“Just a mo,” the Prime Minister said, pulling his jacket off, then struggling with the bullet proof vest. His close protection officer helped him. It was the lightest model they could find, as the PM was “fed up looking like the Michelin man” on television, but it still added to his not inconsiderate bulk. The security services had insisted he wear it in public after he’d been shot at a month ago by yet another demented right-winger screaming at him for being a traitor. That was outside of London. In London they screamed at him for being a racist. Tony Blair had rang him recently to thank him for taking the pressure off him.
“I really appreciate it, man. I’m being invited to dinner parties in Islington I haven’t been to in years!”
He ran a hand through his blonde mop, and fell into a seat at the table, facing his chief of staff and that very sharp focus group lady they’d drafted in.
“Right, let’s get on,” he waved his hand in the air, as if signalling a dancing girl whose performance he had to tolerate.
The focus group expert clicked on a slide.
“Basically, they think you’ve betrayed them. The words liar, traitor, all keep repeating. And it is all to do with immigration.”
“But we’ve reduced immigration! Look at the stats! In the last quarter…” the PM blustered.
“Prime Minister, they don’t care about the actual details.”
She wasn’t lying, the PM thought. The justice secretary had his two front teeth punched in by a yob at a public meeting screaming at him about mass migration and “experts”. Indeed, the tone of the country had turned nasty in the three years of his premiership. Hate crimes were going through the roof as people deemed not English, whatever that meant, were subjected to all sorts of abuse on the streets. In some schools they were even having to segregate students to stop them fighting by race.
He’d been appalled by this, and was pouring resources into the police to tackle hate crimes, but that seemed to have angered some people even more. When he appointed the first non-white home secretary the amount of abuse he’d received in the post had been shocking.
“The perception, prime minister, is that you lied about stopping immigration and kicking the foreigners, in particular the Muslims, out.”
“But I never promised that!” he protested.
“They think you did. In some demographics, over 80% of respondents are convinced they heard you make that specific promise. It’s becoming a self-reaffirming loop. The more they get angry at you not delivering what they think you promised, the more they convince themselves as to what they heard you and others promise.”
He picked up a Jammie Dodger and munched on it. He really wasn’t enjoying being PM at all.
“Right, so how do we get the truth out? Brief journalists better? I mean, there’s a 14% reduction in immigration…”
The focus group woman looked at the chief of staff.
“I’m sorry prime minister, but I’m not sure it’s possible.”
“What?” the PM asked.
“This demographic is impervious to statistics or experts. All lies as far as they’re concerned, and Brexit to them was the signal that it’s OK, that they’re the real voice of the ordinary people. They only trust their own eyes, and every time they see a woman in a headscarf or a dark skinned man…I mean, we’ve had to stop using mixed-race focus groups for political work because it’s getting too dangerous. A man was nearly stabbed in one last week. Their measure of success on immigration would involve closing mosques, public arrests of non-whites, evictions from public housing. Making non-ethnic whites carry national identity cards was quite popular, especially if they were required to wear them on clothing…”
“Bollocks to that!” the PM said.
“A significant proportion think we should leave the EU?”
“We have left the EU!” the PM blurted out, biscuit crumbs going everywhere.
“They don’t believe you. Many believe we’re secret members. They believe UKIP are telling the truth. The phrase EU-Lite, you know, his phrase, comes up a lot. Also a number want to know why you aren’t promising to veto Turkey joining the EU?”
“And then there’s the £350 million a week,” the chief of staff said awkwardly.
“Not still!” the PM exclaimed.
The focus group woman nodded.
“It seems to have really locked in to public consciousness. Every local cut to spending, every school, hospital, the 350 comes up. They want to know why you aren’t using it to fund the given service. Some people think you’re using it to build a giant mosque in the next town over. It’s always the next town over.”
“It funds our access to the single market?” The PM said to nobody in particular.
“Yes, well that feeds into the UKIP line about you funding secret membership of the EU.”
