The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton

Full script:
THE ACCIDENTAL LEADER
by Alistair Beaton

A middle aged man in suit and tie, animatedly speaking on a mobile phone and clutching a sheet of note paper

Bruce Alexander as Jim in The Accidental Leader. Photo by Robert Workman.

Alistair Beaton’s one-act play imagines an orchestrated mass resignation by members of a shadow cabinet in protest at an ineffectual Leader of the Opposition. First performed on 18 May 2016, it anticipated by some weeks the actual mass resignation of Labour’s shadow cabinet. The Accidental Leader was commissioned as part of our show A View from Islington North.


CHARACTERS

JIM (50s/60s) MP, influential backbencher. On the right of the party, sees himself as a moderate and a moderniser.
ELEANOR (50s/60s) MP, Leftish member of the shadow cabinet. Formerly a supporter of the new leader, but now disillusioned.
OLLIE (20s) Jim’s researcher. Bright, ambitious, driven.
NINA (late 20s) Deputy Chair of the party’s grass roots organisation. A passionate defender of the new leader. 

A private room upstairs room in a pub. A table. A few chairs. A lamp or two. On the table is an open laptop, some documents and notepads, a couple of bottles of water, a coffee pot and some cups. JIM, 50s, besuited, paces with his mobile to his ear. He is tense, impatient.

JIM:                             (Mutters) Come on, come on…..

It’s finally answered.

JIM:                             (Contd) Ollie. Where the fuck are you? ….. We agreed nine o’clock…… what? ….. So there’s traffic in London, what a surprise. How far away are you? ….. eh? …can’t hear you. …. Are you in a bar?! …Sounds like a bar to me.

His other phone rings. He takes it out of his pocket, glances at the screen, answers it.

JIM:                             (To Martin) Martin, hi. ….. I’m good. You? (To Ollie) Hang on, will you. (To Martin) …… Eh?! …… Are you serious? …….. You can’t do that, that’ll wreck everything. Look – (To Ollie) What? …. No, not the King’s Head, the King’s Arms. Jesus Christ. (To Martin) Martin, give me a second, will you? (To Ollie) I told you, Ollie, opposite the Pizza Express, near the lights. We’re in an upstairs room. And fucking hurry up. (Ends call. Then to Martin) Sorry about that, Martin. Look. (Makes an effort to be emollient). It’s very easy, very simple. You just need to do exactly what we agreed. At the exact time we agreed. All right? ….. Yes. ….. Yes. ……. Martin, don’t be daft. This isn’t a question of personal ambition, not for either of us. We’re doing this for the party. Because it’s the right thing to do. …….It’s a very stressful time for us all…. Yes…. yes….. Great. Terrific…… Thanks. Oh, and Martin? What you’re doing – it won’t be forgotten. I’m proud to be your friend. (Switches phone off) I think.

(Pours himself a coffee, takes a slug, checks the time, goes back to the phone he’s just used and makes another call).

 (Contd) Jessica, hi, how’re you doing? ……. Checking up on you? Of course I’m not checking up on you. Okay, so I’m checking up on you. Just to make sure we have all our ducks in a row. … Yes….. So…(Consults a handwritten list on the table) You’ll make your announcement at seven tomorrow morning, right?

 There’s a bleep from the laptop as an email comes in. He reads it while still on phone.

JIM:                             (On phone, Contd) … Terrific. …No, Martin’ll go public at midday. …… He’s fine, he’s solid. (Ends the call, starts making a call on other phone waits for the new call to connect, looks at his laptop screen) Barry, it’s Jim. This email you just sent me, not a good idea. …. Because we agreed, no emails. Emails go astray. …Okay, okay….. sure…. I understand. But let’s be careful. This thing’s got to look spontaneous. (Ends call, goes back to checking his emails. One of his phones rings. He checks phone screen, frowns, answers it) Hi, Laura, what do you want? ….. eh? Not that I know of. ….. Yes, I have confidence in him. He’s our leader, he gets my support, simple as that. ….. Really? ….. First I’ve heard of it.

ELEANOR enters, in outdoor clothing.

ELEANOR:                   Evening, Jim.

He waves vaguely at her, concentrating on the phone. She takes off her coat, pours herself a cup of coffee.

