“A drink of water before we start, Prime Minister?”
“Thank you. I always forget how hot it gets in these studios.” The Prime Minister took a sip from the glass. He was nervous; it was his final television appearance before the country went to the polls. His hands shook. He spilled some drops down his chin. An old adage sprang to mind, something about slips between cup and lip. Or was it ‘betwixt’… Curious old word, that. Betwixt.
A make-up assistant scurried forward to dab at the PM’s wet face and reapply powder. The studio darkened before she had finished. She just managed to flit out of shot as the show lights came up and the theme music blared its final fanfare.
The host made the introductions. Tonight’s programme was a special, you lucky viewers. The PM would be in the hot seat and then, after the break, the leader of the opposition would appear via satellite link-up from his constituency beyond the northern barricade.
“Welcome, Prime Minister,” the host swivelled his chair to face his guest. The gallery cut from his close-up to a two-shot, and then to a close-up of the PM.
“It’s good to be here,” the PM smiled. Behind the camera, his press officer scowled. The PM should never smile. It reminded the viewers he had tiny teeth, all the same size and shape, like some kind of predatory fish.
“Prime Minister, I’d like to talk to you first about wages. Most of the electorate find it difficult to survive. Their wages simply aren’t enough to cover basic living costs. I put it to you this is why the country’s benefits bill is so high and yet you continue to cut benefits. Why is this?”
“Let me be perfectly clear,” the PM tipped his head in what he thought was an attitude of frankness and sincerity, “hard-working families are rewarded for their hard work.”
“There’s nothing clear about that. Hard-working families? Are you suggesting people send their children out to work? Their elderly relatives?”
The PM emitted a snort of derision.
“Look,” he jutted his chin, “if you work hard, you will be rewarded.”
“But, that simply isn’t true, is it, Prime Minister? People need to be paid a living wage.”
“People need to live within their means. It’s a simple fact of life.”
“But it’s also a fact of life that you are sending people inexorably into unmanageable debt. More and more hard-working families are reliant on food bins just to survive. More and more people are being sent beyond the northern barricade. I understand you have plans to move the barricade as far south as Watford. Child poverty is at record levels and what are you doing about it?”
The PM reached for the glass and took a swig of water. It was a ruse to buy him thinking time but then again, it was genuinely sweltering in that studio. The water tasted odd, a little metallic, perhaps…
“Actually, I don’t give a fuck about the poor,” he blurted out all of a sudden. He clamped his thin lips shut, his eyes wide with horror. “And I don’t give a shit about the disabled.”
The host was delighted. He turned to Camera One and gleefully issued an apology for the PM’s language.
“I mean, what I meant to say is, if you work hard, you will have no problems – let me be clear – let me be perfectly clear – Tax breaks for the rich! Privatise everything! Accept backhanders from corporations!”
The PM tried to force his fists into his mouth but he found he couldn’t stop. He felt compelled to tell the truth. Out it all poured in direct contradiction of all the lies he and his party had been spouting for years. His flabby face took on the appearance of a beetroot in a sauna as he squirmed in his seat. The press officer could faintly be heard calling for an end to transmission but he found himself lifted by his elbows and smartly escorted from the premises.
The PM continued to tell the truth, incriminating himself and everyone in his cabinet. The host didn’t need to prompt with questions. Finally, the PM collapsed, panting and burbling, a man damned by his own words.
The host turned to the camera delighted with this result.
“Thank you, Prime Minister. Coming up after the break, we go live to the leader of the opposition, beyond the northern barricade. We’ll be right back.”
The floor manager called the all-clear. They had had to get used to cutting to commercials, ever since the government had shut down the license scheme. It had led to a drop in broadcast standards and job losses in the industry. So unfair, when the broadcasting company had given the government such an easy ride.
“And we’re back in ten…”
The host sat up straight, looking forward to putting the opposition leader through his paces. Since the selling-off of the broadcasting company, the host had become interested in science and particularly a new line in nanobots that affected the brain’s ability to tell lies.
“One thing, love,” the host asked the director in the gallery, “Our next guest has got a drink of water handy, hasn’t he?”