"You see," she explained, "they wanted it to have tea on."
"No, no, dear," he said. "That's not quite right. Coffee too."
My conversations with Lord Jenkins have been more expansive. This week, with his report on electoral reform, he is in a position to influence the future of British politics more powerfully than any minister, Mr Rupert Murdoch or even the editor of the Daily Mail. This, you may be relieved to hear, is not another column on voting systems, though I cannot promise to keep off the subject indefinitely. Nor is it about whether Mr Tony Blair will accept his recommendations and, if he does, whether he will do anything about them. It is more about the Jenkins phenomenon and related matters.
He will, after all, be 78 in just over a fortnight. Having accomplished what he has, he would be entitled by the most exigent standards to confine himself to reading the odd book, enjoying the occasional game of croquet and writing every so often a learned article or a letter to the editor. Instead he is an active Chancellor of Oxford University, a fairly active Liberal Democrat peer and an indefatigable author, whose long book on Chancellors this year succeeded an even longer biography of Gladstone published only three years ago.
It is extraordinary that he could ever have been described as "lazy'. But so he was, by Harold Wilson among others. Wilson's complaint was that as Chancellor he refused to take work home and insisted on leaving the Treasury at seven or thereabouts, which to me indicates a long day. It was essential, Wilson thought, to take work home - at least to be seen to be doing so. Wilson's own idea of homework was to sit in front of the television at No 10 with Lady Falkender, Mr Gerald Kaufman and the late Lord Balogh, complaining about the BBC's "bias" on the Nine O'Clock News. Lady Falkender would then be sent out to buy fish-and-chips. On her return the quartet would settle down to watch ITV's News at Ten, which from their point of view would be pronounced a more satisfactory production. No wonder Mr Kaufman, as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is today such a passionate defender of this programme!
Even so, the real reason for the regard in which it is held by the metropolitan political classes is that it suits their way of life. They listen to Today in the morning and then depart for a long day of public mischief. After dinner they return to wherever they are resting their heads and switch on Mr Trevor McDonald. At 10.30 they turn to BBC2 and Mr Jeremy Paxman. Most people lead different lives, getting up and going to bed earlier, and having their tea as soon as they arrive home from work. They do not want news stuffed down their throats at 10 o'clock. They would much prefer to be watching a film.
You think this a digression? Not so. All these asides fulfil a purpose in the columnar scheme of things. Mr Kaufman now devotes his time, his energy and his brain to running the Gerald Kaufman Show, which consists in humiliating - as I am told the hosts of all the best chat shows do - those unfortunate persons who appear before him.
Why does Mr Blair not give him the opportunity to bully someone else for a change? Arrogant Eurocrats, obtuse foreign ministers, German motor manufacturers: all come to mind as suitable for the Kaufman treatment. Why, in short, does Mr Blair not make Mr Kaufman a minister in a real cabinet? He is 10 years younger than Lord Jenkins. He even belongs to the same party as Mr Blair, which Lord Jenkins does not. He might not make an ideal foreign secretary on account of his Zionism, though he held that shadow position under Mr Neil Kinnock. Having spent the day at Lord's, I once came upon him in a St John's Wood supermarket making a great fuss about whether the grapefruit came from Israel. But he would be a better foreign secretary than Mr Robin Cook.
Not that he has to be confined to foreign affairs. In 1975-79 he was Minister of State at the Department of Industry. He would certainly be a better minister than Mr Peter Mandelson in the same department.
This column is not intended to be the Gerald Kaufman Show. He has his own. He is meant to illustrate a more general thought. Mr Blair may defer to Lord Jenkins, as Lord Jenkins does to him. Indeed, if there is one emotion that is more powerful than Mr Blair's regard for Lord Jenkins, it is Lord Jenkins's regard for Mr Blair. Nevertheless the Prime Minister is reluctant to prefer Labour politicians who possess some experience of office. The only ministers who served in a Labour government before 1979 are, inside the Cabinet, Mrs Margaret Beckett, Dr Jack Cunningham and Mrs Ann Taylor and, outside it, Mr John Morris and Mr Michael Meacher. Mr Meacher, my old adversary in the law courts, was elected to the shadow cabinet but was, with Mr Tom Clarke, not appointed by Mr Blair in May 1997 to the real cabinet - in defiance of the parliamentary party's rule. Admittedly it is a pretty silly rule. Still, Mr Meacher is entitled to feel hard done by. Mr Morris was in previous cabinets during the 1970s as Welsh Secretary. He is entitled to feel aggrieved also.
These are pretty small fry. But what of Roy Hattersley? What indeed! He is now the most prolific journalist in the land apart from Mr Blair. And Lord Hattersley writes all his articles himself. He is 65, the age, as we are often reminded, at which Winston Churchill first became prime minister. Why should he not join the Cabinet as Lord President or Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the Lords? He would be an improvement on Lady Jay.
Mr Blair is, I am afraid, guilty not only of ageism but of eliminating any awkward customers. His principle of inclusiveness is not of universal application. The best Chancellor would be Mr Denzil Davies, who used to be financial secretary, rather than Mr Gordon Brown, who picks things up as he goes along, how successfully we shall see. Europe might be a problem, as much for Mr Davies as for Mr Blair: but more intractable problems have been solved.
Moore, by the way, was a great admirer of the Labour minister Jim Griffiths, chiefly on account of his broadcasts. Though I could see Jim's virtues too, I tried to explain to Moore that my fellow-citizen of Ammanford had originally been a Marxist and was not wholly deficient in political wiles. The great philosopher was having none of it. Griffiths was clearly a good man: he could perceive goodness in Griffiths. For obvious sociological reasons there is no one like him in the Labour government today. But for perhaps less obvious reasons there is no one like Crosland, Crossman, Healey or Jenkins either. The Cabinet is the poorer for it.Reuse content