When The Traffic Lights Stopped by Martin Friel
I remember what it was like before he arrived. I, like most, drifted through a life that I believed was free and full of choice but with hindsight, was no freer than a battery hen. Even they must believe they have some choice should they peck the wire cage again, should they try to shuffle the left or the right foot this time, should they cry out or remain silent? These are choices, limited but choices nonetheless.
That was the life that I, we led before Seth. It was so full of nothing. We made ourselves so busy doing nothing but at the time it felt very important, rewarding even. Looking back now, I see that it was entirely vacuous and from my current vantage point, what we used to do with our lives seems so utterly pointless. But at the time, it appeared good, worthwhile.
We spent the majority of our time consuming. It was all we did really. Consumption was the core of everything we did and very few of us, if we are honest now, could say that we did anything that wasnt some form of consumption and one of the main things we feasted on was time. We acted as though we had nothing but time and devoured it aimlessly, mainly through TV.
Our TV schedule was composed almost entirely of reality TV and we were deluged with it. Every channel, all 100-odd of them, crammed with people just like you and I doing ordinary things just like you and I. There was the rich, spoiled set from West London showing us how they drank Champagne and attempted to hang out with royalty but to balance that out, we got the pretendy-rich from the north east who did the same but on a budget.
We watched the tribulations of the nations aristocrats and the endearing foibles that result from generations of inbreeding. We watched the same format but from the perspective of the housing estates and the marvelled at the honesty delivered by generations of poverty. We watched people sleeping in hotels, we watched them go shopping, we even watched them watch TV. The whole point was that no matter who you were, what part of society you identified with, you could see yourself and others like you and relate. They were just like us their lives were just like ours.
Only they werent real and nor, it would transpire, were our own. What we were told was real life in these shows was in fact staged and crafted to appear real. These lives were facsimiles of real life, what the producers estimated we took to be real life. Judging with hindsight is simplistic but its so clear now that our own lives were as staged and controlled as those we saw on TV. We just didnt see it, we were too distracted.
When it wasnt reality programmes, TV was showing us all the things that we could buy and have and own and possess, all the things that would make our lives better, more complete. And how we responded. We were deeply patriotic in our consumption. Hundreds of thousands of us, millions, scuttling about the streets eying and buying, aimlessly, pointlessly, purchasing things desperate for the day we could throw them away so we could buy all over again. We were hungry and this was the sustenance we believed we needed because we were told it was every day we were told to buy stuff, stuff that would show we loved our families more than our neighbour, stuff to express how successful we were, stuff that would shape our identities. We would buy, buy, buy and then sit back and let the consumption define us.
It told us that we were wealthy, dynamic, deserving and bound for greater things. We could look at our accumulations and know that we were excelling, had greater taste and had greater access to the good things in life. Sofas from department stores, clothes from designers we had never heard of, food from artisan bakeries, holidays to increasingly far flung places and back again Thailand became the new Benidrom to such an extent that people started going to Benidrom again. It was a hipster thing. We were all living the good life. How did we know it was the good life? Because all the things we bought and where we bought them told us so. That was what comforted many of us having stuff meant having meaning and we were happy to live that lie. Better that than mentally unravelling at the bus stop on a cold, wet Wednesday morning waiting for more work.
When we werent consuming we were doing just that, working. We prided ourselves on our understanding that work was a means to an end and that we were an improvement on our forefathers who had identified themselves by their employment. Those wet Wednesday mornings were made bearable because our destination was not what identified us. It was what the job could buy that mattered. We had advanced since the days of our ancestors work was not a point of pride. It was simply a means to get money to allow us to craft our true identity, give us the means to cut and paste ourselves into those commercial images of holiday, motoring, socialising and well being. We worked, whatever it was we did, to attain those social ideals that we felt entitled to and knew could be ours. Everyone could join in you just needed the money.
If you didnt earn enough, you could always borrow. That was never a problem as the accumulation of debt was your patriotic duty. If you werent borrowing and buying you were putting the economy and jobs at risk. It was our collective responsibility to ensure that all those trinkets and summer promises were bought and in return our own hunger was satisfied with that plaster of identity that we so readily applied. The banks encouraged it too the more we borrowed, the more they could skim away. They were the great untouchables, the ones who held the keys to our identity, the health of the economy and the stability of our government. Its not that they were the bad guys everyone was complicit in it. Its just that some, the bankers in the main, came out of it better than most.
There was no respite from the merry go round of consumption and deception. On the train or the bus to work or on your lunch break or on Sunday afternoons, were the newspapers. They wrote as though they were on our side they exhibited the outrage that we knew we should feel towards those thieving politicians, the paedophiles, the greedy bankers, the ungrateful celebrities that we saw on our TV. But on every second page, in between these calls to moral arms, were the adverts Those terrible stories you read in our pages, they screamed. Forget them. Look here. We have a sale on flat screen TVs, we got half price sofas and how about a bit of insurance to salve those insecurities?
The papers were part of the problem too, boxing us in, telling us how to feel and behave; what to like and dislike. Similar to the politicians, they purported to be the voice of the people, merely reflecting what we were feeling and the more you saw it, believed it, the more you understood that this was in fact the way you should feel. We had lost the power of thought and self realisation. We believed we had both but it was a mirage, a hoodwink and we, despite what anyone will tell you today, happily accepted this. We walked into it, some with their eyes open and some closed but we all walked arm in arm in this great charade, gleefully, heading for the department stores and the airports. It didnt matter that it was a lie, not really, not when our belies were filled with all those products, outrage and security. To put it bluntly, we were a nation of toddlers. Knowing simpletons.
It sounds insane that we accepted it but if you are surrounded by it and it is all you know, you get used to it. It becomes normal, even desirable. But then you know how that feels, dont you?
Overseeing all of this, engineering these grasps for meaning and identity, our need to feed ourselves and what was left of our souls, were the politicians. They had always been there, a paternalistic body that made sure the big things like the economy - delivering our jobs, our consumption and ultimately our identity functioned. We knew they were living off the cream of the land, identikit droids perpetuating their own class, lying to us at every turn, telling us what they believed we wanted to hear. But we also knew we needed them. They were tasteless, crass and acutely self-serving but we accepted that we needed them.
Who else could run the country, negotiate with foreign powers, shepherd the economy, keep the banks in check, keep our streets safe, clean and functioning? Who else could make sure that society did not crumble and fall into anarchy? As irritating as it was, we knew we needed them but crucially, they also needed us. They needed our votes, our validation in order for them to assume their positions of power for without the people, there could be no politicians. We took solace in that fact. It was all we had really.
And so we lived those lives until Seth showed up. It was Seth who showed us we were living a mass, collective lie, one that only the politicians and the financiers benefited from. He showed us that we did not live in anything like a free state, that we did not need to take our identity cues from what we bought or owned, that the reality we thought we lived in was in fact a construction, a myth and, most terrifying and exhilarating of all, that we did not need the politicians, leaders of any kind. He showed us they were an outdated class no longer serving any purpose but their own and that we could have a more fulfilling and vital existence without them.
It was Seth who finally set us free from this patriarchal existence and convinced us that as a species, we had evolved enough to take care of ourselves and no longer needed to be led anywhere by anyone. We knew individually and collectively what we wanted so why, he argued so persuasively, should we hand that responsibility, the very essence of our existence, over to anyone else?
If Seth hadnt shown us the way, we would still be drifting through a false, misleading existence, an unsatisfying approximation of what life should be. We owed him everything.
How we progressed from acquisitive cattle to where we are today deserves an explanation and as I stumbled into the centre of it all, this great revolution of systems and minds, I will take on the responsibility of explaining to the future what we did, how we did it and why we did it.
Ours is not a tale of triumph over adversity or the people winning out over the state and nor is it a story of spirituality conquering consumerism. Its none of those things. It is the story of how the selfish collective came to control itself and a nation. My tale may be ugly at times, may not be to your taste but stick with me as I and the majority of the people know the existence we lead now is real, democracy taken to its natural conclusion. The society we live in now is the truest representation of the collective human condition and even when times are dark and the experiment falters, we know we have to maintain, continue down this road for the only other option is to return to the life that you are living today and nothing, absolutely nothing, will convince us to do that.
The whole thing began with a political decision. In the words of the Prime Minister of the day:
You know better than I that we a have a problem. Membership of political parties is down, the last election saw a record low in voter turnout and you, the people just arent engaged anymore. We havent given you anything to be engaged about. I recognise that and today I make a commitment to you, the Great British public, to change that.
This democracy of ours, one that has been adopted by nations across the globe, is based on basic fundamental human rights. The right of the people to have a voice and to be ruled by the majority. That is what underpins our freedom, our prosperity and our social justice.
Without that voice, that true representation, our democracy will fail to operate in the way we all need it to. Which is why this Government has decided to do the opposite of our predecessors and tackle this issue once and for all, tackling it in a way that is not only fit for purpose but fit for our times.
So today, it gives me great pleasure to launch what I believe is one of the most radical constitutional changes this, or indeed any other nation, has seen for many generations. What I am announcing today will put power back where it belongs, where it comes from and where it should remain. In the hands of every single one of you.
This new policy will mean the end of an old fashioned and frankly inconvenient means of administering democracy. Its remarkable to me that we still expect you all to take time out of your busy days to go to the local school or community centre once every four or five years, mark a bit of paper and then head all the way back home.
Thats just not feasible in todays digital age and I just dont think it is right to expect you, the voters, to do that anymore. Which is why we are, and I say this will no little pride, changing the face of democracy.
Today we are launching the Peoples Politician, a unique opportunity for everyone in this country to vote for one of their own into a position of power in Parliament. This individual, who will be chosen by you through a rigorous selection process in a brand new reality TV programme to be screened on the BBC every Saturday night, will bring your hopes and dreams, your fears and troubles direct to Parliament. This individual will be your voice. Their sole purpose will be to represent your views as voted every Saturday night. It is a direct, immediate and proportional democracy for a modern age.
