Chapter 3

Ministerial Efforts

Florence Daniels, Minister for Home Affairs in the New Order Government, had decided that she’d had enough for the week.

There had been long nights in the House, pushing the Government’s legislative programme through, turning up to Committees on this or that manifesto commitment, trooping dutifully through the lobby for every vote, and sitting in Cabinet while the Prime Minister chivvied them all to make sure they were delivering on the party’s commitment to go on being a government of women, for women.

On top of that she had needed to put in long days in her own Department, trying to stay one step ahead of those that thought she should never have had the job in the first place. And that was without the particularly full post bag of letters from her constituency raising issues of local concern. It was the same for any Cabinet Minister, she thought, but even so, by Friday evening, she felt it was time for a drink.

Florence felt the bars that clustered in the streets around the Houses of Parliament were far too close to work, with too many opportunities to bump into people she really didn’t want to have to talk to. Her preferred watering hole – something she didn’t share with any of her team – was across the river in Lambeth Palace Yard. Once the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the red-brick, Tudor buildings had been converted long ago into a shopping mall and leisure precinct. There were restaurants and bars that offered a chance to relax. The other benefit of the location was that she could be back in the House or in her Marsham Street office quickly enough if she needed to be.

She walked through the entrance to the complex. The signs on either side, a male symbol, inverted in a red ring with a red diagonal bar through it, was universally recognized now. “No Males” it said. Florence couldn’t remember when it had first appeared. It wasn’t something the Government had introduced, she thought, just something that had sprung up. Now it was quite common.

Of course, there were men in the complex, waiting at tables, serving in the bars, things like that, but they came in through a rear entrance for the staff and they all had a reason to be here. Florence looked around. She couldn’t see a single one apart from those that were obviously waiting at table.

Mondo Bondo was in part of the main building. Florence liked it because it was the complete antithesis of anything the party apparat-chicks (as she called the Prime Minister’s young, go-getting, conformity chasers) approved of. It was noisy, it was dark, and it was sleazy. Florence hadn’t been entirely surprised, when New Order came to power, how quickly women had taken on many of the characteristics traditionally associated with the male. Alcohol-fuelled women displaying rowdy behaviour, echoing the scene in the nineteen nineties – “ladettes,” they’d called them then – had become commonplace in recent years. It wasn’t uncommon for women to openly display sexual interest in men and the odd bit of kinkiness was neither illegal or particularly remarked on.

Mondo Bondo catered for those that liked to see their men in chains. While Florence told herself she went because of the music and the atmosphere, the amusement from being served by shackled and ball gagged waiters naked from the waist up appealed to a part of her that she knew stretched back to her adolescence.

“2010 Retro Disco” the poster’s outside had announced and sure enough the speakers inside were blaring out Kesha’s We R Who We R, practically pinning the bar’s customers to the walls with the volume.

Florence found a table. A waiter approached. “Vodka tonic, straight up,” Florence announced. The waiter nodded and disappeared in search of her drink. Florence watched him go, following the roll of his buttocks as he walked back to the bar, his steps impeded by the chain between his ankles. As he stepped behind the bar, Florence caught sight of someone she knew sitting on a stool. The slim young woman with short, dark, spiky hair lifted her drink in recognition and came across to greet her.

“Hello, Florence. I thought I’d find you here.”

“And I thought I’d get some peace.”

“Is that any way to greet someone that wants to do you a favour.”

“Corey Preston, I’ve lost count of the number of favours you’ve tried to do me that have somehow ended up being to your benefit.

Corey smiled and sat down.

“Join me, why don’t you?” Florence reacted acidly.

“That’s no way to greet an old friend. Especially one that has an idea that might be of benefit to you.”

“You’re still lobbying, then?” The constant parade of people trying to get you to steer government policy for their benefit was one of the down sides of being in the Government, Florence knew.

