Marcus looked out at the crowd assembled for the rally. All the different groups were there, almost mingling but all the same clearly distinct. His wife and her friends – most notably Clara Grey – at the front sharing thermoses of tea and biscuits they had somehow decorated with the All England logo. The flashier element with their designer jeans and gadgets. Families after a day out. Young mothers with babies in buggies. Farmers with waxed jackets and graph paper shirts. The geekier elements of the youth movement, all ironed shirt and acne – the ones who interpreted ‘canvassing’ literally in terms of putting leaflets through doors and applying earnest persuasion. And the other elements, the ones who saw canvassing as an opportunity for mayhem, who needed reminding that alcohol was banned from official functions and that certain words beginning with ‘n’, ‘p’ and ‘y’ were not always appropriate. Some of these youths were on security detail, where their tendency towards violence could on occasions be put to good use. The rest clustered at the back passing bottles around and, Marcus noticed with dismay, becoming loud before the event even started. He sighed to himself – if the antis attacked, he did not want them to have the slightest claim to provocation, not when the police were trying to be fair, the press and public were watching and he had an election to win.

He had been like them, once. This was not, of course, common knowledge. Even the most dogged muckrakers had hitherto been unable to prove that Mark Fox of Tower Hamlets had not, as his nearest and dearest (and the Metropolitan Police) had been led to believe, drowned on a drunken night out; but had instead made use of a forged ID to reinvent himself as a respectable Norfolk businessman. Even Janet didn’t know the full story. She knew he had been a bit wild, certainly, but put it in the same category as the hijinks with which Julius and his friends relieved the tedium of political campaigning.

Then there were the antis. They were as much of a mixed bunch. The peace-and-love brigade rubbing elbows with black-clad anarchists, people of various ages displaying trade union and political party affiliations, oddballs from tiny leftist factions – he would laugh except that the right had its own share of paranoid weirdos with bad breath and a tendency to make two plus two equal five and declare war on those who made it six. The unionists in particular worried him, although not for the reasons you might think. Still, there was a line of police between the two groups and taking on lefties in a fight was the one thing some of the lads here were good for, so he tried not to worry. He was briefly distracted by the sight of a short blonde woman he recognised, not to mention her taller but equally blonde daughter. He shook his head and turned back to the row of dignitaries behind him. Debbie Kane, the English rose made flesh, lush and blonde in a dress that was more demure than her usual – she held a position on the town council in Yarmouth. Verity Henning, whose son had been murdered by two black youths and who was fast becoming the Leader’s right hand woman. The charismatic Ralph Holtby, who had made his name advising companies on how best to fend off the unions. His own son Julius, representing the youth movement, paying for his mistimed jape at the school dance with a bit of public speaking. And the Leader himself, Roderick Spode. Sadly Spode couldn’t stay for long, as he had St George’s Day festivities to attend in his own prospective constituency, but it was still a huge coup to have him here. Marcus gripped the microphone with more fervour than he had held anything that shape in years.

‘Ladies and gentlemen’, he began. ‘For those of you who don’t know me’ – he was conscious here of laughter from his own contingent and jeers from the other side – ‘My name is Marcus Wolf and I am the All England Party Candidate for Norwich North. So vote for me.’ He gave the audience what he hoped was a self-depreciating smile. ‘But of course, I am not the main attraction today. We have a star-studded lineup of England’s finest. Our first speaker needs no introduction, but he’ll get one anyway. Our Leader, Roderick Spode.’ Both the cheers and boos increased in volume and intensity as Spode took the stage.
 


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