Matthew Norman: There's a charming symmetry to the latest New Labour scandal
The assassination of JFK, the death of Diana, Stephen Fry's blessedly short lived resignation from Twitter... now this.
Added to the honours board of events so viscerally shocking that they brand the mind with an indelible memory of where you were when you heard is the revelation about that trio of wannabe lobbyists.
I'll never forget. I was in the bath, or stuck in roadworks, or chopping an onion in the kitchen, or in the office-shed at the end of the garden dozing over the Racing Post. One of them, anyway, if not somewhere else. But you take the point. With a seismic shock on this scale, you always remember the precise details.
That three recent members of a Labour cabinet – a Lay-burrgh cabinet, as Neil Kinnock might rasp it – were willing to sell supposed influence over policy and legislation... it's incredi... it's beyond all beli... it's stupef... No, sometimes there truly are no words.
As we take the first tottering steps towards recovering from the ague, spare a thought for the victims of this devilish sting. For Gordon Brown, it is doubly excruciating. Aside from the blow to any dwindling hope of denying SamCam a Downing Street baby shower, he's had to endure the agony of ejecting from the parliamentary party not only the masterminds of January's gloriously cack-handed coup attempt, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon; but also that constructive critic Stephen Byers, newly crowned emperor of middle aged braggadocio. Thank God Alan Milburn has enough consultancies, and that Charles Clarke is spending more time with his claret. Suspending them as well would have fair broken Gordon's heart.
There are other sufferers of collateral damage, alas, and we'll come to a couple below, but the primary victims are the three stooges themselves. In an age of heightened sensitivity about the treatment of the mentally infirm, is it not an outrage that Channel 4's Dispatches and the Sunday Times took ruthless advantage? These people may look normal at a distance, but Benny Hawkins doubtless looked normal from the Crossroad's reception desk as he did Miss Diane's bidding in the distance. Talk to him for four seconds, and it was crystal clear he wasn't playing with a full deck.
So it should have been to these journalists. After all, any MP who went to such a meeting of this kind, within a year of the expenses scandal breaking and without having properly checked out the firm's bona fides, is axiomatically too enfeebled to be held responsible. What kind of clue did these eejits need? A portly fellow of Asian origin sat the other side of the desk in flowing white robes with "Fake Sheikh" felt-tipped on his head towel in crimson capitals?
If Ms Hewitt is a condescending Aussie drone with the nuanced communication skills of the "mind the gap" announcement at Westminster Tube station, and if Mr Hoon – the eighth-witted defence secretary who learned of the invasion of Iraq from a TV report – is among political history's top ranked nebbishes, the one I pity here is the last of the trinity.
For a one-time Trade Secretary to be unaware of that ancient trading caution "Byers Beware" (Caveat Imbecilicus)... honestly, Taxi Boy, what are you like? It's a stroke of luck I never had that Byers in the front of my cab, because he'd have taken me from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square via Tomsk. No Knowledge, and no compass, moral or otherwise, at all.
Even to this fan of positive discrimination, filling a Cabinet with those whose official duties should end with the weaving of macramé pot plant holders under Nurse Ratched's watchful gaze seems odd. Then again, Mr Tony Blair was as fervent an advocate of affirmative action in this area as ever passed a languid week on Silvio Berlusconi's yacht. It was he who recalled the post-Nannygate David Blunkett to his government on the novel grounds that it would "help him sort out his head".
Who knows, maybe moulding the office of Work and Pensions Secretary, at the height of the pensions crisis, into a form of occupational therapy worked for a few months, before something unique then and never repeated since (a lobbying scandal) made Blunkers the second Blair-beloved to be twice resigned.
If Mr Blair must be mortified at how his disciples have ignored the lesson he so painstakingly taught by example – that a contacts book, however golden, must never be parlayed into personal enrichment – so too is the first of that duo. That Lord Mandelson, shining beacon of politico-financial probity to the whole wide world, found the strength to hold forth on the matter, when the shock would have sent a less resilient character to bed with a fit of the vapours, speaks to his status as fighter as well as two-time quitter.
As his lordship's achievement in keeping a straight face when lacerating the trio for being "grubby" suggested, the root of this problem lies not in rank cynicism, as the sneerers will no doubt claim, but its opposite. It was always their innate innocence about the temptations to which the less puritan might succumb that blinded the creators of New Labour to this danger. They were too busy being whiter than white, these spray-on Albinos, to notice the cavalry charge of Major ministers on to the payrolls of lobbying firms.
Their own snooty uninterest in money dulled their antennae to the weakness of others. They never imagined the credulous would mistake their passion for wealth-generation in the wider national interest for a fairground sign flashing "Come On, Boys and Girls... Fill Yer Boots" in brightest neon.
Small wonder, then, if Mr Blair quivers like a malaria victim who's lost his quinine tablets as he surveys this development from one of his 73 properties here, or on the steps of a Grand Cayman bank en route to depositing his $1m reward from a neocon foundation for scattering peace all over the Middle East, or in the leather chair of the Gulf-stream taking him to do JP Morgan's bidding at the court of Vladimir Putin, or wherever he happens to be today in pursuit of a better world.
He may even be visiting his newly revealed employers in the oil fields of Kuwait to share the technical expertise which, rather than his potential value as a fixer, explains this lucrative gig. What that man doesn't know about putting out oil blazes! Blow me, he makes Red Adair look like Trumpton firefighters Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb.
As for Mandy being seriously relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, it's hardly his fault if befuddled colleagues misconstrued that fabled declaration – one that will stand in history as New Labour's heraldic motto, etched in gold leaf above the supermarket trolley suivant – as a licence to mint money from access and contacts. No longer, though, or not at least until the memory of this fiasco fades.
If there was a cloying fin-de-siecle aroma in the air before, today it makes you want to gag. Still, you have to love the symmetry. Labour's arrival in power was marked by trousering Bernie Ecclestone's million in return for changing policy.
Could it be more fitting if the eagerness of three uber-Blairite dunces to whore themselves in that cause plays a part in removing it from power now?