A rude awakening for the PM - it's Norman's novel

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WHAT has Norman Lamont been doing while out of office? Well, like many another MPs, his thoughts have turned to novel-writing, and with a Mills & Boon-type name like Norman Lamont, who could blame him for edging towards the romantic fiction end of the market? I am delighted to say that, in fact, he has just completed his first novel, set in the world of Downing Street which he knows so well. It tells the passionate story of a modern, imaginary Tory prime minister and is called Now You See Me, Now You Don't.

In this exclusive excerpt, the Prime Minister is just waking up at 10 Downing Street the morning after a heavy parliamentary session. He is doing badly in the polls, the press is gunning for him, and he thinks he is beginning to have an affair, though he is not really sure . . .

THE ALARM clock went off in the main bedroom of 10 Downing Street. Almost immediately the radio switched itself on.

'It's just coming up to 7.37,' said a voice, 'and judging from this morning's headlines, the Government is in trouble again. Trailing 17 per cent in the polls, with the PM's popularity at an all-time low of 29 per cent, and with up to 27 MPs threatening to rebel against the Government's plans to reorganise local government . . .'

The PM groaned. He wasn't very good at figures, even though he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer for a while. Anything less than millions he had trouble with. So when this chap on the radio said that it was nearly 7.37, what was that in real time? Quarter to eight? Twenty to eight? Something like that.

He turned over in bed and addressed the figure next to him.

'What's the time, dear?'

The sleeping figure groaned and reached out a hand for the clock. There came a voice.

'Time to get up.'

Peter Sangster, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, went rigid with shock. That was a man's voice that had just spoken. He was fully expecting to hear the dulcet tones of his wife, Gloria. What on earth was he doing sharing a bedroom with a man? Oh my God, this was dreadful. The press would have a field day if they only knew. . .

Slowly he rose from his pillow until the world came into view. Yes, there was a man lying there. But at least it was in the next bed. What a relief] He remembered now. He and Gloria had slept in separate beds since they had arrived in Downing Street. Sangster often had to stay up later then Gloria's bed-time and it had seemed sensible to avoid disturbing her by introducing single beds.

And now there was a man in the other bed.

Sangster cautiously rose until he got a view of the man's face. He recognised it. It was that of Jeremy Understall, his chief speech-

writer, a man he had never found remotely attractive physically. What on earth . . .?

Understall's eyes opened.

'Morning, sir,' he said.

'Nothing personal,' said Sangster, 'but what are you doing in my wife's bed?'

'Don't you remember, sir?'

'Remember what?' said Sangster, his heart sinking. What depravity had he committed and not remembered?

'We had a brainstorming session last night, and it went on so late that you suggested I crash out for the night, especially as I had had one or two malt whiskies too many . . .'

Yes. It all came back now. What a relief. He could remember everything. All except the subject of their brainstorming session.

'Ah. Did we storm our brains to any effect?'

'Well, sir, we went over your Back to Basics speech in detail.'

Ah, yes, Peter remembered now. He was very proud of his Back to Basics speech. He thought it had everything - all the nostalgic allure of the brown bread advertisements that did so well on TV, plus a sort of moral uplift that would get people buzzing. And it would save his bacon. People called him weak and wishy-washy. Ha] He would show them] Wouldn't he? Yes, he surely would]

'That's right] I'm making that speech today, aren't I?'

'Well, no, sir. If you remember, I persuaded you that the slogan of 'back to basics' had too much of a retrospective feel, a negative nostalgia, about it.'

'Oh. Did we think of anything instead?'

'Yes, sir. This, sir.'

Understall handed him a crisp new speech. Back to Basics had been crossed out as a title. Instead, it was now called Forward to Fundamentals.

'Forward to Fundamentals?' said Sangster. 'What on earth does that mean? And by the way, where is my wife?'

Sensational developments in another extract from Norman Lamont's new novel tomorrow]

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