The PM looked at his watch.
“I have to go. Have a state dinner for President Capaldi. Wish I had a bleedin’ TARDIS,” he muttered, as he went out the door.
England, 2023. Five years after Brexit.
The roaring and shouting after England and Wales left the EU was loud and colourful. A generation of politicians who had supported British membership found themselves demonised as Quislings and traitors, and quietly retired from public life, and every ministerial speech was peppered with Eurosceptic hyperbole as the new regime took office.
Over time, however, the EUphoria died away, as the government and the tabloids turned to the issue that had carried the Brexiteers over the line: Immigration.
The new government moved quickly to deliver on the issue. Tough new visa requirements were in place, and whilst existing legal residents were permitted to stay, they could not be joined by relatives, and so as many returned to their home countries they were not replaced. The teary-eyed right-wingers who had choked back stories of Commonwealth citizens (“our kith and kin”), every one of whom seemed to be related to a spitfire pilot, being put behind queues of stony faced Poles, suddenly and bizarrely seemed to go cool on Pakistani and Indian and African immigrants having easier access. The number of people legally entering the UK dropped significantly.
The tabloids, robbed of the EU pinata to mercilessly beat, but knowing that immigration was still the story that stirred the loins, turned their attention to the government. the new line was that the government was full of mealy-mouthed liberals letting people sneakily in. That and the EU was actively conspiring to flood England with immigrants through Ireland, Scotland and Calais, of course.
The government, like all populist governments, was as concerned about how to be seen to be doing something as actually doing something. The truth was that the immigration controls were not delivering the rewards the tabloids had promised. Housing was not cheaper, as fewer immigrants had only freed up the very lowest in housing quality, which in turn had forced landlords to improve the quality but raise rents to pay for it. The vast numbers of manual workers needed to fund large scale building of houses didn’t exist, resulting in builders struggling to find the skilled labourers to do the job. The Irish workers that they could source, due to a common deal with Ireland, expected top dollar, and all that contributed to higher costs and thus higher prices. The NHS and other public services were struggling under staff shortages as it emerged that many of the hard-pressed English white working class didn’t actually have the skills to fill the jobs. But the government was too scared to issue too many working visas to fill those jobs, as the tabloids, bereft of the EU to blame, had now doubled down on ANY immigrant “depriving” Brits of a job. Politically, it was better to leave those jobs empty.
With the labour shortage feeding into wage rises, inflation, public service waiting lists and rental rises, the Government decided to go fully for immigrants as the problem.
The launch of the Immigration Police was a huge media managed affair. The logo of the new force, a union flag in the shape of a shield, was emblazoned on the fleet of shiny new vehicles and officers unveiled by Prime Minister Johnson. The helmeted, combat trousered police, who vaguely resembled the baddies from “Blake’s Seven” but with huge union flags on their shoulders, grinned at the prime minister’s jokes about them “scaring the hell out of him”.
As with everything in post-Thatcher Britain, the Immigration Police was a private for-profit tendered service, the contract held by a huge security company with a very mixed record.
Within months of commencing operations, the IP was the new source of fury for the right-wing tabloids. The fact that a significant number of IP officers were themselves illegal immigrants who had gotten through the cut-price vetting process resulted in the resignation of Home Secretary Gove, and the tender holder announcing that it could no longer fulfill the contract under such arduous “red tape”. The subsequent taking of the company to court by the Home Office resulted in even more embarrassing revelations including the fact that some immigrant IP officers from some countries seemed to be using their very considerable IP powers to pursue vendettas against people from other tribal areas or religious groups.
The Government was forced to introduce emergency legislation to nationalise the whole IP organisation, making it a state agency. This, as it always seems to do, then sent costs through the roof as the new IP management, made up of Home Office staff, were more than happy to spend millions on vetting.
