Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Election Diary - Day 2: Everybody Wants to be a Demo-cat

Tuesday 31st March
Day 2 of the election saw the start of the campaign-stop merry-go-round, and there were many surprising stars: Clegg, Cameron, Balls, and Essex1.

The postman had come early, and Sandi Bristow was excited. First Tuesday of the Easter Holidays, and she had all the time in the world. Soon, she would be back under the covers, with a cup of tea, catching up on the very latest on One Direction’s split. Her heart was still broken, but it made her feel better to read about it and to know everything she could.
However, when she opened her subscription of Heat, she found not Zayn Malik staring back at her but a smug-faced, un-buff male model, who she dimly recognised. She flicked through the pages to discover who this person was. Whoever he was, he knew all of the words to “Let It Go!” from Frozen (well, yeah – who doesn’t?), he nearly stripped off to wrestle a rat in his kitchen, and he can’t do two things at the same time because he’s a man (so true, she thought whilst not feeling crassly manipulated in the slightest).

Sandi was confused, and so she turned on the telly.
The smug-faced male model was there again. His face was, if possible, even smugger, and rather than breaking out into hits from Disney, he kept on talking about 1,000 jobs a day, which she thought was an impressive work rate for a man who couldn’t do two things at once.
Sandi didn’t understand what this guy was about. The newsman kept on calling him the Prime Minister, which sounded important: like Simon Cowell, but less so. However, he wasn’t talking about Zayn Malik, he didn’t seem to know what TIDAL was, and why was he wrestling rats anyway?
What was this guy up to? Sandi’s day had got off to a very strange start and she was a little unsettled. In need of comfort, she did what she always did: she put Frozen on, and tried not to imagine the smug-faced model as Elsa.

7.25am (BST); 9.25am in Moscow
Vladimir never misses an edition of Heat, but this was one of his favourites, like, for-evs. Dave, from London, was giving an interview, and what he had read was very interesting, for Vladimir identified a lot with what he read. He too admires Ed Miliband (having felt a distinct chill in his spine when he heard “Hell yes!” last week), and he too thinks Harry Styles is the fittest member of One Direction
However, one thing caught his eye, which really intrigued him, for Vladimir too liked wrestling animals in the nude. He quickly rang through to London.
“Hello David,” said Vladimir, in his intimidating monotone.
“Vladimir? Good God – what have you done now?”
“Nothing David. I never do anything. Anything you think I have done, I have alibi for.”
“Well, I’m rather busy Vlad. I’m between interviews right now.”
“Why so many interviews?”
“We’re having an election.”
“Ah. I congratulate you on your victory.”
“I haven’t won yet.”
“Of course not. But how much will you win by? 60%? 70%? 80%?”
“It doesn’t look like I’ll win outright at all Vlad.”
“I don’t understand David. If you want, you can use my election supervisor. He has many addresses and an army of people who sign their name with an X.”
“It’s fine Vlad.”
“But I did not ring for this. I see that you like naked animal wrestling too?”
“Rats are not really animals David. You must become like me. I wrestle the Russian bears. You must wrestle your English lions. I can train you. Next time you are in Moscow, I shall take you into special room in Kremiln. We shall start you off with ferret, then move you onto elk. You will become strong, alpha male leader, and not at all in a – how you say – homoerotic sort of way. David, are you tough enough? Come on: give me a “Hell yes!””

“And who the hell is Joey Essex?”, asked Nick.
He was up early to give a speech. The venue said they could only squeeze him in at 8 o’clock, and he had to be gone by 8.45 as they needed to set up for bingo.
Now he was told that Joey, of The Only Way is Essex (a constructed reality show, and not an autobiographical work), felt that it was very important to get the youth interested in politics.
“Can’t I just sing a bit from Frozen?” sneered Nick to his advisors.

“Bloody hell, Caroline. Even Plaid Cymru are getting on the BBC. What do we have to do to get an interview?”
“I know, Natalie. I know. However, when we do get an interview, are you sure you know what you’re going to say?”
To which, Natalie promptly broke out with a very unfortunate and very brief bout of tuberculosis until she was left alone.

