Part 1: The Blackout Act
Oliver Thompson is an ambitious, young politician working alongside some of the most senior opposition politicians in Westminster. He is a Member of Parliament and and a Shadow Minister of State for Home Affairs. Opposition is not the place any politician wants to be - primarily, its job it to oppose the Government and hold them accountable. There is no real power, but a great deal of responsibility. He has been serving as a Member of Parliament for eight years since the 2019 General Election. An election was called in 2022 which brought about the downfall of Oliver's party after being in Government for twelve years.
The year now is 2026 and the political scene has changed drastically over the last few years with new leaders, new ideas and new ambitions. Long-gone are the days where career politicians led the scene. There is a gentler, kinder way of things now, but if you scratch beneath the surface deep enough, you will always find a bad seed. The leader of Oliver's party, Rachel Martin, the Leader of the Opposition vowed to never let the party return to its poisonous history where lawbreakers and their cronies led the country. The Prime Minister, Lisa Allen, a fierce woman whose goal it was to rebuild a crumbling country has done a good job - even the Opposition agree she had an impossible task but she succeeded.
Approval ratings for the Government are higher than ever but being in Opposition for too long, especially after a long run in the highest offices is enough to drive any politician with a strong ambition to frustration. That is the case for Oliver Thompson. He sits in his office daily responding to emails and messages on social media that he believes to be trivial rubbish. People complaining that their bins haven't been emptied, or that the local council has condemned a tree overhanging somebody's garden. He finds his job tedious which only drives his ambition to reach higher. So, he responds and he listens and he braves the mundane days because next year is another General Election. Although Government approval is high, there is a big vote coming up in Parliament which could derail the Governments entire campaign for re-election.
Something that has always been a controversial issue in the United Kingdom is immigration, and the Home Secretary, who is very liberal on these issues, was pressured into proposing new legislation by polls which would see a tighter stance on immigration. The new law dubbed by the press as The Blackout Act would see a temporary halt on immigration when applications for visas or refugee status reached a "critical" point. Although many see the law as inhumane, the Government sees it as necessary. The Opposition, however, despite not having a 'whiter than white' record on immigration standards have called the legislation out and Oliver, as a shadow Home Office minister is partly responsible for the scrutiny and the opposition of the law.
"Morning," says a voice walking into Oliver's office. It is Kimberly Parker, the Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver's boss. "The vote has been scheduled for Thursday evening. We are expecting a long debate so clear your diary, it will be a difficult night," she says.
"Of course," says Oliver writing down the details. There is always a buzz in the air when a big vote is coming up. The House of Commons becomes a tumultuous place with Members jeering and shouting across the Chamber. That is one thing that has never changed. Oliver's office is a small room which overlooks a large park. He is grateful for the view outside his window. His office is solitary and is his office. Although it is adjoined by Kimberly's office, he doesn't share it with anybody else. In there is a desk, with a laptop, a small bookshelf, a few scattered photo frames with photographs of him and his colleagues, family, one with the leader of his party, Rachel Martin, certificates of recognition for various achievements in his life including his degree and in the corner sits a small table with a coffee machine which looks very well used. Many would describe the office as 'drab' but Oliver sees it as nothing but a pit stop - or rather a rung on the ladder. Nevertheless, he wants to give the impression that he cares about things that others would see as important so he had decorated his office to make it look presentable and welcoming.
The following day, Oliver is on a video conference call with one of his constituents - somebody who lives in the area he represents - discussing yet another "important" issue; transport to slightly more rural areas within his city. Whilst Oliver tries to reassure his constituent that he will speak to the Secretary of State for Transport - something that he probably will not do - somebody enters his office with a wad of letters. On top of the pile is a note stamped: 'WHIP' in bold red letters. Oliver knows what this means. A 'whip' is the process of getting Members of Parliament to vote a certain way and once a week, Members will receive a postcard-style note with all the upcoming votes and how the party should swing. The note reads:
Oli, it seems silly telling you how to vote on the Blackout Act, but Rachel is insistent on whipping votes as harshly as possible. Just a side note, some Government MPs are wavering slightly and may oppose the Bill. May be a good sign that it could fail. Any issues, let me know. Cheers, Ross
Ross is the Opposition Chief Whip, the person responsible for whipping the votes. Oliver knew Ross back in university. They were very close friends and remain so even to this day. In fact both are very similar in many ways. Similar ambitions, similar pasts, and similar futures. Both are extremely cutthroat and passionate about climbing the ladder to the very top. Oliver apologises to his constituent for being distracted for a moment and gets back to discussing the issue at hand.
After the video call, Oliver closes his laptop and pulls out his notebook. How can he possibly try to sway Members on the Government benches to vote against the immigration Bill? The House of Commons is made up of 650 Members of Parliament. The Government currently has 372 Members which makes a majority - a huge majority. Oliver's party has 182 Members. Even if all the non-Government and non-Opposition Members vote against the Bill, 94 Government Members must still vote against it for the Bill to fail. How on earth could that ever happen? The Government will be whipping their Members to vote in favour, so how will this be possible? His phone starts to ring - it's Ross.
"What can I do for you?" asks Oliver.
"I just spoke to a Government MP and they've told me on the down-low that there's a rebellion forming over this immigration law," says Ross. "He seems to think there's a lot of people who oppose it and will vote against it or abstain."
Oliver remains sceptical. A rebellion on that scale is extremely rare and for a piece of legislation introduced by the Government to be rejected by a huge percentage of Government Members would be unprecedented.
"What are the chances of the Bill passing?" asks Oliver.
"To be honest, it will probably pass. We need almost a hundred Government MPs to oppose it on the record for it to fail and that's not likely to happen but I'm making calls, ringing a few necks and pulling in some favours."
Oliver pulls the phone away from his face and sighs deeply so Ross doesn't hear him.
"Alright," says Oliver finally. "Keep me updated, Ross. I suppose we'll just have to see what happens."
Ross chuckles before saying: "No worries, mate. I'll keep you posted."
Oliver ends the call and places his phone on his desk. And then he remembers. He might have some of his own leverage to pull.
Three months ago, he was at a party with some Government Members where lots of alcohol was drunk, and the occasional line of cocaine was sniffed. This was a fairly common occurrence for parties attended by senior politicians - even junior politicians and backbenchers would participate sometimes. But there are four rules amongst these parties - no photographs, no press, no public, and deny, deny, deny. But on this one occasion, a cleaner was at the venue starting to clear up the mess early in the morning after the party and Oliver remembers a conversation with this cleaner that involved a sum of money being exchanged for the cleaners silence after she saw a Government Minister lining up cocaine. They may have been opposites in politics, but there is a mutual respect amongst politicians that entitles them to a private life away from work.
Oliver sits and wonders whether that cleaner may have taken a photograph. He had put the fear of God into her, and a wad of bank notes in her hand for her silence, but who could resist taking such a scandalous photograph? He thinks about the venue and the cleaner. Is it worth the risk? Would he be able to find her? His career could be catapulted forward if he achieves the impossible by getting this Bill thrown out. Shadow Home Secretary, then Home Secretary if they win the next election, then Deputy Prime Minister, and then ... he shakes his head and scowls. It's too risky. Blackmailing a senior Government minister. Could he really do that? For his career, he thinks, he would do anything.