Three years after its initial launch the IP had been “purged” of illegal immigrants. It was also running hugely over-budget, requiring cuts elsewhere to feed its huge fiscal maw, and led by a very media savvy chief executive who fended off any attempt to trim the rapidly expanding budget with tales of hordes of terrorists and illegal workers sweeping towards virginal England. The IP’s media budget was very substantial.
Aside from its internal chaos, the daily operations of the IP became problematic. Although initially popular, with black cab drivers beeping their horns at speeding IP vehicles, sirens flashing, off to defend England, the reality of the organisation’s nebulous task began to take the shine off rapidly. The new Home Secretary, of Asian extraction and from the hard-right of the party, was adamant that the IP must be visibly active which led to huge poster campaigns asking the public to cooperate. One stand-up comedian likened the posters to the “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” posters of the 200oAD comic character Thomas De Torquemada. The IP also started setting up random street checkpoints, which began to jar even with the most right-wing of blazer-wearing golf club Mosleys. Camera footage of IP officers singling out dark-skinned pedestrians alone caused a row, and in one case a riot where a number of black and East Asian youths proceeded to beat up the aggressive IP officers. This resulted in the local police having to intervene.
Indeed, relations between the IP and the regular police were strained at best. In London, where the Metropolitan Police had made a serious effort to diversify its membership, the jarring approach of the IP did not go down well. The commissioner complained that the IP was stirring up racial tension in areas where painstaking work by community police officers had finally started to show results. One incident in particular, where two Metropolitan Police officers challenged an overly aggressive IP checkpoint resulted in the IP officer in charge demanding that one of the officers, who was black, prove his legal status in the country and then attempted to arrest him. The situation, again all over the web, was only contained when the Met officers called in an armed SO19 unit and arrested the entire IP patrol to loud cheering and applause from local youths of mixed races.
The Home Secretary was furious. The commissioner backed her men, and when the Home Secretary threatened to fire the commissioner, the commissioner revealed that she had a special investigation unit looking into penetration by the far-right of the IP. She revealed taped footage from an undercover officer of IP officers, who were revealed to be members of various white supremacist organisations, joking and laughing at how they were paid “by one Paki to fit up other niggers and Pakis”.
The Home Secretary was gone by teatime.
Another source of problems for the new Home Secretary was how to verify someone was legally resident in the UK. His officials excitedly dusted off an old file: a National Identity Card. Not surprisingly, he balked at the idea, but the issue was unavoidable. In order to avoid charges of racial profiling, IP checkpoints were now stopping and demanding identification from every person, regardless of age, colour or gender. Many people were now carrying their passports with them everywhere, and the grumbling was beginning. In time honoured fashion, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, having demanded a “get tough crackdown” on immigration, now did a u-turn and started banging on daily about the IP being a version of the Gestapo harassing ordinary Brits going about their business.
The Home Secretary stared blankly at his officials. Polls showed that middle England was vehemently against having to carry “papers”. Is this what we fought a war for? On the other hand, without some form of verified state backed ID, his officials said, there was no way for the IP to check on-the-spot. Unless, we created a national biometric database, one junior official mused. Then we wouldn’t have to carry ID, just be scanned. Of course, we’d have to scan the entire population.
The Home Secretary died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. The coroner said it was a massive heart attack.
The huge camp near Dover (christened Camp Boris by the media) was also the problem of the new Home Secretary. Since Brexit, the EU had decided that illegal immigration into the UK was not its concern, and so turned a blind eye to migrants making their way across the channel. France had announced that the UK could do its own border control in Dover, and closed its facilities in Calais, the infamous “jungle”. French, Belgian and Dutch police and coastguards were told that preventing “outflows” were not a priority, to the extent that many boat owners on the continent were taking a few quid for carrying illegals to the edge of the UK’s territorial waters and letting their passengers take their chance in a rubber dinghy. All to huge protests from the British ambassador to the EU who was embarrassingly filmed being kept back by security personnel as he tried to lobby ministers attending an EU council meeting.
