No Future Ch. 29bybradley_stoke©
Britain Means Business
It was another bloody bastard journey back home to England, Eden reflected, as his chauffeur-driven car finally pulled into the drive of his Surrey estate. He increasingly despaired of the state of his home country every time he was troubled to pay it a visit. He'd had to wait two days in Milan while flights to Heathrow were held up. Even private charters such as his were grounded as a result of the unexpected heavy snow that London's runways still couldn't cope with. And then the drive from the airport across the snowy Surrey countryside was a nightmare. You'd have thought that global warming would have done away with bad winters. For nine months of the year, the talk was all about the sea level rising or droughts and then for three months of the year there was the inevitable bad weather. Usually it was floods and storms. This year, it was heavy snow.
"They just don't get the gritters out in time," Eden told Ivan Eisenegger, the Leader of the Opposition, who was waiting for him in his Surrey home. "What kind of rubbish road maintenance is that? Where do my bloody taxes go?"
"Local government taxes pay for that," said Ivan. "The councils are all capped and they make whatever cuts they can. It hasn't snowed for six years so they haven't prepared for it."
"Is that something you lot will tackle when you get back into power again?"
"We want to move away from exorbitant tax demands and profligate public sector expenditure," said Ivan. "We've still not completely worked out how to hand road maintenance and repair over to the private sector without having to subsidise it. The public aren't sufficiently willing to shoulder the costs directly."
"There must be ways to keep the roads clear of snow and still reduce taxes," said Eden. "But you're right: the priority must be to keep taxes down. I trust that is what you intend to do after the next general election?"
"It's still a few months off and the result isn't yet in the bag."
"The polls are looking good. And you've got the whole media behind you..."
"The polls also say that it's more the unpopularity of the current Coalition than support for Conservative policies that will be critical to our success. We have to be careful what we say."
"I understand that," said Eden. "But when you are back in government, make sure that cutting taxes is your priority. Get the snouts of your interfering bureaucrats out of my business. That's all I ask. I've got discussions with my senior news editors tomorrow. What suggestions for news stories do you think I should make to them?"
Ivan looked around him at the two other opposition MPs who were also gathered together in Eden's smoking room. Eden was the only who was actually smoking and that was from a huge cigar imported from Cuba. The other MPs had sunk into the embrace of the huge leather armchairs and sipped from the wine that Theo, Eden's trusted servant, had poured out for them. At the same time, their fingers were tapping desultorily on the keyboards of their tablet computers.
"The Labour Coalition has been in power for a long time now," said Edmund Eaglecliffe MP. "A negative campaign that emphasises the mistakes and errors of the present government is surely the best approach."
"I rather like the tack taken by the Times when it attacks the menace of immigration," said Thomas Eastwick MP. "We need to take a firmer stand against asylum seekers and economic migrants. The country's swamped by them."
"We have to be careful, Tom," said Ivan. "Some voters might confuse an uncompromising immigration policy with racism or intolerance towards foreigners. The Times is right to highlight the burden on Britain's scarce resources resulting from there being so many claimants and jobseekers, but we don't want to frighten off nervous voters in ethnically diverse marginal constituencies."
"What are voters most concerned about?" asked Eden. "Isn't that what we should be focusing on?"
"It's the usual confused picture," said Edmund. "Sure, there are issues that appeal to core Conservative values such as a demand for lower taxes, fewer immigrants and disengagement from Brussels. However, there's also concern about flood defences, low wages and the high cost of fuel..."
"We can do something about the last," said Thomas. "It's mostly tax anyway."
"We can't go as far as some of the American states by introducing a fuel subsidy," said Edmund. "But we will have to present a coherent view on other issues, especially the environmental ones."
"I'm all in favour of being green as long as it doesn't cost a penny," said Eden. "I don't like the way these greens always find an argument to raise expenditure and revenue to combat climate change. It's just another excuse for high taxation. Any changes to the tax rate should only ever go one way. It should never increase."
"It's not going to be easy to implement lower taxation," said Ivan. "The national debt is cripplingly high and tax rates are lower than they've ever been."
"The nation's prosperity relies on the prosperity of its businesses," said Eden uncompromisingly. "What's to keep companies like mine from investing in low-tax business-friendly countries like Libya, Korea and America? The only talk I want to hear is about how to reduce taxes."
"We have to say something about the floods in Southern England," said Edmund. "There are too many Tory constituencies in the southern counties for us to ignore it."
"Don't expect any media outlet that I have shares in to print stories that suggest taxes will have to rise to pay for flood-defences," said Eden firmly. "This climate change theory is nothing more than a con anyway. The scientists have got it wrong. The interests of business take a higher priority than any nonsense about global warming. I mean, look at the weather outside. What kind of global warming is that?"
"It's bloody cold," agreed Ivan. "But I know where you're coming from, Edmund. When you're being interviewed by the BBC or one of those pinko newspapers like the Guardian or the Independent, you have to find something to say about flood-defences."
"How many Conservative voters read those papers or watch the BBC?" wondered Thomas. "Have you seen the BBC recently? It's bloody rubbish. They rely so much on computer graphics to disguise how shoddy their studios are that it looks like a computer game."
"The BBC isn't what it used to be," said Edmund. "It's been no threat to anyone ever since we scrapped the license fee. But it's still watched and trusted by more people than Fox News UK."
"It's your job to do something about that when you're in government," said Eden threateningly. "The BBC is a throwback to an age that should be dead and buried, along with independent trades unions, publicly funded education, and social security. I don't pay millions to the Conservative party only for you to pursue anti-business policies when you're in a position to do something about it."
