After the death of the Labour leader John Smith, there was, at an Islington restaurant, a crucial meeting between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to discuss which one of them should be the next leader. The two men talked alone, unheard. Nobody knows how it was decided that Blair should go for the leadership, or whether Blair agreed to step down later for Brown.
Only, it is said, a top dramatist could have done justice to the encounter. Today, for the first time ever, that is precisely what is going to happen, for I have asked the mighty computer here at The Independent to re-enact the Blair-Brown meeting in theatrical terms. Our chosen playwright? Oscar Wilde. Ladies and gentlemen, an extract from The Importance of Being Leader:
The scene is an exclusive restaurant. Two young gentlemen, Tony and Gordon, are at a table together.
Tony: May I offer you a cigarette, Gordon?
Gordon: I never smoke, thank you.
Tony: Oh, you should. It is an exquisite pleasure. No, it is more than that. It is an exquisite duty.
Gordon: Exquisite it may be, but the duty on smoking is never quite high enough. One has to raise it constantly to keep it in the same place.
Tony: Is that a paradox?
Gordon: I have no idea. I deal only in facts and figures.
Tony: Then let us deal with the indisputable fact that John Smith is dead. You know what this means?
Gordon: Yes. It means that he now owes the state death duties.
Tony: That is one way of putting it. It also means that our party has no leader. Whoever becomes the next leader will almost certainly be prime minister. And you know what that means?
Gordon: Yes. His tax-paying potential will be vast.
Tony: Gordon, you must learn not to see people merely in terms of their revenue possibilities. If you asked a young lady to marry you, would you go down on one kneee and say to her: "My dear girl, let us ameliorate our tax position by taking the same name in the eyes of God?"?
Gordon: Most certainly.
Tony: Then that explains why you have remained unmarried. It is bad enough to marry a girl for her money, but to marry her for her tax status strikes at the very heart of romance.
Gordon: Frankly, Tony, I do not think you asked me here to improve my proposal technique. I think you asked me here to talk about being the next leader of the party.
Tony: There is a refreshing bluntness about you, Gordon, which I find perfectly terrifying. Yes, since you ask, I think it would be quite delightful for one of us to be the highest in the country.
Gordon: When a person says "one of us", he generally means himself.
Tony: You are quite right. I am very tempted by the idea of leading the country for a few years.
Gordon: Ah, but where would you lead it? Into Europe? Over the sea to America? Round and round the mulberry bush?
Tony: As you know, Gordon, I am fully committed to leading us into Europe.
Gordon: When a man says he is fully committed to something, it generally means he hates the idea of doing it but cannot yet think of a way of getting out of it.
Tony: I also intend to look after my friends. I thought I might make Derry Irvine the Lord Chancellor.
Gordon: Derry Irvine! But he is the very last person who should be made Lord Chancellor!
Tony: And I fully intend he shall be the very last person. I shall abolish the job while he is in it. I shall tell him: either you go or your wallpaper goes!
Tony: It is a clever allusion which it would take too long to explain.
Gordon: I still fail to see why you should be the leader, not me. After all, Tony, I am older than you. I am cleverer than you. I am wiser than you.
Tony: Of course you are. That is why people like me far better than you. There is nothing people hate so much in a leader as leadership qualities...
Etc etc etc. Full version available. Coming soon: the Blair-Brown meeting in other versions as dramatised by Coward, Shaw, Shakespeare, Chekhov etcEtc etc etc. Full version available. Coming soon: the Blair-Brown meeting in other versions as dramatised by Coward, Shaw, Shakespeare, Chekhov etc
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