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Authors: Edwina Currie

A Parliamentary Affair

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A Parliamentary Affair
Edwina Currie
Timewarner (1994)

Elaine Stalker, newly elected MP, has worked hard for her election to Westminster. But the unequivocally masculine atmosphere of the House of Commons is a hostile environment for an attractive, ambitious woman and Elaine is disappointed when her talents are ignored. Relishing his powerful role as wheeler-dealer, whip Roger Dickson provides a sympathetic ear for Elaine's frustrations. At first their relationship is strictly professional; but a passion for politics provides an aphrodisiac and late-night sittings offer ample opportunities for discussions of a more private nature. 

A No. 1 hardcover bestseller on its first appearance, Edwina Currie's A PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIR has gained a compulsive piquancy in the light of her Diaries' publication.

A Parliamentary Affair

Edwina Currie

“All good books are alike, in that they are truer than if they really happened.”
               Ernest Hemingway

This is a novel about modern British political life, today, and in the near future. I have tried to make it as authentic as possible, to convey some insight and understanding of how we live and work. So the background is realistic, and I have even taken the liberty of fleshing it out with some real people, under their real names. But my plot and my central characters are all completely imaginary and no reference is intended to the real people holding their offices at the times in question, or to any other person.

 

Edwina Currie, London, February 1994

 

Author’s Note for Paperback Edition

At the time of writing
A Parliamentary Affair
, homosexual acts, involving consenting males under twenty-one years of age were illegal in the UK. On 21 February 1994 the House of Commons voted to reduce the age of consent for gay sex to eighteen.

 

EC

Unaccountably the following entries were omitted from the most recent editions of
Who’s Who, The Times Guide to the House of Commons
and
Vacher’s Parliamentary Companion
.

 

BOSWOOD, Rt Hon. Sir Nigel, PC, MP, Bart, Secretary of State for the Environment. Born 5 January 1934 in Hertfordshire. Tenth Baronet, cousin to the Earl of Cambridge. Sister Emily married to Marquis of Welton,
q.v.
Unmarried. Family background: publishing (Boswood & Boswood, Oxford). Evacuated to Canada in war; educated Eton and Trinity, Cambridge (Classical Mods). President, CUCA, and President of the Union. Toured USA with Observer Mace Debating Team, 1955. Short service commission in Dragoon Guards, 1955–8. Contested (Cons.) SW Islington 1959. First elected for Conservatives in by-election 1962 for Milton constituency (now Milton and Hambridge), Hants. Appointed government whip 1970, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at Department of Trade and Industry 1973–4. Opposition spokesman on small firms, technology and environment 1974–9. Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Local Government Minister) 1979–82; Department of Education and Science 1982–4; Privy Councillor 1983; Secretary of State, DES, and entered Cabinet 1984–9; Secretary of State, Department of the Environment 1989–. Clubs: Pratt’s, Buck’s, Garrick. Recreations: shooting, writing bad verse, politics.

 

CHADWICK, Martin. Civil servant. Born 1952. Educated Shrewsbury and Jesus, Oxford. Private secretary to Rt Hon. Sir Nigel Boswood, PC, MP, Bart
q.v.
Son of Sir Matthew Chadwick, CB, KCMG, former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Married with two children. Current residence: Sittingbourne. Club: Athenaeum. Recreations: writing Latin verse, collecting ties, wildlife conservation.

 

DICKSON, Roger, MP. Born 14 February 1952. Educated Wandsworth Comprehensive School, Wandsworth; AIB 1975; MA in Administration and Politics, OU and London University 1982. Tarrants Bank 1968–75. Chairman, Dickson and Associates, non-exec, director, Kyle Stewart Ltd 1975–85. Contested Hammersmith 1979, returned for North-West Warwickshire 1983 (majority 1,800). Joint sec., Conservative backbench small business committee 1983–5 and chairman 1985–7. Trustee, Small Business Bureau 1985–7. PPS, Department of Trade and Industry 1987. Promoted whip 1990, senior whip (Lord Commissioner of Treasury) June 1992. Married Hon. Caroline Tarrant,
d
. of Lord Tarrant
q.v
., May 1980; three children, Toby (1982), Emma (1984), Clarissa (1988). Clubs: Carlton, St Stephen’s. Recreations: home, family, taking risks.

