the scene is set for Seth
Home sweet home Latest site info Poetic stuff Serious stuff Funny stuff Topical stuff Alternative stuff Shakespearian stuff Musical stuff
  click here for a "printer friendly" version

When the Traffic Lights Stopped by Martin Friel


Chapter 4


The next two People’s Politicians were as much a failure as the first but for different reasons. I’m not going to spend too much time on them but it’s important you have a clear understanding of the events that preceded Seth’s arrival. It will make the reasons for his rise much clearer to you.

After Sian, we had Ben. Ben was an accountant in every fibre of his being. He looked, spoke and acted like one. If accountancy had had recruitment drives, Ben would have been the poster boy – he was the embodiment of the profession.

The public, who once again tuned in to the show in record numbers, voted him in a wild reaction to the debacle that had been Sian. Where she was flighty and lacking in substance, Ben was serious and practical, everything the role needed after its abortive first attempt.

The problem was that Ben was just too practical and too sensible to survive in the political world. We in the civil service and I in particular tried harder with Ben than we had with Sian mainly because he really did seem earnest about the role and we all felt a bit sorry for him. He seemed lacking.

Ultimately he failed though. He couldn’t understand the politicians, the way they conducted themselves, how or why they made the decisions they did. It was not until he found himself up close with these people that he understood the problems facing the country and I think it broke him.

There is one example that stays with me and which I think really killed off Ben’s hopes of actually achieving something as the People’s Politician. About three months into it, still full of enthusiasm, Ben brought up the issue of the subsidisation of bars and restaurants in the House of Commons.

He wrote to the House of Commons Catering Committee to confirm the existence of a subsidy and if it existed, how much it was. After several evasive answers he finally established that the people, the taxpayer, subsidised Parliamentary dining and supping to the tune of nearly £6m, annually.

As an accountant, someone with a keen interest in taxes, Ben couldn’t understand why taxpayers should foot this bill. In one of his monthly showings in the House, he begged the question in person. What he didn’t understand was that he wasn’t supposed to be asking real questions or doing real work. He was supposed to be a figurehead, someone for the politicians to parade in front of the electorate to show that they really did care, that they took democracy seriously.

The response he received from the Minister for Internal Catering baffled him:

“Selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly in line with the prices charged in nearby pubs operated by a well-known high-street chain and, in this sense, the prices are not subsidised.”

“But in a more accurate sense they are,” replied Ben. “I’ve looked at the numbers and no matter how I cut them, I can’t get away from the fact that the prices for food and beverages within the House are kept at an artificially low level which means that they must be subsidised.”

“Selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly in line with the prices charged in nearby pubs operated by a well-known high-street chain and, in this sense, the prices are not subsidised,” came the reply.

“Sir,” Ben began again, “I respectfully tell you that despite what you believe, they are. What’s more, in my meetings with constituents across the country, it consistently arises as an issue that the people cannot understand and do not accept. I propose that for the sake of a few pounds a drink, for example, that this Parliament could cease subsidising your subsistence and remove, at a stroke, an issue that causes a significant degree of resentment in the country at large.”

“But sir, selling prices in the House of Commons bars are kept broadly ....” Catering man began again before being interrupted.

“Dearest Ben.”

It was the PM.

“You are of course absolutely right. It is an issue that causes our people grievance and they don’t understand why the bars and restaurants in the House should be subsidised. And why should they? But my learned friend is also correct. We are not subsidised. Is it very much different to any staff cafeteria in any part of the country? Is it really unacceptable to offer our hard working MPs, who do so much for their constituents, some small gesture of an employee benefit?

“Are our MPs not entitled to what every other employee in the land is entitled to? For they too are merely employees, employees of the people and in order for them to be available to the House, to do their duty at whatever time the machinations of our great democracy demand, it is important that they are kept onsite. We can’t afford to have MPs dragged away from the important duties of government looking for some hard-earned refreshment.

“It is vital they are here in the House and surely you cannot expect them to be charged open market London prices? As MP’s salaries are paid out of the public purse, for MPs to be forced to pay the inflated prices of London would be a form of theft from the public purse, from the hands of the people.

“So you see Ben, we are actually saving the public money by being vigilant about the prices charged within the House and doing everything we can to ensure that we keep prices down and as much money as possible is used in the service of the public.

“As the People’s Politician I believe it is your duty, if I may be so bold as to suggest what that is, to go back to the people and ensure that they understand this and understand that far from the bars and restaurants being subsidised by taxpayers, they are in fact saving the taxpayer money.”

The PM, satisfied that he had explained the situation to Ben, sat back down with a satisfied sigh.

“Prime Minister,” Ben began. But he stopped. I watched him from the side of the room. He looked at the bank of pink, fleshy faces opposite him, turned to survey a whole room of them staring at him and then back at the PM who looked benevolently. Ben looked baffled. His shoulders dropped: “Of course Prime Minister.”

“Thank you Ben. And can I just say, and I am sure the House will join me in this sentiment, that you are a superb People’s Politician and you are managing the not insignificant difficulties of politics admirably. I am sure you will manage this message to the people with the same level of excellence and good judgement you have shown to date.”

“Yes Prime Minister, thank you.”

He turned to leave eventually joining me at the door of the House. The politicians glibly moved on to other matters. It wasn’t the first time Ben had been gently rebuffed and rebuked in this manner but this one seemed to knock the desire and fight out of him.

He looked weird when we got outside. He was never a man who had been in possession of a lot of colour but now he looked positively grey. Downcast. I suspect that this was the point at which he understood he could not work with these people, that he had misunderstood their true nature and intentions. I suspect that it was at this point that he knew he had to go. As we parted that afternoon, he left me with a simple “sorry”.

He held on for another five months but the enthusiasm for the role had vanished. He knew he could have no real impact, had lost the faith of the electorate he so desperately wanted to represent effectively and had really lost all heart, not just in the role but in general. In total he lasted nine months and that was the reign of the second People’s Politician at an end. No newspaper assaults this time. Just sad, gentle defeat in the face of the political cabal. Ben resigned citing health concerns and he quietly slipped back into accounting obscurity with the PM’s heartfelt endorsements of Ben’s tenure ringing in his ears.

If that was sad, the third and final People’s Politician before Seth was heartbreaking. Marjory was her name and she was a retired school dinner lady in the classic mould – hearty, warm, large, robust but equipped with a tongue sharpened by years of keeping the nation’s spawn in check.

The treatment meted out to Marjory by the politicians was nothing short of disgraceful and it was probably my lowest point in the whole project for in their actions, the politicians brazenly revealed their utter contempt for and lack of understanding of the populace. They revealed the strange separateness they possessed which had been kept hidden behind the plastic smiles and plasticine concern for generations.

Looking back I think they treated Marjory with such cavalier cruelty and indifference because they believed that they were truly untouchable, that they had everything within their control. Although the price paid by Marjory was an extreme one, I think she acted as a martyr of sorts. Her example prepared the ground and created the public sentiment for Seth to take the stage and finally eradicate the politicians. In engineering Marjory’s destruction, the politicians were in fact preparing the ground for their own demise.


Chapter 5



Rate this story.

Copyright is reserved by the author. Please do not reproduce any part of this article without consent.


© Winamop 2014