By Paul Goodman
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"You see, Albert," said Stephen Crabb, Whip to J.Alfred Prufrock, MP for the marginal West Midlands seat of Grummidge West, ""we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister? And let's face it, the best way we can do so is by voting for Second Reading. Because, let's be honest: this bill has a future. All that voting against Second Reading will do is to record a futile protest, delighting Labour and damaging party unity. So you see: it's in all our interests for the bill to pass. Or to put it more plainly, David Cameron wants you to vote for the bill. I'm sure you get the point." And with that, Crabb reached out, tugged Prufrock's right-hand shirt cuff with his own right hand, winked, and sauntered off into the "Aye" lobby.
Prufrock turned, and found himself, as chance would have it, facing Priti Patel. "You see, Priti," he said, "we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister? And let's face it, the best way we can do so is by voting for Second Reading. Because -"
"- Excuse me," Patel cut in, staring at Prufrock with a curious detachment, as if from an infinite distance. "But…Do I know you?" And as Prufrock bowed his head in embarrassment and raised it again, he found himself gazing instead, as if by some act of cinematic magic, upon the masterfully-drawn mouth, visionary gaze, noble countenance and domed philosopher's forehead, as majestic as the dome of St Peter's or St Paul's Cathedral, of Jesse Norman.
"You see, Alfred," said Norman, "we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister? "And, let's face it, the best way we can help David Cameron is by voting against Second Reading. Because, let's be honest: this bill has no future. All that voting for Second Reading will do is to prolong its agony, draining energy and unity from the party in the process. So you see – " Norman smiled slightly, and tilted his head gently upwards towards the embossed lobby ceiling, as though weighing the ontological argument for the existence of God or pondering the inscrutable movements of the Higgs-Boson particle – "it's in the Prime Minister's best interests for the bill to fail. I might almost say – no, I will venture to suggest – that what David Cameron really wants is for you to vote against the bill. I'm sure you get the point."
Prufrock opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. Strange mental impulses, trembling on the verge of comprehension, flickered and pulsed, disturbing the balance of his fretful mind. So the best way of supporting a bill the Prime Minister wanted was actually to oppose it? Half-glimpsed and semi-grasped, the idea shimmered at the margins of his understanding, like a weather balloon cut loose from its moorings and floating high in the stratosphere where oxygen fails, breath speeds and thought becomes faint. And with that, Norman reached out, pinched Prufrock's bottom, winked, and sauntered off into the "No" lobby.
Prufrock turned, and found himself, as chance would have it, facing what appeared to be the tall, handsome, Old Etonian form of Andrew Selous. "You see, Andrew," he found himself saying, "we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister? And let's face it, the best way we can do so is by voting against Second Reading. Because what the Prime Minister really wants is for the bill to fail. What he really, really wants is for you to vote against the bill. What he -"
" – Excuse me," his interlocutor cut in, and the mists seemed suddenly and sharply to clear from before Prufrock's fuddled gaze. Before him was the tall, handsome, Old Etonian form of no less senior a figure than the Prime Minister himself, complete with entourage: Michael Gove, Desmond Swayne, Edward Timpson. And behind him was a helpfully-placed gaggle of Labour observers: Chris Bryant, Tom Watson, Ian Austin, Ed Balls, and Tony McNulty (who had no right to be there but had somehow got in anyway), hurriedly reaching for tape recorders, notebooks and mobile phone cameras.
"Excuse me" – the Prime Minister said, heatedly – "but that is a complete misrepresentation of my position. That is not honourable. That is untrue." A red flush illuminated the tip of his finely-bridged nose, bright as the first blush of a broiling sun as it rises to scorch some Saharan desert, spreading swiftly out to engulf his whole nose, mouth, cheeks, forehead, chin, entire face. "That is outrageous." A Prime Ministerial forefinger wagged indignantly half an inch beneath Prufrock's nose. Then it joined the others to clench itself into a fist.
Swayne let out a wolf-like howl of warning. Timpson grabbed the collar of Cameron's suit jacket. Gove hurled himself to the lobby floor, and attempted to wrap his arms round the Prime Minister's knees. Too late! With a single swift, fluid movement, Cameron stepped half-forward with his right foot, pivoted on his left, drew his right arm back and – shazam! – zapped forward at bewildering speed a fist-tipped arm whose rippling muscle tone bore witness both to hours spent on the tennis court and centuries of distinguished heredity.
Kapow! The blow caught Prufrock square on the chin. Up, up into the air he rose! And down and out he went! The shock and pain were scarcely worse than the humiliation and shame. Was it stars that Prufrock saw as his eyes swam, or the flashing of Labour-brandished mobile phone cameras? Whatever they were, they seemed to hang in the air – as heavenly, tantalising, and remote as the prospect of promotion. As his senses fled him, the cries of Prime Ministerial rage seemed to blend seamlessly with the exploitative cheers of Balls and his entourage. Then Prufrock's world went black. O dark dark dark, amid the blaze of noon!