Inspired by the following Decamot items: box of matches, Carnaby Street, delta, Prime Minister, roundabout, suitcase, tea shop, windmill, architect, boot
Finding himself alone for a moment, Stanley Howard sat quietly behind his newly acquired desk, bequeathed him automatically by the outgoing incumbent, as parliamentary tradition dictated.
His heart was beating just a bit faster than normal, which he attributed to a combination of two things; his overwhelming sense of wonderment and the indecent haste he deployed in mounting the final flight of stairs from the entrance hall below, so eager had he been to savour this moment.
First among equals they might be but, with a casting vote which made them personally responsible for all collective cabinet decisions, running the country was an awesome responsibility. With the stench of failure forever lurking beneath the sweet smell of success, he was acutely aware of what he had taken on, but the adrenaline rush had been irresistible. His small battered blue Globe-Trotter suitcase had been put down in the corner, symbolic, he mused to himself, of the temporary nature of his calling; it was usually in the boot of his car, packed ready for unplanned contingencies.
The suitcase had a fading USSR customs mark on it, applied by a zealous official when he, his wife and their young family, had travelled through the old Soviet Union in 1971 via the trans-Siberian railway. Stanley laughed to himself at the thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have stamped their passports as a nineteen-year-old KGB trainee. He may even have left his indelible mark on the Globe-Trotter. How history delights in turning events upside down!
He was on the second floor of Number 10 Downing Street, overlooking St James Park, trying to come to grips with his extraordinary situation; soaking up the atmosphere, not quite believing where he was or how he had managed to achieve a lifetime’s ambition so late in his career. Starting as early as twelve years old, he had imagined walking into Number 10 one day as Prime Minister, but he had always assumed he would be in his forties, not well into his seventies, and not under these bizarre circumstances. He had even told his fiancé in 1965 that he intended to become PM. She hadn’t believed him then but married him anyway.
It was the swinging sixties, Carnaby Street was the centre of the fashion world and an Oxford don called Harold Wilson had been elected Prime Minister promising to usher in a new era of earth shattering technology; Britain was to be forged in the white heat of this revolution with no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.
As Wilson put it at a Labour Party conference in 1963
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
Stanley smiled to himself. There were no mobile phones in those days, the internet was another 35 years away. So, what would Harold Wilson have made of Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and Instagram whose extraordinarily powerful collective social force had swept a wrinkled, curly headed, white bearded seventy-five-year-old to power?
The entrance hall had lived up to his expectations, with its distinctive black and white chequered marble floor courtesy of the 18th century architect Kenton Couse; Georgian furniture, immaculate floor coverings and walls containing precious works of art; all accompanied by an eager buzz of anticipation from those around him, which he found both exhilarating and intimidating in equal measures.
Number 10 was first offered to Sir Robert Walpole by King George II in 1732, but Walpole accepted it on the condition that the gift was to the office of First Lord of the Treasury rather than to him personally.
Most voters know it as the Prime Minister’s office and home but the plaque on the front door confirms its occupant to be the First Lord of The Treasury, a title more suited, thought Stanley, to one of the concepts which had swept him to power on a wave of public support created in large measure, totally unexpectedly, by a tsunami of hyper activity by the social media. Lesser waves of the same phenomenon had earlier installed President Trump in the White House and Beppe Grillo to the Italian presidency as traditional politicians became increasingly disconnected to large swathes of their natural electorate all over the democratic world.
As he climbed the broad winding stair case leading out of the entrance hall, he passed pictures of all the most recent occupants of this great Office of State, the last being the tired defeated face of Theresa May, smiling bravely for the camera but unable to conceal the truth that she had tried to lead ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ to use Napoleon’s famous description of the UK, without having the ability to run the smallest tea shop.
In one last desperate attempt to ingratiate herself with younger voters, she had amended the Law of Petitions to allow individuals with enough popular support to be parachuted directly into government. Stanley had been its first unlikely beneficiary and might even turn out to be the last.
May’s administration had been a shambles of epic proportions, confirming once again that the pressure of working in high office exposes weaknesses of character like no other human experience.
David Cameron had taken his supporters for granted in the EU referendum and paid the price. Theresa May had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by calling an unnecessary General Election. Popular confidence in the traditional democratic process had collapsed as commentators tore up the standard book of responses to reflect the new mood. Simplistic solutions were urgently needed to inspire a disillusioned electorate, especially the young.
Stanley recalled a business trip he made to the USA in 1985 when an independent presidential candidate changed his name to Mr Nobody so that he could run under the slogan
“Vote for Nobody, Nobody knows what to do”
Modern technology had made instant celebrities of people whose only talent was being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time depending on your point of view.