JIM:                             (On phone) …. Well, if he doesn’t want to meet Prince Abdullah, that’s up to him…… Doesn’t matter whether I agree with it or not. We’re a democratic party, we have shades of opinion, we’re a broad church. ……. Well, I’m sorry, Laura, I’m just a humble backbencher –

ELEANOR:                   (Without looking over at him) Backbencher yes, humble no.

JIM:                             They don’t tell me very much. ….. Eleanor Wilson?

He and Eleanor exchange glances.

 JIM:                             (Contd) I shouldn’t think so. She’s very loyal. Listen, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to share with the BBC every last little scrap of gossip about who said what to whom, all right? ….. No, no, the party is united. I’ve got to go now, Laura. Bye. (Ends call).

ELEANOR:                   She rang me too. And asked me about you.

JIM:                             Why’s she interested in me?

ELEANOR:                   Because you’re interesting?

JIM:                             Ha ha. What does she know?

ELEANOR:                   Nothing.

JIM:                             So why’s she phoning around?

ELEANOR:                   It’s just her little fishing expedition. Jim. She knows that lots of us are hacked off about the Prince Abdullah thing. That’s no secret.

JIM:                             I’m worried, Eleanor.

ELEANOR:                   What have you got to worry about? You’ve got nothing to lose. You can just sit on the backbenches and snipe. It’s not so easy when you’re in the Shadow Cabinet. If this goes wrong, it’s my neck on the line.

JIM:                             I could be deselected.

ELEANOR:                   They wouldn’t dare. Your constituents love you. Safe seat.

JIM:                             Not safe for me. Not any more. My local party’s overrun by Impetus. Fucking Impetus. They’re everywhere. They’re like weevils, those people, burrowing their way into every constituency. Soon as this is over we purge the party, clear out the militants. And the first one to go will be that Nina girl.

ELEANOR:                   Woman. She’s twenty-eight.

JIM:                             With the political maturity of a ten-year old.

ELEANOR:                   She’s still a woman. (Unpacks her laptop, opens it, sits down at table).

JIM:                             Oh, all right then, that woman! What that ‘woman’ promotes is the politics of the playground. And she’s ambitious, you know, oh yes, sees Impetus as her path to power.

ELEANOR:                   She’s only a member of their steering committee, for God’s sake.

JIM:                             ‘Steering Committee’. Sounds so democratic, doesn’t it? But not when you’re being steered by a bunch of fucking Trots. Oh, yes, I’m going to get the bitch. (Goes to window) Were there any press outside?

ELEANOR:                   You need to stop stressing, Jim.

JIM:                             Well, were there?

ELEANOR:                   No, of course not. (Looks at a list) Where am I in this? I can’t read your writing.

JIM:                             Two-thirty in the afternoon.

ELEANOR:                   I wanted an evening slot.

JIM:                             Oh, for God’s sake, Eleanor, why’s nobody got the guts to go early? Everyone wants to hang around just in case it goes wrong and other people don’t resign first like they promised. (Pause) Are you in that category?

ELEANOR:                   (Thinks) Okay. Fair enough. I’ll go at two thirty.

JIM:                             Thanks, Eleanor, appreciate that.

ELEANOR:                   (Peers at list) You should have been a doctor. Can’t you print out a typed version?

JIM:                             Are you crazy? Nothing on computer. No record of anything. That’s the only copy. Soon as the deed is done, that piece of paper gets flushed down the toilet.

ELEANOR:                   (Examining list) So…. Tomorrow Jessica will be the first domino to fall.

JIM:                             Right. Biggest beast in the shadow cabinet. It’ll be massive. They’ll have her on the Today programme within an hour. She’ll say she can no longer support a leader whose policies make the party unelectable.

ELEANOR:                   It’s not his policies that are the problem. I’m fine with his policies. It’s his personality. He’s just not a very good leader.

JIM:                             So why did you accept a front bench post from him?

ELEANOR:                   I felt we should give him a chance. We’d reached a point where we thought the road to power was never to say anything radical or controversial. We’d become the party that dare not speak its name.

JIM:                             You backed a born loser. Terrific. It’s been one of the great weaknesses of our party, Eleanor.

