'To sum up,' said Suzanne, 'you grew estranged from your wife and came to rely more and more on your young, pretty researcher. But now you and she have grown estranged and suddenly you have nobody.'
'You understand me so well, Suzanne,' said Sir Thomas. 'I do look forward to our little sessions.'
Sir Thomas, did he but know it, was coming dangerously near to a fixation on his counsellor. He did not know it was happening. She did. She decided it was time to stamp on it before it went any farther.
'Sir Thomas, you are at the stage in parliamentary life when you really believe that Westminster is more real than the world outside, or than the world at home. There is nothing very extreme about this. It happens to lots of people. Most of the people working at the BBC, for instance, think that the BBC is more real than the real world. That is one of the things that John Birt is fighting so hard to cure. Unfortunately, John Birt now believes that John Birt's new BBC is more real than the old BBC and the real world. Again, teachers at boarding schools notoriously lose their contact with the real world . . .'
'Where is this all leading us?' asked Sir Thomas, who was always made uncomfortable by talk of boarding schools. He had so hated his boarding school that he had sworn never to send his children to one, and he had felt occasional pangs of guilt ever since, having broken his promise and sent them all to public school.
'Well, Parliament is very like a boarding school, you know,' said Suzanne. 'It even looks like one. A sort of all-male Greyfriars with a super debating society . . .'
'And the whips as prefects, and the PM as headmaster?' said Sir Thomas. 'This is all old hat] We all know this stuff] What's this got to do with my sex life?'
Strange, thought Suzanne, how men preferred to talk about improving their sex lives to discussion of how to save their marriages. But what she said was: 'More than you might think. Has it ever occurred to you that humans are divided into two equally numerous groups: male and female? And that Parliament is also divided into two different groups, but along political rather than sexual lines? That, in fact, the Labour and Tory parties represent the same power divide that the male/female split does?'
'Nothing very effeminate about the Labour Party,' said Sir Thomas, 'unless you're thinking of its habit of choosing the wrong fellow all the time.'
He guffawed. She ignored him.
'Now, men spend most of the time in other men's company. That's natural. They have greater affinity with their own sort. Similarly, Tories spend most of their time in Parliament with other Tories.'
'But men end up marrying women. That's because deep down they are more attracted to women.'
The point finally struck home to Sir Thomas.
'Good God] Are you trying to say that deep down I should feel more of an attraction to a Labour man than any Tory colleague? Do you mean . . . I'm gay if I don't?'
'All I'm saying is that there is more to this than meets the eye. The whole language of parliamentary procedure is drenched with sexual symbolism, and I am not just talking about those rods they carry around and the whips they use to make you behave. I am thinking of the way Tory and Labour members are paired off together, as if for some marriage ceremony. Good heavens, even the time scale is sexually symbolical] Parliamentary business takes place in the evening and night, at the very time when real love life is taking place in the real world. You even refer to the debating hall as 'the chamber', a word which to anyone else has overtones of the boudoir.'
By the end of the session Sir Thomas Tankerton was a very confused MP indeed. Which didn't worry Suzanne Smallwood at all, as she was a Lib Dem and had only taken the job to cause trouble for the two big parties.
A reader writes: 'What is all this talk? Yesterday you promised we were going to have lots of sex and nude scenes]'
I've changed my mind.
'I demand it] I bought the paper specially]'
Yes, but this is a parliamentary novel so it's all about making promises and breaking them.
To be continued some other time.