The Reformist Saga – Part Five
Behind the Velvet Curtains
by Nick Lucas
None of it made sense. Not to Claire Munroe. Even as she read the documents her father had given her, she could not see the point of moral reform, whether it was Christian, or otherwise. She was a Christian, of sorts. In that she attended chapel, at school during term time. She had never really thought about what she believed before. She simply had to go like everyone else, and she sang and prayed and knelt and prayed just like everyone else. Her father was not at all religious, or he had never given any sign of it before. So to find him caught up in what amounted to a religious revolution was something of a surprise. Despite being the daughter of an MP, or perhaps because she was the daughter of an MP, Claire had never taken much interest in politics. During the last year, she had been studying hard for her GCSE exams, and as a boarder at her school she did not have that much access to TV or newspapers. She was not really interested, especially that year, because her exams had to take priority in any case. So reading the briefing notes for her father’s new party, the Christian Democratic Alliance, who had just won the general election in partnership with the Conservatives, was quite a surprise. The Conservative’s had formed the new alliance with the Christian Democrats, following another hung parliament, and the developing manifesto, a slightly uneasy combination of the two parties ideas and aims, was alarmingly severe. But her father wanted to be a minister in the new government and he was taking it all seriously. Doing her best not to recall the argument they had fallen into the day after the polls closed, Claire read the executive policy summary one more time.
Proposed Legislation for the next session of parliament
- Law of common decency. Police officers will have the right to arrest and prosecute any person deemed to be dressed in an indecent or provocative fashion. Precise guidelines will be discussed by parliament, but it is envisaged that standards of modesty will be set to prevent nudity, excessive displays of flesh and fashions designed to excite the opposite sex and promote promiscuity. Legal recourse will be fines of £100, rising for repeat offences and leading to possible imprisonment for serial misdemeanours. This law will be rapidly extended to include behaviour in public, especially with regard to minors and unmarried couples.
- Church schools will have the legal right to expel pupils who do not meet church standards. Church schools of various denominations will be able to set their own criteria in line with the tenets of their faith, to limits set by the government and approved by parliament.
- State schools will adhere to strict government guidelines on uniform, behaviour, appearance and manners. Parents who fail to meet these guidelines will be subject to fines and possible imprisonment. Church authorities will be invited to take control of failing schools.
- Corporal punishment will be reintroduced to all schools, at the discretion of head teacher’s and governors.
- Single sex education will be reintroduced as soon as possible.
- All activities already limited by age will see limits rise to a minimum of twenty one years of age, apart from marriage with the approval of parents from sixteen years of age. Drinking or buying alcohol will rise to the age of twenty five. Legislation will be passed to set twenty one as the legal age of adult responsibility. No one will be allowed to join the army, police force or any other responsible body before the age of twenty one, except with the express permission of parents or legal guardians. Single women will be required to live at home with their parents or legal guardians until at least the age of twenty five, for their own protection and safety.
- Marriage will be promoted and protected by legislation. Sexual activity outside marriage will be prohibited by law as far as possible. Divorce laws will be reviewed and amended to make this unholy practise harder. No woman, be she of age or otherwise, will be allowed to marry without parental permission to prevent poor or rushed decisions.
- Sexual equality laws will be rescinded. This government will recognise that men and women are different before God himself, and married women will be encouraged to be housewives. Tax incentives will be used to encourage this, and husbands will be recognised as the legal head of any household.
Claire sighed and put the document back on her bedside table. She could not believe that her father was supporting policies that seemed to be designed to return the country to the Victorian age. But he was, and as he was hoping for a senior ministerial post in the new government, when Philip Henderson and Charles Buckingham had chosen their team, she had to toe the party line. The other piece of paper in her hand detailed ministerial responsibilities, and she read that with tears forming in her eyes. It was all such a nightmare.
Advisory notes for senior members of the CDA
- Unity is essential. All members of the coalition must henceforth abide by all proposals included in the manifesto even before it is announced, and approved by parliament. You, and your families, must set a constant, positive example. Mr Henderson and Mr Buckingham have set the standards for us all, and anyone expecting to be a paid member of the ministerial team must abide by these rules. No exceptions. No excuses.
- Every member plus immediate family members must attend a Reformist service of level one standard every Sunday without fail. If travelling abroad or visiting an area where such a service is not available, contact central office and an alternative will be recommended. No exceptions, no excuses. Reformist dress codes will be adhered to at these services.
- You are your family must always dress to the highest standards of decency and behave accordingly. Men and boys should always be seen wearing shirts and ties at the very least. Suits by preference. Women and girls should be dressed to at least level two Reformist standards. Level one is preferred, and this will have a bearing on what jobs, if any, you are offered in the new administration.
- All children must attend church schools, preferably Reformist schools. A Westminster facility will be arranged by the time of the opening of parliament. If your children do not attend such a school, the only alternative is home schooling by a qualified Reformist tutor, nursemaid or guardian. Remember, that twenty one is the key age. Below that, your children are children in the eyes of the law and must behave accordingly. This is particularly crucial for your daughters. It is highly recommended that you appoint a guardian to assist your wives and daughters. Central office has a list of suitable candidates.
- Unmarried members should get married as soon as possible. Central office has a list of suitable, available candidates available upon request.
Claire put that on the table too, and stared at her locked bedroom door. Her father was desperate. He was obeying all the rules to ensure his promotion to the cabinet, and nothing she could say had changed his mind. So she was waiting for her guardian to arrive. Then, as she understood it, she would be properly dressed and brought downstairs to meet her prospective stepmother. It was all happening so fast. She had only been home for two days. She had left school to support her father, on election night, as she had finished her exams, but she had walked headlong into a disaster. But what she could not understand is that people had voted for it. Not just in a few places, but right across the country and in huge numbers. The CDA would and could get its new legislation through parliament, and Claire really was going back in time. Her father had been full of it, right from the moment he was returned with an increased majority, having thrown his lot in with Philip Henderson and the CDA in the final two days of the campaign, riding a tsunami of popular support. It was, he had told her between arguments about her own personal situation in the new scheme of things, a vote for old-fashioned values. In the nineties, then Prime Minister John Major called it ‘back to basics’ but he did not have the gumption, or the popularity, to do anything worthwhile. It faded away like all the other political promises. But the so-called modern renaissance was different, because of the support and active involvement of the churches and a very direct appeal to the usually silent majority. In an aging population, even though it included the baby-boomers who were now retiring in their droves, the modern curses of promiscuity, drunkenness and general yobbery were really extremely unpopular. This was the Daily Mail generation, appalled by the influx of immigrants and the benefit dependent unemployed who seemed to do little except drink, smoke and produce countless babies that they expected someone else to pay for. The CDA was different to other political parties. They had not proposed airy fairy solutions that were all smoke and mirrors, to avoid tackling the actual problems. They came up with practical, commonsense, no nonsense solutions that actually changed things for the better. After all, most of the new pensioners were of a generation that mostly went to church on a Sunday, plus scouts or guides in the church hall, and maybe a church youth club for their first dances. Political chatter of returning the church to the centre was one thing but coming up with concrete plans that delivered it, in a matter of months, had started an avalanche that ended with the CDA sweeping into power. Claire had researched it, in-between ‘discussions’ with her father, in the busy days between the election and the arrival of her future stepmother in the house, and the proposed legislation was extremely clever in her objective opinion, because it hid extremist expectations in popular issues. She had seen the truth, but the voters had voted for a rose tinted version of that truth.
