They also serve who must stand and wait

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Indy Politics
We are all standing in the dark of Downing Street. At one end we can see the sunshine illuminating the statues along Whitehall; at the other it warms the suited backs of civil servants strolling among the weeping willows and cherry blossoms. We alone are in deep shade.

Britain's political corps is there. The photographers, dressed for survival in the wild, poised precariously on their aluminium ladders; the camera crews and sound engineers with their tripods, and rainbow-coloured spaghetti of trailing cables; the mobile phoneys relaying the latest rumour back to newsdesks throughout London.

Already up and broadcasting in far corners of Downing St are several serious young women, speaking continuously to regional news programmes and Andorran radio. And there's a jolly chap with a proper body from the waist up but below whose belt-line dangles a horrid mass of tangled wires, connecting him umbilically with a camera and sound system.

This is Adam Boulton, the substantial political editor from Sky television, much of whose life is spent broadcasting live in front of the camera.

One wonders whether Boulton himself forgets whether he's on air or not. Does he occasionally answer routine domestic queries about shopping or lunch with a judicious pause and a balanced judgement? Or will he one day take a televised leak ("we're just waiting for a strong flow. And here it is, and everybody here feels very relieved")?

There's movement and Cabinet members arrive, filing in through the black door, all looking about half their real size.

Each one is asked the same two questions: "Are you going to win?" And then (after the obligatory thumbs up or nod): "Why?" Why? What are they supposed to answer? How about: "Because you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, but under first past the post you only need 42 per cent"?

We wait. Then the Cabinet all come out again, and the PM is into his car and off, lickety-split to kiss hands at the palace and ask for a dissolution.

The ITN helicopter flies overhead, marking the Prime Minister's passage to the palace, and ruining other journalists' attempts to contact their offices.

The Prime Minister's press secretary, Jonathan Haslam, walks among us, and a gaggle collects around him with the rapidity and determination of a Moscow crowd told that someone is selling sausage. A line of waisty pundits - led by ITN's pear-shaped political editor, Michael Brunson - is mouthing away to their various midday audiences

In the middle stands the beautiful blonde gamine from BBC World Service, like a miniature Snow White amongst the Gigantic Dwarves. And whoops, Jonathan Haslam has begun an off-the-record briefing with Adam Boulton - who is still live on camera.

The PM sweeps back into Number 10, a microphone is set up in the middle of the street, and a cute gaggle of Tarquins and Helenas - bussed in from Central Office to stand down one end looking decorative - take up position like bridesmaids at an important but tedious wedding.

Finally, Mr Major, looking exactly like himself, emerges and announces that there'll be an election on 1 May, answers some hard questions like "Will you win the general election?" and "Why?", then goes back inside to get ready for his trip up to Luton.

The Tarquins and the journalists drift off. It has been one of those historic events that those who witnessed it, will probably never, ever remember.

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