“Mate, you’re sick”, said Joey to Nick.
“If only he knew,” thought Nick to himself, but it soon became apparent that Joey knew very little at all.
“Yeah mate. You and the Liberal Democats.”
“Demo-crats,” Nick corrected him, but he wished he was leading the Liberal Democats. Or any other kind of left-of-centre animal collective. Maybe he could have the otter from yesterday in his team. Arnie was his name, and Nick had fallen in love with him at first sight. He wanted to be back there. Anywhere but here.
“Well,” said Nick, “it’s nice to meet you. We may not win this election, but we will fight for the most vulnerable in society.” (By which he meant the otters.)
“I like you mate,” said Joey. “You’re honest.”
Even Nick had to supress a laugh.

David Cameron walks tentatively into Sainsbury’s, but this seems like a good call from CCHQ. Not too up-market to cause unwanted photos in a Simply Food. Not too risky for him personally as Aldi or Lidl.

George Osborne, meanwhile, has ventured out to Hove to make an American Hot at Pizza Express. No-one knows why. He wasn’t even hungry. He promptly walks out and talks about the increase in living standards. No mention of the pizza. It wasn’t even an elaborate set-up for a terrible pun involving the word “dough”.

Now Clegg’s making pancakes. That must be for comfort-eating, surely? Or maybe the election is going to be decided by Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.
If so, the following photos show that Clegg is doing well, but also that he is now a model for Panasonic. Well, once Joey Essex’s said you’re “not bad looking”, things move quickly.

The big debate of the day is whether or not living standards have improved. Labour says they haven’t. The Tories say they have. Well, it's Robert Peston to the rescue, as he confirms that they have, to the tune of 70p. That’s 70p per household, which, due to inflation, is enough to buy 35 1p sweets.

The Labour party’s star of the day is the unlikely figure of Ed Balls, who was centre-stage, giving a big speech this morning, albeit in Swindon, and starring in a double-page interview with London’s Evening Standard.
The aim seems to be to soften his image, which he tries to do by accusing David Cameron of being a “troll” (presumably of the twitter sort, rather than the lives-under-a-bridge variety, but he leaves that dangling). This is likely to resonate with his core audience, but he tries to convert people with human interest elements, such as his love for The Sound of Music and the fact that he has his haircut at home. Bizarrely, it transpires that he is a good friend of arch right wing Tory and MP for the 19th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
However, to really get into the inner sanctum of Balls, we must know of how he is as a lover, and he duly obliges. The article reads: “In Olive’s, an Anglo-Turkish cafĂ© festooned with coloured-glass lamps, Balls chuckles as the owner feeds him halloumi and baked beans and tells him she likes to flirt. The chat turns to Labour’s plan to cut rates for small business, and increase the minimum wage to £8 “or more”, says Balls.”
Romance is not dead. As the youth of Joey Essex would say: “he’s got chat”.
We’re then told that “After 10 minutes, he’s tickling a two year-old to stop him crying.”
A warm image perhaps, until you realise that the article doesn’t elaborate on which two-year old this was and why he was crying?

A furious start gives way to a sedate evening in the early Spring sun. Politicians across the spectrum are all wondering what Joey Essex thinks of them. Celebrity is all over the campaign. Mr Essex today. Martin Freeman yesterday. Even one of the major party leaders has been on the cover of Heat.
Speaking of the Prime Minister, he must be weary after his early start. He stops off for a moment of privacy, and maybe a bite to eat. As he makes jam on toast, he catches a glimpse of something: a scuttling shadow across the floor. He takes off his cufflinks, undoes his tie, unbuttons his shirt. There’s a rat in the kitchen, and it’s on.
Sandi meanwhile is waiting for dinner, and as she enters the kitchen she sees Joey Essex on the telly.
“Why’s he on the news, mum?”
“There’s an election, Sandi.”
“What’s an election, mum?”
“It’s when we decide who runs the country, Sandi.”
“And Joey Essex is a part of this?”