Huge resources were being deployed along beaches in the south east to capture illegals, and send them to the camp, which now had over 9,000 residents. The decision as to who should run the camp had turned into one of the finest games of bureaucratic pass-the-parcel in years. The Prison Service had said that they were a criminal rehabilitation service, and weren’t suited. The NHS said they weren’t a prison service. The local police said they would have to take “Bobbies off the beat”, and the chief of staff of the army had threatened to publicly resign if the army were told to run the camp. So, it had ended up with the Immigration Police, whose CEO had happily accepted the task then submitted a huge budget supplement request which took the IP’s annual funding clear of the Metropolitan Police’s £3.7 billion.
With scandals within the IP, the ongoing battle to secure the coast (most of the Royal Navy, including the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, were on coastal patrol), the growing unhappiness with the overt and hostile street presence of IP officers demanding “papers” on street corners, the outbreak of riots in Camp Boris was not welcomed by the Government. The IP officers, even with riot gear, struggled to maintain order in two days of rioting. On the third day a large group of young Syrian refugees charged the perimeter, panicking a member of one of the IP armed response units. Without authorisation he emptied his full clip into the crowd, killing nine refugees and wounding another four. Three children were killed in the stampede from the fence. The image went worldwide, and resulted in massive demonstrations against UK embassies.
The Home Secretary, who had only authorised the creation of armed units of the IP three months earlier, in response to stories of some refugees being armed with knives, handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister later that day. The PM was harangued in the house, and in a fit of pique that was typical but would come to haunt him, announced that he would be his own home secretary.
He arrived down to the camp bearing his name just as another riot was getting into its own. Outside the camp, hundreds of young and middle-aged white men, members of the self-appointed United Kingdom Defence Force gathered with baseball bats and crowbars, telling the gathered media they were there to back up the IP and back Boris. Another crowd, larger than the UKDF, were made up of anti-fascist protesters who roared abuse at the first crowd.
When the PM arrived, the UKDF cheered and chanted his name, prompting him to wave just as another surge broke through the IP line and charged towards the main gates. The UKDF surged forward before breaking into a Braveheart-style run at the main gate of the camp. The two groups met. The UKDF, unlike the refugees, were armed with a variety of weapons and ploughed into the refugees.
The PM’s bodyguards shoved him into his car, screaming at the driver to get them out of there, all live on TV as a huge fight broke out around them. The IP commander, totally overwhelmed, ordered the use of rubber bullets and water cannon, all aimed at securing the main gate. Some of the baton rounds hit UKDF members, who, seeing the IP firing at them, were overcome with the fury that can only come from experiencing treachery, and attacked the IP vehicles.
The news of the surge at the gate of the camp swept through the camp, encouraging thousands more to rush the entrance, overwhelming the IP officers at the door.
On his way back to Downing street, the PM gave the order for the army to be sent in with more baton rounds.
By evening, order had been restored, but half of the residents of the camp had fled. 39 people were dead, a mixture of refugees, children, IP officers and UKDF members.
In Munich that night a far-right group held a rally, holding aloft images of the British prime minister as they sieg heiled in support. Watching this on TV, the PM had the good grace to vomit.
Posted by Jason O on May 19, 2016 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
World War Z zombie outbreak: Invariably, the government would hold off giving the order to shoot infected citizens for fear of huge compensation claims, until it was too late and society was overwhelmed. Also, the attorney general would probably rule that the undead are covered under the unborn protection clause in the constitution. Either way we’re screwed. In the middle of the crisis a significant number of TDs would continue lobbying for new roofs for local GAA clubs even as zombies were eating the faces off their constituents. Fianna Fail would point out that the world never ended when they were in office.
Armageddon Earth threatening meteor: The Irish government would almost certainly attempt to avoid making any financial contribution to the planet saving exercise. Curiously, we would be bitterly disappointed at the refusal of some other nation/entity to compensate us for the damage caused by the meteor, with large numbers of Irish people believing that Ireland suffered more harshly than any other nation. The Irish language lobby, pointing out that the giant tidal wave that destroyed Connaught also destroyed a large chunk of the Gaeltacht, would call for increased Irish language funding.
