Miles Kington: You need a Kirsty or two to make a party go with a swing

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The Independent Online

As I think I told you yesterday, I have just been to a preliminary screening party for the next leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, and although I do not see myself as a potential Lib Dem leader, I think the same was true of everyone else in the room, including such unlikely notables as Hugh Grant, Jeremy Paxman, Janet Street-Porter, Kirsty Young and Ian Hislop.

"At least they are recognisable," said Adrian to me, Adrian being my PR friend Adrian Wardour-Street, who had taken me along. "The trouble with the Lib Dems is that nobody knows who any of them is. Nick Clegg? Chris Huhne? Not one person in a hundred could recognise them. Probably couldn't even spell them, what with two guys around called Huhne and Hoon. So we are toying with the idea of making someone recognisable an honorary Lib Dem leader, someone who does all the public stuff but doesn't actually get involved with policy."

"But someone from right outside politics?" I said.

"Why not? Nobody seemed to worry when the Man Booker Prize judging panel was chaired by Sir Howard Davies this week. Now, Howard Davies is famous for lots of things, but knowing about books is not one of them. Yet he came through unscathed."

"I am not so sure," I said. "For one thing, I wouldn't recognise Howard Davies if I met him. And for another thing, everyone seemed to think the winning novel was a bit of misery fiction that nobody would want to buy."

"The time has not yet come when we can give the Booker to J K Rowling and get away with it," said Adrian, abstractedly.

"And another thing," I said. "Why is Kirsty Young here?"

"Every gathering these days has to have someone called Kirsty in it," said Adrian. "Kirsty Lang... Kirsty Wark... Kirsty Young... and if you can't get a Kirsty, get a Francine."

"What's Hugh Grant doing here?"

"I expect he heard that Liz Hurley wasn't here... Oh, hi there, Jeremy!"

This to Jeremy Paxman. I have a nodding acquaintanceship with Jeremy Paxman. I nodded to him. He nodded to me. I nodded back to him. This might have gone on all day if I hadn't asked him a direct question.

"You, Jeremy? Leader? Of the Lib Dems?"

"That sounds like three questions, but it's only one, rather badly asked," Paxman analysed the situation very swiftly. "So you only need one answer."

"So what..."

"... am I doing here? Well, it's one of the great advantages of being an interviewer is that nobody is really surprised to see you anywhere, because they think you have come to ask questions."

"And have you come to ask questions?"

"Ah!" said Jeremy. "That is the question!"

And he slid purposefully onwards with that well-known half sardonic, half sympathetic smile which has lured so many flies into his parlour.

"Good performer," said Adrian. "He didn't answer a single question of yours."

Just then Adrian's mobile rang and he retired into his jacket to answer it.

"Osama!" I heard him say. "Always nice to hear from you! How's the new cave? I saw that feature on it in Pakistani Good Housekeeping. Brilliant! What's that...? No, I don't think you'd be interested, not unless you want to be the next leader of the Lib Dems... Bye..." "Which might not be a bad idea at that," he added to me. "He's got the right sort of get-up-and-go."

Just then the phone rang again. "Hello... Yes... Aha! Right! Sounds very interesting! I'll be right down! Come on, lad..."

Saying which he rang off, grasped me by the sleeve and prepared to leave. To my amazement I saw that most other people were leaving as well. Whatever the news was, it must be getting around.

"We're off to the Football Association HQ," said Adrian. "News is that Steve McLaren's job as England manager is on the line. They're having an informal sounding out process..."

I made an excuse and got a taxi to Paddington. Life in London can just get too exciting for an out-of-towner.

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