Saturday, 4 October 2008

Mandy slithers back on stage

I tried something new last night.

Instead of changing Jamie's nappy and then give him his 11 o'clock feed, I gave him his 11 o'clock feed and then attempted to change his nappy. Bad move - he peed on me. Twice. Back to normal tonight then.

Meanwhile, you may have seen in the news that Peter Mandelson has rejoined the Cabinet. For political junkies, it's like waking up and finding that Christmas and your birthday have arrived on the same day.

I was privileged to work in Westminster for the first six years of the Blair Government and had several opportunities to see the great man do his stuff at very close quarters. But one particular episode will forever stick in my mind.

It was April 2001, just three months after he had been forced to resign as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Tony Blair had intended to hold the General Election in May of that year but, after an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, decided to delay the poll until June.

The Northern Ireland "peace process" was, as ever, at a sticky point and so I had arranged for Mandelson to come over to have a counselling chat with my boss, David Trimble.

My office was next to David's and, right on time for his meeting, Mandelson put his head around my door to ask if he could go in.

I shared the office with my mate Rodney who I wrote about a couple of days ago. But, when Mandelson arrived, it so happened that two other Ulster Unionist staff members were in there too and everyone was busy (from memory, Rodney and I were on the phone, Mike Kerr was using the fax machine and Tom Keown was doing something else).

Seeing all this activity, Mandelson suddenly halted in his tracks to survey the scene. We all began to stop what we were doing as an look of intrigue grew across his face.

He took a few more moments to stare and, more importantly, to ensure he had everyone's attention. And then he spoke.

"Look at you all, beavering away," he breathed. "It's wonderful - keep at it!"

He paused, for another moment or two, before opening his mouth once again.

"Use every second." (Count to five)

"Use every minute." (Count to six).

"Use every hour." (Count to seven).

There was total silence in the room, the four us frozen to the spot.

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only another three or four seconds, I piped up.

"We're very grateful for the extra month," said me, somewhat lamely.

He turned to look me right in the eye. And paused again.

Then he blinked. Then he smiled.

"See what we do for you!" he boomed with a wild grin, before turning away and slithering out of the room.

It was a performance worthy of the stage. Simply magnificent.

Love him or loathe him, life and certainly politics are a lot more interesting when Peter Mandelson is around. The next few months will surely be fascinating.

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