The Twelfth Man: Westminster satire

By Matthew Richardson

What a week. What an earth-crashing, globe-shaking, universe-upending series of days we have had. Newspapers have folded, tycoons have had cause to summon the smelling salts and the media has been live-blogging like never before.

A democracy at work, of course. But I have a personal worry about all this. Every minute the camera lens is focused on News Corp, the BSkyB deal and anyone called Murdoch, the less time our nation spends rueing another equally scurrilous and knavish boxful of events that have been cracking apart before our very eyes.

No I’m not talking about the distressing water-shortage in the horn of Africa, the ongoing blasts and counter-blasts in Libya, the troubles of Southern Cross or indeed the extremely pointy spike in gas prices. Rather another media story: the decline of the Scrumpledom Scribbler.

It sounds harmless enough at first blush, I dare say. A story about the steady superannuation of a local journal; the, at turns, comic, tragic, trenchant and lyric organ that allowed the upstanding residents of my great constituency to brandish their fountain-pens (endearingly analogue, still) and let their minds take them where it might.

The pages have been home to some gems of the glitziest sort during its forty-year tenure on the local newsstands. Ditties, op-eds, an early poem by the great goatee of the ‘Scrumpledom Movement’, Bernard Shrill, and perhaps closest to my heart, a fiery, earnest call to the ballot box by a eager parliamentary candidate – one Mr Titus Stitch.

How did it end, you ask? A story all too familiar across our benighted land. Local businesses found their advertising budgets buffeted by the chill winds of recession. No fisticuffs with the local authorities, no bulldozing of the privacy of residents, no snaky wheeler-dealing or truffling about in crevices and corners where they didn’t belong. And, with an editor approaching his eighty-first birthday, and singularly unable to pick an iPod, iPad or Kindle out of a line-up, the costs of printing began putting the magazine into the red. The only sort of red, I might add, this commendably grey-top publication ever knew.

Because this was a magazine with standards. It was not for grubby exposes and other such assorted relations, rather for the best and the most winsome that one’s local community could produce. They didn’t accept any old poetic doggerel, rather only those written in strict forms, the Spenserian sonnet being the editor’s poetic form of choice. Political opinion pieces were banned from being the old mud-slinging fare of the national press. There was tact, a scrupulous use of titles (Mr/Mrs/General etc.) and a general curtseying politeness to the whole thing that made the Commons look like the veritable bear-pit that it often is.

So, may I implore you to raise a glass to the Scrumpledom Scribbler? It might not have the gaudy fizz of other stories straddling the headlines at the moment. But it is, in the vocabulary of the hour, a moment in our history. All part of the chronicles of local opinion-mongering, of debate and journalistic delight quite apart from the agendas of Westminster and London. Most importantly (on the right side of history as always) it helped me cadge those last few votes that allowed me the privilege of adding the letters MP to my business cards.

N.B. Not, I hasten to add, that I am in anyway too close to the press. Never mind, forget about raising a glass. A meaningful sigh will do the job admirably, I think.

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