Sandi sits down, feeling confused and depressed. The world was a far stranger place than the one she had woken up in.

1 Events depicted may differ from actual events. In fact, this is a work of fiction, with some facts. But mostly, it's nonsense.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Election Diary - Day 1: Dissolved

Monday 30th March
The first day of campaigning is a frantic, exciting day filled with formality, constitutional affairs and everyone trying to get their face on the TV. For instance, Nick Clegg’s day began on the radio, and he was last seen being cut away from as he went to Buckingham Palace.
Here are some other key events from today’s election diary1.

“One can’t believe one has to get up for this shit”, said Her Majesty, as the D of E inspected the gin supplies ahead of lunchtime.
“You have an audience with the Prime Minister this morning,” said Sir Christopher Geidt, her private secretary.
“But why? Doesn’t he remember passing that Fixed Terms Parliament Act?”, Liz inquired. “It was quite the read, one can tell you. “This Act does not affect Her Majesty’s power to prorogue Parliament.” How generous of them to leave one with something to do.”
Sir Christopher suggested “I believe that Mr Cameron sees it as a courtesy”.
“I believe that Mr Cameron sees it as a jolly,” said Philip. “Bloody loves the trappings of the job – wants to eke out every last bit of fun – like a fucking tourist. It’s ridiculous: someone using their power for their own personal gratification.”
“Oh, that reminds one Philip. Did you see that Charles sent you a letter this morning?”

George Osborne was bemused. “It looks like the FT. It smells like the FT. But it reads like Pravda!”
A glaring, full-page ad by the Labour party was staring back at him, highlighting the risk to British business posed by a Brexit.
Distressed, he put his head in his hands and his fingers through his hair, which remarkably remained undisturbed by this intrusion.
Better news lay in The Daily Mail. George always found that better news lay in The Daily Mail. A Tory lead of four points, and an exact reversal of yesterday’s Sunday Times poll.
“You see! Our long-term economic plan is working,” he said, without knowing why.

“It’s today! It’s today! Hell yeah!” screamed Ed Miliband, as he ran downstairs to look for the special election advent-calendar he’d made.
“Damn. Wrong kitchen.”
He ran back upstairs, to find Ed Balls there, and day 1 of his calendar already opened.

In a bar on the South Bank, Nigel Farage has his first pint of the day and of the campaign. Every picture of him drinking a pint of ale generates more votes, and the strategy is simple: pub-crawl to victory. This is why Al Murray The Pub Landlord is a potent electoral threat.

“Good morning Alex. Nicola here. I just wanted to have a word about the text of your speech this morning. Where you say “I will lead Scotland to a better future”, could you at least say “We’ll lead Scotland to a better future”? Please?”

“Nick? Nick? Are you ready for your interview on The Today Programme?”
“Oh, what’s the point?”

“Nick? Nick? How did it go? I heard you said that you wanted to stay on as leader of the Lib Dems.”
“I don’t know. It was a moment of madness.”

A UKIP strategist debriefs Nigel after his interview with Good Morning Britain.
“You got the line wrong,” said his speech writer dismissively.
“No, I didn’t. I acknowledged that we’ve had a dip in the polls since last year because millions of people haven’t made up their minds yet.
“Precisely. What you were supposed to say was that we’ve had a dip in the polls since last year because millions of people haven’t lost their minds yet.”
The nuance was lost to Nige, drowned in a sea of London Pride.

“For the last time, David, you don’t have to wear tails when you go to see the Queen.”
“But I want to!”
“David, it won’t play well with the electorate.”
“Oh, that’s your answer to everything.”

Someone lets Grant Shapps outside again, and he has gone straight for the TV Cameras, like Malcolm Rifkind toward a lobbyist.
The over-firmly-grown schoolboy listed a few facts: “We overtook France in the last year as the second-biggest economy in Europe. We can overtake Germany in perhaps 10 or 15 years if we carry this on.” This was terribly exciting, Grant mused to himself. He’d had no idea that European Economics could be a sport.
His media commitment completed, he popped into a shop to buy some sherbet.

