The Law of Inconsequence

Today wasn’t the day for self-indulgent worry but Steven Groves couldn’t halt the sense of anxiety growing inside his head. The more he considered its presence; the more the pressure intensified, spreading to his neck and shoulders. Perhaps it was the thought that the sombre task he was about to undertake was challenging his own fallibility.

Picking his Blackberry out of his suit pocket, he checked the screen again. Nothing had changed since the last time, though what was he expecting? It wasn’t going to be a note of thanks or a pat on the back; more likely questions for which he simply didn’t have the answers. Politics had never been the fantasy life characterised in anti-establishment rhetoric, especially when they talked of the ‘trappings of power’. They should try it, Steven thought, power was the last thing he considered he had.

He replaced the phone and sat a little straighter in the car seat trying to push the anxiety back into its box. If only he could sharpen his mood as easily as doing his tie up.

He’d gone alone this morning – as alone as a Minister ever gets with a driver separated by tinted glass in the front of the Official Jaguar, a security brief following behind and no doubt a pack of hungry media chasing a headline for tomorrow.

Whilst he was weary of it, Steven was over the attention a long time ago. Public life was what it said on the tin. It was also humiliating, degrading and completely indulgent. There was nothing quite as nauseating or addictive as picking up every newspaper in the land to find yourself criticised, argued over, blamed and postulated about in equal measures. To retain sanity, Steven had found a way to disengage from it. Maybe actors or other more level headed celebrities worked the same way. Steven Groves, the politician, therefore was fair game for the consumption of media and electorate. Like throwing the dog a bone, as long as they were happy chewing on the morsels he gave them, Steven was able to keep something for himself. He hoped, somewhere hidden away from the public feeding bowl, there was a core that still retained the ability to worry about what he thought of himself rather than the hysterical judgement of others.

The car turned off the main road onto a housing estate. Through the tinted glass he could see faces turned his way, questioning what the fuss was about. They would make the connection soon enough. Whilst murder wasn’t a rarity in the media, it was always a shock when it appeared on local streets. Like so many examples before, anonymous towns and villages would become synonymous with the dreadful acts that befell them. Farly, was about to become the same.

Every small town such as Farly had a market place. Typically it was the busy jostling heart to a town and for the last two days it had dominated the news. No-one was sure how it had started, these things were never clear to the rational. An argument with a market trader was the suggestion, though in some ways was academic; the consequences and acts of the crazed far outweighed the source of the problem. Five people severely injured with one dead. Random, innocent victims to the rage of a thirty-five year old with a kitchen knife.

He thought about the woman he was going to see; what she would be thinking. Like the media chasing the story, would she be full of anger and seeking out blame or would she be too distressed to think? What would she make of the entourage appearing uninvited on the doorstep ready to deliver its mandatory sympathy?  

Steven as the senior minister involved, was here to offer condolences, though it felt as trivial as a bag of grapes, a token ritual gesture by the establishment who had failed her. It was cynical to think that way, but what other way was there to think? It didn’t mean he wasn’t sympathetic. He wasn’t heartless. People assumed Tory Politician therefore rich, heart of granite with a line of voodoo dolls ready to inflict suffering on jobseekers, single mothers and immigrants. Steven genuinely felt for this woman. Mrs Rashid deserved and warranted the heartfelt empathy of any mother losing her offspring, regardless of the fact that she shared the same colour of skin, possibly even the same religious origins as the killer. It didn’t make her son, Adil any less of a victim. Instead the media had torn into the story with their partisan agendas picking at the gaping wound in the heart of this town.

Steven had to put aside his own cynicism of the process and the gathering hounds. His worries were nothing compared with how this mother would be feeling.

The car pulled into a small close. A dark brick semi stood at the far end with brown metal shutters closed over the window.

‘We are here sir,’ the driver announced

***

‘I can’t tell you how sorry I am,’ Steven said as he sat down in the armchair.

‘Thank you,’ Mrs Rashid said offering a polite smile. She was a large woman but the way she held her arms close in, wrapping her hands into the folds of her clothes, diminished her. Head bowed, she gazed at the random pattern of the carpet rather than the room around her. ‘Can I get you anything? A cup of tea…’

‘A glass of water would be fine thank you, but don’t put yourself to any trouble,’ he replied quickly.

