Byers: The View From Paris
[To be read aloud in a French accent.]
The Stephen Byers story is causing serious problems for French followers of British politics, the problem being that people simply cannot make head or tail of it. At first it all seemed perfectly clear. The Minister of Transport, who is a personal friend of the Prime Minister, had an incompetent public relations adviser. She was so incompetent that she managed to make it look as though her boss regarded the destruction of the World Trade Center and of 3,000 lives as an opportunity to improve his image. But, she was a young woman with brown hair and large brown eyes. And when she made him look like a fool and a rogue, he refused to fire her. Voilà! Obviously! She was his petite amie. Monsieur Byers was getting into bed with his spin doctor. What could be more natural? No doubt the famous gutter press would be printing all the details: Chelsea football scarves, obscene taped recordings, flagellation in the Cabinet Office, the usual thing.
But no. It became more complicated. Months passed, no football scarves, and then suddenly … Voilà! The solution. The Minister of Transport had two incompetent public relations advisers. But the second one was a man. And they had both been fired. At last. The new spin doctor, the man, was obviously getting into the bed with the minister's mistress, and the minister had become jaloux. So, he fired them both. What could be more natural? The new character in the story, called incredibly, Sexsmith, is a more attractive man than the minister. Obviously the minister, Byers, is a fool. The two spin doctors have a terrible time. They have to make him look intelligent. They develop a little sympathy for each other. And then … it's l'amour! He is very upset, and he shoots them both. But no. It is more complicated again. It seems that the two spin doctors, the man and the woman, really hate each other. They are not in the bed together. No. Not even in England. Instead, she keeps on trying to bury things, he wants to dig them up again. What is this? It's incredible. Its necrophilia, even stranger than we think. Well, so what's new?
But no again. It gets more complicated. The two doctors are not in bed, it is the head of the ministry, Sir Richard, the chief fonctionnaire, who is fucked. He says it himself. He says, "I'm fucked, you're fucked, he's fucked, we're all fucked." He's a poet. It's incredible. A man of his seniority, and he is still going at it like a little rabbit, and no wonder Byers is such a hopeless minister. He wants to liquidate the national railways or sell the air traffic controllers, and he can't find anyone to tell him what to do. They are all under the table going at it hammer and tongs. Chapeau! Who say it was boring in the civil service? It's better than the kama sutra in there. But no. Apparently it's not. It's much simpler. The male doctor, Sexsmith, says after he has been shot that he has great respect for Sir Richard, that he is a great man, he will never forget him, it was superb, and he just wants to come back into the office and start all over again. Ah. So it's only two of them in the bed. Sir Richard is very lucky. He's got this much younger boy, for a spin doctor he don't look so bad. So what does the permanent one say? He say, yes, I take you to Brighton for the weekend, we kiss and make it up?
Oh no. He say, "You heap of merde. You stay outside. Now I am with the minister. He is the one. I stand beside him." He say, "Sexsmith, you never fuck in here again." Sir Richard loves the minister so much it seems this is the first time a permanent has said this about his minister. Sir Richard takes Byers, they go to see Tony together. They all burst into tears. Tony hugs them. Tony says, "Hey. Now you kiss and make up." They all bond together in the cabinet room. Then they come outside and sit together in the official limousine and smile for the cameras. It's very romantic.
So now it's all clear at last. The two advisers are on the street. All they want to do is go on loving the Labour Party. And the minister is happy. He is now alone with Sir Richard. And at last he looks good. But no. The minister goes down to the House of Commons. Everyone yells at him and says he is useless. He agrees that he is one big liar, but so what? He is staying even if everyone else has to go. Is he happy with Sir Richard? He doesn't say that. He says that the ministry is still full of people who hate him. But he is hunting them down. When he finds them he will shoot them all. Even though he has nothing to do with hiring or firing. So, at last, everything has become clear in Paris. The British Minister of Transport has been shown up as a liar and a fool who is incapable of taking decisions and can't control his department and is a major embarrassment to the Prime Minister, the Government, and the Labour Party. And he stays on. And all this has all been revealed by two advisers who he paid a total of £170,000 a year (or 2 million francs) to improve his public image.
Patrick Marnham, who lives with his family in an Oxfordshire village, recently returned to England after several years in Paris.