Ten years is more than enough. Anyway, the standards of the commentariat (and my own typing) seem to be drooping, so the next posting is to be the last in this series
1] (Not entirely joking)
Today, more than ever, there is a lot of ill-natured talk (stirred up not least by the murky internet activities of puzzlingly well-funded thinktanks) about the alleged gap between what politicians say when campaigning for election, and what they do when they have stuck the photo of their wife and children on the ministerial desk (and the black lace lingerie for other lucky recipients in the ministerial briefcase). But the ill-feeling is based on a profound misunderstanding. The trouble with electoral democracy – quite apart from particular troubles with particular (alleged) democracies – is that it rests on a structural foundation exactly contradictory to what is normally considered to be the necessary basis of an efficient and properly run state, namely the fair and free expression of fair and free votes. The usual charge is that the very freedom of the vote risks opening the door to abuse of the process, offering an opportunity to demagoguery and then leading inexorably on to straightforward dishonesty and corruption, with ever cheaper politicians making ever more expensive promises to do what the electorate wants in order to get into office.
Taking a quick glance round a sample of supposed democracies whose representatives trade decibels and principles so vigorously at the UN and in international conferences as they battle for world peace, justice, human rights, and photo opportunities, I’d better concede that the point has a certain specious plausibility. But in fact there really is today, and has long been (although constantly overshadowed by the editorial fictions which nourish the strange beliefs semi-coherently held by so many about how the world is run) a structural requirement in representative democracy that politicians should lie in order to gain office. One of the first to have broken cover and recognised this in public was the late, but still greatly admired, Huey Long, Governor of Lousiana. When a deputation of citizens came in high indignation to ask why he was breaking some election promises he had made he looked them straight in the eye and said, “I lied.” And we should recognise that this is how it should be. The People are told that they are the sovereign authorities of a country, that the system is there to do their will; it is in this belief that they vote in elections. Yet it is perfectly obvious that when a government comes to power it will not do the will of The People. If its policies accurately reflected those of The People there would be no need to elect it in the first place – there is no need to elect a government to know that we are against murder and for the freedom to import grapefruit. The organisation of the details can be left in the hands of the civil service and the police and the judiciary, and the evidence of this is that they are running things anyway; in several countries in recent times – for years in some cases – they have done so openly (e.g. Belgium), with no evidence that the country has suffered any significant difficulties as a result. Therefore election of a government can only cease to be a hollow enterprise when the government proposes to introduce policies other than those favoured by The People. It is equally obvious that if the politicians openly state in their campaigns that they are not going to act in accordance with the will of The People then they will not get elected; indeed this would be contrary to the fundamental mechanism of democracy. In any case it is already accepted that this necessary gap between theory and practice exists in the case of many everyday issues. In most countries, every member of the public wants lower taxes for example, and more freedom to consume certain substances (substances concerned vary widely from state to state but every nation specifies some); every government restricts the latter and raises taxes. Polite laughter can be heard if a campaigning politician denies this at a dinner party.
Now it may be urged that I am talking nonsense; such agreements don’t concern the high issues of state, and the aim of democracy is to enable The People to make choices at that level between competing alternatives each of which is supported by a section of the populace. It is certainly true that elections present an amalgam of such issues, but this does not change the situation one whit. The truth deficit remains a fundamental element of the electoral system. For it is immediately evident that a politician who told the truth on every issue would place himself or herself at an insurmountable disadvantage vis-à-vis the politician who steadfastly maintains a falsehood wherever it will bring out the votes. Yet it would most certainly be a disgraceful abuse of the electoral process for candidates to take part intending to lose, thus making useless the votes of their supporters. It therefore follows immediately that it is the duty of campaigning politicians to lie.