ELEANOR:                   What has?

JIM:                             We’re too sentimental. We should be as ruthless as the other lot. They know a loser when they see one. Anyway, tomorrow you say whatever you want. That’s up to you. The main thing is – you resign. By 8pm tomorrow, we’ll have had eleven resignations from the shadow cabinet. He’ll be gone by midnight.

A text message comes in on Jim’s phone. He deals with it. ELEANOR watches him.

ELEANOR:                   Will you run for leader?

JIM:                             (Thrown, hesitates) I haven’t given it any thought.

ELEANOR:                   Yes, you have.

JIM:                             All right, yes. Yes, I’m going to stand.

ELEANOR:                   I assumed.

JIM:                             Can I count on your support?

ELEANOR doesn’t answer. The door opens and OLLIE bursts in, looking at the phone in his hand.

OLLIE:                          (Enters) This is great, this is terrific. This is exactly what we wanted. He’s just tweeted that he’s refusing to meet Prince Abdullah bin Fahad of Saudi Arabia and –

ELEANOR:                   Tell us something we don’t know.

JIM:                             Ollie. Where the hell have you been?

OLLIE:                          Wait, wait….. (Reading from phone) He is instead addressing –

JIM:                             Honestly, I give you a leg-up, I take you on as my researcher –

ELEANOR:                   Unpaid.

JIM:                             And you can’t even be arsed to turn up on time.

A young man in a shirt and smart jeans, with a security pass on a lanyard, holding a mobile phone.

Joseph Prowen as Ollie. Photo by Robert Workman

OLLIE:                          (Forging on) He is instead addressing a meeting…. Wait for it, wait for it…. He is instead addressing a meeting of the North Islington Transgender Alliance. A group which I believe does not command the full and unswerving affection of the Saudi government.

JIM:                             Aw, Jesus wept. He just can’t stop being a protestor. It’s in his fucking DNA.

OLLIE:                          Born to wear an anorak. Friends, we have got ourselves a leader with all the charisma of a retired maths teacher in urgent need of bifocals.

ELEANOR:                   That’s unfair.

JIM:                             Only slightly.

OLLIE:                          Well, anyway, not to worry, because (Holds up phone) he’s just given us an early Christmas present.

JIM:                             Imagine the Saudi reaction if he ever became Prime Minister.

OLLIE:                          Yup. Two billion pounds of arms sales cancelled overnight.

OLLIE now gets increasingly absorbed in his phone, reading and swiping.

ELEANOR:                   Of course, we shouldn’t be selling weapons to those people in the first place.

JIM:                             You’re beginning to sound like him. You sure you’re on board for tomorrow?

ELEANOR:                   Yes.

JIM:                             Good. Make sure you stay on board, eh?

Jim’s other phone rings. He looks at it, answers it.

JIM:                             (On phone) Martin. You okay? …… Oh yes? ….. The Mail? When did they call? What did you say? ….. That’s right. That’s good. ….. No, no, we’re fine. It’s just a few journos trying to build a story out of nothing. ….. Yeah. Yeah, of course we’re on for tomorrow. No problem. (Ends call). Someone’s leaking. First the BBC. Now the Mail.

OLLIE:                          They’ll have called the Leader’s Office.

JIM:                             Yes, yes, Thank you, Ollie. I’m aware they’ll have called the Leader’s Office.

Eleanor’s phone rings. She looks at it.

ELEANOR:                   It’s the Leader’s Office.

JIM:                             Oh, Christ. Don’t answer it.

ELEANOR:                   How’s that going to look? Of course I’ve got to answer it.

OLLIE:                          Who in the Leader’s Office?

ELEANOR:                   (Checks phone). Alex.

OLLIE:                          Oh that’s ok. He’s useless.

ELEANOR:                   (Answers) Hello?

OLLIE:                          Completely out of his depth.

JIM’s phone rings. He checks it.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) ‘Am I with Jim?’ (Looks over at Jim)

JIM shakes his head.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone, contd) No.

JIM:                             (Answer his phone) Jessica, how’s it going?

JIM and ELEANOR focus on their phone calls, while OLLIE gets absorbed in his phone. Nobody notices as NINA slips in and stands upstage of them, silently watching and listening.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) No, I’m just out having a drink with friends.