Andy Warhol’s 1968 prediction that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” was frighteningly accurate. It now applied to Stanley Howard as he found himself reviewing the series of extraordinary events which culminated in his elevation to celebrity status; he had become the most unlikely bridge between generations looking for an inspirational way forward.
He couldn’t help thinking of the windmill analogy that had been instrumental in sparking the public’s imagination in the first place. Wind had been around since Mother Earth’s creation and windmills, used as a mechanism for transferring wind power for specific human use, for at least 5000 years. The Chinese developed early versions of modern windmills from 200 A.D., but accelerated progress often relied on a single individual’s ingenuity. In the case of windmills, the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria in the first century; and the American Daniel Halladay in the 19th century.
Stanley Howard’s message had been very simple; have faith in yourself as an individual member of humanity; you don’t need politicians to tell you what to do, or layers of superfluous management or trade unions or even teachers, because common sense is instinctive. Natural resources are there to be used for the improvement of the human condition but always remember
“None of us is original, but we are all unique” So, your first duty is to exploit your own talent to the best of your ability because, by so doing, you will automatically be helping your fellow man even though you might not know how; but you will know it makes common sense.
Stanley had been speaking to 120 boisterous sixth formers on the outskirts of Manchester as part of Robert Peston’s educational charity “Speakers for Schools” but was unaware that one of the students had recorded his presentation on his mobile phone. Stanley’s passionate style had galvanised his audience into a standing ovation at its conclusion.
He came across as an energetic eccentric but seriously anti-establishment which really struck a chord with his young audience, a minority of whom had been highly sceptical at the beginning but who were quickly won over the moment this ancient outsider bounded gazelle like on to the stage reminiscent of Antony Sher performing in the famous 1984 production of Richard the Third with two hand held crutches that appeared to be spring loaded.
“Perhaps I had been a touch theatrical” chuckled Stanley to himself, but that was his natural style especially when he needed to command attention.
The edited recording of a passionate animated articulate Father Christmas figure haranguing his youthful audience went viral, setting off a train of events which was barely believable, but which became an unstoppable media force with momentum, culminating in his triumphant arrival at the door of Number 10 Downing Street.
CSP – the Common-Sense Party – was created and mobilised with wit and energy, largely by students nationwide, who organised rallies in Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Norwich and London. Their purpose was to gather 2,000,000 signatures on an official Petition to have Stanley Howard elected directly to parliament as Prime Minister.
Theresa May’s amended Petition Bill had not been drafted for this purpose but, as with her predecessors ill-thought through EU Referendum Bill, she was hoist by her own petard. As Boris Johnson observed somewhat wryly “If she had wanted to set light to a petard, it would have been cheaper to borrow a box of matches!” Not one commentator was able to halt the inexorable rise to power of the people’s champion or to dent Stanley Howard’s self-confidence.
Of the existing cabinet, only the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jacob Rees Mogg, the Conservative member for East Somerset, felt brave enough to challenge Stanley on a special multi-channel TV debate hastily organised by ITV, BBC, Sky, CNN and Bloomberg together.
“With no experience of Government at all what makes you think you can honour your promises?”
“With the greatest possible respect, Jacob, the only promise I have made is to apply common sense to all our decisions. I will be your team’s new manager. My first task will be to assess your personal role. You are one of the most gifted politicians I know but I need to be satisfied that you are not being played out of position.”
The Chancellor was not satisfied with the answer so, warming to his task, risked a supplementary question
“But if we regard the UK economy as a highly tuned motor car and you are the driver and you come to a roundabout how will you know which way to go?”
“I will leave by the exit marked ‘hope’” Stanley replied without a hint of irony intended or implied and ended with a supplementary of his own
“Perhaps I may be permitted to quote one of your heroes back at you, Jacob. Wasn’t it John F. Kennedy who said
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Stanley Howard’s personal reverie in the Cabinet room was suddenly interrupted by the voice of his Director Tom Delta.
“Sorry to cut across your thoughts, my friend, but we have only got this location for 8 hours – it doesn’t say much for the state of the National Finances that they need to hire out Number 10 as a film location does it?”
“Sorry Tom, you’re right we mustn’t waste time, but as you know, the plot of my novel was largely autobiographical. When I sold the film rights to Delta Films, I never thought I would ever be sitting here as an actor in my own movie!”
“Why didn’t you go into politics yourself Stanley if you are so passionate about it?”
“Acting is as seductive as politics but there is something about the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd as someone once put it ………”
“I’m not sure I see any difference” said Tom impatiently “Now let’s get to work … Action! Camera! Lights!”
“First Among Equals” by Stanley Howard Stubbs was published privately but sold five million copies worldwide.