I simply will not entertain the idea that a remote and unrepresentative Parliamentary system is acceptable any longer. You deserve more and we are giving you more. So I implore you, accept this challenge and watch the Peoples Politician which starts this Saturday. We are bringing democracy to you in a manner that suits you direct to you living rooms where you can now make the decisions that matter from the comfort and safety of your sofa.
This is a unique opportunity and I urge you to grab it with both hands or both remotes [chuckle and smile here] and make the choice for who you want to be the Peoples Politician.
Have you seen this crap?
I turned to see one of my colleagues pass the draft speech to me.
Have I seen it? I responded. Im running the thing.
Which, unfortunately, was true. I had never before, in all my years working in the civil service, come across such a cynical, patronising and disrespectful government initiative. One thing in that speech was true - there was a problem with engagement of the electorate. They just didnt care anymore. They didnt vote, they didnt listen to the political debates of the day and it didnt seem to bother them which party was in power at any given time. As long as they were allowed to get on with their lives, they were happy enough for whoever had the desire to run the country to do so. On behalf of the people of course.
The government knew it had to do something. There had been a steady decline in voter turnout since the 50s and in the last election, it hovered close to the 50% mark. Politicians may not be the brightest bulbs in the box but even they could recognise that if fewer than 50% of people actually bothered to vote, our democracy, our whole political system would begin to look a bit shaky. A sham at best and corrupt and broken at worst. So this lot took action, as they put it and responded to the growing constitutional crisis. In tackling an issue that their predecessors had avoided, they were going to do the right thing and get the people engaged in the political process once again.
Only they didnt. Rather than look at the root cause of the problem, which was of course themselves, they thought up this ridiculous Peoples Politician idea. Rather than understand and accept that it was their behaviour as a class that had turned the people off, they chose to believe that it was the fault of the populace, which was just too damned lazy to get off the couch to vote. Rather than recognise that they, the politicians had long since stopped genuinely representing their constituents, the decided to install a representative of the people in their grand little club.
This was the bit that really got me, that made me realise that the whole system was genuinely rotten and was probably, heartbreakingly, beyond repair. The very fact that the politicians believed that the people needed a representative in Parliament showed just how far gone they really were. They werent just out of touch, they were in another dimension.
They seemed to have forgotten, either wilfully or through intellectual neglect, that the very reason they were in Parliament every day, the very reason they were travelling to London, the very reason they were sitting on their little committees, was to represent the will of the people.
That they were so brazen about the fact that the populace currently didnt have a representative in Parliament and needed to get one through some trashy reality TV programme, deeply depressed me. If this was a success and people actually took part, the politicians would have won. They would have been able to show the people, without shame or any sense of decency, that they had robbed them of their constitutional rights with the consent of those same people. Raped them without a whimper of refusal. Taken the last vestiges of self respect from us all.
I never did have the highest respect for the intellectual vigour of our politicians but in this instance I dont believe it was stupidity they were exhibiting. They knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. The system worked insofar as we voted them in and furnished them with prestige and power but what was increasingly missing was the validity of their position. If the people were not transparently engaged and having a real say in the political process, as a political class and system, it stank of illegality.
The real reason they did this in the way they did was that their arrogance, their sense of entitlement and their belief in the stupidity of the masses led them to the conclusion that they could get away with it.
They genuinely believed that the people would fall for it and would get on board with this new Peoples Politician programme and vote in numbers that they had never done before. The politicians had no respect for their voters, they had long since dispensed with that.
Its difficult to pinpoint in my memory when it became clear to me that the political class had ceased to give us respect. I had joined the civil service from university and in those 18 years I had seen different parties take control and many individuals pass through, with their own ideas and agendas. But I had always believed the lie MPs were the representatives of the people. They were in Parliament to push forward our agenda, argue for issues that mattered to us, fight our corner. That was why we voted for them, why they existed at all.
But by the time the Peoples Politician was launched, I had discarded those juvenile beliefs. Although I was often dealing directly with MPs, saw them in the cafes and bars in Westminster and bumped into them coming and going in Parliament, you didnt need that proximity to see that they were all acting in a play, performing for our benefit. They were approximating what they thought people wanted to hear because they just didnt know anymore. They had long since stopped listening.
You could see this whenever they appeared on TV or were quoted in the papers. When they mugged for the camera at the opening of some school sustainability garden or touring an ice cream lid factory in Sheffield or the tender touch offered to the sick at the new ICU unit at some hospital somewhere. The most offensive aspect of that was the pretence of care. They were acting, always acting because it was what the pollsters and their advisers told them that we, the people, the ones that vote them in, wanted to see. They really didnt give a shit about any of the photo opportunities they went to or the people they feined empathy with. Believe me, I had the privilege of hearing them talk about such events.
Where are we going? Why? Oh, right I see. So should I be looking concerned in this one or is it more of admiration of their stoicism? OK, Im with you. So initially concern at their condition and then I move on to admiration then a bit of you are what makes me proud to British stuff? Great, lets get this over with. Ive got lunch with the Saatchis at 12.30.
Politicians have been performing like this for time immemorial but what started out as glad handing and baby-kissing in constituencies had become the cynical and wholesale exploitation of people for the benefit of political careers. We were there simply to facilitate the pursuit of their career - a prop, a patsy and we gladly participated in it.
Worse than this, politicians had lost all sense of ideology, of purpose, reason for doing what they did. They did nothing because they believed it was the right thing to do. The only did what would help their career, get them into positions of power or keep them there once they had won them. The idea that they would believe in an actual idea was frankly ridiculous. One MP told me the days of ideas were long gone. Now was the age function Parliament and the political process was about allowing the country to function. It wasnt about guiding the country in a certain direction in the pursuit of an ideological ideal. It was to perpetuate the status quo, a status quo that benefited only politicians and their chums in business. They were custodians. Well-suited, well-fed, expensive and entitled janitors.
And you could see this lack of conviction when they were interviewed on the late night news shows. Traditionally these news programmes would pick a contentious issue of the day, drag some MP in to talk about it and then give him a verbal kicking. It was a parody of holding politicians to account. The interviewer represented us, the people but it was a charade. Both the politician and the interviewer were going through the motions. A puppet show to keep the people clapping, happy and infantilised.
What was most telling about these interviews was that the vast majority of politicians, when pushed on their position on something, just could not talk around the issue. They would simply repeat the same three lines over and over again. I got the idea that they simply didnt know what they were talking about and were parroting what they had been told to say by their advisers and PR people. If theyd had any idea whatsoever of the rationale behind the subject, the decision or the strategy, then as cognisant human beings, surely they could have argued the case with some passion, some conviction?
But no. They acted like robots programmed to say three things and three things only. Any deviation from the script and they experienced a malfunction of the nervous system, repeating the same lines over and over, regardless of the question posed. If you have a look youll still find some of those old clips. Watching them now is chilling. These people used to run our country. They used to make decisions for us. We used to permit them to make decisions for us. They used to be our masters, our masters until that first Saturday when things began to change.
Ill be honest with you. I didnt put any effort into this and nor did any of my colleagues in the civil service but we had to go through the motions, appearing to make every effort to get this project off the ground - that we really wanted it as much as the politicians. At best our efforts were half-hearted but that is a way of life for the civil servant.
Despite this, it still managed to get off the ground. We out-sourced the format and organisation of it to the BBC, let them regurgitate the usual talent show. I wont go into the details you know what these shows are like and if you dont, take the effort to Google some examples and then catch up with the rest of us when you are ready.
Whether it was a fault in the concept or our lack of application I dont know, but we had to go through three winners of the Peoples Politician before Seth won it. Thats when I woke up and started paying attention but it took others, particularly the politicians, longer to understand what his winning meant. But then I was working closely with him and could see there was a difference. Id worked with them all, trying to brief them on the world of politics, what they needed to do every day, educate them on the machinations of the press and essentially trying to make sure that they didnt fall on their faces. Three times I failed on that last count and to be honest, it wasnt until Seth won that things started to work and in retrospect, it was probably Seth that guided me through the process rather than the other way round.
Im getting ahead of myself though. Three others graced the post of Peoples Politician before he arrived and their role in this fable deserves recognition. Is it really a fable? Did it happen? When you hear the story you will doubt me, most do. It did happen and it is still happening but as you wander with me into this story, it does feel like I am recounting a fairy tale, a lesson from the past or from another world and time. It is all of that but there are moments, when I think about how we arrived in our here and now, that it is just unbelievable what happened that is, what still happens and perhaps most of all, what used to happen. The way we lived is the most extraordinary part of it, the life that you will be most familiar with so take a look around yourself, read the newspapers watch the news, listen to what the politicians are saying, how and why they say it. Take a look at the lives you and everyone else lead, why you live it the way you do, why you have devolved your right to self-determination to a political elite who understand only the concept of your existence and why you so gleefully trade your rights for shopping.
Take stock of now and keep reminding yourself of it as we go along because it all changes and dont ever forget, this actually happened to us. It is possible.
* * * * *
Those first three winners were disasters in their own unique ways. The first winner, Sian, was a predictable failure. She was all smiles and giggles, faux stupidity and humility. She was standard reality TV victory fare and the viewers, who watched the first series in record numbers, voted her in despite the protests, even pleadings of the judges not to. Youll know from these talent shows (if you dont and you didnt Google it like I asked you to, just do it, it will save time) that viewers often go against the wishes of the judges. So they did that, their behaviour a faint trace of a time when people actually did kick against authority, refusing to be told what to do. Its in the DNA; we still wanted to resist but the landscape in which this would be possible had been eroded and the only outlet left to the people was the playpen of reality TV.
Sian won despite what authority told viewers to do and the public felt good about that. Im not sure they had any real understanding of what the Peoples Politician would be doing and I think Sian was an experiment chuck her in there and see what happens. If its good, we were right to vote for her. If its bad, then she knew the risks when she put herself up for this. Either way, sit back and enjoy the show.
