Marjory under fire
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When the Traffic Lights Stopped by Martin Friel


Chapter 6


Facing down the PM in Parliament that day had two results – firstly the politicians knew they had to be wary of Marjory and secondly, the knives were out. They were being caressed in pockets and secreted behind backs but they were definitely out.

There was no way that they, the elected representatives of the people, were going to be told what to do or how to act by a dinner lady. Hers was a toy role, built by the state to entertain the people. Theirs was the real role, the one that ran the state, kept the country safe, children off the street and put food in mouths.

Politicians are a patient lot in many ways and for the first seven months of her tenure, they gave Marjory the room to develop her ideas. They allowed her little initiatives such as tax rebates for special needs teachers and the ban on sale of sweets and soft drinks on school premises to go through. These were harmless enough and could be used to show the government had a true and deep concern about “the things that matter to the people”.

With these victories, Marjory’s confidence grew and she became more certain than ever that she had what it took to not only make a success of the role but more importantly, she believed she had the measure of the politicians.

She didn’t like their haughty attitude, their sly slithering around the issues, the silky tongue of the PM and the patronising, paternalistic tone they used when addressing her or the public.

She felt she knew what they were about, what their motivations really were. As she spent more and more time in Westminster, she could see that what was intended to be the venue where the elected representatives had brought the views of constituents to be considered and implemented by the state, had become a country club for a self-appointed elite.

They looked and acted like an entirely new class of people, separate from the population at large. As far as she could tell, the politicians did very little that actually mattered and spent most of their time justifying their jobs and dreaming up new ways to make them appear engaged with and representative of the people.

In part she was surprised by this but equally, it made her angry. She felt she and people like her had been taken for fools and she was right. They had and with that came a feeling of impotency. But she knew she was in a privileged position and had the opportunity to try to make changes that mattered, to challenge the complacency of this elected elite and to display the anger of the people at the ineptitude and entitlement of those who were supposed to represent them.

And she saw the perfect occasion to communicate this outrage when one of the national papers broke a story revealing that a great many politicians had been fiddling their expenses. In other words, they had been robbing the electorate.

In common with most of the nationals, The Daily Post had not uncovered the scandal through journalistic endeavour but had been leaked the expenses submissions of every MP in the land. There were many obvious sources of that leak but it has never been definitively proven from where it originated. In common with most big scandals, it started with the naming of a couple of ministers who were duly thrown to the wolves in a bid to protect the wider family – it was, of course, the doings of a few bad apples and what walk of life doesn’t have a few of them?

But as the days passed with more and more MP’s financial transgressions being revealed, it soon became clear that rather than a few bad apples, the manipulation of expenses was endemic and as the press gleefully pointed out, revealed the rotten core of our political structures.

What started as a trickle of individual revelations of fraud, soon became a flood. The full list is too extensive to recount here but to give you an idea of what the politicians had been up to.

· Malcolm Tugeridge, MP for Aldershot – several claims came under scrutiny including plastic surgery for his wife to correct a drooping left eyelid, a kitchen refit for both his constituency home and his London flat and the purchase of 18 Saville Row suits for his Parliamentary attendances

· Tristram Taylor, MP for Bexhill and Battle – was found to have claimed several family holidays (all of which exceeded £20,000 in cost) on expenses under the guise of research trips to inform his role as Minister of Social Housing

· Elizabeth Earnshaw, MP for Somerton and Frome – claimed for two ‘executive canine villas’ complete with ‘automated post-faecal discharge cleanser’

· Roger Whitstable, MP for Wantage – managed to claim for regular appointments with prostitutes, male and female. He was subsequently charged with committing acts of paedophilia but received only a conditional discharge

There were many, many more examples (85% of members of the House were found to have committed expenses fraud of some form or another) but the above gives you a flavour of not only the range of fraud that was perpetrated but the audacity of some of the claims.

And as the accusations were made and the politicians ducked from the onslaught of the press and the public, Marjory, as disgusted at their behaviour as the rest of the country, felt it was her duty to hold the politicians to account, to atone for their behaviour and to accept that it was, at best, utterly disgusting and inexcusable.