"That's true, Eden," said Ivan conciliatorily. "But my advice is that the media you control should be careful to distinguish between the policies you support and those of the Conservative party. The public perception of the party's independence from undue influence needs to be maintained."
"So, what do you suggest, Ivan?" said Eden, who didn't like being told that he should be paying for anything other than the implementation of what he believed in. "Should we be printing stories about how tax-payers' money should be squandered to elevate the East Anglian sea wall by another ten feet? Should we say that tax-payers' money should be used to give public sector workers a pay-rise? Should we say that scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency, the Financial Services Agency and all those other quangos was a mistake?"
"As I say, Eden," said Ivan, "what we do in government and what we say to get into government are two different things. The important thing for the moment is to appeal not solely to loyal Conservative voters by stressing only core Conservative values. What we also need to do is attract the votes of those who might otherwise vote Democrat, Liberal or one of the other pinko parties."
The snow continued to pile high on the lawns of his Surrey home while Eden and the three politicians gathered around the huge fire that dominated the smoking room. Eden didn't like it when Ivan disagreed with him regarding any policy detail, but he reasoned from his more private conversations that the Leader of the Opposition was a man who could be trusted. Eden was sure that Ivan could be relied on as Prime Minister to pursue the right policies whatever he had to say in public. Britain wasn't going to be restored to greatness unless a Conservative government took power. Fortunately, the subtle changes to constituency boundaries and the new rules on voter registration had swung the potential balance of power back towards the Natural Party of Government that the Tories so obviously were.
Eden was faced with the choice of sending Theo down to the cellar to fetch yet another bottle of wine or of wrapping up the meeting. "Well, gentlemen," he said, "I don't think any of you should risk the travel back home to your constituencies in these conditions." He nodded towards the drawn curtains where a spirited snowstorm was battering against the triple-glazed windows.
"This weather has been truly dreadful," said Thomas. "If it wasn't so bad, I'm sure Eric, Phil and even Anthony would have made it."
"Do you believe that you have a clear enough idea of how to present Conservative electoral policy to your editors, Eden?" asked Ivan cautiously.
"My media outlets aren't the propaganda division of the Tory Party," said Eden, "but the editorial policies of the right-thinking media and the interests of business can only be served by a Conservative Party victory. We shall do what we can to maintain a tone in the campaign that rallies core support without alienating the undecided. I'm sure my editors can be trusted to do whatever they can to facilitate an election victory."
"I think we can then say that our business is concluded, wouldn't you say gentlemen?" commented Ivan.
"I think so," said Thomas.
"In that case," said Eden, "it only remains for me to introduce you to the extra company I've taken the trouble to invite."
"Thank you, Eden," said Ivan with categorical firmness. "But regrettably I shall have to extend my apologies. I'm afraid I do feel really rather tired. It's been a very long day and I need to get a good night's sleep. Is there somewhere I can rest my head for the night?"
"There are many such places, Ivan," said Eden. "My entire house is at your disposal. I've already arranged that a guest room be made available for each of you. I'll call Theo and he'll be pleased to escort you to your room." Eden smiled at Thomas and Edmund. "Is either of you two gentlemen also too tired or would you be willing to accompany me and my other guests for the rest of the evening?"
The two other Members of Parliament nodded that they would be prepared to stay.
After Ivan had finally left, Eden addressed the remaining company. "This isn't the first time Ivan's been reluctant to meet my other guests. Is there something about him that I should know?"
"I'm sorry, Eden," said Edmund. "I'm not quite sure I catch your gist."
"Don't pretend to be so naive, Edmund," said Thomas. "No, Eden. As far as we know Ivan isn't homosexual. His relationship with his wife is perfectly normal. In fact, it's perhaps a little too normal. My personal belief is that our Prime Minister-in-waiting is so driven by the desire for high office that nothing—and I mean nothing—will be allowed to get in his way."
"Surely he knows that he can rely on absolute discretion when he's a guest of mine," said Eden. "Nothing is permitted to go beyond the four walls of this room."
"I don't think Ivan wants to take a risk of any kind," said Thomas. "History is littered with the sad tales of ambitious men who let a small slip-up blight their future. Ivan won't let that happen to him."
"Well, in that case," said Eden, "I can now introduce you to the extra company I took the trouble of inviting. I do hope that none of your tastes are homosexual as I've made no allowances for that."
"And if one of us were, Eden?" asked Edmund in good humour.
"Are you, Edmund?" asked Eden.
"Not necessarily," said the MP. "Well, far from exclusively."
"I'll bear that in mind on future occasions," said Eden good-naturedly. "Despite the impression given by the recent campaign in the Express & Mail, I don't hold any personal prejudice against gentlemen of refined taste. It's the fucking gay and lesbian community I despise."
"I'm sure I'll be more than content with the company you've invited," said Edmund diplomatically.
"Well, I certainly hope so," said Eden. "I expected rather more guests than you two. That has the benefit that the number of ladies I've invited will outnumber us rather more than I'd originally anticipated. I hope you're both feeling fit and up for the challenge."
"You never disappoint, do you Eden?" said Thomas as the six women of mostly Middle Eastern origin filed into the room scantily dressed and clearly ready to transact further business with Eden's venerable guests. And as this intercourse was unlikely to involve much verbal discussion, the sorry state of the women's grasp of English would be no handicap at all.