David Cameron sends a message to the Queen asking her to wait another five minutes, as he assembles a cardboard box marked “Light bulbs”.

“Your Majesty, Parliament has been dissolved.”
“I know, Mr Cameron. One has a television you know. One never misses Bill Turnbull in the morning. He is such a charming man.”
“An Old Etonian, no less.”
“Well, one shan’t hold that against him. Philip! Put that blunderbuss down!”
“But Liz,” replied the Duke, “Nicholas Witchell is well within range!”

Safely back in Downing Street, smelling the curtains and packing the towels into suitcases, David Cameron meets with his campaign staff.
“Right, Dave – it’s 37 days to go.”
“We’re not campaigning on all of them though, are we?”
“Well, yes.”
“What? Even on Sundays?”
“Even this Sunday?”
“Why should this Sunday be any different?”
“Because it’s Easter Sunday. I was going to have an Easter Egg hunt with my children. I always find the most eggs.”
“Sorry Dave.”
The PM, all blushed cheeks and exasperate breath, could not understand any of this.
“How is a guy meant to chillax?” he bellowed, before heading for lunch.

Meanwhile, at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, there is a problem. This morning they made a wild claim about Labour’s tax plans, suggesting that Miliband is planning to raise the tax bill on every family by £3,000. Turns out that this is rather doubtful, as it would raise somewhere in the region of £33.9bn for absolutely no reason at all. Maybe Ed Balls wants to build a replica of Scrooge McDuck’s vault. Perhaps, but the public need evidence.
An emergency meeting is called ahead of the lunchtime news:
“We need someone to go on The World At One and give this an air of credibility. We need someone trustworthy, dependable and assured. Someone the public will believe.”
A pregnant pause.
“No, we don’t have one of those, so it’s going to have to be Grant Shapps.”
“But he’s over-firmly-dosed on sherbet.”
“Like that’ll make a difference. Just so long as he holds firm on the party line and doesn’t show an ounce of weakness. Like using the word “guess” in relationship to the claim, for example.”

Grant Shapps or, as I like to think of him, Ben Swain from The Thick of It, says of the £3,000 claim: “Unless they're going to tell us exactly how they're going to do it, then I'm afraid we're left having to guess.”
Tory Election Supremo, Lynton Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, does his nut at CCHQ. “You lot – you’re unbelievable. I’m a master of the political dark arts. Why am I lumbered with you cretins?”
Ken Clarke (de-mob happy, stopping off on the way to Ronnie Scott’s) chortles. He wonders as he puts on his trademark hat and shuffles out into the bright new dawn of his sunset years, how CSN&Y has got this gig again, given that he’s previously run two failed campaigns.
He passes Boris on the doorstep, and Ken heaves a sigh of relief.

A most unexpected person is now seizing the focus in this election campaign. It isn’t Ed Hard Man Miliband, or even Al Murray. It’s Katie Hopkins.
Firstly, she announced that she would leave the country if Ed Miliband became Prime Minister. This was the most appealing campaign pledge yet, outdoing every party. Even the most diehard Tory had to sit and contemplate voting Labour, just for the peace and quiet it would bring on that front. It was like an inverse of 1992. Whereas then it was The Sun wot won it with its infamous headline “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain turn out the lights”, here we had Labour experiencing a bounce by someone threatening to emigrate.
Over-reaction or serious statement? Who cares? If Labour keep going this way, the sky’s the limit. Miliband might even put Blair’s victories in the shade.

And so the day draws to a close, with the hustle and bustle barely started. Soon, it’ll be time for Shapps to go to bed, if only he weren’t so full of sugar. Soon, it will be time for Mandleson to get up. Soon, it will be time for Lord Prescott to get the boxing gloves out again and practise his fearsome left hook, just in case.
Still a little over 37 days to go until polling day, and the only certainty we have is that Hobbiton is voting Labour. Bilbo Baggins is not your typical Labour voter. He owns the wealthiest house in the Shire and would thus be subject to a mansion tax. He isn’t much of one for redistribution of his own wealth, preferring dynastic inheritance. He showed with Smaug that his foreign policy is distinctly interventionist. Indeed, the only left-wing thing I can think of him doing is smoking the weed. Now, that really would be a policy to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Good night.

