"Oh, yes, no doubt, " says Professor Kenneth Tripeholme, head of the Melvyn Bragg Centre for Working Up Interesting Scientific Topics, Suitable for Start the Week.
"We've been into this in some depth over a period of time, and all the evidence points conclusively to the fact that the present government will collapse of its own volition within 12 months. Whatever the disease is that is affecting the brains of the Cabinet will have either driven them all irretrievably mad or forced them out of politics by the end of 1997."
Could he very briefly sum up the factors involved?
"No, I couldn't," smiles Professor Kenneth Tripeholme. "That's the sort of question that Melvyn Bragg asks on Start the Week. I refuse to take questions like that from anyone else."
Well, could he rehearse the factors involved at great length and let us have a resume some time later? Or, even better, could he let us have a soundbite that we could splash at the top of this column?
"Sure," smiles Professor Tripeholme. "Ask me a question and see how we get on."
Well, what possible theory might there be for the Government going mad by the end of 1997?
"One theory we've looked at is that 1997 is also the year of the handing back of Hong Kong to the Chinese, and it may be that the Chinese, who have always been experts in the occult, have put a spell on British politicians until such time as Hong Kong is safely back in the Chinese fold."
Is that a serious theory? Can I really prepare a "Chinese put spell on British cabinet" headline?
"Of course not," says Kenneth Tripeholme. "I just said it was one of the theories we we looked at. The trouble is that the public and the media have no idea how science works. What we do is take a hypothesis and test it until it either works or it is shown to be crackpot. That means that at any given time we know we are examining crackpot theories."
Then why examine them?
"Because what is crackpot one day may turn out to be sane the next. If you had suggested to an 18th-century scientist that time was relative, he would have called it crackpot, but Einstein made the idea commonplace. In the case of the Tory government, it is exactly the opposite."
"That people who seemed at first sane turned out to be crackpot."
How did scientists first notice that the British government was, in fact, going mad?
"Well, it came about because scientists started getting stranger and stranger requests from the Government. We were asked to evaluate stranger and stranger topics, to give judgement on stranger things, and even, in the case of BSE, asked to sit in seminar all weekend and come up with a solution to the Government's quandary overnight just like that.
Now, this is not uncommon with governments, none of which ever seem to have any idea how science works, but eventually it dawned on us all that the way the Government was acting was not just uninformed, it was deranged. For example, Michael Howard goes around shouting "Prison works!", when quite clearly it doesn't. They do irrational things like suddenly change the danger level of alcohol, or suddenly admit that there was after all a connection between crime and unemployment. Quite irrational.
Therefore we realised that the difficulty of our work was caused not by its innate intractability but by the deranged nature of the people supplying us with the agenda, ie, the Government."
Is there any evidence for this derangement? Apart from the mad staring eyes of Howard, Portillo, etc?
"Well, the way they have demonised Tony Blair shows a troubled mind at work, and I don't mean Tony Blair's mind. Putting on Mawhinney and Heseltine as a comic double act suggests advanced derangement. Believing that there really is an Irish peace process suggests hallucination on a large scale. Believing that you can get the EU on your side by massive non-co-operation is the act of a loony.
Oh, yes, I think we can safely assume that the disease is very advanced now. No wonder the more sane Tory MPs are actually leaving politics already...."
At this point the phone rings. Professor Tripeholme answers it.
"Two more geneticists for next week's programme? I'll see what I can do, Mr Bragg. Thank you."
He puts the phone down. He groans. I tiptoe away and leave him to it.