“Are you enjoying your sandwich?”
Catriona looked up at the patrician baritone. “Very much. It’s er…I’m sorry…?”
“James Arbuthnot-Rhys. I must say, the taxpayer gets their money’s worth when they subsidise the tuck. It’s excellent. May I join you?”
“I, well, is that proper? Opposite benches, you know?”
Catriona winced. She’d have to do better than that when she first spoke in the house. Members of Parliament were not tolerant of hesitation.
Arbuthnot-Rhys sat down. “Not to worry my dear, no press in here. Spot of luck running into you. I was hoping we might discuss my bill.”
Catriona took another bite to give herself time to remember which bill he was pushing.
“Aye, the…” She stifled the words ‘crackpot idea’ and replaced them with ‘proposal that people should take out insurance against unemployment’.
“That’s the fellow. May I count on your vote.”
“I don’t think I can vote for that. Problems with benefits come up all the time at my constituency clinics. I can’t see how people who can’t get a job would be able to pay an insurance premium.”
“Ah yes, you’re new here of course. Let me offer the voice of experience. Constituency clinics are all very well for appearance’s sake. Need the plebs to vote for us every five years after all. But there’s no reason to take them seriously. Not as if people have a clue how the country’s run, let alone how it should be run. That’s our job.”
Catriona had run out of sandwich to use as a delaying tactic. She hoped he didn’t interpret her silence to mean she was drinking in the words of a master of the art.
“Look, I could introduce you to some people,” he dropped his voice into the tone of a man who knows. “The sort of contacts you need once you’re in here.”
There it was, thought Catriona. Votes for introductions. Welcome to the establishment and here’s how to play the game.
“I’m sorry, Jim. It is Jim, isn’t it?”
“Well no, actually…”
“I’m sorry. Jimmy. I can’t vote for your bill. I have no intention of becoming the tit in constituency. That’s what one of your councillors called you, wasn’t it? I stood for election because there are enough people doing that job already. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be…somewhere. Somewhere important. Well, somewhere else anyway.”
Damn, she’d been doing so well. She needed more work on her exit lines. “Goodbye.”
As she walked away, she heard a sigh from behind her and the mutter of a voice calculated to be loud enough to carry across the House of Commons yet quiet enough for the speaker to pretend he hadn’t heard.
“No ambition, these redbrick types.”