a room in westminster

welcome to the meal-deal aesthetics of modern power.

sometimes, i like to take a big sip of black coffee and stare into the abyss that hangs before my eyes; the gauzy grey vale which flutters across my corneas while i amble between Hackney and Haringey. in my head are the strained, over-eager notes of a faded song. a voice, blurred at its edges like an old peach stone in a glass of bed-water. i think about all of the times i’ve chewed too hungrily on the end of a biro, or drafted my suicide note in the margins of a notebook. often this kind of shit happens while sitting inside the blank, intestinal facilities of council buildings, conference centres. Inside hotel lobbies with names like Ibis and Entspannungszentrum. it has happened in Dover and Ilford and Westminster and Dudley. it has happened in Dusseldorf and Milan and Odense. that distant voice is my own - a voice from an earlier life; a life in which i was, for a time, forced to spend afternoons in a variety of very drab function rooms. Rooms in which the yawning gob of institutional power would reveal itself - reveal itself to be impersonal, blank, and ruefully marginal. Rising - slobby and stinking - from its tepid bathwater, i would come to realize - in the winter of 2010 - that power is brokered not under the brilliant marble of golden domes, but inside the confines of sterile rooms boardrooms; lit by the stink of unfailing piss.

Often, i think about an essay published in the LRB by Hilary Mantel. In the course of this essay she described a scene at Buckingham Palace - during a function she’d been invited to as an award-winning, a la mode author. over-saturated from the prim, aching formality - the gilded lack of fucking nuance - she noticed the slippage of very ornate space into, well, rubbish space. functional space:

And then as we drifted away from the stage I saw something else. I glanced sideways into a room off the main hall, and saw that it was full of stacking chairs. It was a depressing, institutional, impersonal sight. I thought, Charles must see this all the time.

A room filled with stacking chairs. An institutional room whose existence depends on its collapsibility. a room that will host a little folding table with white porcelain cups and too-weak coffee. coffee that is goaded out of one of those big silver plunger pots with a toilet button on the top. plunge-suck-spurt. an eddy of horrifying empty bubbles, tinged with the carceral colouration of old toffee, thrive and bristle on the drink’s lukewarm surface. in such rooms, you are pressed with the possibility of all other rooms - and the vast, un-papal tawdriness of this particular fucking room collapses back onto you. A room filled with stacking chairs which gesture - as the mise-en-abyme of policy briefings yawn and convulse before you - into every single other room within the entire span of human existence. I am shaking. I am shaking.

matt chorley must - and i can tell this by his demeanour - spend much time within stacked-chair rooms. function spaces; inter-departmental meetings; training mornings; briefings. i don’t really give a fuck who he is - or how i can’t shake the image of a meal deal and a herniated disc from my mind, when i think about this entire bland scenario. either way, i want to draw attention to a piece of ‘‘‘‘‘reportage’’’’’ that was shat out onto my timeline this morning. a piece of reportage on Rebecca Long-Bailey, a prospective candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and her ties to Corbyn. A story in which chorley claimed - incorrectly, idc - that RLB’s campaign was being master-minded by Corbyn. The evidence? That her interview (photographed below) took place in “Corbyn’s office.”

Which is a brain-worms idea. Obviously.

but it is actually a very unremarkable story - and interests me marginally less than the thing which might be a caper that rolled out of my sandwich half an hour ago. like, it ‘s not irrelevant to me, and it may stir me into some sort of dull action in another half an hour. but it is also dead air; a raw, disappearing fact at the swampland at the edges of my rotting brain.

I want to draw attention to chorley’s piss-streaked all-caps invective. a scoop that, in the echoing diorama of his mind, carries with it the gravity and significance of - i don’t know - John Rettie’s shocking 1956 revelation that Khruschev had fully, finally denounced Stalin, thus ushering in an entirely new epoch of soviet politics. but let's measure ourselves here. let us breathe slowly and deeply. let’s talk about stacked-chair rooms, because this room is - without a shadow of a doubt - a stacked-chair room. as political journalist Dawn Foster correctly noted, “It’s one of the shadow cabinet rooms in the Norman Shaw, how do you not know this.” Exactly, yes. Yes. it is a stacked-chair room; a bookable, slightly plain-smelling, divisible room whose sole function is to be filled sometimes. by meetings; and briefings; and training sessions; and harsh words; and tears (yes, possibly a lot of those), and even - i should think - fucking.

in fact, the probability that this room has contained - at some point - some unerotic fucking is so palpably high and so depressing as a thought that i am somehow crying down my own throat - without even expressing tears from my actual tear ducts. this room - which chorley somehow elevates to the status of the closed, smoke-filled session of the 20th congress of the communist party of the soviet union - has been a scene of desultory lanyard fucking. a biro dropped to the floor. a sheaf of policy notes (which smell of fresh printer ink - unbearably dry to the touch) has been dropped to the floor and then gathered again with a wierd, shaking brevity. this room - this informal, impersonal room of stacked chairs - is not evidence of a RLB-Corbyn gnostic terror pact, but rather a room that you can book - probably using an online booking system that doesn’t really work properly. that requires a few attempts and makes you rub the top of your nose a lot. it is a room that two people have shared for meetings and - perhaps, yes - interviews on several occasions. it is a room of such plain and myopic horror that i am laughing, now, at the thought of Chorley even recognizing the similarity of these two spaces from the photographs - one of which is an Alamy stock photo. meaning - meaning - that chorley went through the laboured process of searching and uploading corbyn’s photo from the alamy database.

the grim, obtuse neekiness of this act fills me both with respect and horror. it is almost arousing.

And now glance below. Please.

What do these two photos share? What - in this sad game of compare and contrast - draws attention to their pairing, their duplicitous doubling? Is it the aching lime and yellow of the carpet? the band of plugs which circulate around the edges of the room, and - here’s a guess - 47% of which do not work? even at all? and have not done for years? i can only conclude that the giveaway - the Maltese falcon of this drab hernia of a room - is the Dunelm-grade piece of art that has been screwed to the wall. The ‘ah ha’ moment being, yeah, a sort of flattened pizza-looking artwork? the sort of thing your eye will scuff indifferently across while half-walking-half-jogging down the 5th-floor corridor of a holiday inn.

and so what we face is not evidence of Corbyn’s supposed puppet-master influence over RLB’s leadership campaign (gasp: that her campaign had been launched within what chorley incorrectly described as Corbyn’s office, rather than a - you know - really fucking bland room for hire), but - rather, ungently, shudderingly - evidence of the boorish, stupefying vapidness of this country’s corridors of power. Of the literal wasteland of the rooms in which politics actually happens. The meal deal aesthetics which frame the gruelling work of policy. Of these lightless and clinical facilities. Windowless boxes into which the quickening of smoke and mirrors sort of dully happen, like anniversary sex. And we have all been here. We have all lost our minds in this obnoxious place, somewhere between the glory-holes that have been dug through the MDF - these plastic-lipped desks (things through which to feed tubes of power and internet ) - and the rattling window frames which cannot be prized open, and on which hundreds of fingernails have been caught, and pulled away from the tip.

but then again, maybe i never left.