The minister's future is in your hands!
Monday 13 January 1997
You'll get the idea as we go along, so here we go with this brilliantly up-to-date novel, entitled A Man For Today.
Your name is Jeremy Plinth, and you are the young, up-and-coming Junior Minister for Arms Deals at the Foreign Office. You live at a small house in Chelsea with your wife and two children (and you also live some of the time with your mistress in Fulham, but that is another story).
As an up-and-coming Tory politician, you have mixed feelings about the coming election. On the one hand, you want the Tory party to win, because they are your team. On the other hand, you will probably rise faster in opposition, because if the Tories lose the election a lot of the senior ones will get out of politics, leaving more space for your ambitions. So a Tory loss might be good for you. On the other hand ...
Things like this keep going through your mind so much that you even dream politics. One night you dream that you are in Parliament when the fire alarm goes off and the place fills with smoke. You are fighting your way out when you stumble over a body. It is the unconscious Prime Minister! You know you haven't a second to lose. What do you do?
a) Pick up the recumbent Mr Major and rescue him.
b) Shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, really, everybody should be responsible for his own welfare and not expect politicians to do it for him."
c) Fight your way to the nearest phone and ring the press with the major scoop: "PM perishes in fire!"
The correct answer is that you panic. Without experience of senior office, what hope have you got of reacting coolly? But as you panic, you realise that you are being shaken awake by your wife, who is saying: "The phone has been ringing for hours! Answer it!"
Ah, so that's why you were dreaming about fire alarms! You answer the phone, noticing that it's still pitch black and only 6am, and a voice says: "Sorry to disturb you, minister, but it's the Today programme here, and we'd love to have you on the programme for your reaction to the William Waldegrave revelations - we could send a car round to fetch you!"
You've never been on Today before. You know an invitation means new status, new dignity. On the other hand you don't know what Waldegrave business he's talking about and you don't want to make a fool of yourself. You've got five seconds to decide. What do you say?
a) "Some mistake, I'm afraid. No minister here."
b) "I'll do it on condition you don't mention my mistress in Fulham."
c) "I'd love to do it as long as John Humphrys doesn't ask the questions."
d) "Get stuffed!"
Yes, the bed is so warm and the prospect of getting out of it so uninviting that with great courage you tell Today to get stuffed. And you go to sleep again. But five minutes later the phone rings again, and there is a soft Northern Irish accent at the other end, and you just KNOW in your heart of hearts that it's Dr Mawhinney, and he says:
"What's this I hear, Jeremy? Rejecting an invitation to appear on Today? For God's sake, man, we need every bit of publicity we can get and you're telling `Today' to get stuffed? Now listen to me, Plinth. You get out of bed and phone the Today people and tell them you'll do it, because if you don't I'll have your guts for garters! If you don't play ball, I may also have to talk to your wife about a certain lady in Fulham ..."
You are so shocked that the truth never occurs to you - namely, that it isn't Dr Mawhinney at all, but an Irish chap on the Today production team who can imitate Mawhinney very well, and has often used this impersonation to get ministers scurrying along. So how do you respond to the man you think is the dreaded doctor?
a) "Yes, sir, please, sir."
b) "Yes, sir, please, sir, sorry, sir."
c) "On my way now, sir."
d) "Piss off, you dreadful fake doctor from Northern Ireland, you puffed up little bully boy!"
Yes, you tell the man you think is Mawhinney that you will gladly do it and at that moment the doorbell rings and it is the radio car sent by the Today programme!
More of this gripping saga tomorrow!
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