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The Defeat

The characters, names and places featured in this story are, I assure, you entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to existing people or places is the result of sheer coincidence. Honestly. Except for the cleaner with the pink earrings. She's real. I've met her on many occasions.

The House was in session. Camera crews lined the road outside and the lobby thronged with the trusted and privileged newshounds, all hoping for an inside track, a jump on their rivals. They swooped upon any MP who chanced to walk through on their way to the chamber, hoping to find one distracted enough to reveal something damning.

None did. This debate was too important. The credibility of the administration rested upon the outcome, its international reputation hanging upon the next few hours. Party whips had devoted hours to cajoling, pleading, threatening and even blackmailing their members to tow the party line. Senior ministers had courted backbenchers, reminding them of their loyalties. Opposition leaders had conducted lengthy meetings with the PM and his henchmen. Rumours were rife and tensions were high. The House was abuzz.

The debate was in full swing and the hallowed halls echoed to the sound of raised voices, cheers and jeers. Outside the great doors stood three domestics, their trollies and mop buckets parked to one side. They pressed their ears to the door, trying to gauge the mood.

'Saw that young 'un, earlier,' said one, a middle-aged woman wearing very large pink earrings. 'You know, the one with the nose and the tie.'

'Oh yes?'

'In his office, he was. Pacing around practising his speech. He had a death grip on his notes, but he sounded pretty good. He's really coming on. He's got the false outrage down to a tee, and his sneer is second to none I'd say. But he hasn't quite got the condescension right yet.'

'Well, he's only young. It takes a couple of years in a safe seat to nail that.'

The three cleaners nodded thoughtfully.

'I tell you what though,' said the woman with pink earrings. 'There's a lot of nerves tonight. I just cleaned the gents on the first floor. Phew! My Lord, this one's got them keyed up, for sure.'

The other two cleaners nodded sympathetically. 'I think Thomasz has had his work cut out,' said one.

'Well he would. They can't control themselves, you see. Heads full of politicking. No room for anything else.'

A supervisor strode along the corridor towards them, her heels clopping loudly. The cleaners froze at the sound, then melted away from the door, peeling away in separate directions with their assorted trollies and buckets.

In the lobby the newshounds dragged their camera crews into position, jockeying for the prime spot. The moment was nearly upon them. Word had it the vote was in. The lobby fell silent as they waited. And waited.

Then a great roar from the chamber stirred everyone to action. The government had lost. It was unthinkable. It was unprecedented. It was astonishing. It was a victory for democracy. It was a tragedy for the country. It was a monumental moment for the thinking man. What it was, very much depended upon which party you backed, but what it certainly did was give the political editors plenty to work with.

Cameras whirred into life and reporters patted their hair into place and straightened their clothing, keeping alert for the first to leave the chamber. They didn't have to wait long. In an explosion of shouts and jibes, the doors burst open and several MPs thundered out, some gesticulating, some shouting, some looking shell-shocked, others victorious.

'Shame on you!' screamed one man, launching himself at an opposition MP. 'You heartless *******!'

The middle aged cleaner stopped beside a young man in overalls. She pointed up at a discreet black box bolted to the ceiling over the corridor. 'I see your bleep machine is working again, Thomasz. It's a marvel how it picks up the bad words before they even say 'em.'

Thomasz inclined his head and folded his arms, screwdrivers still clasped in his hand. 'The Prime Minister was most insistent that I get it working again, Mrs Christine. He said that it would not be good for the world's media to hear some of the bad language the MPs use. Of course, it is the same in my home country. The politicians shout and swear much, but they don't do a lot.'

'Same the world over, I suppose.'

'I think so.'

A rabble of MPs pushed by, yelling abuse at each other.

'How can you not think of the children? What of the children?' said one of the female politicians, on the point of sobbing.

'Silly ******* bat!' retorted someone from the midst of the crowd, prompting a satisfied nod from Thomasz.

The woman's demeanour changed in an instant and there were cries of protest as she scrabbled across her colleagues, dignity forgotten as she clambered over those in her way to reach her insulter.

'********, ****!'

'**** you, you *********!'

The cleaner and the maintenance man watched from the safety of a darkened doorway. The cleaner shook her head. 'Frightening, isn't it?'

Thomasz shrugged. 'This is the way of politics. Just so long as they don't break my machine again.'

In the lobby the reporters were beside themselves, gabbling into their microphones as they tried desperately to be heard above the din. The political editor for the late-night bulletin edged closer to the corridor, dragging his crew with him.

'As you will no doubt imagine, the mood is pretty angry. This loss for the government means that not only have they lost one of their main objectives for this term, but more damning, they have been shown to be vulnerable. Malcolm Starbright, MP for Lernston South, what do you make of what happened here tonight?'

A dishevelled and sweating man glared at the editor then noticed the camera. His scowl morphed into a friendly smile and he reached up to smooth his hair. 'Well, I think it's a demonstration of the ineptitude and treachery of the opposition. They spent the last week saying they supported the government's view and that they would vote with us tonight, and then, in a cheap shot at pleasing the voters, they changed their mind at the last minute.'

'So, to be clear, you think the job of the opposition is to vote with the government?'

Malcolm Starbright floundered, taking advantage of the jostling crowd to cover his discomfort. 'That's not what I think at all. That would be foolish. However, on such an important matter as this, when they have made much of agreeing with our view, to backtrack at the last minute smacks of opportunism.'

With that he was carried away by the crowd. The political editor, by now thoroughly enjoying himself, swooped upon a young woman being propelled through the lobby by the tide.

'Jenny Hillman, MP for Chorsham. We just heard from Malcolm Starbright that he believes the opposition committed an act of treachery here tonight. Do you agree with that?'

The young woman's eyes flashed angrily. 'Of course I don't. Malcolm Starbright is an example of all that's wrong with the nation's politics. He's outdated, inward looking and bigoted.'

'Fascinating. But why did you vote against the government tonight?'

'Because they were wrong, because this was not a policy the people agreed with, and we in the opposition, unlike this administration, listen to the people.'

She was shoved aside by a furious woman in a rigid business suit. 'What you did here tonight was an affront upon humanity, it showed a brutal disregard for the children, the families involved …'

'It showed common sense, you mean,' said Jenny Hill.

'When you say common sense …' began the political editor, stumbling as the crowd surged again.

'It was a cruel deception. You know very well your party agreed with this proposal right up until the opinion polls …'

The two women faded from view, leaving the political editor swimming against the flow of people in the lobby. 'Well,' he said, frantically scrabbling to stay in shot. 'There you have it. A pretty earth-shattering night here in the House. The coming days will no doubt see a much deeper debate, this time over the damage done to the PM by this shock defeat. The upshot is, the government has failed to pass its key bill, the most important piece of new law it wanted to pass this term, that which would have allowed them to extend MPs holidays by a further twelve weeks. But they were defeated by an opposition who were perhaps swayed by an infuriated electorate, an electorate tired of the one rule for them, another for us, of modern politics. The PM is, I suspect, going to have some awkward conversations over the coming days. For now, back to you in the studio.'


© 2013 Kay Lawrence.


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