I took Sian into Parliament on her first official day, to parade her in front of the mildly interested politicians. They were nice to her, at least the ones who knew who she was and why she was there were, and the PM in particular lavished praise on her, calling her the embodiment of a new politics where the people have their wishes expressed and acted upon and you Sian, have been voted by the people to represent those wishes. I hope the House will join me when I say that Sian has our full support and confidence as she takes the lead in this exciting new chapter in our democracy.
You could never be sure with a politician but it looked for all the world that he actually believed what he was saying.
Of course the House joined him and the adulation of Sian and the ruse that she represented, carried on for an hour, each party, each region clamouring to show their support and position themselves as the ones who truly supported the Peoples Politician. Inevitably, they fell into their habitual squabbles and Sian was all but forgotten among the point-scoring so I led her out of there to begin representing the people. Nobody noticed.
So yeah, Sian was a disaster. She had no interest in representing the people only herself and taking the well worn path to post-TV stardom. She didnt want to be a politician and she certainly didnt want to be with the people. Shes had her whole life with them and was ready to leave them behind. When we did manage to persuade her to do her job, she was so obviously disengaged, like a truculent teenager, that even I, who hated the whole charade, was embarrassed.
I wasnt disappointed when it quickly fell apart. Her lack of commitment to the role was matched by my lack of enthusiasm so I let her flit around the nightclubs, store openings and award ceremonies to her hearts content and waited for the inevitable backlash. It didnt take the press long and it was a pretty straightforward execution job for them. Run of the mill. They had brought down much bigger beasts than Sian.
Where is the Peoples Politician? they asked with some restraint but as the months and parties went by, they started to show the public just where their Politician was stumbling out of nightclubs, attending film premieres the usual haunts of the reality TV star. Then the attacks started coming in from the columnists and in debates on the late night news programmes.
She refused to defend herself with the defence of why should I?. Why should she indeed? Why should she apologise for her behaviour when every single one of those criticising her would no doubt have done the same and in the case of her more privileged detractors, did. But what she failed to realise was that since she had won her position, she ceased to be a private individual. It was open season and the old routine had to be played out the adulation isnt she just so refreshingly normal?, she is just what this country and politics needs, gradually morphing into who does she think she is, why am I paying for her to swan around having fun and finally shes a national embarrassment, a disgrace, and once it gets to that stage, its all over.
Sian didnt see it coming or developing and even when I explained to her that it was all over, that the project had failed, she refused to believe it. She had developed some kind of conviction that as she was the Peoples Politician, voted in by the people, that it was not for the newspapers or any other commentator to tell her when to go.
And of course she was right but she had completely missed the point that the papers opinions, those of the commentators, were in effect, the peoples opinions. A mass of people cant have an opinion so those commentators who have a bit of a flair for writing or polemics voice their own claiming that it represents public opinion and as they had taken against Sian, she was done for. Im not sure that they did actually dislike Sian her destruction probably owed as much to habit as anything else.
It appeared that the PMs project had failed but his lack of self-awareness meant that rather than quietly bury his still-born project in shame, he demanded more effort and greater rigour in finding a replacement for Sian. He even had the nerve to suggest that it was we in the civil service who were to blame for the failure, not the fact that it was a stupid idea, a stupid fucking idea. No it was the lack of support that Sian received.
This is what the people want the record number of viewers for the Peoples Politician shows that very clearly, he told Parliament.
Im sure the House will agree with me that Sians inability to handle the pressures of her position and the unique focus of our nations press is a source of great regret to all of us and indeed, not a little shame too. There are few who sit in the House who would not sympathise with her troubles.
However, we must ensure that whoever is given the privilege of taking on her role is properly supported by our civil service. It is simply not good enough for them to trip along behind our Peoples Politician and hope that everything works out. I want to see proper guidance and support from our civil servants.
In fact, I want to see more behaviour reflecting the term Civil Servant. They are servants, not leaders. Increasingly it feels as though they are the tail that wishes to wag the dog ...
And so he went off into one of his rants about the civil service. He expected us to simply do as was bidden by the politicians and have no view or insight into what it was they were proposing or doing.
Of course we were policy executors, not formers but we werent idiots we could see when something was going to be a disaster and we saw it as part of our duty, in our role as servants of the state, to discreetly protect the nation from politicians.
After all, we were the political experts. Ours was a true political institution. The House, as we saw it, was a stage for narcissists and sociopaths to play out their masturbatory little fantasies of grandeur and importance. All brightly coloured plumes, bombast and sleights of hand. It was our job to ensure that most of the half-baked, off the cuff policies didnt get far enough to do any real damage. We were the gatekeepers and in many ways we were the ones who ran the country as the toddlers in the House mimicked the real thing.
Anyway, the PM had a pop at us for not supporting Sian properly and of course we took the scolding seriously, providing reassurances to his private secretary that we did in fact recognise the inadequacies of our performance and would ensure that the next iteration of the Peoples Politician would be one that the PM could be personally proud of and one that the nation could embrace. And yes of course, every resource would be immediately poured into the project. Nothing would be left to chance. On to it right away. No slacking, no. Taking it perfectly seriously this time. Nobody will leave this building until the PM is satisfied, working through the night if necessary. Of course secretary, whatever it takes.
Shortly after he left, we went to the pub. Standing just across the road from our offices, I saw the private secretary making an awful job of pretending he wasnt witnessing our mockery of him and his master. I tried to feel shame or pity but it just wasnt coming. I felt good. It was our version of ignoring the judges and we enjoyed our little rebellion as much as the TV viewers.
The next two Peoples Politicians were as much a failure as the first but for different reasons. Im not going to spend too much time on them but its important you have a clear understanding of the events that preceded Seths arrival. It will make the reasons for his rise much clearer to you.
After Sian, we had Ben. Ben was an accountant in every fibre of his being. He looked, spoke and acted like one. If accountancy had had recruitment drives, Ben would have been the poster boy he was the embodiment of the profession.
The public, who once again tuned in to the show in record numbers, voted him in a wild reaction to the debacle that had been Sian. Where she was flighty and lacking in substance, Ben was serious and practical, everything the role needed after its abortive first attempt.
The problem was that Ben was just too practical and too sensible to survive in the political world. We in the civil service and I in particular tried harder with Ben than we had with Sian mainly because he really did seem earnest about the role and we all felt a bit sorry for him. He seemed lacking.
Ultimately he failed though. He couldnt understand the politicians, the way they conducted themselves, how or why they made the decisions they did. It was not until he found himself up close with these people that he understood the problems facing the country and I think it broke him.
There is one example that stays with me and which I think really killed off Bens hopes of actually achieving something as the Peoples Politician. About three months into it, still full of enthusiasm, Ben brought up the issue of the subsidisation of bars and restaurants in the House of Commons.
He wrote to the House of Commons Catering Committee to confirm the existence of a subsidy and if it existed, how much it was. After several evasive answers he finally established that the people, the taxpayer, subsidised Parliamentary dining and supping to the tune of nearly £6m, annually.
As an accountant, someone with a keen interest in taxes, Ben couldnt understand why taxpayers should foot this bill. In one of his monthly showings in the House, he begged the question in person. What he didnt understand was that he wasnt supposed to be asking real questions or doing real work. He was supposed to be a figurehead, someone for the politicians to parade in front of the electorate to show that they really did care, that they took democracy seriously.
The response he received from the Minister for Internal Catering baffled him:
Selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly in line with the prices charged in nearby pubs operated by a well-known high-street chain and, in this sense, the prices are not subsidised.
But in a more accurate sense they are, replied Ben. Ive looked at the numbers and no matter how I cut them, I cant get away from the fact that the prices for food and beverages within the House are kept at an artificially low level which means that they must be subsidised.
Selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly in line with the prices charged in nearby pubs operated by a well-known high-street chain and, in this sense, the prices are not subsidised, came the reply.
Sir, Ben began again, I respectfully tell you that despite what you believe, they are. Whats more, in my meetings with constituents across the country, it consistently arises as an issue that the people cannot understand and do not accept. I propose that for the sake of a few pounds a drink, for example, that this Parliament could cease subsidising your subsistence and remove, at a stroke, an issue that causes a significant degree of resentment in the country at large.
But sir, selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly .... Catering man began again before being interrupted.
It was the PM.
You are of course absolutely right. It is an issue that causes our people grievance and they dont understand why the bars and restaurants in the House should be subsidised. And why should they? But my learned friend is also correct. We are not subsidised. Is it very much different to any staff cafeteria in any part of the country? Is it really unacceptable to offer our hard working MPs, who do so much for their constituents, some small gesture of an employee benefit?
Are our MPs not entitled to what every other employee in the land is entitled to? For they too are merely employees, employees of the people and in order for them to be available to the House, to do their duty at whatever time the machinations of our great democracy demand, it is important that they are kept onsite. We cant afford to have MPs dragged away from the important duties of government looking for some hard-earned refreshment.
It is vital they are here in the House and surely you cannot expect them to be charged open market London prices? As MPs salaries are paid out of the public purse, for MPs to be forced to pay the inflated prices of London would be a form of theft from the public purse, from the hands of the people.
So you see Ben, we are actually saving the public money by being vigilant about the prices charged within the House and doing everything we can to ensure that we keep prices down and as much money as possible is used in the service of the public.
As the Peoples Politician I believe it is your duty, if I may be so bold as to suggest what that is, to go back to the people and ensure that they understand this and understand that far from the bars and restaurants being subsidised by taxpayers, they are in fact saving the taxpayer money.
The PM, satisfied that he had explained the situation to Ben, sat back down with a satisfied sigh.
Prime Minister, Ben began. But he stopped. I watched him from the side of the room. He looked at the bank of pink, fleshy faces opposite him, turned to survey a whole room of them staring at him and then back at the PM who looked benevolently. Ben looked baffled. His shoulders dropped: Of course Prime Minister.
