Saturday, 14 December 2013

Oligarchs and Ideology

A few weeks ago a "bigwig" collared me at a Party dinner. Apparently he was showing a young man the workings of UK politics. The young man in question was the son of a Russian Oligarch (his father owns a bank). Following his education in the UK he has ambitions to enter Russian politics, and as part of his political education, "could I spend some time showing him life at the 'coalface' ". Always happy to help, I agreed.

Today was the last of his three day grand tour. He had been shown around the Palace of Westminster, yesterday he was at CCHQ and today it was West Kent Towers. He was already in the office by the time I arrived, delayed by an accident on the M20. He was sitting uncomfortably on the "naughty chair" - the very low one about 7 inches off the ground that we keep for visitors we don't want to encourage to return. He was surrounded by mounds of discarded raffle tickets, pictures of a derelict cinema and poster of an attractive young man sawing a woman in half. Welcome to "politics at the coalface". I wondered if CCHQ  had pictures of women being cut in half.

After the handshakes he asked about my ideology. "What ideological dreams encourage you in your work?" he wanted to know. This stumped me.  Being an Conservative Agent I left ideological dreams behind years ago. In fact, somewhat like God within the Church of England, ideology is anathema to people like me.  I droned on about liberty, the evils of Socialism, hugging huskies and voting green whilst turning blue. He looked as confused as we all did when we heard it in 2008, but it had the desired effect; he changed the subject.

I moved the conversation on to participatory democracy; explaining the roles and responsibilities of Party members, councillors and MPs; how they interacted, and the work we did at the constituency office to support them. It was heady stuff, but the illusion was shattered when someone rang to book four tickets for the New Year Magic Spectacular Buffet". 

"So what does your family do in Russia", I enquired, trying hard to build a rapport.  "My father owns a bank, but he is not what you might say, rich. In fact it was accident, He found it."   "Yes", we heard Jon say in the background, "We'll be selling ice cream and popcorn at the interval."

We sat around making excruciating small talk until Phil "Jones the Vote" Thomas arrived to take him out canvassing. "Have you ever been door knocking before Boyo?" asked Phil. There was a long awkward silence; we all waited with baited breath. "Yes, when I was small child we knock on many doors. Then we would run away and make people angry."  We exchanged nervous glances. They couldn't leave until the fifth member of the canvassing team arrived as he had the canvassing cards. Never before have I so wanted to see the former MP for Gravesham! Finally they were despatched to wreak their collective havoc on local residents.

We had two hours of peace before they returned. "Shall we indulge in the pursuit of our ideological dreams?" asked Jon. I glanced at the list of outstanding chores; the list never ends, more jobs are added to the bottom each day than we cross off the top of it. There wasn't much ideological purity on offer, so we settled on mail-merging Tom Tugendhat's letters inviting open primary attenders to come and join us.

Before long our Russian visitor was back, alone. "Everything OK?" I asked. "Yes, I have enjoyed my experience at the coalface but I must now return home." We chatted some more about life in Russia and his own hopes. He told me his Father was about to arrive in the UK for the weekend. "Does he have a private jet?" I enquired. "No, that would be unnecessary, we are very normal people."  I asked how he was traveling back, did he need a lift to the railway station?  "No, thank you. My car is waiting outside since I arrive today."  I escorted him to the door. As we went along the hall he asked, "can I take a few of your propaganda sheets with me?"  I bridled.  "They are community newsletters, not copies of Pravda!" I said, tartly. He didn't laugh.  Outside the front door were two gleaming Mercedes, one black one white. The man in the front car jumped out and opened the door for his "very normal" passenger. The two stocky, suited, sunglass wearing men in the car behind surveyed me with suspicion. Then they were gone, leaving Jon and I alone with our ideological dreams.  

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