I'm back in the Column for the final meeting of the campaign group before the official launch of the NRP. Typically the Consensus Party have scheduled their launch the day before ours. They have to be first in much the same way as they try to push in to the front of any queue or hog the best seats on public transport, contrary to their supposed communitarian ethos. It's a practice which has somehow become established over the years without anyone realising. Our petty seigneurs see such behaviour as a perfectly justified reward they are entitled to as thanks for the work they do on our behalf. Though whenever some little snot in a ute-suit asks me to vacate my seat for them I tell them in no uncertain terms what they can do with themselves; but many weaker-willed passengers get browbeaten by their attempts to assert a position of supercilious privilege.
Their arrogant insistence on trying to push into the lead so quickly may paradoxically be a small part of their eventual undoing. By going first they are giving us something to respond against. For example their easing of Hazel Dunn from the lead spokespersonship - their equivalent of a party leader - in favour of Lois Merck.
Yes the bitch is back. Unapologetic, unrepentant, still as bitter and twisted as ever she was, if not more so. She's spent quite some time learning to adapt to her disability, she being privileged enough to have what surgical treatment was available to her. Now she has limited control over her bladder and bowel; being able to urinate or defecate at the touch of a switch thanks to a remote controlled implant. But barring a miraculous advance in medical science she will never regain any feeling in her lower body, or be able to use her legs unaided again. She can walk after a fashion with the aid of an experimental exoskeleton which by reading her brain translates her thoughts into commands to the servocalipers strapped around her withered legs; but the process is painfully slow, and she finds it tiring to use for more than a short time.
Psychologically she has retreated into a defensive mental construct which has made her the ideal Connie representative. Rather than her direct experience having taught her about the realities of a life lived with a disability; leaving her humbled and better informed, it has instead only intensified her prejudices. Her insistence that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, is capable of overcoming what life throws at them and bettering themselves not only remains, but has been reinvigorated. No better example can be found than the cover image of her autobiography showing her back with the deeply indented scar just above the base of her spine: The book's title; Unbroken.
Yet she has been deeply mentally as well as physically wounded; and she copes with her loss by displacing her anguish against people who she has never met and have done her no wrong. Her philosophy of militant self-improvement is in accord with Consensus policy, so since her re-entry to public life she has been a member of the Council with a specific brief to advise on social policy.
Against such an assertive, forcefully intense personality such as Lois Merck's, Hazel Dunn didn't stand a chance. Dunn is a mousey, characterless, starchily authoritarian technocrat; perfectly suited to be one of the collective leadership of the Council. She is one of the beige people in an amorphous group who realised that regularly changing their figurehead denied the opposition the ability to personalise the movement; so providing a focus for their resentment, nay hatred, of their policies.
Dunn's short-lived student radicalism and limited experience as a Parliamentary Private Secretary; the most junior of government posts during the dying months of the last of the old-style governments, was something which could be overlooked and quietly downplayed during the mandate of the Council; but now such a record would be an obvious liability in the rumbustious politicking that is bound to come. Her links - however distant - to the discredited politics of the past fail to reflect the radical aspirations of the Consensus Party, and it was whispered that not only under her chairpersonship had the Consensus begun to drift slightly but she was beginning to lose her grip on reality, though that isn't unusual among Council members.
Merck however, is exactly what the Connies want. Her life story will mirror that of a nation rising above its challenges thanks to the hard work of the Consensus. She'll play the part of an elfin beauty whose body was broken but spirit unbowed by the regressive forces in society for daring to speak out against welfarism. A reminder of where we have come and how far we have travelled from the past; as well as a warning of what awaits us should we stray again from the path of Consensus righteousness. No longer a political dilettante - juggling family life, smug domesticity, and a part-time career of inciting bigotry - she is now totally focused on leading the Consensus to victory and beyond.
