In a well-practised dance, Steve would storm through CCHQ doors and stairwells every morning while others would sweep out of the corridors and into their seats. Most days, George wouldn’t even notice the Hilton tornado until he slammed his hands on George’s makeshift desk and jostled the stack of briefing notes resting haphazardly on it.
“I’ve told you we don’t need a fucking spin doctor,” Steve ranted, looming over George’s outbox. “And now I have to hear about you hiring a tabloid editor? A disgraced tabloid editor?”
Calmly, George stood up to close the door as Steve had forgotten, as usual, then walked back around the desk to sit in his chair. “Andy’s a smart man, and he gets the public.”
Steve made a noise of angry frustration. “Politics isn’t about meaningless soundbites and the lowest common denominator.”
“Winning an election is,” George replied, and raised an eyebrow.
“He resigned in fucking disgrace,” Steve said. George amused himself by imagining the comic villain vein throb.
“Will you just trust me for once on this?” George said. “We’ve already cocked up chance after chance to go after Labour, and we need someone to handle the press, someone who’s not you or me or David. Yes, not me, are you happy?”
Steve said, “I guess those rumours about the coke photos are true, then?”
George shook his head in near exasperation. “I know how this world works,” he said. Unlike Steve. “What’s important now is that he’s on board and, moreover, he gets it.” Plus, there were worse photos of David out there to worry about.
Steve pushed himself off the desk and crossed his arms. George’d won this round. “I’m not working with him,” Steve said.
“Go cry to David all you want,” George said with a smile on his face. “He’s already on board.”
When Andy walked into George’s office, he let his finger touch the door lightly, and it would surreptitiously swing closed. George appreciated that level of professional subtlety. Only then would the griping would start.
“I take back every time I’ve made fun of you going on about Steve,” Andy said.
George made a face in sympathy. “I would thank you, but then I’d have to apologize for making you suffer through the Steve Hilton Experience.”
“I demand a blow job. I demand at least a blow job.”
“Then you should have put it in your contract before you signed it,” George said, mouth quirked up teasingly. “If it’s not in writing, it’s not worth a pound.”
“And if it is in writing, it still isn’t worth a pound, yes, I know,” Andy said. “Photos, on the other hand.”
“I will claim they’re doctored,” George said, with fake primness, and looked up from under his eyelashes. Andy acquiesced with a dramatic long-suffering sigh, and George said, “You’re much too easy.”
Andy flicked his pen to his mouth, and George tried not to be distracted by it.
Andy walked into the meeting room, hair still mussed from the cold wind outside, and asked, “Where’s Steve?”
“Won’t come,” Matthew called from the corner armchair. “Says Brown won’t call an election.”
George sighed. “I’ll talk to David.”
“Good luck with that!” Matthew replied so helpfully.
George laughed. Andy, however, gave Matthew an unimpressed look and said, “Why do you have the corner armchair?”
“Well, Steve isn’t here,” Matthew responded blithely.
Oliver coughed. “So, where were we?”
It was a shock when Andy stormed into George’s office one pre-dawn morning and threw the Times in his face.
“Letters page,” Andy said.
There was a certain tone to Andy’s voice, so with the speed of decades of experience, George quickly unfolded the paper and thumbed to the page in question. He opened it with a frantic violence and nearly ripped the paper.
“Shit. Shit. Fucking Nat.”
“You should have known better,” Andy said, and George knew his own failings, his tendencies to be distracted by the ritz and glamour. “Dave would have never got on that boat,” Andy said, and that sentence, not the endless coverage, not his colleagues’ desertion: that sentence was the one that hurt the most.
“If I hear the phrase Big Society one more time I am phoning Rebekah and telling her to unleash the attack dogs,” Andy said.
George glanced up quickly from his briefings, then made another mark on the abused sheet of paper. “That won’t actually work. She likes David.”
“The universe is against me,” Andy sighed. “What say you, stage a coup?”
“As you do ever so like to remind me, those who board yachts are ineligible to be party leaders,” George replied carelessly. He hesitated, before looking up to give Andy a reassuring smile. “I still think Peter would make a better leader than Brown.”
Andy smiled back. “You and me both,” he said. “But if you don’t stop mentioning Mandelson I will make out with you in full view of CCHQ. Then what would you do?”
George exclaimed, “You’re PR, not me!”
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Andy said.
Andy paced up and down the meeting room. “We need an actual campaign theme. None of this mishmash amateur Photoshop work that we haven’t even focus grouped.”
“Talk to Steve,” Rupert muttered as he did benefits calculations. “He’s in charge.”
Andy turned to George and gave him a look, and George shrugged. David refused to move Steve from campaign manager, and that was that.
“If the election goes to shit I’m blaming it on you,” Andy said, pulling a chair out and collapsing in it.
George rolled his eyes. “Finally, something you and Steve can agree on. Quick! Let’s make it a campaign slogan.”
“It is better than ‘Rethink Everything’,” Andy replied, and George laughed delightedly and reminded himself he couldn’t kiss the man. “Let’s focus group it,” Andy added. “Who the hell needs Saatchi?”
Steve didn’t even bother with the storming this time; he’d called George immediately after the news hit. “I was right about Coulson,” he said.
“Fine,” George said, and squeezed at the end call button until he thought his Blackberry might break.