Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter and Beyond

Still the phoney campaign. The election in all but name. The radio TV and news channels talk of nothing else political. Presumably Blair did it this way so that he could use the advantage of being the government to promote his policies without having to worry about the Representation of the People Act. The minute the real election is announced (Monday 4th) the RP act swings into action and in each constituency you have to mention every person who is standing every time you talk to one of the candidates. It's a nightmare for journalists as the parties take it very seriously and have people measuring every news bulletin and newspaper coulumn.

BBM and I came to the constituency in time for Easter and we have been here ever since. A bit of a waste of time really, because althought everyone at Westminster knows Blair will announce the election on Monday and it will happen on May 5th, real people don't seem to have picked this up, and wouldn't really care if they had. So we have to put up with an endless barrage of abuse "What's he doing here then?" "Hullo love are ya doing a bit of slumming?" when BBM and I go out stuffing leaflets through doors in unloved areas of the constituency.

Sometimes it feels as if we are on holiday in a strange country where we don't speak the language. At Westminster you get so used to being a village with a village's preoccupations, but I think it is probably impossible to move for a month into someone else's village and pick up theirs.

We read all the papers hungrily every day. It's the only way of finding out what your mates are up to. The Howard Flight affair has interesting repercussions. Flight is known and liked by everybody at Westminster and the general feeling is that Michael Howard overreacted by sacking him completely. There should have been some kind of face saving compromise.

BBM has a moment of nerves when he works out that any of the parties can sack whoever they like in the run up to election day and replace them with an apparatchick/chap. I think he has taken a vow of silence to keep out of trouble until the nominations are firmly in the bag in the town hall.

The relationship between BBM and Agent M amazes me. M is a teacher who stands no nonsense in the real world, and has obviously decided that she will treat BBM like a badly behaved 7th year student. She rings him every night to hurl abuse down the phone. When we were in London and he had other things to do he sort of ignored her, but now that he's in the constituency he has started to shout right back. They are beginning to sound like a middle aged married couple in traing for marriage guidance. I play the part of the mistress in all this. He comes to me to moan about her. Asks daft questions like " do you think M lacks confidence? Why else would she be so abusive?"

I gently suggest in a mistressy sort of way that BBM is not the world's easiest person to deal with (only a genuis like me knows how to handle you dear) but he just mumbles and starts writing yet another leaflet "Thinking of voting Liberal Democrat? Good on you! Charles Kennedy is a good chap" has he finally flipped his lid?

The court have sent back my driving license. The paper sheet has NOT BANNED FROM DRIVING BECAUSE OF EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP-BUT CONVICTED handwritten across it. Are they mad. Do they seriously think I will carry that round with me. Unfortunately I was stewing some rhubarb when I opened the envelope and it went everywhere (The rhubarb that is) I was able to wipe it off the plastic card completely, but the paper sheet is a mess. I have dried it out on the radiator, but you can't read it anymore, well not the handwritten bits.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Day of Judgement

The day of judgement in the Magistrates Court duly arrived. Our son drove over from Birmingham to support me.

BBM having promised to be in attendance, was of course frantically busy with constituency affairs. 'Frantically busy' means zapping like a demented bumblebee from one party worker to the next. Each is issued with personalised instructions on how to complete the "Election Address" which is still floating in the ether between and staff on the ground. Everybody now knows the password for the website. Everybody has a go at altering it in an attempt to please BBM. The results are disastrous. "Labour has taken one million children out of poverty.."begins one paragraph under a screaming headline "Labour has cut overall crime by 30 per cent" Everyone is blaming everyone else.

Made miserable by all this, we left for court much too early. I was terrified that we might get caught up in a jam on the motorway. The court papers promised possible imprisonment if I didn't show up, and on time.

It turned out to be a concrete monstrosity of a building in the town centre. A disabled citizen in a motorized tricycle, with a lit cigarette leaking from the side of his mouth was doing high speed figures of eight in the foyer. The female security guard, somewhat frightened by this aggressive performance, kept lifting security barriers and waving him towards the outside world. He kept missing the turnoff because of his speed, and setting off on yet another circuit. Eventually he shot past us out the front door.

I went off to the toilet and she asked my son what we were doing there. He explained about my speeding charge and told her he had come to support me. "Well, that's a surprise" she said "It's usually the other way round."

The ladies toilet was something else. Four stalls, four wash basins in gleaming stainless steel and all bathed in the most wonderful blue light. I had never seen anything like it in my life before and wondered if it was a special form of soothing lighting to calm people down before their court appearance. My heart was beating very fast so I stood in front of the miror and tried a few slow calming breaths.

When I got outside I asked the security guard about the blue lighting. Was it to relax the defendants I asked nervously? She looked at me as if I was bonkers as well as completely out of touch with the real world.