For instance, the silent majority did not want to see half dressed teenagers falling down drunk in the street, but according to the Daily Mail (4m plus readers every day and the most popular news web site in the world) that was what anyone could see in any town centre every weekend, plus endemic violence and drug abuse. Previous administrations had responded to that sort of issue by allowing public houses to open all day, theoretically promoting a cafe-style European atmosphere, the idea being that no one would have to rush to beat closing time. But the teenagers and twenty something’s were binge drinkers, going out with the express purpose of getting drunk, and giving them longer to do it just made it worse. So, the CDA proposed a series of measures designed to combat the issue. Firstly they intended to make alcohol illegal for anyone under twenty five. Claire could see why that was music to the ears of pensioners. Especially as it was a strict rule. Anyone below that age could be tested, and if traces of alcohol ‘abuse’ were detected, even consumed quietly at home, it would be a crime. Secondly, the plunging necklines, very short skirts and such like that turned young people into tarts and trollops was to be outlawed, vilified and eradicated from the streets. It was a masterstroke. Pensioners who would have a heart attack if they saw their children, let alone their grandchildren, dressed like some of the people they saw out and about, were delighted, and fully approved of the rule. But Claire was seeing how the people at the top of the CDA chose to interpret that rule. Her father did not just want to make her dress decently and modestly as per the proposed guidelines, he wanted to cover her up completely. She was going to be an example of what the CDA really meant by decency and modesty.
Elizabeth Buckingham understood Claire Munroe. Better than Claire could ever imagine. For a start, they were more or less the same age. Miss Ford, Elizabeth’s beloved guardian who would also be looking after dear Claire after Elizabeth married Peter Munroe, told her that there was less than eighteen months between them, a similar age gap to the one between Elizabeth and her own stepmother, Madeleine Craig Buckingham. So she could appreciate what Claire was thinking about her. But they were similar in so many ways. Elizabeth had lost her mother as a young child too. Like Claire, she had been sent off to boarding school whilst her father earned a living and of course, Peter Munroe and Charles Buckingham were both politicians. They had so much in common, and Elizabeth hoped that they would become friends. But it would be awkward at first, because Claire had only just been saved, and she needed patience, encouragement and guidance to adjust to her new life. Elizabeth was a year or so ahead of her stepdaughter-to-be and to her that seemed like a lifetime. It was her duty not only to be a good wife to Peter Munroe, as her father wanted her to be, but to be a better mother to Claire than her own stepmother had ever managed, to help her settle. Miss Ford would help her, of course. Her loyal guardian was an angel in disguise. Elizabeth relied on her so much, and had been so relieved when she discovered that Miss Ford would move with her, rather than staying with her stepmother. She was sure that together they could help young Claire.
“Such a pleasant garden…and quite private,” Elizabeth commented, linking arms with Claire as they stepped down from the terrace. Miss Ford had been kind, probably because the grounds of the house were so private. She had left their cloaks open and that allowed them to use their arms, although they were, of course, both wearing mittens and mantles. No veils or muzzles though, as they were alone. “It is nice to be able to get out in the fresh air, Claire.”
“Yes Miss Buckingham…my eyes are really enjoying it.” Claire muttered, less intimidated by Elizabeth than she had been by the formidable Miss Ford earlier. If their first encounter had been a battle of wills, Claire was very well aware that she had lost the battle. She had intended to argue, if not actually physically resist, but something about the guardian made her lose her nerve. It had been an astonishing experience. She had not just changed her clothes, and her appearance. It was like stripping off her entire persona and turning into someone else.
“Oh you poor dear…it is a shock at first, of course. But you will get used to it, I promise. Modesty is a virtue. Never forget how lucky we are…to be able to live as God intended…it is our privilege to set a good example to the less fortunate. My father saved me as your father is saving you, to live in God’s loving embrace.” Elizabeth replied, and for the first time Claire was pleased that her expression was hidden behind her thick, stifling mantle. She did not know anything about Elizabeth Harrington, and other than being stunned by how young she looked, she did not want to know anything more. It was all so insane. How could her father be getting married to someone who thought that being dressed like they were was a privilege? She could not use her hands. She was wearing a corset, a heavy gown and a ridiculous cloak, on a sunny May afternoon in her own garden, so how could that be setting anyone an example? But her father was involved in it, and he was scarily adamant that things were going to change for everyone. It was not just about his career, he had assured her, it was about their future. So Claire had given in, and let Miss Ford dress her, going along with things. But it did not seem real, even as she walked with Elizabeth Buckingham, listening to her wittering on about how wonderful her life was going to be.
A Private Wedding
Miss Ford smiled as she turned the alun key to tighten Claire’s muzzle. She was pleased with her latest charge. Claire seemed to be accepting her changed circumstances without fuss, as a good girl should, influenced by her father and encouraged by the excellent example set by her prospective stepmother. She was nervous, and clearly reluctant, but she was not offering any real resistance. Miss Ford could thus be a little more gentle and patient, easing her into her new routine. Naturally the muzzle was a bit difficult for Claire. It was the ultimate act of submission, letting someone else take your voice, but she had opened her mouth as directed and other than the tears welling up in her eyes she did not react at all. Taking a tissue, Miss Ford dabbed at the tears before replacing the mantle and restoring Claire’s veils. Her father was about to marry Elizabeth Buckingham in the garden, in a rushed private ceremony. The union would be blessed at the Cathedral on Sunday but every minister’s family circumstances needed to be sanitised before the cabinet was introduced to the press.
Claire stood with Miss Ford and watched her father tie the knot in what she realised was an arranged marriage. It was a shock to her, but no one else seemed to really notice. It was like business, even for Miss Buckingham, who appeared to be quite happy with the arrangement, and in half an hour they were all joined together in holy matrimony. If Claire could have pinched herself she would have tried, because she was sure it was a nightmare. But her mittens prevented that. She was a maiden in a household following the traditional Reformist doctrine with fervour. That realisation shocked her to the bone. She ate dinner with her ‘parents’ and was then put to bed by Miss Ford, thus getting her first experience of the sleeping gown, the sack she was zipped into for the night. It was all happening so fast, and it felt almost surreal as she cried herself to sleep, already mourning what her peers did not yet realise that they were about to lose.
Radio Gag Gag
Miss Ford settled Claire at the table. Her voluminous gown was still proving difficult for her, and she needed practise, but in the meantime Miss Ford was delighted to assist her. Mr Munroe did not watch, preferring to take the chance to scan the daily newspapers, as he had a busy day ahead of him and no time to waste. His wife and daughter were both muzzled, and their guardian worked quickly to fix their feeding tubes, allowing them to suck at some nutritional sustenance. Claire gave up trying to catch her father’s eye and listened to the radio instead, the words masking her misery.
“Good morning to you, this is the TODAY show on radio four. On a truly momentous day in British political history Charles Buckingham joins us from our Westminster studio. He is, along with the Prime Minister and leading Conservative, Philip Henderson, finalising the first cabinet to represent the Christian Democratic Alliance. Following the results of our recent election, these two men are managing a sea change. Charles Buckingham, do you believe you have a mandate to pursue your personal agenda?”
“Good morning Ewan, and honestly, why do you guys make everything about me? I am a politician, I stood on a very clear manifesto along with the rest of the Christian Democrats, and I made no secret of my personal beliefs. But our manifesto is a general one, and that is what over 40% of the electorate voted for. In a hung parliament, Philip and I are finding our common ground and putting together the team to shape our immediate future. The voters have asked for something new not more of the same, and that is my role, to make sure the coalition delivers what the voters voted for.”
“All very laudable, but the Labour leader insists that the electorate has been fooled, that you do not believe in democracy and intend to use your powers to push through laws that suit your more extreme personal beliefs?”
