“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T. S. Eliot, but for Britain’s Liberal Democrats and Labor (er, Labour) the cruelest month will always be May. In particular, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Ed Milliband of Labour will never forget the very night in May when each was stricken with what might be called “Sudden Onset SDD”— Staff Deprivation Disorder. It’s sometimes known as “Morning After Disease.”
In a matter of election return minutes, Mr. Clegg lost his office as Deputy Prime Minister, lost his government car and driver, his scheduling assistant, his government computers, his government cell phone, his security detail — yea, in a sword’s flash, his salary. Likewise, Mr. Milliband with his leadership of the Loyal Opposition. It was like a scene from Wolf Hall, only the beheadings happened (to mix an image) at Benny Hill speed.
Not so in the former colonies. Our occasionally more civilized U.S. of A. gives its losers after an election all the rest of November and December, and maybe into January, to send out their resumes, help their staffs find jobs, maybe put their houses up for sale — and learn how to answer their own mail. The same goes for dismissed federal political appointees.
I have a friend who recently left the House of Representatives as a volunteer retiree. He went out on his own; that is, not feet first. Still, as the next Congressional session approached even he was shocked to witness his papers and autographed pictures boxed up and his reliable old retainers disappear. Toward the end he was placed in solitary confinement in a cell about eight feet by seven feet in the Cannon Office Building dungeon, with no view of daylight and answering his own phone. The shame of it! Then he was relieved of the phone — and the tiny office. Then his mobile phone went dead. And he had to figure out all over again how to manage his own calendar. The humiliation is hard to conceive.
Similar things happened to me when I left public service many years ago. Fortunately, my parents had prepared me against that day, making certain I took a typing class in high school, or I just don’t know how I would have survived on my new personal laptop computer. Even so, I felt abandoned the moment something went wrong, which it did at once and often. As I pushed back against the rough reality of private life, I made a vow reminiscent of Scarlet O’Hara: I will never go staff-less again!
But coming back to our English cousins, David Cameron surely felt relief more than exhilaration on election night as he realized he would be hiring rather than retiring. His growing Tory claque likewise must have chattered and chuckled over the palpable discomfiture of BBC commentators as they found that literally all the published polls — including the exit polls! — proved wrong and the Conservative Party was going to survive and verily triumph, with forty or more seats than predicted — and a majority. That means that David Cameron, having seen off his old allies, the Liberals, now has 20 more offices and portfolios to spread around his own party caucus. There is nothing that cements political loyalty like a job, after all. Drinks and cars and drivers all around!
Too bad about the Liberals; it had to be done. Just as the Tories originally needed to seduce the Liberals to get a coalition government, now they had to put them away. Coincidentally, the Sunday after the election the Gospel reading in the Church of England (and in Catholic churches, too) was John 15:13. A friend, A. M. Radcliff, was reminded of an earlier occasion when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan removed many of his own followers from the cabinet. He applied an assessment from that time to the situation this year, as Cameron showed the Liberals to the Exit doors of Parliament: “No greater love hath a politician than to give up the lives of his friends for his own.”
The Brits do have a way of putting it.