Thank you Ben. And can I just say, and I am sure the House will join me in this sentiment, that you are a superb Peoples Politician and you are managing the not insignificant difficulties of politics admirably. I am sure you will manage this message to the people with the same level of excellence and good judgement you have shown to date.
Yes Prime Minister, thank you.
He turned to leave eventually joining me at the door of the House. The politicians glibly moved on to other matters. It wasnt the first time Ben had been gently rebuffed and rebuked in this manner but this one seemed to knock the desire and fight out of him.
He looked weird when we got outside. He was never a man who had been in possession of a lot of colour but now he looked positively grey. Downcast. I suspect that this was the point at which he understood he could not work with these people, that he had misunderstood their true nature and intentions. I suspect that it was at this point that he knew he had to go. As we parted that afternoon, he left me with a simple sorry.
He held on for another five months but the enthusiasm for the role had vanished. He knew he could have no real impact, had lost the faith of the electorate he so desperately wanted to represent effectively and had really lost all heart, not just in the role but in general. In total he lasted nine months and that was the reign of the second Peoples Politician at an end. No newspaper assaults this time. Just sad, gentle defeat in the face of the political cabal. Ben resigned citing health concerns and he quietly slipped back into accounting obscurity with the PMs heartfelt endorsements of Bens tenure ringing in his ears.
If that was sad, the third and final Peoples Politician before Seth was heartbreaking. Marjory was her name and she was a retired school dinner lady in the classic mould hearty, warm, large, robust but equipped with a tongue sharpened by years of keeping the nations spawn in check.
The treatment meted out to Marjory by the politicians was nothing short of disgraceful and it was probably my lowest point in the whole project for in their actions, the politicians brazenly revealed their utter contempt for and lack of understanding of the populace. They revealed the strange separateness they possessed which had been kept hidden behind the plastic smiles and plasticine concern for generations.
Looking back I think they treated Marjory with such cavalier cruelty and indifference because they believed that they were truly untouchable, that they had everything within their control. Although the price paid by Marjory was an extreme one, I think she acted as a martyr of sorts. Her example prepared the ground and created the public sentiment for Seth to take the stage and finally eradicate the politicians. In engineering Marjorys destruction, the politicians were in fact preparing the ground for their own demise.
Marjory ... What happened to Marjory still bothers me and the conflict it generates in me deepens that discomfort. She felt the full force of the politicians cruelty, disdain and calculated indifference to those that do not belong to their class and for that I am truly sorry. Although I did not actively participate in her humiliation and its consequences, I was still part of the system that precipitated it. As were those viewers who took part in the televised vote and elected her their third Peoples Politician.
We are all complicit but perhaps myself more than the viewers. I had a more thorough understanding of the true nature of the politicians and what they were capable of, how far they would be willing to go to protect themselves and their lifestyles. I am ashamed that I let her walk blindly into that bear pit, unarmed, poorly prepared and with no real understanding of what she was facing.
Equally, I am aware that without Marjory, without the tragedy of her experience, we may never have received Seth, he may not have had the moral outrage required to tackle the politicians. If he hadnt had that and hadnt acted on it, we would all still probably be living our impotent lives turning our frustration and anger on each other and ourselves rather than upon the political structures that suckled that anger. We would still be gnawing on ourselves, shredding our nerves as we spun in circles trying to figure out what was wrong with us.
The scar tissue of our collective impotence prevented us from getting past the superficial and truly understanding what was holding us back, what was feeding our own sad, little self-destructive impulses and emotional immolations. We couldnt see that the frustration was caused by the political system we lived under, the eroding of our rights, our independence, our pride in ourselves. The patriarchal nature of our government kept us emotionally on the cusp of adulthood, caught between knowing we have the ability to think for ourselves while being held in an infantilised state. They would have us feel that we needed to be led as we didnt have the ability or maturity to manage our own lives. We couldnt be trusted. We needed our political parents to take us under their wise wing and guide us through our own lives. They knew better. We were just the people, the rabble, a mass of idiocy.
Granted, we still needed Seth to break out of those walls but it needed Marjory, her efforts and treatment by the politicians to lay the ground for what Seth did. Without that, Seth may have floundered in much the same way as those who preceded him had done. In fact, he may not have even bothered trying in the first place.
Marjory was a good one. She was a woman from the old days motherly and warm, she made you feel secure but she had a side to her that terrified. Marjory was not a woman to be fucked with. It was undoubtedly best to keep on her good side. She reminded me of my grandmother and I suspect many felt the same.
Where Ben had been conscientious but ultimately weak and Sian had been confident but lacking in any ability or application to the job, Marjory was confident, bullish even, but she had a way with people and had plenty of emotional intelligence. She had no qualifications to speak of but she was smart, sharp and not afraid to share her opinion.
She was a big woman in her late 50s, big tits and belly pinned into a functional dress designed to last. She came from a class and time where self respect and pride in yourself were paramount. She was utterly fearless but loveable and the public clearly felt that they needed that after the meek showing from Ben.
Marjory had spent a working life keeping children in check as a dinner lady mother bird feeding scores of hungry, demanding, rowdy chicks. She cared for them and had a need to nourish them but she understood that the only way she could get every one of them fed was to rule with an iron rod. In her case, it was a wooden rod, half a clothes pole that she used to brandish wildly when the dinner room threatened to run out of control.
Whack! The stick would come down on a table, scaring the shit out of the children closest to the swipe and echoing across the room. Sit down, shut up and eat or youll feel this across your shoulders Marjory would bellow.
They knew she was not to be messed with. When they heard the whack! and the threat, they scurried, they ducked and they settled, waiting for Marjorys minions to bring out their food. Fear her as they did, they were also aware of the kind acts; the way she tended to them when they had skinned their knee, when someone had been picked on by the other kids, when one of them was upset and nobody could figure out why. Marjory always gently coaxed the reason out of them and soothed them in a way no other figure in the school could.
It was an effective mix her charges listened and obeyed because they sensed, they knew, ultimately, that she had their best interests at heart. Of everyone they came into contact with outside of the home, Marjory was the one they loved and trusted; feared but adored.
She was no fool and had been watching how the previous Peoples Politicians had fared and she took the same approach to Parliamentary sessions as she did the dinner room. She always began politely but when she felt she was not being listened to, she would bring out the battle-axe Marjory:
This is worse than the dinner hall, she chided at one early and particularly boisterous session in the House.
I have come here to talk to you about what your constituents want and all you can do is shout insults across the room at each other, she said, her voice rising with every word uttered. Nobody is listening to anyone else. Its just noise and bluff and I wont stand for it. Pipe down the lot of you! she shouted, finally, with a hearty slap of her hand on the lectern.
There was a mix of laughter and drawn breath in the House. We had all seen Marjorys personality during the voting stages but still it was a shock to hear the way she spoke to the politicians. They werent prepared for it. Some were reminded of their own school years and understood what she was doing and laughed. Others took great exception. They were the elected representatives of the people. She was a dinner lady that got lucky. I was quietly delighted. I just wanted to see what would happen, how they would react to this challenge and for the first time, I felt we had a Peoples Politician that could actually stand their ground and perhaps make some progress in the position.
The PM rose slowly, smiling. Marjory, dear. May I commend you on your robust challenge to the gathered honourable members. If only I had years of experience in the dinner hall in how to control a rowdy room. Had I had such experience I certainly would have achieved more in office than I have, he said to laughter from the politicians.
Marjory just stared back at him.
He continued: But it is my duty to remind you that it is the role of the Speaker of the House to control members, not any one individual. And I am glad it is so for I fear I would have lost my voice in trying to control this lot, he chuckled as he swept his hand across the room.
So please, if I may, can I ask you to leave matters of control of the House to the Speaker?
Well if he was any good at his job, I wouldnt have to resort to raising my voice, Marjory replied. He sits there mumbling protests while the rest of you just talk over him and I wont have it. I have been asked to come to the House to tell you what the people of this country want and I intend to be heard! she said, voice rising again.
Of course, of course, the PM tried to soothe. Believe me, I fully understand your frustrations but we must not and cannot allow established protocol to fall by the wayside purely as a result of frustration. Anyway, Im sure the House accepts your apology for raising your voice and we can of course now move on to the pressing matters you wish to present to us.
I certainly do not apologise! Why should I? You and your friends were the ones who were being rude in the first place. I was merely trying to do my duty and the only way I can do that is by being louder than the lot of you, she bellowed. She stood straight when she said this. Her chin inched higher and she held the PMs gaze. It was a challenge. That much was clear.
The PMs face reddened I couldnt tell if it was embarrassment or anger. But it flushed and it was obvious. Murmurs of shame and the cheek slipped down from the benches and curled around and into his ears. Who was this woman to treat him, the PM of all people, in this way? She was lucky to be here and now she had the audacity to shame the PM and the House in such a way.
I wondered if she was playing to the cameras, showing the people back home that she really was fulfilling her promise to stand up for them and what they wanted. Or whether she was genuinely affronted at the lack of respect shown to her. Either way, I found my admiration for her growing with every utterance. She was truly fearless and the politicians just werent used to it.
Marjory, may I apologise personally and behalf of all members of the House if you feel you have been slighted in any way. That, I guarantee you, would never be intentional but you must understand that is the nature of debate in this House and there are existing protocols to manage that process.
Regardless, you certainly have our undivided attention now, so please, do carry on, the PM said.
And so Marjory did just that. She proceeded to tell the House what she had found on her initial visits to the regions as they were described in political parlance and what she felt should be done about the various gripes and perceived injustices she found.
The House listened, some with obvious reluctance and resentment, but they listened and as she held the floor that day, I could see her confidence growing, her faith in her ability to do this thing properly building as she stood absolutely straight, like a big piece of concrete humanity. Unmoveable, solid and permanent. She had gained control of the House in exactly the same way she used to control the dinner room through force and stubbornness and a refusal to be bullied by anyone. And now she, and everyone else in the country, could see that not even the PM of the country could tell Marjory Allen what to do.