“Oh for goodness sake, people have been saying that about me for a year now.” Buckingham’s laugh fluttered over the airwaves as Claire swallowed her breakfast much. “The silent majority…the people successive governments have ignored since the end of the Second World War…made their views on this subject perfectly clear, and nothing our comrade from Preston can say will change that. The people of this country want a stronger hand on the tiller…they want the government to say no, to draw lines in the sand and stand up for what this country should stand for…modesty, decency, piety and chastity to name but four, and if you think those views are extreme you are just as out of touch with the people as the Labour party.”
“So you plan to make the age of maturity twenty one for everything except marriage? Why is it ok to marry at sixteen if you are not allowed to drive or vote?”
“Because marriage is a family decision, or should be. Under the current system, where we rely on two young people falling in love, one in two marriages end in divorce. My government will restore the sanctity of marriage. Divorce will be harder but as parental agreement will be required, more commitment will be shown, we believe. Look, twenty one is the responsible age or at least it should be, especially for boys. Most girls will be married by then, which is as it should be.”
“So girls are not as important as men?”
“Oh please, don’t try to trap me. God made man, and woman came of man…we are different, and we have different roles to play in God’s world, but everyone is important, of course. The fact is that the natural order of things has been skewed over the years. I celebrate the differences between the sexes, and rejoice in our inequality, because that is God’s will. However, that is not the reasons behind raising and standardising the age of maturity. Let me put it to you straight, drivers under that age account for thirty per cent of the accidents although they are five per cent of the driving community. Drink related injury and crime below the age of twenty one accounts for over half of all drink related problems. Sixty per cent of the unwanted pregnancies in this country are girls below that age. Petty crime and delinquency boast similar statistics. Our mandate was to raise the limits and come down hard on transgressors, and that is what we will do.”
“So you are returning this country to the dark ages?”
“Oh you lefties love to think that, of course…but you must respect the will of the people. All of these things were in our election manifesto, and the people voted for us in their millions. The idea of permissiveness…of everyone having the right to do as they pleased…failed our society. People are sick of it, and yes, we need to turn the clock back a little…but not quite that far Ewan, if you please. Our coalition will stand up for the values of the electorate. Instead of tolerating and funding anti-social behaviour we will legislate against it and make it clear what is and what is not acceptable. Yes, it is a tougher line. Yes, it will come as a shock to some people. But you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. I want to make this country a better place to live, a fairer place to live. Doing that entails setting the rules we all have to live by. It is the abject failure of my predecessors to set any sort of agenda that leaves us to pick up the pieces. This is not extreme, my friend…it is right, and I act in God’s name for the good of everyone.”
Elizabeth Munroe followed her husband dutifully around the room, her arm always linked with Claire, both of them politely greeting the great and the good of the Christian Democratic Alliance. It was an impressive gathering of course, a testament to the Reformist party machine. Every man invited had brought his wife and children, and every female present was in full Reformist regalia, as per instructions. Press and television journalists mingled with them, getting up close and personal with the brand new cabinet, and a small army of guardians hurried around, keeping everyone fed, watered and comfortable. Elizabeth took Claire to meet her father and stepmother, and they posed for a photograph that would grace the front pages the next day. Charles Buckingham was to be deputy prime minister and Peter Munroe was the new home secretary, important men in the CDA top team, but it was their wives and daughters that would make the biggest impressions on the electorate. Claire played her role to perfection, as always. Miss Ford had kept her on the shortest of leashes for three days, only removing her muzzle and mittens for dinner, and she had been given a taste of the paddle to help her understand what would happen if she misbehaved. Only three strokes, but it was enough for Claire. Miss Ford was kind, thoughtful and gentle, whenever possible, but never indulgent, and Claire had joined Elizabeth in awe of her.
Elizabeth herself was quite content, much to her surprise. Her father had told her that she would be married within a year, so it was never really a shock to her. Initially she had been horrified by the idea of an arranged marriage, but she had learned to trust in her father and in God’s will. Peter Munroe was kind to her. He was a busy, earnest man, who seemed to work long hours, and his demands on her had been few so far. Encouraged by Miss Ford, well trained and prepared, she intended to be a good wife and a good mother to Claire. She lived to set the right example, safe in God’s love.
Brogan Hardcastle needed the assistance. Reformist fashion was not designed for any one person to cope with, at least not at the level of haute couture. It was a private fitting room, on the top floor of the old London store, and the assistant seemed more than willing to help, so Brogan took her advice. She needed to look the part, and the assistant, a middle-aged woman, seemed to know what she was talking about. Proper Reformist gowns were available off the pegs, at a price. Her new friend assured her they were the genuine article, complete with the Cathedral logo on the label, although if she wanted to do it right she would need more than just a good gown, of course. Brogan had done her research, so she did not react to that, just explaining that she needed to attend a function with her parents, and that she did not want to embarrass anyone. She was going undercover but the she did not intend to spend her entire life savings on a new wardrobe. The assistant just smiled, and said that they had a lot of customers with similar needs. Brogan was surprised, and enquired further, her mind already working on the story, writing the account of her transformation in her head she gently probed for some innocent background intelligence.
“Single ladies mostly I think…their parents want them to…conform, I suppose. I expect your parents are leading lights of their local congregation, Miss…?”
“Hardcastle, Brogan Hardcastle…and yes, they are…for years…but things are different now aren’t they?” Brogan lied, sticking to her cover story like glue. Her parents were long since divorced, with her mother remarried to a film producer in California and her father, a climatologist, currently living somewhere near the North Pole. “I think all this nonsense in the papers is making them a bit sensitive…you know, socially sensitive. It’s a CDA cheese and wine I think, or something like that, and Mummy is desperate to put on a show for her bridge circle. I hear these things are all the rage?”
“Oh this department is one of the busiest in the whole store. I cannot restock quickly enough, despite the prices…the fashion trends this year are definitely modest, and if you are going down that route most ladies want to do it properly of course.” The assistant replied, using a tape measure to check Brogan’s size. “But if you are attending a social function, and you want to impress a pastor, I really would suggest high end…I am sure your dear mother would prefer the genuine article to a well-meaning imitation…London is still a little avant garde on this issue, but in the shires, in the right circles, that would be a tremendous faux pas.”
“Oh yes, I don’t want to embarrass anyone.” Brogan agreed, trying to look uncertain, not wanting to overplay her hand, even in front of the shop assistant. She was a journalist, a freelancer, and had been covering the election for five months as the modern renaissance unfolded, with increasing horror. Like most journalists in the country she was instinctively left-wing and the rather amazing lurch to the right orchestrated by the Christian Democrats and their Reformist paymasters had horrified her. Again like so many of her colleagues, she had railed against the tide to no avail, as the force of public opinion rebelled against the political failures of the past. Brogan was not a fool, of course. She could see what was happening and why, and she could sympathise with a lot of the feelings expressed by the voters. Politics in the twenty first century had no more great ideas, with the Conservative and Labour parties fighting for more or less the same ideological ground around the political centre. One tended to the right and the other to the left, but there was precious little differentiation and no administrations were particularly productive. Indeed, the vast majority of voters believed that ‘all politicians are the same’. There was little trust in them, and as all they seemed to do was argue with each other, and blame each other, nothing ever really seemed to get done. Charles Buckingham, and latterly the miraculous conversion of Philip Henderson, the Conservative leader, changed all that forever. For decades, most politicians had refused to pander to so-called ‘middle Englanders’, the sort of people who would vote for the death penalty without a second thought, and who thought the word ‘immigrant’ was basically the same as ‘criminal’ or ‘sponger’. It was a cliché to call them Daily Mail readers, after the black top tabloid, but to a certain extent that was true. These were basically good people, who paid their taxes and voted, but who were more likely to write a stern letter to the Daily Telegraph than loudly protest in Parliament Square. Despite the best efforts of media outlets like the Daily Mail, no one listened to this silent majority, because they were not wavering voters. In basic terms, the political elite took them for granted, and went back to fighting amongst themselves. But the clever Christian Democrats shamelessly appealed to these people. Driven by religious extremism, they hit the easy targets which pressed all the right buttons for the residents of middle England, and the revolution had started before the old politicians even noticed that it was all about to change. Brogan could admire the tactics. Buckingham’s education policy was just so Daily Mail because everyone knew that parents lied to get their kids into decent schools. It was an old joke. Even Tony Blair had pulled strings to get his children into great Catholic schools when he was Prime Minister, but it was never really acceptable. Cheating never really was to the British, especially that same silent majority, complaining to their spouse about it over the cornflakes. By raising the issue, and by forcing the various churches to stand up for themselves, Buckingham claimed the high ground and the Reformists could do as they pleased with their own schools.
