The Launch of the good ship Dictator
Perry Winkle – the new Prime Minister of what had become The English People’s Republic – had every right to feel triumphant. The Opposition having abolished the Monarchy following a lengthy period of suicidal gaffes from George VII and his siblings, at the General Election that followed he had denounced the Left’s sellout to Islam, sweeping to power on a policy of ‘medical isolation’ from the anarchy produced by the final collapse of the euro.
His first action as Prime Minister was to abolish the office of the Presidency (held by Yvette Cooper) and change the country’s name to the Independent English Parliamentary Liberty Space. Perry set up a committee of MPs, business leaders, lawyers, accountants, ISPs, generals, bankers, media owners and football managers, tasked with the creation of a fully written Constitution to protect the human rights of English citizens. But in what he hoped would be “a brief interregnum”, the new PM declared himself and his Cabinet the Sovereign power in the Land.
Far from worrying about this, the populace applauded his immediate fulfillment of an election promise to make savings by slashing the Cabinet size from 27 to 4: himself, the Chancellor Dana Sock, Home Secretary Reggie Mentle, and Foreign Secretary Alison Wonderland. It was immediately dubbed The Cabinette by The Sun newspaper.
There was a firmly understated knock at the door, which opened slowly to reveal the lanky form of his Cabinet Office supremo Lewis Gunne. Winkle had been looking forward to their meeting.
“Ah, Lewis dear chap,” he said, peering over his pince-nez glasses, “enter, enter….I’m intrigued to hear what your thoughts might be on the PI programme”.
Gunne’s face was a study in assumed triumph. He gave a slight nod of the head to suggest a suitably uncertain level of loyalty, and spoke in his infamously hoarse voice.
“Prime Minister,” he hissed, “I believe we can easily claim that my suggestion for the execution of PI is not only entirely legal, but also both generous in the face of national adversity and ah….as it were, a signal of stability to the markets”.
As the senior Civil Servant chose a seat at the oval table, Winkle leaned back in his own capacious chair.
“Excellent,” he said, “I’m all ears…..proceed”. Gunne cleared his throat while opening a file. It made no difference to his voice, whose close resemblance to that of a malign Spirit remained as creepy as ever
“First of all,” he began, “it goes without saying that the full name of the proposal – Permanent Interregnum – will disappear from all papers and pronouncements in relation to the plan. It would invite cynical criticism in the House, and at the same arouse suspicion at the more intelligent end of the electorate”.
“Well,” said the Prime Minister while examining his fingernails, “you have said what didn’t need saying….which is that we don’t want to be saddled with a dubious oxymoron. So let no more be said on the issue”. Lewis Gunne offered a thin smile and continued.
“Quite so. You will of course be aware that, at the recent General Election, some 44.7% of those entitled to vote did not do so.”
“Of course,” said the PM with a straight face, “most regrettable. In the eyes of some, it removes any claim we may have to legitimacy.”
Gunne gave another small nod of his entirely bald head.
“It does however raise the convenient issue of many people wasting the vote they have, when that vote could be put to better use in the service of our nation. And also, most psephologists agree that there is a strong correlation between not voting and being, so to speak, at or below the poverty line.”
The Prime Minister removed his glasses and took a small cloth from his pocket.
“Indeed. Fortuitous in some ways, given that very few of them, I suspect, would vote for me.
“Precisely the point,” Gunne agreed, “they’d like to vote for the, um, Opposition, but for some reason they doubt it would make any difference. It’s their apathy and lack of money, however, that can be of great use to functional government”.
Having cleaned his spectacles with meticulous care, Winkle put them back on his nose.
“Really? I’ve never grasped what use they are to anyone.”
The Cabinet Secretary placed his forearms on the table, and put his hands together as if he might be praying for Prime Ministerial enlightenment.
“Prime Minister, we have conducted some preliminary focus groups among these people, and it seems to our Cabinet Office team that the underclass have no use for their votes. They, as it were, see no point in having a vote. Do you follow?”
“I’m not remotely surprised,” said Winkle, but he didn’t follow at all. “So they abstain until one day a diet of pizza and Big Macs finally takes its toll. So what?”
Lewis Gunne reformed his hands into a steeple shape. To pray harder, perhaps.
“Prime Minister, the only thing these people need is money, because the only thing they want is to put all manner of things – cigarettes, vodka, kebabs and so forth – into their mouths, and to achieve that requires money….with hopefully enough left over for the TV licence”.
Perry Winkle brought his eyebrows together and frowned.
“Look, we can’t give them any more fucking money. The Conference ladies would string me up.”
The bureaucrat gave an indulgent smile. He had spent a career spanning three decades, and never stopped marvelling at the dull banality of politicians.
