Political dramas are rare moments of glory in the life of a bag-carrier. We may be mere footsoldiers in the service of the Movement of representative democracy. We may spend our time hunched over computers labouring on policy correspondence or chasing around after Members of Parliament pursuing “brilliant ideas”. We may have put on four stone since starting work in the Commons owing to having breakfast on the Terrace, lunch at Bellamys, taking advantage of the afternoon snack in Portcullis, and washing it all down with four pints in the Sports and Social at home time. We may not, in short, have much glamour in our existences.
But when a political drama is released, suddenly we are heroes in the eyes of our non-political friends. We are “spin doctors”! We are lotharios engaged in hot sex every night! We are personal friends with the leader of our party!
For once, we are gods in the minds of others.
But what, if it were real, would such an existence mean? If we all woke up one day and things were a little bit odd, a little bit out of the ordinary, how would we know that we were now in a parallel universe of striding advisors and promiscuous interns? Would we know we were in a political drama?
Well, if you need your suspicions confirmed, read Dean Trench’s guide on how you can definitively tell for sure.
You are working for the Member of Parliament for Plot Exposition
Writers of political dramas always begin their plot endeavours labouring under the delusion that the finished product is going to have broad appeal across that all-important 18-25 demographic.
Apparently they are the only ones not aware that those aged between 18 and 25 will be doing something far more sensible than rushing home in time for the latest instalment of “When Statutory Instrument Committees Go Bad IX” – like taking drugs or having sex, or whatever young people do these days – and the only people actually watching will be the actors’ mums and politics nerds who enjoy nothing more than nit-picking at every opportunity. Nevertheless, the attempts to explain politics ‘n’ stuff to da yoof are always good value.
Inevitably crowbarred into a scene involving a young lady in her pants (remember that 18-25 demographic!) they will run something like this:
Young Lady in her Pants: Mmmm, that was lovely darling! God, we’re having lots of hot sex! Have you seen my skimpy underwear? There’s just one thing I don’t understand, though: why is the Secretary of State so angry with you?
Dastardly Junior Minister: Here comes the plot bit, concentrate! Well, when we were in the pre-meeting before Oral PQs it was agreed that the Secretary of State would handle Q5 as it directly related to a potential policy that is currently being discussed at Number 10. However, as my portfolio covers cabbage farming in north Norfolk, I felt that it was my duty to respond, and demonstrate that the current EU quota system on recreational cabbage farming doesn’t take into account the plight of those with allotments. As you can imagine, he wasn’t happy when I stood up to answer the supplementary!
Everyone’s speaking in a foreign language
The most obvious example of this is the over-use of the term “spin doctor”. Nobody on the Parliamentary Estate has ever used “spin doctor” as a means of describing a Government or Opposition advisor. Ever. Even on the blogosphere it tends only to be cranked out by the most excitable teenage conspiracy theorists these days. However, if you suspect you might be in a political drama, you will be hearing it all the time but it is not alone, there’s a whole host of imagined political terms invented solely for the use in such televisual treats:
- Your boss is yelling, “get the security services on the phone! Now!”
- “It’s all a game. You gotta play to win.” Variants on this will be uttered, a lot, by “spin doctors”;
- You find yourself shouting the following down the phone; ‘Tell the Secretary of State to be here in an hour…I don’t give a chuff if he’s on a drip!”;
- Your Blackberry goes off in an important meeting and you say with a drawn face and air of weary gravitas, ‘I’m sorry, there’s a situation, I have to take this”;
- You threateningly refer to everyone as “sunshine”.
The rather overweight fifty-something journalist from your local rag has been replaced by Lindsay Lohan and the press lobby have suddenly become an A-Team-like band of fearless investigative journalists
Most bag-carriers know the media as the most skilled copiers and pasters of juicy titbits in SW1 who, after phoning to harangue you over how much your boss has spent on toilet roll for the constituency office in the 2004/05 financial year, will repair to the bar in the knowledge of a job well done and a democratic system served.
In Political Dramaland, however, journalists are forty years younger, five stone lighter, and engaged in occasionally personally destructive missions to uncover DA TROOF. They will be supported in these endeavours by a quirky and independently minded editor (Bill Nighy in State of Play is the archetype) who will protect his fearless band of hacks against the joint machinations of “The Board” of the newspaper and “The Government”. These two groups will be in cahoots with each other, often with “The Government” insisting that “The Board” put pressure on the editor and quash the investigations of his journalistic Scooby gang in return for unspecified financial preferment.
If you are a bag-carrier in a political drama and you find yourself up against such a band of fearless seekers after truth, my advice would be not to fight them, join them. As journalists and drama writers are nags from the same stable, you can bet that the final plot denouement will not involve a brave Member of Parliament and his trusty staffer winning out over their investigative prowess.