Brogan had visited Meadvale. She had seen the modern renaissance for herself at close quarters, and it truly was incredible. To her and her friends the church was an anachronistic shambles, with a succession of embarrassingly socialist archbishops of Canterbury bringing the whole idea of religion into disrepute. But Charles Buckingham, with Pastor Winstanley standing firmly behind him in the shadows, brought it all back into centre stage. After all, what was religion about? Brogan had given that a lot of thought, because to her generation the answer was very vague. In most cases, since the nineteen seventies, the church in all its various guises had been an irrelevance. Attendance was going down consistently, and political correctness meant that the idea of daily prayers started to disappear from schools and any other public place. But the answer surely was the religion was a moral blueprint for daily life. That was the original idea, it was about telling the filthy masses how to live. The bible clearly stated what was right and what was wrong and the church, through their local representatives, tried to enforce the rules. The church was intrinsically judgemental, and the various stigmas of society came from that holy influence. For instance, the idea of having a child out of wedlock stemmed from the bible. It was wrong to fornicate. People judged others on this rock at the centre of their lives. Six days a week, from medieval times to the nineteen sixties, they struggled to survive, and on Sundays they went to church to make amends, and to be told what to think and how to live.
But since the sixties, since greater affluence, the advent of leisure time, television, pop music, drugs and the like, the church had lost that central position in anyone’s life. The values espoused by the church were therefore under attack, and the very last bastions of those values were the infamous, ignored silent majority. Their votes, always ticking the same box, ensured the status quo at Westminster. Successfully attack them, and the whole damned house of cards started to fall down, and Brogan believed that Buckingham and his friends had understood that from day one. Brogan was twenty five. She had been brought up in the commuter belt of Surrey in affluent surroundings and she remembered her grandparents, both born in the forties, disapproving of almost everything she did and wore. Her skirts were always too short, she wore too much make up, and she spent all her time on her mobile. She did not do, say or think the things they expected of her. She started dating too early and wore make up. She thought of them as old-fashioned, but it was more than that, of course.
“Skin must not be seen…that is the Reformist ideal…the gown, and the cloak you must wear with it, create the shape.” The sales assistant was saying as she helped Brogan dress. “It is all very graceful, but the girl is hidden inside. It is very liberating because you are not on display like a piece of meat, you are not tempting anyone. It is perhaps the ultimate statement of feminism, to remove the female form from sight…if you see what I mean…and you do it in the warm embrace of God’s love.”
“Oh…I didn’t think feminists thought like that…and it’s so heavy…” Brogan said, almost forgetting her adopted character as she felt the weight of the gown on her shoulders.
“I am talking about new feminism of course.” The assistant replied, as if it was obvious. “Now as you are…independent…at least until you are with your mother, I think you should wear gloves. It will be impossible for you otherwise…but will your mother be expecting you to wear mittens when you get home?”
“She…well, I suppose…she might…I’m not really sure.”
“I get this a lot Miss Hardcastle. I can’t sell you a proper day gown if you are looking after yourself…for a start, you will not be able to go to the toilet without help, and dressing and undressing yourself is possible, but very awkward, of course. I do have a very acceptable range of gowns that are easier to manage but for the function you have in mind…well, your parents might not be satisfied…and you also have to think about something to wear in the evenings. If your budget will run to it, you really need three gowns…one to travel in, one to wear during the day with your parents and one to wear in the evenings. Plus all the accessories to go with them, of course.”
Brogan left the store as a maiden, of sorts. Laden down with carrier bags filled with the rest of her purchases, she wore what the assistant had called her travelling attire. It was a dark blue velvet gown with a matching cloak, with full length narrow skirts, rather Edwardian in style. The sales assistant said she would be able to manage public transport in it, and the most important thing was that she could put it on and get it off by herself, unlike the other garments. She was wearing a matching mantle across her face, and a simple bonnet, but she was not veiled, and as she walked out onto Regent Street she had her first experience of being a modestly dressed woman in the metropolis. It was quite bizarre. People did stare, but they treated her very differently as well, opening doors for her, helping her with her bags when she got on the bus, and giving up their seats for her. Two older ladies on the bus struck up a conversation with her, telling her how nice it was to see a proper young lady out and about, and Brogan herself started to notice more people in modest clothing of some sort, something she had never really noticed before. She was not into fashion, and she did not enjoy shopping in normal circumstances, but she spent the rest of the day window shopping and sensing the changes all around her. Buckingham used the term modern renaissance, although he credited the idea to Pastor Winstanley, and Brogan decided it was fairly apt, because the country was reborn before her eyes. Everything was changing in subtle ways. She was usually lost in the political bubble. If you lived in the Westminster world, it was hard to see out of it sometimes. Her idea of a night out was often a glass of wine in one of the bars in the House of Commons, chatting up some awful back bencher for the gossip, and in that bubble the rise of the CDA had seemed distant, and impossible. But the modern renaissance was only just arriving at Westminster. She began to see that the real work had been happening in the real world where the politicians had next to no influence. She had seen Meadvale. Had she seen the future?
She had not been sure what she was going to do when she set out on her half-baked mission, but Brogan made up her mind on the tube going home. She wanted to get inside the Reformist movement and expose it from within, because she did not believe in the idea of New Feminism, and she wanted to help fight against the tide. Back in her flat, more comfortably dressed in a tracksuit and baggy sweater, she forged a letter from her father to an old colleague, asking him for a favour. The man’s son had stayed with her dear father for a year whilst on some sort of internship, and Brogan had just enrolled on what was described as a theological diploma course run by the Reformist’s in Meadvale. She needed a place to stay for a while, and in her father’s voice she asked if they would keep an eye on her. It was a coded message. Mr Craig was a leading Reformist, and Brogan urged him to treat her as he would his own daughter. Her own father would never know. He did not keep in contact with anyone, let alone her.
Miss Ellis, who introduced herself as the guardian employed by Mr Craig to care for his wife and daughter, seemed less than impressed by Brogan’s luggage. Brogan had arranged to meet her at a city hotel, as her cover story involved her flying in from California to start her diploma course. In a flurry of correspondence, Mr Craig had been delighted to take responsibility for her. It was clear her father had been typically kind and generous to Mr Craig’s son and heir, and he was eager to repay the kindness, so he insisted on sending Miss Ellis to collect her. The guardian, dressed from head to toe in brown velvet, entered the modest suite Brogan had booked, and took over.
“Of course, I appreciate that it must be difficult for your parents to equip you from afar, as it were, and Mr Craig always intended to ensure that you were adequately provided for, but you cannot travel to Meadvale looking like this.”
“But the store assured me this was…appropriate?”
