It was late, late in the evening in the near-deserted Palace of Westminster when J.Alfred Prufrock – MP for Grummidge West, real ale enthusiast, Faroe Islands devotee, Wolves fan and cycle lane maniac – descended the steps at the top of Westminster Hall towards the ancient floor. Only the faint pulse of his blackberry disturbed the pre-recess darkness and silence, as it flashed out its eternal message: Phone Greg Hands. Urgent.
Prufrock was thus surprised to see another figure walking through the emptiness towards him, and even more surprised to recognise it as a familiar one: the trim, prim presence of the Deputy Prime Minister. “Hello, Nick,” he said, as Clegg neared him. Not that he knew the Deputy Prime Minister, or had spoken to him before. But the quiet was somehow pressing. Clegg’s eyebrows rose slightly. Perhaps he was trying to place Prufrock. Maybe he was confusing him with Norman Lamb.
Prufrock hadn’t seen the Deputy Prime Minister since his debate clashes with Nigel Farage. “I thought you did well,” he volunteered.
Clegg stopped in his stride, paused, and turned to look at Prufrock, tilting his head to one side with the gesture of an inquisitive bird. “Oh, do you really think so?” he said.
“Yes,” lied Prufrock. “I mean, it was difficult. He’s pugnacious, of course. Even aggressive, you might say. Some might use the term ‘bully’ “.
The Deputy Prime Minister nodded. Then he gulped. He nodded again. “A bully. Yes. That’s right. That’s it. That puts it very well.”
“Yes,” said Prufrock, flattered that so big a beast in the Westminster jungle was paying him so much attention. “It was a pity about the poll findings – ”
” – Polls!” exclaimed Clegg. “Have there been polls? I didn’t know there were polls.” His left eye twitched slightly.
“Well, yes,” said Prufrock “Of course. I’m surprised you weren’t told. Though not to worry, really. I mean, you got over a third of the vote first time round.”
Now it was Clegg’s right eye that twitched. Then his left. Then his right again. “Loopy,” he said. “Crackpot.” He leaned in closer. Prufrock leaned back slightly.
“You know, he’s got anger management issues,” Clegg confided. Prufrock weighted this information thoughtfully.
“Well, I agree that Nigel can get a bit overwrought at times,” he began – but now the Deputy Prime Minister had cut in again. His head and shoulders were trembling.
“Overwrought?” he gasped. “Overwrought? You can say that, again, but you know, Danny -” and his hand shot out to grasp Prufrock’s shoulder – “I’ve got him on the run.”
“Yes!” Clegg continued, his voice rising. “I’ve been in there. Seen Cameron, you know,” he said, his head nodding up and down. “He’s being dealt with.”
Prufrock puzzled over what hold the Prime Minister might have on the UKIP leader, but his cogitations were interrupted by a strange laugh from the Deputy Prime Minister.
“Dealt with!” said Clegg, his eyes dancing with an unnatural light. His mouth widened. He drew Prufrock in closer.
A horrified thought disturbed the latter. Was the Deputy Prime Minister about to snog him? But now Clegg was whispering: “You know, I can have him arrested.”
Prufrock knew that the scope of the European Arrest Warrant was considerable. But he had not previously believed that it could be used to silence Farage.
He opened his mouth to protest. But Clegg rocked back on his heels. He released Prufrock, and flung both his arms ceiling-ward.
“Arrested!” he cried. “Breach of official secrets! Sent to the tower!” A hideous cackle broke from the Deputy Prime Minister’s throat, like the death-rattle of a hamster.
“Cummings!” he screamed. “Cummings! It’s over, do you hear? Over. You’re history! Meals will be free! Money will be found! Joint Opeds” – he howled – “will be written!”
And the carved angels in the great hammerbeam roof seemed to strain downwards towards the two figures beneath them – the backbench MP now bunched on the floor in a self-protective foetal position, and the Deputy Prime Minister whooping in triumph, arms brandished, fists clenched like an Olympics winner…