By the time story had got to me, Cherie had stormed out of the conference hall shouting, "It's not true! It's a lie!" and knocking a woman over as she went.
She may have stuck her finger into Sarah Brown's eye by the time you read this. Nonetheless, there is a poetic truth in the story, a moral truth, as spin doctors like to say, and that's not bad for something that isn't true. If it isn't true.
Had the Chancellor been more convincing, the story would never have started. He could have eclipsed any Cherie story with his own intelligent, tantalising account of the most interesting relationship in modern politics. But he couldn't even bear to look at him. He knew he had to say something so he described him as "the most successful ever Labour leader and Labour Prime Minister".
This is the least possible compliment you can pay Tony Blair (as Brown continues to call him), and it lacks, shall we say, personal warmth.
The conference applauded, and Brown gave Blair a nod that was supposed to express a mute, male, my-mate solidarity. But it looked rude, curt and scant: "There. I've said it. Are you happy now?" He went on. "And where over these years, differences have distracted from what matters I regret that, as I know Tony does too." To deconstruct this odd syntax: "See, I am apologising. But not because I have done anything wrong. We are both to blame. But because I am always focused on the substance, the "what matters", it's clear that Tony Blair is more to blame than me." It was at this point that the story has Cherie Blair expressing herself.
It was a pretty miserable summary of their achievements. Together, they produced an enormous structural change in British politics (public spending up by half). The one couldn't have done it without the other. The job is suddenly too big for one person. Together, they did it.
And this is important because "together" is Brown's big word. It's underlies his "forging a shared national purpose"; it's about how the Government can't do it all by itself so it has to work with us, the people, "together".
But it doesn't look as though he likes working together very much. And I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it, either. Listening to Brown, I always end up feeling accused. It's somehow all my fault. He tells me that I'm not doing enough. I'm too selfish, lazy, sneering and sinful. He's right, of course. But I'm not sure the message will go over well in Maidenhead.
PS: Was it quite fair of Brown to be launching his leadership campaign when everyone else has - in John Reid's phrase - taken "a monk-like vow of silence" on the subject? PPS: Most revealing slip of the tongue: "There are nobles purses worth fighting for!"Reuse content