pizzas"

The summer season of political stories has been the worst since new Labour came to power. One of the problems that Westminster scribes had over the summer is that the Tory opposition has become so irrelevant that they provide no worthwhile stories. The Lib Dems do produce a series of surveys to report, but hardly front-page news.

As usual, it has been Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, who has provided the best news. Alastair Campbell decided that to send him to the so-called Earth Summit would be one minister too many, though it was Michael Meacher who seriously faced the chop. Once the Prime Minister's spin-doctor had set the media going, there was no turning back.

One of the most ridiculous stories over the summer was that seven Mercedes had picked up "Two Jags" from the airport in South Africa. What on earth did the hacks expect him to do - walk 20 miles to the conference centre?

The prize for best summer story goes to the Mail on Sunday for its report of Charles Clarke going to Pizza Express and eating two pizzas. This is a bit like Ian Botham eating three Shredded Wheat. Apparently, Clarke had been shooting his mouth off yet again about how crap Prescott is and how Gordon Brown will never become Prime Minister. The problem was that, this time, he said it in front of some of their friends.

Hardly big news. Clarke has been saying the same in front of everyone, including me, for the past five years. This intrigue, as in all good political plots, had to involve a restaurant, but does anyone believe that Thirsty Charles would ever eat pizza?

Thank goodness Tony Blair is back from his holiday.

This article first appeared in the 09 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, In the name of the law