If Im honest, I was a little fearful of her and although I was excited about the prospect of what the presence of this new force in House would mean, I resolved to keep my distance and not interfere with her too much. She seemed to know what she was doing and I certainly didnt want to get on the wrong side of that woman.
In due course, I would regret that decision for as I will recount now, that bullishness, brashness and confidence in Marjory was a shield and she genuinely needed my support. She needed my guidance and my knowledge of how to navigate this political world and I neglected those duties and Marjory paid for my fear and inactivity.
But when we look back at Seths revolution, we can see clearly that it was Marjory, her bravery and her sacrifice that was the real catalyst for change. It was Marjory and the treatment she received that galvanised Seth. It was the same that made the people so disgusted with their leaders that they were willing to follow Seth, to rip of centuries of tradition and start all over again. And it was the same that made me realise my responsibilities in ensuring that The Peoples Politician, in the form of Seth, needed to be guided and chaperoned through the moral maze of Parliament if we were ever going to change things. If we were ever to rid ourselves of a system that served only its members and infantilised its people.
Facing down the PM in Parliament that day had two results firstly the politicians knew they had to be wary of Marjory and secondly, the knives were out. They were being caressed in pockets and secreted behind backs but they were definitely out.
There was no way that they, the elected representatives of the people, were going to be told what to do or how to act by a dinner lady. Hers was a toy role, built by the state to entertain the people. Theirs was the real role, the one that ran the state, kept the country safe, children off the street and put food in mouths.
Politicians are a patient lot in many ways and for the first seven months of her tenure, they gave Marjory the room to develop her ideas. They allowed her little initiatives such as tax rebates for special needs teachers and the ban on sale of sweets and soft drinks on school premises to go through. These were harmless enough and could be used to show the government had a true and deep concern about the things that matter to the people.
With these victories, Marjorys confidence grew and she became more certain than ever that she had what it took to not only make a success of the role but more importantly, she believed she had the measure of the politicians.
She didnt like their haughty attitude, their sly slithering around the issues, the silky tongue of the PM and the patronising, paternalistic tone they used when addressing her or the public.
She felt she knew what they were about, what their motivations really were. As she spent more and more time in Westminster, she could see that what was intended to be the venue where the elected representatives had brought the views of constituents to be considered and implemented by the state, had become a country club for a self-appointed elite.
They looked and acted like an entirely new class of people, separate from the population at large. As far as she could tell, the politicians did very little that actually mattered and spent most of their time justifying their jobs and dreaming up new ways to make them appear engaged with and representative of the people.
In part she was surprised by this but equally, it made her angry. She felt she and people like her had been taken for fools and she was right. They had and with that came a feeling of impotency. But she knew she was in a privileged position and had the opportunity to try to make changes that mattered, to challenge the complacency of this elected elite and to display the anger of the people at the ineptitude and entitlement of those who were supposed to represent them.
And she saw the perfect occasion to communicate this outrage when one of the national papers broke a story revealing that a great many politicians had been fiddling their expenses. In other words, they had been robbing the electorate.
In common with most of the nationals, The Daily Post had not uncovered the scandal through journalistic endeavour but had been leaked the expenses submissions of every MP in the land. There were many obvious sources of that leak but it has never been definitively proven from where it originated. In common with most big scandals, it started with the naming of a couple of ministers who were duly thrown to the wolves in a bid to protect the wider family it was, of course, the doings of a few bad apples and what walk of life doesnt have a few of them?
But as the days passed with more and more MPs financial transgressions being revealed, it soon became clear that rather than a few bad apples, the manipulation of expenses was endemic and as the press gleefully pointed out, revealed the rotten core of our political structures.
What started as a trickle of individual revelations of fraud, soon became a flood. The full list is too extensive to recount here but to give you an idea of what the politicians had been up to.
· Malcolm Tugeridge, MP for Aldershot several claims came under scrutiny including plastic surgery for his wife to correct a drooping left eyelid, a kitchen refit for both his constituency home and his London flat and the purchase of 18 Saville Row suits for his Parliamentary attendances
· Tristram Taylor, MP for Bexhill and Battle was found to have claimed several family holidays (all of which exceeded £20,000 in cost) on expenses under the guise of research trips to inform his role as Minister of Social Housing
· Elizabeth Earnshaw, MP for Somerton and Frome claimed for two executive canine villas complete with automated post-faecal discharge cleanser
· Roger Whitstable, MP for Wantage managed to claim for regular appointments with prostitutes, male and female. He was subsequently charged with committing acts of paedophilia but received only a conditional discharge
There were many, many more examples (85% of members of the House were found to have committed expenses fraud of some form or another) but the above gives you a flavour of not only the range of fraud that was perpetrated but the audacity of some of the claims.
And as the accusations were made and the politicians ducked from the onslaught of the press and the public, Marjory, as disgusted at their behaviour as the rest of the country, felt it was her duty to hold the politicians to account, to atone for their behaviour and to accept that it was, at best, utterly disgusting and inexcusable.
Her next session in the Commons fell two and a half weeks after the scandal broke and she felt good about this one. Very good.
How dare you address the House in this manner?!! Just who on earth do you think you are? A dinner lady, talking to us, the elected representatives of this Kingdom, in such a manner. Shame on us? Shame on you I say!
Order, order! shouted the Speaker of the House as yelps, shouting, foaming and swearing swept through the building, up the rows of seats, off the back wall and down again to where Marjory stood, resolute and, it appeared, utterly calm. Around her was a sweeping mass of arms, gesticulations and brandished fists. Among the chaos, thin, willowy pieces of paper floated and danced around, oblivious to their surroundings, gently settling here and there ultimately trampled under the furious feet.
Marjory had just told the politicians what she thought of the expenses scandal and those that had perpetrated it. She had described them as craven and morally repugnant; as having taken the entire electorate for a ride; as having undermined the very basis of democracy in the country; and finally, implored them to recognise that they were not worthy of the people who had placed them in their roles of extreme privilege.
Order, order! I demand order in the House, the speaker shouted above the din. He smashed his gavel furiously on the wood in an attempt to be heard. It was not until the Prime Minister himself rose that calm started to work its way into proceedings.
As he rose, calls for Marjory to be removed could be heard among shouts of the affront of that woman and other more extreme demands for her to be strung up like the mangy old dog she is.
Come now, come, soothed the PM. We are all here together for the greater good and petty name calling and some of the more extreme absurdities we have heard here today have no place in our great democracy.
He rose to his full height, placed both hands on the lectern and faced Marjory across the room.
Marjory. May I begin by apologising for some of the more extreme language you may have heard from the honourable members of the house but as you can see, emotions are running high and tempers are keeping pace with them.
That however, is no excuse and I ask you to accept my apologies on behalf of my esteemed colleagues. You are simply doing your job Marjory in communicating to us how the electorate feel and I commend you for your bravery and honesty in doing so today.
Marjory, standing firm in her defensive element, simply held the PMs gaze, her eyes encouraging him to continue, communicating that she had not and would not back down in the face of the PMs flattery.
One of the defining characteristics of the people of this nation is honesty. We are a forthright, tell it as it is, kind of people and we are admired across the globe for this, continued the PM, head down.
But what we are not known for, he said, raising his head to meet Marjorys eyes, is rudeness. That is the preserve of our friends on the Continent!
This secured a small laugh from the House, the humour only slightly salving the still fresh wounds inflicted by Marjorys words.
And Marjory, as much as I admire the guts you have shown today, that British fighting spirit, I must confess that I think in making your comments to and about the members of this House, you have overstepped the mark.
I have overstepped the mark?!! I have? It is you and your cohorts that have been fleecing the people you claim to love so much. Ive not taken a single penny beyond my salary for this job which is a damn sight more than can be said for the lot of you, she replied sweeping her hand across the room.
Marjory, Marjory dearest ... started the PM.
Dont refer to me as dearest, she retorted, with the emphasis firmly on the DONT.
My apologies, Marjory, plain old Marjory, the PM began. The process we are going through just now, in reforming the expenses system and removing the areas of doubt and replacing them with a much more robust system, one that is easier to understand and stay within the rules of, is what we are discussing here.
It is not, if I may say so, your privilege to comment upon the morality or otherwise of the members of this House. That is for us as members to decide. Nobody else.
I beg your pardon? Marjory was incredulous at this last statement and the words hardly made it out of her mouth. Am I right in thinking that you are saying you lot are not to be judged by the people but by yourselves? Is that what you are actually saying to me?
Yes, Marjory, it is. That is why we have this House, these representatives. If everyone in the land had an equal voice and an equal say, all sense would be drowned out of discussion. Nothing would get done. That is why we are here, serving the people and ensuring that in all the noise, we can distil some sense, guide this great nation on to even greater achievements.
It wouldnt make sense for us to be judged by ordinary people. We, like anyone else in the country, should be judged by our peers. Which is why I have announced this wide ranging review into the expenses structure to make sure that the mistakes that our friends in the press have recently highlighted, cant happen again.
As much as anyone else we want to make sure that mistakes dont happen and that the system is fair and proportionate and that members are properly reimbursed for their expenses. That is only fair and right and Im sure you would not disagree with that would you Marjory? Would you?
Look, I understand what my role is, Im not stupid. I am here to make you lot look good, like you are listening to the people, Marjory began, shifting on her feet slightly.
And I accepted that and continue to do so but what I will NOT accept is you taking the electorate, my friends and neighbours, everyone who lives in the UK, for mugs. What you describe as mistakes are very clear examples of brazen theft and total dishonesty and for you to attempt to dress them up as mistakes is taking the dishonesty to a whole new level!
Cries of shame, sit down woman, put her back in her box! rolled down from the galleries.
The PM, without looking behind him, raised his right hand to still the noise. The House responded obediently.