“We won’t be giving them money,” he asserted with a hint of subservience, “We’ll be buying something from them, Prime Minister”.
Winkle sat upright.
“What on earth,” he asked, “have they got that I would want?”
Perry Winkle had but one golden rule: to stop work each day at 6.30 pm. He defined ‘work’ as dealing with all the boxes, papers, emails, diplomatic dilemmas and MI5 whingeing that Whitehall gave him to look at each day. He had thought that, as Prime Minister, this workload might ease off, but in fact it doubled – albeit with a change of emphasis towards diplomacy and military intelligence.
These two overwhelming elements were referred to as “briefings”, but already he had come to realise that they were a deadly concoction of hidden agenda and inaccurate information. Sometimes the inaccuracy was caused by the agendas, and sometimes by monumental incompetence. Diplomats and spies, he felt, could barely predict yesterday’s weather.
Thus, in order to stick to his clocking-off rule and still deal with the increased workload that poured into Ten Downing Street without cessation, Winkle ignored everything the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 sent him. Instead, he demanded a daily tablet call in turn from the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Chancellor at 8 am, 8.30 am and 9.00 am respectively, and asked them to rate the dangers of war, terrorism and insolvency. Whatever they chose not to tell him was their problem, not his; when cornered by a cock-up, he could then frame the inevitable accusatory question, “Why was I not told about this?”
After 6.30, he focused entirely on politics: at Westminster on the back benches, in the constituencies and at the Party grass roots, among the senior ministers outside the newly slimmed-down Executive, and prominent Opposition MPs. This involved a lengthy session with the Chief Whip, Winkle’s political adviser, and the Head of MI6’s Westminster branch. Consisting almost entirely of gunpowder, treason, plot and gossip, it was by far the most enjoyable part of Perry Winkle’s day.
Following his meeting that morning with Lewis Gunne, however, the Prime Minister swiftly cancelled the usual evening gathering, and slotted in a Cabinette session (to include his political adviser Clement Whether-Ornott ) as the replacement pow-wow. Party wrangles could wait for one day: votes were far more important. If nothing else, the PM was famed for his ability to prioritise sensibly.
Winkle was seven minutes late for the kick-off, having endured a tricky telephone call from his mistress, a Sky News reporter whose own staff were suggesting that the British leader was engaging in a dalliance with the Italian NATO liaison officer Costarica Flogalira. The gossip was indeed accurate, so it took all his acquired expertise in mendacity to persuade the Sky veteran that her proprietor’s political bias lay behind the “utterly false smear”.
“Apologies for the late start,” he began, “I take it you’ve all read Lewis Gunne’s paper on PI?”
His four allies nodded in unison while murmuring to the affirmative.
“Initial thoughts?” he asked. The fear of hidden recording equipment lay heavy in the Number Ten air-conditioning. This was a function not so much of ethical hesitancy as fear of future blackmail. But after a few seconds, the Home Secretary weighed in: his public image was already so irreversibly awful, he had little to fear from the future verdict of history.
“It’ll certainly make my job easier,” he suggested, “when it comes to the business of getting electoral approval for exceptional powers”.
The Foreign Secretary was a lttle more reticent. Again, this had nothing to do with sovereign morality, and everything to do with diplomatic reality.
“The Saudis and the Chinese will applaud the decision as a masterstroke,” she predicted, “as will Washington, albeit only in private. Every African and South American country will condemn the move as a major step on the road towards the sort of dictatorship they already have, and my information is that the Russian President will follow suit. Of course, the Germans, French, Belgians and Finns will disapprove of post-Brexit fascism, while the KKE in Greece will, along with the Spanish and Italian Opposition Parties, launch into long didactic pronouncements about Marxist dialectical inevitability”.
The Prime Minister stopped doodling for a second to ask the obvious question.
“Do you see this as likely to turn us into a pariah with reduced borrowing ability?” he asked.
“No,” she answered.
At this point, Chancellor Sock snorted.
“Poppycock. The Bond markets will want to know how much this buy-back is going to cost us. We’re talking twenty million voters here. At ten grand each, that’s equivalent to the entire NHS budget. It’s not much, but it bloody well will be if the vultures force our bond yields upward. The IMF would like nothing better than an excuse to wander in here and demand we borrow money that bankrupts us. That won’t play well at constituency level.”
“Hmm,” said Winkle, “two somewhat irreconcilable viewpoints there. What’s your take on this, Clem?”
Clement Whether-Ornott didn’t miss a beat. He’d spent all day canvassing local grassroots opinion on the Government’s freedom of movement in the light of current voter feedback.
