Being bugged can be flattering

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Story so far: Roger and Edith, civil servants at the Ministry of Sundries, have discovered that their conversation at work is being secretly recorded. But why should anyone want to eavesdrop on them? It is a question they are to ask themselves more than once.

"But why should anyone want to bug our conversation?" asked Roger, not for the first time.

"Oh, Roger, I can think of a dozen reasons," said Edith. "Maybe the minister is checking up on us to see if we leak things to the press. Maybe the News of the World goes round leaving recorders at random to pick things up. Maybe they're planning a follow-up to that TV serial, The Politician's Wife, and somebody is doing a bit of research. Maybe McDonald's is getting even more paranoid ..."


"It's a hamburger restaurant."

"Hamburger restaurant? How can anyone be a hamburger restaurant? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? How can a place that serves hamburgers be called a restaurant? It's like a place that sells baseball caps calling itself a milliner's, or a fish and chip shop describing itself as a delicatessen."

Edith was beginning to make agitated gestures.

"Roger!" she said. "McDonald's are known to be very litigious people. Let's just change the subject."

"I've no objection," said Roger. "Actually, it's not unflattering to be bugged. It makes you feel wanted. It's nice to feel somebody, somewhere, thinks our conversation is worth overhearing."

"You won't be so cheerful," said Edith, "if there's an election soon and the other side get in. They'll get their hands on your tapes and listen to them and ..."

"Let them," said Roger. "I've said nothing to be ashamed of. And even if I have, I'm not ashamed of it. Anyway, I don't see how the Opposition will win the next election. The only trump card they've got is the fact that the electorate is sick to death of the Government."

"Not a bad trump card."

"Well, maybe not, but they still need a cause, a rallying cry. Margaret Thatcher had one, when she declared war on the unions. Even people who dislike Mrs Thatcher - and still insist on referring to her as Mrs Thatcher because they can't bear the idea of her awarding herself a title - even people who can't stand Maggie are glad that she dealt with the unions, because the unions were screwing the country rigid. What have we got like that nowadays?"

"The bosses," said Edith. "All those quango heads and privatised company chiefs who keep giving themselves huge rises and share options, and being hugely unpopular - they are the exact equivalent of the trade union cowboys of yesteryear. Or, at least, they are perceived as such."

"Right!" said Roger. "That's what could win the next election. If one party - and it doesn't matter which party it is - if one party came out and said, we will squash greed and corruption and make Cedric Brown give all that money back, they'd win by a canter. If one of them spotted that was the big issue, and not law 'n' order, or negative equity ..."

"Negative Equity?" said Edith. "Isn't that the union for actors who never get any parts?"

"Very funny," said Roger. "No, what I mean is ..."

They never found out what he meant, because at that moment the door opened and a man they had never seen before came in, walked over to the drawer, took the tape out and was just about to leave the room when Roger put a hand on his shoulder.

"Is that your tape?" said Roger.

"Yes," said the man.

"Were you bugging us?"


There was a pause.

"Why? And who are you?"

"I'm from Tory Central Office. We're collecting ideas."

"You're what?"

"The Tory Party is short of new ideas, much more so even than usual. We're leaving tape recorders all over the place, bugging conversations, hoping some new ideas will turn up. Alternatively, we're hoping to pick up some scandal, and indulge in some blackmail, which should help relieve our debts a bit."

A reader writes: Here, hold on! What's all this about? Yesterday you promised that this political saga would be full of sex and sleaze. Now we get this! What went wrong?

The author writes: Well, it's a political story. Political means making promises but never keeping them. You were a fool to believe me in the first place.

Is there any more of this stuff tomorrow?


Thank God for that.