Now Marjory, DEAREST. I, and the rest of this House, have been nothing but accommodating, welcoming and supportive since you started. We have gone out of our way to help you better navigate your way through the political pathways of power and we have listened intently to the words that you bring back from your visits to the regions.
But I, and I believe I speak for the House when I say this, will not stand for your open but baseless accusations which openly contest our collective integrity. Your role is very important Marjory, I of course accept that, but you must understand the limits of that role.
It is not for you to pre-empt the investigation that we have instigated and it is not for you throw around accusations of dishonesty without a shred of evidence. I must reluctantly admonish you for your behaviour. It is frankly unacceptable and will not be tolerated in THIS HOUSE!
Again the galleries erupted with cries of hear hear and sit down woman. Marjory remained steadfast, she didnt move a muscle this time.
Admonish me all you will Prime Minister but all I am is a conduit to the country, that place you call the regions, where power does, or if truth be told, should lie. All I am doing is telling you what the people think so if you admonish me, you admonish the people and that, if I can be so bold to say, is a dangerous place for any politician to find themselves.
Listen to this! Now she IS the people came a cry from the increasingly raucous galleries. Shes heading for a dictatorship at this rate shouted another among the increasing crescendo of bile pouring down on Marjory.
Once again the PM raised his right hand without breaking eye contact with Marjory. Once again, the House fell silent.
I do not agree with some of language that is being used here but I must agree with the sentiment Marjory. You have been appointed by a gameshow. We have been elected by the people. Your remit is clear you are to go to the people and come back to us with your report. That is it. No more than that. You are NOT and never will BE the people.
That is impossible. The closest to that is the collective you see here today. They are the elected representatives of the people and they speak for the people. NOT you! I hope I have made myself clear on this matter, the PM barked and with a flourish and to great applause, once more took his seat. Again, he held Marjorys eye as he did so. Back slaps all round for the PM.
Marjory attempted to reply but was cut off by the Speaker: Time ladies and gentlemen. The days proceedings are at an end. Thankyou all for your contributions to what has been a rather lively debate! Marjory, you may now leave the House until your next scheduled appearance which I believe is one month from now.
What? Thats it? But ... Marjory started before once again being interrupted by the Speaker.
The proceedings for today are at an end, he repeated as the House quickly emptied and the PM was surrounded by well-wishers delivering their sycophantic plaudits. As the House emptied Marjory stood alone. I watched her from the entrance of the chamber. She was swaying slightly, head bowed. I toyed with the idea of approaching her. To do what? Console her? Let her know she was not alone? I could have done but instead I avoided her, left her thinking that she faced an insurmountable task to find the humanity in the politicians. To bring them back to their true purpose. I left her alone, completely alone and it was not until I saw the newspaper headlines a week later that I understood just how alone she really was at that moment.
And equally it was not until those same headlines that I understood how far this Mafia would go to protect their interests. They had been challenged openly and on their own turf and Marjory would pay dearly for that challenge.
The newspaper headlines that June morning made it clear that Marjorys tenure as the Peoples Politician was over.
The Daily Courant was the most overt and blunt, as it usually was: Peoples Politician linked to Paedo Porn Scandal.
Her image, associated with similar headlines, was splashed across every paper, every website, every news channel and as usual, social media took up the cudgel and ensured that there was hardly an individual in the land who was not aware of the story, which ran as follows.
One of Marjorys sons, Peter I believe his name was, had been arrested following a police raid that had found child pornography on his computer. Hed served a short sentence many years previously for attempting to groom a girl of 10 for sexual purposes so for many, his guilt was assumed. He was a bad egg, of that there is no doubt, but it was the way the establishment leapt upon this and the timing of the raid that made my gut turn.
As the story broke, anyone with an opinion was asked what they thought and, tellingly for me, MPs, to a man and woman toed what appeared to be more than a party line it resembled a cultural line. None of them demanded her resignation but talk of her position looking increasingly untenable and how it would be difficult for her to survive this planted the seeds for the onslaught that was to come. One MP even suggested that this could just be the tip of the iceberg and that the police could have stumbled across a paedophile network.
Cameras and reporters swarmed around her flat in East London. They had waited patiently all morning for their prey and when Marjory did finally emerge, they didnt hold back:
Did you know Peter was a pervert Marjory?
How long have you known about this?
Have you been protecting Peter, Marjory? How much did you know?
Do you think you are the right person to continue being the Peoples Politician?
Have you brought paedophilia to the heart of Government Marjory?
Will you resign over this Marjory? When will you be making a statement?
All of these and many other questions hit Marjory as she left her front door. She didnt hear them all, mainly a blur of noise, but she held her head high and tried to muscle her way through the throng to the tube station, not uttering a word. They chased her, stalked her, taking photos, filming, barking questions.
She finally made it to the station where the barrier guards, having known Marjory for many years, fought to hold the pack back at the entrance, allowing her to head for a subterranean sanctuary.
The harassment by the press continued for days both in person and through their various outlets but Marjory said nothing, no official statement, no passing comment. She probably thought that it was best to not give them anything to feed on but in the absence of scraps, the press went digging. They found that there were several perpetrators of relatively minor misdemeanours in her extended family (shoplifting, driving offences and the like) but there was also a cousin who had been jailed in the 70s for grievous bodily harm and a brother who had been convicted of passing fraudulent cheques 12 years previously.
All of this was used by the press and in particular the newspaper columnists and discussion sections on radio and on TV to suggest and query and debate whether or not Marjory was fit for the office she held. She was, so the general argument went, part of a legacy of criminality at worst and moral weakness at best. On and on it went for days the longer she remained silent on the accusations, the more the press, and by extension the public, assumed her guilt and her inappropriateness for office.
I remember those TV broadcasts of Marjory going to and from her flat in the beginning she held her normal air of defiance, her look of just try it but as the days wore on and the coverage and rumour and conjecture increased she gradually adopted a haunted look or was it more hunted? Either way, the defiance had been diluted and it was obvious that she was a woman feeling the singular pressure of a press feeding frenzy. But still she said nothing to them despite many, many opportunities to give the people your side of the story. She was too canny for that. She was more than aware of how, once they had your words, the media could edit or regurgitate them in any way that suited them.
But as far as her career as the Peoples Politician was concerned, the press were the least of her concerns the politicians, who had so deftly fed the mob at the outset of the scandal, had called her to attend a Select Committee on Morality and Suitability. They could and would force her to respond to the demands that the media claimed the people were making of her. The MPs would force her to answer for her morality and suitability to hold such a senior position.
Twelve days after the story first broke, Marjory was brought before the Committee: This Committee, understanding the importance of the role of the Peoples Politician, will seek to understand the suitability of the incumbent to hold such an office and ascertain her moral appropriateness to continue to deliver on her responsibilities to the satisfaction of the people.
I have no idea if Marjory could feel it but when I read that mission statement I knew she was finished. The Committee hearing was simply an exercise they had to go through to make her political demise official. It was a standard tool used by the politicians to rubber stamp a process they wished to pursue or to appear that they taking a particular issue seriously on behalf of the electorate. Essentially, the Select Committee process was used to pursue their own agendas and legitimise their behaviour and Marjory was merely the latest component to be pushed through the process.
Marjory Mead you have been asked to appear before this Committee to address concerns raised about your ability to continue in your position as the Peoples Politician and appropriateness of you doing so.
With those words, Anthony Whittard, Conservative MP and Chair of the Committee began proceedings. He was joined by five of his peers from across the political spectrum Barbara Abbott, Conservative peer, Alan Berry, Liberal MP, Nigel Green, Conservative MP, Geoff Harman, Labour MP and his fellow party member, Louise Morgan. Together these individuals, who represented the establishment and class that Marjory had dared to challenge, would decide whether she was fit for the job.
This was not an honest and robust assessment by her peers but a good old fashioned kangaroo court, a fact that was made clear from the outset. It may not have been clear to the millions who watched proceedings at home, but for those of us familiar with the process, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Marjory, if I may call you Marjory Whittard purred. You have become such a common feature of the public discourse these days that you must forgive me if I am being overly familiar.
You go right ahead Anthony. Thats my name, replied Marjory, curtly, with the emphasis on his name.
The Committee has been made aware of certain allegations regarding your family circumstances that the House has asked us to look into to ensure that they do not compromise your ability to execute your duties as the Peoples Politician, continued Whittard.
I wish to make it a matter for the record that there are no preconceptions as to the outcome of this hearing, that my colleagues and I will approach the proceedings in a fair and impartial manner and that the sole purpose of these sessions is to clear up any ambiguity that the recent, unfortunate media scrutiny that you have endured is cleared up, he said adjusting his gold rimmed spectacles with a nudge of his middle finger.
His colleagues murmured their agreement as Marjory stared ahead, impassively.
I believe my colleague Barbara Abbott would like to begin proceedings today. Ms Abbott, if you would be so kind, said Whittard.
My thanks, Chair, said Abbott leaning round the table to nod her gratitude. Marjory, if I may. It has been brought to our attention by various reports in the media that there is a certain amount of criminality in the history of your family. We are talking about assault, grievous bodily harm according to police records, forgery and fraud, theft; the list goes on.
What I would like to know is whether you agree that this thread of criminality, putting aside the most serious and most recent of these allegations which we will get to in due course, is an inherent part of the makeup of your family. Is this just the way your people behave?
Marjory sat facing her inquisitors, isolated. She had declined her right to counsel on the grounds she could not justify the cost to the taxpayer to simply defend her position. So she sat alone, faced the Committee and cleared her throat, readying herself for defence.
Barbara. I find you line of questioning very offensive. Are you suggesting that my family, including me, are in some way compelled to break the law? Because if you are you can be assured that I wont stand for that. Not for one minute, replied Marjory.
Before she could continue though, Nigel Green took over the questioning.
But Marjory, the facts cannot be ignored. There is a pattern of offending in your family and it is only proper and right, considering the high office that you hold and the responsibilities that come with that office, that we, the public, are assured of your moral fortitude.
