SMILEY: Oh dear. Our weekly visit from Scary Paula, Manager of Strategic Thinking. Her chief concern at the moment is to smirkily remind us that our contracts are about to expire, but this week there's a more serious theme. She's accompanied by a bald, very cross man called Stephen, the Departmental Head of Intelligence. It has 'come to his attention' that someone has been passing sensitive material to Team Gove, possibly for financial gain. Paula and I avoid eye contact, as we are the someone.
NODDY: Stephen says that 'sources within an Opposition think tank' - here he nods acknowledgment to Paula - confirm they've nicked our latest three-part plan. 1. Work up a comic character called Beryl the Feral for an election poster campaign. 2. Demonise 'chav culture' in line with the Daily Mail. 3. Win the hearts and votes of concerned, articulate parents. Stephen is determined to find the 'treacherous leaky bastard' who's helping the Tories. I swallow hard, grin and give a clumsy thumbs up, attracting sceptical looks all round. He exits, miming 'strangle'.
RAPPING: Right, says Paula, rapping the flip chart smartly with her clipboard. Counterstrike. Assume Team Gove's running with Beryl. We need to discredit what WAS our idea but is now theirs. She leaves us to have a think, which takes us through to tea and biscuits. Eventually we decide the best course is a briefing note for Ballsy, who can pre-rubbish Beryl the Feral with some of his famous reverse class war rhetoric. Owen's already Googled that quote from Nigel Lawson about the NHS being the closest thing the English have to a religion. Ballsy should say something funny about the education system being the closest thing the Tories have to a national scapegoat.
PUNCHLINE: Yeah, something funny. But what? Ballsy's about as charismatic as a sausage roll. And just as flaky, suggests Owen. Yeah, we're actually supposed to be making up jokes FOR him. Idiot.
EXODUS: Then Caz turns up, late back and the worse for wear. A catch-up lunch with our erstwhile colleague Max. He now works for a remedial English service provider called JoinedUpRighting. They certainly LOOK lively. His new job is morally dubious on several levels, especially the salary level. Hang on, says Sandra. I thought Max had gone off to join some scientology think tank.
No, duh, Science and Technology. Well, says Caz, looking pissed and shifty. Max was lined up for the gig at the Dawkins Institute for the Suppression of Faith, then got poached by the PFI literacy people. So he ... sort of recommended ME. I got the Dawkins job. I'm leaving in a fortnight. Oh great. That means Sandra will now be a THIRD of our think tank. We're 'dumbing up'. Inchworm.