Miles Kington: Who is this Sylvia Berlusconi, or have I missed an episode?

Party politics is a soap opera. Characters are written in, like David Cameron, and characters are written out, like Charles Kennedy
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"If Tessa Jowell and her husband are separating," said the man with the dog, "they are both going to need separate places to live, and so they will need new mortgages, and her husband will have to go back to Silvio Berlusconi for more money, and then ..."

"Yes?" said the red-haired lady. (She has fallen in love with the merlot grape and is coiffed accordingly.) "What then?"

"I don't really know," said the man with the dog. "I was only trying to sound knowledgeable. I think I need more practice."

"Well, what about your dog?" said the red lady. "Has he got an opinion?"


"What's the point of having a dog if he has no opinions?"

"I tell you what puzzles me about this whole Tessa Jowell-David Mills business," said the resident Welshman, hastily heading off a conversation on dogs.

"Are you puzzled why she's called Jowell and not Mills?" said the red lady.

"No," said the Welshman. "Not at all. It's just that when I went to get my Sunday paper from the shop, I scanned all the headlines in the different papers, as one does, and she was the lead story in all of them, but they had got it very differently. On one front page, it said: 'Heartbroken Jowell'. Another said 'Furious Jowell'. Another one said 'Defiant Jowell'. Well, she can't be all three! If your heart is broken, you are not furious. Or defiant."

"That shows you don't know women," said the red lady.

"Or newspapers," said the man with the dog.

"Tell you what puzzled me about the whole affair," said the Major, who had just come in and was manoeuvring his way towards his first Scotch of the evening. "I was half-listening to the news and sort of getting the impression this David Mills fellow was having an affair with someone called Sylvia Berlusconi."

"Although what you say is extremely silly," said the Welshman, "this is something I have often thought of quite seriously, namely, that if you changed the names of famous men to the female equivalent, it makes them seem very different. Ivy the Terrible is the obvious one."

"Doris Godunov," said someone.

"Eve St Laurent," said someone else.

"Charmian Mao," said the Welshman.

"Charmian?" said everyone.

"It's 'Chairman' with two letters swapped round," said the Welshman.

There was a pause for appreciation, if not for laughter.

"What is really strange about this development," said the Major, "is that Jowell and Mills have apparently separated because of financial and political reasons, not for sexual reasons. Nice twist. One up to the scriptwriters."

"He's right," said the Welshman. "We all know that party politics in Britain is a soap opera. Characters are written in. Like David Cameron was written in. Characters are written out. Like Charles Kennedy was written out. Some characters are typecast as funny. John Prescott. Some characters are typecast as tragic."

"John Prescott," said someone.

"And this is a new twist in the plot," the Welshman forged on regardless. "If someone had said to you a month ago that Tessa Jowell's husband would stand accused of accepting slush money from the Italian Prime Minister, and that under the strain she would resign from her marriage but NOT from her Cabinet post, you would have refused to believe it. It is only explicable if you believe in the sitcom theory of history."

"But if you missed a couple of episodes, you wouldn't know what was going on," said the red lady.

"And that is why Tessa Jowell may have to go," said the Welshman, "down that exit drainage pipe along which other scriptwriting discards have gone, like Keith Vaz, Stephen Byers, Iain Duncan Smith and..."

He stared at the dog for inspiration. The dog stared back. So we changed the subject and talked about the iniquity of Mothers' Day instead.