“Manners, Miss Brogan…kindly address me as Miss Ellis, and speak only when you are directed to respond…I must emphasise that, although you are our honoured guest, you will be seen by others as part of the Craig family…and that means that you must set rather higher standards than the sort of thing a city girl might consider suitable. I understand that your parents are interested in the church, and wish you to study at the Cathedral…all of which is very laudable and we shall surely give you every possible assistance in getting the most out of your studies, but you are a maiden here. I believe that your father explained the situation to you, Miss Brogan?”
“Yes, Miss Ellis.” Brogan replied, minding her manners, and reminding herself that she had given the rather odious creature permission to boss her around, whilst pretending to be her own father. So she could not complain, and it would be out of character for her to do so.
“Obviously fashion and propriety are often intertwined, but the Craig’s are elders of the church, and as such, what might be appropriate for an office girl is quite inappropriate in Meadvale. I will change you out of this thing and put you in the better day gown, and then we can revisit the stores and get something still better. I believe we can get such things here…but obviously we will do most of our shopping for you in Meadvale.”
Brogan could not argue, of course. She had quite literally delivered herself into Miss Ellis’s hands because she wanted to know what it was like. She wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were, so that when she went into print with the truth people would believe her. She expected it to be an experience. She expected to feel helpless and vulnerable, but she had no idea of how suffocating the experience would be. She had felt ridiculous enough in her travel dress, cloak and mantle, but Miss Ellis used all the accessories. None of which met her requirements, and all of which she said needed to be replaced, but she said they would do for the short trip to the store. Half an hour after Miss Ellis walked into her room, Brogan was dependent on the stern guardian for everything. It was more than an experience. Within an hour, she was back in the store, in front of the same assistant who had served her before, with Miss Ellis making the decisions.
“Obviously I was not aware that the young lady would be in the care of a guardian.” The assistant said, on the defensive as Miss Ellis criticised her wares.
“Self-fitting muzzles, bonnets sold without veils, gowns so narrow that they are almost indecent…I am quite frankly appalled that anyone would buy such things…but nevertheless I must find something suitable for Miss Hardcastle. She is diapered and I brought a decent adjustable muzzle with me, but I want to see her in your top of the range travel gown, a proper front fastening cloak, a bonnet with veils and blinding mantle and a decent pair of mittens. She can open a door in these.”
Brogan stood still as the two women worked on her. She was shocked, and totally helpless. It was a strange feeling for a bright and clever independent woman, but she was passionate about the exposé. She could suffer a lot to get a decent story and this was the biggest story of all time.
Miss Ellis, Miss Scott and Miss Ford served the birthday cake. Mrs Craig was celebrating and her whole family were there to share the day with her, including her son, her older daughter Madeleine and her husband, Charles Buckingham, his daughter Elizabeth and her husband and stepdaughter, as well as Brogan Hardcastle. It was mid-afternoon, and the ladies were relaxing in the conservatory at the Craig’s Meadvale mansion, unmuzzled and with their hands free. It was a treat, of course. The guardians were happy to let their charges enjoy the moment for an hour or two. Brogan sat next to Alice Craig on a small sofa, their huge gowns arranged neatly around them, both keeping themselves to themselves as the youngest there, apart from Claire Munroe who sat beside her stepmother. Brogan had only arrived the day before. It was the first time she had been out of her mittens since arriving and only the third time she had been free of her muzzle.
“So tell us, Brogan dear, what church do you attend in America?” Madeleine Buckingham asked, in her usual patronising tone. She was the deputy Prime Minister’s wife and she never let anyone forget it.
“Southern Independent Baptist, Ma’am…our pastor suggested this course. Everyone in the states is very excited about what is going on here.” Brogan replied politely, sticking resolutely to her cover story. Everyone seemed to be buying it, because the American extremists were excited, of course. Middle America encompassed a rather less silent majority than Britain, but their views were not properly represented in Washington, so if they could learn any lessons, they would.
“Our Baptist brethren are staunch friends and supporters…Charles has just returned from a visit there.” Madeleine informed them all, and Brogan kept quiet as the conversation moved away from her. She was struggling to regain her composure. Her character had been readily accepted into the Craig’s home, and all was going to plan, except that Brogan had not been allowed any time to be herself. She had imagined retreating into the privacy of her room, to make notes, but so far that had not been possible. She was sharing a room with Alice for a start, and her hands had not been free to write. She had spent the night in a sleeping gown, and she was starting to realise what being a maiden meant to these people. But she was not disheartened, because she could memorise her reactions and record them later, after she had returned to London in two weeks. ‘Mr Hardcastle’ had made firm arrangements for her to return to London, and Brogan thought that she could cope until then. She was also thrilled to be right at the heart of things.
“She is a fake.” Peter Munroe passed the document to Paul Craig and let him read it, whilst glancing at Charles Buckingham who gave him a nod of approval and a thin smile. “She is a freelance journalist, with a very liberal reputation…although her name is Brogan, I believe. Mr Hardcastle does have a daughter, but she is married with two kids and living in Ohio. Our Brogan is Brogan Lawrence. Her parents are divorced and she does not have a close relationship with them…indeed, she sent her mother an email at Christmas, and there has been no traceable communication since then…I don’t think they will miss her.”
“She can’t just disappear…for goodness sake, Peter…we are not criminals.” Paul Craig sounded a little horrified, not particularly comfortable in the political mindset.
“Calm down Paul, we are not talking about anything criminal here.” Charles said, calming his friend. “But we can do really quite remarkable things now that we are in government, the least of which will be sending an email from the same account Miss Lawrence used to fool you in the first place. If her father asked you to keep her here, you would…you owe him a debt from the past and you are also a decent man. She will be trapped by her own ruse.”
“Give her six months and we might let her write her story…I am sure she will have learned a lot by then…I think that would be a triumph for us, born out of the deceit of our enemies.”
Brogan sat in the classroom with her fellow students, her eyes fixed on the screen, the words of Pastor Michael Winstanley reaching into her soul, pushing everything else out of her mind like garbage. It was impossible to ignore. Her headphones shut out everything else. Muzzled and in her mittens, enveloped in thick, heavy velvet, she was part of a captive audience. She liked that phrase. Even in her trance-like state, she told herself to remember it, and use it when she could, when she was free. It did not last long though, Winstanley’s soft, resonant voice took over again.
“Forget the heathen lies. Equality is the greatest sin of the so-called modern world. Man is superior. God made man, and out of man came woman, to serve and obey out of love. Neither is greater, and neither is less in the eyes of God, but we all have our rightful place. Rejoice in your place. Bask in the love of a forgiving God, and live for his glory. Without God, women are lost in this sick, perverted world…they have lost their place as wives, mothers and defenders of the purity of God’s love. With God in your heart, protected, loved and encouraged to be the pious, modest ladies God intended you to be, you will be assured your place in heaven, and saved from the evils of this modern world.”
It went on and on forever. Brogan lost all sense of reality and time. By the time Miss Ellis stepped forward to claim her, taking off the headphones, Brogan had filled her diaper, and she did not even notice. It was almost the end of her two weeks in Meadvale. She had been studying for three hours a day and then returning to spend her time with Miss Ellis and Alice. It was an unbelievable experience. Each day, after hours of that voice in her head, it took her more hours to recover, and that day it was worse than ever. Miss Ellis, as she promised when they first met, was treating her as a maiden, and she was walked home with her blinding mantle down, encased in her cloak, a helpless disciple. As usual, as soon as they reached the house, she joined Alice and her mother, and they were fed through their feeding tubes. Then she was changed, and Miss Ellis took her back downstairs where she normally joined the others for a quiet afternoon of needlepoint, with either some classical music or a bible reading in the background, but that afternoon Miss Ellis took her into Mr Craig’s study. No explanation was given, of course. Maidens go where their guardians take them, but she gathered Mr Craig wanted to see her. Not speak to her though, as her muzzle was not removed.
