A side effect of last week’s failed putsch is Peter Mandelson resuming his position at the front end of Gordon Brown’s election pantomime horse — pushing Harriet Harman into the rear. This is not good news for the Tories, as Harman would undoubtedly have alienated even more floating voters. I sat between her and Boris Johnson at a lunch recently, and what hard work it was. The Mayor was the guest speaker, but (naturally) arrived late and completely unprepared. He spent 20 minutes frantically scribbling on a piece of paper, talking to no one. I had no choice but to speak to the person on my left, the aforementioned Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House and Minister for Women & Equality.
While it’s never easy conversing with someone with whom you ideologically disagree, I like to think I can make a fair fist of talking to most people. But obviously not our Harriet. A fairly charmless creature at the best of times (although still, rather bewilderingly, quite cute) she obviously had no interest in talking to me, or to the Sunday Times’s Martin Ivens, on her left. This made it rather difficult for either of us to engage with her. I couldn’t think of a single piece of small talk, I actually asked her all the things I really wanted to know…like, how did she feel about Labour being dumped by the Sun? Is it fair to say that Labour has had its worst year since 1993? And so on. It took her exactly seven minutes to haul herself up and go and sit somewhere else.
It says a lot about Team Brown’s spin operation that the gossip about a general election in March was actually put about by Conservative high command.