Livia’s diary: the office of Jim Poole MP
Sometimes, Dear Readers, it takes a little time for ‘the real truth’ to emerge from The Mother of Parliaments. It is in that context that we offer you Chapter Four of Livia’s Dairy.
“Harry” Ambrose MP – “Horatio” to his school friends, and the chaps at the Oxford and Cambridge Club – had been in a stinker of a mood all morning.
Paul had been trying to pep his boss up by reading out loud from his fan mail pile.
“Listen Harry! This is a good one – this woman says that you’re ‘the hottest thing in Parliament since Guido Fawkes had a go.’ That’s nice, isn’t it?” Paul’s tone was bracing, in the manner of a parent reassuring a small child that he could indeed ride his tricycle unaided.
“You mean my Parliamentary career’s going to end with a whimper rather than a bang?” Harry responded, apparently unmollified.
Unusually for a man voted Most Fanciable MP for two years on the run, Harry was looking distinctly limp around the edges this morning. His hair, usually a golden sheen rarely seen outside conditioner adverts, hung greasily over his tired eyes, and his suit looked as if he had used it as an ersatz sleeping bag.
“Would you like me to nip and get you an organic nut crunch health bar and a skinny latte?” Paul’s voice changed to the patronising tone often used to disgruntled elderly people.
Paul rolled his eyes at me as he made his way to the glass door of our shared office in Portcullis House, almost colliding with Dean who was striding in purposefully at that moment.
“Whoops, sorry Paul! Where are you off to?”
“Mercy mission,” Paul muttered, glancing at the almost comedic hangdog expression on his employer’s face.
“Ah, Harry!” Dean glanced at me. “I don’t think I’ve congratulated you on your recent promotion to the Office of the Dark Arts.”
Harry Ambrose had, the previous week, filled in a vacancy in the whips office. Ever since the news came through, he had been irritating our own MP, the perpetually unpromoted Jim Poole, by swanking around and talking loudly and importantly into his mobile phone about how he had “Had a word, and she’s now singing from the same songsheet.” Either that, or he would be leaning up against the door of the Speaker’s Office, located not far from the Chamber, talking to his colleagues in the whips office about his latest bit of legislative manoeuvring in the interests of enforcing the party democracy.
Harry pretended not to hear him.
“Look out,” said Dean, turning to me. “We’ve got an incoming boss on top of the world and brimming with brilliant ideas.”
This was not good news.
“Dean, have you been putting Ritalin in his coffee again?”
“Good morning, comrades,” Jim Poole MP practically burst into the office. “And what a fine morning it is too. Smell it Dean, Liv. Smell it! The freedom, the high that comes from doing – not the donething – but the right thing. The intricate knowledge of the Parliamentary rules that allows an experienced and senior backbencher,” he smiled broadly at Harry who was continuing to feign ignorance that any of us were actually there, “to spot when somebody junior in the whips office drops a massive clanger and accidentally tells everyone in the party to vote against our own Budget policy. Speaking of which, Harry! How is the Opposition’s chief legislative strategist this morning?”
Harry stood up. For an awful moment, I thought he was going to land a right hook on the boss but he just stood there, fuming and clenching and unclenching his fists, before leaving the office without a word.
“Oh yes,” continued Jim, loudly in the direction of Harry’s departing back, “it’s the sort of skill held by a proper lover of Parliament. It’s something an expensive education and friends in the Leader’s office can’t buy, and it is such free thinking that makes our party and our democracy great.”
And on that note, he looked at us meaningfully, and strode into his office with the air of Gladstoneoff to declaim on the moral necessity of Home Rule for Ireland.
“I’ll allow you to guess what actually happened,” Dean said, after the door had closed.
“I’ll give it a go: there was a late vote in the Commons on the Budget. Jim spent the evening in the Strangers’ Bar sinking pints in tribute to his commitment to a beer duty escalator and got absolutely hammered. When the call went out to vote a certain way, he stumbled up to the Division Lobby where he saw Harry. Drunk and resentful, he went down the other lobby to the one Harry was telling him to stagger down out of spite and jealousy but, because Harry had misunderstood what the division was about and told everyone to go down the “no” corridor rather than the “aye” one …”
“… the boss was one of the few who voted in favour of our policy. He actually voted the right way, by mistake.”
* * * * * *
Jim Poole MP’s good mood extended into the afternoon and the following days. According to him, he was some sort of Budget Batman – alone amongst his colleagues – standing up for people and pasties everywhere against the dread hand of the Government and their accidental collaborators on the Opposition benches.