Her next session in the Commons fell two and a half weeks after the scandal broke and she felt good about this one. Very good.


“How dare you address the House in this manner?!! Just who on earth do you think you are? A dinner lady, talking to us, the elected representatives of this Kingdom, in such a manner. Shame on us? Shame on you I say!”

“Order, order!” shouted the Speaker of the House as yelps, shouting, foaming and swearing swept through the building, up the rows of seats, off the back wall and down again to where Marjory stood, resolute and, it appeared, utterly calm. Around her was a sweeping mass of arms, gesticulations and brandished fists. Among the chaos, thin, willowy pieces of paper floated and danced around, oblivious to their surroundings, gently settling here and there ultimately trampled under the furious feet.

Marjory had just told the politicians what she thought of the expenses scandal and those that had perpetrated it. She had described them as craven and morally repugnant; as having taken the entire electorate for a ride; as having undermined the very basis of democracy in the country; and finally, implored them to recognise that they were not worthy of the people who had placed them in their roles of extreme privilege.

“Order, order! I demand order in the House,” the speaker shouted above the din. He smashed his gavel furiously on the wood in an attempt to be heard. It was not until the Prime Minister himself rose that calm started to work its way into proceedings.

As he rose, calls for Marjory to be removed could be heard among shouts of “the affront of that woman” and other more extreme demands for her to be “strung up like the mangy old dog she is”.

“Come now, come,” soothed the PM. “ We are all here together for the greater good and petty name calling and some of the more extreme absurdities we have heard here today have no place in our great democracy.”

He rose to his full height, placed both hands on the lectern and faced Marjory across the room.

“Marjory. May I begin by apologising for some of the more extreme language you may have heard from the honourable members of the house but as you can see, emotions are running high and tempers are keeping pace with them.

“That however, is no excuse and I ask you to accept my apologies on behalf of my esteemed colleagues. You are simply doing your job Marjory in communicating to us how the electorate feel and I commend you for your bravery and honesty in doing so today.”

Marjory, standing firm in her defensive element, simply held the PM’s gaze, her eyes encouraging him to continue, communicating that she had not and would not back down in the face of the PM’s flattery.

“One of the defining characteristics of the people of this nation is honesty. We are a forthright, tell it as it is, kind of people and we are admired across the globe for this,” continued the PM, head down.

“But what we are not known for,” he said, raising his head to meet Marjory’s eyes, “is rudeness. That is the preserve of our friends on the Continent!”

This secured a small laugh from the House, the humour only slightly salving the still fresh wounds inflicted by Marjory’s words.

“And Marjory, as much as I admire the guts you have shown today, that British fighting spirit, I must confess that I think in making your comments to and about the members of this House, you have overstepped the mark.”

“I have overstepped the mark?!! I have? It is you and your cohorts that have been fleecing the people you claim to love so much. I’ve not taken a single penny beyond my salary for this job which is a damn sight more than can be said for the lot of you,” she replied sweeping her hand across the room.

“Marjory, Marjory dearest ... ” started the PM.

“Don’t refer to me as dearest,” she retorted, with the emphasis firmly on the DON’T.

“My apologies, Marjory, plain old Marjory,” the PM began. “The process we are going through just now, in reforming the expenses system and removing the areas of doubt and replacing them with a much more robust system, one that is easier to understand and stay within the rules of, is what we are discussing here.

“It is not, if I may say so, your privilege to comment upon the morality or otherwise of the members of this House. That is for us as members to decide. Nobody else.”

“I beg your pardon?” Marjory was incredulous at this last statement and the words hardly made it out of her mouth. “Am I right in thinking that you are saying you lot are not to be judged by the people but by yourselves? Is that what you are actually saying to me?”

“Yes, Marjory, it is. That is why we have this House, these representatives. If everyone in the land had an equal voice and an equal say, all sense would be drowned out of discussion. Nothing would get done. That is why we are here, serving the people and ensuring that in all the noise, we can distil some sense, guide this great nation on to even greater achievements.

