Back in 1983, when I was at secondary school, there was a General Election.
To provide some context, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher had swept to power in 1979. Labour were led by Michael Foot, portrayed by the press as a scruffy ultra-left threat to national security Communist (sound familiar?). The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had formed in 1981, but had not yet established itself as the third main party; that would take a rebranding or two before the name Liberal Democrats finally stuck.
War Conflict had finished. Unemployment was high, but about to get higher. The Miners’ Strike was on the horizon.
My school, deep in the Tory homeland of Cambridgeshire (John Major was our MP, which gives you some idea) decided that they would hold a mock election, and my year was designated the year who would form the political parties to battle it out.
And so it was that one day in our English class (we didn’t have a Politics class), we were randomly split into groups, asked to decide which political party we were going to be, and instructed to prepare a manifesto and speech which we would have to present to the rest of the year, who would then vote.
We could act as one of the established parties, in which case our manifesto had to accurately represent that of the party we were emulating. Or, we could make up our own party, party name, manifesto and speech.
The class were separated out into groups of four people, and it soon became very apparent in my group of wallflowers that the person who would have to stand up and make the speech was going to be me. Which led me to insist on complete artistic control, that I would have the final say over which party we were to represent, what was in our manifesto, and what we were going to say in our speech.
The other three in my group realised this was a perfect opportunity for them to do absolutely nothing, so basically left me to it. All they had to do was stand on stage behind me as I made my speech, look supportive, and remind me not to speak too fast.
And so, I decided we would be an all-new party, and wrote a manifesto and speech which was basically a satire of the Conservative Party’s. I can remember very little of it now; however, since I wasn’t particularly politically engaged back then, at the age of 13, I banked on very few of my year-mates having either watched or remembered BBC sketch show ‘Not The Nine O’clock News’, pinched a few gags from that and padded it out with a few of my own in the same vein. The only (stolen) joke I used that I can recall was one about increasing the age one had to be to receive a pension, and axing benefits for the disabled, because it made sense to attack those who were unable or unlikely to fight back. All strangely prescient in these days of Universal Credit, it seems.
On the day of the actual general election, my year trooped into the school hall, where each “party leader” took it in turns to stand behind the lectern and deliver their speech.
When it was my turn, I was terrified. I’d had to talk to large rooms full of people before (at junior school, I was often given the role of Narrator in the school play because I could read), but never before (with one notable exception, which I’ll tell you about sometime) had I read out something I had written myself, even if much of it was plagiarised. My eyes never left my A4 pad. I read at a frantic speed. My fellow party members were lined up behind me. One of them, Robbie Watson, leant forwards and hissed “Slow down, mate” in my ear. I slowed down. And managed to get some laughs from the audience.
I left the stage, glowing with pride, back appreciatively slapped by my comrades.
We came second, losing by a handful of votes. To the Conservatives, of course. I’m used to it by now.
But whilst I can’t recall much of the detail of the manifesto or speech, I’ve never forgotten the name I came up with for my pretend political party: the Northern Irish Political Party to Lead the English.
Or, the N.I.P.P.L.E. Party, for short.
I imagine you can work out why I was reminded of that this week.
Here’s a song:
R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend (Live “Tourfilm” Version)
Dear Theresa. Can I have my £1 billion now please? I promise to support you. Except on the occasions when I don’t want to.