"Nah, it's ta stop yer shootin up in there, of course. It stops ya seein your veins. Go back in and take a look." I did, and she was right.

My name was on a long list for the afternoon session. I had visions of hours spent listening to other people's petty crimes and misdemeanours, but no one else except me turned up for court nine. An usher took my details and asked me to fill in a form about my financial circumstances. Spouse occupation and salary were amongst the first few questions, so I duly filled in BBM's name and the parliamentary salary. Oh my god, did the parliamentary allowances count as part of the income? I hadn't the faintest idea, but I felt quite dizzy when I saw the next page. They wanted to know how much we paid for gas, electricity, mortgage etc. As quietly as I could I explained that I was married to an MP and that we lived in more than one place, well more than two places actually, soI actually get three gas bills and I was wondering.....she looked at me with amazement and said just to put down a sort of lump sum for income and we'd see what happened.

For the whole awful hour in court I felt I was in a television programme. A really cheap one with bad actors, weak casting and not much plot.

There were three magistrates in navy gowns from Whipples or Ede and Ravenscroft in a sort of top row across the back. I understand now why they are called "the bench". A ferocious young woman with tied back blonde hair and one of those black NEXT machinewashable trouser suits which are such a boon to us all, was in charge of proceedings. And then there was a lone bloke representing the other side. Tweed suit with waistcoat, shiny red polyester tie which did a good job of highlighting some angry red spots on his face. 80 percent bald. The kind of solid respectable law enforcing citizen whose role in life is to demolish opinionated noisy women like me.

Ferocious blonde read out the facts and announced that I was here to explain to the court that a driving ban would cause me severe hardship.

Severe hardship? Oh my God, now I understood whyI had been given the papers about my income. Were they only going to consider financial hardship? I was a gonner then.

I didn't need to remember my instructions to be humble. I felt terrible. My heart was beating so fast and so loudly I could hardly hear my own voice. I mumbled my apology to the court for my total wickedness in travelling at forty six miles and hour in a forty mile an hour zone. I launched into a diatribe about me being a great believer in public transport but needing the car to get me to the train to go to work and to play my part as wife to an MP driving BBM back and forth to the station.

They all listened politely to this, and Ferocious Blonde then asked me to step into the witness box and take the oath as Spotty wanted to cross examine me.

"You say you are a great believer in public transport" he sneered.
"If that's the case why can't you get the train all the way to work instead of driving to the main line station?"
Good lord, had he tried to catch a regional train lately?
"You can get a train all the way from your residence to London without having to come here" he demanded.
"Yes" I whispered.
"Then there's your husband "he said, encouraged by my total failure to counter his argument. "Can he drive?"
"Then he can drive himself if you are banned"
My god I had turned into a mouse.
His moment of triumph had arrived
"So if you are banned and lose your job he will be able to pay the bills?"

Well, that's it then. If BBM is left in charge of the utitility bills it will be approximately six weeks before total chaos reigns and they start cuutting us off for non payment. BBM doesn't understand that everything is computerised these days and forgetting is no excuse.

Suddenly realise where all this is leading. I'm going to lose my drivers license , my job and my marriage will be on the skids, if Spotty gets his way.

Somehow I begin a mumbled speech to the court about my long life of supporting myself and driving myself and working for myself and only relying on BBM for the er er more spiritual aspects of our long life together. Without my license I will experience severe hardship because....because.... There are other kinds of hardship than not being able to pay the gas bill!

Jesus did I really say that? I try hard not to think of all the poor bloody women out there who can't pay their gas bills, and realise what a phoney middleclass creep I am to put up an argument like that.

The magistates shuffle out to consider their verdict. They are gone for an unbelivably long time. Ferocious blonde goes out to join them. Spotty stares straight ahead. Ferocious Blonde comes back and says they need another ten minutes. I can't believe this. I can't believe that it is happening to me. I just keep running Twelve Angry Men on a projector in my head and wonder which magistrate is arguing for me against all the odds.

They come back.The Boss Man delivers a speech.

I am, he says, a very foolish woman, to go speeding round the countryside, when there is so much at stake. I must try to control myself in future. The Magistrates have decided,because my job obviously means a lot to me, and because I will probably lose contracts if I cannot drive to locations, not to ban me. ButI must realise that the excuses I have given will only work once and I must never never come back to court and try to use them again. Fined seven hundred and fifty pounds.

I shuffle out of court without looking at Spotty. I imagine he's furious. I head straight for the Ladies and in the cool blue light I manage to calm down a bit. I scrabble in the bottom of my bag and find a couple of Neurofen and swallow them without water.