Independence Day alien invasion: As above, with the exception that Richard Boyd Barrett would protest at the US’s destruction of the alien invasion fleet as a racist and imperialist act against a misunderstood culture. Bord Failte would quickly prepare, just in case, proof that the aliens forefathers came from Belmullet.
Vampire outbreak: an outbreak of vampirism would be dealt with in one of two ways by the Irish state. The first would be to round them up, put them in institutions, sexually assault them and then apologise, paying compensation.
The second would depend on how well organised the vampires were. If they registered to vote, deputies would be afraid to challenge them for fear of losing the vampire vote, and before you know it we’d all be required to make compulsory blood donations, and the importation of garlic would be highly taxed (cough). A state board would be created to advance vampirism, and it would be made compulsory in schools, and although everybody would be required to become a vampire by the time they do their leaving, most people wouldn’t but we’d all pretend we were. Before long we’d be lobbying the EU for vampirism to be made compulsory across Europe, and bitching about the Germans when elite Bundeswehr vampire hunters arrive and wipe them out. Once again, we’d seek compensation.
Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2016 in Cult TV
, Not quite serious.
Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen “Captain America: Civil war” then read no further. You have been warned.
There’s a scene in the movie where Steve Rogers is informed that the love of his life, SHIELD agent Peggy Carter, has died, probably aged around 100 years old. She gets a military funeral, and watching the scene I found it surprisingly touching, especially as the image of her used on the coffin is a current image of Hayley Atwell in character from the TV series “Agent Carter” set in 1946.
What struck me was that, watching her funeral, we realise that she is one of the few characters we have seen in her entirety, starting out as a much disparaged (by men) WWII intelligence officer who grows to become, as one of the key leaders of SHIELD, one of the most powerful people in the world.
But what really warrants her status as their greatest hero is the fact that she isn’t a superhero. She doesn’t have a super-serum coursing through her veins, or incredible intelligence matched to huge inherited wealth.
She’s just an ordinary woman, and a woman growing up in an age where for most of her life her looks count against her and discrimination based on her sex is the norm and in many cases the law. Then, as if that isn’t enough, she loses the love of her life, believing him to be dead well into her 90s.
And yet, despite all that, through a mixture of intelligence, hard work and competence, by the 1980s she is one of the leaders of the most powerful organisations in the world, and one of the most effective intelligence operatives ever.
Peggy Carter is the character every little girl can aspire to be, and that’s why she’s the greatest.
Spoiler alert: I’m assuming if you are reading this you have seen the movie. If not, don’t read any further as I’m talking about key plot points.
The two most recent “Captain America” movies have been the most political of the Marvel Universe movies, with both “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” having, at their heart, a question about the political accountability of self-appointed groups of do-gooders with extraordinary power.
In “Civil War”, a division emerges between the superheroes over a proposed UN treaty which puts them under the control of an international oversight body.
Unlike many superhero movies, the question isn’t black and white. The treaty comes about as a result of rising casualty rates amongst civilians caused by The Avengers group fighting various bad guys. As a plot, it’s very close to the key plot of “Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of justice” but exercised much more interestingly. Both Tony Stark (in favour of oversight) and Steve Rogers (against) make valid points in the debate.
But what’s interesting is the politics at the core of the disagreement. Stark believes (rightly, I think) that a group with such immense power must operate with public consent, and so must be accountable and even open to restraint. Rogers, guided by his own sense of morality, believes that a group of individuals with such talents as theirs should not let themselves be restrained by politics.
Interestingly, he spits out the word, and that tells us something about the at-times curiously elitist views held by Rogers, that if he believes something is right, that’s good enough, and that no government, even one elected by the people, has a right to overrule his right to intervene. It’s a fascinating insight into our modern society that such a view is portrayed in a movie as a reasonable side to a case, and not what it really is: the argument of a fascist superman. In short, if someone believes themselves to be emotionally right, as Rogers does, then that’s OK.
