Divorce is something I have yet to experience personally but Dave’s reshuffle has set me up nicely for any future threat to my own nuptial bliss. Out of the blue comes the call. It’s Dave’s office. ‘We need to talk — can you come over?’ And better I come round the back way to 10 Downing St, apparently, because there’s workmen all over the place at the front. And thus the bell tolls: on reshuffle day, winners are invited through the front door to smile for the cameras. The victims are roughed up around the back.
Tentatively, I turn up at Dave’s office. His flunkies, who usually don’t give you the time of day on your rare visits to the No. 10 bunker, are eerily fawning. Dave bounces out of his sofa, the air permeated with an uncharacteristic whiff of contrition. Something is definitely up. ‘Thanks for coming. Look there’s something I really need to tell you and I’m afraid it’s not good news.’ ‘What on earth is it?’ I simper.
What follows was horribly like what one’s wife might say before booting you out. It went something like this: ‘You have done a fantastic job. You have led a fantastic reform programme. I have no complaints about anything, you’ve done nothing wrong.’ The political equivalent of ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’
I respond in the manner of jilted husbands down the ages. ‘Is there someone else?’
‘Err, well actually there is.’
‘Who is she?’ I snap.
‘Well, it’s Matt actually.’
‘And Anna, and Brandon, and Liz, and there’s Hugo from a while back who’s back in town.’
‘WTF?’ I mouth uncontrollably.
‘Well, to be honest, there’s actually 303 someone elses and I’ve got to keep them all satisfied, and that’s no mean feat. I’m sure you understand.’
This was the general gist. Dave went on: ‘Anyway, as I say, it’s been a blast and you should feel really chuffed with everything you have contributed. Now I want to make things as easy as possible for you and I am sure you won’t want to be bothered with looking after that big old rambling house of yours, so I have already had a word with Mrs Thrasher and she has arranged to crate up all your stuff and ship it over to the Westminster flat. You’ll be much more comfortable there.’
My head is still spinning. Is it actually really my fault? Suddenly seized by the reality of my new and reduced standing, I leave Dave’s office — the flunkies are now all strangely absent. I duly dodge the photographers and wander the streets a while before returning to the Department I have been privileged to call home for the last two and a bit years. It is a quickie divorce like no other. Those facilities operatives from the Departmental basement whom I have been nagging unsuccessfully to hang some pictures in the ministerial office for months have transmogrified into a rapid reaction force par excellence. My ministerial substance is reduced to crates, any traces of my ex-ministerial DNA clinically removed as the office is deep-cleaned. The final blow: my name has already been removed from the door and from the Departmental website.
So it’s official: I am an un-minister. The press office photographer is lurking, already readying the lens to snap an image of Dave’s new best friend, who will have his feet under my ex-desk before nightfall. Dave and I are history.
But what follows for most half-decent ministers at least is equally disorientating. A flow of letters, emails and texts, from all sorts of people you have never heard of, full of indignation over your defenestration, telling you how you were the best-ever minister for X, and will be sorely missed. Just as the looming fate of ministers was reported by Twitter, so the valedictories come thick and fast on social media. He/she touched the lives of so many in the widget sector and will be hard to replace — RIP.
It makes me wonder: what about the real obituaries, when I am physically dead, not just ministerially deceased? At least I have had a sneak preview, and it focuses the mind. The remaining time of an un-minister can now hopefully be deployed to one’s long-suffering spouse, which might just save one’s real marriage. Dave did say he was pro–family, after all.