Livia’s diary: the office of Jim Poole MP
OK so it’s March already and Valentine’s Day is long gone and we should have got this to you earlier. But stories like this are for every day of the year and, anyway, we had to get this one cleared by all the parties involved. Of course, we did.
So thanks, Livia, for the latest episode of your diary and all you bag-carriers out there: listen up and read on. You will learn something.
I have long suspected that it was either the Boss’ unwillingness or his inability to get on with the “usual channels” that ensured that we ended up sharing a Portcullis House office with Paul and his glamorous Member of Parliament. It was the whips’ office final act of revenge to put Jim Poole MP with someone who would really get on his nerves.
Harry Ambrose – or “Horatio” as his mother knew him, before he was advised by the powers that be to proletariat up his name slightly – was elected in 2010. Harry is in his late thirties, extremely good looking, went to school with our beloved leader, and although he’s only been in Parliament for two years, he already has a substantial fanbase both in the media and amongst the ladies of Westminster.
When I got in on Valentine’s Day, Harry was seated next to Paul who was fine tuning a press release. In his perfectly manicured hand, he casually held a stack of red and pink envelopes with his name emblazoned – along with hearts and kisses – on each.
“Morning Livia!” He treated me to one of his perfect smiles. “Happy Valentine’s Day. We’re, uh, just honing my quote for this press release. I take it you’ve heard the news?”
“Peace has finally broken out in the middle east?” I asked, innocently. Paul grinned at me from behind his boss’ head.
“Well, not quite in that league, maybe,” Harry smiled modestly. “I’ve just been voted the Most Fanciable MP for the second year running. Of course,” he carefully removed an imaginary speck of dust from his lapel, “it’s all a load of nonsense. But,” he leaned forward, suddenly earnest, “I thought publicising it would be a useful way to get a more important political message out there.”
Paul and I looked at him enquiringly.
“What message would that be?” I asked, eventually.
“Oh. Ah. Well, that … being Valentine’s Day we shouldn’t forget that … um …”
“That we shouldn’t forget the plight of carers on Valentine’s Day whose attention and love to their husband or mother or other family member often remains unnoticed and unappreciated?” suggested Paul.
“Perfect, that will do. I mean, that’s what I meant. Thank you Paul, that’s ready to go. As a headline let’s stick with ‘Westminster’s Hottest MP for a Second Year Running Speaks Out on ..’ You know. What you just said. Well, good morning, Jim! Or should I say, good afternoon?”
Jim Poole, Member of Parliament for Weaselthorpe since 1997 glowered at Harry from the doorway. Sporting an oily shine on his hand from a congealing bacon sandwich and a coffee stain down his grey shirt, he seemed an era away from Harry’s immaculately coiffed existence. Furthermore, Harry was already a shadow spokesperson, where as the only greasy pole Jim had ever climbed was an impromptu pole dance outside the Strangers’ Bar after a particularly heavy session. As a result, the older MP regarded his office mate with all the smiling tolerance of Harriet Harman at a convention of Page 3 models.
Making a noise somewhere between an expletive and a “harrumph”, Jim stalked into his office to watch the news headlines and inhale his bacon butty. Judging from the slight red hue in the whites of his eyes and the indefinable hum of pub that seemed to loiter around him, it was a fair bet he was hungover.
“Right Paul, I’ll get out of your hair,” his boss announced. “I’m going to head off downstairs and try and dodge the cameras. Honestly Jim,” Harry shimmered over to the doorway to Jim’s office, where the latter was slumped over his breakfast, “since I won the Most Fanciable MP competition – for the second time – I can’t get the press off the phone. Ridiculous isn’t it? Ciao!”
The last time Jim had got into the papers it was for accidentally driving his car straight over a floral carpet designed by local schoolchildren as part of his long-running campaign to demonstrate that “Traffic on divert” signs, along with all other roadside instructions, were for the benefit of other people. The pictures of crying children and outraged parents made the front page of the Weaselthorpe Gazette.
“Where is he?” Dean exploded into the office. “Where’s Jim?”
“Calm down, he’s in his office,” I tried to take the two coffee cups that Dean was waving around out of his hands. “Where’s the fire?”
“I don’t know, that’s what bothers me. Jim? JIM?” Dean roared.
“WHAT?” Jim yelled from the adjoining office.
“I don’t know – YOU texted ME! But given that your text included the words ‘brilliant idea’, I haven’t got high hopes that it’s good news.”
It was a testament to the long time that Dean had worked for Jim that he could get away with talking to him like that. If I’d have shouted at him in a similar manner, I’d have been subject to the full hairdryer treatment.
“I want you to organise a press call,” Jim appeared from around the corner, still looking slightly sulky and with a splatter of tomato sauce up his face. “I’ve not been getting much coverage recently and I …” he broke off, and stared back towards his television screen which was broadcasting an image of Harry, smiling with false modesty.
“It’s all rather embarrassing, really. But I am flattered. And it’s a good way of getting the message out there that many of my constituents who are nurses have a difficult job on Valentine’s Day with, er,” he fiddled with a sheaf of papers, looking for Paul’s press release, “colostomy bags and stuff. Even if they do have beguiling uniforms!”
