Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Exile on Downing Street

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Exile on Downing Street

Article excerpt

Thursday I am sitting in the office perusing the proposals for the youth section of the Dome exhibition (entitled "the next millennium of rock and roll"), when the phone rings. Rollo's voice is strangely nervous and excited. "Er, minister, you'll never guess who's on the line!' he stutters.

"How important, on a scale of ten?" I ask.

"Ten!" Rollo replies.

"The Master!" I say.


"Mr Brown!"

"No, I said ten," emphasises Rollo, impatiently. "Mr Brown is a high eight."

I'm not sure that the Chancellor would be pleased with that. I try non-politicians. "Mandela?"


"Pope John Paul?"

"More famous."

"The Spice Girls?"

"Warmer," says Rollo.

Aha! It's someone from the pop world. Lennon's dead, George Michael is disgraced, so . . . "Not Mick?" I ask tentatively.

"Shall I put him through immediately? Or let you call him back once you've been briefed?"

"I'm sure I can manage," I say tartly. "Put the man through." Friday A promise is a promise, so - after lunch - I phone Mr Brown's office and leave a message for the Chancellor, asking to speak to him about the issues raised yesterday by Mick. Within 20 minutes I am called back from the heart of the Treasury. Ominously it is Mr Brown's bruiser, Alfie J Pratt, on the line.

His speech has the thick quality of someone who has lunched well, probably with his bibulous mate (Mr Brown's biographer and, now, firebrand Mirror journalist Tony Tankard), and is not happy to be back at work.

"Lin'on," he stops glottally, "gorra message. Gawdon sez phone you back. Worrissit?"

I explain Mick's concerns about how the new changes in tax regulations will force the Stones to cancel their forthcoming tour of Britain. When I finish there is silence. Then, "Yeah. So?"

This exasperating response galls me. "Look," I tell Pratt, "shouldn't we be worried that we will appear to be returning to the bad old days when punitive taxation forced some of our brightest and best out of the country? …

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