A morality play in an unknown number of acts.
A simply but stylishly furnished living room of a country home. The smell of barbeque smoke lingers in the air and a lamb can be heard baaing off stage.
A grey-haired man sits at a paper-strewn desk with his head in his hands. A woman enters with a bowl of fruit and a bottle of chardonnay.
Phil: It’s no good, it doesn’t matter which way I do the numbers I know I’ll have to rely on . . . rely on . . . [ he gulps] rely on –
Mary: I’ve told you not to mention his name, dear, you know it’s not good for your blood pressure. [She puts fruit and bottle on the desk and pulls up a chair]
Phil: I know, I know, but look at the polls, the trend is clear. If I’m going to lead the next government it will have to be coalition with the Greens and the Maori Party and Peter and, and, and –
Mary: No, don’t say it, you don’t really want to go back there, to the double speak, economic sabotage and corrup-
Phil: Not the C -word, dear, we’ve put that behind us, we’ve moved on.
Mary: Exactly and you can’t go back.
Phil: Yes, but I can’t go forward without him either.
Mary: Then don’t.
Phil: Don’t? What do you mean don’t?
Mary: Don’t do it. Don’t go into coalition with him, don’t even get close enough that you’d have to consider it. Stop trying.
Phil: Stop trying?
Mary: Yes. It’s the lesser of two evils – you lose the election and the party spends another term in Opposition or you win and cobble together a coalition of misfits beholden to –
Mary: Exactly – you can’t do it and you shouldn’t do it.
Phil: But I can’t retire now, that would trigger another by-election. We got a hiding in Mana, we haven’t got a show in Botany, imagine the damage that might be inflicted in Mt Roskill.
Mary: That wasn’t what I meant. You stay on as leader but you stop trying to win the election.
Phil, smiling wryly: A lot of people would say that won’t be difficult.
Mary: Ah but the difficulty lies not just in losing but in how you lose. You don’t want to decimate the party. It wouldn’t hurt to lose a few of the dead wood club, but you want to make sure you retain a good base on which to build the revival to win in 2014.
Phil: But how do I do that?
Mary: Very carefully. We have to think of some policies that will appeal to bed rock labour supporters and throw in enough silly ones to scare away the floaters.
Phil: We’ve already started that with the promise to take GST of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mary: Hmmm, that certainly fits the silly category. Even some of our supporters can see through that so we need to do something for them.
Phil: Sock the rich and pat the poor on the head?
Mary: Exactly. How about making the first $5,000 of income tax free and tell everyone you’ll increase tax rates for the wealthy to cover it.
Phil: But Michael ruled that out last time, he said it would do too little for too high a cost.
Mary: Michael isn’t in parliament any more and if he’d applied that sort of economic rigour to most of his other policies we wouldn’t be here now, having to do this.
Phil: But our opponents and the media will do the numbers and say it won’t work.
Mary: Of course they will, but we’re not talking facts, it’s emotion that wins votes. The deep red will love it but the pinky blues won’t.
Phil: Are you sure it will work?
Mary: It will if we cause a distraction at the same time.
Phil: A distraction?
Mary: Yes, a distraction. Why don’t you talk to the principals and see if they’ve got an issue they could run with on the day of your state of the nation speech?
Phil: Well, when I was talking to Patrick the other day he mentioned a survey which said there were too many outlets for junk food near schools. I could suggest he call for a restriction on what dairies sell before and after school.
Mary: Wonderful, I can hear the cries of nanny state already. And if we can find something to take the attention away from what you’re saying but still keeps the focus on you. Nothing major, just something trivial the media won’t be able to resist . . . um, [looks pensive then smiles] I know, you could dye your hair.
Phil: Dye my hair! Why on earth would I want to do that.
Mary: I don’t suppose you do want to dye it, dear but it will certainly provide a distraction, especially if you’re standing in front of a photo of your old grey self the first time people see it.
Phil: But reporters will ask me why I did it, what will I say then?
Mary: Well at first you won’t say anything constructive, prevaricate a bit, act petulant even.
Phil: I don’t usually do petulant.
Mary: I know you don’t dear, but it’s for the greater good.
Phil: Oh well, then, if you put it like that I suppose I could tell them they have to ask Key first.
Phil: But he doesn’t dye his hair and that’s what he’ll say so what do I do then?
Mary: Blame it on me, say I suggested it, that way you won’t have to lie.
Phil: There’s some would say that would make a pleasant change.
Mary: Now, now dear, it’s not like you to be cynical.
Phil: It’s not like me to deliberately spout silly policy and dye my hair either. What would Michael say?
Mary: I’ve already told you he’s part of the problem.
Phil: Not that Michael, the other one. [His eyes shift to a sepia toned photo above the fire place].
Mary: He didn’t have to deal with MMP in the 1930s. Besides I think he’d understand you’re doing the right thing for the party and the country.
Phil: [smiling wryly] Or at least the correct thing.
Mary: Which is better than the wrong thing and that, sadly, is the alternative.
Phil: I suppose so, but it won’t be easy.
Mary: When has it ever been easy?
Phil: You’re right [sighs] Ask not what your country can do for you but what . . . .
Mary: It’s a far, far better thing . . .
Phil: I don’t think either Kennedy or Dickens was thinking about hair dye.
Mary: No, but needs must. [Reaches for the bottle and pours wine into two glasses.] Here’s to the new you, what colour will you go.
Phil: [Takes the glass, clinks it against Mary’s] – Why not red? If I’m dyeing for the party I might as well get the colour right.
Act 2: New Lynn community centre. An audience of mostly elderly people sit facing the stage. Behind the lectern stands a life-size photo of Phil.
Phil [with newly dyed reddish hair enters stage left, smiles, waves]: Ladies and gentlemen . . .
Hat Tip: I have a theory at Dim Post.