Last week the new Tory Government decided that Thursday will now become 'Legislation Day'. It appears to be a dastardly little ploy to screw over the 56 SNP MP's who have made such a dramatic entrance to the 'Mother of all Parliaments'.
And it got me to thinking.....
Maybe in some well hidden corner of Whitehall there is an old dusty book. A playbook which has been lovingly updated for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is the guidebook on how to hold onto a colony. Everything you need to know to maintain an Empire. Good chaps from good schools have passed the book along the line for centuries, adding pearls of wisdom every step along the way. Clive, Rhodes, Salisbury ..... they’ve all left their mark in the book. Entries written with a flourish. Beautiful handwritten bequests for all the good chaps to come.
Good chaps from good schools.
It appears that the book has been dusted off this week and examined for guidance by our new Government. And already it has started. Already the subtle levers of Empire are being pulled.
As a writer of pulp fiction, I just couldn’t resist it. Here is how a new junior Minister who I will call Harvey spent an extra-ordinary few hours of his life one day last week.
I claim artistic licence!
The euphoria is still running through him. Through every artery and every vein. What a few days it has been. The exit poll. The count. The champagne. The doting eyes of the delicious new intern from Balliol. The call from Number 10. The place on the team. Forty eight seconds on BBC News 24.
Even his cow of a wife has been half way nice to him. For once.
A new office. And is the intern’s skirt deliberately short? And is there been a new look in her sparkling eyes when she brings him his first cup of coffee of the day. Maybe. Christ.
A tap at the door. Baines from head office. A face like a coffin and the smell of three packs of Marlboro a day about him. Manners of a bloody pig. An over promoted comprehensive school type from some godforsaken corner of bloody Yorkshire. But scary as hell. All sharp elbows and the cold black heart of a Mafia executioner.
“You need to meet some people Harvey. Today. One o’clock. For lunch. Here’s the address.”
“Fuck off Harvey. Just go. There’s a good lad.”
So he goes. Across town in a taxi to an address in Mayfair. A doorman with knowing eyes and a glacial smile. It seems he is expected. The door man helps him off with his coat and Harvey has the feeling that the man could snap his neck like a twig. If he wanted to. If he was told to.
Old paintings of men with whiskers and high collars.
A corridor with carpet which must have cost a fortune when it was laid sometime back in the reign of King George.
A small room with a view of the three story white town houses across the road. Multi-million pound pads for Arabs and dodgy Russians.
One table. Two men. Thin as crows and dressed in three piece tweed care of Saville Row. Smiling like a pair of ancient sharks. Dry skin stretched tight over dry bones. Regimental ties. Killer’s eyes.
“Ah Harvey. Splendid. What an excellent chap you are. Please. Take a pew. Drink? Of course a drink. Time for celebration and all that. We’ve broken out a bottle of the good stuff. Rude not to really. A majority! Who’d have thought it! Bloody marvelous.”
He sits. He allows his glass to be filled. A clock ticks out from one of the panelled walls. There is no background music. This is a room that has never known background music. Only the tick of the clock. Only the low hum of the traffic outside.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your names…”
“Of course you didn’t. We don’t do names, actually. We’re not the kind of chaps who go around throwing our names about the place. Not the thing you see. Not the thing at all. But we know your name Harvey. Bloody well in fact.”
They are both triangulating him with their knowing smiles. He feels like a wasp in a jar. Trapped. About to be suffocated. Powerless. Awaiting his fate.
“No menu here Harvey. No need to choose. We’re rather traditional actually. Today it is Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick with custard. Agreeable?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“Excellent. A toast methinks.” A glass raised. A glass filled with ancient claret. A glass gripped by the bony fingers of a corpse. “To victory.”
Harvey raises his glass but fails to meet the old blue eyes which chill him all the way to the bone. He digs as deep as he can and finds an unexpected parcel of courage.
“Might I ask who you are?”
“Of course you might old boy. But we won’t tell you of course. You are not nearly far enough up the food chain for anything like that. Maybe one day. Let’s just say that we are the wheels within the wheels. We are the chaps who hold the line. Defend the Realm. Good enough?”
He gulps some wine. It glows all the way down to his gullet. “Of course.”
“But we know all about you old boy. Down to the last inch.”
“Knew you father too. Decent sort. Remember him at school. Shame about that unfortunate business in the showers of course. With that fag of his. Blond haired little thing. Deary me. What was the little tart called now….”