The fucking cow will milk her martyrdom for all it's worth; her return to the limelight an open defiance of the shadowy forces of the insurgency who warned if she continued as she had, the next time that they caught up with her they'd make sure she lost the use of her arms as well. I'm sure the people who flidded her now regret their cruel mercy, and wish they hadn't just murdered her to shut her up for good. Well they had the chance, they let it slip, and it's too late now.
Protected by constant heavy security she feels emboldened to speak out in support of Consensist principles; as her reward she'll be guaranteed a parliamentary seat under the deliberately confusing proportional representation system that the Electoral Commission has devised; an obfuscating combination of indirectly elected members chosen from party lists in proportion to their party's percentage of support, and directly elected constituency representatives; with an automatic grant of extra seats to the largest party to avoid yet another damaging coalition. No doubt she'll quickly assume the primeministership and as part of her reinvigorated vision set about imposing a collective punishment of revenge against the groups in society she holds responsible for encouraging the attitudes which motivated the gang who so grievously crippled her.
It's a bold but risky strategy, yet it has worked in the past. Putting up a strong-willed, charismatic leaderenne with radical policies that appeal to the most mean-spirited instincts of the electorate was successful back in 1979; but many will argue that it was the lasting effects of Thatcherism which set us on the road through hell leading us to this point.
Merck will be a difficult, dangerous opponent to beat, and we'll need our wits about us to counter her. Sat in our conference room, watching the BBC PushCred 'cast from the Consensus Party launch conference, we're about to find out what we're up against.
The event begins with the chairman making only the briefest of opening remarks. Nothing can be allowed to dissipate any attention away from their star speaker. On cue the heavy anti-insect drone drapes covering the doors are swept aside and Lois Merck wheels into the hall.
She could have driven in on electric power but canny politicienne she is she uses her well muscled arms to propel her chariot onto the speaking platform; a move that will resonate with the work ethic of her intended audience. She's flanked by her two children, Arabella and Horatio; their excruciatingly upper middle class names evidence of their mother's pretentiousness. Again it's another less-than-subtle reminder of her victimhood. Her children; toddlers at the time, were in the house when the maiming happened. They too were severely traumatised by it and its subsequent effects on their parents.
The difficult convalescence proved to be too much of a strain on the Merck's marriage, and they divorced three years after the attack. Nor was that the only problem with their relationship. Having lost all sensation below her waist, Lois' sex life came to an abrupt end. Being unable to have had a good shag for more than a decade it's no wonder she's so resentful and frustrated. Both of her now adolescent children are wearing Young Communitarian ute-suits; they have become leading figures in the YC hierarchy.
The faithful, deliberately over packed into the hall give her a sustained standing ovation; one that increases in intensity as Merck slowly rises out of her chair and uses her exoskeleton to walk the few awkwardly stiff paces to her seat; again she could have just rolled herself into position but she knows how to make an impression.
She sits down and the camera closes-in to frame her against the dark purple backdrop that the Consensus Party have chosen as their campaign colour: It is supposed to represent the merging of the formerly antagonistic red and blue factions of politics into the one unified Consensus. The omnipresent symbol and FORWARD TOGETHER! slogan contrasting with it in large golden yellow lettering.
The years of disability have left their mark on her. She looks pinched and gaunt, all her heathy subcutaneous facial tissue emaciated; her expression is ingrained with permanent stress creases that not even officially discouraged botox and cosmetic surgery can smooth. Some vitality seems to have left her skin tone; age seeming to settle with a particular cruelty on those who are already impaired. Her once flyaway fine blonde hair has greyed to a platinum ash, and has been cut in a boyishly feminine New Modesty crew cut; the easier for her close fitting sensory hair net to pick up her thoughts. Something has changed in her drained expression as well. She looks haunted, yet her eyes stare out with an inner fervour. It's as if she sustains herself purely by the strength of her will and obsessive hatred.
The audience settles into a reverent silence and she begins to speak. We're not expecting the speech to be revealing any detailed policies; but it should more set the tone for their campaign. I'm not going to bother transcribing it in its entirety here but fucking hell! It's as if the civil war, the Crises, and the decade of Connie rule since didn't happen! She's harking back in time, aiming to inflame the prejudices of her supporters and going for the jugular of any opposition; namely us. In the lilting tone we've come to expect we're brought back to basics and lectured on the facts of life according to Lois Merck.
