I've had a couple of "West Wing" moments in my life, though neither of them watching The West Wing.
One was in that action film when the noble, straight-talking President Ford – I mean, President Harrison Ford – was flying into the setting sun in Air Force One. As the camera pulled back from the receding plane, two fighter jets came smoothly in to sit on his tail, to protect the leader of the free world. And you thought that no businessman, no billionaire, no baronial capitalist would get fighter jets to keep him safe for us. A popular leader carrying all those generational hopes and dreams has a place beyond wealth.
The converse of this – the East Wing, the Basement Wing – was yesterday seeing Alan Sugar, that snarling scruff, being invested in the House of Lords.
He was held there in the anteroom of the Lords lobby, waiting for his investiture behind one of the gorgeous officials in a black tunic with the red lions across his chest. Another dignitary in front of him was carrying a gold stick vertically in one hand; by one of those constitutional ironies, he wasn't Gold Stick. He was something to do with the Garter, whatever that actually is. One of the Lords' largest doorkeepers, in white tie and tails, marched slowly from the chamber of the Lords with an enormous stride. Stanley Holloway would have played him. Or the Colour Sergeant in Zulu.
Of course, I'm too worldly to be taken in by any of this. It is, in the argot of my caste, "Ruritanian", all the gold braid and tights. But nonetheless I did find myself taking my hands out of my pockets when the policeman cried, "Hats off, strangers!" And when a question I asked out of the side of my mouth went unanswered I realised the little march-through hadn't definitively finished. And I was very glad not to have been among the members of the public who were admitted by mistake to the chamber and chucked out. It has its own culture here, and it's quite unlike anything else.
Sugar looked terribly out of place, and not just because of his face, and his fame. He's a businessman. Nothing wrong with that, but he's just a businessman. And he's fallen for it. There's no need for him to be here except to make Gordon look better. It's a lose-lose situation, I'm afraid. When politics or business leach into each other, they both get corrupted.
Alan Sugar in the House of Lords! What good will he be? What does he know? In business, employees do what they're told. Companies go bust and disappear. There's quarterly reporting, and monthly sales sheets and people get sacked when the profits go down. What's any of that got to do with what goes on here?
Will Sugar ever give one of those quiet, eight-minute speeches – lordly and lethal – that sink a government proposal? Not a chance. He doesn't belong here, and I'm sure he knows it. This may even be the last time he's seen here. Anything he has to say would be a tremendous waste of his time and theirs. Baron Alan Sugar. Welcome, and farewell.