Thursday, 19 February 2009

What shall we do with the the drunken...

No Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons this week, but the Prime Minister must be kept busy, so Her Majesty's press were given the Wednesday midday slot in the diary.

We trooped over to Downing Street for one of these press conferences where we pretend to be the loyal opposition and Mr Brown did the usual - drone on about how he's saving the global economy.

Journalists only get to ask one question each, so the first, from Sky's John Craig, got round this by asking about economics, politics, speculation on the leadership, and plans for redecorating our embassy in Stockholm all in one breath. Thanks John, that just about covered all the questions we wanted to ask.

"That was quite a long speech," said the Prime Minister, relishing the chance to answer 10 questions on the economy and dismiss any talk of leadership manoeuvring as gossip.

Mr Brown had wanted to roll out his new soundbite, the "grand bargain" to solve the world's economic woes, but the press pack had other plans.

The Sun wanted an expression of sympathy for Jade Goody. They got it. But the rest of the ding-dongs were as expected until he slipped in the prospect of recovery "within months".

Mr Brown's approach to his monthly press gatherings have become so ritualistic - you can write some of his answers before the question is asked - that attendance has become sparse.

Being a minister's son, Mr Brown will be familiar with the phenomenon and the excuses parishioners mutter among themselves - better things to do on a Wednesday morning than listen to him preaching on about the end of the world as we know it.

In the back rows it looked as if Downing Street officials were letting tourists in to bolster the numbers, but, no, it was a group of earnest Japanese foreign correspondents seeking a reaction to the resignation of their disgraced Finance Minister, Mr Shoichi Nakagawa, who was, and these are their words, "apparently drunk" at a meeting of the G7 in Rome.

The Japanese were in a mood for self-flagellation. In beautiful Japanese-lilting English, a Toyko reporter asked: "What do you make of his miserable behaviour and our miserable Japanese economy?"

Well, it's good to know that there are people worse off than ourselves, said Mr Brown. He didn't actually, but the thought must have crossed his mind.

The conference moved to other subjects, but the Japanese press were determined to flog their former Finance Minister in an international arena. They just would not let it go. Another Japanese reporter asked: "If Mr Alistair Darling did the same thing what would you do?"

The Prime Minister managed to remain diplomatic, witty even, and then the bell rang for lunch, or rather a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister, who was next in the diary.

We trooped out, no more enlightened, but with our minds racing at the thought of that late-night call to No 10 long after Sybil, the Treasury cat, has gone to bed.

"Hello, Gorshdun, is Alishtair here. Listen, about this resheshion, hic, what we've got to do is ..."

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