She tells us we've come a long way since the dark days of the Crises. We'd still be wallowing in the depths of despair had it not been for the Consensus movement grabbing us by our collective lapels and shaking some sense into ourselves. It has been this radical, tough, but fair discipline which has pulled us up by our bootlaces from the moral cesspit we inhabited, and raised us to where we are now; a united, cohesive nation; forging ahead in the world, providing a shining example of what could be done when we really put ourselves into finding a solution to our problems.
It is the Consensus party who can take the credit for these achievements and who should reap the rightfully earned reward of a renewed mandate at the forthcoming election. Though elections are traditionally a time to make a choice about the direction in which we want to go, in reality there is no choice in our decision; we have to continue along the Consensus road or lose everything we'd struggled so hard to establish.
Then she really gets stuck in. Though we have made such transformational progress over this last decade the attitudes of moral faineance are still latent; just waiting for the chance to re-emerge. Were anyone but the Consensus Party to be elected those socially destructive mindsets which have been subdued with such difficulty would soon be running unconstrained once more.
With an effort she heaves herself to a standing position with jerky exoskeletal aid and shrills, almost shrieking. "We must never allow them victory! For what they did to the United Kingdom and to me they will do to the Federation and you! They say the Devil makes work for idle hands to do. It must be so, for look at the difference we made; see the improvements we wrought, when we forced the shirkers to become productive citizens!" The hall erupts in applause. Slowly, point made, she eases herself back down.
More calmly now, she continues. "We have done such a remarkable job in turning the nation around, but there is yet more to do. This is why the Consensus Party has been created. Not only to safeguard the Council's legacy, but to continue and increase the tempo of reform. With a renewed mandate we will be free to make the irreversible change to a system beyond ideology and politics. A communitarianism that will not only transform the Federation, but will inspire the world to follow our example!"
Only just preventing herself from sounding overzealous she concludes. "We've all struggled so hard to reach this point where we can truly begin our transformation. There is an old proverb which says a long journey begins with a single step. I'm going to make that step, even though it is difficult for me. Won't you join me on the way there?" With that she rises; lurches robotically back to her wheelchair, and slumps exhaustedly back into it having given her all.
The rapturous applause was inevitable having been choreographed in advance, but I suspect even the organisers were taken by surprise at her reception. The crowd stands and applauds for at least four minutes and are still going strong when the first unaccompanied chorus of 'The Family of Man' breaks out. At the point where the spontaneous rhythmic clap-along and ecstatic long drawn-out whooping begins, fearing the swaying delirium is going to get embarrassingly out of hand, the lackeys in the BBC swiftly cut away to the preprepared studio discussion of the speech and its import. This being the Beeb it is certain to be a nauseatingly sycophantic faux debate between the Connie supporting pundits. James switches off the feed in disgust, his action breaking the stunned and thoughtful silence. "Right people: There's the challenge; let's rise to it!"
A few hours later we've dissected her speech, anticipated their likely policies, and discussed strategies to counter them. We break up for the evening. Some of we Osties are going to hit the town, but I'm won't join them. Instead I'll be working here in the Column in a complimentary office suite the LEZ have lent us for the duration of the campaign. I'll be having a healthy light buffet and staying off the drink while I work on some ideas to add to James' address tomorrow. He seems to like what I do so I've been attached to his personal speech writing corps. It's a promotion of sorts; certainly something prestigious to add to my CV, though whether it will prove an advantage or handicap to my future career prospects is something that only the future can know.
I wouldn't mind being able to go out on the lash but I need to keep my body purged and fit to undergo my compulsory AHA (a fee of N£50 is payable and the cost of a subsequent retest increases if you 'fail') in a weeks' time. So once my work is done it'll be a sinless early night for me in the Perch.