JIM:                             (On phone) I see, I see.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) Some kind of plot? News to me, Alex.

JIM:                             (On phone) Right. And what did you tell them?

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) Well, how can I help you if I know nothing about it?

JIM:                             (On phone) That was fine. Well done.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) There’s no need to be rude.

JIM:                             (On phone) No, Jessica, this doesn’t change a thing.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) Don’t bully me, Alex.

JIM:                             (On phone) No, we mustn’t postpone.

OLLIE:                          (Without looking up from his phone) Too right.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) I won’t be spoken to like that.

JIM:                             (On phone) We just need to stay calm.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) No, I want an apology.

JIM:                             (On phone) Keep our nerve.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) Thank you, I appreciate that.

JIM:                             (On phone) You don’t need to worry.

ELEANOR:                   (On phone) There’s no conspiracy, no plot. I promise. (Ends call) Oh, God, I hate myself.

OLLIE:                          Did he believe you?

ELEANOR:                   Yes.

OLLIE:                          I told you he was crap.

JIM:                             (On phone) Jessica, listen. It’s all speculation. They know nothing. Everything will be fine. We mustn’t panic, that’s all, we mustn’t panic. (Ends call) Oh shit, oh fuck, oh bugger, what are we going to do?

NINA:                          Call it off?

They all turn around to see NINA. There is a moment of stunned silence.

ELEANOR:                   Nina?!

JIM slams his laptop shut.

JIM:                             How did you get here? (To Ollie) How did she get here?

OLLIE:                          No idea.

A View from Islington North - Out of Joint - Arts Theatre - 18 May 2016 5 Political Satires by Alistair Beaton, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Mark Ravenhill and Stella Feehily Director - Max Stafford-Clark Set Designer - Tim Shorthall Lighting Designer -

JIM:                             Now much did you hear?

NINA:                          Nothing I didn’t know already.

JIM:                             (Enraged, moves towards her) Now listen you, and listen good….

NINA:                          You touch me, I’ll say you tried to rape me.

JIM:                             Don’t be stupid, Nina. Nobody’s going to believe that.

NINA:                          Ninety thousand members of Impetus will believe it. They don’t like you much. They’d rather believe me than a right-wing MP who’s plotting to bring down their leader.

JIM:                             Where did you get that idea?

NINA:                          From an email. (Takes out phone) Let’s see….. yeah,   five days ago, from you to …… (counts) …..six, , eight, ten…. Eleven. Eleven MPs. All members of the Shadow Cabinet, oddly enough. It says: ‘Re the action planned for next Tuesday’. Which is tomorrow. ‘Let’s have no more emails on this subject.’ That’s brilliant, isn’t it, that’s so brilliant. Sending out an email to tell people not to send out emails. While accidentally sending it to a member of Impetus. Politicians your age Jim, you shouldn’t be allowed near technology.

JIM:                             There’s nothing sinister about that email. It’s an action I’ve organised about climate change.

NINA:                          Is it?

OLLIE:                          Yes, that’s right.

NINA:                          And since when did your wing of the party give a toss about climate change?

JIM:                             Honest, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, Nina.

NINA:                          Then why was the email sent to the same members of the Shadow Cabinet who recently signed a letter calling on the party to regain the centre ground?

JIM:                             Nothing odd about that. The centre ground is where we win elections.

NINA:                          Oh, I do love your centre ground. Sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? The centre ground. But does the centre ground stay in the same place? I don’t think so. Blink and you miss it as it shifts to the right. Whoosh whoosh whoosh, there it goes. Yes, let’s comfort ourselves with the notion that we’re occupying ‘the centre ground’. Amazing how words can be comforting, isn’t it? Remember how a former leader of ours was given the task of bringing peace to the Middle East? And what did he comfort himself with – apart from very large sums of money – with telling us that he had ‘a road map’. Must know what he’s doing, eh, if he’s got a road map?

JIM:                             Have you told the press?

NINA:                          About the email?

JIM:                             Yes, about the email!

NINA:                          I mentioned it to a journalist.

ELEANOR:                   (Contemptuous) ‘Mentioned it.’

JIM:                             (To Eleanor) I knew someone had leaked, I told you.

