At the dining table of Number Eleven Downing Street, Cambridge, the dark arts of economic praxis were being perpetrated by Chancellor Ian Risk and dubious Trade Minister, Simon Daley. Number Eleven was, in fact, a far more suitable station for the seat of Government, having been smart solicitors’ offices before the revolution. But Prime Minister Wastell had absolutely insisted on taking Number Ten, thereby leaving the Chancellor with an altogether more practical berth in which to operate.
Operations appeared to be going quite well. As Ian and Simon surveyed the scene before them, all that could be heard was the faint rustle of used bank notes and a zephyr of smug satisfaction. If you ignored the vast moral chasm that gaped imploringly before you, (and the Trade Minister certainly did) then you could say that Simon’s plan was a stroke of genius. And the University really wasn’t going to miss the mountain of antiquated tat that he had appropriated for Government purposes. It quite amazed him how much the unwitting wealthy were prepared to pay for pieces of the crumbling Empire.
“Leonora is not going to be happy if she gets wind of this,” chuckled Ian, referring to the eagle-eyed Secretary of State for Archeology, Fine Art & Old Things In General – Leonora Smyth.
“Don’t worry, the University doesn’t even know about it yet,” replied Simon, stabilising a teetering pile of filthy lucre with his hand.
“I thought you said this was a straightforward negotiation with the University officials?”
“Why, yes it was!” grinned Simon. “I went along to speak to various… officials… at every single one of the Colleges. There was an exchange of… contracts… and the items passed swiftly and – most importantly – discretely, into the hands of the Government.”
There was a brief pause as Ian’s brows knitted together with some effort.
“You mean you bribed the Porters?”
“Bribe is such a hurtful word, Chancellor.”
“Anyway, how are we getting along with the manufacturing side of things?” Ian was quick to change the subject.
“Ah, well – the production of Cambridge Special Damson Gin is just about good to go,” Simon answered enthusiastically.
“Yes, I know that,” Ian replied, wagging a finger. “The Minister for Good Ideas & Gin and I have been testing it extensively.”
“Well, I assume so, I can’t remember much.” Ian allowed himself a smile. “But I was thinking more of the operation in the Botanical Gardens…”
Before Simon could answer, the leather-padded door at the far end of the room burst open with a flurry of hair and expensive tailoring, only to be slammed shut again with alarming alacrity. The resulting backdraft was enough to send the carefully placed piles of cash spiralling like confetti through the air. Through the veil of gently cascading currency, Ian and Simon observed perturbed Cabinet Secretary, Sir Edd Evans-Morley. Nervous glances were exchanged by all.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask what you’re up to,” Sir Edd announced, waving a hand dismissively and shaking the exuberant curls on his head. The release of breath from the other side of the dining table was audible. “We have something rather urgent with which to concern ourselves. The Prime Minister has taken it upon herself to read up on economics and has come up with a somewhat dangerous plan.”
The Chancellor looked at Sir Edd and barked a surprised laugh at him.
“Economics?” protested Ian. “Bless her, but she can barely keep track of her fingers and toes. I wouldn’t worry.”
“Yes, but I am worried, you see,” Sir Edd spat the words like hot bullets. “You see, someone – but she won’t say who, although I strongly suspect it to be that snake Alfie Dacre – has introduced her to the National Economic Security and Recovery Act.”
Ian and Simon returned blank stares. They didn’t know what the National Economic Security and Recovery Act was, but they knew Alfie Dacre only too well. Officially the Minister for Education, Dacre was also a committed revolutionary and made little secret of the fact. If this was of interest to him, it was bound to be reactionary and would most definitely be quite brilliant.
“It sounds quite impressive,” Simon ventured. “Are you saying there’s a problem with it?”
Sir Edd sighed and tapped a foot.
“The National Economic Security and Recovery Act is a highly controversial set of fiscal reforms that has been swathed in polemic conspiracy theories ever since the 1990s.” Sir Edd began to pace a little, as if to aid his thought process. “It is ridiculous, it is dangerous, but worse than that it might actually work. If it is successfully implemented in East Anglia, it could prove the perfect template for reuniting the country and fulfilling our dear leader’s ambitions.”
“Right – well, that rather was the plan, chap” said Ian, as if to a simpleton.
“Chancellor, please” these two words and an arched eyebrow from Sir Edd spoke symphonies. He sighed again. He could see he was going to have to explain. “The thing is, chaps, if the PM gets her wish and reunites Great Britain with Cambridge as its capital, that means we are no longer running the sedate and sensible province of East Anglia, all of a sudden we’re running an entire country. Have you any idea how much work that will entail? Not forgetting the need to deal with all the other countries as well. Do you really think sending the Prime Minister out onto the world stage is a good idea?”
“I find your disloyalty quite unpleasant, Sir Edd!” Ian cried. “And why shouldn’t she have a crack at making the world a better place? It’s about time someone did.”
Sir Edd bowed his head, tutting furiously.
“Before you know it, we will actually have to start running things properly – we will be accountable -” Sir Edd paused to ostentatiously eye the scattered bank notes on the table. “Not to mention far too busy to pursue our own personal business interests. Don’t think I don’t know exactly what is happening at the Botanical Gardens. No. Gentlemen, the sensible option is to use our time wisely; in a little under four years time there will be another election lottery and we shall all return to anonymity and everyday life. I intend to ensure that the everyday life that awaits me is as comfortable as possible. I strongly advise you to do the same.”
The eloquent oration had a profound effect on both the Chancellor and Trade Minister. There had been, perhaps, a moment or two where they might have considered themselves serious statesmen. That consideration had wavered considerably at the enormity of the task before them. Whilst one man kept quiet his resolve to stand by his Prime Minister, the other was irretrievably seduced by the words of the Cabinet Secretary. But there was no time for further consideration as the PM herself popped an excitable head around the door.
“Here you all are! Guess what!” Lucy Wastell tumbled in like a puppy with special needs. “I’ve just been on the phone to King Boris. He wants to discuss a peace treaty! And he was very impressed with my Economic… Security Act thing – I told you he would be, Sir Edd.” Sir Edd returned an enthusiastic smarm that was the very antithesis of his previous position. “This is brilliant. Don’t you love it when a plan comes together, chaps?!”
The pause between Lucy’s last breath and the rapturous applause that followed was small, but palpable. Lucy put it down to them all being stunned with delight. Well, she would.
“Right – someone get hold of the Foreign Secretary. We are going to have the biggest state occasion known to mankind. He’s not going to want to miss this.”
With that, the Prime Minister swept out again, singing an unlikely tune to herself as she went. She would have been disappointed to know that the atmosphere she left behind was gravely solemn. Sir Edd broke the silence.
“That settles it. This peace treaty cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to go ahead. There is no other way. We have to ensure that we go to war with Oxford.”