Vignette Sunday: Cliche - Parliamentary Procedure

By Liam Connell



On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write vignettes on a specific theme (changed monthly).


The sixth theme was "Cliche"


Parliamentary Procedure

Or

Agent Lavender Dies A Dream: What If Gordon Banks Had Fought And Been Right On The Campaign Trail?

Chapter Thirteen

“As 1974 began, it felt like optimism was beginning to return to Britain. It had been a dispiriting few years on the international stage, what with the Portuguese Revolution beginning with great optimism before descending into a far left hell hole, the Spanish Revolution beginning with great optimism before descending into a far right counterrevolutionary hell hole, the mass purges of anyone in China whose name a person in the twenty first century west could be expected to recognise, and the mass cannibalism in Washington.

Still, it was generally held that the Troubles in Northern Island were settling down.”

Edward Tinsdale Anderson, Ominous and Ironic Epitaphs: A Beginner’s Guide (York, 2004) [1]

“Dear Diary, Which I, Alan Clark, Keep:

By gollywog, I’m an MP now! I expect it will be useful to regularly tell you, my diary, about what I am thinking. I have considered restraining my style in case I should ever publish you as a self-serving move to burnish my reputation and my finances, but I have decided that the casual sexism, racism and naked self-regard makes me a Character With A Distinct Voice. That’s important if you want to be noticed by the people telling this story, by which I mean parliamentary sketch writers and no one else. Well, I’m a humble backbencher and I expect that’s how I’ll remain for many years, unless something drastic happens.

XX,

Alan”

Alan Clark, The Secret Diaries of Alan Clark Aged Forty Four And ½ [2]

A New Beginning?

On February 18th, 1974, Lord Tony Crossbenn made sure to arrive at Parliament early. It wasn’t as if the State Opening of Parliament would be exciting, he foreshadowed, but with the building so packed it was good to be organised.

He always felt a surge of patriotic pride on days like this, as MPs from all parties arrived in London Black Cabs, London Double Decker Buses and London Underground Tube Carriages to all take part in the unassailable institution that was British Democracy. However, as a parliamentarian on the Right, or possibly Left of his party, it saddened him that so many of the regional MPs had to make their way to the capital on the gutted remnants of a once great rail system left by Dr Beeching, and he would now take a moment for his inner monologue to describe in great detail what the ideal transport network of the midlands should be. [3]

He sat at his desk puffing contentedly on his historically accurate smoking implement, before the bell rang that summoned him to the chamber. It’s a bell, right? It’s probably a bell.

Crossbenn made his way out of the office and met an old rival on the stairs.

‘Hello Tony,’ said Enoch Powell.

‘Hello Enoch,’ said Crossbenn. [4]

It occurred to him, not for the first time, that Enoch was actually a very complex figure with a brilliant intellect. It had come as a great surprise to learn that before Partition, Enoch’s dearest ambition had been to go to India and become Gandhi. It was hard to believe that the genial scholar who could be found at the Red Lion necking pints of gin with George Brown had ever said anything racist, but people were complicated. Really, he was more of a tragic figure than anything else.

‘Terrible weather we’re having,’ said Crossbenn Englishly. ‘It’s an awful black sky.’

‘Yes,’ said Enoch, ‘we should deport it!’ [5]

Crossbenn winced. ‘Going to the chamber?’

‘No,’ replied Enoch. ‘I’ve decided not to go for some reason even though it would be the one day of the session I’d normally never miss. No, I’m not going to be in the chamber for the Queen’s speech.’

‘Really,’ asked Crossbenn. ‘Just you?’

‘Yes. Oh, and that new boy Clark. And Lord Mountbatten. And the entire membership of the Monday Club. And Margaret Thatcher. We’re all going to have a cup of tea with Oswald Moseley and Cecil King. They have something they want to talk about.’

‘Well,’ said Crossbenn, ‘you’ll be missing out!’

Lord Crossbenn made his way into the House of Commons. It was beginning to fill up already. There was Heath, smiling ambiguously at a parliamentary messenger boy. There were the liberals, full of confidence after a new election and clustering around their leader, Hugh Grant. There was a redheaded man in a tatty mackintosh wiring the benches with plastic explosive.

And there was the new Prime Minister, puffing away on his pipe!

‘Harold- let me congratulate you again,’ said Crossbenn.

‘Zdravstvujtye, Comrade. We shall do glorious things for the motherland this year.’

‘Motherland?’ asked Crossbenn. ‘That’s an unusual way to describe Britain.’

There was a long pause.

‘Yes,’ said Wilson. ‘yes it would be. Carry on.’

Crossbenn shrugged and sat on the front bench. His colleagues, rivals, and occasionally friends Roy Healey and Denis Hattersley were already in their seats.

‘Hello, Tony’ said Hattersley. ‘Would you care to sign this joint statement condemning anti-Semitism in the Labour party?’

‘Of course,’ said Crossbenn. ‘That’s something the entire caucus and membership can easily unite against.’[6]

‘Also,’ said Healey, ‘since we may have a Referendum on being part of Europe next year we should probably make some plans for what to do if we lose it.’

Crossbenn and Hattersley laughed. ‘As if that’s a good use of resources!’ [7]

Everything was almost ready for the Queen’s State of the Union speech. The upper galleries of the Lords were especially packed this year, with the entire royal family except Princes Philip and Andrew, all the major journalists and editors from any centrist and left-wing press, and the senior production staff of Doctor Who.

Crossbenn shifted in his seat as the man in the mackintosh kneeled to fix some plastic explosives to the bottom of the bench. There was something off about the fellow, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He bore a resemblance to the infamous terrorist Micky O’Patrick from the Fenian Liberation Army, but MI5 agent Peter Wright had assured the incoming government that the bombing campaign in London was over.

‘Why the explosives?’

The redheaded man froze.

‘It’s… for storage. Yes. Because the building is so old and in need of refurbishment, there’s no safe place to keep the blasting charges we use for the… rats. So we’re putting them under the benches. I’ve already wired the Lords.’

Well, it seemed reasonable enough.

A silence fell on the chamber, as Black Rod approached to make his summons. The maintenance man slipped out past him, sprinting hurriedly to get to his next job. Crossbenn smiled. Unless something went wrong, this would be a fine year for Britain.

NEXT CHAPTER: SOMETHING GOES WRONG

Featuring: Barbara Castle and a young Harriet Harman devote all their energies not to feminism or the Labour movement but to apologias for mass murder! There's a cameo from a surprising young KGB agent whose identity can't be guessed, called Vladimir Putin! The Trade Union movement doesn't do anything! And things- get- worse!

[1] At this point, the author will note that the wording has barely changed from an obscure OTL textbook published at the University of Slough in 1986.

[2] In OTL, Alan Clark was a real person who really kept a diary.

[3] KIDS! It’s true that for an aspiring timeline writer there’s no substitute for the pride and sexual excitement of writing three thousand words on how British Rail infrastructure has been affected by your story. But be careful- once you include trains, the rest of your story may seem dull by comparison and your thread will be full of complaints that you’re spending too much time on character, plot and politics. Remember- don’t let trains derail your timeline!

[4] It might challenge people’s preconceptions, but in OTL many Labour MPs said hello to Enoch Powell.

[5] A. Tragic. Figure.

[6] KIDS! A good way to keep a timeline topical is to have the characters make thinly disguised references to today’s politics. This shows that not only have you done historical research, you’re socially current. It can be done quite subtly.

[7] See?


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