Never meet your enemies; you might end up liking them. I’ve just got back from The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards and the buggers had sat me next to James Purnell, about whom I was a bit snippy in print not so long ago. It was the usual measured, level-headed stuff about him being an agent of Satan, whore of the anti-christ etc. The problem I have with Purnell is not just his Blairite politics, but his former incarnation as a wonk for John Birt at the BBC, working in the fabulously hopeless corporate centre. I think I may have spewed all this out a while back in the mag; certainly I remember feeling that I might have made a wrong call when he resigned his office in an annoyingly dignified and selfless manner. “But I bet he’s still a bastard,” I consoled myself, then. But I hadn’t met him. It’s incredibly depressing to report that he was excellent company and made the best speech of the day – self-deprecating, dry and funny. I suppose he could still be an agent of Satan. I suppose that’s what Satan wouldn’t do, isn’t it – make his Legions likeable?
I was once very rude about Edwina Currie in print, about her book and the bit where she said how happy she was to wake up after a night with John Major feeling “warm and sticky”. I think I said that this was the most disgusting thing I had ever heard from anyone. A few days later I turned up to do a tv politics programme and discovered, upon arriving, that it was presented by Ms Currie. I prayed to God she hadn’t read my piece and clearly she hadn’t, because she was the embodiment of absolute charm for the two hours we were together. When I was about to leave she approached me with a big warm smile, held out her hand and then suddenly withdrew it, saying: “Oops, better not. Still sticky.” Classy.
Harriet Harman was also at the awards today, of course. And Mandelson. I kept well away, just in case.