A knock rattled the door: '3 minutes Jeremy'
He took a deep breath, flattened his mousey grey hair down to a presentable state and reached for the tired old beige jacket that had served him so well in those drafty assembly halls at campaign events.
His acceptance speech would be simple, conciliatory and principled. A new kind of politics, thank the voters, pay tribute to his opponents, but make no promises. It's my party now. The country is watching, don't fuck it up.
'Just be likeable' he thought, suddenly overcome with foreboding and dread. ‘Oh god, even I don't like me'. He knew his faults. Thoughtful and serious he may be; a raconteur he was not. At the constituency office Christmas party, while colleagues revelled in guessing that the names of Marylin Monroe, Bridget Bardot or one of ABBA were on their foreheads, he was invariably left with Albert Steptoe, Victor Mildrew or Peter Sissons. Today he couldn't be the grump, this was the big time: 'I want to be one of ABBA'.
'What's that Jeremy?'
'Hm? Oh nothing, just warming up the chords'
‘Great, just another minute and we'll get you out there. Just remember, they voted for you already, they just don't want to see you fuck it up. You've got the key lines memorised?'
'Yes, no more austerity, pay tribute to the others, new politics, don't fuck it up'
A small titter raised among his campaign team. 'That's the first joke you've made in months Jeremy'
That was it. His brain flooded with possibility. People like jokes. All I need is a good joke. A zinger. That can't be too hard. Raise a light chuckle, show you're alright, then on to the serious stuff. 'What was that one, about th-....?'
It was too late to conjure up a dinner party special now, a piece of wordplay for the ages. Hurried to the stage and confronted with loud applause and flashing bulbs, he did his best to look like a man in control, shoulders back, chest out, serious expression. 'Let them in' he thought, 'preview the joke with a quick smile'.
'Friends...' He began, trusting his subconscious to keep working on the joke while the real Jeremy got on with business.
'Friends, we have made history today...'. A good start, surely there's a decent joke about history. Something old, political, but on the right side. But before he could fully consider the hilarious consequences of the French Revolution or the fall of the Berlin Wall, the real Jeremy was away.
‘This was the largest democratic exercise in our party's history' ahh democracy, that old faithful, but nothing funny here.
'I pay tribute to the other candidates....' Quick, Jeremy you're running out of time. ‘We may look like an ABBA tribute act....but...but' There it is, you're in the joke now, don't bail. '...but I'm sure you'll agree..... '
A thousand eyes stared blankly at the new leader of their party. John Prescott stifled a small cough, Margaret Beckett shuffled uncomfortably in her seat. Tristam Hunt bore an expression somewhere between a frown and a focused attempt to prevent gas escaping. This hadn't gone as well as he'd hoped.
'But I'm sure you'll agree', he repeated, 'that, like Waterloo, they were defeated, I won the war'.
You've bloody done it, Jeremy, a genuine joke.
A good one. One that recalls military triumphs and Swedish pop songs of the 1970s. Jeremy thought he caught a rare smile forming on a Margaret Beckett's weary visage and fuelled by his hitherto unknown improvisational skills, he continued... 'Not the Iraq War I hasten to add'.
The mood in the room perceptibly chilled. He'd gone too far.