(To Nina) You disgust me, you really do.

ELEANOR:                   How did you find us? How did you know where we were?

NINA:                          Better ask Ollie.

ELEANOR:                   What?

JIM:                             (To Ollie) Have you – ? Did you tell her where – ?

OLLIE:                          No!

NINA:                          No. But we’re Facebook Friends.

JIM:                             You’re Facebook Friends?

NINA:                          Yeah. Doesn’t mean we’re friends. And we both use Tinder.

ELEANOR:                   They both use Tinder. (Beat) What’s Tinder?

JIM:                             Fuck knows.

OLLIE:                          Oh, Christ.

NINA:                          It’s a dating app. And when him and me are both logged on, it gives me his location.

OLLIE:                          Only within 500 meters.

NINA:                          True. But I look at my Google map and what do I see only a couple of hundred metres away? Jim’s favourite West End pub. Boom! So, comrades, here I am. Shall we have a nice little chat?

JIM:                             Shut up. (To Ollie) Is that what you were doing? When I called you? You were in some bar? On some fucking dating app?

NINA:                          More fucking than dating actually.

JIM:                             Does this mean that you two …? (Waves a hand towards Nin and Ollie).

NINA:                          You mean, have I fucked Ollie? Yeah, but only once.

OLLIE:                          Nina, for Christ’s sake….

NINA:                          Once was enough.

OLLIE:                          She didn’t like my politics.

NINA:                          That didn’t help of course. No, he just wasn’t very good at it, were you, Ollie?

OLLIE:                          Shut up! Just shut up, will you?!

ELEANOR:                   (To Nina) You’re a nasty little number, aren’t you?

NINA:                          Sister, I can be anything you want me to be. But right now, I’m representing Impetus. Ninety thousand grass root members who will not take kindly to overthrowing our leader. The man was elected with an overwhelming mandate.

OLLIE:                          Overwhelming mandate sounds great. Unfortunately, the people who voted for him amount to roughly zero point five per cent of the electorate.

From here almost until almost the end of the scene, all three of them occasionally receive/send texts and emails from their phones, now and then blocking a call.

JIM:                             Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly. He’ll never win an election.

NINA:                          Your lot knew how to win elections all right. But that’s about it.

JIM:                             Oh my God. Have you any idea what we achieved in office?

NINA:                          Yeah. Deregulation of the banks and an illegal war.

JIM:                             (Listing them on his fingers) Human Rights Act. Freedom of Information. Minimum Wage. Devolution for Scotland and Wales. Sure Start. NHS spending doubled. Civil partnerships. Peace in Ireland. Forget those achievements and you might as well go and join the other lot.

NINA:                          So we forget the illegal war, eh? Oh, and talking about war, remind me: how did you vote last year, Jim, when it came to –

JIM:                             Syria? I voted for air strikes. Which I believe was the right thing to do. And what happened? I got bombarded with abusive tweets and pictures of dead babies. From members of my own party.

NINA:                          Well, you know what, Jim? When you bomb cities, people get killed. Including babies. So your distress at having to look at pictures of dead babies is possibly not quite as great as the distress of a mother looking at a real dead baby. Wouldn’t you say? You fucking wankers.

OLLIE:                          Ah, the debate reaches new intellectual heights.

NINA:                          You think stuff like that can just be debated politely? But of course, you have the press on your side, don’t you? And they decided to destroy our leader the minute they saw he was a threat to the existing order.

OLLIE:                          Yeah, the evil right-wing press that you’ve just leaked to. Why don’t you just fuck off out of here?

NINA:                          Imagine, a leader who actually meant what he said. A leader with principles. A real person, an authentic person.

OLLIE:                          Who never wanted to be leader in the first place.

NINA:                          Oh, it’s bad to have a leader who doesn’t lust after power, is it? Who cares about something more than just winning the next election?

ELEANOR:                   You can’t just not care about winning elections.

JIM:                             Oh, Nina and her friends don’t feel the need to bother with details like that. They’d rather debate the pros and cons of nuclear submarines for months on end than actually hold the government to account. (To Nina) You people are giving a free pass to the most vicious, reactionary government this country has seen for a hundred years. You make me sick. Principles without power. What is the point of that?