Nope. It will end up, as do all the best fantasies on the political blogosphere, with both you and your boss in the clink.
Your group of friends has suddenly got a lot whiter and straighter, and now contains PRECISELY one homosexual and one ethnic minority – no more, no less.
Admittedly, even in this day and age, Parliament isn’t the most diverse of workplaces. The Members of Parliament are mainly white, middle-aged, straight men although this is slowly changing.
Amongst the staff there is more variation: black, white, female, lesbian, gay, Liberal Democrat – every group is represented when thirsty bag-carriers meet to raise a glass in the Sports and Social.
But if you turn up at work one morning to find that:
- Your quietly gay office mate whose hobbies are stamp collecting and trainspotting has been replaced by a flamingly outrageous Julian Clary-alike with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts and calling you “girlfriend” irrespective of your gender;
- The lass across the corridor has replaced her dungarees and “A Woman Needs a Man Like Fish Needs a Bicycle” t-shirt with a power suit, an eighties blow-dry, and is constantly shouting that she will not be defined by her race or sex;
- Everybody else has become straight and white and male …
… then you are DEFINITELY in a political drama.
You are engaged in an improbable by-election
Elections are a plot device beloved of writers of this genre as they get to show gritty interactions between politicians and members of the public, as well as demonstrating how dirty politics can get.
However, as the only research they will have done will have been watching episodes of political dramas passim, they will not be showing:
- Teams of disgruntled volunteers wandering slowly around housing estates in weather-beaten macs, with one pocket stuffed with leaflets and the other with rapidly melting chocolate digestives;
- Jim the intern being rushed to A&E having been bitten by an Alsatian;
- Complaints about that awful flapping business that seems to be the latest craze in letterbox accessorising;
- A constituency office littered with campaign detritus and hosting forty OAPs cheerfully stuffing envelopes, drinking tea, and reminiscing about the War.
Elections in political dramas will show instead:
- Crack squads of campaigners striding along purposefully to rousing music. They will be directed by a paid “spin doctor” (although where they are getting the money for him in the current donation-drought is anyone’s guess) who will demonstrate his strategic acumen by sitting with his feet on the table highlighting a list for the duration of the campaign for no fathomable reason or benefit;
- A candidate who is 35, hot, and meeting the public in nine inch stilettos;
- A local electorate who are exercised only by thoughts of the civil liberties implications of CCTV cameras and the need to give suspect paedophiles a fair trial;
- A recreation of a 1980s disco where the “spin doctor” and the hot candidate will be rumbled doing The Sex by a man dressed as a chicken. I’m actually not making this one up.
You only plot blackmail and sedition in terms straight out of The Big Book of Political Clichés whilst striding around the most picturesque parts of the Commons
Every new political drama is billed in the press release as “the British West Wing” because if the writers don’t know anything about domestic politics, they sure as hell have seen and admired all that walking around and talking stuff they reckon our American counterparts engage in.
It’s worth pointing out that if it was true that we spend all of our time discussing high politics whilst completing never-ending circuits of Central Lobby, the Serjeant-at-Arms would have to instigate a Parliamentary version of the Highway Code to accommodate 650+ MPs and their staff charging around shouting at each other that they’ve “got the spin doctors on line one!”
The Parliamentary rulebook has been thrown out of the window along with any notion of common sense
The press release will boast that the series is based on “impeccable research” as to how Parliament operates. In reality, this will mean that one intern will have listened to five minutes of “Today in Parliament” before getting bored, turning over to “Sex and the City” and getting drunk. Consequently, in a political drama you can expect to see:
- Government and Opposition Ministers addressing each other from the backbenches;
- Bag-carriers making impassioned and impromptu addresses to Select Committees which are listened to in reverential silence;
- The Prime Minister “popping in” to see how you’re getting on with your casework;
- Your boss being pursued by the dread tentacles of the security services for what he knows as PPS to the Minister for Fish.
Let’s talk about sex, baby!
As established earlier in the plot, the writers genuinely believe that they are making politics relevant to the Hollyoaks generation. And you know what this means?
Sex, and lots of it.
You will be in a political drama if you are having lots of sex:
- With someone of the same sex;
- With someone 30 years your junior;
- With the Prime Minister, but nobody knows about it except the director of communications at your opposition party’s HQ and his network of trusty spies;
- Fully clothed, because it’s only just past the watershed.
It’s also worth mentioning that although in the course of your romantic adventures you sleep in your office regularly, you manage to maintain an aura of rumpled and unshaven charm, as opposed to having mismatched shoes, egg stains on your tie and B.O. that could fell a bull rhino at 20 paces.
But what the hell, eh? When in Rome …
Added by Dean Trench on 4th August 2009