“Yes, and I’ll declare my interest straight away. I’ve been asked to look at helping the Chinese Trade Delegation with some of the practical issues of their trading relationships with the UK. Nothing related to public policy, of course.”

“Do we have to do this now?” Florence looked up at the clock. She had time and just occasionally Corey’s ideas were of use.

Corey shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to. I can always try to see you in the office.”

Florence shook her head. If this was a waste of time, she’d be better off kicking it into the long grass here and now. The music changed. Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream churned out. Florence wondered if a 2010 retro disco was actually a very good choice after all. “All right, tell me what you’re thinking,” she said.

“The Foreign Office is all over the Sunrise relationship. You know that, don’t you?”

Florence nodded. Daphne Takely had been looking smug at yesterday’s cabinet, basking in the approval of the Prime Minister for the work her department had been doing “cementing relationships with our Eastern allies.”

“I thought of a way that Home Affairs might benefit from it.”

Florence wasn’t sure if she was interested or not.

“Look, hear me out; if you don’t think there’s anything there for you, I’ll go away. But, …. You’ll know how keen the PM is on making sure there’s no danger of things slipping back to how it was before New Order was elected.”

Florence nodded. There was no doubt about that. Johannsen spent half of every Cabinet probing departmental plans and legislative suggestions, making sure there was no risk of things being turned back to a time when men could vote, make decisions, borrow money, or any other of the foolishness that used to be allowed. And, if there was one thing Florence had learned, ideas that cemented Johannsen’s view of how the world should be were a sure recipe for political advancement. Maybe this was interesting after all. She gestured to one of the manacled waiters and ordered another drink for herself and for Corey. If there was one thing she was careful of, it was to never be on the wrong end of the hospitality game – that way lay all sorts of accusations from outside and inside the Cabinet.

“Well, have you thought about young people and how they are taking forward the New Order ideal?”

“Sure. I mean that was why we set up New Opportunity. They carry the torch for the next generation. We’re starting to see more and more party members come up that way.”

“Party members, yes, but you know that’s not the whole story. What about the others, the youngsters that aren’t really interested in the politics? Suppose they feel New Opportunity is just a bit old fashioned? Dealing with yesterday’s problems? If the youngsters aren’t engaged in the New Order programme and don’t develop the skills they need to deal with men when they start work or relationships, where is New Order going to be then?”

“I see what you mean,” Florence said slowly, thinking about what Corey was saying. Actually, it chimed with some of her own concerns. Some of the problems they had in public order were definitely because of young women’s problems with managing males.

The drinks arrived, the waiter placing them carefully on Corey and Florence’s table. He stood waiting for a moment. All the waiters hoped a customer might notice them and leave a tip or, better still, ask for the key to the locked ball gag. Polite conversation was all that was permitted in the club rules but it wasn’t unknown for guests and staff to end up in places and situations that were both frowned on by society and proscribed by law. Florence waved him away but noticed Corey’s gaze following the man’s buttocks as he left them.

Corey’s attention returned to her task. “So, if I could point you at a Sunrise programme that would help girls to acquire better man management skills, I imagine that might be relevant? Or, maybe, it’s more suitable for the Department for Education & Skills? I suppose it would be on their patch really, do you think?”

Florence was interested at once. The political sense that had got her to her ministerial chair told her that this was worth exploring. She certainly wasn’t going to let Education & Skills get their hands on this. “No, I don’t think so. I’ll look at it. Edu & Skills haven’t done anything about the problem yet, so I think we can assume that they’re not likely to; can’t we? Besides, the outcomes definitely affect Home Affairs. I imagine this programme will help with improving social cohesion, reduce male antisocial behaviour, and offending rates?”

“Of course, Minister,” Corey responded, recognising the politically correct terminology.

“Silly question, I know, but I don’t suppose you could set up a meeting to explore this Sunrise idea, could you?”

“I think I could,” Corey responded, feeling that her objective for her trip to Mondo Bondo had been achieved.