‘Jeremy, seriously now,’ snapped Seumas Milne. ‘It’s time to put that away.’
He was pacing feverishly back and forth behind the Labour leader’s vast oak desk, the knuckles of his left hand clenched anxiously between his teeth.
Jeremy Corbyn paid him no heed and continued the course of action he had embarked upon some two hours previously – thumping the desk in front of him with the grim determination of a galley slave drum beater.
He was leaning forward in his wheelchair, staring intently at the scenes unfolding on the desk in front of him.
Milne stopped dead and raked an exasperated hand through his sweat-drenched hair. He leaned over the desk and pulled a gaudy plastic board out of the reach of the Labour leader’s skeletal hand.
The old man dealt the empty desk in front of him a few more feeble blows before staring up at Milne with tears in his eyes.
‘But Seumas,’ he said, his reedy voice trembling slightly. ‘The yellow hippo is still hungry.’
Milne pursed his lips as he hastily packed the game back into its box.
‘It can’t possibly still be hungry, Jeremy,’ he hissed, tetchily. ‘You’ve been feeding those blasted hippos all morning.’
‘But the green, pink and red ones all got six balls each,’ wailed Corbyn, an unhinged tone creeping into his voice. ‘The yellow one only got two. I want them all to be equal, Seumas. That’s the whole point of it.’
He began rocking backwards and forwards in his wheelchair, his eyes bulging and his claw-like hands gripping the worn arm rests like bony vices.
‘We’ll redistribute the balls equally later after you’ve had your tray, Jeremy,’ muttered Milne, slinging the battered box into a desk drawer. ‘I told you yesterday that Hungry Hungry Hippos had to go away at eleven. It’s a quarter past now.’
‘But I want to put things right this very minute, Seumas,’ screeched Corbyn. ‘Don’t you see? I’m playing right into Thatcher’s hands if I leave it that way.’
Milne slumped down in the battered leather chair behind the desk and buried his clammy face in his palms.
He contemplated bringing the game back out and, for a quiet life, redistributing the balls equally. But he knew from bitter experience where that course of action would lead him. Within fifteen minutes, he would be counting out the money from the Monopoly box into four equal piles beside the hippos. In the background, Jeremy would be presiding over the show trials of the top hat and the boot.
He took a breath and tried to summon up some soothing words with which to distract his boss. But before he could make a single utterance, the office door was kicked open with such breathtaking force that it was left hanging precariously on a single hinge.
In the doorway stood Andrew Fisher, hands on hips, clad in Cuban military fatigues.
‘Buenos dias, comrades,” he barked, raising a clenched fist.
He grabbed an office chair from the edge of the office, dragged it across the wooden floor to Corbyn’s desk, spun it around and straddled it.
‘Hasta la victoria siempre!,’ he yelled.
‘Good morning Andrew,’ murmured Milne, wearily.
‘Which one of my sons is this, Seumas?,’ hissed Corbyn in a clumsy attempt at a whisper. ‘Not the fascist grammar school one come to poison my mind?’
Milne laughed nervously and pressed on.
‘Andrew hasn’t got time to joke around, Jeremy,’ he blustered. ‘He’s a busy man. He’s been busy writing your election manifesto.’
Milne turned and fixed a dubious eye upon Fisher. ‘The manifesto we wanted to talk to him about.’
‘The most radical manifesto Labour has ever published,’ he beamed, proudly. ‘A manifesto that doesn’t play by the capitalist oppressor’s rules. It literally destroys everything the establishment holds dear. Like that office door right there. Doors are borders, Jeremy. No borders. No human being is illegal. Refugees welcome. You see where I’m going with this, Jeremy? Seumas? You’ve got to integrate socialism into everything you do. Starting with how you open doors.’
Milne stared blankly at Fisher for a few seconds before opening a desk drawer and pulling out a thin, dog-eared document.
‘Andrew, the manifesto you so kindly hurled through Jeremy’s window tied to a brick yesterday morning is only three pages long,’ he said softly, his brow furrowing slightly. ‘You’re here with the rest of it, I assume?’
‘Four pages Seumas, four pages,’ yelped Fisher, spinning around at breakneck speed on the office chair. ‘The front page counts as a page. Right Jeremy, right? You’re with me Jeremy, aren’t you?’
Corbyn sat bolt upright and raised his fist.
‘Thatcher!,’ he screamed. ‘Coal mines! Poll tax! Malvinas!’
‘Exactly, Jeremy’ said Fisher, stopping the chair dead in mid-spin. ‘My thoughts exactly.’
Milne slumped further into his chair, tearing most of his left thumbnail off with his teeth.
‘The front page is just a drawing of the royal family being executed in Trafalgar Square with ‘Labour Manifesto 2017′ written underneath it in Urdu,’ he spat, through gritted teeth. ‘It doesn’t count as a page, Andrew.’
‘That aside, it’s just a three page list of other people you’d have executed if Jeremy was elected,’ he added, disdainfully tossing the sorry-looking document on the desk. ‘Chuka Umunna is on it three times.’
‘But….but….it’s socialism, Seumas,’ said Fisher, taking quick, jerky breaths. ‘Ends justifying means, kulaks liquidated, traitors eliminated, one death and tragedy, a million a statistic. Siberia, re-education, surveillance, executions. Lots of executions, Seumas.’
Milne leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand.
‘Andrew,’ he sighed, wearily. ‘I admire your enthusiasm for socialism, I really do. But executing people who disagree with socialism is only the half of it. You need to give people slogans, promise them mountains of free stuff. Free stuff that the Tories won’t let them have. You need to give people a reason to start killing.’
Fisher stood up with a start. He started jogging on the spot, puffing his cheeks out and grunting angrily.
He stopped suddenly and grabbed the office chair with both hands, before flinging it the full length of Jeremy Corbyn’s office. He watched, eyes ablaze, as it skidded to a halt, leaving a trail of plastic splinters in its wake.
‘Is THAT socialist enough for you Seumas?,’ he bellowed. ‘Chairs. We’ll execute chairs too. Is that what you’re driving at, Seumas? Calais climate refugees don’t have chairs in the jungle camp so why should we? I like it, Seumas, I like it. Add chairs to that list, would you. Civil disobedience. Grass roots movement. Vote Corbyn to Kick the Tory Chairs Out. Tory Chair Tax. Chairs against Racism. New Soundbite. New slogan.’
Milne sat back and shut his eyes. Maybe, he thought, this was all just a bad dream.
‘I think that is my son, Seumas,’ muttered Corbyn, leaning conspiratorially towards Milne. ‘The good one, though.’
‘I do think of you as a father, Jeremy,’ sighed Fisher, sinking melodramatically to his knees and kissing Corbyn’s hand. ‘Tell me, father, is there anything you feel I could do to improve the manifesto. I hope I haven’t failed you. Tell me I haven’t failed you, father. If I have failed you I swear to god I will add myself to that list right now.’
Corbyn fixed Fisher with a vacant stare.
‘You failed the yellow hippo,’ he croaked, pathetically. ‘We all failed the yellow hippo, son.’
© DH 2017