Monday, 30 August 2010

A Barbecued Microcosm of The Labour Party, and a Mis-Interpretation of the Omens.

It's Joan's famous Bank Holiday Labour Party Barbecue this afternoon. Max and I are going, though I am a bit nervous about what's going to happen when The Boss discovers that I have ignored his ban on socialising with Party staff - because someone's bound to tell him. He usually appoints a spy in circumstances like these.

Now I'm starting to sound as mad as he is, but that's what happens when you work for someone like Andrew. Neuroses are contagious - as if I didn't have quite enough of my own, mainly around a lack of sex and what seems to be an increasing over-abundance of facial hair.

Even if The Boss doesn't find out, I can't say I'm looking forward to seeing all the local councillors again, after Friday's events, but I can't wriggle out of going now. Joan's Party barbecue is a tradition, and anyway, I like her, and most of the Party staff, so I'm not going to let them down. They're always the ones who rescue me when a constituent goes berserk, too - so risking Andrew's further disapproval seems a small price to pay for ongoing protection.

It's stopped raining by the time Max and I eventually arrive at Joan's, so I take that as a good omen.  It's my fault we're late, as I kept changing my mind about what to wear. Labour Party events are a sartorial challenge, as there is no accepted dress code whatsoever. That's mainly because Northwick Labour Party has a class divide wider than my mother-in-law's arse.

On the sunny side of Joan's garden sit most of the town and county councillors, together with those middle-class activists who names crop up on every committee from the Northwick Preservation Society to the Mental Health Trust, and who are all school governors. These are the members of the various local Party dynasties, their fingers - or rather relatives - in every pie. Jimmy Barton is there too, with his wife, Peggy. He winks at me as I walk past.

On the other side, in the shade, sit those Party members who live on Northwick's council estates, or who are union reps - and who are therefore deemed to have their finger on the pulse of the core vote. Far fewer members of this group have managed to become councillors, and although those that have interact slightly more comfortably with the elite squad than do the rest, you can still sense the mutual distrust. And probably dislike.

Over the last few years, a third group has been on the rise. The young, university-educated Party activists, who stand by the drinks table, as their legs don't tire as easily as those of the rest of us. They are largely devotees of David Miliband, and have an understanding of political theory, demographics and voting intentions that puts the rest of us to shame. I'm a bit doubtful about how much real-life experience they bring to their policy analysis, but there's no doubt that their voices are becoming more and more influential - at least partly because their overt personal ambition scares the hell out of The Boss and the other old-timers.

Despite the fact that we know everyone, Greg and I usually spend these events on the periphery of any group we try to join  - probably because we are equally distrusted by all of them. I'm sure that working for the MP means that we are seen as snobs by some, and as halfwits who know nothing about politics by others. Poor old Max is treated as even more irrelevant than we are.

"Molly! Max! Over here!" It's Greg, who is sitting in no-man's land in the middle of the garden, with some of the regional Party staff that I particularly like. Thank God. Max and I are just about to join them and start the serious business of drinking, when there is another late arrival. The Boss. Bloody hell - that's the one thing I wasn't expecting.

I am so pleased that he must have come to his senses, that I smile at him, but he ignores me and makes a rather wobbly beeline for the county councillors and the rest of the elite squad. Kissy, kissy, kissy. It's horrible to watch. Andrew still hasn't mastered the art of planting his lips on women's cheeks, rather than aiming for their lips, though no-one seems to object today.

Why do women like The Boss so much? They all start giggling, and pay him rapt attention while he holds forth about the merits of Neil Young. I notice Jimmy Barton seems less than pleased to see Andrew, though, which is rather gratifying.

"Where's the bloody beer, then?" Andrew shouts, at no-one in particular.

"Didn't you bring your own?" says Jimmy. "Thought you'd have brought a case of the stuff, with the portcullis on it. Though I suppose times are hard for MPs now, thanks to IPSA."

The Boss doesn't find this amusing in the slightest, but he deserves it. He always ignores instructions to "bring a bottle," except when he donates bottles of House of Commons whisky to constituency fetes and raffles. It's as if social norms don't apply to him at all. Mind you, it doesn't look as if he needs any more alcohol today, as he's staggering pretty well already. I can't bear to watch him any longer, so I change places with Max. Now my back is to Andrew, which is a great improvement.

After we've eaten what probably represents Iceland's entire stock of frozen beef-burgers - consumed with varying degrees of enthusiasm - it's time for a game of cricket. Not poncy cricket, but Labour Party cricket, which normally turns into rounders quite quickly.

"Come on, Andrew - let's see the old semi-pro in action!" says Greg, but The Boss declines. He obviously doesn't want to spoil his mythological sporting status. Given what happens next, he'd probably have done better to make a fool of himself during the match. There is a squeal, then Jimmy's wife Peggy stands up and glares at The Boss.

"That's enough," she says. "Come on, Jimmy - we're going." Jimmy looks puzzled but does as he's told.   The Boss shouts after them:

"Some women have no bloody sense of humour."

I go to run after Jimmy and Peggy, but Greg stops me.

"Leave it alone, Mol," he says. "Best not to draw any more attention to it than necessary."

"What happened?" I say.

"I'm not sure, but when I went to the loo a bit earlier, Peggy was in there."

"What, and you walked in on her?"

"No, but when she came out, she said, 'Your boss really is a shit.' I asked her why, and she said that he was coming on to her, and driving her mad."

"Oh, for God's sake," I say. "So is that why she's gone home?"

"I should think so," says Greg. "Though it'd have been better if he'd gone instead. Any suggestions as to what we do now? He's not going to get any better behaved if he carries on drinking."

"I don't know," I say. "Unless we go home ourselves, before anything else happens. We could always leave him to take responsibility for his own actions for once."

"What a novel concept," says Greg. "But not really an option. Next suggestion?"

I don't answer as, at that moment, we are saved by the bell. Or rather, by the return of the rain. Thank God. It's so heavy, that everyone decides it's time to go - even The Boss. It seems I may have misjudged what constitutes a good omen - sometimes rainfall is exactly what is needed. Gene Kelly knew what he was talking about.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh I do hope your mother-in-law doesn't catch wind of your blog; before Andrew bulldozed the BBQ, your description of her posterior was not entirely complimentary.