The woman turned her head sharply to the unkempt teenage boy in the doorway surveying the scene. He watched her eyes change from grieving soul to maternal dominance. No words were spoken but the boy understood the command as he disappeared rapidly from view.

‘Are you sure you don’t want tea, coffee, something else?’

‘No, no that’s fine,’ he said. Tea would be disastrous and he didn’t mean the taste. He was here to do something important. Waiting for the tea to be made with the consequent awkward small talk would simply be flowers in the window of a burning building.

‘It must be very difficult for you,’ Steven said.

‘Oh it is,’ she replied. I had to take the phone of the hook. I couldn’t take it anymore. Everyone’s very nice, but I don’t trust them. Trying to get me to say things, trying to…’

Tears appeared in her eyes which she quickly dismissed and gathered herself again.

‘You’re the minister in charge of immigration right; you’re the one who let him in?’

He wanted to say no, he was the Minister of Justice, responsible for law of the land, responsible for ensuring everyone got a fair deal. A crime was committed and he was here to respond to that, not explain political history.

‘Yes,’ he said, simply instead.

‘Why? Why was he here? What was this man doing in this country?’

Steven wasn’t sure what to say and it showed. He shouldn’t have been, but that didn’t change the fact that he was.

‘Mrs…’

‘It’s ok, I didn’t expect you to come here and tell me anything.’ She looked him up and down, her initial deference gone. ‘Why would you, I’m not important. My son wasn’t important…. Except to me. I never wanted him to be famous, to be in the news. Some people want their kids to be on the telly or pop stars. Not this family.’

Again Steven was stuck for a response. He hadn’t known what to expect, maybe he would have done if she’d been white, typically English. He might have expected racist tainted accusations that he would have felt the need to manage or deflect. But listening to Mrs Rashid, he realised that people lashed out in any way they could. Steven’s found it difficult to look directly at her, feeling as though he was challenging her words. Now he was the one holding tight to himself, shifting in his seat. He didn’t belong in her home. Her outrage was far more appropriate than his political banality.

The boy rescued him with the water. He took a sip as an offering of gratitude and placed the glass carefully on the table beside him.

‘I am truly sorry.’

‘Are you sorry Mr Groves?‘ She sat firmer on the sofa, hands by her side. ‘It’s ok, don’t bother replying. I’m not sure I’d believe you either way.’

Steven tried to speak but she carried on talking.

‘I’m not a politician,’ she said, the emotion moments earlier had steadied. This tone was more rehearsed. ‘I’m not even…’ she paused, and Steven wondered what she wanted to compare herself to. She quickly moved on. ‘Like I said, we are nobody here. Just normal people. But in London, you can do something, but you won’t… I know it.’

Steven placed his card on the table in front of her.

‘If there is anything I can do. If you want more information. If you feel my office can help in any way, then please call this number. We will do what we can.’

She picked up the card and studied it for a moment then handed it back.

‘It won’t bring Adil back though will it?’

***

As soon as he was back in the car, Steven felt the vibration of his phone in his pocket. He was no doubt live breaking news on at least one channel, so no surprise his colleagues would be aware of his availability.

‘How long before you are back to London?’

‘An hour,’ Steven replied, knowing what was coming next.

‘PM will see you at two,’ the voice said, confirming his worst fears.

‘Dare I ask what we will be discussing?’

‘You won’t be discussing, you will be presenting your proposals for legislation. This is a window of opportunity for firmer immigration policies.’

‘But immigration has little or nothing to do with this case.’

‘Details that are lost on the masses; you know that. Read the papers for god’s sake.’

Steven wanted to argue, to tell them what he’d just been through, but he put his phone back in his pocket and covered his face with his hands. His shoulders tensed again as he thought about his future. Of course he had read the papers; the images were all over them, but so were the accusations of political incompetence in the covert and overt commentary. How could an illegal immigrant be allowed to walk the streets, attacking people at random in a market place? Someone was to blame; rarely did the media look to pass the judgement on the perpetrator. Blame was generally reserved for the politicians who rather than legislate for the imperfect state of humanity had instead put the knife in the murderer’s hand.