“It wouldn’t make sense for us to be judged by ordinary people. We, like anyone else in the country, should be judged by our peers. Which is why I have announced this wide ranging review into the expenses structure to make sure that the mistakes that our friends in the press have recently highlighted, can’t happen again.

“As much as anyone else we want to make sure that mistakes don’t happen and that the system is fair and proportionate and that members are properly reimbursed for their expenses. That is only fair and right and I’m sure you would not disagree with that would you Marjory? Would you?”

“Look, I understand what my role is, I’m not stupid. I am here to make you lot look good, like you are listening to the people,” Marjory began, shifting on her feet slightly.

“And I accepted that and continue to do so but what I will NOT accept is you taking the electorate, my friends and neighbours, everyone who lives in the UK, for mugs. What you describe as mistakes are very clear examples of brazen theft and total dishonesty and for you to attempt to dress them up as ‘mistakes’ is taking the dishonesty to a whole new level!”

Cries of “shame”, “sit down woman”, “put her back in her box!” rolled down from the galleries.

The PM, without looking behind him, raised his right hand to still the noise. The House responded obediently.

“Now Marjory, DEAREST. I, and the rest of this House, have been nothing but accommodating, welcoming and supportive since you started. We have gone out of our way to help you better navigate your way through the political pathways of power and we have listened intently to the words that you bring back from your visits to the regions.

“But I, and I believe I speak for the House when I say this, will not stand for your open but baseless accusations which openly contest our collective integrity. Your role is very important Marjory, I of course accept that, but you must understand the limits of that role.

“It is not for you to pre-empt the investigation that we have instigated and it is not for you throw around accusations of dishonesty without a shred of evidence. I must reluctantly admonish you for your behaviour. It is frankly unacceptable and will not be tolerated in THIS HOUSE!”

Again the galleries erupted with cries of “hear hear” and “sit down woman”. Marjory remained steadfast, she didn’t move a muscle this time.

“Admonish me all you will Prime Minister but all I am is a conduit to the country, that place you call the regions, where power does, or if truth be told, should lie. All I am doing is telling you what the people think so if you admonish me, you admonish the people and that, if I can be so bold to say, is a dangerous place for any politician to find themselves.”

“Listen to this! Now she IS the people” came a cry from the increasingly raucous galleries. “She’s heading for a dictatorship at this rate” shouted another among the increasing crescendo of bile pouring down on Marjory.

Once again the PM raised his right hand without breaking eye contact with Marjory. Once again, the House fell silent.

“I do not agree with some of language that is being used here but I must agree with the sentiment Marjory. You have been appointed by a gameshow. We have been elected by the people. Your remit is clear – you are to go to the people and come back to us with your report. That is it. No more than that. You are NOT and never will BE the people.

“That is impossible. The closest to that is the collective you see here today. They are the elected representatives of the people and they speak for the people. NOT you! I hope I have made myself clear on this matter,” the PM barked and with a flourish and to great applause, once more took his seat. Again, he held Marjory’s eye as he did so. Back slaps all round for the PM.

Marjory attempted to reply but was cut off by the Speaker: “Time ladies and gentlemen. The day’s proceedings are at an end. Thankyou all for your contributions to what has been a rather lively debate! Marjory, you may now leave the House until your next scheduled appearance which I believe is one month from now.”

“What? That’s it? But ...” Marjory started before once again being interrupted by the Speaker.

“The proceedings for today are at an end,” he repeated as the House quickly emptied and the PM was surrounded by well-wishers delivering their sycophantic plaudits. As the House emptied Marjory stood alone. I watched her from the entrance of the chamber. She was swaying slightly, head bowed. I toyed with the idea of approaching her. To do what? Console her? Let her know she was not alone? I could have done but instead I avoided her, left her thinking that she faced an insurmountable task – to find the humanity in the politicians. To bring them back to their true purpose. I left her alone, completely alone and it was not until I saw the newspaper headlines a week later that I understood just how alone she really was at that moment.

And equally it was not until those same headlines that I understood how far this Mafia would go to protect their interests. They had been challenged openly and on their own turf and Marjory would pay dearly for that challenge.


Chapter 7



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