15 APRIL 1995, Page 48

Office life

Turning round the enemy

Holly Budd

Politics in the wider national sense fea- ture only occasionally in the office, which suits both my own brand of political qui- etism and my theory that enthusiasm, political or other, is an affliction of nature, a sign of psychological, domestic or social lack, the espoused cause an accident of history. Most people maintain a decent and sensible reticence about the way they vote, though you can usually guess, and ignore the urging of those who would have us all loquaciously engaged in political debate. Those with experience of passion- ate political engagement often come to regret the necessity for it. British society is 'We re start ng 'most banned' and 'most sued' categories.' anyway possessed of sufficient political maturity to know the wisdom of reticence without recourse to brute experience.

There are always exceptions. The one in my department is called Jeremy. He is an activist, a campaigner, a badge-wearer, a political evangelist whose views on every- thing are generally tolerated by his col- leagues with weary good-humour. Frankly, I find him a pain and the office phone should be subsidised by his party, but he works as hard as he plays — a distinction he would not accept — and I try not to interfere.

This year, however, I began to worry because the approach of even the local elections seemed to have excited him so much that he threatened to fall out of his pram. I was pretty sure we could tuck him back in but his work brings him into occa- sional contact with clients and there we cannot afford any sign of political inconti- nence. Cowardice made me reluctant to speak, partly because I'm sure he senses my antipathy and partly because any argument might cause me to defend, and therefore to examine, my own quietism.

But speak I had to, and did. There was no argument. We had an amiably serious discussion, notable for mutual restraint. He made points about democratic freedoms, with which I could agree in principle, and I made points about responsibility to employers, which he could accept in princi- ple. It was agreed that his political activities could continue so long as they did not impinge upon his work.

Like most agreements on principles, it sounded good and was in practice unwork- able. The devil, they say, is in the detail. Jeremy tried to adjust his set so that he was no longer jammed on send, unpinned his badges and disposed of most of the politi- cal paraphernalia on his desk, but his calls to his girlfriend — secretary of the local party branch — continued as before, he began arriving late as his evening activities extended and his computer screen was filled ever more frequently with extra- office correspondence. I concluded I would have to speak again, this time without recourse to principles.

Then suddenly it all stopped. He was at work early and late, working on our work. He stopped talking politics and no longer rang his girlfriend. He started going out with a girl in the company, not in our department; an ideal balance. It appeared he had dropped everything political in favour of her. I was relieved, unpleasant- ness avoided and my theory about enthusi- asts reinforced. I mused on the influence of a good woman.

I mused too soon. Jeremy has become an aggressive vegetarian; animal rights para- phernalia are spreading daily across his desk. He and his new girlfriend took days off to protest against the export of live calves. Will it be live yogurt next? The the- ory about enthusiasts holds truer than I thought.