Martin Clarke stood in the Speaker’s private office and admired himself in the mirror. He shouldn’t be here, he knew but the open door spoke of temptation. One day soon, he promised himself as he adjusted the ermine collared cloak, he would be Speaker of the House of Commons, in control of the Mother of Parliaments.
The costume was ridiculous, he could admit to himself: breeches and stockings, buckled shoes and an embroidered jacket. But he did look good in it.
Reluctantly he changed back into his frankly drab, if expensive suit and hung the cloak back on the hanger.
Prime Ministers came and went, but they never had the power that resided here, especially if there was another hung Parliament. Real power to decide who spoke, which motion came before the House, which were voted on. He looked again at his reflection and intoned: ‘The ayes to the right have it. The ayes have it.’
A small cough brought him back to the moment. ‘Perhaps this might be a good time for you to leave, Mr Clarke. The Speaker has just entered the Building.’
Martin nodded, possibly a touch too anxiously he thought, but Sponge did that to you. Wizened little gremlin. It was like being back at school, fagging for Carpenter. He knew how to make you feel inadequate. That would change when he became Speaker. ‘Right. Thank you for… you know, Sponge.’
‘Not at all, Mr Clarke, and if I may make so bold, if you are talking to The Right Honourable Member for the Cotswolds West you would be well advised to mention the chinchilla rabbits and Yvonne De La Grasse.’
‘Indeed sir. I think you will find his reluctance to support your candidature for Speaker might reduce somewhat.’
‘Shouldn’t I know what it is that might cause such a Damascene conversion?’
‘I suggest not, Mr Clarke. You would want to maintain the plausible deniability that only true ignorance ensures.’
‘But you know, Sponge, don’t you?’
‘Indeed it is my burden to know these things on behalf of the holder of this great office of state.’
‘Are there many, erm, Yvonnes? If I can put it that way.’
‘More than enough, Mr Clarke to ensure that only those best placed to undertake such a delicate role as Mr Speaker are able to achieve the necessary, if not willing support.’
‘And you think… that is Mr Speaker thinks that could be me?’ He knew he sounded feeble, but he had always thrived on some gratuitous flattery.
‘Oh yes. A perfect candidate you’ll make, Mr Clarke. Now, if you would be so kind as to perhaps take your leave, I need to brief Mr Speaker on the day’s schedule.’
Barnabas Sponge watched Martin Clarke stroll away, heading no doubt for the members’ bar. There was just the right amount of unjustified confidence, chummy bonhomie and man of the people faux sincerity in that one, he thought to make him the perfect candidate. That plus his penchant for oiled hairless romps with a couple of toned Ivans and a boxful of blue pills. The Speaker may be powerful, but not as powerful as the keeper of the Speaker’s secrets.
Barney Sponge straightened the blotter and headed for his own little office, modest in its size and trimmings. Time to organise a little competitive bidding around the identity of the new Speaker and place a couple of bets. Then he could focus on the upcoming patronage round. Yes, Mr Speaker Clarke would be only too keen to help support a few of Barney’s favourite causes when he balanced the inevitable gratitude with the sure and certain knowledge that Barnabas Sponge has him where Barnabas Sponge wanted him: by the balls.