Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP who died a few days ago aged 86, the oldest MP in Parliament, I met twice. Once was when I was the arts correspondent of The Times and he interrogated me in the rudest way possible about the arcane details of the government arts budget of the time, knowing I’d never be able to answer the questions.
The second was years later when he’d obviously forgotten the first and instead had been enjoying a gig writing reviews of crime fiction for one of the Scottish papers. My then editor and then publicist decided they wanted him to review my latest Nic Costa novel and so a lunch was organised at an incredibly expensive Italian restaurant not far from Westminster.
He was a voluble chap very fond of offering advice unasked for, and began by congratulating me on always sticking to what he believed to be the cardinal rule of crime writing: always introduce the eventual villain in the first thirty (I think) pages of the book. This was a rule I was unaware of and if I have stuck to it that’s entirely accidental.
After this the wine flowed and the priciest dishes on the menu were dispatched to the Kaufman plate. He regaled us with entertaining stories of his political life and how, as a Manchester MP, he managed to walk the fine line between supporters of United and City over the decades. Then, when the fanciest dessert I’ve ever seen in an Italian restaurant appeared before him and the team from my publishers was beginning to think in fearful terms of the bill, the crux of the issue was broached. Was there any possibility Kaufman might think of including me in his latest crime write-up for the Scots?
His eyes opened wide with surprise.
‘Oh, no. I can’t possibly do that.’
‘They fired me a while back. I don’t do crime reviews any more.’
And with that he returned to his meal.