E D I T O R I A L . 4
3rd February 2001
A friend of mine got me into the Press Gallery at the Houses of Parliament
one day a couple of weeks ago. It was the day Peter Mandelson resigned.
Here's my diary:
Paula phoned about 12 and told me not to come until 2. I had lunch and set
off early. Blair had been talking to Mandelson all morning, and he was still
inside Number 10. I arrived at the end of Downing Street just in time to peer
through the gates at a small lanky figure emerging with his statement flapping
in his hands; a smattering of flash, a camera crew moving round to get a side
view and being ushered back by a policeman. Looked to the upper windows to
see if anyone was watching him go. They weren't. Assumed this was the resignation
but from that distance one couldn't tell. The zigzag barrier in the road was
dropped. Mandelson finished, and went to get in the Jag. The one person listening
to the radio on headphones, a gaunt young man, ran off in the direction of
Parliament (without telling anyone what had happened). The gates opened and
we stood back. The car drove out, two cameras lurching for a look. At the
car halted to turn right, I saw Mandelson clearly in profile - his tongue
sticking out between his teeth, gently being bitten. Went to Parliament. Paula's
name got me into the Lobby, where I saw Tony Banks strolling through with
Patrick Le Boeuf. Tony Benn. Stephen Twigg. Jan, who works with Paula, picked
me up at 2.15. Through confused staircases to the office Paula shares with
various other print journalists. She was very busy on the phone. Dumped my
bag and was taken up to the Press Gallery. Short wait for the MPs to finish
their prayers. As we entered, Mandelson was already on his feet - making his
final commons appearance as a Front Bencher. 'It has been my great privilege...'
More MPs came in. There was an intensification of the debate (over the renaming
of the RUC). Mandelson was seated by this time, gazing ruefully though the
opposition benches. Blair arrived then Hague; there was shuffling of seats,
Mandelson ending between the Prime Minister and Margaret Beckett (who offered
him consoling words, which made him smile). Then PMQT. Blair went for elegiac
regret, Hague for the throat. From the side, Hague looks obscenely like the
pink thrust of a penis. He's very monotonous. Blair, clipped, audible, cocky
- and underplaying everything, probably so it looks less rhetorical on TV.
The House did cohere into a genre-painting 'maelstrom' at a couple of points.
Hague brought with him an atmosphere of 'now we're in for a dust-up'. Blair
let him have his four or so pops, then let loose on questions from loyal MPs
- asserting that Labour would win the next election. First time I've heard
him say this. There would be an inquiry by an ex-QC into the passports affair.
After it was over, Anne Widdicombe made a point of order. Her voice almost
as loud as Hague's. Couldn't see her. Heath had come in halfway through, lumbering
like a barrage balloon on short stilts. Sat opposite Dennis Skinner: the father
of the House and its most devoted son. Back to Paula's office, where I watched
the story being put together. One journalist asking, 'Do you think Blair looked
'pale and haggard'?' Answer, 'Oh, yes, definitely.' And so Blair looked pale
and haggard. A journalist called out 'Was the House in 'uproar'?' 'No, in
'Turmoil'' 'Much better.' And so the House was in turmoil. Phrases becoming
The most exciting news is that I am going to be editing a novel by Henry
James for Penguin Modern Classics - The Outcry.
At the moment I'm writing the Introduction.This involves, for various reasons,
research into Henry VIII, Hans Holbein, Christina of Denmark, Caslte Howard,
Arundel Castle, London Banks circa 1909, the Nauheim cure for ailments of
the heart, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, Hugh Walpole...
My deadline is the end of March.
I've also been writing a new novel, the working title of which is flying.
deadkidsongs has an official release date
of February 22nd, but will be in the shops at least a week before then - to
coincide with an interview with Robert McCrum in the Observer, Sunday 11th.
The newest part of this site is the kill
your darlings section - writings by other writers, including Alain de
Botton and Geoff Dyer. All with their permission; and all unavailable elsewhere.
This site has now passed the 1000 mark for visitors. We are young but daily