“All things being equal,” he began, “I don’t think it would be difficult to portray Opposition objections to the PI initiative as unpatriotic, destructive and divisive. Let’s face it, our own activists can’t tell a bond from a balance sheet, our supporters know even less, and the other side’s mob would struggle to add an egg to flour for batter, let alone two plus two to make financial sense. With the usual media proprietors on our side, a properly disguised PI would almost certainly be seen as long-hoped for evidence that politicians can have big ideas for the common good”.
The Prime Minister turned to look at his Chancellor.
“Dana?” he asked. Sock offered a guarded assent.
“Well,” he opined, “I do think the plan to target downmarket voters in constituencies where the sitting Government MP has a massive majority is a smart idea….it drives home the sense they have that their vote is worthless….”
“Whereas,” Reggie Mental butted in, “we’re going to offer them ten thousand quid for something they regard as adding nothing to their lives. They’ll jump at it, surely”.
Dana Sock nodded.
“OK, that much I accept, but we must play up the stability aspect for the markets. If we play that card forcefully, there’s a chance we can get our triple-A rating back.”
“Point taken,” Peregrine Winkle observed, adding, “Any other views?”
“Not so much a view as a question,” said the Foreign Secretary, “How will the phrase ‘Emergency Powers’ be defined publicly?”
The PM smiled.
“Ah well,” he began, “that’s the pure genius I’ve added to the scheme since I spoke to Gunne this morning. You see, we won’t ask for the powers at all”.
Reggie Mentle gave a start.
“No,” Winkle confirmed, “the Opposition will”.
Clement Whether-Ornott threw the Prime Minister a look worth a thousand words….although one – ‘miffed’ – would have sufficed. He was supposed to be in charge of having evil ideas. And he had to admit, it was an evil idea. If they could pull it off.
“Why on earth would they do that?” he asked. But Alison Wonderland was already on Winkle’s wavelength.
“I can think of three for starters,” she said, “starting with the EU….or what’s left of it”.
Perry Winkle nodded.
“I think this wheeze starts and ends with the European Union, actually. Every time something goes slightly awry, the Opposition blame Brexit. They sound like a bunch of hysterical girls, but behind it there are always machinations designed to get us back in. And the Boys from Brussels know their chances are slim without us getting back on board.”
Reggie gave a snort.
“We may not be back on board,” he growled, “but we’re still in the rowing boat. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ my arse….”
The PM looked at Alice and then cut the Home Secretary short.
“Foreign Secretary,” he said, “You have my clearance – and that of MI5 – to enlighten our colleagues about some, ah, recent events.”
Wonderland raised her carefully plucked eyebrows.
“Very well. We all know is that there was much hype about a sort of ‘SDP2’ and, in the end, some fifteen Labour moderates and the LibDems cooperated in 30 constituencies during the election. They hoped for the balance of power, but Labour lost out bigtime to Full Brexit. We were the main beneficiaries…..”
Whether-Ornott was beginning to feel uncomfortable. People in the consultancy sector always become nervous when it’s obvious they’re not adding value. Clem felt the need to find a few pennies of value, and quickly.
“I know from sources,” he volunteered, “that Brussels went into a catatonic fit of depression once they realised we were going to regain power.”
Alison gave him the sort of look that would’ve withered Japanese knotweed.
“Well done you,” she drawled, “but what they didn’t tell you is that the four or five die-hard Libby Dem Blairite EU pensioners have gone somewhat beyond, shall we say, fighting to have their voice heard.”
Reggie Mentle frowned. ‘I’m the fucking Home Secretary,’ he thought, ‘why is all this news to me?’
“Treason,” he ventured, “is a matter for the Home Office”. Winkle rolled his eyes.
“Reggie, treason on home soil is your business. Treason committed in Brussels and Frankfurt isn’t. Anyway, the head of Five admits we can’t prove it as yet. Continue Alison”.
“We know,” the Foreign secretary asserted, “that three of them – no names needed, it’s the usual suspects – have had long sessions with a senior working group at the European Central Bank. The bank and two top trade commissioners are engaged in advance planning for a secret food blockade, which they propose to blame on crop shortages in the EU and, naturally, failure to plan for it by us. The three Remainoid plotters have been using Whitehall friends to pinpoint where our quickest food weaknesses would be. That information is now in the hands of the ECB working group, and they’re in a hurry….for them, it’s the last throw of the dice.”
Now it was Dana Sock’s turn to see tanks on his lawn. His tone was casually sarcastic.
“Pardon my curiosity, but might I ask how can you be so sure of all this, and don’t you think the Treasury should’ve been briefed?”
“In the first place,” Winkle snapped, “no you may not ask, and as to the second question, nobody in Five trusts any but a couple of middleweight Treasury staff. As for briefing, you’re being briefed now, Dana….and I’ll give you their names at the end of this session. Do not under any circumstances share this information.”