"Good Lord. So it was. Bashington-Hartley. Quite a fandangle at the time I must say. But it all blew over. These things do tend to blow over. Anyway. I digress. That’s the thing with being such a bloody fossil. The mind tends to wander back a bit. Back a lot in fact. Never mind.”
The expensively clad skeleton patted the cover of an old book with gentle affection.
“This, Harvey, is the book. The bible. The comprehensive list of ways and means. You see Harvey, you don’t just to get to hang onto an Empire like the one we hung onto for centuries without learning how to pull a string or two. Think about it. In India there were a couple of hundred thousand of us and about five hundred million of them. And yet we still managed to keep our boots on their throats for two hundred years. And when we left, we had stripped their cupboards bare. Completely bare. That kind of thing takes a bit of doing. And all the good old boys who made it happen wrote it all down in this book. The bible. Which of course means that good chaps like ourselves now have the opportunity to dip into its wisdom to learn the lessons we need to learn to win the wars of today. With me old chap?”
Harvey isn’t with him. But he nods all the same. He has never in his life been this out of his depth. And the story of his dad’s forgotten exploits in the showers with Bashington-Hartley is still racing around his head like a swarm of bees.
“Excellent. Splendid. Knew you'd catch on quick. We will summon you from time to time. Spot of luncheon. Spot of claret. And suggestions. All you need to do is to follow the script. And then lots and lots of good things will start to come your way. It's the way of the world, old thing. A non-exec directorship here. A stock exchange tip there. And when things are all played out, it will be a 'K' and a cosy seat on the red benches. Maybe one day you will sit where we are sitting now and you'll become one of the guardians of the book. Sound good old chap?”
A knighthood. The House of Lords. Once of those six figure a year non-exec jobs for two days work a year. Course it sounded good.
“Actually, yes it does.”
“Of course it does old boy.”
More wine splashes into glasses. Another bottle is ordered. Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick and custard.
Stilton cheese and Port from the time of the Suez Crisis.
“Right. To business I think. These 56 Scottish types who have just arrived promise to be something of a thorn in the side. A bit of a handful. And we can't be having that. Not at all. We're going to have to clip their wings. Keep them honest. Make sure they don’t get the chance to become over pesky. Of course we have seen this kind of thing before. Lots of times. The bloody Irish. The Indian Congress. Militant Tendency. That scientist chap, Kelly. We've always had our ups and downs. And of course the time always comes when we have no choice but to let go. But we pride ourselves on letting go on our own terms. Once we have filled our pockets, right? We have managed to keep it that way since the unfortunate business in America back in 1776. Not a bad record, don’t you think?”
“The trick is not to do anything too dramatic. We pick at the loose threads. Wear the buggers down. Chip away. Erode. Get me?”
“So. We can make a start. No time like the present. Parliamentary schedule. All of these keen Scottish types will get homesick soon enough. Come Thursday afternoon, they'll all be itching to catch their planes and trains back north to see their ghastly wives. And of course they'll want to win Brownie points by seeing every man and his dog at their surgeries on the Friday morning. So. Here is what you are going to do. You are going to make Thursday our 'Legislation Day'. Thursday will be the day that all the laws get voted on. And you will make sure that the debates on all these new laws will always run late into the evening. No problem for good chaps like you with constituencies in the Home Counties. A much bigger problem from our dear Scottish friends who are hundreds of miles from home. We’ll give them a choice to make. Do I stay down to vote on something that is basically all about England? Or do I knock off early and head home to my nearest and dearest? And it won’t be all that long before the draw of the bosom of their families becomes overwhelming. And then all those good chaps from good schools who now edit good newspapers will start to ask a few questions about attendance records of our new Scottish friends. No doubt you can see how things will play out from there?”
“Splendid. So we can leave the details to you then. Thursday is 'Legislation Day' from here on in. More Port? Of course more Port. I can see we're all going to get along quite famously. I have heard from a little bird that you have rather a deletable little intern fetching and carrying…..”
His head is buzzing by the time the doorman with the eyes of a killer re-unites him with his coat and ushers him out into a fresh spring afternoon.
And Harvey knows that he has arrived.
No longer is he on the outside looking in.
Now he is on the inside.
At the table and looking out
One of them.
He is a wheel within a wheel.
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