Tuesday, 11 January 2011

By-Election Fever Grips The Office, For A Few Minutes At Least.

The private line's ringing when Greg and I arrive at work this morning, which is never a good start.

"I can't talk to Andrew until I've had a coffee," I say. "I haven't got the energy. You answer it, Greg. Youth is on your side."

Greg pulls a face but does as he's told. For once. Though, in retrospect, I'm not sure that this wasn't a mistake. He listens to The Boss for all of thirty seconds, then says,

"For God's sake, Andrew - you're not campaigning now. It's me you're talking to. And we all know you can never trust the polls."

"What was that about?" I say, as Greg hangs up and rolls his eyes in despair.

"Idiot must have thought he was talking to the Press, or something," says Greg. "Boasting about the latest ComRes poll and saying we were going to win at Oldham, for f*cksake. Has he forgotten you should never write a LibDem off at a by-election?"

That's true, but Greg's just in a mood because he couldn't go and help in the campaign.  He thinks that he's indispensable in an election, especially since The Boss retained his seat against all the odds.

"We need all hands on deck there," he says. "It's a bugger I don't have enough annual leave left to go."

Given that that's because we both had to take most of it to help out in the General Election campaign, I can't say I'm too upset about it. Unlike Greg, who obviously is.

"Why does The Boss have to be so bloody scrupulous about it, all of a sudden?" he says.

"Because he's got to be squeaky clean," I say. "Considering that he's made so many complaints about the LibDems' election expenses over the years. And, anyway, I'd like to save some holiday for something more pleasant than campaigning."

Like a trip to Russia, for example. I don't mention that, though, as Vicky's just arrived. Late, as usual.

"Why don't MPs and Ministers have to take leave in order to campaign?" she says. "Seeing as Constituency Staff have to. It doesn't seem fair."

This may well be the first sensible question that she has ever asked, and it's just a shame that Greg and I don't know the answer. We look blankly at each other, and then shrug - simultaneously.

To anyone with any sensitivity at all, it would be apparent that, as far as we're concerned, the subject's now closed, but Vicky has never been one to take a hint.

"How do they get away with it when they're being paid by the taxpayer?" she says. "There are hordes of MPs descending on Oldham every day."

"Well, except for Tory MPs," says Greg. "Though they will keep denying that they've made a pact with the LibDems not to try too hard to win the seat. Talking of which - did you catch up with The Politics Show last night, Molly?"

"Yes," I say. "I'm sure Chris Grayling didn't even know the name of the Tory candidate. That embarrassed smirk reminded me of Josh when he's in the wrong."

Actually, though, I haven't seen Josh looking guilty for a while. Maybe he's finally growing up, now he's left school and has to face the reality of working life. This ought to be a good thing but, after this evening's events, I think he may be taking it too far. He's gone from irresponsible teenager to Victor Meldrew in the blink of an eye.

When I get home from work, very late after a lengthy lecture from Edmund Beales about how we should all start carrying guns in the UK, Max still isn't back from work. Josh is, but he's ranting like a maniac. Or like Mr Beales, anyway, which is probably pretty much the same thing.

"Smell this," he says, shoving a microwaved meal under my nose.

"Yuck," I say. "What the hell is that? It smells like a chemical spill."

I push the container out of the way, while hoping I haven't got any of whatever it contains on the end of my nose. It really stinks.

"It's Taste The Difference* Chilli Con Carne," says Josh. "I can taste the f*cking difference all right. It's disgusting."

"Well, maybe it's out of date."

Josh looks at me as if I am an idiot, then says,

"I only bought it ten minutes ago. Seeing as neither you nor Dad were here to cook tea, and I haven't eaten all day."

"The service is lousy in this hotel, isn't it?" I say. (You can't always come up with an original response, after all.) "Let me see the packet."

As Josh passes it to me, I notice that there is a vein throbbing in his temple. I've seen that before, but never in a member of my own family, so I really hope my son's not turning into a mad constituent now. That would be all I need.

"Well, the date's okay," I say. "But it says it's new and improved. Maybe that's why it tastes and smells so weird?"

"Humph," says Josh. "I told you I don't like change. Especially when it's always for the worse."

Let's just hope the voters of *Oldham and Saddleworth feel the same way. As long as they don't object to Ed* on those grounds, too.

*For those of you not in the UK; or those of you who are, but who have unaccountably lost all interest in politics: explanation re the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election here.

Taste The Difference Chilli Con Carne - I can't say Josh recommends it, because he really, really doesn't.

*Ed - Ed Miliband, new(ish) leader of The Labour Party. Opponents would probably claim that a Labour defeat at Oldham was a signal that the electorate are rejecting him. Possibly on the grounds of his perceived resemblance to Wallace. This may, or may not, be true of some within the Party, too.


  1. ""Why don't MPs and Ministers have to take leave in order to campaign?" she says. "Seeing as Constituency Staff have to. It doesn't seem fair.""

    Hmm - probably because being an MP or being a Minister is not employment. It is holding an office*. An MP can choose to do whatever he or she wishes with their time: they are not beholden to any "employer" to do what they are told - only answerable to their electorate as a whole in an election.

    This is pretty much the case in most democratic parliaments.

    Ministers in my experience ask their senior minister or the PM for permission to take time out to participate in election campaigns or other local political events - or are asked or told to! Again, though responsible to senior ministers or the PM they are not employees.

    Matt London

    * For most of my career as a Civil Servant even we were regarded as "office holders" rather than employees - when I started we didn't have "redundancy", we had "compensation" for "abolition of office". It took primary legislation to bring civil servants under the protection of employment law.

  2. Thank you very much! I shall tell Vicky and Greg. The latter will no doubt mumble something about MPs being a law unto themselves ;-)