As it happens, Stark displays incredible hypocrisy when he discovers that Bucky Buchanan, under Hydra mind control, murdered his parents, and anoints himself the right to murder Buchanan (technically innocent)under a straight and simple desire for emotional revenge, but in doing so makes his own original point that their powers have to be held in check.
Politics aside, it’s a great entertaining movie. The fight scenes are excellent, it’s chock full of cameos and it has plenty of humour. DC take note.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2016 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.
Written three years ago. For some reason, this is one of my most popular posts. Have no idea why.
As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?) over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.
There are good reasons:
1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.
2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.
3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.
4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.
5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.
6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.
7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.
8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.
9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.
10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.
11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.
Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.
1. Because Jupiter is not in line with Aquarius.
2. Because he looked at me funny!
3. Because of policy differences on…eh…water? Yeah, that’ll do.
4. Because they are not “ideologically or culturally compatible”. We expect Sinn Fein and the DUP to find common ground, and even the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Fianna Fail and Fine Gael…
5. Because they’ve had their turn, now it’s our turn.
7. Because that’s not Frank Underwood’s plan.
8. Because you’re not the boss of me.
9. Because they’ve haven’t played The Rains of Castermere yet.
10. Because….ah feck off!
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has confirmed that the iceberg responsible for the sinking of the Titanic will arrive in Belfast later this week. The iceberg, which was discovered adrift north of Greenland and still with the paint markings from its epic encounter with the Belfast-built ship, will be part of the display in the Titanic Quarter.
The NITB has also confirmed that the iceberg will be a major part of the province’s plan for the 2016/2017 tourist season, with a cartoon character, “Bergie”, a mischievous baby iceberg, heading up the campaign. A cartoon series, which involves an evil ship named “Titan Nick” constantly trying to ram the little iceberg, will debut in the autumn.
Not everyone is welcoming the idea. Some have condemned the idea as sectarian. A spokesperson for No-Ice have pointed out that this is “once again celebrating the destruction of one of the great industrial achievements of Belfast”. He also wanted to know what was to stop the iceberg going rogue and sinking other ships. The group has pledged to meet the iceberg on its arrival with kettles filled with hot water. “Iceberg? It should be called Not-Niceberg!”
NITB have dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the sinking of the Titanic, George Best, and the filming of Game of Thrones are key parts of Northern Irish history. “Nothing else happened here over the last 30 years. Got that?” A spokesman said, with menace.
When the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)
For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.
With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.
Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.
Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.
*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”
No one can be sure for certain when it was first noticed. But it is certainly fair to say that it came to official attention following a row in a pub in Castlebar. The Guards had been called to a heated altercation between a number of customers and the publican, an event not exactly unusual on a summer’s Saturday night. On arrival at the pub however, the Guards had been surprised to discover that drink, although being the issue, was not the usual catalyst.
This was not the usual row between men full of jar. Indeed, it was the lack of jar that was the issue. The three men had been rowing furiously over an accusation by the two that the publican was watering down drink. Others had got involved, some siding with the publican, some with his accusers. But what struck the Garda sergeant the most was the fact that here they were in a pub near closing time and hardly anyone was pissed. There were a small handful well-oiled, but most people in the pub were fully sober. On a Saturday night?
The sergeant calmed the situation, pointed out that watering down drink was a criminal offence, and ordered his younger partner to collect a few samples for analysis.
This was the first submission to the state laboratory, but by the end of the week twenty submissions had been made by both the Gardai and the consumer authorities, all following up complaints by consumers.
Two weeks later the issue had reached the media, as a scandal involving publicans watering down drink.
Except they weren’t, the minister for justice was told as he was being briefed. One or two samples were found to have been diluted, but the vast majority were perfectly normal. Just as the minister started wondering whether some sort of national mass hysteria was beginning to take hold, the minister for health asked the Taoiseach for an emergency meeting.