 

FERRIMAN, Frederick, MP. Born 1934. Educated Marlborough, Christ Church, Oxford; MA 1955, third class (Greats). Farmer. First elected 1974 for Northampton West. Chairman, secretary and treasurer of numerous Conservative backbench and all-party parliamentary committees and groups. Married, two grown-up children. Clubs: Carlton, White’s, IOD. Recreations: welfare of the nation, playing the Stock Exchange.

 

MUNCASTLE, Andrew, MP. Born 12 September 1960, grandson of Sir Edward Muncastle, former Conservative MP for Horncastle
q. v
. Educated Harrow and St John’s, Oxford (PPE). President, OUCA, and President, Oxford Union 1982. Contested St Pancras 1987. Retained Hampshire South-West for Conservatives April 1992. Businessman. Director and co. sec., Muncastle and Sons 1982-. Director, Scope Communications Management and Cray Electronics Ltd. Married 1986 Tessa Conlan; one child, Barney (1987). Clubs: Carlton, Hampshire CC. Recreations: cricket, family, politics.

 

QUIN, Keith, MP. Born 1952 in Manchester. Educated Bury Grammar School and Hull University (BA Hons History). Brother-in-law to Ms Josie Binn MP
q.v.
Lecturer in sociology and the sociology of history, Kingston upon Hull College of Further Education 197283. Retained Manchester Canalside for Labour 1983. Married to Councillor Mrs Edith Quin JP, Deputy Chairman, Manchester City Council; no children. Member various Labour backbench and all-party groups. Recreations: conservation of endangered species.

 

STALKER, Elaine, MP. Née Johnson. Born 13 October 1956. Educated King Edward’s High School for Girls, Barham, and Barham University (BA Hons, History and Politics). Voluntary worker, adult literacy scheme, and part-time tutor, Open University 19826. Member Barham Council 198591, Conservative spokesman on finance and deputy leader Conservative group. Member, West Midlands RHA198690. Married 1977 Michael Stalker, senior pilot with British Airways. One child, Karen (1978). Retained Warmingshire South for Conservatives April 1992. Clubs: none. Recreations: family, home, domestic arts.

HAMPSHIRE SOUTH WEST
no change
Muncastle, A. D.
Conservative
40,202
61.9%
Lynne, Miss J. J.
Lib. Democrat
16,698
25.7%
Harris, N. H. A.
Labour
7,523
11.6%
Beesley, D.
Raving Loony
570
0.9%
 
C majority
23,504
 
MILTON AND HAMBRIDGE  
no change
*Boswood, Rt Hon. Sir Nigel
Conservative
30,136
60.9%
Dowson, J. M. P.
Lib. Democrat
10,608
21.4%
Beadle, R. W. A. L.
Labour.
8,781
17.7%
 
C majority
19,528
 
WARMINGSHIRE SOUTH
no change
Stalker, Mrs E
Conservative
34,266
48.7%
Brown, N. P
Labour
29,608
42.1%
Beckett, Mrs M. M
Lib. Democrat
6,236
8.9%
Mercer, T. W. I. T
Natural Law
291
0.4%
 
C majority
4,658
 
WARWICKSHIRE NORTH WEST
no change
*Dickson, R. N.
Conservative
34,110
52.4%
Airey, J.
Labour
20,863
32.0%
Davies, H. P.
Lib. Democrat
9,934
15.3%
Healey, Rt Hon. D
Raving Loony
202
0.3%
 
C majority
13,247

*denotes previous member

‘Mr Returning Officer, Ladies and Gentlemen. Quiet, please!’

Major-General Johnny Horrocks cleared his throat, pulled down the bursting black velveteen jacket with its fancy buttons, wriggled his toes in the uncomfortable patent-leather pumps and wished he had taken his wife’s advice not to wear full Deputy Lord-Lieutenant’s regalia that evening to announce the general election result in South Warmingshire.

