It was late on Sunday night, and like everybody else I was wrestling with the issue of the moment.
Would Labour get rid of Gordon Brown? Or would they stagger on?
In just a few hours’ time I would have to hand in my copy, which is now due at breakfast time on Monday, and as the evening advanced, and 10.30 turned into 11, I knew there was nothing for it. I would have to pronounce. Telegraph readers would be entitled to a crisp, clear and categorical conclusion, and so I ransacked the internet for clues.
Here was a statement from Jack Straw, in which he firmly dissociated himself from any plot. And yet here was a brilliant piece by Andrew Porter of this paper, revealing that 30 Labour MPs were already cooking up a killer letter, ready to be unleashed on the PM at the end of August.
By now it was 11.30 and my brain was swimming with data. As if in a trance, I rose from my desk and went down to the kitchen. Robotically I opened the fridge -and there, in the eerie radiance of the fridge light, I saw the truth. In that simple, reflexive act of yanking open the fridge, and beholding the cheese within, I had answered the nation’s question.
No, my friends, the Labour Party will not get rid of Gordon Brown, or not before the next election. The Gordathon will continue until the bitter end, and I came by this certainty as I looked at a pound of refrigerated cheddar.
Let me explain. It is all about survival, and the sacrifices you need to make to prolong your existence. If I am going to see my 64th birthday in 20 years’ time, then it is probably essential that I lose a stone.
And if Labour is going to prevent itself from suffering a Canadian-style wipe-out, then it might well be a good idea to have a change at the top. The Labour rebels do not seem to mind so much about the result of the next election, which they have written off. They care about their own seats, their own survival, and many of them have concluded that they could probably save their seats by whacking Gordon, just as I could probably prolong my life by axing cheese.
But as TS Eliot points out, between the thought and the action falls the shadow. Between the diet plan and the execution, between the idea and the reality, between the plot and the assassination falls the shadow.
It is like our strategy for combating global warming. We find it easy enough to will the end; but can we will the means? I can fantasise about being a stone lighter, and bounding about the tennis court like a greased panther.
But before I get to that state I must make all kinds of brutal choices. It means spurning that late-night cheese, and pushing aside the second helpings, and provoking endless impudent remarks from schoolchildren as I lollop around Highbury Fields.
I can certainly brood about losing weight. I can theorise and strategise, and devise ever more hyperbolical diet agendas. I can outline in detail to my wife the measures I will enact tomorrow – always tomorrow – that will bring about this blessed transformation. But will I actually do it?
My psychological inertia is nothing compared to the quivering invertebracy of these Labour plotters. “This is not the beginning of the end,” said one would-be Brutus as he surveyed the carnage of Glasgow East. “This is the middle of the end.”
Well, another half-week has gone by, Gordon Brown is still in office, and we might as well ask the Labour conspirators where they think we now stand in their timetable of doom. Is this the beginning of the end of the middle of the end? Or is it merely the end of the beginning of the end of the middle of the end?
For most of the next two years, it can be confidently predicted, the story of the Labour Government will be about coups and plots and Cabinet rivals warring for succession. One day we will be told that the armies of Hattie Harperson are mustering in the wings; the next day the media will be talking up the claims of Geoff Hoon – “Who Hoon?”, as Lenin so pungently put it.
One day a female columnist will announce that Miliband has the magnetic good looks to see off Cameron; and the next day a rival female columnist will proclaim that, on the contrary, James Purnell is the man, what with his sideburns and his interesting views on welfare reform.
On and on it will go, day after day, and at no stage will the plotters come within a million miles of actually jugulating Gordon Brown. For all their bluster, for all their off-the-record briefings, they know that the practical difficulties are immense.
They know how tricky it will be to line up those union block votes. They know they don’t really have a better candidate than Gordon Brown. Above all, they know that the British people will not tolerate, at any price, the insertion into No 10 of a second Labour Prime Minister who has yet to test his claims to government at a general election.
It is anti-democratic. It is wrong. It is not a runner. If they perform the switch this autumn, the new leader would have a year or more of trying to explain how he or she had the nerve to be there.
If they save the great switcheroo to the end, the manoeuvre will look like panic, and the rout could be all the greater, and therefore we arrive at the irresistible conclusion, that nothing and no one will prise Gordon from Downing Street save the electorate themselves.
All this came to me in a flash as I opened the fridge. As I stared at the cheese, I had a further inspiration.
It would be easier for me to lose weight than it would for Labour to lose Gordon, and I will bet anyone £100 that I can lose a stone – and tip the scales at less than 15 stone – before Gordon Brown ceases to be PM.
[First published in the Daily Telegraph, 29 July 2008]