As the sunshine boy at Downing Street wrenches his smooth features into an expression of Churchillian gravitas and tells us that it's all so awful we might as well commit mass hara-kiri, there's one man who looks remarkably cheerful. He's a self-confessed depressive. His party's out of power. And he's clearly having the time of his life.
Alastair Campbell is everywhere. In the weeks leading up to the election, he was a talking torso on telly all the time, glowering and taunting and pronouncing and predicting, poised and ready to pounce on passing newscasters to tell them who'd won the leaders' debates, and why the polls were wrong. He was, in other words, in fine attack-dogform. You feel that if he could have wrestled each voter into the polling booth and used a little Chinese burn, or a tiny jab at the kidneys, to persuade them to put their cross in the right place, he would have. But he couldn't, and they didn't, and the result (you can imagine him saying) is that the Tory nancy boys are back.
Even this doesn't seem to have wiped the smile that's more like a snarl off that more-famous-for-sneering face. For if the people have proved more stupid than feared, at least they're good for something. They're good for flogging books. A government falls, a dream collapses, a "project" lies if not in ruins then in a state where it looks pretty far from electable, but life goes on. There are the novels, of course, (about madness and celebrity, from one who knows whereof he speaks) but it's the new, improved, and now with added acrimony, diaries that the public is, apparently, crying out for. Now that they've lost it, we're allowed to know the truth about how New Labour muscled its way to power. And it sure ain't pretty.
It wasn't that pretty before, actually – all those cameos of Tony Blair in his underpants, all those fights, all those rows, all that Anglo-Saxon. "Is it true" a Times journalist once asked Campbell, "that you used to headbutt cigarette machines until they broke?" "I'm afraid so," Campbell replied proudly. Where Harold Macmillan sought solace in Sense and Sensibility, the New Labour boys chilled out to Arsenal and the Arctic Monkeys, or Burnley and Blur. Except that they didn't chill out at all. Like hyperactive toddlers fed entirely on E numbers, they raced around, screaming and waving and shouting and moaning that Peter had been horrid and Gordon had been a bully. And now we know quite how horrid and quite how much of a bully. Paranoid and puerile about sums it up. As, indeed, does Blair's verdict on Harman: "What a silly arse!"
But the bullies and the underpants have (but not, one hopes, literally) gone. The grown ups are in charge. They don't have policy meetings with nude cabinet ministers in the bath. They eschew the expletive and the glottal stop. And if they can't employ the naughty step for their foul-mouthed feral predecessors (or give them 100 lines) they can adopt an air of preternatural patience that would, in a lesser mortal, long ago have cracked.
It's the same tone you find in the new Prime Minister's Questions, the "no, no, after you"s, the "what a good point"s, the scrupulous praise of profligate imbeciles who took the country and wrecked it, but manners are manners and you were brought up never to kick a chap while he was down. It's the tone you find in the programme for government too. "This is an historic document" we're told in the foreword, one, it's clear, in which proper attention will be paid to propriety, and indefinite articles. "Tackling the deficit is essential," we're told, "but it is not what we came into politics to achieve. We stood for Parliament... with visions of a Britain better in every way." A politer Britain, presumably. A calmer Britain. A Britain which doesn't expose the elastic of its Calvin Kleins.
The calm, it has to be said, wavers a little as the happy couple go on to add to their myriad vows one of "era-changing, convention-challenging, radical [and never knowingly understated] reform". And, indeed, in their desire to "build a new economy from the rubble of the old". I'd quite like to win a Nobel Prize, cure cancer, and marry Barack Obama, but my mother always taught me to cut my suit according to my cloth. But the over-all theme is clear. "We both want" we're told "a Britain where our political system is looked at with admiration, not anger. We have a shared ambition to clean up Westminster and a determination to oversee a radical redistribution of power".
Well, isn't that lovely? And it's not just the half-educated half-wits on the opposition benches who benefit from this sudden outpouring of patrician largesse. We do too! Like persistent truants at a progressive prep school, we've been calmly informed of the letter to our parents, and the more-in-sorrow-than-anger thrashing that will follow. But, if it helps, we can oversee the thrashings of our fellow pupils. We can even help organise them! We can form committees on thrashings, we can chuck them out to the private sector and sub-contract them. There will be pain, for everyone, but at least we can cause some, too.
And there will be transparency. Lots of transparency. "We will" we're told "extend transparency to every area of public life". We will, in other words, make sure that public sector workers who aren't sacked are pilloried for their salaries. If everyone knows how embarrassingly little we, the prime ministerial partnership, earn, we'll make damn sure that those who earn more are publicly punished. Obviously, our friends earn much more, but we're not talking about our friends. We're talking about the new, improved, "era-changing, convention-challenging" British Government.
There is, however, one employee of the British Government, and therefore the British tax payer, whose salary has not yet been revealed. His name is Andy Coulson. His job title is Director of Communications at Downing Street. His previous job title was editor of the News of the World.
Poor Andy has had some rotten luck. While he was at the News of the World, trying, no doubt, to persuade his colleagues to ditch the sex scandals and the stings in favour of essays on fiscal stimulus and the future of the euro, they, it turned out, were employing private investigators to "blag" bank accounts, bribe police officers and hack into the voicemail messages of the royal household. And poor Andy had no idea! If their expense claims were authorised, and he was the boss, and the office was open plan, well, he still had no idea. The former showbiz correspondent was so shocked he resigned the moment he heard that his royal reporter, Clive Goodman, had been jailed. Thus ensuring that the PPC didn't have to embarrass anyone by taking it any further.
Luckily, the hoodie-hugging Tory leader believes in "giving people a second chance", particularly when they happen to be best mates with the editor of The Sun. So Dave brushed off Andy, and scooped him up, and put him in charge of "communications and planning". And if poor Andy was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or at least memory loss – he told a select committee of MPs last summer that he had "no recollection" of the events at the News of the World – at least his contacts book was still intact. By the third day of the Labour Party Conference, The Sun had come out (for the Tories) again.
Andy Coulson's salary on recruitment was widely reported to be "in the region of" £475,000. When I asked Downing Street for a firm figure, they refused to give it. The salaries of "special advisers" would, they told me slightly untransparently, be announced "soon". When Coulson's salary is publicly announced, it will, no doubt, be lower. But since the Government wants our recommendations for cuts, here's one to kick off with. Sack Andy Coulson.