'Coffee, sir?' said the maid at breakfast, offering the pot to the Prime Minister. Peter Sangster frowned.
'Yes, I think I will,' he said.
'No,' he hastily added, 'no more for me. Oh, I don't know, perhaps I will . . .'
The maid ignored his hesitation, as she always did, and poured out a cup of coffee.
The door opened and the PM's press attache, Dick Smidgeon, entered.
'Come in, Dick,' said the PM. 'Sit down. Have a cup of coffee?'
Dick had already come in, sat down and had a cup of coffee. Unlike the PM he was a man of decision and action.
He sometimes found it irksome working for a man who was slower than himself, especially as that man was meant to be running the country. It's not always easy to take orders from people whom you do not totally respect, especially if that man sometimes puts you right in it and then pretends it's all your fault.
Where were we? Oh yes. The PM leant forward and said to Dick: 'Have you seen the news? It's dreadful.'
'I know, sir. Our last major car firm sold to the Germans without a squawk . . .'
The PM frowned and shook his head.
'No,' he said. 'I'm talking about the bad news. From the Caribbean.'
'Oh? Been an earthquake? Hurricane? Revolution?'
'England all out for 168 in the first innings against Grand Cayman,' said the PM. 'One sometimes longs for Gower to come back and lead England.'
There was a pause.
'I rather wanted to talk to you about that, sir,' said Smidgeon.
'About cricket?' said Sangster startled. He didn't have Smidgeon down as a cricket man. He'd always thought he was into football. For some strange reason the words 'Wimbledon Reserves' came into his mind whenever he saw him.
'Not about cricket. About the prospect of a past leader coming back to lead the troops.'
'You don't mean Margaret, do you?' said the PM, aghast.
It was odd, reflected Dick, that the one person the whole Tory party was afraid of was the only one referred to familiarly by her first name. Heath, Macmillan, Heseltine, all referred to with respect by their surname, as if they were public schoolboys. No, not public schoolboys, thought Dick - footballers. All footballers called each other by surnames these days, then turned them into pet names. Ince, Incey; Gascoigne, Gazza; Barnes, Barnesy . . .
Dick Smidgeon shook his head. God, how easy it was to wander off into a reverie when talking to the PM. Being with the PM was almost the same as being alone. With an effort, he spoke.
'When things are in the doldrums, there is always talk of changes. Let's have a reshuffle, people say. But what people really mean is let's have a change of leadership.'
'I think it makes more sense to let Atherton play himself in for a while,' said the PM.
Smidgeon sighed and ploughed on.
'And that is when people start saying: is Sangster really the best man to lead the Tories? What about a change? What about . . . Cramond?'
'Cramond?' said Sangster, startled.
The man they referred to was the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, a brilliant economist, a handsome, devilishly dashing man and a natural leader. In one of his rare moments of decisiveness, Sangster had recognised the threat and had fired him. But Cramond was always waiting in the wings, restless, mercurial, brilliant, and ready to come back. What made it worse was that Cramond was armed with certain pieces of information about Sangster that, if they ever came out, would be seriously damaging to John. Sorry, not John. Peter. Sorry about that, PM, still new to this novel-writing lark. Where was I? Oh, right.
'Yes, Cramond,' said Dick. 'You may have fired him, but you haven't got rid of him. It's time for you to do something.'
'Do something? Do what?'
'Have an affair,' said Dick.
'Have an affair?' said the Prime Minister. 'Are you crazy? Has it occurred to you that it will shatter my squeaky-clean image?'
'Has it occurred to you, sir, that your squeaky-clean image is your worst enemy, and that having an affair might actually give you the credibility you seek?'
Will it or won't it? Find out by reading Norman Lamont's new novel, out soon, entitled 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find, But Can't We Do Better Than This?'.