Never mind the fancy talk. You are saying that because there has been criminality in my family that we are all criminals. Arent you? Thats what you are trying to get at. Lets not waste any more time and cut to the chase. You are suggesting that I am somehow drawn to criminality because of my family history, arent you? Marjory replied, her chest puffing out, arms folded.
Marjory, it is a valid question. We are not going to get into a debate about nature versus nurture at this hearing, cut in Whittard, but this pattern of law breaking within your family must be addressed. The people must have faith in the individual who performs the duties of the Peoples Politician and that is why we are here.
As I made clear at the outset, we have not come here with a pre-determined view of this situation but we simply must clear away any ambiguity surrounding the recent allegations which will hopefully allow you to continue to execute your duties in the admirable way you have to date.
Ms Abbott, if you would care to continue.
Thankyou Chair. Now Marjory ...
I prefer that you refer to me as Ms Mead if you dont mind, interrupted Marjory. If you are going to talk to me with such little respect I would like you to address me more formally.
Of course, Ms Mead, responded Abbott, a patronising tone entering her speech. As I was saying, it is undeniable that there is a high frequency of law breaking within your own and your wider family. It is perfectly legitimate for this Committee, on behalf of the people, to understand if this is a pattern of behaviour, if this is a habit if you will, that is inherent in your family and likely to continue.
Your office must maintain the highest moral standards and therefore it is vital that these standards can and will be upheld under your stewardship. Your ability to do this is what we are hoping to establish here today so please, Ms Abbott, do you feel that there is a problem with criminality within your family, one that would prevent you from protecting the dignity of the role of Peoples Politician? Abbott leaned forward as she finished, placing grave emphasis on the word dignity.
Dignity? You want to talk about maintaining dignity? snorted Marjory. This coming from a class of people who have robbed and swindled the electorate with your abuse of the expenses system. I cant believe you have the nerve to talk to ME about morality. Where do you get off Abbott? Where do any of you get off dragging me in front of you like some badly behaved schoolgirl ...?
Marjory, Marjory, interrupted Whittard. Please, lets not get confrontational here. We are simply trying to ensure what we all believe to be true is in fact the case that you are able to fulfil your role without the circus that surrounds your family distracting you and the people from the important work that you do.
I, having been chosen as the Peoples Politician, should be the one scrutinising you, Marjory spat back. What you lot have done is utterly despicable. You have stolen, you have lied and you have compounded that lie with other lies to hide what you have done.
If anyones ability to fulfil the roles of Government should be called into question, it is you, the politicians. You should be begging the electorate for forgiveness rather than distracting them with this little circus, as you call it, that you have engineered.
Marjory turned slightly to her left, crossing her ample legs as she did so. The effect was to appear to be turning away from the panel in defiance without actually doing so, an effect that was not missed by her would-be inquisitors.
Having had her turn and not received a suitable answer, Abbott gave way to her colleagues and they chipped away at Marjory on the same question asked in different ways, all to the same general effect Marjory kept throwing the accusations back in the face of her accusers. She was indignant, disgusted and not afraid to show it. She had long since lost any respect she once had for the political class and now, subjected to one of their most effective instruments of terror, she felt she had nothing to lose and freely spoke her mind.
The questions continued to bounce off Marjorys defiance for several hours. The hearing took a lunch break and reconvened at 2pm. Watching from my office in Whitehall, I could sense there was a change in the mood as everyone filed back in. I couldnt pinpoint it but as the ministers took their seats, they seemed to have a new air of authority about them. They seemed confident. Marjory looked much the same defiant.
OK, thanks for joining us again Marjory, started Whittard.
Was there a choice? Marjory responded casually as she turned to look at the benches behind her.
It has been a rather confrontational meeting so far Marjory so Im going to look at this from a different angle and I must warn you that I aim to be blunt. Not out of malice but of necessity. Can we all turn our attentions to the incident that sparked the media interest. The case of your son Marjory, said Whittard sorting through his papers.
At this, Marjory went pale. She shifted in her seat, turning to face the panel directly. They had her absolute attention now.
Now your son, Marjory, has been charged with possession of child pornography and is currently on police bail. Are those the facts? asked Whittard.
Yes, replied Marjory in a small voice.
Sorry, I didnt quite hear that, said Alan Berry, too loud, too confident. Braying almost. Has your son been arrested for possessing pornographic images of children Ms Mead?
Yes, you know he has so Im not entirely sure what the purpose of this is, said Marjory.
It is important that we establish the facts, Marjory, and in this case, this is a particularly important fact, continues Berry.
Chair, may I continue? he asked leaning round to catch Whittards eye.
Of course, carry on.
With thanks, Chair. Ms Mead, you may not see the relevance of this but let me explain it to you as it is really rather pertinent, said Berry, his voice warming up.
By all means, said Marjory. The defiance was there, but it was weakening. This was an issue that hurt her deeply and the politicians knew it. It was now clear why they had re-entered the room with such confidence.
This son of yours is an habitual pervert, a monster as some sections of the media would have it.
Marjory looked straight at Berry but did not utter a word, did not move a muscle.
Would you agree with that appraisal Ms Mead? That your son is an habitual pervert, a monster?
Hes not a monster Berry, hes a sick man and we are trying to get him the help he needs.
So you still defend him? asked Berry in mock incredulity. Surely it is not he that requires help but his poor, defenceless victims?
Look, my son is innocent until proven guilty. That is the law in this country and you would do well to remember that, said Marjory, her voice rising in tone, as her temper started to find its edge.
Of course of course, soothed Berry, but this isnt the first time is it Marjory? This son of yours is an habitual pervert, isnt he?
Stop calling him that! Has he got problems? Yes. Has he had a perfect life? No. But hes not a monster hes my son and until he is found guilty, I will defend him as is my right as a mother, said Marjory.
Whats the point of all this anyway? What has this got to do with my ability to do the job? she asked the panel as a whole.
Chair if I may pick this up here? It was Louise Morgan.
By all means, said Whittard.
My thanks, Chair. Ms Mead, if I may, can I suggest that this has everything to do with you and your ability to perform your duties?
Go on. I can see where this is going but I cant quite believe you have the nerve. But go on, smiled Marjory, a thin, tight smile.
Several times today you have requested that we get to the point and I intend to do just that. Lets look at the facts. You come from a family that has produced several criminals lets not split hairs, that is what they are and more than that, you have raised, nurtured even, a paedophile, one that you continue to share a home with. One that you continue to harbour ...
How dare you! How fuc ... Marjory caught herself. She stopped, regained her composure.
You cannot possibly be suggesting that what my son may or may NOT have done is due to his upbringing. That is a disgusting charge! she said in a low, deep voice.
Of course not Ms Mead but the facts, I believe, speak for themselves, responded Morgan. It cannot be denied that the history of crime in your family and the most recent charges laid against your son cannot in some way result in the people questioning your judgement and suitability for your current role. It is our job, here today, to establish how much of these environmental, familial issues impact your suitability for the role.
Outrage is not going to help. I know this may be difficult but it is important that you keep a cool head Ms Mead and allow us to perform our duty.
At this, Marjory stood up. She was an imposing woman when showing her full height and width. Hands placed firmly on the table, palms down, she addressed the panel: You may think Im an idiot, just as you assume all those who vote for you are idiots, but I and we are not. I understand fully what is happening here and I understand that my time is up. You have no intention of allowing me to continue as the Peoples Politician and that this is just your way of ensuring that I dont ...
Ms Mead, please sit down and respect the dignity of the Committee, said Whittard.
Im not done! replied Marjory firmly, holding Whittards gaze until he averted his own. I went for this job because I thought I could make a real difference and get people engaged in politics again. And do you know what? I thought that was what you lot wanted too.
But, and at this point, it was possible to see her shoulders droop a little, Its obvious to me that every single last one of you is out for what you can get for yourselves. Youre like a private members club, elitist, snobby and happy to shit on everyone else if it means you get your way.
Ms Mead, I must object, said Whittard. I understand that your emotions are running high and that this is a very emotional time, but we cannot and will not accept foul language being used before the Committee.
I told you, Im not finished, said Marjory. Again she stared at Whittard until he could bear no more and went back to his papers. Dont worry, Ill let you know when I am finished, she said in the manner of a mother to a child.
Im heartbroken, not because of today or because of what is happening to my son but because there is no way of changing you people. You are so far removed from the man and woman on the street that it is difficult to see how you can ever relate to them never mind empathise with them.
You disgust me. You really, really disgust me and I hope you understand that it takes a lot for me to really be disgusted with someone ...
It surely must to continue to live with that monster, Berry said barely under his breath.
Marjory heard it but carried on regardless.
You really are scum. You rob the people you are supposed to be representing and feel absolutely no shame about it. You act as though it is we, the people, who are out of synch with normality. If you feel so little shame for defrauding the country then I shudder to think what else you have all been up to.
Im heartbroken, she repeated. Heartbroken that the country I love has been annexed to serve the needs of you lot. Well let me tell you something we are not worker bees, drones, making honey for the queen. You are supposed to represent our interests, fight our corner, do what is best for the country and for us. When did you forget that? Did you ever even understand that?
Are you quite finished? barked Whittard.
Answer my question, responded Marjory. Did you ever even understand what your role is?
We will be asking the questions here thank you very much Ms Mead, said Whittard, shuffling through his papers dramatically. Marjory smiled, ironically, and sat down again.
I think weve heard enough Ms Mead. We will inform you of our decision in the coming days and you will hear from us directly as to whether we believe you are a suitable individual to be holding the post of the Peoples Politician.
But I would like to say one last thing before the Committee breaks, and I want the record to clearly reflect my remarks. You have accused the elected members of Parliament of baseless immorality. I put it to you Ms Mead that those who dwell in glass houses should not throw stones.
Lest we forget, you are a member of an habitually criminal family, one that has indulged in nearly every type of criminality and that you continue to harbour a son who has in the past committed one of the most disgusting and depraved crimes of all and stands accused of repeating that crime.
