In the first published volume of his Diaries (recently ranked by GQ as the greatest of all political books, but don't let that put you off), Alan Clark cheerfully records his part in propelling John Major to the Tory leadership/Prime Ministership after the ousting of Thatcher in November 1990. In Clark's mind the mission was partly to secure a properly Thatcherite succession (and here he was deluded) but also, and with more vigour, to thwart the PM ambitions of the noveau riche and left-of-the-party Michael Heseltine, whom he despised, albeit not quite coherently. Clark's crowning moment in the latter respect was to bump into an ashen Heseltine in some Commons back-corridor in the hours after it was clear that Major had won. No words were exchanged at that awkward encounter, but Clark was sufficiently erudite to commemorate it in his journal with a telling quote from Emily Dickinson: 'A great hope fell, you heard no noise, the ruin was within.' If Clark felt any small sympathy for his hated antagonist it was in the knowledge that Heseltine had known of his doom before the results were formally declared. His campaign manager Michael Mates had polled Conservative members privately, and then "brought the numbers" forlornly to the candidate.
I wonder at what point Ken Livingstone received his own private 'numbers' last week, and so set about mentally packing up the London mayoral desk? And who was the messenger? Not his dubious longtime accomplice Lee Jaspers, one assumes. But like Heseltine, 'Ken' will just have to live with the notion that time and circumstance and a few active malefactors just rolled right over him.
And then, post-Indiana and North Carolina, who will bring Hillary Clinton the numbers? Is there any set of numbers she will accept? Or will she be like the evil brothers at the end of the movie Trading Places, screaming 'Turn those machines back on!' even as the room deserts and the security guards draw near.
But basically if they're fearfully looking around for a volunteer candidate-number-bringer in Team Clinton, I am absolutely bang-up for the job, and will do it with a winning smile - since winning is such a big deal in the Clinton Dynasty, even when you're actually losing.
(Livingstone photo by Annette Boutellier)