A Prime Minister, facing re-election, sits in a room with a phalanx of advisors. Let’s call him “Dave” for the purposes of this story. The phalanx of advisors are of uniform appearance. The men all have slick hair that towers above their foreheads like cliffs rising from the sea. The women all have fringes that hover in the general vicinity of their eyebrows. Dark, heavy, thick rimmed glasses adorn every face. Were they not in the presence of the Prime Minister one would imagine it was a convention of presenters of TV shows about the restoration of old buildings or about ordinary people getting together to sing a choral piece or two.
The scene speaks of serious business. You can tell that because “Dave” has his jacket off, his shirt open at the neck and his sleeves rolled up.
“Right team,” the Prime Ministers addresses the thronged mass of spectacles, “I am serious and genuine when I say we need a plan, a tough plan, a plan that works. This nation needs a plan that gets us back on our feet. And by “us”, I mean me. And by “back on our feet” I mean my feet back under the table at Number 10. Whatever it takes. Get me ahead in the polls and another five years for me to carry out my vision of me having another five years and then retiring.”
One of the strategists adjusts his glasses and clears his throat. He glances at his colleagues and takes the plunge.
“The issue is one of credibility. Of a public perception of a man prepared to do anything in order to find himself Prime Minister. A man willing to make any promise to buy a vote and then prepared to ditch that promise to cut a deal that gets him the top job….” the strategist is stopped mid-sentence as the PM raises his hand.
“Don’t think I am not with you on this, that we are not both on the same page, because we are. I agree with you. The Leader of the Opposition spills out promises like Russell Brand tosses out big words. They are there for effect, not for value. But we’ve done this. And it’s not working. We need to attack in some other way. And not just by hoping the English are still scared of the Scots,” the Prime Minister takes in the whole room as he speaks. Business. He means business. You can tell by the fact he has his serious face on. Lips tight, slightly down turned and sad, puppy eyes.
The strategist clears his throat again.
“Not the opposition, Prime Minister. It’s you. The public don’t believe your promises. They think you’ll promise anything now and renege on it later.”
“Why would they think that?” asks a slightly wounded Dave.
“Because it’s what you did last time,” a severe fringed female from the end of the table answers, her eyes shielded by frames the Safestyle man would be proud of knocking over whilst repeating “I say, you buy one, you get one free….”
“Well what we have here is a problem and problems require solutions. We need some blue sky thinking. Putting clear water between me and the others. But not too much distance because I want their supporters to like me as much as them. And for the same reasons as them. And not too blue. Purple may work better at this election,” the Prime Minister glances at his discarded tie as he speaks, regretting the decision to wear a red, yellow, purple and green striped one. How could that appeal to anyone?
The Prime Minster produces a pen and jots the words “broken promises” on a notepad before him.
He holds it up and shows the room.
“So there we have the problem, and what do we do when we have a problem?” he asks the young and the bespectacled around the table.
“Have a judge led inquiry?” says one.
“Promise a judge led inquiry then kick it into the long grass?” suggests another.
“No, too much danger of me having to answer difficult questions. We only have judge led inquiries into things other people have done. So I can apologise on behalf of them and appear all statesmanlike, whilst making it clear it was someone else’s fault and the previous administration had the chance to blame someone else too, but didn’t. No, this is not a time for a judge led inquiry,” the PM doing his best football-coach-encouraging-the-kids face whilst urging the room, “so come on, what else do we do when faced with a problem like me?”
“Pass a law about it?” suggests a pair of glasses and some hair wax.
“Brilliant. Loving it. We’ll pass a law,” Dave exclaims as he writes the word “LEGISLATE” on his pad. Underlining it twice and adding an exclamation mark with smiley face at the end of it.
“What’s the law?” asks one, all white teeth and varifocals.
“I will promise a law that I will break the law, that I have promised, if I break any of the promises that I make about things like tax,” Dave beams as he speaks. Obviously very pleased with himself, which is an expression that comes naturally to him.
“I’m no lawyer…..” begins one of the hair and glass combinations.
“Great, I may be in the market for a new Lord Chancellor,” interrupts Dave.
“No, no, Prime Minister. That wasn’t a job application. I was going to say ‘I’m no lawyer, but…’ And the but is…. Isn’t it wrong to pass a law that makes things unlawful retrospectively? So you can’t pass a law to make things illegal that you are doing now? And we can’t pass the law now because Parliament isn’t sitting.”
“Already ahead of you there,” Dave answers, clearly now in a “Zone”. Not “the Zone”. But definitely a zone.
“We don’t pass a law that makes breaking the promise unlawful,” the PM explains, “we put the promise, the promise not to raise tax, into law.”
“Why don’t you just keep the promise?” asked the newest advisor in the room.
Eyes smile from behind the glazing in the less naive amongst the strategists.
“Because I can’t trust myself to keep the promise,” the Prime Minister answers, “the public know that, so I have to legislate against it. To protect the public from the high likelihood that otherwise I would break the promise. It is a trust issue. And here I am, speaking to my people and resoundingly telling them ‘You are not right to trust me and that’s why you should elect me, so I can legislate to bring an end to my fickle ways’. Its logic is utterly unanswerable.”
“Shall we get some people to draft the law?” asks a lady whose fringe and glasses seem in some way conjoined.
“Certainly not,” responds Dave. “We aren’t going to be needing that.”
“But you just promised to introduce it!” the lady cannot help but exclaim as her eyebrows rise in incredulity, but not that anyone notices. They are well disguised by her hairline, glasses rim combination.
“No, I am promising a law. A promise that is necessary because I cannot be trusted not to break the promises I make now. But breaking the promise about the law, that’s not going to be unlawful. There is no law about that. So, once I have my slippers under the bed at Number 10, I just break the promise I made about the law preventing me from breaking promises. And do you know what the good thing is?”
A room of blank expressions and empty eyes look back at the PM.
“The public will feel good about themselves because they will have been dead right. You can’t trust me. Now I am glad we have that sorted. West Ham are playing Villa and I am praying for a draw. I call it ‘Total Coalition Football’…..”