Slipping The Escort
As a dedicated peer of the realm I am so dedicated to my work that I am prone to overlook my own concerns. Which is how I found myself in the Chief Whips' office in need of a favour.
"Ah, Lord Lord, good to see you. I hear you've taken an interest in the government's levelling up policy."
"Yes, Lord Beardsley. I'm told the levelling up fund is an absolutely lifeline to the underprivileged and destitute. Just last week Lord Cleavedon was granted £87,000 for restoring his driveway."
"An important investment for the underprivileged in their communities. Why, the restored driveway enables visitors from all walks of live to visit the estate on the one afternoon a year it is open to the public."
"I'm delighted to hear it. I have a project that might benefit from funding. My estate comes complete with a considerable art collection. Unfortunately due to the thousand and distractions that face a working Peer of the realm like myself, I have allowed the collection to become somewhat tardy. The restoration has been estimated at £120,000."
"The collection is valuable I take it?"
"Oh yes, and completely unique. I have no less than twelve Vermeers.
"A dozen Vermeers?"
"Yes, I've got Vermeers coming out me ears."
"Well I'm sure the fund managers can be persuaded of the importance of keeping the nation's artworks in full working order. You're still single aren't you Lord?"
"Yes, have managed to avoid getting shackled."
"Pity. Single men look bad to the electorate. There are some suitable ladies I know. I could set up a few meetings in Birmingham."
“Birmingham? Why in god’s name would I want to go dating in Birmingham?”
“I mean for the party conference.”
"Oh I never attend party conference. They're dreadful affairs, full of young wannabees trying to impress."
"Ah, I haven't made myself clear. The levelling up money is dependent on your spreading the word about the benefits of the fund. We would need you to talk about the benefit of the fund."
My parliamentary assistant Box was waiting for me outside the Whip's office.
"So much for your bright ideas, Box. You've lumbered me with a speaking tour of the city slums."
"Birmingham, Box. I'm to speak in support of the fund at party conference. What will I say if some wag asks how £120,000 to repair my fine art constitutes levelling up."
"You simply say that the paintings will be loaned out to public galleries, so that the common sort can enjoy your unique collection."
"I don't want my family heirlooms paraded in front of the lower orders Box. "what if they get their grubby paws all over my paintings, I'll have to go through the whole restoration process all over again.
"I'm sure it could be arranged so that the 'loan' period coincides with the restoration period. That way the government can claim the works are in the public domain, while you know they are safely under lock and key at the fine arts hospital."
"Excellent Box, I should never have doubted you."
If ever a city was in dire need of levelling up funds it was Birmingham. Luckily, of course, it won't see a penny of the money.
Box and I booked into a grotty hotel in a grotty corner of the city and made our way to the grotty conference centre. I was greeted near the entrance by the Chief Whip.
"Lord Lord, excellent to see you. "I bet you’re looking forward to tomorrow. I’ve got eight eligible women lined up for you. You'll be married by the end of the week.”
“You really shouldn’t have Lord Bellingham.”
“Oh, it’s my pleasure. I love to see my lost causes married off. Well, that’s to look forward to, today’s all work. I hope you've got your speech ready."
"Yes, I was a bit confused by the fringe schedule, I appear to be speaking in four places at once."
"Ah that's the joy of the fringe events, they're all in the same building. You only have to pop in, talk for a few minutes, then pop to the next meeting a few doors down.”
“But I’ve only written one speech.”
“Oh don’t worry, you’re expected to say the same thing at every meeting, otherwise you get accused of being inconsistent. Do you remember when the PM got drunk and announced four different tax policies on the same day.”
"Another thing, you don't seem to have scheduled a dinner break."
"Oh these things always have nibbles, you'll be fine. It’s one of the perks of the conference, free food, free booze."
My first event was entitled Food For The Hungry, How the Levelling Up Fund can help those most in need. It was organised by two charities: Feed the Poor and Make Destitution History. The room was filled with well meaning types, a few party members, a smattering of press and an overly optimistic number of chairs. However, there was one thing missing.
