The Twelfth Man: Westminster satire

By Matthew Richardson

They say we all have hidden talents, with some just a bit more tucked away than others. But in perilous times, reservoirs of inner pluck emerge, as they have done this week. Yours truly has had a Damascene experience. Pull up a chair and let me wriggle into some story-telling trousers.

As the airwaves will no doubt have informed you, last week the public sector had something of a collective strop. They banged their fists, shouted, stormed around the house, slammed doors and generally kicked the legs of the negotiating table. But none more so than in the classroom. Put simply, there was a teaching crisis. The brainboxes of tomorrow were in danger of having their right to learning infringed. Schools were about to be shut, parents annoyed, and your stand-up local politico left crimson-faced and sheepish with embarrassment.

In which vain, the crisis call came at eight o’ clock on the night before. One of my local supporters regaled me with threats of a potential bust up between parents and striking teachers the next day, angry catfights in front of the school gates as those working in the private sector turned on their public sector kin. ‘We can’t let Scrumpledom High close,’ she intoned. ‘We need a plan, and you’re our man!’

Never one to ignore the fateful intonations of a line or two of faultless iambic tetrameter, I realized what she was saying. Put your boots on and get the gumption out of the garage. Show them the sort of intellect and learning it takes to cut it in the Westminster hothouse. Save the day and secure the parent vote while your at it…pure politics. Think of that parliamentary majority inching up into double figures.

It wasn’t easy slipping into Mr Chips mode, of course. The gown and mortar-board took a bit of locating in the wardrobe, and that first assembly was something of a disaster. Only the foghorn bark of the town crier quieted the hall to something resembling calm. First period (History) only started working once I began retelling in detail the grisly execution methods of the Tudors, while it took my special one-man version of the stabbing scene in Julius Caesar (morphing into Brutus, Cassius, Mark Anthony and Caesar as the drama demanded) to get them all listening in lesson two (English). And the less said about period three (Maths), a regrettable confusion about the amount of change from £2.20 when shelling out £1.50, the better.

But it was in period four (Politics & Current Affairs) that I began to wow them. Every anecdote from opposition, every smirking one-liner from the Hansard archive, the whole shebang. I was wittier than Hague, more fleet of foot than Churchill, more imperiously arch than Lady Thatcher at her headteacherly best. I railed against the prevarications of the unions, tub-thumped and did my greatest Lloyd George impersonation. I was hollered, cheered, clapped and whistled. By the end it was more like a meeting of the Young Conservatives than the early-afternoon at the local secondary school.

More than that, though, I installed some much-needed political prejudice into the burgeoning conscience of each. Before long they were booing Foot and his donkey-jacket, Kinnock and his beach-bottom and Callaghan and his hymning to the party conference like seasoned cabinet veterans. And they left reciting the names of Macmillan, Douglas-Hume and Baldwin with an admiration even the great leaders themselves might have found a tad hyperbolic. Schools kept open and a couple of hundred votes secured. The canvassing budget 2015 can rest easy for the moment.

But I mustn’t dawdle. That call from the PM’s office should be bothering the phone lines any minute now…


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