“Good news, Brogan dear…I have been corresponding with your father.” Mr Craig said as soon as Miss Ellis had her settled in the chair in front of his desk. “He is delighted at your progress, and I have told him how you have embraced life here, and how fond we all are of you. He feels…and I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with him…that it would be more beneficial for your development if you stayed here a little longer. I know you wanted to do the diploma course, and that is to your credit, but a few months here with Miss Ellis to guide you will be much more useful…I am sure you agree dear. Your father believes that Meadvale is the best place for a good Christian girl, and he has done me the honour of making me your legal guardian for us long as you are with us.”
Radio, what’s new?
“Only one hundred days into the new coalition, and what’s changed?” The radio presenter asked, at the start of a Radio Four special report. “It’s a question always asked of a new government, but this government is different, of course. The Christian Democratic Alliance promised immediate, noticeable change…something successive governments have always failed to do. The mandate from the people is often fudged in Westminster, so have Henderson and Buckingham delivered? Well, the facts are that eight pieces of legislation have so far been approved by parliament…all manifesto promises. I want to look at them in order to assess what is happening and what that means for this country. First, education. I am here in Crawley, a fairly typical town in West Sussex. Traditionally this is a Labour stronghold…it was one of the first nuclear free zones…and the sitting MP, Howard Cundy, is the first non Labour candidate ever to win here. Dominated by Gatwick airport to the south, this is a town close enough to London to commute, but because of the airport a lot of jobs are blue collar, and there is a large immigrant community of mostly Pakistani origins. Why did they vote for the CDA, and what have they got in return? Well, in two weeks, the kids go back to school, and the changes here are quite remarkable. Of the three secondary schools within the town, all were previously co-educational, but in line with the new education act, when they reopen one will be all girls, one will be all boys, and the third is being transformed into a boys grammar school…a free school with pupils selected on academic ability. Howard Cundy, tell me what this means for the people of Crawley?”
“Basically it means we have delivered what we promised. Single sex education produces much better results. There are less distractions…it is as simple as that. And the segregation of the sexes delivers more than just better educated pupils…I believe, like many other parents, that we have been guilty of letting our children get involved in ‘relationships’. It damages them at a vulnerable age, and has the potential to damage society in terms of underage sex, unwanted pregnancies and the like. It is quite simple, if they don’t meet, there are no problems.”
“I am looking here at a photograph of the uniforms for these schools…all available to view on our website…and it is going to be quite a shock for local teenagers, I am sure?”
“Blazers and caps for the boys, blazers and hats for the girls…each school will put a good deal of emphasis on looking smart to work smart, and do you know what, it works. Put a boy in a cap, with a straight tie and a jacket, and he behaves himself. The school colours are distinctive, not just drab anonymous black, so everyone can see which school they go to. The same is true for the girls. No trousers allowed, hats to be worn whenever they are outside. If they look like young ladies, they will behave like young ladies. It is what parents want, and it is what people voted for.”
“But a boy’s only grammar school…what about the bright girls?”
“That is where the church high school comes in, private yes, but with scholarships for bright girls. I can assure you that the people of Crawley have never been better served than they are today.”
“Ok, so that covers education, a main plank of the manifesto, and they are delivering. In our next program we will ask the people if it is really what they want, but we have more to cover first. The second law involves common decency…it is now illegal to be dressed indecently…but what does this mean in practise, how is it enforced, and is it fair? In the past, it was quite common for shops and restaurants to refuse admission to men not wearing shirts for instance, but in Crawley the changes to daily life are quite self-evident, and the hospital is a good case in point. Nurses are not allowed to wear trousers anymore, because the government sets the dress code and they believe that it is a sin for women to wear clothes like men…but the uniforms here are almost Victorian in style. Long dresses, a return to the caps and capes of the olden days. Excuse me, Miss…what do you think of the nurses here?”
“Oh they look great…smart, and you can see who they are.”
“And how about you? Are you dressing differently these days, since the government started to tell you what was decent and what not?”
“Of course, everyone is…I mean, it was fashion, like. But its great…you don’t feel like you have to dress like a tart to impress a bloke.”
“So you have heard it for yourselves, listeners. A random sample, and perhaps a shocking one…people approve of the changes and they are changing themselves. Here in the shopping centre, the shop windows are really different. Summer is almost over and the autumn lines are starting to appear. I can’t find a single skirt or dress that is above the knee. Long sleeves are in, and there are more hats in the shops than I have ever seen before. Opposition politicians have accused the government of getting at the fashion houses, but to me the clothes on sale represent a new elegance. Of course, there are still people on the streets dressed in other styles, but the Crawley police have issued on the spot fines to over three hundred people since the common decency laws came into effect back in June, and there is nothing remotely offensive left on display. Howard Cundy, what do you put that down to?”
“Clear guidelines. In the old permissive society, there was a view that anything goes. I think we can all agree that this went too far, and that is all this law addresses. Low tops, short skirts, men going shirtless except on the beach…most people find this sort of thing offensive. In government run businesses and places of work, we are enforcing the dress code as any employer can, but it is very popular. Fashion used to be imposed on the people by designers, but not anymore. This government is setting reasonable guidelines for everyone, to make this country a better place to live, for everyone.”
“So, there you have it…things have changed, and there is more, of course. Capital punishment, execution by lethal injection in this case, will be introduced from September the first, and corporal punishment is returning to our schools. From the same date no one under the age of twenty one will be able to consume alcohol, let alone buy it, and the voting age rises at the same time, as does the driving age, smoking and anything else limited legally by age. Only marriage remains at sixteen. Pubs now close at ten thirty at night, and open for only two hours during the day. It is now much harder to get a license to sell alcohol. Finally, a range of crimes have much stiffer sentences than ever before. Clearly murder will now be punishable by death, as will more serious rapes and attacks. Life sentences will mean life. Parole will not be offered to anyone until three quarters of the sentence has been served, and prisoners will no longer have televisions, computers or radios in their cells. Every prisoner will work five days a week and pay for any luxuries they can afford. The people are getting what they asked for…this is the modern renaissance in practise and if the people of Crawley are anything to go by, they love it.”
The King’s Speech
Brogan Lawrence returned to her old Westminster haunts as Brogan Hardcastle. Dressed in one of many new gowns bought for her by Mr Craig and alongside her constant companion, Alice Craig, she travelled up from Meadvale on the train to hear the King’s speech at the grand opening of parliament, as the guests of Charles Buckingham himself. Not that she knew much about the journey of course. Miss Ellis ensured that her charges were deaf, dumb and blind for their own safety. She had been in Meadvale for a little over two months and she was losing hope. No one believed her. She had tried to explain that someone had somehow hacked her email accounts, admitting the true purpose of her mission in Meadvale, but Miss Ellis, who was really the only person she could ever talk to in private, dismissed her claims as childish nonsense. Her ‘father’ wanted her trained as a maiden, and so trained she would be. Brogan eventually stopped protesting her innocence, or guilt, depending on how one looked at it, after a series of paddling’s.
Claire Munroe sat in the row in front of Miss Craig and Miss Hardcastle, with her stepmother and Mrs Buckingham, right at the front, looking down over the House of Lords. She did not know what to think anymore. Not only was her head full of the Reformist teachings every maiden listened too, but she did not know what her father was playing at. She had assumed that he had some sort of plan, because she could not believe that he wanted her to live like that, but he never really talked to her anymore, not on her own. Her stepmother was sweet, and Miss Ford, compared to other guardians at any rate, was patient and fair. But she was a maiden, and she did not want to be. Not deep down, although sometimes her education betrayed her, as she started to react like a maiden should, and think like one. She felt lost, or trapped, but there was no choice. Everything happened whether she wanted it to or not.
