The Prime Minister's New Policies
[any similarity to the Hans Christian Anderson fairy story is not coincidental]

What magnificent new policies! The Prime Minister will be the saviour of this land!

      Once upon a time, and a very bizarre time it was, there was a Queendom. Things were so confused the people didn't even know what the Queendom should be called. The official name of the country was the grand-sounding 'United Queendom' (followed by some other words that few people can now remember) but most called it 'Britain' or even 'England' after the bit including the once-rich lands where all the important people lived. There were several National Anthems. The favourite was sung at the grandest Cricket matches and lesser state occasions. It took its title from a faraway land in the Middle East most of the population hadn't even seen. For highly obscure reasons, the words celebrated feet walking upon England's green peasant's lands in an 'Ancient Time' before England existed. These were indeed very perplexing times.

      Although the constitution (the country didn't in fact have a constitution, but often pretended it did) was supposed to say the country was a Queendom, the real ruler was somebody called 'The Prime Minister'. Every five years or so, the country played a strange game called 'Elections'. There was a prize called 'Government'. 'Government' was a collection of oddities comprising the new Prime Minister and a large number of 'Empees'.

      The 'Empees' didn't have any particular purpose but attached a great deal of importance to themselves and were able to claim expenses for anything they liked. For a reason now lost in the mists of time they called the place to which the new Prime Minister and the 'Empees' adjourned after the game was over 'the Mother of Parliaments'.

      Even at the time, nobody understood how the rules of the Elections Game were supposed to work, but they were part of grand festivities involving parties and toys like Swingometers. A puzzling thing at this time was that a special priesthood were allowed to talk very loudly on television and write rude things in the newspapers. They called this sect 'the meeja'.

      Most of 'the meeja' rites were centred on mysterious things called 'policies'. It is a mystery as to what these were, but it seemed the most important of the rules of the game said anyone who wanted a turn at being Prime Minister had to jump up and down and pretend his or her own policies gave the answers to Life, The Universe and Everything. It didn't matter in the least if the potential Prime Minister kept prevaricating about what the policies actually were. In fact this could be a distinct advantage.

      The most important thing was that anyone who hoped to become Prime Minister should entertain the subjects of the Queendom more than anyone else. This was vital during the weeks before the choosing of the new Prime Minister, because everybody pretended that the loyal subjects of the Queendom had real power during the 'Elections'. The subjects were even given a special name at this time: 'the electorate'. Of course, they didn't really have any power. It was all part of the game. Soon they would have to revert to normal subject or peasant status and do as they were told and the religious sect called 'the meeja' would reassume its normal rightful role of ridiculing The Prime Minister.

      Over the years the Queendom had seen many Prime Ministers. All of them were odd people, as they had to be to be the winners of their particular Election Game. The close of the twentieth century saw some especially fine specimens. There was one called 'The Lady', who was apparently encased in Iron. She liked to hit people over the head with her handbag: it was apparently part of her peculiar charm. There are two things she is particularly remembered for. One was 'selling the family silver' - apparently this Prime Minister's family had a lot of silver to sell, though in fairness she did give all the profits to people who said they were her friends. The other was her battle-cry of 'there's no such thing as society'. People wondered what on Earth she meant by this until she tried to prove she was right by trying to destroy society.

      She very nearly succeeded in her aim and so was eventually shuffled off to somewhere she could do less harm, although her ghost was said to haunt the steps of the Prime Minister's house for centuries afterwards. She was, so the story goes, replaced by a figure remembered only as 'The Grey Man'. Many historians deny he even existed, but others tell far-fetched stories about his adventures with a soap-box and claim that he, and not 'The Lady', was the one who single-handedly tried to dismember the railway system. He was, they say, inspired to this act by the toy train he had as a boy in Brixton. It had 'GWR' on its side, presumably some sort of incantation. In legend, 'The Grey Man' was assassinated by a group of wicked conspirators called 'The Bastards'.

