I came close to resigning from the campaign group today; nearly chucked-in the whole fucking job I was that angry. I'm still feeling resentful about it now.
It all started with a confidential blurt from James describing some of his policy proposals. Far from the sensible libertarian ideals I thought he and the NRP stood for, these latest notions apear to be only a mildly watered-down version of Consensism. I didn't find them in any way at all inspiring and told him so. By return blurt I was told in not so many words to hold my peace and just get on with the job I was doing.
That to me was like a red rag to a bull, so I called him and let him know I wasn't happy being treated this way, and maybe the time had come for him to look for my replacement on the campaign group. It was the closest I'd come to having a steaming row with him; that fact alone seemed to startle him; in fact he began to row back a bit suggesting his proposals were a only a basis for discussion, a possible way of transitioning from Connie rule back to a free society and economy in stages in order to minimise any disruption that a sudden change would cause. I remained unconvinced, not least by the lack of reform envisioned for the OMS, and it must have shown because in a marked change to his usual 'my way or the highway' demeanour he almost pleaded with me to take some time to think about it before making a final decision. Things would all become clear soon enough he promised.
That was enough to whet my curiosity as to what was going on, so I agreed to delay making up my mind for a few days. Not that it took that long for James' ulterior motive to become apparent; a day later the story broke.
It emerged I wasn't the only one to get a provocative blurt from James; everyone in the campaign group did, but not everyone kept the contents to themselves. One of the draft policy documents was leaked, and the Connies made hay with it. They claimed the NRP's timidity in proposing so few changes to the system the Consensus had put in place was an inherrent admission they had been right all along. Their glee was cut short when James revealed his real motive behind the proposals.
It turned out to be a cunning plan to expose the Connie agents James suspected had infiltrated IMS. By giving each member of the group their own individualised document it would be possible to find out by our reaction who was true to the cause, and who; given a plum story to leak and discredit the NRP, couldn't resist breaking cover. Once James publicly announced his turning of the tables the Connies at first denied infiltrating IMS, then went silent with embarrassment.
The next meeting of the campaign group was strained, to put it mildly. In addition to the two former employees who had been found out and summarily dismissed, another committee member decided she'd had enough and stepped down from the group. The rest of us were in a mutinous mood as well; we made it clear if James ever tried a repeat of that stunt we'd resign en-masse. Faced with a tide of resentment he apologised for going too far, and promised if any further security issues arose he'd deal with them in a far more conciliatory manner. That got him off the hook for the moment, but the ill-feeling remains and I must be one of the most aggrieved people still working for him. He knows that the next time - if there were to be a next time - would be the last time; I won't have my integrity questioned in such a manner.
The upshot of it all was by the time our ruffled feathers had been smoothed the day was wasted. I'm sure the Connies would be pleased by the self-inflicted damage just the fear of their pervasive espionage has caused. As for the public impact of all this; who can say what effect it will have? Ten years after politics as we knew them were officially abolished a lot of people have no interest in them at all and don't want to see them return: They'd rather watch the latest heat of Dance Together!
Traditionally January may have been 'the cruellest month' but recently it seems February and March are trying to claim the title as well. Since the really cold weather arrived in mid-January the Fed has been struggling to shrug off the sub-arctic conditions with mixed success.
Everyone hoped by now in late March the worst of it would be over, but the winter and the problems it causes continue to persist. The latest blizzard warning nearly caused our campaign group meeting to be cancelled, but in the indomitable spirit of our times we set off when James decided we had to meet in the secure environment of the Column. The news of my surveillance perhaps convincing him collaborating here face to face is the wiser option rather than a videoconference, despite the latter being the more sensible option at this moment. As a result I face a difficult journey to London. In spite of the best efforts of the FedRail and NRA staff, this winter is pushing a network adapted from one built to withstand far different conditions to the limit.
These days we don't cower under the stairs surrounded by piles of sandbags at the first hint of severe weather as we used to. Now the past advice to stay at home and out of any potential danger would be laughed down as an example of the effete people we had become. The more masculine nation we are now does not believe in tears; undaunted by the weather, with outward bound boy scout brio we bravely sally forth to battle the climate.
From prepositioned camps and lodgings heroic NRA conscripts are called out to engage in a constant struggle to keep everything running. Given their lack of specialist equipment and inadequate clothing they do remarkably well, often shifting great quantities of snow by hand if no mechanical aid is available. But they do so at great cost to themselves. They suffer from cold injuries, often severe ones. Earlobes, fingertips, toes, and patches of skin are routinely sacrificed to the ferocious cold; yet still they selflessly go out into the elements to carry out their social obligation. Many of them have little choice because if they don't perform satisfactorily they get sent straight back to Rehabilitation. Some may suffer or even die in the course of performing their duty but for the greater good their work; whatever it may be, must go on. In our harsh new world some people are expendable.