My legs are still shaking as we walk back to the car. I ring BBM. When he answers I shout "I didn't lose my license" "Sorry" he says. "I'm in the middle of a meeting" and hangs up.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Falling in love with Tony again

Terrible week. The feel good factor from the holiday melted as the Whips got on the phone to BBM and asked him tenderly if he had enjoyed his break. Of course he said yes. Of course they said "Well, take another one this week!" They were desperate to get rid of as many potential rebels as possible. BBM always a difficult sod, insisted on floating round London for a couple of days looking like he might vote against the Government and then he gave in. We went back to the constituency to create what used to be called an Election Address and these days is a phoney newspaper called the Rose. You get on to a private web site and there it is all laid out for you on a pdf. Candidates insert the names of their constituencies and other local references. Eight photographs can be chosen and distributed throughout the piece. Photos have to be emailed in, copy uploaded. It's a new piece of kit, and someone has presumably conned the Labour party into paying thousands to be the first to use it. Of course it doesn't work properly. Actually it doesn't seem to work at all. Eventually I rang the help line where a bloke in a call center told me that they'd had to bring in dozens of people to sort out the problems. Not much luck so far. All photos for all Labour candidates were supposed to be in a couple of weeks ago, but because the machinery doesn't work and we all know MPs are hopeless with computers I predict an electoral disaster. Labour candidates sans literature posters and stickers. They may have to go back to megaphones to get their messages across.

Sunday morning I went off for the papers. BBM languishing in bed "worrying" he said!

Mail on Sunday reports mayhem during the all night session. Peterborough and Reading East are portrayed as sex godesses propositioned by a quiet bloke who seems to have been pissed. Well, he'd have to be pissed. Peterborough and Reading East are famous for getting the wrong end of the stick about everything. I once asked RE how P and her husband were getting on. Friendly chat like. Before you could say "thisisoneseatweareboundtolosethistimeround" P is on the phone leaving hysterical messages about how she's going to sue me. Five pages of handwritten abuse are hand delivered as back up. So I'm a bit sympathetic to this poor MP who might have been the worse for wear. Highlight of the fracas seems to have been the appearance of a whipclad only in tight white underwear to referee. Sadly it wasn't Hilary Armstrong.

Watched the PM on the telly. The Jonathan Dimbleby Programme. I thought he was lovely. Almost crying as he begged the women in the audience over and over again to trust him. He'd never lie to them. He'd never let them down. Just like that damp handed boy you rejected at college but convincing. Very convincing and made even more so by the great Dimbebore who kept interrupting and trying to ask insane questions of an intellectual nature which had nothing to do with the discussion. Blair was cool, but you could see he was irritated with Dimblebore. He kept turning away from him and back to the women. It must have been an Alistair Campblell masterstroke because it was the first time I have felt on the same side as Tony for about two years.

Only Saturday when I'd seen Michael and Sandra Howard with their lovely children and grandchildren I'd been wondering whether I should vote Tory just to teach Tone a lesson. But then I got worried. After all it's my old man that I have to vote for locally, and if I don't then the polling booth will probably explode or somethingand I'll be found lying naked outside a SureStart centre.

This is the week of my great court appearance. A letter has arrived from the court warning me that I have to turn up. I could be arrested and put in prison if I don't. Crikey! But I am allowed to say a few words about why I should not be banned. Everyone keeps warning me that I have got to be HUMBLE and apologise to the court and promise never to be naughty again if I want to keep my license for the election campaign. What an absolute disaster.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Monday March 7th 2005

We sneaked a week away. I thought we were very lucky when the Whips agreed to a pre-election break, but realised when we got back last night that the government had been in real trouble last week and the absence of BBM could only be good news as he was bound to have voted against house arrest for terrorists. Can you imagine house arrest working with terrorists? Are they supposed to sit at home all day plotting and knitting up gelegnite jumpers, rather than meeting their mates in Starbucks?

I am in deep trouble. I already had 6 points on my license. Three for doing forty six in a forty zone at six o'clock on a Sunday morning near Manchester and three for doing ditto at 5 am on the Finchley Road.

Then in one awful week I took BBM twice to the station for the London train. This involves travelling through the South Yorkshire Revenue Raising know the sort of thing 60/50/40/50/40/30 all in the space of 5 miles, and I got done twice! I sent in the money but they sent back one lot saying that I would be up to twelve points and liable for disqualification. Now I have to present myself at court and argue my case. Trouble is everyone knows the election is going to be on May 5th, and if the magistrate doesn't like me I will be banned and I won't be able to drive BBM around all the time and help out with canvassing, taking voters to the polls and all the other damned awful things I am supposed to help out with before polling day. Add that to the fact that news is bound to get out if I am banned and the constituents will think BBM is married to a criminal. And thats before I start worrying how the hell I will get to work.