1Events depicted may differ from actual events. In fact, this is a work of fiction, with some facts. But mostly, it's nonsense.

Monday, March 2, 2015

My Father's Polish, and Other Things Only Underworld Chinese Financiers Know About Him

I have just received a very intriguing and perplexing communique from a Mr Ho Wang, delivered "via his proxy visiting my country". It was actually addressed to my mother, but she is away and in such circumstances I’m instructed to open her letters, in case they are of importance. This letter certainly was that.

It concerned my late father.

It was a shock to learn of my father's death; particularly as I had lunch with him yesterday, 1st March, and the letter was dated 29th January. More troubling still was that, unbeknownst to any of us, he died in a "ghastly motor accident in mainland China, back in 2002". The Land Rover Discovery we had at the time was an unreliable car, but terribly safe, and had difficulty making it to Surrey, let alone mainland China.

The revelations, however, kept coming. It transpired that he was born in Gdansk. To be honest, his claim to be from Bolton always seemed a little fishy, as he has a perfect RP accent and supports Chelsea Football Club.

Furthermore, the old boy was rich: RICH, I TELLS YEH! (Well, I don’t. Mr Ho Wang does.) In 2000, he “invested US$21.7MN with our Hong Kong investment bank”. Obviously, they never offered him the chance to use their Swiss branch, or perhaps it was before that idea had occurred to them. Mr Ho Wang, it appears, managed my father’s money and “he made good returns from the commodities trade”.

It was at this point that I began to doubt the tidings of Mr Wang. For my father, whether under the advice of his stockbrokers or on his own whim, rarely makes any profit on the markets. Indeed, that is how he likes it, for it allows him to start ever morning with a sulk about GSK’s latest bungle. He even has shares in Tesco’s.

On the other hand, Mr Wang referred to my father’s “china prospects”. Many would suggest that the lack of a capitalised C on “china” is a typo: but, I know that this refers to my papa’s love of porcelain, so once again Mr Wang regained the ring of truth.

Mr Wang had a proposal.

This seemed a little impersonal. After all, I had just learned of my father’s death not three paragraphs ago and was struggling to come to terms with this shocking turn of events. The situation is as follows: the money he accrued has remained out of touch as no next of kin could be reached. Indeed, we are not the next of kin, but Mr Wang suggest that he makes my mother the next of kin legally. He reassures us: “You don’t have to do anything but wait and receive estate payments. For our efforts, I propose we split proceeds.”

Suddenly, everything falls into place. My father is alive, but conducted a highly successful, very secretive junket with connections to the Chinese financial services’ industry. His cover at home was that he was a highly successful international barrister, constantly required for trips to the Far East. This was a part he played so well that he was appointed a QC in 1984, and still “pops up to London” for business. Now, I see, he’s clearly having marvellous lunches, paid for with his ill-gotten gains.

Clearly, he ran into trouble and faked his own death, before, like Derek Nimmo in One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, he escaped the clutches of the Chinese, no doubt drawing on the all the skills he acquired during his rough childhood on the streets of Gdansk.

Mr Wang, it seems, is oblivious to this, but is insistent on his proposition, one which he sells poetically if not always grammatically. “This is a golden opportunity for us both,” he writes, “and I hold the key to its success. They say ‘nothing ventured is nothing gained’ [which I suppose is the longhand version of that saying] and that success and riches rarely come easy on a platter of gold [silver, generally, but now it turns out that I’m absolutely minted, I’m willing to upgrade], but when it does, a man must seize it [he seems to have forgotten that he is writing to my mother, who is, as mothers generally are, a woman].”

Mr Wang concludes: “This is the one truth I have learned from life. “Let us seize this opportunity together”.”

He has asked us to get in touch and, dear reader, I shall inform you of our progress and, we will invite you to the inevitable, glitzy gala party in honour of my surprisingly wealthy, surprisingly Polish, surprisingly dead father.