Further back, Emma Stone sat with her parents, invited by David Harrington, her father’s boss. It was quite an honour, of course. Mr Stone was a trusted senior employee. Emma, like so many other middle class girls, had fallen into maidenhood for a bigger salary and better prospects. But for her father, not for her. On the same row, Sophie Maynard sat with her parents, again invited because of their position in the community in Meadvale. Loyal supporters of the movement were being paid back in kind all over the country and this was yet another perk of the job.
Catherine Henderson sat beside her mother and her future mother-in-law, feeling numb. She was sacrificing herself to save her father’s career. Not through choice. He had decided that her betrayal of him allowed him to choose for her. He talked of cleansing her of her sins, and helping her to find God’s love. She could not fight him, simply because no one was giving her the chance. She turned her head at a banging door, her veils obscuring her vision, and noticed a row of ladies or girls wearing brown velvet. These were a party of girls from Meadvale School, invited to reward their piety. In the middle of them, unrecognisable from the others, was Samantha Fitzgerald, still obeying her parents, still a model pupil of the modern renaissance. Then there was noise far below them, and everyone’s attention turned to the floor of the House.
“My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, my government presents its business for the next parliamentary year.” King Charles began in his familiar lilting voice. “Since we are still recovering from the financial crisis, our belts must remain tight, and the cornerstone plan for this year is the benefits must work campaign, in which every person receiving unemployment benefit will be legally required to do thirty five hours per week of community service. No one will receive anything for nothing and we plan working parties to tackle litter, graffiti and maintenance of public parks and spaces all over the country…”
Planning for the Future
Charles Buckingham poured Michael Winstanley a large glass of champagne. It was all working rather well, and the initial reaction to the speech was decidedly positive. The government was riding sky high in the opinion polls.
“So what next?” Winstanley asked.
“It’s your blueprint, Michael…you choose.”
“I am aware that we might push too hard…in the spirit of overconfidence.”
“I agree that is a danger. I am keen to make sure the budget works out, because the civil service will try to make all of this cost a fortune. But I think we should be in a position to start legislating women out of the workforce. If no man is unemployed and his wife is keeping house, everyone is happy.”
“By encouraging the working wife to resign in favour of an unemployed man?” Pastor Winstanley suggested, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
“Yes, that sort of thing…I am still working on the details. Tax breaks for a man with a wife at home. Incentives to companies for replacing female workers with married males. It kills two birds with one stone…it promotes marriage and the importance of the housewife in terms of looking after children etcetera, and slashes the unemployment figures. Our campaign will be no father will be unemployed…whilst at the same time investing in apprenticeships. There are lots of social benefits in having mother’s at home with the children…proven benefits…but we have to make it affordable. However, if we slash unemployment benefit at the same time, it ought to be self-financing to a certain extent, the bean counters have to crunch the numbers but my aides tell me it will play well in the polls. The fact is that the majority of women work because they have to, not because they want to. I do accept that there are career women, God help us, but given the choice to stay home and spend more time with their children most women will jump at the chance. It has the added benefit that it restores the husband as the head of the family, the real breadwinner…it restores the natural order of things.”
“Oh…and how about faith schools?” Winstanley asked, as if he had forgotten the topic.
“On the agenda…our Muslim friends are planning a school in every town, and of course they fully support our modest dress initiatives. Our figures suggest that full face veiling in the Muslim community has trebled in a year…there is no stigma anymore and that has made it easier for everyone. So many of our policies fit with theirs.”
Life in London
Miss Ford enjoyed living in London and tried to arrange as many outings as possible. There was so much to see, and all of her charges benefitted from getting out and about around the city. Even Mrs Munroe, since she was still so young herself, and the family often had guests to keep Miss Claire company, especially Brogan Hardcastle, who had become rather a favourite. Mr Craig made a point of suggesting that Brogan enjoyed London, having been raised abroad, and she started to spend more and more time with the Munroe’s in their Kensington townhouse. Miss Ford was mindful not to exhaust the girls, but she took them to museums, classical concerts, galleries, exhibitions and to Westminster, because they all wanted to show support for Mr Buckingham and Mr Munroe, with Elizabeth particularly keen to hear all her husband’s speeches.
Brogan recognised the irony of the situation, of course. She was trapped inside her own undercover character, and her captors were clearly relishing the joke. She had stopped protesting her innocence. Miss Ellis would not hear it, and it was easier not to be punished, but she still dreamed of escape. She had a whole series of articles in her head, the inside track on what being a Christian Reformist really meant, but she was being denied any access to an audience. She often had nightmares in her sleeping gown, as she imagined never being free of her Hardcastle alter ego. Making her sit in the public gallery and watch the modern renaissance unfold was a delicious torture. During her visits she was introduced to many old friends and colleagues, none of whom imagined that the new Brogan was really the old one. So she cursed her own stupidity. She had not told anyone what she was doing and how she was doing it. She had wanted it to be her story and no one else’s. Her own arrogance had left her vulnerable to the Reformists, whichever one of them it was, discovering her duplicity and taking their revenge. She had to admire their style. She doubted if anyone would ever find out who had hacked her email accounts. Mr Craig might or might not know the truth but he had a trail of correspondence supporting his side of the story and the fact that no one had listened to her could no doubt be explained by emails from her ‘father’. Maybe she was unbalanced in some way or rebellious or a congenital liar. It did not really matter, because they were all covered, and Brogan’s own secrecy secured her fate.
“Claire…do you believe in God?” She asked, one late August afternoon in the garden of the Munroe’s house. It was overlooked so they were both wearing bonnets, mantles and veils, but Miss Ford had removed their muzzles.
“Of course…Brogan, what a question?” Her companion sounded horrified, turning instinctively to look back at the house. She did not want to get into trouble.
“She can’t hear us out here…you were at boarding school six months ago…I read about it, somewhere…” Brogan tailed off, not wanting to admit that she researched the backgrounds of most politicians as a matter of course in her old job. Digging for dirt was a political journalist’s reason d’être. “So you weren’t a maiden then, were you? Neither was I…this isn’t our choice…but do you believe?”
“Our father’s both chose the right path for us…we are the fortunate ones.” Claire replied cautiously. She trusted Brogan but she was not sure she trusted herself anymore. She did not know what to think but she was constantly schooled in what to say, in how a maiden ought to react to any given situation, so by default she obeyed her training.
“Claire, we have no life…is this what God wants for us?”
“Oh Brogan…do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have the will of God, you will receive what he has promised…Hebrews 10:35-36…it is what we are told.”
“Claire, I know that, but what do you believe?”
“I…I think…I know that my father wants only the best for me.”
“I believe I am an obedient daughter, and a daughter of Eve…and that my father will keep me safe, whatever I believe or don’t believe Brogan…and I pray every night that God helps him save me.”
Brogan gave up. She was slowly getting to know her regular companions in the limited time permitted for idle chatter, and she knew that Claire was the most recent convert, but if she pushed too hard and Claire said something to Miss Ford, Brogan knew that she would be severely punished for her sins. She was fighting her brainwashing as she thought of her lessons, maybe because she was a little older than the others, but most likely because she was not being brutally forced into everything by her own family. Even so, it was hard to resist, and she could already quote bible passages with the best of them, her own thoughts fighting for space in her head with the teachings of Pastor Winstanley. But what she heard and saw of the political intrigues concerned her rather more. Mainly because no one seemed to be fighting back. She heard nothing of the opposition, and she could see that the Reformists were taking over. No one seemed to be doing anything to stop them.
