New term: Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first dee-dum etc etc. Caz, Owen and Sandra are back from holiday and still unaware that I've been freelancing for Team Gove. They're also glumly envious of the missing Max, who's left our think tank to join a PFI literacy provider called JoinedUpRighting. We sort of want to meet up with him for a drink to hear about his interesting and well-paid new life but also sort of don't. By coffee and biscuits I've filled them in on all the official gossip and we're discussing our exit strategies, as usual.
After hours: Caz plans to do `a PhD in something - philosophy, history, The Smiths, whatever I could get funding for really'. Owen quite fancies being a `celebrity', though he's wary of the unsocial hours. The endearingly stupid Sandra's exit strategy is the funniest. She wants to become a teacher, as she's heard teaching is a rewarding profession revered by society. There's a beat, then she admits she's only joking, she wants to be a traffic warden. I've missed this banter, these people are my mates. I'm about to tell them I've been working for the Opposition when Scary Paula arrives.
Espionage: `We have intel' she announces, like she's in bloody 24. We all clock her new radio-mic miniphone, too. She tells us the Tories are planning a cartoon Party Political Broadcast featuring Ethos the Musketeer, who will be swishing and swaggering through the corridors of failing schools, vanquishing disruptive behaviour and championing Choice. They all laugh, then ask how she knows. `Insider information'. She fixes her predatory gaze upon me. `Isn't that right?' Yeah, I mumble, came in while you were all on holiday.
Double think: Everyone's impressed with her intelligence gathering. And with her promotion - she's now Manager of Strategic Thinking. And she wants us to devise a counterstrike by close of business. It's weird dissing something I thought up, but we all agree Ethos is rubbish. He's French, how's that supposed to be relevant to aspirational UK parents? We need to outperform the Tories: more support for high achievers, demonise the thickies. Chavs and chav-nots.
Cripes: What about taking a classic British comic book character and flipping it, so they become a hate figure? Dennis The Menace, the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx. These days they all seem like horrible, bullying delinquents. We could run a poster campaign saying Vote For Us Or Your Kid Could Turn Into . `Ooh! Ooh!' squeaks Sandra, with a flash of inspiration. `Beryl The Feral!' Bingo. Even Paula's impressed. So, of course, will Team Gove be when she passes this to them. I feel a guilty headache coming on. Inchworm.