In the body of the hall Mrs Betty Horrocks patted her blue rosette for luck and eyed her
lace-and
-velvet husband with a grimace. The count had gone well and quickly and turnout had been high. What a shame to spoil it. The country would giggle at Johnny tonight as a puffed-up little peacock, once ruling the roost somewhere east of Suez and now Her Majesty’s representative out here in Warmingshire, which was not exactly the centre of the universe. He was a good man, honourable and courageous. Britain once owed its splendour and world leadership to such officers. Pity he was such a fool.

Nicholas Brown, the Labour candidate, hugged his wife sadly. The television monitor now proclaimed a Tory victory despite all the pundits. Small, bedraggled and exhausted, his wife could hold back her tears no longer. The Browns were joined by women from his campaign team, arms around each other in mutual grief while their men stood around bewildered, examining the
paper-strewn
floor and shuffling their feet with no words for their anguish.

Jim Betts stubbed out a forbidden cigarette, tapped out a number on his portable phone and spoke urgently into the mouthpiece. Middle of nowhere, this was. Editor’s revenge, no doubt, for his announcing he was leaving for a much better job on
The Globe
. London beckoned. No more tedium at magistrates’ courts reporting poll tax and social security dodgers, no more penning sycophantic rubbish about visiting royals and local politicians. On
The Globe
he could at last write the truth, and show them all up for the hypocrites they were.

In a corner Tom Mercer, the Natural Law Party candidate, was rummaging in a cardboard box. Beside him his wife clutched a small chocolate cake and a box of matches. ‘I’m sure I put it in here,’ he hissed. ‘Try your trousers, darling,’ she suggested hesitantly. With an impatient gesture he thrust his hand inside a trouser pocket, found the white candle he had been seeking and placed it precisely on the cake. ‘There! We’re ready,’ he breathed. Silently his wife prayed he would now go back to being a lowly clerk and forget about changing the world.

Liberal Democrat Miriam Beckett was dying for a cigarette and cursed the large ‘No Smoking’ signs hung around the echoing sports hall. A stiff whisky would have gone down well too. It was two o’clock on a Friday morning and she had been without sleep since the previous Tuesday. On the day before the election she had found herself with 3,000 freshly printed leaflets and only two exhausted helpers left out of the optimistic roomful who had nominated her. The three grimly spent the hours of darkness delivering to their best areas, falling over cats, disturbing a burglar, meeting an astonished milkman as dawn broke (got his vote, for persistence if nothing else) and cursing the collapse of the centre parties. It would be a relief to get back to teaching after Easter: normality, relatively, after all this.

At the BBC, a presenter was trying to get Sir Nigel Boswood to wind up so that the programme could catch the declarations from South Warmingshire, North-West Warwickshire and Hampshire South West. Boswood was enjoying himself hugely. His own result had come an hour earlier, with a comfortable 19,000 Tory majority. After a quick celebratory drink he dashed over to the studio, picking up the increasingly good news on the car radio, and was soon teasing the devastated Labour spokesman unmercifully. Regretfully he turned to the monitor.

What he saw pleased him very much. Dickson had made it back in Warwickshire; done well, a good chap. Boswood remembered speaking there in Dickson’s first election campaign in 1983,
when a Labour majority of 4,000 had been turned by sheer hard graft into a Tory one of 1,800. Since then Roger Dickson had consolidated himself nicely. His reward tonight was a solid 13,000 majority. Not absolutely safe, but then no seat ever was.

Sir Percy Duff’s old seat in Hampshire was as safe as houses, of course. Bit of a worry with a new candidate, this young chap Andrew Muncastle, but the result was splendid: over 23,000 majority. Boswood even felt a tinge of jealousy. And wasn’t that old Sir Edward Muncastle hovering in the background? Must be Andrew’s grandfather, surely. Thought he was dead.
The only marginal seat of this batch was South Warmingshire. Another new face there, someone a bit unusual.

In the sports hall Mike Stalker put his arm around his wife. ‘We’ve made it, darling,’ he whispered, and kissed her tousled blonde head. She smiled up at him, tears in her eyes – of excitement, tiredness, gratitude, and a strange awareness that a part of their life was changing for ever. She stepped back from him, straightened his tie and adjusted the silky blue rosette so that VOTE STALKER was horizontal once more.

