The Twelfth Man: Westminster satire

By Matthew Richardson

This week many a constituent will have caught me with my nose in a book, sniffing the pages of the latest political biography to have slapped the shelves in no uncertain manner. I am, as you are no doubt aware, talking of the rather snappily christened tome, Ed. To put it bluntly, it has made me think. Dame Curiosity has begotten herself off the divan and taken a turn around the room.

Truth to tell, I often have cause to wonder about the exact mental state of my future biographer. A tad indulgent, you might carp, but forgive a man in my position if he keeps a rather dreamy half-glance on posterity from time to time. Would I want a Lord Jenkins-style politico, as per Sir Winston, or perhaps a jauntily seasoned journo, a pleasure currently enjoyed by Baroness Thatcher? A question to steam-dry the synapses, I assure you.

No, my future biographer (or, let’s not be coyly singular, biographers) takes form in my mind as a composite being: a spoonful of tweed with a stirring of bracing practicality. A former civil servant, say, who has chosen to hibernate in an Oxbridge college and fatten himself at high table.

An older gentleman, rather than the uppity tykes usually commandeering such terrain, who will understand the late bloomer, the Churchillian underdog who gets his political bite along with his free bus pass. Too much is focused on the tornado career, the wet-behind-the-ears freshman who blasts his way into high office. Your wily veteran is fatally ignored in favour of the up-and-comer.

But what will fill the biographer’s workbench, you cry? Will it be the sporty school career and that exhibition (lacrosse) to Ollington College; or, perhaps, the prestige and gravitas brought to the position of President of the Conservative Club at the (still) dispiritingly unknown higher education establishment, MAD Met. (Mulberry Art and Design Metropolitan furnishing that rather unfortunate acronym)?

And, yes, how about the stint as ‘mature’ SPAD to the Assistant Minister for Unity in the Major years; the upward crawl through the party ranks and that triumphant snatching of the very unsafe seat of Scrumpledom after the boundary changes in 1997? STITCH DEFIES PROBABILITY, read the headlines, for once putting a positive spin on such a claim?

I would like to suggest not. For many at my age – with the wisdom of a fifty-nine year old but the gaspingly agile tone, in others’ words, of an early Clint Eastwood – the best would be gone. Thankfully, I have never been enslaved to the logic of trends or flimsy social hearsay. I’ve bided my time, squirreled away the experience and will soon be ready to defy probability once more.

The ‘Saga Obama’ will be the headline (a rhythmic something, yes?) as I stage that last minute bid for the leadership, the rollercoaster memoir, the whirlwind campaign…but stop it, I don’t want to spoil the whole thing for you. You’ll just have to wait and watch as the next few years unfold. And if you want to read about it? Well, the biography will tell all. Just once I locate someone to write the wretched thing, of course.


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