But Sock was not happy.
“And I suppose you trust the Remainoids at the Foreign Office Alison?” he asked.
“No,” she answered, “I don’t. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I trust that many people in Five. Without indulging in melodrama, I think we all need to grasp that this is a fight to save English independence, and our worst enemies are here, not in Brussels”.
Still sulking, with a grumpy air Reggie Mentle suddenly seized on ther remark.
“Ah, so there is treason on home soil? Don’t bother to argue….that much I do know. But look here, wouldn’t it be easier all round to create a state of emergency about Jihadists in Britain….I mean good God, I could tell you stuff to make your hair stand on….”
“Reggie,” the PM cut in, “can you imagine what the Saudi response to that would be? Both the MoD and Defence would have a litter of kittens if we even suggested such a thing, and the British defence sector would put out a contract on me. Finally, can you imagine any situation in which Momentum’s religion-of-peace clowns would support such a thing?”
The Home Secretary slumped back into sulk mode.
Clem Whether-Ornott rubbed his forehead in a gesture of mild frustration. He sounded almost tired as he spoke
“Perry, can you just summarise what the narrative of this caper is? Then we can all hear the A to Z of it. For clarity and so forth”.
Occasionally, the Prime Minister wondered why he – well actually, the taxpayers, but it was all the same really – shelled out £350,000 each and every year to get advice from a process apparatchik quite so dull as Clem. But then he remembered what finally destroyed Theresa May, and where his political advisor’s skills really lay: in listening patiently to those activists from the swivel-eyed tendency. So he resisted the temptation of a caustic put-down.
“That’s a positive way to move forward. Right, these are the staging posts on the road to Permanent Interregnum. And as from today, that term will never be used again by any of us.
“First, I go on Sky and the Beeb at the same peak time to say the Government is not without compassion for those unfortunates in our society who have fallen behind. At the same time, we cannot allow votes, for which brave citizens fought over the centuries, to be wasted. And of equal importance, we face threats from various quarters to our democratic way of life, and must be able to move swiftly in an emergency. So the Government will tomorrow introduce a Bill to offer £10,000 – tax free and without any strings attached – to all those citizens who no longer feel their vote is of any use to them. These votes will then be strictly ringfenced from use in local or general elections, but available for use in any referendum where the Nation urgently needs emergency powers. Needless to say – regardless of inflation – those surrendering their vote to this National Emergency Bloc Vote will be able to buy back their right to vote at any time.
“Second, we wait for Brussels to start leaking drivel about crop shortages, while Five takes lots of shots of the crops being convoyed elsewhere. Given their desperation, we won’t have to wait long. While all this is going on, the Blairite Eunatics start bleating about “we told you so” and demanding a new referendum, a final final final say and all the rest of it. This gets up the nose of Momentum Labour, but being also pro-EU they stay largely silent. We get some tame soft-Left hacks to run stories about Labour running out of Momentum….or whatever.
“Third, we egg on the bandwagon effect and make up some stats about the millions of hard-put UK citizens taking advantage of the Government’s compassion. To the astonishment of the Remainoids, we call in the Army and cancel all police leave in order to protect the limited food shipments coming into Britain. And we give the media proprietors we control carte blanche to yell panic at the top of their voices
“Fourth, Alison requests urgent time to present to the UN, and catches the first flight to New York. There, she reveals to the General Assembly the crystal clear shots of diverted food shipments heading to the ClubMed and Eastern EU countries to relieve severe hardship, despite the food trade agreement signed between Brussels and London three years ago.
“Fifth, the Unused Votes Bill is introduced into Parliament.
“Sixth, I go back on telly and reveal – again including photography – the treason of the Fake Four in giving secret UK food supply information to EU trade commissioners and senior ECB officials. Momentum Labour condemns the plotters out of hand. Arrests follow swiftly. The UVB passes into law at breakneck speed.
“Seventh, seizing what it thinks is the initiative, Momentum Labour proposes a referendum to get the approval of The People to an Emergency Powers Act in the light of Brussels perfidy and “bourgeois “Centrist treason. Thirty per cent vote against the Act, but the thirty per cent who vote for it – when added to the thirty per cent of ringfenced votes amassed – delivers a thumping 2-1 victory based on a 90% ‘turnout'”. England rides on a wave of international sympathy. Pressure grows in Scotland for a referendum offering the chance to return to the UK. And my Government has Emergency Powers stretching out into perpetuity.”
The breathtaking scope of it rendered all five attendees speechless.
Clement Whether-Ornott eventually punctured the silence.
“Seven deadly spins,” he suggested.
© John Ward 2018