‘Do I look all right?’ she asked, and he nodded: ‘You look lovely, as ever. Fresh as a daisy. I don’t know how you do it – I’m bushed.’ She glanced wistfully towards the platform. ‘We’ll have to get used to a different pace of life now, I guess. Hope we can cope.’

He squeezed her hand quickly. ‘We will.’

Major-General Horrocks cleared his throat and stepped forward to the microphone.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen. The result for the South Warmingshire election is as follows. I will announce the names in alphabetical order, as on the ballot paper.’

‘You are a prat, Monty,’ Mrs Horrocks muttered to herself. ‘For heaven’s sake get on with it.’

‘Beckett, Mrs M. Six thousand two hundred and thirty- six.’

The only two people in the room sporting orange badges clapped vigorously. The counters, now seated at empty tables, looked round. Mrs Beckett had turned out to be pretty useless.

‘Brown, N. Twenty-nine thousand six hundred and eight votes.’
The Labour candidate’s wife smiled defiantly through her tears. A ragged cheer went around the hall from the red rosettes. Next time, perhaps.

‘Mercer, T. Two hundred and ninety-one.’

A derisory booing rose from Labour supporters. The dotty parties who had enlivened matters for the punters made life much harder for those serious about politics. Had there been no third party, or fourth, Labour might have won, here and everywhere else.

The Deputy Lord-Lieutenant smiled ingratiatingly at the winner. It would do no harm to be in well with the new MP. ‘Stalker, Mrs E.F.’ he boomed portentously.

Elaine Stalker wanted to remember this moment for ever. Her ears tuned in to the soft whispering noises in the expectant silence around her, to the sound of papers rustling, the jostling of blue-rosetted friends gathered by the platform, the hiss of the ventilation system overhead, the isolated pop of flash bulbs, the muted crackling of a policeman’s radio, a train whistling faintly in the distance.

‘Thirty-four thousand, two hundred and sixty-six,’ Horrocks bellowed. ‘I hereby declare Mrs Elaine Stalker to be the duly elected Member of Parliament for South Warmingshire.’

Unable to hide his partisanship any longer, he waved the paper over his head with a flourish, as if he were the winner and not the handsome woman in the Tory-blue suit by his side.

Even the counters joined the applause, expressing not so much delight in her victory as a friendly welcome to their new Member of Parliament. All evening she had been the object of curious scrutiny. Would she win? Would she cry? Top marks for appearance: the lady would certainly make a splash with that good figure and golden blonde hair. Would she be strong enough, a woman? What did her husband think of having to play number two to his wife? She had a kid, too. Puts pressure on the family. Being a mother is hard enough without taking on a big job, away from home all the time.

Elaine Stalker was itching to get down from the platform to mix with the party supporters who were vigorously shaking champagne bottles to make the corks explode. Mrs Horrocks and her ladies, stalwarts all in blue, were jumping up and down in excitement and calling her to join them. Councillor Jennings was looking so pleased she worried he might have a heart attack.

Elaine was in a daze. She made a breathless little speech of thanks, then her beaten opponents made theirs in descending order. Now only one more candidate was left to take the floor.

Tom Mercer stepped forward nervously, put his mouth too close to the microphone and began to speak, reacting in cross-eyed bewilderment as it ‘popped’ back at him. Both Tory and Labour party workers were becoming restless. Mercer flourished the cake and began fumbling with matches. He seemed to take for ever. Mrs Stalker signalled the Labour man and the two edged sideways off the platform followed by the Liberal, leaving Mercer muttering a lonely incantation over the lighted candle.

Jim Betts, watching from the sidelines, took out his notebook. ‘New Tory MP walks off platform at count,’ he wrote crisply. ‘New MP Elaine Stalker snubbed fellow candidates’ – he would put in the names later –’when she stalked off the platform immediately her own result was announced, ignoring the usual courtesies. Her own party workers commented adversely about her rudeness.’ He would have to make up some suitable quotes. ‘Mrs Stalker’s behaviour augurs ill for her career in Parliament as South Warmingshire’s new MP. Perhaps her future colleagues should be warned. This lady may have to be taken down a peg or two.’ He checked his scribbling. Not bad, really. More like
The Globe
than his current rag. Roll on Fleet Street; roll on fame as one of the country’s best investigative reporters. The future beckoned brightly, and not only for the glamorous Mrs Stalker.