For you to have the audacity to stand in front of this panel and suggest that it is we who are lacking in morals is simply outrageous. I will leave you with this thought you would do well to look at your own situation, your own morals and your own behaviour before casting aspersions on others.
And reflect on this, and I suggest you reflect hard there is an old saying that I am rather fond of and I think it applies perfectly to your situation. The apple never falls far from the tree Ms Mead. We all have to take responsibility for our actions, whatever their consequences and you would do well to remember that.
Whittard removed his glasses and as one, the Committe rose to depart. Just under the noise created by the movement of feet and papers, Marjory could be heard to utter a low but firm fuck you to the panel. She remained seated, still isolated, as the chamber emptied. She remained there until the cameras were switched off.
It was obvious what the outcome would be Marjory would be stripped of her post and we would once again have to find another Peoples Politician. It was only a matter of time, a matter of protocol, before the Committee came back with their recommendations. Everyone who had watched that little farce understood that. We could all see it.
What we could not see was Marjorys flat, two days later, still surrounded by the press. In the dark, musty bedroom, Marjorys lifeless body lay on the bed. Some would later say that she had taken the easy way out, the selfish way out of her problems. Still others suggested that it was an admission of guilt of sorts for the way her son turned out and that the Committee had been right about her.
As I saw it, as the news of her suicide was broadcast on all the main news bulletins, she had been hounded into taking her life. The way she had been treated by the Committee was, as far as I was concerned, an affront to our democracy.
Marjory had done her best and she had of course, as we all do, made mistakes. But the biggest mistake she made was to challenge the politicians. They would take a lot from the public but a challenge to their very own status quo? That could not be tolerated and every tool of the establishment available to them would be used to pummel, beat and ultimately destroy Marjory and it was sickening to witness.
Only two days after Marjory was buried at a small, private service, the politicians once again had their gameshow on the go, looking for the next mug to provide the democratic sheen to their operations. The lack of empathy with what had happened to Marjory shocked me. It felt like they had found a new level of boldness. They were behaving more brazenly than ever and it seemed they just didnt care anymore. They wanted to flaunt their control, their impunity. They were in charge and nothing could change that. Not any individual, not even the collective will of the people.
For the politicians, Marjorys death encouraged them to take the foot off the brakes. To maintain the pretence a little less vigorously. They behaved with a new impunity and they grew arrogant with it. But what the politicians could not see was that for one individual, who had taken great interest in Marjorys experience, the whole episode acted as a spur to not just reapply the brakes but to pull the whole vehicle apart.
Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome once again to the show that puts every one of you in the position of power The Peoples Politician!
Ritchie and Don, the double act that had hosted every edition of the Peoples Politician, took a step onto the stage in unison, opened their arms wide and stood stock still, heads thrown back, bathed in the lighting effects, the rain of the glitter cannons, the dramatic classical music and the frantic slapping of the audiences hands as the latest edition kicked off.
The two had become a second-rate British institution, the light entertainment equivalent of Poundland. They went through their little routine with their topical gags, the manufactured, petty disagreement and then, once satisfied that the audience had been suitably warmed up, got back to the well-trodden path of voting for the next mug.
Its great to be back isnt it Don, said Ritchie, and so soon too. It only seems like yesterday, he said wistfully, with faux nostalgia before winking conspiratorially into the camera and through to the people at home.
Indeed my little friend it does, agreed Don. Weve had our ups and downs on this show, weve had successes and of course, we have had failures. And you know what Ritchie, well have more failures and more successes, he said, voice deepening, adopting a Churchilian tone.
The audience lapped it up, classic Ritchie and Don stuff this.
But this great land of ours and the people who are custodians of that land, he continued with a sweeping gesture across the audience, give me the confidence that we are on the right path, that we are giving power back to the people, back to where it came from!
He finished with a triumphant fist clench as the audience whooped their delight.
Eh, Don, you feeling alright mate? asked Ritchie tentatively.
Don looked dazed, shook his head as though woken from a trance.
Yeah, yeah. Fine . Think I might have been channelling the Prime Minister for a moment there. If youre watching at home PM, he said looking straight into the camera, next time, give us a bit of warning if youre going to do the body snatching thing, eh?
Ritchie, standing behind Don, looking into the same camera, drew his finger across his neck while pointing at Don with the other.
The audience fulfilled their role and lapped it all up: God, such a cheeky pair those two; its a wonder they get away with it; reminds me of my grandson; wish our Leslie would bring someone like that home. They were experts in their field. Albeit a muddy, shit-filled field but they were the kings of it nonetheless.
I hated the show, I hated the processed, artificial sensation it left me with and most of all I hated Ritchie and Don and their constant mugging for the camera. But I had to watch it as I had promised myself, no matter who won this time, how annoying or loathsome they might be, I was going to watch them like a hawk. I was going to hold their hand every step of the way and, where possible, protect them from the politicians. In essence, I had promised myself that I would do everything for this Peoples Politician, that I had failed to do for Marjory.
I had failed Marjory because I didnt want to taint my reputation with something I thought was frivolous, vacuous and created purely to give our rotten system a veneer of democracy. I had let her wander, bold but naive, into the political den where she was lazily toyed before being brutally dispatched for having the affront to challenge.
I had given my motives and my actions deep consideration and I was confident that I was now clear about who I was. I was a coward of course but I was also worryingly indifferent to the plight of those that did not immediately impact my condition or situation. I of course had empathy but I had developed an ability to switch it off when it posed a moral inconvenience.
I found that I was a man who could stand back in the shadows and watch as an innocent was fed to the establishment. And it wasnt just Marjory. I behaved the same with Sian and Ben and although they did not suffer the extremity of Marjorys fate, they were broken on the wheel all the same. Damaged, savaged for the entertainment of the public in the face of defiance from the establishment.
And I was part of that establishment. I was clear on that. I had always taken great pride in the belief that I was a knowing outsider, one of the few who did not play the political game for personal gain but the shock of Marjory made me look at myself and my actions with greater detachment than I had ever managed before.
I saw clearly that far from being the one outside throwing the stones in, I was already in, protecting the establishment from the stones. I was complicit in the very thing I disdained, hated even. That was not who or what I wanted to be. It was too late to realistically change career now, not without accepting a huge change in living standards (which I just wasnt prepared to do) so I resolved to change my behaviour within the machine, remember who I was, stop ignoring my instincts and remember how to obey them.
Which is why I had decided, regardless of who won this latest instalment of The Peoples Politician, I was going to help them in any way I could. I was going to protect them from the emotions of the political class which could swing from mocking indifference to a lethal fury with very little provocation.
I may have hated the system, the political class structure, but I understood it better than most, better than some of the politicians themselves and I was determined to use that knowledge to protect the latest lamb offered up to a public sentiment, a media structure and a political system that was nourished on the spectacle of the fallen, the disgraced and the humiliated.
I had hitched my trailer to this unknown individual. If the worst happened again, I was going down with them. It would be my only hope of defying who and what I had become. There was still time for my sins to be absolved.
This latest episode was the first time that the general public, I, became acquainted with Seth and it was also the last time we would vote for a Peoples Politician. There was no real hint at what he was really like in that first appearance. He kind of stood out but not as someone who would ultimately change the fabric of our society. He didnt have that revolutionary look or the air of a grand leader of men.
He was quite a small man, about 5ft 8 and thin without being skinny. He had dark skin but it didnt appear to be the result of foreign holidays or sunbeds; more a natural sallowness. He wasnt a big figure by any means, neither in stature nor personality but one thing I do remember very clearly from seeing him the first time. His eyes. They were blue, clear and yes, they sparkled. At the time, I put this down to excitement which it turned out it was, but it was not excitement at being on TV. His excitement had a deeper source, a source that I would come to know well over the years I worked with him and although that sparkle waned over the course of those years, a hint of it remained, even until the end.
There was a sense of energy about Seth. The way he talked was fast and pointed, enthusiastic and encouraging and most of all you found yourself listening when he spoke. Ill always remember that. And the fact that he made you feel good when he spoke. I cant explain it. Many have since tried to explain the pull he had but I suppose the point of things being ethereal is that they cant be pinned down.
The way he spoke didnt feel designed to draw people in, get them onside, but it did. He just had a natural way with people and they were drawn to him. This was of course helped by the fact that his face was handsome and he had a ready smile. I suppose, fundamentally, he was attractive and people were drawn to that, as we often are.
And that first time he appeared on stage, beckoned on from the wings by Ritchie and Don, he did seem different to the others that had come before him. He seemed normal, approachable and someone you could readily like. I remember watching his first appearance on TV at home and thinking: He seems like a nice guy. I hope he doesnt win.
But as that episode progressed, I started to realise that there was more to Seth than a handsome face and a personable persona. There was a depth, a feeling that he wasnt letting on about something. That he had a knowledge, an intelligence that lay just beneath the surface.
I cant remember much else about that first episode but I do remember that. That there was more to him than the nice guy he presented. Oh yeah, and I thought he had an odd name. It just didnt suit him.
Welcome to the stage our latest candidate for the Peoples Politician, Seth! roared Don to the talent show template of bright, flashing lights, loud music audience applause.
Seth came on from the wings through the cacophony of noise and light and took his place beside Ritchie and Don.
Welcome to the show Seth, beamed Ritchie, looking not at Seth but into the camera.
Seth replied his thanks, smiling and waving to audience.
Now folks, you know that the rules have changed slightly since the last show and one of those is that we dont publicise contestants last names anymore. Those pesky journalists have been giving everyone a hard time lately and we dont want our contestants to feel intruded upon, continued Ritchie, affecting a drawn-out, upper class accent at the end.
Indeed me dont Ritchie, Don cut in.
Now Seth, why dont you tell us and the people at home a bit about yourself and why you think you have what it takes to be the next Peoples Politician. So tell us Seth, who exactly are you?
To be continued...
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