Yes, and no, Prime Minister

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IT IS not often realised that when a new member of the Cabinet is sworn in, quite a complicated ritual has to be transacted between him or her and the Prime Minister. Dismissed by some as a piece of traditional waffle, it is seen by others as a comforting link with the real past. But judge for yourself, from this transcript provided by friends of ours who do interesting electronic work in Whitehall.

PM: Name?

Brooke: Brooke.

PM: How do you spell that? Brooke: With an 'e' on the end.

PM: Good. Now, before you are sworn in, there are one or two questions I have to ask you. How's your spelling?

Brooke: I beg your pardon?

PM: Ever since Patten said that everyone should have good basic spelling and grammar, I have lived in dread that some member of the Cabinet is going to commit a solecism in public. Kenneth Baker used to make grammatical howlers when he was education secretary. We had to promote him quickly.

Brooke: My goodness. Was there much of a fuss?

PM: None at all, as it happens. These days the public is too uneducated to notice. But if Patten gets his way, that will all change. Have you had an affair recently?

Brooke: I don't see what . . .

PM: Have you had an affair recently?

Brooke: No.

PM: Good. Do you anticipate having one in the near future?

Brooke: No.

PM: Good, good.

Brooke: But then, one doesn't, does one?

PM: Doesn't what?

Brooke: Anticipate an affair. They just happen. Bolt from the blue. Le coup de foudre.

PM: Le . . .?

Brooke: Coup de foudre. French expression.

PM: I think in these touchy days of subsidiarity it would be best to use English expressions wherever possible, Brooke . . . So you're thinking of having an affair in the near future?

Brooke: Not at all. I just said one couldn't predict these things. Love comes out of a blue sky.

PM: That's very nice. Who said that?

Brooke: I did.

PM: Hmm. Have you ever been given a free trip or holiday?

Brooke: Yes.

PM: Oh. That's bad. Was it for very long?

Brooke: Yes. Best part of a year.

PM: Oh, lummy. Where was it and who gave it you?

Brooke: It was to Northern Ireland, and you did.

PM: Did I? Did you enjoy it?

Brooke: What do you think?

PM: I don't know. The only free trip I was ever given, to Spain, had to be cancelled.

Brooke: I hated every minute.

PM: Oh, good. Nobody can hold it against you, then. Now, in the Cabinet you are going to be subjected to all sorts of temptations. People will come to you and sound you out about things. Whisper things in your ear.

Brooke: What things?

PM: All sorts of things. But don't have any truck with them.

Brooke: With whom?

PM: With these people who say things in your ear.

Brooke: Oh, you mean things such as, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have Mrs Thatcher back?'

PM: Who's been saying that?

Brooke: Nobody. It was just an example.

PM: Tell me who said that to you or I'll have you thrown out of the Cabinet]

Brooke: I haven't been thrown in yet.

PM: Who . . . was . . . it . . . said . . . that . . . to you?

Brooke: Norman.

PM: Norman who?

Brooke: I can't remember. Norman somebody.

PM: Tebbit? Fowler? Lamont?

Brooke: Something like that.

PM: Look, Brooke, I can make you or break you. I made Mellor and I broke him.

Brooke: No, you didn't. He broke himself.

PM: Yes, to be fair, that's true.

Brooke: And I promised Norman I wouldn't tell you. I believe in loyalty above all things.

PM: Above integrity, talent, logic, truth and passion?

Brooke: In Cabinet life, yes.

PM: Good man. Now, I've been looking through your CV and you seem not to have had any professional involvement with the arts. Or heritage. Or fun, come to that. Correct?

Brooke: Yes.

PM: Good.

Brooke: Incidentally, what will the job involve?

PM: Backing me up in Cabinet and not having an affair. Think you can handle that?

Brooke: I'm your man.

PM: Good. Just sign here, and we'll get the policeman on the door to memorise your face.