Time for a cold bath

Tony praises Cherie's brilliant work, Peter learns his lines, and Gordon is given the bad news, only

Tony is pacing his office. Cherie comes in.

Cherie: What is it?

Tony [formally]: Thank you for coming. Ahem. I'm sorry to have to speak to you like this but the whips want me to have a private word. Now, the whole aim of this year's conference was to prove that our squabbles are over and we're absolutely united behind the Chancellor. Thanks to you, that plan is ruined. Proud of yourself?

Cherie: Er, well -

Tony: Because I am. Brilliant work, darling! Alastair couldn't have managed it better.

Cherie: Good. Now, let's talk rewards.

Scene 2: Marsham Street, SW1. Peter Hain has spent so much time endorsing Gordon that he believes he is in a TV studio even when he is sitting in a Westminster restaurant, dining alone.

Waiter: Some water?

Peter: As long as it's Scottish and British.

Waiter: Highland Spring?

Peter: Perfect.

Waiter: Sparkling or still?

Peter: Well, it's not about sparkle or spectacle, is it, Jeremy? I think we've been through enough choppy waters recently, so yes, I'd gladly embrace a period of still water.

Waiter [writing]: Still water. What else would you like?

Peter: Let's take the personal element out of it and talk about what the party would like. And we all know the answer.

Waiter: Right, so, er, what do you want to order?

Peter: I won't be drawn into second-guessing the Chancellor. He'll be issuing his orders shortly.

Waiter: Actually I'm talking about the food.

Peter: Food? Thank you, Jeremy, a policy issue at last. Gordon has backed all kinds of initiatives during his nine miracle years at the Treasury. Better school meals. More courses for chefs. Campaigns to reduce our salt intake. He's the most successful food-policy-maker the party has ever produced.

Waiter: Let me explain. Take the menu and from it choose anything you like.

Peter: There is no choice.

Waiter: So tell me what you want.

Peter: Gordon.

Waiter: To eat.

Peter: Gordon, Gordon, Gordon.

Waiter [humouring him]: And how do you want "Gordon" done?

Peter: I like him as he is.

Waiter: Hard-boiled?

Peter: That's just his tough exterior. As we saw during the conference. A private man, drawn into politics not by celebrity but by a wish to serve.

Waiter: Hmm. Do you want a bit longer to decide?

Peter: Thank you. Come back next spring.

Scene 3: No 11. Gordon and Ed Balls are examining Gordon's conference performance.

Gordon: What are the focus groups saying?

Ed: Bit of a mixed bag, I'm afraid. Boring, baggy, colourless, dated, mean-spirited and lacking in style.

Gordon: Great.

Ed: And that's just your suit.

Gordon: Well, I can change that. How about my new persona as a reluctant servant of the people?

Ed: That went down brilliantly - with the 2 per cent who believed it. The rest think you're an arrogant, overambitious, backstabbing smart alec.

Gordon: But Tony was all those things and he did fine.

Ed: And you're too Scottish

Gordon: Well, so's John Reid. And everyone loves him. God, this is terrible.

Ed: But he's good-Scottish. Honest, tough, upfront. You're bad-Scottish. Dour, mean, melancholy.

Gordon: I'm just unlucky. That's what it is. I'm cursed. Give me the rest of the bad news and I'll go and cheer myself up with a cold bath.

Ed: Well, that's the problem, Gordon. Be positive. You're getting strong crossover ratings from a very unexpected group.

Gordon: I am being positive. Who is it?

Ed: Disco fans.

Gordon: How come?

Ed: Well, your son's called James Brown. And you said the party needs soul.

Gordon: Right. OK, that could be my new core vote. Let's capitalise on it. [He grabs a baby rattle and leaps up singing] "Get up! Get awn up now! Get up! Get awn up!"

He spins on his heel and does the splits.

Gordon: Ah, Jesus!

He rises painfully.

Gordon: Better tell Sarah, we won't be having any more kids.

Scene 4: Gordon and Sarah's flat. Gordon is pacing and brooding.

Gordon: Three months I spent working on that speech and then Mystic Meg blurts out three words and steals all the headlines. It's a disaster.

Sarah: Don't worry, darling. When you take over, just stop her becoming a law lord. It's what she always wanted.

Gordon: Of course, yes. Sweet revenge.

A sudden surge of light draws him to the window. He peers out. Tony is on the doorstep of No 10 making a statement to the press.

Tony: Following an unexpected vacancy on the bench, the Lord Chancellor has invited Cherie Booth QC to join the senior law officers in the House of Lords. We are both delighted by this great honour. And, of course, completely surprised.

Gordon throws open the window.

Gordon: That's a lie!

This article first appeared in the 02 October 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Warming up: a new double act