Heath left his room and
strolled towards the corridor, where his understudy waited for him. This man
looked devastated and haggard. He rubbed his fingers through his greased hair
after surveying the august room. His curved nose and jutting jaw were his more
distinguishing features. His black suit was crumpled and he carried a briefcase
that overflowed with loose papers. The tired civil servant waved
tentatively at the prime minister, but soon reclined his head and
It has been a long hard winter, the secretary
At least the heating is turned on at Westminster,
Heath promptly replied.
The countrys chief executive had a low
guttural voice and spoke with a plummy accent that sounded slightly askew. This
was because of his lower middle-class upbringing. It could also be attributed
to his Oxbridge education.
Only just. I am bloody
freezing, his subordinate replied.
The prime minister wiped the
sweat off his brow and latticed his arms beneath his back. He stood in a rigid
manner. His long tie hung over his crotch and his overweight stomach burst out
of his white shirt. The leader cut an awkward figure and even looked nervous in
the absence of cameras. His secretary did not notice his discombobulation; he
was so tired he could scarcely stand up.
How many black-outs will
occur? the boss asked.
Well, prime minister, the
servant replied, we will keep having black-outs if the Electricity Board
keep going on strike. The secretarys voice was also plummy. His
manner of speech was so habitual that it did not need to be refined. However,
the modulation of his voice was not good. His pitch was low and he lisped key
None of the lights will go off at Downing Street, will
they? Heath asked.
We cant discount that possibility,
Oh, that darn oil crisis! he groaned.
I had to start rationing our use of coal because it was so bloody
expensive to produce. Now they keep going on strike! Well
what can we do
about it? Where is the document? We can refer to that!
The Industrial Relations Act.
Well, I did not understand a word of it, dear boy. It is difficult to
proceed with policy when you do not understand it.
minister curled his fingers into a fist.
We have had a pact with
the unions for years, he said. It has been productive. We must
replied, The unions have been hijacked by communist entryists. They are
no longer a benign force.
Still, Heath asserted,
we must not terminate this agreement. We must help government, unions and
industry work together. However, the closed shop must not continue. We cannot
tell people what to do. All actions should be voluntary. However, workers still
deserve rights and entitlements
We have gone through this
before, his understudy quipped.
Well, were going
through it again! the leader scowled.
Policy seemed muddled and
hare-brained. It was difficult to reach a new settlement. Consensus politics
had been smashed. Everyone was squeezed, prices had risen, productivity had
stalled and unemployment had risen drastically. Yet both men were tired and
wanted to sneak back into bed, as the rest of the cabinet had already
Is there anyone else I can talk to about this? Heath
Well, I am your employment secretary. My
ministry has been seriously busy, the secretary replied.
Well, I am talking to you and I am getting nowhere! he
I think that we both need a good nights sleep. In
times like these we need support. We need to turn to our loved ones our
wives and our friends. Do you have anyone to talk to?
Minister remained silent. Can I have a chat with any other
None. They are all asleep. They are all too
tired, his understudy replied. Look, you should go to sleep. You
will wake up tomorrow and you will be able to deal with this. If you do not
mind, I really need to go to bed.
The Employment Secretary left
him. Can I speak with someone from the press? the defeated leader
The papers are about to come out, the vanishing
secretary replied. They are also busy and tired. I do not think that they
will be especially charitable to you today. These words echoed across
The Prime Minister was left alone. Portraits of his predecessors
hung across the wall of the stairway. They all posed with confidence. His own
portrait, meanwhile, hung beside him. He lurched his head slightly and saw his
immediate predecessor, who smoked a pipe and looked ahead with wry amusement.
This man was now leader of the opposition and was poised to claim back power.
One could tell from the portrait that this man was scheming, which was his
major strength. He was appearing on sundry television programs at this very
moment and claimed that he would strike a deal with the unions. After all, only
the party of the proletariat could get the workers back to work.
incumbent once more curled his fingers into a fist and brooded with fury.
Everything about this man annoyed him, as he was meant to be the Prime Minister
of substance and principle. This man was nothing more than a fixer, a purveyor
of empty gimmicks. The technological revolution that this man heralded had
evaporated into tame smoke, not white heat. Yet Heath knew that he boasted some
considerable achievements, especially Britains entry into the European
Community. Now it was all unravelling and his predecessor was once more hungry
What does power do to a man? Right now the incumbent felt
that the whole world was against him. The unions, the opposition parties, his
backbenchers, the house of lords and the press were in a coalition and their
aim was to depose him. There was one barmy member of his party who claimed the
nations political and economic woes were solely his fault. It did not
seem fair and it did not seem altogether democratic. The unions after the war
had been staples of fairness and democracy, but they now seemed to determined
to disgrace those values.
Maybe the Prime Minister was not fit for
power. His body writhed as soon as he addressed a crowd or a television camera.
At this very moment he would rather be sailing on a yacht, where he would be
unperturbed by these warring rabbles. Otherwise, he would enjoy hearing the
mellifluous sounds of a chorus. Politics was loud, frenetic and insincere. This
was not his temperament.
Heath wandered over to his bedroom. A bust of
Winston Churchill lay on top of the fireplace. He sat on top of a coronet chair
and started to look back on his life. It was filled with considerable
achievements. After all, he came from a modest background. He went on to
Oxford, a career in politics, had conducted orchestras and he became prime
minister. However, he had never had a wife or even a partner. Yes, he was a sad
and lonesome man, but he also happened to be the most powerful man in the
country. Others often thought about this dichotomy. Nonetheless, he was
desperate to turn to a friend. All his friends were far away and they were
troubled by problems that were his responsibility to solve.
over to his grand piano, which he brought in as soon as he won power. He needed
to play it, as it kept him sane.
He took out a copy of the
Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven. The nations most powerful man could
have been a concert pianist. Yes, that would have been a less chaotic career
path. This grand piano was the first musical instrument to be stored in 10
Downing Street. Heath returned to it perennially. It brought him comfort and
The Prime Minister hammered out the opening b major chords and
accentuated them with discordant rhythms. He struck the keys with venom. He had
in mind the coalition that was conspiring against him. They were the keys on
the piano and he was pummelling them. This opening chaos was followed by a
quieter interlude, in pianissimo. The Prime Minister closed his eyes and
envisaged the sea and a wide open horizon. The gentle sounds smoothed his mind.
The chief executive stopped playing, since he realised that he must
have woken up many of his colleagues. He had been playing loudly throughout,
but he looked around and there was no-one to be seen. He had made a wonderful
racket in Downing Street, which had gone by unnoticed. Everyone had chosen to
ignore the effusive sounds of Beethoven. The leader of the country bowed his
head and sighed. No one much cared for either his piano playing or his
government. He was all alone in the quiet echo chamber of 10 Downing