The train stop-goes-stops all the way to London through the grubby twilight of a marshmallow world, the flourescent overalls of the lineside workers the only vibrant colours to be seen in the monochromatic landscape. The carriage display says the wind chill adjusted temperature outside is a relatively balmy -19°c. Any Ferals who've not been able to dig themselves an insulating burrow into a secluded earthern bank or gather enough wild foods in advance to see them through this bitter spell are certain to die. To add to the misery the train heating and HyperFi are restricted to the absolute minimum; people are swathed in warmsuits layered on top with any items of winter clothing they can lay their hands on, or wrapped in musty FedRail emergency blankets. At times of such heavy demand on our straining power systems, we're told that every little economy helps. I don't believe a word of it, but the illusion of a collective sacrifice to see ourselves through this difficult period must be maintained.
Such is the state's organisational capacity and concern for our welfare we're served tepid degréplastic cups of watery powdered soup whenever we're held up at a station. It tastes an artificial cocktail of indeterminate flavours but no-one refuses it.
I reach Waterloo only two hours late. Finally reaching the Zone I'm relieved to find I'm not the only one in this predicament; most of us are held up so the start of the meeting will be delayed. A couple of our people from the north-west found themselves unable to travel any further and decided to turn around. Once most of us have arrived at the secure inner conference suite we can begin reviewing our progress to date.
It's been as good as we ever dared hope, but still we don't appear to be making enough of an impact on the Connies' lead; although it's difficult to know exactly as opinion polls are banned: The Electoral Commission regards them as psuedoscientific at best; a distraction which prevents people from considering the issues for themselves instead of running with the herd of perceived popularity. At worst they regard them as opinion forming polls.
I suspect the real reason the Connie-leaning Commission prohibited the publication of opinion surveys under any circumstances during the campaign is they're aware the Consensus Party's lead isn't as great as they would have anticipated at this point and don't want to encourage any groundswell of opposition support: The best way of sapping the will to fight of a likely protagonist is to convince them they have no chance of winning, and so any struggle is a pointless effort. Lacking any hard evidence we're groping around in the dark, as was intended. Our latest projections gathered from an aggregate of informal opinion sources still show us some ten percent or so behind, and I consider that estimate to be overly optomistic.
We need a breakthrough of some kind; a knockout blow to land on the Connies' jaw, but what? All the strategies we have seem to fall just short. There are some good ideas; the blurt made by our Birmingham hub lampooning the Connie housing policy for example. It's a parody of an old sixties Pathé newsreel about The Home Of The Future, but instead of the white heat of technological optimism, the viewer is given a lingering tour of some of the worst accommodation which could be found. Apparently there was no shortage of suitable locations. The voiceover concludes in a cheerfully optomistic tone "...and you too could be living in a place like this in the near future!"
That and my video of the Connie gathering, edited to lend their rythmic clapping and foot stamping a menacing air, are approved to be 'cast on our allocated PushCred slots. With James' collection of credder videos and my Battle Of The Boot Sale documentary we have a good arsenal of propaganda to launch at the Consensus Party but honestly, will any of it make a difference? How many of the electorate will be influenced or actually give a toss about it all? I wonder if our slickly produced vids aren't just too sophisticated for them.
It seems I'm not the only one with misgivings. Without mentioning specifics, James ask pointedly if there isn't anything else we can do in the way of exposing the Connies; providing a simple and direct issue with which to hit them hard and repeatedly. Though his question is posed to the whole meeting I know it is directed at me, and exactly what he's implying. The answer is no; the covert 'cord of the Connie meeting is all I've been able to coax out of my source so far, and I'm not expecting him to come up with any more soon. They're running loyalty audits of suspect members at the moment, so not surprisingly he's laying low for a while; I don't blame him.
So sorry, I don't see any hope of us being able to get hold of a glutton party vid soon, no matter how desperately we want one. The undeniable proof of higher-ranking Connies stuffing themselves to excess with luxury foods we'd have no chance of either finding or affording; so much so they vomit it back up as if they were at a Roman orgy, and doing so just because they can would be certain to turn public opinion against them. It's one thing for the average prole to shrug their shoulders at injustices done to others, but on an issue as directly relevant to them as food policy such flagrantly wasteful behaviour would touch a raw nerve, especially given the non-stop drizzle of appeals and coercion to economise in their daily lives. Sadly an exposé of the wantonly arrogant privilege of the Connie class is something we can only wistfully dream of having.