This drink thing has nothing to do with alcohol tampering, he said. The national infectious diseases monitoring unit had discovered something living in the water supply.
The Taoiseach paled. Normally, being prime minister of a small European country involved just keeping a lid on public expectations about spending. But this was one of those Hollywood moments, he thought, like when the president is told that Martians have invaded. He stiffened in his seat and stuck his jaw out like Martin Sheen did on The West Wing.
The minister was quick to calm the meeting. It’s not dangerous, per se. It’s an unknown parasite that lives and replicates within the human body. Completely harmless. But there is one thing.
The Taoiseach shifted in his seat. He was a fan of zombie movies and his head was spinning.
The parasite metabolises alcohol at an incredible rate. Essentially, it burns up alcohol before it can intoxicate the consumer. If you have it, you can’t get drunk, no matter how much you drink. The European Health Agency and the World Health Organisation have never seen anything like it.
The Taoiseach exhaled. Thank Christ for that. He had visions of blowing people’s heads off in Merrion Square with a shotgun.
Completely harmless, he asked.
Completely, the minister agreed. It got through most of the water supply because it’s harmless. Normally if something dangerous gets into the water supply, outbreaks of illness are what alert us within a few days. But this thing has been active for weeks. It was only when people started complaining about not getting pissed that we were alerted.
What’s the solution, the Taoiseach asked.
Ah, said the minister. That’s the problem. At the moment we don’t have one. This thing is pretty much a superbug. Resistant to everything the doctors have thrown at it. That’s why the EHA and WHO are working on it. We’ve asked the CDC in Atlanta for help too.
I don’t want a load of feckers in yellow spacesuits walking around the place, the Taoiseach said. The minister nodded.
Of course, I’ll have to tell the Dail. How widespread is the infection? The Taoiseach asked.
The minister grimaced. With the exception of Donegal, where we have isolated their water supply, the whole country. Pretty much everybody has it and it has the alcohol neutralising effect on about 98% of those infected.
But aside from the alcohol thing, it’s harmless? The Taoiseach asked.
If anything, the minister replied, it’s slightly beneficial in that it speeds up metabolism. Good for weight loss.
The Taoiseach scribbled that point down. If he was going to tell the Irish that drinking no longer worked, he was going to need every scrap of good news he could find.
The news was met with the usual Irish mix of bemusement, cynicism and suspicion. The leader of the opposition was quick to point out that under this government, even drink doesn’t work.
The publicans and the drinks industry called for a national emergency to be declared, and then proceeded to do the standard Irish two-step of denying the real cause for concern, plummeting alcohol sales, and instead latching onto some other more respectable reason for their anxiety. This is an attack on craic, one spokesman said, raising concerns about the effect on tourism. Another industry voice suggested darkly that this would lead to the Irish people turning to heroin instead. We could all end up out of our heads on horse, he said.
Joe Duffy was inundated with conspiracy theorists suggesting it had been the EU, UN, feminists, the Germans, protestants, Muslims, German protestants and Coca Cola. One call pointed out that this happened after Ireland had voted for same-sex marriage. Is it a coincidence, Joe? I don’t think so. It’s the pill, Joe, said another. It’s turned us all into fairies who can’t hold our drink. Surely the opposite is what’s happening, said Duffy. You’re obviously in on it, Joe. Typical RTE was the reply.
A number of TDs called for the army to be called in to start drinking the national alcohol supply to keep the drinks industry alive. We’re talking about jobs here, they protested. Each deputy was quick to stress how his county was obviously suffering much harder than any other county.
Within a month, the HSE working with its international partners had wiped out the parasite from the water supply. Curing the infected, however, was another matter.
We have found a cure, the minister for health told the cabinet. An American pharmaceutical had amongst many of its obscure patents a forgotten experimental drug which can wipe the infection from the human body, with little or no side effects. We’re fast tracking the testing to make sure, but we should be able to start treatment very soon.
The cabinet applauded, amidst much joking about dying for a whiskey.
