Crawling down the M6, the real work of the week starts after escaping the Tory conference and the hell that is Blackpool.
While the dailies are still writing their reviews of David Cameron’s speech, the ‘Sunday Lobby’– as the collective of Sunday political hacks is known – is already on the motorway or in the buffet car, heading back to London.
We’ve been in Blackpool since Sunday on the look-out for rifts and splits, but the conference has been one of the most united for more than a decade.
It’s been clear for days that the only story which will dominate the Sunday papers is Gordon Brown’s decision about whether to hold a general election.
The PM’s people are briefing pretty openly that Brown will ‘look at the polls’and then decide if we are in for a frenetic, three-week campaign.
Back at Westminster, we’ve all been decanted from the Commons’ Press Gallery over the summer while our mice-ridden offices are refurbished and the asbestos cleared.
So, all the national and regional hacks – along with their egos and eccentricities – are housed in a single open-plan office across the road. It’s not great for private phone conversations, but everyone rubs along.
The rest of the day is spent on the phone chasing down ministers and MPs who are still away from the Commons on their 10-week summer break.
They’re divided on what will happen at the weekend. Everyone has a theory and a few anecdotes, but they’re woefully short on facts.
Things look up in the evening over a pint at a Westminster pub with what the Lobby calls a ‘senior source’from Number 10. He makes it clear we’ll get the decision by Sunday at the latest and dishes out some useful colour.
In the morning I head over to Canary Wharf for conference, where the mood is sunny after a string of circulation increases. I decide against moaning about room service in my Blackpool hotel after hearing about the week one of our reporters has spent among heroin addicts in Afghanistan.
Although we’re pretty sure the election is off, work starts on drawing up the paper’s election strategy – just in case. Calls are put in to the main polling organisations to see if we can do something more inventive during the campaign than just tracking voting intentions.
Thursday evening ends in dinner with a financial contact who comes up with some decent stuff on Chancellor Alistair Darling’s impending Comprehensive Spending Review.
File all my non-election related copy over from Westminster to the office at the Wharf. As the dailies pack up for the weekend, their views are mixed. At least two reckon there’s still a good chance of an election.
Events move swiftly during the night. It’s clear that Brown is constantly on the phone to his people. Thankfully, some of them are on the phone to us too. They reckon the election’s off.
Everyone works from HQ at the Wharf, which means an early-morning drive from west London to the office for a day which finishes at about 10.30pm.
A swift round of calls to ministers, and it’s clear Brown and his team are also on the phones from Downing Street. There’s enough to go into conference and plan on the basis that polling day has been well and truly cancelled.
The final confirmation comes a little later from one of Brown’s inner circle, who says ‘it’s off –â€‚100 per cent”. There’s a chance the details might not reach the broadcasters until much later.
But Sky News’ political editor Adam Boulton soon pops up on the newsroom monitors with the story. Still, he cheers me up by moaning about the ‘shabby’way Brown has summoned Boulton’s BBC rival Andy Marr in to break the news of his decision to the Beeb exclusively.
The other Sunday papers start arriving in the office from 8.30pm. Our treatment that Brown ‘bottled it’is a common theme. Some have commissioned opinion polls, which now seem redundant given the election decision has been made.
The fall-out dominates my days off, as the phone continues to ring. Everyone is keen to stress how they ‘knew all along”. Sure they did.
By Monday afternoon, MPs have finally returned to Westminster. The search for Sunday’s exclusives starts with dinner at an overpriced curry house with a Cabinet minister.
He was one of those who told Brown not to hold an early election. But I tell him that’s last week’s story and try to steer him towards more fertile territory – or what my colleagues refer to as ‘something for the weekend”.
Vincent Moss is Political editor of the Sunday Mirror