The phone went at 5.45. 5.45 in the morning. It was the Today Programme, anxious that I should come on air to address that half of the nation that tunes into Radio 4 about whatever subject happened to be the controversy of the day. I was unable to help them straightway, as I was heading for Andover Station to catch the 6.26. This was so I could get to London to address the other half of the nation, which tunes in to Radio 5 Live, on the very same issue.
I did however call the Today Programme from the London bound platform and pre-recorded an interview, which I thought went quite well. Half an hour later, they told me that the quality of the sound had made the interview unusable. The voice of the station announcer telling us that the nine coach train from Salisbury would be arriving shortly and we should not leave our baggage unattended had detracted from the bullet points of my message. If I wanted to address half the nation, I would need to come into their studios, after I had done another programme whose existence they barely acknowledged.
The second interview did not go quite so well. In the interval, while I had been reading the Times on the train and doing the crossword, my interrogator had analysed and dissected my arguments. The coach of a serious football team will video-record his opponents for the next round, and then play and replay their key moves to identify a counter-strategy. This approach had been adopted at Broadcasting House. Or, to switch analogies to chess, the Young Opening Gambit had been scrutinised and opportunities for a serious counter-attack identified.
The moral is to deny the broadcaster a second opportunity, and oblige him to use the original whatever the sound quality. But there was some better news during the week. At a seminar held by the Institute for Government, we heard about transitional issues.
Those who had been around in 1997, when the Blair Government took over from the Major Government, told us how the Civil Service had coped. Lessons had been learned which might be of value later in the year, if there was another change of administration. We were told how important it was for the Shadow Cabinet to contact Permanent Secretaries and share with them their party’s aspirations and policies for government. At the end, a civil servant took me into his confidence. As a result of the exchanges between Shadow Cabinet and Permanent Secretaries, and Seminars such as this one, he had a good idea of what would be required of the Civil Service, should my Party win.
What might happen if this Government got back, he told me, was a closed book.