"Where are the nibbles?" I said to the woman chairing the event, a tussle-haired snappy-looking liberal from one of the charities.
"Nibbles? Don't be absurd, this event is about helping those in most need, we're not wasting our precious funds on feeding the rich."
"I can't see the wine either?"
"We're not serving alcohol, not until we've made poverty history."
"I guess I'll just have to wait."
I spent a miserable hour, listening to do-gooders whining on, afterwards I was bombarded with questions about what the government was actually doing to help the poor, which I felt was unfair, as the government isn’t doing anything. When I did finally manage to escape the room, the Chief Whip was outside waiting for me. "Excellent timing Lord Lord, just in time for the next event. levelling up not talking down. Making inequality history."
My god, it was like groundhog day, only without the cute furry animals. It seems that the whole of the middle-class, middle-aged, middle-income liberal brigade had turned up to hassle and heckle me about helping the poor. I never thought earning £120,000 could be so hard. Again, as soon as the meeting finished the Chief Whip was waiting for me, to drag me to the next hell-hole.
I went from meeting to meeting, repeating the same speeches, answering the same questions, meeting the same do-gooder liberal types. After every meeting the Chief Whip was waiting outside to drag me to the next meeting.
It was nearly midnight when I finally finished my last fringe event and managed to escape from the Chief Whips’ ever watchful eye. Box was waiting for me outside the venue, but unlike my tormentor he wasn't there to drag me to another fringe. Or so I thought.
"I've had nothing to eat Box, and just water to drink. These charities don't understand a thing, you have to wine and dine politicians to win their support, not starve them. Where can we source nourishment Box?"
"I've been looking at the fringe programme, my lord," Box said. "There is one more event you might be interested in attending."
"Oh no Box, I'm schmoozed out. If I have to talk about the joys of levelling up a second longer I'll start punching down at whoever I'm talking to."
"This event is unconnected to the Levelling up debate, my lord. It's the Sausage Dog Owners Helpline, a debate on what more politicians can do to support sausage dog owners."
"Have you gone stark raving mad Box. I've spent four hours gabbering away to the prissied collection of liberal do-gooders and your only suggestion is to go to ANOTHER event."
"If you look carefully at the programme my lord you will observe a key fact about said event. Food provided."
"What's that, show me the programme Box. Hot dog and chips, my word Box I think you're right, the electorate need a peer who takes an interest in the affairs of sausage dogs. Let's head their straight away."
Luckily the food was served at the back of the room, so I was able to tuck in to numerous portions of sausages in buns without the bother of listening to the speeches. There was even wine, horrible wine in any other circumstances but after the day I'd had it tasted like the purest plonk of the gods. I was so happy that I even purchased a raffle ticket - on the assurance that all money raised was going to support sausage dogs and not a penny to underprivileged communities.
I returned to the food, after a day of fasting there really is no limit to the number of sausages a man can eat, and was so engrossed in the exercise that I didn't hear my ticket being called.
"My Lord," said Box. "Your raffle ticket, I think you've won a sausage dog."
"I've what?" I said. "You never said anything about winning a dog, Box. We can't possibly keep it, how are you going to find time to walk it every day?"
"We can re-home it when we return to Lord Hall," he said. "In the meantime you had best pretend to be delighted."
And so I walked out of the fringe meeting with our new four legged friend, which I'd christened Levelling Down, waddling slowly behind us.
We had got no further than a few yards when the Chief Whip appeared. For once he wasn't there to drag me to another fringe meeting.
"Excellent Lord Lord, you've gotten yourself a dog. It makes you look so much more human, the electorate will love it. That's timely. I had been thinking about your plans to get married, I do wonder if you'd be up to the task. But seeing you with a dog, that might be the humanising touch we were looking for. Lord Lord, the loving dog owner."
"Oh that's me all round, Lord Beardsley", I said. "I'm married to my sausage dog."
"Good to hear it. Well, I'll put your afternoon dates on hold."
"Excellent," I said.
"I'll see you tomorrow for the next round of levelling up fringes."