Whatever happens, don't let him shuffle you off to Wales

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The Independent Online
HELLO - is that the 'Independent' Political Helpline? There is a good chance that I may be involved in a Cabinet reshuffle in the next few days, and I was wondering if you could advise me on the best way to handle it.

Well, what will happen is that your phone will ring.

Yes.

And you pick will it up, and say your name.

Yes, I can do that.

And the PM will say: 'Ah, Anthony' - if that is your name - 'I want to offer you . . .'

Offer me what?

Well, then he will mention the name of the department he is offering you. You have to be careful here, because sometimes it sounds a bit funny when departments are given pet names. It's a bit like shows in the West End.

I'm sorry?

You know you sometimes see blackboards in the West End outside ticket agencies, advertising the shows they have seats for? And they say things like: 'We have seats for Phant, Les Mis, Miss S, Copa'?

Yes.

Well, in the same sort of way you might get the PM ringing up and saying: 'I'd like to offer you Transport', and it's vitally important that you are not caught off guard and you don't think on the spur of the moment he's giving you the chance of a lift. And if someone rings you up and says, 'Anthony, I'd like to give you Northern Ireland', you must never never make a joke about this bizarre statement.

I see. Incidentally, if I am offered Northern Ireland, should I accept?

Do you want it?

No, I do not. I'd rather be Chairman of the Tory party than have Northern Ireland.

You must never say that.

Say what?

That you'd rather be chairman of the Tory party.

Why not?

Because somebody might take you at your word and you'd end up chairman of the Tory party.

What department should I accept, then?

Education is good to accept.

Why?

Because whatever kind of a mess you make of it, you are bound to be more popular than John Patten, and probably more efficient too. The same goes for health and Bottomley.

Mmm. Incidentally, should I accept Northern Ireland if I am offered it?

That depends how ambitious you are. It is normally considered a good thing to have done but not to do, rather like having recovered from a dangerous disease or been through a messy divorce. The one advantage of going to the Northern Ireland office is that nobody will be jealous of you.

What disadvantages are there?

That everyone in Northern Ireland will hate you and that you will do no good and solve no problems.

Are there any departments I should turn down?

Yes. Turn down any department you have never heard of, or any which sounds fictitious, like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Like Heritage.

I see.

But you have to remember that something else may happen.

Good Lord. What?

The Prime Minister might ring you up and say: 'Look, I'm awfully sorry, Anthony, but there's no place for you in the Cabinet any more.'

Good Lord. He wouldn't, would he?

He very well might. He did to Norman Lamont, and he did to David Mellor.

What would I do then?

Well, you can go down the Norman Lamont path and make a lot of money in the City by giving financial advice to people . . .

Do people in the City actually pay Norman Lamont for his financial advice?

Yes.

Is this the same Norman Lamont who was Chancellor at the time of Black Wednesday and took us in and out of the exchange rate mechanism and everything? Yes.

And people are paying him for his advice?

Yes . . . or you can leave under a cloud like David Mellor and become a great success as a broadcaster and journalist.

Is he a great success?

Well, he's everywhere, at least. He would be called ubiquitous if it weren't for Tony Slattery.

I see. well . . . oh, hold on. My other phone's ringing. Oh, my God, it might be the PM] I'll have to ring off now . . .

Good luck] And don't accept the Welsh Office] Oh, he's gone . . .

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