“Good evening and welcome to Question Time, tonight coming to you from Meadvale in Devon. I am David Dimbelby and with me tonight are Charles Buckingham, deputy Prime Minister, representing the CDA, Douglas Pardew of the Labour Party, Karen Baxter of the Liberal Democrats and comedian Arty Jones.” David Dimbelby announced, with his glasses perched on the end of his nose. “Crowded schedule tonight, lots of questions, so no time to waste…first question from Marjorie Laughton of nearby Hardingford, Mrs Laughton?”
“Does the panel believe that the modern renaissance is creating a more tolerant society?”
“Douglas Pardew?” Dimbelby said, turning to the Labour MP.
“Of course it isn’t… it is all about intolerance.” Pardew growled in his gruff northern voice. “Christian Democratic policies stop people living as they want, civil liberties are being destroyed…it’s the nanny state gone mad. I have constituents who are too scared to go out, for fear of breaking one of these endless new laws. People are being forced to follow instructions delivered from Downing Street as if God himself had been elected to parliament…it is a disgrace.”
“Charles Buckingham?” Dimbelby added quickly as a smattering of applause and some jeering broke out amongst the large audience.
“Of course I disagree with Douglas, but that is hardly a surprise.” Charles Buckingham grinned into the camera. “His attitude is typical of the old politics we are committed to consigning to history. This great country of ours has a deserved reputation for tolerance, for standing up for freedom, and I do not want to do anything to change that…not now, not ever. But we have to be clear about what we are prepared to tolerate. No one gets carte blanche. Douglas needs to tell his constituents that they have nothing to fear from our new laws. After all, I believe they are quite clear. Displaying unsightly amounts of flesh in public is offensive. No one wants to see their daughter doing it, and no one really wants to see it. I believe the knee rule is a good one…if a skirt is above, you are risking a fine. I don’t think that is unreasonable. Many countries have similar rules. But as long as we stick to those rules, we are tolerant…anyone who says otherwise is a fool…especially someone who voted against the restoration of capital punishment, despite the overwhelming will of the people.”
“Clearly some of the laws introduced by the CDA are restrictive, but it is equally clear that the people of this country largely support these measures.” Karen Baxter almost sighed, leaning forwards to make herself seem more intense. “I think Charles has a point…no one is blindly intolerant, and as a democrat I like to listen to the people. In fact, many people in my constituency in Birmingham…especially my Muslim constituents…feel more comfortable. Modesty and decency resonate with them, and they certainly feel more included as a result…I think cultural integration is an unexpected bonus of these policies. But…and it is a big but I am afraid…I do think we have to be careful of legislating to tell people how to dress. It is a slippery slope.”
“Arty Jones, is it a slippery slope?” Dimbelby asked, expertly moving the discussion around the panel.
“Yeah, I think it is…I mean, don’t get me wrong…politicians listening to the people isn’t a bad thing and there is no doubt that a lot of people support the decency laws. But what I think they mean is that they want to stop the extremes…you know the sort of thing guys, half naked drunks tumbling out of nightclubs. It is the sort of thing that drives the Daily Mail readers mad, largely because they send photographers out looking for them, of course.” Jones replied, pausing cleverly to get his laughs. “It is quite ironic that a party of extremists is dealing with extremes…and the danger is that the people in the middle get squeezed or ignored or jailed for some stupid, innocuous reason no one voted for…or hung of course.”
“Charles Buckingham…are you a party of extremists?”
“Oh this old chestnut David…are we really still there? I am a Christian and I believe in the bible. For sure, there are some pretty extreme things in the bible. Eyes for eyes, I am sure Arty can do a whole routine on it, but as with everything else it is about interpretation and delivery. I do believe that a woman should cover herself…but I do not expect everyone else to interpret their faith in the same ways. However, I do think it is reasonable to set a bar for these things. I have talked a lot about the permissive society in the last few months…I really do think that some people believe anything goes. The new law states that clothing likely to cause offence or promote lewdness is prohibited. Arms and lower legs are not included, but excessive cleavage is. Good laws are seen as reasonable. Punishments are deterrents, and must not be seen as too lenient or too excessive. By the way, causing offense includes anything that might scare people…slogans etcetera…and the feedback I am getting suggests that this makes most people more comfortable on the streets, not less. No one should be frightened to go outside, because we are making this country a better place to live.”
“Ok, time to move on, our second question from Ken Barnes?”
“Is sexual equality a thing of the past?”
“Oh I hope not, we fought too hard to get equality to let it be thrown away so easily now.” Baxter replied to another burst of applause. It was mostly from the women, Buckingham noticed. “However, I am not a raging feminist…I think we need to have a new debate about the role of women in society because not only were we accused of wanting it all, but we had to do it all to get there. By that I mean that a successful career woman still had to be a wife and mother at home. I have long thought that it was less about equality and more about opportunity. I have feared for some time that women now feel compelled to compete in the workplace, and live consumed by guilt that to do that they must sacrifice time with their families…”
“Oh for goodness sake, typical liberal claptrap…or an audition for the CDA,” Pardew interrupted angrily.
“Quite so comrade,” Charles Buckingham cut across him, struggling to hide his laughter. “Isn’t that typical of these dinosaur politicians…as soon as someone tries to start a reasonable debate, they start throwing around accusations like confetti…anything to avoid getting to the crux of the problem, eh Dougie?”
“So what is the crux of the problem?” Dimbelby asked, quickly restoring order as the audience laughed along with the deputy Prime Minister.
“Personally I think Karen has hit the nail on the head…the feminists wanted equality but you cannot make chalk and cheese equal, and frankly only an idiot would try. Right from the first burning bra the argument was high jacked by people who were all intent on making their own careers rather than helping others. No one can have it all, period…it is not possible. I think what we are trying to say now is that people need to look at the bigger picture. Firstly children do better with their mother at home than they do in nursery care. In these times of austerity, the government cannot provide free nursery care anyway so most women will be working to pay someone else to look after their children worse than they can, which does not make sense. I do so want us to get away from the stigma of being just a wife and mother. That is the most important job anyone can have, and anyone who says otherwise is frankly fooling themselves. But of course, a lot of people need the extra money and feel that they have no choice. I do not want to stop any woman working if they want to, but I do not want anyone to be forced to work when they don’t want to. This is not a question of equality at all; it is a question of economics. So what we are proposing are tax incentives for wives to stay at home and give the next generation the love, care and attention only a mother can give. I do also want husbands and fathers given priority in the jobs market, for the same reasons. The benefits we save in other areas will go to families who want to give priority to their families. But women will still work if they want to, it is just that our priorities are rather more sensitive than the equality proponents can ever manage.”
“But if they work in the public sector you want them to work in a gown and a bloody veil, don’t you?” Pardew almost shouted above the audience. Buckingham smiled again, not even close to losing his temper.
“Oh Dougie, I bet you wouldn’t refuse to wear an ermine trimmed cloak, now would you? Dress codes for work are a matter for employers, but certainly this government is probably more modestly inclined than the private sector. You were part of the group calling for a ban on pious Muslimahs wearing niqab or burka at work weren’t you? You have no respect for faith, and you have no respect for the people who elect you…unlike me. In this multi-media world, any politician can get instant feedback and every poll since the election shows vast support for our initiatives…and yet you still have no answers to the problems. You scream that we are doing this that and the other, but you provide no alternatives other than a return to the old status quo, where nothing ever got done and nothing ever changed, except for the worse. My government will balance the books, reduce unemployment, improve the education system and tackle drinking, promiscuity and offensive behaviour all in our first year in office. When you were last a minister your major achievements were to lie to get us into a war and then walk blindly into a global recession after borrowing more money than we could ever afford…the BBC would be better off inviting the Monster Raving Looney party to debate the issues, because they have rather more credibility than you, sir.”
The Reformist Saga is continued in part six Disagreement and Deceit.