NINA:                          Well, it’s better than selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

JIM:                             (To Nina) Know what? You have the political brains of a rabbit. Maybe you’ve forgotten that there are peace talks going on about Syria. And why? Because this country persuaded the Saudis to sit down at the same table as the Iranians. They listened because we have influence with them. That’s grown-up politics. What would you prefer? The big moral gesture of snubbing Prince Abdullah? Or doing something that might, just might, bring an end to a hideous war?

NINA:                          Well, you ought to know about war, Jim. You’ve voted for it often enough.

ELEANOR:                   Just go, Nina, eh?

NINA:                          Oh, I’m going. I’m going to the Impetus office to email my membership about what’s going on and who’s behind it.

OLLIE:                          Oh for fuck’s sake, Nina, you can’t do that.

JIM:                             It’s okay, Ollie, she doesn’t know what’s going on. Not really.

NINA:                          I can make sure everyone in the party knows who’s behind it, though.

And even if you force him out, I’ll tell you one thing, they’re never going to vote for you. Today’s the end of your leadership ambitions, Jim. Sorry about that.

JIM loses it.

JIM:                             You’re mad. All you fucking lefties, you’re mad! You have no idea about politics, you just want to wank off over your own goodness.

ELEANOR:                   (Reproachful) Jim….

JIM:                             It’s even all the same to you lot whether your leader looks like a politician or a tramp.

NINA:                          It doesn’t matter what he looks like.

JIM:                             It fucking does matter! He needs to look like a future prime minister.

NINA:                          What nice suit and tie, all that shit?

JIM:                             Yes. Nice suit and tie and all that shit. When people look at a leader of the opposition, they need to see a future prime minister. Simple as that. If what they see instead is a man who appears to have bought his clothes in an Oxfam shop at the poorer end of town, they don’t like it.

A young woman in a leather jacket and an older man in a suit, both clutching mobile phones and looking serious.

Sarah Alexander as Nina; Bruce Alexander as Jim. Photo by Robert Workman

ELEANOR:                   To be fair, he has smartened up a bit recently.

JIM:                             Not enough. And when people are assessing their future prime minister, they’d quite like him to be, well, a little bit normal. Taking an interest in manhole covers is not normal.

OLLIE:                          Does he really take in interest in manhole covers?

JIM:                             It’s his hobby. It’s his fucking hobby.

OLLIE:                          Oh, Christ. Nobody told me. Why did nobody tell me?

JIM:                             He also has an allotment.

NINA:                          There’s nothing wrong with having an allotment.

JIM:                             True. But being photographed holding a giant marrow?

OLLIE:                          Not good.

JIM:                             Bad. You can be hated, but you mustn’t be laughed at.

OLLIE:                          Maybe he should go into stand-up.

NINA:                          Oh, shut up, Ollie, you’re just a greaser with a posh background who’s backing Jim because you think he’s on the winning team. But you’ve got it wrong. Because you know what? This might be turning into a party that attracts young people. And about time. Because the political elite’s declared war on the young. No jobs. Debt. Sky-high rents. That’s what we’ve got to deal with. Look after the pensioners, eh? Because they’re the ones who go out and vote. Well, comrades, that’s about to change. Goodbye. (Makes to leaves, turns). Oh, and Ollie, get someone to introduce you to the clitoris.   (Leaves)

The OTHERS remain silent for a few seconds.

JIM:                             (To Eleanor) What are we going to do?

OLLIE:                          I just want to make it clear: I know where the clitoris is.

JIM:                             Shut up.

OLLIE:                          I’m fine with the cli-

JIM:                             Shut the fuck up!

ELEANOR:                   We keep going. She knows there’s something planned for tomorrow. But that’s all she knows.

Silence.

OLLIE:                          (Mutters) Fucking cow.

JIM:                             The Leader’s Office isn’t going to sit back and wait. They’ll try to head us off.

Eleanor’s phone pings, she looks at it. She looks at it long and hard. She scrolls down to read something.

OLLIE:                          Yes, it’s not that hard to figure out, is it? Put two and two together and you get a pile of resignations.

JIM:                             Should we bring it forward? ….. Eleanor?

