Miles Kington: A pack of party animals on the prowl for a big beast

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The Independent Online

I happened to be up in London the other day when who should I bump into but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the kingpin of the British PR industry, the man behind almost everything that happens...

"Adrian!" I cried, as he swept past me, openly checking his emails in public. "Whither away so fast?"

"Oh, hello, lad," he said, in that condescending tone of voice that some Londoners reserve for their out-of-town cousins. "I'm in a bit of a hurry ... Look, if you're not doing anything, why not come along with me? It might make a bit of copy for you."

"What might?"

"Selection party for a new Lib Dem leader," he said. "Come along – starts in five minutes..."

"Selection party?" I said. "Don't you mean selection process?"

"You haven't seen the Lib Dems in action," he said.

And five minutes later I did witness the Lib Dems in action, and it was indeed more of a party, a mid-morning coffee or Cava, tea or tipple affair, in a big room overlooking Whitehall. I recognised many of the famous faces milling around. Chris Tarrant, Tim Rice, Salman Rushdie, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Sue Lawley, Peter Mandelson...

"Adrian!" I said. "What are all these people doing here? They're none of them Lib Dem MPs! I doubt if half of them are even Lib Dems!"

"What's wrong with that?" said Adrian, looking hurt. "Good Lord, if you limited the leadership choice to Lib Dem MPs, you'd end up having a leader like Charles Kennedy or even Ming Campbell, and we can't afford to have that happen again. Oh, hi there, Doris! Well done! Did your fellow Rhodesian Robert Mugabe send his congratulations?"

I found myself being introduced to the new Nobel Prize-winner for writing, sorry, Literature.

"Do you really expect to become the new Lib Dem leader?" I dared to ask her.

"Of course not," said Miss Lessing. "But I never expected to get the Nobel Prize either. I'm feeling lucky this year! So who knows... Oh, hello, John – you in for the job?"

This to John Humphrys, who was popping inquisitively from group to group.

"Not really," said Humphrys, "but anyone who works for the BBC has to be on the look-out for other work coming up, just to be on the safe side. Heavens, is that a ghost, or am I really seeing Jeffrey Archer?"

No, it was really Archer himself, or at least an aged version of himself, like a Mme Tussaud's reject.

"Still looking for a top job, Archer?" said Humphrys.

"Oh, I've never wanted to lead a party," said Archer. "Not my style. But I always fancied myself as an ex-leader of a party. I'd like to be nominated as ex-leader of the Lib Dems and become an elder statesman."

"Don't think Ming can do it?"

"Far too old for the job," said Archer firmly.

"Good God," said Humphrys, making a note on his cuff. "I do believe Archer has made his first joke."

"Morning, all," said a cheery voice. "Anyone care to put £10 on me as next leader?"

"Oh, hello, Greg," said Humphrys to the ex-BBC Director-General. "No, don't think I'll risk it. We don't see you as a serious contender any more, not since you chickened out of the BBC and made half-hearted noises about running for Mayor of London and then chickened out of that as well – talking of which, anyone seen Boris?"

"You don't really see Boris when he comes," said Greg. "You hear him arriving. Bit like Billy Bunter. Crash. Tinkle. Cripes, I'm sorry, you chaps. Look, I've got a super wheeze..."

"At least Boris is instantly recognisable," said a new arrival.

"Who's that?" I whispered to Adrian.

"Andrew Motion," he muttered. "Least, I always assume when I'm introduced to someone I don't recognise that it's Andrew Motion, and it nearly always is..."

Just then a microphone crackled and a voice said: "Thank you everyone, and welcome to the Liberal Democrats' informal and highly confidential sounding out session for..." and then the mike crackled and went dead again, and everyone laughed.

More from the nerve centre of the Lib Dem machine tomorrow, I hope