The Sketch: 'Quote ... unquote', as played in Notting Hill

Click to follow

What on earth were we doing in that corridor again? We're back there today, too, for the Tories' first ballot. While we're milling around the corridor, ID cards will be back on the floor of the House (will the shadow Home Secretary be completely present?). The Education White Paper is also being published today (will the shadow Education Secretary be completely focused?). Who organises these things? Can't they do better? But of course, Tony Blair organises them and the organisation is perfect.

The House is brimming over with big business and the opposition meanders step by step through its leisurely, almost playful protocols.

It was the final hustings before the first ballot. We counted them in and counted them out. MPs, contenders, Tory peers so old and slow and part of the place you just wanted to slump in them and go to sleep.

Liam Fox was giving us his debrief (his pitch went well, you'll be relieved to hear). Then Ken Clarke came lumbering down the corridor heading towards yet another baffling defeat. He is like a B52 that just can't get into the air; the runway's been extended by almost eight years.

"What's Liam doing out?" he asked noisily as he tried to get into the committee room. The door seemed to be locked. Then he got in but he was shown out immediately. If anything it was a little too metaphorical. He stood on the step answering questions. "What's the rate of public sector inflation, Ken?" "Ohhh, five or six per cent," he said airily and finally got in.

He refused to answer any questions on his way out again half an hour later, "Sorry, it was a closed meeting." What a gent he is.

But soft, who comes here? David Cameron moved slowly towards the vulgar throng (we're back in the corridor). He has picked up a thoughtful, Man of Destiny walk that Rada might use for Hamlet and Henry V. It's a daringly experimental conflation. Maybe it's one of those Notting Hill after-dinner games: "If you were a Reservoir Dog, what sort of dog would you be?"

Anyway, he went in. He came out. He answered four questions. Every one of them had a quotation... "Erring and straying" (Prayer Book). "It's a beautiful thing" (film, isn't it?). "I shall be having further conversations later today" (PM). "The end of the beginning" (Churchill).

Maybe it's another Notting Hill game. What does it mean? We'll find out, I dare say, at some point in his leadership.

Every one suddenly agrees he'll get it. His scant four years in the House no longer signify. Because the clincher - his most important selling point - is this: he's not going to win the general election. He's got another eight years before he's prime minister.

What a great selling point: "Trust me! I'm going to lose!"

(All right, I agree, it needs a little work.)

Comments