He’d come in to politics a lifetime ago, he thought to do some good, exercising common sense and value on the world. Feeling so alone, powerless and inconsequential, he could no longer remember that dream.

***

The staircase to the business office at No.10 always felt steep. Decorated with the faces of history, Steven wondered whether those he recognised were renowned for success or failure.  They would all have climbed the same staircase and all must have felt the same nervousness. Would they have felt they belonged here, that they had a divine right to define the nation, or would they felt as Steven did, that he was as far away from home as he could ever have been.

A question lingered in his mind. Did his anxiety make him a worse politician or a better one?

As he entered the Prime-Minister’s empire he was less sure than ever of the answer.

A coffee was delivered in seconds as the Prime-Minister approached the desk. Harry Masterton, Director of Communications for Downing Street, was already in his chair.

‘How did the visit to the mother go?’ The Prime-Minister asked, taking a sip from the coffee cup.

‘As well as you might expect,’ Steven replied simply.

The Prime-Minister looked to his side at Masterton. The acknowledgement from Masterton only took a moment but Steven understood immediately. His lungs pushed out involuntary air in a defeated motion. It was obvious there was another conversation in the room that he wasn’t part of.

‘Is she going to be a problem?’ Masterton asked, returning to the agenda. ‘Grieving mothers have a habit of becoming teflon mouthpieces for the great unwashed.’

‘At first meeting, she’s not the sort. But who knows if the Daily Mail starts handing out life style changes. She is very angry… there’s plenty to be angry about.’

‘She’s hardly the Mail’s target audience,’ The Prime-Minister replied.

‘You mean that she wears a Sari instead of a shell suit,’ Steven said, ‘the Mail would love it, so they could demonstrate their anti-immigration message wasn’t racist.’

Steven sat back with his coffee and let the two of them get to the point. The newspapers were already exercising their own courts of judgement. It seemed that murder by a dark skinned face had to have an agenda, a political or religious directed action. It was never just good old fashioned random murder by someone short of a few brain cells. Madness was the reserve of the Caucasian.

The Prime-Minister appeared to detect Steven’s lack of comfort as he turned the conversation back to him. ‘What policy options do we have?’ he asked.

‘I reviewed existing policy and I don’t see anything wrong with the law, just its application.’

‘We can’t go on air later and inform the media that we can’t do anything to stop mad immigrant lunatics running amok on our streets.’ Masterton said as he placed his pen on the table and leant back in his seat.

Steven stared at Masterton for a moment. His outburst said everything, yet the man sat there like he’d just asked for sugar in his tea.

‘We have a perfectly good deterrent in place. It’s called life imprisonment. It is quite a clear law with little ambiguity whether you’re white, blue, grey or green. As for immigration, he was here illegally. If he’d been caught he would have been deported. That’s not the fault of the law, simply the application of it.’

The words were more or less the ones he’d rehearsed on the journey back and he was pleased he’d got them in. However his point now made, he knew that it would fall on very deaf ears.

‘Steven, I don’t need lectures on the law,’ the Prime-Minister said. ‘This man was here illegally and the public would like to know what we are going to do about it.’

‘Tell me what law, what act would have changed this,’ Steven replied. There was little point in not fighting now, he was already sure that he wasn’t going to leave the room with his job intact.

‘Isn’t that what you’re here for?’ Masterton said.

‘I am here to advise you. In my view the country doesn’t need more laws, it just needs to better police those it already has.’

‘But that would be an admission of incompetence. That this person was walking the streets because we didn’t send him home at the end of his visa.’

‘Yes this person was here illegally, but that didn’t make him a murderer. He may have been desperate, out of his depth, scared, just like millions of others in the world. Some people have it in them to kill whatever we put in the statute book. The country would thank us more for facing up to our responsibilities.’

‘There you are, telling me how to do my job,’ The Prime-Minister said. The tone was defensive but he wasn’t the one under attack.

‘We have to be seen to react; to do something, not tell people it’s our fault,’ Masterton demanded.

‘You have my opinion, Prime-Minister,’ Steven said getting to his feet.

As he closed the door, he knew the discussion had changed. He knew there would be no need for new laws instead they had someone to blame.

He returned down the staircase, feeling the judgement of his predecessors for the last time.

 

© S.G.Norris