In the media age, life is a soap opera. For a time we are obsessed with a particular storyline. Then it is resolved, we move on to the next story, new characters are introduced, and the old characters on whose every word we once hung are phased out and forgotten. Two months ago the country was convulsed with 'Cheriegate', and it seemed that nothing else in the world mattered. Day after day the tabloids and broadsheets screamed their headlines, which said that Cherie was not telling the truth and that the Prime Minister himself was threatened. Pages one to ten were cleared. Andrew Marr and Adam Boulton camped outside No. 10. Then Peter Foster made his statement, in effect exonerating the Blairs, and we moved on to something else. It is only two months since all this happened and yet to me it seems like two years. I know I was involved in hostilities, and must have tossed the odd hand grenade, but without looking up the cuttings I cannot remember precisely what happened. What remains is a powerful sense that Cherie Blair lied in some way, but the details recede as we get stuck into the next storyline, which happens to be war against Iraq and the future of Western civilisation.
It is therefore possible that Thursday night's fly-on-the-wall documentary about Cheriegate on BBC1 - for some readers it will lie in the future, for others in the past - will make no very great impact. We may feel about it as listeners to The Archers feel about Brian's affair. Once it gripped us, but now it is no great shakes. Some more serious-minded people will say that this is no time, standing as we do on the verge of war, to rake up old allegations which touch upon the Prime Minister's probity. Then there are newspapers essentially sympathetic to Tony Blair which, having got rather carried away last time, will be reluctant to go on the rampage all over again. On the other hand, The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife does emerge from the BBC rather than from the right-wing press, and therefore invites serious consideration by high-minded journalists. Moreover, Tony Blair is much less loved than he was, and some of his old friends in the newspapers may think that many people will not at all mind if he receives another good kicking.
My guess is that the programme will re-ignite the controversy, though I don't think the Blairs need lose too much sleep - yet. Carole Caplin, Cherie's 'lifestyle guru', invited her friend Lynn Alleway to spend from 12 to 22 December in her flat shooting The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife. There are interviews with Carole (who shows herself off in a clinging white dress) and her lover, the conman Peter Foster. Carole comes across as being very fond of Mr Foster but also fiercely protective of the Blairs. She prevails on him not to sell his story to the News of the World, and insists that he give a final press conference helpful to the Blairs. She is also keen for him to leave the country, as the Blairs must have been, though the programme opens with a shot of her crying and saying how much she misses him.
But despite Carole's apparent desire to protect them, Cherie and Tony do sustain some damage. As Lynn Alleway is interviewing Peter Foster around midnight (Carole has retired to bed), the telephone rings and a message is left. I found it inaudible but it is asserted that it runs: 'Hi, it's Tony calling.' Lynn Alleway states twice that this was the voice of Mr Blair. Why on earth would he be ringing Carole at that time of night? Peter Foster says that he rings 'most nights'. Of course, anything a conman alleges must be treated with great caution, but he did not make up this telephone call. He also claims that Cherie Blair was perfectly aware of his criminal past when he became involved in negotiating a £69,000 discount on two flats in Bristol on her behalf. He bluntly accuses her of lying when she denied knowing about his record in that hammy, lip-trembling speech.
Anything that Mr Foster alleges will be discounted. The telephone message, though highly perplexing, does not amount to a knock-out blow. The Blairs will therefore survive The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife. They will probably also survive the further allegations which Mr Foster promises when he publishes his biography in a few months' time. He will again be written off by Blairites as a proven liar.
What, though, of Carole? She is not a proven conwoman. She is in the curious position of being friendly with the Blairs while retaining a lover (now in Australia) who seems set on trying to destroy them. On the one hand, she is loyal to them. She has disowned her friend's documentary, and reportedly spent last Saturday at Chequers discussing its implications with the Blairs. Yet she allowed the film to be made, and she must have known - since Peter Foster was living in her flat and would obviously be interviewed - that it would damage the Blairs.
Mr Foster remarks at one stage that Carole has secrets which 'could finish the Blairs off for ever'. If this is true, the Blairs cannot be very happy. There is something ambivalent about Carole. She evidently values Cherie's and Tony's friendship, but what would she do if they decided to drop her? Does she in her heart resent the way they have treated the man whom she claims to love? Believe it or not, Carole has been signed up as a lifestyle columnist by the Mail on Sunday, the paper which broke the Cheriegate story. This should alarm the Blairs. In one guise she has already gone over to the arch enemy. If she were provoked in some way, or if old resentments bubbled up, Carole Caplin might broaden her remit as a columnist, and tell a story which would not be believed if it flowed only from the pen of Peter Foster. This particular soap opera is not, in fact, resolved. So far as the Blairs are concerned, the worst is probably yet to come.
For some time I have nursed an irrational dislike of Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as a slight aversion to David Beckham. So I have conflicting feelings about the flying football boot. It seems a loutish thing to start kicking such things around, and more loutish still not to apologise. But Beckham's eagerness to show off his not particularly serious wounds, even pinning back his hair so that we get a better look, seems a bit pathetic.
Does it matter? Hardly at all. On the brink of a war in which many people may die, the press goes bonkers. Naturally the broadsheets behaved as badly as the tabloids. The Daily Telegraph ran Beckham's photograph on its front page, while Robert Thomson's new upmarket Times (ha, ha) highlighted Beckham's wound above the masthead, and cleared most of page three for a photograph, a graphic, a cartoon and three separate pieces. There was also a clunking leading article. Oh, God.