I was at a BBC party a few months ago, the kind of party where you recognise a lot of radio faces and wonder later how you recognised them, as there is no such thing as a radio face, when I heard a voice behind me say: "There's Miles! He'll know! Let's ask him!" and I turned round to see Andrew Marr beckoning me over. I was surprised to be beckoned by Andrew Marr, as we hardly know each other, but I assumed he was with a group of people he was desperate to get away from and was grasping at any passing straw, so I was quite willing to help him evade his captors.
I was wrong. He was happily chatting to a group of political correspondents. And the question he asked me was this.
"Miles, we've been discussing the Prime Minister. When do you think Tony Blair will leave office?"
My honest answer to this is that I neither know nor care. The soap opera surrounding his future has not been well-written in the past few years. The plot has been far too repetitive, and unimaginative, and the characters invented by the scriptwriters have tended to be too dreary (one thinks of Jack Straw), far-fetched (John Prescott) or badly developed (Gordon Brown) to keep me switching on. Like someone who has managed to give up The Archers, I keep a vague eye on the Blair/Brown story to make sure none of the major characters is killed off, so that I can more or less keep my end up in daily conversation, but the idea of actually following the soap day by day ...
"Frankly, Andrew," I found myself saying, "I neither know nor care."
The assembled soothsayers chuckled as if I had said something funny. And I suppose in their eyes I had. It was not possible for them to imagine that anyone would really find the whole business dispensable.
"No, but if Gordon does decide to make a move in the next few months ..." one of them said, so I drifted on and away, feeling rather depressed.
The Westminster village really does exist, then. People really do gather in small groups, discussing the doings of other knots of small people, speculating and hazarding guesses, just like in a small village.
I live in a small village and have seen it happening. The difference between my village and the Westminster village is that nobody thinks the doings of my village are worth broadcasting, and nobody is asked on TV or radio to speculate how long so-and-so can possibly hang on as chairman of the parish council.
The doings of the Westminster village, though, are assumed to be of vital interest to everyone, and experts are rolled forward every day to analyse the latest resignation or, for God's sake, to speculate on why Gordon Brown has been seen smiling in the back of a car. None of these experts seems to realise that we are bored witless by the whole non-saga, and do not want to hear any more about it, because these experts are as enmeshed in and dependent on the soap as Brown and Blair are. Paxman and Marr and Dimbleby and the other Dimbleby are characters in the soap too, and listening to them talk about the Westminster soap is about as real as hearing David Archer sound off about Linda Snell.
My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that people are so fed up with the whole process that even if they can't wait to get rid of Blair, they feel in an odd sort of way that it has happened already, and that Brown is even now half in power, and my prediction is that we are going to be sick and tired of Gordon Brown before he has ever entered 10 Downing Street, and that if he does get his shoes across the threshold, he will be the first Prime Minister to have outstayed his welcome before he is even welcomed.
And that is as far as I want to go in talking about the whole business. Simon Jenkins wrote yesterday that the next nine months may not be edifying, but it will not be dull. Oh, yes, it will be, Simon. It has been until now, and there is no reason why anything should change. I hereby declare this column a Blair/ Brown-free zone, and if in the next few months you want a discussion on the succession, you will have to leave these premises and stand outside in the cold and rain to do it.Reuse content