Then Fordson Roberts, that obnoxious, ambitious little scrote from our Bristol hub comes up with an idea and says what everyone else seems to be thinking. "Look, we all know that it goes on, even if we've no images of it, so why don't we stage a reconstruction of a puking party?" I'm astonished by his brazenness but the notion appears to be gaining support.
"How do you mean?" asks Alice Hughes from Leicester. "Are you going to make it clear from the outset it's a reconstruction or just let people think it's a real 'cord? Would you pixellate the actors' faces for a bit of authenticity?"
I can't believe what I'm hearing. Yes this is electioneering, and all may be fair in war, but this has the potential to backfire on us and I tell them so.
"You're not thinking this through, are you? What exactly are you proposing? If it's a reconstruction then it'll just look like desperation on our part and the Connies will laugh at us. If you're trying to pass off something we've made as original then you're asking for trouble! If the actors' faces aren't pixellated it'll be easy to FacePop them and find out who they really are, and if they're wurdled we'll face an access demand to see the undisguised images. The Connies will put in a formal complaint to the Electoral Commission and we'll all be deep in it! We'll blow any chances we have of winning and end up in Rehab before polling day!"
I stop. There is a pregnant stillness in the room. Then Roberts comes back petulantly. "Have you any better ideas then?" God I'm really beginning to take an active dislike to the little shit! Someone else is just about to speak but before they can utter a word it happens. All of the sights and feelings I've experienced today; waking up in my frigid shoebox of a home, the rush to put on my many layers of clothing before I start to shivver; leaving for Petersfield on a poorly heated bus; enduring the brass monkeys train journey here; seeing people walking bundled and bulked up in insulation; being reminded of what adequate heating is once I'm within the Column, so much so it's a constant struggle to ward off the drowsiness tugging at me: All of this coming together and cystalising in a single thought which I blurt out as it forms.
"Why are we freezing?"
There's another silence of incomprehension. "Care to explain?" says James, weighing in.
"We're looking for an issue to beat them with; well we've got one! It's right in front of our noses but it's so big we've not been able to see it! The winter! and the way it's been handled! Think about it: Here we are in the 21st century in what is supposedly an advanced society with all our problems solved, yet we're still shivering as we were 250 years in the past! It's a reflection of the state we're in now; cold fingers and toes; always ill with something; raw air and condensation inside most buildings... Pull on this thread and it all unravels: The Connies claim to have worked miracles, but this is the reality of our lives; pissed on, pissed off, poor, permanently cold and hungry! Yes, the weather will have broken by election day but the memories will still be fresh, especially if we keep reminding people; Why Are We Freezing? or Why Did We Freeze? Oh, they may have some ready excuses to hand, but they won't wash. There's no way they can wriggle their way out of it. If we hammer-hammer-hammer them with this I believe we can have them. Don't you see it?"
All of my thoughts having gushed out in a torrent of words the pause which follows is a stunned one as everyone digests what I've said. Even Roberts is dumbstruck. Then James delivers his judgement. "Yes... I think you're on to something there! Let's explore it a bit further..." I can't remember the rest of the meeting and how it went, I was concentrating hard on not nodding off, but any thoughts about faking a glutton party vid vanished in the enthusiastic discussion which arose from my idea. We Want Our Lives Back! was one of the better slogans I remember being adopted. We have a strategy now; hopefully a winning one.
The meeting ends. Those of us not attempting to make it back today are going to stay overnight at the Perch. The rest, Roberts included, are going to risk travelling through the worsening conditions. The PushCred 'casts cabled through to the large screen in the conference room show workers valiantly struggling against the drifting snow. Despite the attempt to spin the heroism of the gangs striving to keep the Fed moving against the extremes of nature it is clear they are losing the fight.
Sod that for a lark! I don't fancy spending the night stuck on a stalled train so I'll crash in the Perch; at least it'll be reasonably warm and the expense will be covered by IMS. I'll try to catch a return train later in the morning, when things may be moving again.
Were this weather to continue up to the time of our next meeting we'd be able to use the new dormitory being constructed for us; but if things are still this bad by then I think our sleeping arrangements will be the least of our worries. Such a hard and late lasting winter is bound to play havoc with agriculture; which means reduced yields, more imports, smaller portions, and still higher food prices.
Once I reach the Perch the effects of my chilled day begin to catch up with me, so I take an early nap. As I drift in and out of conciousness my last thought is a fervent wish Fordson Roberts spends a miserably cold evening stranded somewhere. The wanker deserves to suffer.
When I finally get home and check the sensors it appears that no one has been in while I was away. Hopefully they've lost interest in me.