      At the end of the century the Prime Minister was a man who quickly became famous for his grin. Like that of the Cheshire Cat, this grin seemed to remain in the air long after the Prime Minister himself had faded away. He was equally famous for his trick of hypnotising people into believing everything he said, no matter how outrageous. In the end, even he started to believe the things he said. Things got so bad that he led the people of his country into the illegal invasion of another simply because, so he claimed, he believed it was the right thing to do. In the 21st Century, the shame of it all became too much for anyone to bear and the Grinning Man was shamefacedly replaced by a grumpy one. Somehow, the Grumpy Man pulled off the trick of managing to avoid the Election Game altogether.

      It is said that he made a secret deal with the Grinning Man in an Oyster Bar. The meeja never forgave him for this sleight of hand and thereafter never missed a chance to ridicule him for failing to be another Grinning Man.

      So, as the country was about to enter the second decade of the new century, it was prepared for anything. There was the usual Election Game, but by this time the people were so bemused the winner was something called 'a Coagulation', rather than a new Prime Minister (so the new Prime Minister said).

      It is probable he said this so nobody would notice he didn't have any policies, other than the vague idea of selling off the family silver and giving the profits to his friends. Not until he went into the 'Mother of Parliaments' did he find that The Lady had already sold most of the family silver way back in the 20th Century.

      Then he had the brilliant idea (at least he said it was brilliant) of getting everybody in the country to write down on a piece of paper what they thought the new policies should be.

      When the Prime Minister collected all the pieces of paper together, he emptied them into a piece of special machinery called a Think-tank. This was a very clever device, and the Prime Minister was confident he'd soon have some splendid new policies he could pretend were his own.

      Now, this Think-tank was indeed very smart, but not that smart. For one thing, all the pieces of paper were blank, because the people thought it was supposed to be the Prime Minister who came up with the new policies. For another, neither the Prime Minister or anyone else knew what policies were supposed to be. But the machine did its best, and before long whirred and clunked and churned out an impressive-looking document. This didn't actually have any policies in it, but stringed together some magnificent sentences containing majestic words like 'incentivise', 'retrenchment' and 'prioritisation' with resounding phrases like 'we're all in this together' and 'the people are with us on this'.

      So pleased was the Prime Minister with what he proudly called 'The Policy Document' that he took it to a cabinet, in which he kept some of his spare Empees, to show it off to them. They read the sentences and were impressed with the resounding way it said things. A few of the wiser ones could see it wasn't actually saying anything at all, but most praised it loudly.

      'What? Am I a simpleton?' the wiser ones wondered to themselves. 'No-one must know it if I am, or everyone will think I am unfit for purpose [a phrase very popular at the time] and I won't be able to claim expenses. I shall keep my counsel.'

      And so the whole Cabinet said, 'These are magnificent policies, Prime Minister. Your subjects - er - the people of this country - will soon be lauding your praises.' Word soon got around about what were called the Prime Minister's new policies. So much interest was shown that arrangements were made for a live broadcast to be made throughout the land when the Prime Minister announced his policies. Special loudspeakers were erected in every street, large building, and village square.

      The great day arrived, and it was so sunny and warm that the Prime Minister was able to announce his new policies from a stage erected in the noblest place in the land, Mother of Parliaments Square.

      'We have to incentivise the people of this country,' began the Prime Minister. 'It is time to prioritise. We must decide what is really important to the people of this country. We're all in this together!'

      The Prime Minister spoke for nearly an hour. It was an impressive speech, even if he wasn't actually saying anything. At the finish, there were a few moments of stunned silence, then one of the Empees shouted:

      'What magnificent new policies! The Prime Minister will be the saviour of this land!'

      Nobody wanted to be thought a simpleton, and soon they were all rapturously echoing the Empee:

      'What magnificent new policies! The Prime Minister will be the saviour of this land!'

      At last the cries died down. Then a little boy who'd managed to squeeze into Mother of Parliaments Square stepped forward from his vantage-point under the stage.

      'But the Prime Minister has no policies at all!' he said.

      'Listen to the voice of innocence,' said his father, and the child's bold words were whispered from one person to another.

      'But the Prime Minister has no policies at all!' the crowd in Mother of Parliaments Square were soon shouting. And this cry was heard over the loudspeakers rigged up throughout the land. Soon everyone, even the bemused Empees, was repeating it.

      And the Prime Minister didn't live happily ever after.


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