My interventionist stance on the Turkestan issue was unquestionably having a bad effect on my career. The meeting with The Master had gone reasonably well though I was dissatisfied with some aspects of my performance. There were of course no explicit sanctions taken against me: ostensibly everything carried on exactly as before. But greetings were a shade less enthusiastic than usual. The tone on the other end of the phone was more reserved than normal. PAs and assistants treated me with greater politeness. There was a certain reluctance to include me in important discussions. There were things that only the most finely tuned antenna would discern, but then I did have a very finely tuned antenna. I began to look around for another important issue which I could use to set myself once more on a course to prominence and success. This desire led to a meeting with the journalist Pendrivel.
I was vaguely aware of the name Pendrivel before our meeting and knew that he was a populist journalist writing for Britain Today. That a meeting with him might be mutually advantageous was first suggested to me in an informal discussion with Sir Philip Coleman. Phil suggested that Pendrivel and I might profitably work together. So I arranged to meet Pendrivel in The George pub opposite the Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet St. I arrived one warm June evening, ordered a pint of an excellent guest beer, Mucker’s Knuckle, and sat down to wait for Pendrivel. When he turned up I found him a rather unprepossessing individual but I suppose typical of his kind. The substance of our discussion concerned the recent emergence into public consciousness of the genetically modified animals known as the X-Pets. I can’t say that this was something that had previously given me cause for concern given what else was going on at the moment in this field, but Pendrivel had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about the whole issue. He argued that a campaign to clarify the legal status of the X-Pets was necessary and that the British public were demanding such a campaign. Pendrivel received many letters about this topic every day from outraged readers. Apart from the redoubtable Pendrivel himself the cause was as yet leaderless and therefore lacking real clout. Pendrivel suggested a private members bill, put forward by myself, and dealing with this issue, would be of great service to the nation. I must admit I had some reservations but I said I would go away and think about it. I did think about it and made the decision to promote the bill which eventually became the GMA Act. This was a mistake that was to make my stance on Turkestan look like the product of, to quote the words of the immortal Homer, “a master strategist with a mind like Zeus.”
Looking back now I suspect that at a subconscious level I felt uneasy with my sponsorship of the GMA Act. There was of course no rational justification for the Act. The X-pets were so small in number that their activities, like those of the aristocracy, were statistically insignificant. The GMA Act was based completely on the universal fear of The Other. Of course the X-Pet phenomenon was a remarkable one, unimaginable forty or fifty years ago. The explosion in GM technology in the previous half century had been unexpected but exponential: notable as the X-Pet phenomenon was, in the context of what else was happening in the field it was strictly small potatoes. Thus I never really seemed to be able to deal with the matter with conviction and this contributed to the disaster that was my first major television discussion. I was due to appear on Politics at Eight as part of a guest panel. The panel included an X-Pet representative who I saw with amusement was called Cheese. Cheese was a cat. I now began to have negative feelings not just about the whole project, but about myself. Was this what I was now reduced to, bandying words on a TV show with a cat called Cheese? Was this perhaps the summit of all my striving, the expensive education at Marlborough, the years at Magdalene, the years of assiduous networking, the long hours spent dealing with the trivial problems of my mostly appalling constituents? Even if I gave an excellent performance what worth would a victory over a cat have? Even victorious I might become an object of ridicule. Peter Harrison MP, so you remember him? – the catman.
I arrived at the studio ill-prepared. As we went through the usual preparations for the show I could not help but stare at my feline adversary. A brown-haired cat, he sat quietly behind the desk things that are always used for props on these shows. Cheese seemed to be a very satisfied cat. A cool cat. He indulged in light banter with the members of the show who had already taken their places. I could hear the occasional laugh. Everyone seemed to be getting on well with Cheese. Cheese was a personable cat. I was able to catch a little of what he was saying as I received the last careful applications of the makeup brush.
“Of course Sir Michaels…..I agree completely that there is a need for clarification……..I very much look forward to contributing to the work of the consultative committee……for some time I have myself been pressing for exactly measures such as this….”
My makeup complete, I took my place on the panel.
The memory of the humiliation that followed is something that it is painful for me to write about. But if this memoir is to be of any use I must face this memory. Mr Poznansky would no doubt say that facing the memory and writing about it will be therapeutic. At every stage I was outwitted by the cat. The cat was more amusing than me. The cat was better informed than me. Information must have made him fat. The cat was better than me at getting everyone on his side and this is the key skill of the politician. The cat was better at everything. I completely lost the plot and the most painful memory of all is the close-up of me staring at the cat with a befuddled look on my face, my jaw hanging open, a glazed look in my eyes. At that stage my only thought was please let the programme end and let me get out of the studio. My performance had fallen apart. The cat was droning on “……an idea that is philosophically untenable…….this would be a clear violation of European law……the British people have taken some X-Pets to their hearts, look at Harry the Hamster.” A good laugh from the audience and a few cheers. After what seemed like an eternity the programme ended. I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible. Perhaps the worst thing of all was that I had chosen a course of action that would now bring me into frequent contact with the cat.
My dismal performance against the cat had not gone unnoticed by my colleagues. My antenna picked up the vibrations of discrete sniggers behind my back, of attempts to repress a little smirk in my presence, of jokes made at my expense when I had just left the room. Then one day in The House I was speaking on the subject of the White Paper on the Prisons Act when, in response to some phrase I used, I can’t remember what, someone from across the floor said, “The honourable member for Hull HAS LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG.” Then it started. Haw haw haw haw haw. A sea of grinning faces. Haw haw haw haw haw haw. Rows of stupid, grinning, gloating faces. Haw haw haw haw haw haw haw haw. So you think you are going to be somebody? Haw haw haw haw haw. You think you can imitate The Master? A nobody like yourself? Haw haw haw haw haw haw haw haw. Now they were all braying like demented donkeys: HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW.
It was that night that the dream started. There is a giant white TV studio, a studio the size of a large gym. In the middle of the studio is a desk surrounded by cameras giving multi-angled shots. Behind the desk sits the cat Cheese. Cheese is purring gently. His eyes are half closed. The purring gradually starts to get louder and louder. It becomes deafening until each purr is like a sledgehammer. The studio gradually goes dark and I can see nothing. Then I see two cat’s eyes piercing through the gloom. The cat stops purring and starts to speak. I hear the cat’s voice in my ear saying,
“Peter, look at me. Behold The Work of the Immortal Eye!”
I woke up covered in sweat. The dream became a recurring one to the extent that I began to fear going to sleep.