“This is what working for Harry must be like, all the time,” moaned Livia to Paul. “He hasn’t stopped going on about his triumphant rebellion since he fell into the division lobby.”
“It could be worse,” Dean commented, dropping a greasy package on Paul’s desk. “You know, with all this pasty nonsense. Dressing up as a giant sausage roll and calling a press summit on College Green would be just about his style. At least now he reckons he’s Winston Churchill he’s attempting gravitas.”
“Oh, is that what it is?” asked Paul, indistinctly through a mouthful of pastry. “I assumed he’d got a hernia.”
There was a moment’s silence, broken only by Dean and Paul snuffling, like hogs over truffles.
“What are you two eating?”
“Pasty,” said Paul, his voice cloaked by a mouthful of steak bake. “They’re giving them out free inParliament Square. Publicity stunt, I think – free food! Wanna bite?” He waved a handful of flaccid pastry in my direction, which discharged a couple of lumps of brown meat all over the carpet.
“Uh, no thanks. Do you two fancy a drink later?”
“Rude not to,” said Dean, spraying cheese and onion slice in my face.
* * * * * *
“And, I was like, ‘No. This is completely unacceptable. I should sit next to the Leader.’ And she was all, ‘Uh, no.’ So I said, ‘Actually, don’t you know who I am?’ So she said …’
Annabella, Dean’s unlikely girlfriend of stellar Party connections, continued her anecdote. Dean, for all Annabella’s undoubted charms, was obviously fighting a losing battle against the desire of his eyes to completely glaze over. Paul was doing slightly better; I was vaguely aware of him nodding along to her story.
I turned to look him. Turns out he hadn’t been nodding along, he had nodded off.
The tide in my gin and tonic had sunk dangerously low and I was considering making my excuses, departing from the Sports and Social, and heading home for an early night and a pasty-related episode of Newsnight when –
“FIGHT! THERE’S A FIGHT GOING ON IN STRANGERS BAR!”
Paul snorted himself awake. “Quick, come on!”
All three of us bundled out of the bar, leaving Annabella sat alone at the table, apparently unaware that her audience had departed, and headed over to the Strangers. The Strangers is a small, poky, and largely unprepossessing place, rendered exclusive solely on the basis that it is MPs and guests only in there. Reason enough, as far as I am concerned, to avoid it like the plague.
We arrived to see Jim, standing unsteadily in the middle of the largely deserted bar. Almost obscuring our view was the back of a burly MP, his fist raised – large and pink like a Christmas ham.
“Ooooooh!” said Dean and Paul in unison, as he landed a blow on Jim’s face.
“Not a great shot,” Paul mused, thoughtfully as Jim crumpled to the floor, a spurt of blood colouring his grubby white shirt.
“No, but Jim’s got a glass jaw. It’s pathetic, he could be felled by a girl.”
Paul wasn’t having any of it. “But the other bloke’s not got the swing right. If he was going to properly land one on him, he needs to get a decent force behind it.”
Dean contemplated this, as the MP bent over the prostate and whimpering body of the Member of Parliament for Weaselthorpe, his fist raised a second time. “He might do better on this shot I think – look at that posture.
I was about to interrupt this steward’s inquiry to ask whether we should try and break up the fight or, at least, find a policeman who would be prepared to do so when suddenly a golden streak flashed in front of us, trailing the scent of a very expensive aftershave.
“Oi!” yelled Harry Ambrose MP, pinning the pugilist’s arms behind him. “That’s my officemate you’re hitting there!”
Everything seemed to happen in a confusing blur. The police shoved us aside and suddenly the bar seemed a veritable Babel of people, bag-carriers, and mobile phones recording the events. In the middle, like a chiselled Adonis, Harry held his grip on the MP.
“Okay sir, we’ve got him,” said a policeman.
Jim removed his hands from his face and peered up at Harry, who had extended one of his to help him up.
“Easy, Jim, easy there old chap.” He handed him the handkerchief in his breast pocket and watched in admirably concealed distaste as Jim covered it in blood from his still-streaming nose. “Brandy, over here, please!”
Jim looked at Harry, and slowly extended his hand. “Thank you, Harry. Thank you.”
They shook hands.
“This Budget has been quite eventful, hasn’t it?” asked Paul, cheerily. “Do you think they’ve got any pasties left over?”
We both looked at him.
* * * * * *
Added on 10th April 2012 by Livia