He set his white smile to stun, and beamed it straight at the camera. A THUNK! sounded from behind us. It was Paul slamming his head onto the desk.
“A Valentine’s Day themed press call. Get the fancy dress shop on the phone and get onto the BBC. We’re hitting the headlines!”
Although of recent months Dean Trench, long-suffering bag-carrier to Jim Poole MP, has been what can best be described as a pain in the Statutory Instrument, it is occasions like this that he comes into his own. Whilst lesser and more inexperienced men would have resorted to reasoning, pleading or threats of resignation at the news that their boss wanted to pose as Cupid on College Green in an attempt to outdo his office-mate’s press coverage, Dean took it all in his stride.
The first step, as Dean always advises, is acceptance. If there is absolutely no chance that your boss can be persuaded that his “brilliant idea” is the most stupid course of action since he tried to put his wife’s anniversary present through expenses, then you just have to get on with it. With acceptance comes clarity and with clarity comes a game plan for reducing the fallout from your MP making an utter arse of themselves.
Three hours later and we were both stood shivering on College Green, opposite the House of Commons. A fine mist of rain combined with a sharp winter breeze cut through us like a knife. My hands were red raw with the cold by the time Jim finally appeared. It took all my strength to abide by Dean’s second law of media management: never allow your face to give away the fact that your boss is doing something thoroughly idiotic, but instead nod along earnestly as he delivers his lines all wrong. It will give the impression that a deeper point of policy than they can understand is being made.
Even if your boss is dressed in red tights and is wearing plastic wings on his back. And especially if this outfit is topped off by a fake bow and arrow set.
“How’s he doing?” Paul appeared from the drizzle.
“… because in the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day, we forget those left behind. The war widows. The people caring for their husband or wife who has dementia …”
“Not too bad, considering” conceded Dean. “Even if he’s dressed like a fat archangel Gabriel. How’s your media whirlwind going?”
“… some MPs have decided to put vanity before they’re constituents and have got caught up in this Most Fanciable MP nonsense,” Jim continued.
“Oh I decided to get out of the office for a bit. Mostly because you can’t fit me, Harry, and Harry’s ego in there all at the same time.”
“Hang on a sec, Paul,” muttered Dean, eyeing Jim’s face, that was beginning to glow with resentment. Suddenly, Dean fell onto his knees in the mud, clutching his stomach and groaning.
“… is that what we are in politics for? Entrance into a beauty contest? Girls flocking around us, telling us how amazing we are? No-string sex on tap with bevies of wide-eyed young researchers …” the Boss’ voice had turned almost wistful. Dean groaned louder.
“Ooooh owwwwwww!” he howled. “I think it’s a hernia!”
Everybody, including the press, was looking at him with concern and Paul and I knelt down to help him.
“Dean, do you want me to get the nurse?” I put my hand on his shoulder.
“No,” he hissed back. “Just tell him to keep on bloody message or I’m going to have to fake my waters breaking.” Then, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! My ovaries! They’re burning!”
“Stand back everyone,” shouted Paul, entering into the spirit of the occasion. “I’ve seen this done on Animal Hospital, I can handle it. Just breathe, Dean! Breathe!”
With everyone thus distracted, I was able to slip to the side of our slightly disgruntled employer.
“Is he okay?” Jim asked, only the tiniest hint of worry noticeable in his annoyance.
“Yes, he’ll be fine. Have you lost your lines we drew up? You were freelancing a bit there.”
“Livia,” he said coldly. “I have been an MP for fourteen years, so I think I know what the public want. They want truth and honesty, not all this posturing by teenagers who reckon that they are Sean Connery. Most Fanciable MP, indeed! Who does he think he is? Right,” he raised his voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, if we can continue?”
I shot a look at Paul, and motioned my hand across my neck whilst shaking my head. Paul nodded and whispered something in Dean’s ear.
“Oh my God!” screamed Dean so loudly that the press pack surrounding him were joined by a group of passing tourists with cameras, wondering what all the fuss was about. “OH MY GOD!”
He let out a high pitched wail that must have been heard by everyone in the Westminster postcode, and then was still.
“Dean? DEAN? Speak to me Dean!” Paul shouted at his friend. “Look everyone, I think we’re going to have to call this a day, I think he’s really ill. Jim, could you help me carry him?”
Jim and Paul gently lifted Dean to his feet, as the journalists and tourists began to disperse. He groaned and opened his eyes
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” he informed Jim worriedly.
“Come on, son,” muttered our boss, beginning to look concerned now. “Let’s get you inside.”
“Here he is, the man of the match!”
A few hours later and Dean appeared in the doorway of the Sports and Social. He looked tired and drawn, and his clothes were covered in mud, but he grinned at Paul and me and accepted a large brandy.
“A truly awesome performance there, old chap,” Paul congratulated him. “Simply stunning. When the manual of MP management is written, that one will be in chapter one.”
Dean took a bow, and the Sports burst into a spontaneous round of applause. There are some times when the courage and ingenuity of us backroom boys and girls should be celebrated. Valentine’s Day 2012 was one of those days.
Added by Livia on 10th April 2012