Me, Kelvin and the minister

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The Independent Online
BIT OF a coincidence, Kelvin MacKenzie getting a phone call from a Cabinet minister like that at the Sun. I mean, I got one, too. Phone call, I mean. From a Cabinet minister. At about the same time. Same chap, probably. Difficult to tell if it is, of course, because Mr MacKenzie hasn't told us the name of the minister involved, so I can't compare notes.

Which is odd, really, when you think how keen the Sun normally is on corroborative detail. Maybe it just slipped his mind. But I'm sure that if Mr MacKenzie does happen to remember the name, he'll let us know. And then I can tell you if it was the same chap who spoke to me.

I certainly don't mind telling you the name of the chap who spoke to me. I wrote it down at the time, just to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the piece of paper I made the note on - ah, here it is. Oh . . . I seem to have written the name rather hurriedly. I'm not sure if I can make it out. Michael something? Or is it Malcolm? Actually, it could be William, come to think . . .

Well, it doesn't really matter who it was. The point is that this minister said to me, 'Andreas, old boy' - oh, that's another thing. My name is not Andreas. Never has been. But when you have a Cabinet minister on the line, you don't like to correct him straight away, do you? If you know Cabinet ministers as well as I know Cabinet ministers, you'll know that the last thing in the world they like doing is being corrected. It makes them seem somehow, I don't know, fallible. And they don't like that.

So if I had said: 'Actually, the name is Miles, not Andreas,' the odds are he would have rung off in high dudgeon and I would never have got this inside dope from him, would I?

Anyway, he said: 'Look, Andreas, I'm in this rather top- level election planning meeting, and if I natter away on my mobile phone for too long the PM will begin to get upset, but I want to know if you'd like to stay on the Tory Story mailing list.

'It's now the proven publishing success story of the decade, old boy. We reckon that between 0 per cent and 100 per cent of all the political scandal stories that appear in the press have originated with us here at Tory Story. Remember the story about David Steel? Remember the story about Neil Kinnock? And David Owen? No, hold on. We couldn't think of anything to say about David Owen . . .'

I couldn't remember any of these, but in my experience, and I am sure yours, Cabinet ministers hate talking to ignoramuses, so I said: 'Oh, right, those stories]' and let him carry on.

'All ours. Then there was the one about Cecil, and the ones about Leon Brittan. And John Selwyn Gummer . . .'

'Hold on,' I said. 'Why would you want to circulate nasty stories about people on your side?'

'Oh, grow up, Andreas,' the man said. 'You know as well as I do that often the biggest threats come from someone inside your own party. Anyway, we know more secrets about our own party than the other side. To be quite honest, the people in our party seem to generate more secrets, don't quite know why. The thing is, your paper isn't really taking its fair share of Tory Stories, so I thought . . .'

'What can you get me on John Major?' I said.

'John Major? Oh, come on] He's our leader] Even if we had stories on him - and I'm not saying we haven't - we wouldn't tell you. We are right behind him.'

'If I had the Tory Party right behind me, I'd feel distinctly threatened,' I said. 'But what about your ex-leader?'

'The blessed Margaret?'

'The same. If you can plant a story about her, I'll be convinced you can deliver the goods.'

'Hmm. What sort of story?'

'Oh - about her being mixed up in some financial deal. With a tobacco company, maybe.'

'Heavens, that's not going to be easy, Andreas.'

'And for good measure, why don't you let out a couple of scandal stories on, let's think, someone like Virginia Bottomley. And David Mellor.'

'You're asking a lot,' said the minister. 'Can it wait till after the election?'

'Sure.'

'And if we get those stories circulated, you'll take some more from us?'

'Promise.'

'OK, Andreas. Tory Story will be in touch. Keep watching the papers]'

He has done well. But he hasn't been back in touch yet. I'll let you know when he does.

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