ELEANOR:                   (Looking at phone) Hang on.

JIM:                             Yes…. That’s good. W e get someone to resign right away. Tonight. Yes, yes, that’s what we ought to do. Eleanor. It has to be you.

OLLIE:                          He’s right.

JIM:                             (Checks watch) You’ll still be in time for the ten o’clock. Yes, that’s it. You get your resignation statement out while I call the others. We’ll get two more, maybe three, to resign tonight, yes, great, that’ll do it. (Grabs his list) I’ll move everyone forward, so all the resignations are in by lunch-time tomorrow. Come on, come on, we have to move fast before they’re all got at. (Grabs a notepad, starts re-writing his schedule of resignations). Ollie, get me some coffee. I’ll ring Jessica first. (Picks up phone, punches in number) (To Ollie). Coffee! …….

OLLIE:                          (Shrugs) Whatever. (Goes to table with flasks of coffee on it)

ELEANOR doesn’t move.

JIM:                             (Contd) Shit. Her phone’s switched off. I’ll try Martin. (Calls). Eleanor, don’t just stand there, move it! …Bloody hell. Martin’s switched off too.

OLLIE is watching ELEANOR.

ELEANOR:                   Jim…..

JIM:                             (Sensing bad news) What? …What is it?

ELEANOR:                   (Phone in hand) I have to pledge my allegiance to the Leader within fifteen minutes or I will be fired from the Shadow Cabinet.

JIM:                             What? ….. what?! Let me see that.

ELEANOR:                   Same message sent to all eleven of us.

He grabs the phone from her, reads it.

JIM:                             That’s okay. If you get your statement out immediately, we can still –

OLLIE:                          (Looking at his own phone) Martin’s just caved in……

JIM:                             Shit!

Pause.

OLLIE:                          And Jessica.

ELEANOR:                   Give me that. (Takes her phone back from Jim)

JIM:                             Oh, Christ. (To Eleanor) You must get that statement out now. Ollie, call Laura Kuennsberg. Give her an exclusive. Eleanor Wilson about to resign from the Shadow Cabinet. Do it!

OLLIE:                          No point. Game over, I’d say.

ELEANOR:                   (While texting) Ollie’s right. (Sends text) There. That’s done.

JIM:                             You refused. Right?

ELEANOR:                   No. There’s no point in committing suicide. It’s all over, Jim.

JIM:                             No, no, we can’t just – I mean….. No, no, no.

ELEANOR:                   I’ve pledged my allegiance.

JIM:                             Oh, God.

OLLIE:                          (To Jim) They’ll know you’re the ringleader.

JIM:                             Shut up. Shut your fucking mouth. (To Eleanor) It’ll be back to the same shambles we’ve been living with ever since that idiot was elected leader.

ELEANOR:                   (Calm, collecting her things). Yes, that may well be true. But you know, I’m not sure I fancy a party run by the likes of you and Ollie. In the end I’m just not sure that’s going to be a great deal better than what we have now.

JIM:                             What we have now is chaos.

ELEANOR:                   Yes. But at least it’s chaos with hope. (Heads for door) Goodbye, Jim. Bye, Ollie. (Leaves)

A few moments of silence.

OLLIE:                          You’ll never be leader of the party now. You’ll get the votes of the MPs, but the grass roots are going to hate you. You’re all washed up, Jim. (Gets his jacket)

JIM:                             What are you doing? Where are you going?

OLLIE:                          (Throws a pass onto the table) My parliamentary pass.

JIM:                             Eh?

OLLIE:                          Sorry, Jim. I don’t work for losers. Seeya. (Leaves).

JIM sits in silence for a few seconds, head down. Then he looks up.

JIM:                             Fuck.

BLACKOUT


THE ACCIDENTAL LEADER © Alistair Beaton 2016. Alistair Beaton has asserted his right to be identified as the author of the play. All rights whatsoever in this play are strictly reserved. Requests to reproduce  or perform the play in whole or in part should be addressed to Alan Brodie Representation Ltd www.alanbrodie.comNo reproduction or performance of any kind may take place unless a licence has been obtained. The publication of this play on this website does not necessarily indicate its availability for performance. All applications for performance rights should be made before the start of the rehearsal period.

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