Can it really be a year since we got rat-arsed at that awful tapas bar? It doesn't seem possible, does it?
Yet here I am again, unpacking my Y-fronts and policy papers in a mid-range hotel room so dull and oppressive I'm almost GLAD when one of Stewart's teenage wonks drops by with another "hot button briefing". Actually, the last speccy twerp was quite useful, managed to get the telly working. (Did you know that brush-faced buffoon Noel Edmonds is back? Wearing fancy dress, opening boxes. Had no idea. And people blame US for the state this country's in.)
Have switched off the telly now, left the room and moved to something called a Residents' Lounge. It's one of those hotels des nouveaux, you know the sort. Ghastly "buffet breakfast room" filled with shark-eyed reps and provincial wedding guests, bloody awful pop music hanging in the air like a bad smell. Christ, these places always make me feel like Philip Larkin.
Conference is definitely the worst thing about being In Government. Oh, standing on a stage talking bollocks through a shit-eating grin to rows of back-stabbing bastards is grim enough whichever political tribe you belong to. But there's something exquisitely horrible about being the last lot on. You can see how badly it's gone for the other parties. Hostile delegates. Bloody media hanging round the fringe like sarcastic zombies. It's like being in a queue at the abattoir. Ha ha, oh look there are my opponents up ahead, shuffling towards Kirsty Wark and her bolt gun. Oh wait, I'm next…
Did you catch the other conferences? I mean the main two, obviously. I'm assuming that neither of us gives a toss about the early ones: the thin vegetarian cyclists from Brighton, the fat Battle of Britain fetishists from Hove etc. Opposition had the usual car crash, didn't they? We all slowed down to gawp at the damage but to be honest, I couldn't even recognise most of the casualties. No, what really boiled my piss was the shameless performance of a certain Fergus Williams at the Inbetweeners' conference. Did you see him? Oily little shit.
When he stands there exuding that fake bonhomie, that counterfeit confidence, he reminds me of every fucking estate agent I've ever met. More front than Harrod's. Less spine than a jellyfish. Pretending he and his mates have acted as "the Coalition's Conscience". Congratulating himself on his party being a "moral weather vane" for the Government, pointing us all in the right direction. As I briefed off the record shortly afterwards, a WEATHER VANE SIMPLY INDICATES WHICH WAY THE WIND'S BLOWING. He's insufferable.
Ah, I hear you say. ALL politicians are insufferable now. You're right. Never before have we been so universally despised. We used to be in a stratum of contempt just above burglars and phone-hackers. Not any more. Instead of doing our job – a bloody important job, I might add – we're now supposed to spend our time on "damage limitation". Eating double portions of shit-cake. Apologising to everyone. Oh boo hoo, someone's hurt your feelings? Try fielding a constituency surgery (nearly) every week, you fucking cry-babies. Christ knows I hate us more than anyone now. I for one would love to see this Coalition die on its lopsided arse; it's just making everyone look bad.
Still, at least Stewart Pearson's zeitgeisty, guff-wafting gibberish seems to be on the way out. I remember when Conference was like a spiritual homecoming for him. Zipping around on his little scooter like a Beach Boy on diet pills, shouting "Dotcom!" and "Love not Legislation!" and "Unthink the Rethinkable!" or whatever. This year he actually proposed – and here I shudder – a "policy version of the popular TV show The Voice". Don't ask me, it's probably hosted by Noel Edmonds.
Stewart genuinely wanted me and three other Ministers of the Crown to sit in huge red PVC thrones, facing AWAY FROM (?) a succession of gormless, partially-baked members of the Youth Wing (can't call it that now: too "Isherwood"). The hopeful kids would then "audition" by pitching "high cloud" (ill-considered, unworkable) policy ideas. Mercifully, JB pulled the plug before I could properly discern what it was all about. Word from Number 10 was "it looks like we're having too much fun". JB's either an idiot (possible) or he was slapping Pearson down (let's hope). Then we had a "thought jam" to come up with a better idea. I suggested we crammed Stewart into a circus cannon and fired him though the "high cloud" to see what cultural impact he might have on, say, Croydon. No-speaks for the rest of the afternoon.
I'd better go. I have a speech to write and I don't even know what I'm allowed to put in it. Can you say "current climate" in the current climate? Ah well, what difference does it make it the end, eh? Pulvis et umbra sumus, mate. We are dust and shadow…
Peter Mannion is a character from The Thick Of It, which continues next Saturday, 13 October, at 9.30pm on BBC 2.
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