 

For the last month Parliament Square had been a graveyard. Now not only was Parliament back but it seemed everyone else – businessmen, lobbyists, media persons, tourists, all the invisible hangers-on of government – had returned to London as well. Cab drivers, brows furrowed in concentration, moaned and gesticulated with vigour. Traffic in the square was noisy and aggressive, vehicles zipping impatiently from one set of traffic lights to the next, honking at a lone intrepid cyclist who wobbled out of the way. Here only the nimble and quick-witted would survive.

At the square’s south-eastern corner two sets of black ironwork gates stood open, leading to the House of Commons car park. Stolid London policemen like sheepish lions guarded the entrance, amiable but watchful. At the left-hand gate, Gerry Keown ran a finger around the stiff collar of his brand-new uniform, consulted a long list of new MPs and pulled a wry face. Behind him the great clock tower glittered in the afternoon sun. Big Ben was striking two.

‘Rotten job, this. You have to learn every one.’ Constable Robin Bell, a tall, cheerful man with bushy sideburns, was the doyen of the Commons rifle team. He had been a Commons policeman twenty-four years. It was the kind of job that kept people there for life.

‘Not just their names and faces, all six hundred and fifty-one of them – and believe me, some are very obscure indeed. Secretaries as well, and research assistants. And spouses, partners, even children. That’s around two thousand people. Add the House’s own servants – clerks and library staff and refreshment department and cleaners and a few others – that makes around four thousand on a busy day. You’ll find staff all wear their ID badges religiously, the MPs expect you to know who they are and can get quite stroppy if you ask to check – even though it’s them we’re protecting. Got it?’

Gerry whistled through his teeth. An inch or two shorter than Bell and much younger, he had the glossy black hair and blue-green eyes of Irish ancestry. He was not a policeman but a former prison officer. A month ago he had joined the Metropolitan Police’s own security force used to augment routine police operations around the Palace of Westminster.

‘Bit different to security at Broadmoor. We didn’t have nearly so many comings and goings.’

Robin Bell laughed. Keown would be teased many times about the obvious similarity between the nation’s highest security hospital for dangerous nutters and some of the crackpots going through these portals. ‘It can be a bit of a madhouse here too. Wait till the first day, the election of the Speaker: everyone will be in to vote, the lot.’

A jostling crowd, cameras and autograph books at the ready, stood on the pavement eagerly trying to spot famous faces. Gawpers and police eyed each other amicably enough. As each vehicle drew close its identity was carefully checked. Within very recent memory a plain white van had casually parked just down Whitehall. A police officer had begun strolling down to investigate. In a trice the roof slid back and mortar bombs were lobbed straight across the road at the Cabinet Office. Fortunately the aim was a fraction out. One exploded in the garden of No. 10, showering Cabinet and Prime Minister with broken glass and forcing them to take cover under the Cabinet table. The IRA again, an ever-present threat to all MPs and ministers. Security was no laughing matter.

In one corner a battered blue car, still forlornly sporting campaign stickers, was being packed by a disconsolate man in a tweed jacket. He was patted on the shoulder by erstwhile colleagues and then forgotten. Within a month he would sign on the dole and discover that nine modestly successful years as an MP qualified him for nothing.

A sleek grey chauffeur-driven Jaguar with two back-seat passengers paused briefly before sweeping inside and turning left into the shadows of Speaker’s Court. The police knew its key occupant just by glancing at the number plate: the Right Honourable Sir Nigel Boswood MP, reappointed as Secretary of State for the Environment, his rubicund face looking jolly pleased with life, as well it might.

Nigel tweaked his distinctive bow-tie and amused himself by waving graciously from the elbow, like the Queen. He was rewarded as two pressmen obligingly set off flashes in his face. At his side his private secretary, civil servant grade 5 Martin Chadwick, suppressed his annoyance. He didn’t know why the fool bothered; tomorrow’s papers would have no room for an old-timer probably in his last Cabinet post. Instead the front pages would be filled with pictures of the delectable new women appointees, the first into the Cabinet in over a decade, who had posed for the cameras all morning.

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