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Dressed to kill in the Scottish Office

At this stage in a Parliament, civil servants are allowed, even expected to brief themselves on the predilections of the main opposition party and its potential ministers. So is a prized volume being passed around Victoria Quay these days? Does it offer clues to Labour ministerial psychology?

The prologue goes like this: "She walked across the stage to take the microphone and the tumult died away. Tall, with a rich fall of auburn hair, she strode loose-limbed as an athlete. Dressed in silk, simple, expensive, sexy and elegant; this woman, they said, had everything. Now she reached out for what she most wanted - power. The strength of her presence brought a silence so still that the muted whirr of a tape recorder grew loud throughout the hall." Got the author yet?

The tale continues: "Her voice ranged on the soft side of Glaswegian, no jargon, a polished speaker, teasing the crowd."

And more: "In less than 10 years she had risen explosively from middle class political ingenue, to radical left-wing lawyer, to Scotland's most dominant political figure. Goddess or bitch? Both - and often at once."

And climactically: "In the eyes of the working classes and the unemployed she had mythic dimensions. She had told them they needed a Joan of Arc; and then with a single-minded zeal, she deliberately set out to give them one - herself."

The fictitious character is Ann Clarke, MP, who after much chicanery rises to Scottish Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister. The cover blurb to Elite, written seven years ago, tries to convince us this is "the most exciting novel about women in politics since Jeffrey Archer's The Prodigal Daughter".

What greater accolade could there be for authoress and minister-in-waiting Helen Liddell?

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