Gazing smugly out over the River Thames through the wall-to-ceiling window of his spacious new office, Sadiq Khan threw his shiny Grenson brogues up on to the empty desk in front of him and cradled the back of his head with his hands.
“Careful with that, bruv” he barked at an aide, who was in the process of hanging a cheap, polyester Islamic prayer mat on the wall. “That’s a sick present from my man Ed Miliband, innit.”
“No problem boss,” replied the nervous young man, stepping back to admire his handiwork. He stooped to reach deep into a cardboard box on the richly carpeted floor and pulled out a hardback book. “Where do you want this, boss?”
Khan peered at the volume, quizzically. “What’s that bruv?,” he ventured.
“It’s, erm, called ‘The Mayor of Castro Street – The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,’ boss,” mumbled the aide.
Khan’s brow furrowed. His aide began frantically scrutinising the volume more carefully. “It’s from Sir Ian McKellen, boss. He’s written a message inside. ‘I hope this inspires you,’ it says.”
The mayor paused for a few seconds, a look of contempt weighing heavy on his face. “Just send it to Bryant or Mandelson or another one of them,” he snarled, giving an imperious wave. “I’m the mayor of London now. I don’t have to pretend to care about all this kaffir poof bullshi…”
Khan’s proclamation, however, was cut short by the sharp ring of the telephone on his desk. He lifted the receiver, tentatively.
“Assalam alaikum. Mayor Khan speaking, innit,” he said. There was a pause. “Oh, right, yeah. I, like, totally forgot about that. Yeah darlin’, just show ’em in.”
The mayor swung his feet off the desk, sat up straight and let out a low groan. Soon, he heard the sound of muffled voices behind his office door.
“No, I’ve already told you. This is not the TV tower in East Berlin,” an exasperated voice was explaining. “We’re in London. We’re meeting that nice Mr Khan like we discussed.”
A louder, reedier voice replied. “I’m meeting Erich Honecker, Seumas. I’m meeting Erich Honecker at the top of the TV tower.”
After another minute of hushed, barely audible discussion, the door of the mayor’s office swung open.
“Mr Corbyn and Mr Milne to see you, mayor Khan,” announced a smartly dressed young lady, holding the door open to allow Seumas Milne to push the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition into the room in his tatty wheelchair.
“Is this the top of the TV tower Seumas?,” yelled Corbyn, disturbing the tartan travel rug across his lap. “Is Honecker here yet?”
Khan rose from his chair with a forced smile. “Jeremy,” he said warmly, grasping the old man’s limp hand and shaking it vigorously. “Seumas, good to see you both. Take a seat.”
Milne wheeled his boss up to Khan’s desk and pulled up a seat next to him. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the corners of the old man’s mouth.
“Mr Corbyn has something to say to you, Sadiq,” said Milne. The Labour leader stared blankly at Khan.
“Haven’t you Jeremy?,” continued Milne, nudging Corbyn. The old man continued to stare, vacantly.
“Con…Congrat…You remember what we practi….”
“Where’s Erich Honecker?,” bleated Corbyn, accusatorily. “Who are you?”
Khan lowered his eyes, awkwardly. There followed a long, painful silence.
Milne reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a crumpled polaroid.
“Now mister, you behave yourself or I’ll fetch her,” he said, wagging his finger. “Be
polite, Jeremy. Like we discussed.”
The old man shook his head indignantly. “Shan’t,” he grumped, folding his arms.
“Very well,” said Milne, slowly turning the polaroid around to reveal an image of Margaret Thatcher, smiling benevolently. “I warned you that I’d fetch her.”
“NO, NOOO. GET HER AWAY,” screeched Corbyn, recoiling. “GET HER AWAY!”
“Not until you promise to behave, mister,” Milne chided.
“I’ll behave, just get her away,” screamed the old man, writhing and twisting in his chair.
Milne tucked the polaroid back into his pocket, brushed himself down and turned to Khan.
“Anyway, you get the picture, Sadiq. Congratulations and all that,” blustered Milne. “Look, we can’t stay long – I need to get him back and give him his bath in half an hour – so I’ll cut to the chase.”
“Whatever bruv, whatever,” sighed Khan, leaning back in his leather office chair.
“Here’s the thing, Sadiq. We’ve had a bad few weeks. What with Ken and all his Nazi stuff, having to pretend to discipline all those Muslim councillors for so-called antisemitism and Jeremy giving us all a scare by wandering off and somehow ending up in Bristol.”
“Marvin’s a black man,” yelped Corbyn, his eyes lighting up. “A black man.”
“Yes, that’s right Jeremy, Marvin’s a black man,” said Milne, soothingly. “Anyway Sadiq, I was wondering. Would you be able to tone down all this ‘Uncle Tom’ stuff for a while? It doesn’t really, erm, look good.”
Khan fixed Milne with a steely stare. Slowly, the traces of a smile began to form on the mayor’s face.
“Seumas bruv, you crack me up, man,” bellowed Khan, amiably. “You obviously ain’t had the same upbringing as me, the son of a bus driver from a Sarf London council estate, innit.”
Khan laughed and slapped the desk. “You don’t know da lingo, man. Where I’m from, a council estate in Sarf London, we were always calling each other ‘Uncool Tom’ – it’s a cockney Pakistani working class thing, country boy. You crack me up Seumas.”
“Uncool Tom?,” ventured Milne.
“Yeah, man,” enthused Khan. He started clicking his fingers and shuffling his shoulders. “It be like – ‘hey bruv, stop being such an uncool Tom and gimme a lend of your walkman’ sort of vibe, man.”
“I see,” replied Milne, rubbing his chin, thoughtfully. “Well, that puts a whole different complexion on things. Your critics are not only racist, but are deeply classist in mocking the patois of hard working Pakistani communities in South London.”
“Mashallah! Got it in one,” cried Khan, holding his hands up. “I’m just a bus driver’s son. I ain’t no extremist, bruv.”
Milne nodded, smiling. “Well, I’ve found this little chat most reassuring, Sadiq. I can’t imagine that Jeremy’s going to have any problems with you running London for him.”
“Not at all, bruv, not at all.”
This genial moment, shared by the two like-minded socialists, was interrupted as Khan’s aide burst backwards through the door pulling a huge trolley laden with 10 litre tubs, marked “Fertiliser.”
“Where do you want this lot, boss?”, he panted.
The colour drained from Khan’s face in an instant. “In the basement, Justin,” he hissed. “It’s getting picked up later by the boys from the Finsbury Park Mo…erm…Allotment Association, remember?”
“REMEMBER?,” stressed Khan, with a wink.
“Oh yeah. Right,” stuttered the flustered aide, noticing Milne and the now fast asleep Corbyn, his head tipped back and his mouth wide open. “I’ll erm, just….”
“Can’t get the staff, eh?,” said Khan, warily eyeing the young aide as he backed awkwardly out of the office with the trolley. “No offence, Seumas.”
“None taken, Sadiq,” replied Milne. “You do know that Jeremy’s not always like this, don’t you? It’s just that he didn’t get much sleep on election night. He’s usually such an engaging character. He usually lights up the room with his incisive observations about social justice. I have no doubt that he will lead the party to victory in 2020 and establish a truly socialist, egalitarian societ…..”
Milne’s reply was cut short as his boss awoke with a start, shooting bolt upright in his wheelchair.
“Seumas,” he cried, an acute sense of urgency in his voice. “It’s happening again.”
He leaned forwards towards Khan, fixing him with a deranged, panicky glare. “Mr Honecker, may I borrow your commode?, ” he wailed, “It’s an emergency, comrade.”
© DH 2016