In absentia - I may be the only member of the think tank not on holiday, but I'm not strictly speaking at work either. The phones are going to voicemail and I've set up an email auto-reply explaining that I am very busy thinking around educational issues and will deal with your query in due course. Meanwhile, I'm actually having lunch in a restaurant with Scary Paula, my departmental assessor and Brighton Al, a shifty- looking fixer with connections in all the right places and six-day stubble.
Winky monkey - It takes me a while to realise that Al hasn't got a facial tic, he just winks at everyone. Yeah, my multi-faith schools (inc atheist) paper went down very well with certain special advisers to the Shadow Education Team, though nobody knows how they got a copy *wink*. Whoa, there's a monkey under the table *wink*. I feel something brush my leg. I give a panicky squeal. Paula laughs. She knows it's 500 quid in an envelope, she's obviously done this before.
Yummy money - Back in the office, and a familiar moral dilemma. In the one hand, pound;500. On the other, this is all wrong. Scary Paula's supposed to be working for the Department, not sucking up to the next government. Where's MY job security? I can't dob her in without getting myself sacked. And for what - an envelope full of cash? Hm, that does keep turning up in the argument like a recurring trump card. Nothing else on, so why not tank- think some ideas for Team Gove. My brief from Brighton Al: don't worry, they don't actually need to be thinking about anything *wink*, they just need people to think they MIGHT *wink* be thinking about something. I decide that my freelance research hourly rate should be exorbitant, and limit myself to 20 minutes bumbling round a Facebook group called Young Conservative Yummy Mummy Starbucks Collective. Wow, they are some hard bitches.
Vichy Paula - Done. When Scary Paula calls in at close of business to pick up my list of Thinking Points* she tells me how much she appreciates my spinelessness. I should really consider joining the Tories now. That way, when they invade Poland - correction, take over the Department - I could be in line for a proper job. She leaves a party membership form on my desk. I listen to her heels clicking down the corridor.
*1. Armed prefects. 2. Convert ethos into a colourless gas and pump it into school corridors. 3. Introduce a flexible educational voucher system, allowing poorer parents to select the school they want for their children, or to save all the vouchers up and send one of them to university.