The health minister dampened down the noise. I’m afraid, he said, it’s not as simple as that. The company that owns the patent is looking for around €30 billion to provide the medication.
The cabinet erupted. They can’t do that, said the social protection minister.
Yes they can. We can put pressure on them, publicly, but legally they’re entirely within their rights.
Can’t we just copy the drug? One minister asked. After all, don’t we actually have it for testing and analysis?
We do, the health minister said. The problem is that because there are so many pharmaceuticals here we have very strict patent protection laws. If we do that they can take us to our own courts and get the money that way. And that’s assuming you can find another pharmaceutical willing to manufacture 5 million doses for you, and not get sued themselves.
Let’s just change the law, the agriculture minister said.
Hold your horses for a minute, there, said the minister for enterprise. We rely on foreign companies here for huge employment and investment. If they start thinking we’re one of those countries that just confiscate property on a whim…
This is a national emergency, agriculture said.
Nobody is dying, enterprise replied.
You would say that, agriculture replied, jabbing a finger at the famously tee-total enterprise minister.
The Taoiseach raised a hand. We can’t just confiscate the drug. Can we negotiate?
Health shrugged. Possibly, we might get some leeway on the payment period and that, but not much.
The news about the drug and its company, Haardnex of Texas, leaked soon after. The Irish online community were very quick to decide that Haardnex had “obviously” invented the parasite and put it into the water supply to hold the Irish people ransom. Thousands marched in protests, although the size of the protests started to dwindle when they got mocked on American and British television for marching to demand the right to get pissed. Protestors who brought their children, trying to somehow justify how this was “all about the children” were roundly laughed at on Youtube and Snapchat.
Demonstrators got more and more annoyed at the attitude of foreign journalists who refused to take the issue seriously, especially when they attempted to explain that being drunk was part of the Irish culture yet painting the Irish as a nation of drunks was a racist stereotype. Foreign news crews had to receive Garda escorts.
Eventually, the Taoiseach spoke to the Irish people. We have negotiated, he said, a deal for €25 billion to be paid over ten years to Haardnex in return for the treatment. Given that it is such a huge amount of money, it is my intention to put this vote to the Irish people in a referendum.
The run-up to the vote involved bitter debates in the media and amongst families. The Yes campaign ran on the slogan Sure Didn’t We Bail Out The Banks! and that this was all about saving a crucial part of Irish culture. The campaign was well-funded, with the drinks industry and unions representing the Gardai and social workers, two groups that had lost significant overtime since the outbreak calling for a yes vote. The No campaign was much smaller, and open to physical attack in the streets for being Dry Shites.
The polls were much more evenly balanced, with polls recording that whilst the vast majority wanted the cure, they weren’t happy at having to pay for it. On the radio and online some suggested that once the government had dispersed the treatment it could renege on the deal, but lawyer after lawyer dismissed that possibility.
Day after day debates were held about the influence of drink on the country, the fall in domestic violence and road fatalities, and the fact that obesity figures had shown a marked drop. Cannabis sales were definitely up, the Gardai confirmed, whilst pointing out that alcohol-related public order offences had collapsed. A&E waiting times also fell sharply. The argument that it was harming tourism was disproven by the fact that tourists, who weren’t infected, and could avail of a cheap vaccine, could get drunk. Indeed, that tiny percentage of Irish drinkers who either weren’t susceptible to the infection, or lived in Donegal, found themselves being ostracised by friends. Story after story about how Donegal still got drunk continued to irritate the rest of the country, to the extent that drunken Donegal visitors started getting beaten up in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
American commentators were quick to draw a line between the American love of guns and the Irish love of drink, and the fact that both countries were willing to accept a high casualty rate in return for their right to use the product in question.
Is it possible, the No campaign suggested, that this is not the worst thing to ever happen to the Irish people?
On polling day, the last poll suggested the deal would be rejected by a good ten percentage points.
It passed by 80%. Donegal voted No.