2] (From ‘Tales of fairly recent Cathay’)
An old friend of mine, who appears here under the name of Alexander Smart for tax purposes, dropped in the other day on his return from long service on the mission, entirely humanitarian of course, to America’s new backyard, formerly known as the South China Sea (and still so known to several billion people who have somehow failed to keep up with the latest official views set out in the world’s right-thinking media). He passed on some curious information about a method of divination virtually unknown in the west, in which he had trained intensively even hoping one day to reach Black Tie standard. Why, you may ask, is this term used rather than `Black Belt’ (or a tranlation of that phrase), as in the traditional oriental martial arts with which it might claim to share some similarities? I’ll explain. There are no official headquarters for this activity but it has some of its most enthusiastic practitioners in Taiwan where it goes under the name of Choh King, and it is said to be widely though secretly practised in the changing rooms of the gymnasia attached to various stock markets and other financial centres throughout East Asia. In crudest outline, it requires the practitioner to identify a suitably dressed subject, ideally a fellow trader (with or without the latter being warned, which is in fact the divergence underlying a major split in the world of Choh King). He then wrestles with the man (it has always been a male-dominated activity) seeking to overpower him, seize his tie and to push the knot upwards until the arteries and veins stand out in sharp relief on his head, whereupon the aim is to deduce market trends, and indeed market details, from the shape and pulsations and hue of the swollen blood vessels. Particular attention is paid to the appearance of the anterior branch of the superficial temporal artery; putting it crudely the more furiously it is seen to pulsate, the more certain is the indication that hard times lie ahead for the financial markets, though subtle variations in location and rhythm are keenly noted by expert practitioners. Alexander claimed that he avoided much of the damage inflicted on many investors’ pockets in one major downturn recently thanks to a lucky decision to play squash the day before Black Falling Moon, which gave him the opportunity to test his mastery of Choh King against that of an elderly but still vigorous millionaire who had visited the gymnasium to enquire whether his young mistress could use the facilities, and whose artery displayed a truly remarkable throbbing long after Tai Hai (the technical term for the moment at which maximum constriction of the victim’s neck is reached). The Hang Seng Share index of Hong Kong has been especially notable for its volatility in recent years and this has often been linked to political events in China. Many accept that there is indeed a correlation but believe that the idea of a straightforward link may be too simplistic. Worrying developments in China cause stress in the minds of traders in Hong Kong, which in turn leads to deterioration in their physical health, which is then reflected in these vascular auguries which are frequently taken at such times, with those auguries leading in their turn to negative market movement at the next trading opportunity. However, the art of Choh King may soon be yet another lost tradition. In a bid to cut down on excessive swings in the markets, and to eliminate as far as possible the use of insider information (which here can be understood in a very literal sense) various countermeasures are said to be under consideration, including allegedly the secret injection of suitable aerosols into the ventilation systems of gymnasia attached to exchanges and financial centres so that any visitors who become participants in this unusual kind of market survey will have their response modified in the direction favoured by the government.
3] (Mere knockabout, one hopes)
Shock News! The prime minister is to announce tomorrow that an ultra-secret programme for a complete overhaul of the administrative and legal governance of the nation is ready to be unveiled. His government, has succeeded in selling off 96% of the national assets (including Scotland), and of course the many contractual obligations that went with them. Therefore after 30th of this month his government will have complete and effective control of all organs essential to the efficient and enlightened functioning of a modern state, in particular the organisation of international trade on terms that will deliver prosperity to all hard-working members of the population, and at the same time deliver much needed reforms to all necessary sectors of the economy, infrastructure, transport, the educational system, prisons and prison facilities, policing and law enforcement, and medical services, all to be provided on a rational and cost-effective basis. In addition the title of ownership of all land will be vested in the government (except for metropolitan London where it will be held on a 99-year lease). Consequently Britain, now once again GREAT BRITAIN, is at last a population of truly free citizens, no longer bound to and hamstrung by the previous obstructive framework of society. The prime minister proposes that all patriotic citizens with a spirit of adventure, as well as those who may prefer not to pay the costs that will initially need to be charged by new owners accepted for occupation of residential areas, should join him and his colleagues in a new exciting ‘Sunrise’ programme to use the profits accumulated from the national sales (no less than £85million after recalibration to take account of administrative expenses) to be divided equally between all those agreeing to take part in a ‘gap decade’, leaving the country in order to broaden their horizons, learn new skills and to make themselves more employable, at the end of which time it was anticipated that the demand for British expertise, imagination, initiative, political reliability, and capacity for getting major projects started, effectively controlled and swiftly and properly finished, would have returned to pre-2000 levels, opening up a vista of hugely profitable future successes to be shared by all those whose applications to re-enter the country and take part had been approved.
4] Academic administration
(You might take this item to be pure invention. It is not; it befell an academic given a two year appointment in a British university)
Starting date of appointment: 1-10-[Year A] (= first year of ‘interaction’)
Allocation of office: verbally: 14-12-Year A (sic: 14-12)
Provision of key to go with said office: about 18-12-Year A (give or take 2 days)
As yet, no access to computer facilities ; end-of-year vacation descends
Arrival of letter allowing use of e-mail: 15-1-Year B;
(n.b. dated 9-12-Year A, but postmarked 14-1-Year B)
After vacation, informed of the removal of computer facilities to new site, with entry by ‘smart card’ only;’ smart card’ only obtainable on application via specified bank branch
Application to said bank branch, on or about: 22-1-Year B
Arrival of `smart card’: 1-3-Year B (sic: 1-3). (Card not actually needed first few times as others going in or out)
First attempted use of card: 15-3-Year B; card rejected
First arrival of information that card number must be `registered’: 15-3-Year B
First successful contact with official authorised to initiate registration: c.18-3-Year B
Official then obliged to wait until a technician arrives from another site to insert the number into the ‘system’; said technician visits `two or three times a month’
First attempt to use card after technician’s visit: on or about 25-3-Year B – card rejected
Attempt to re-visit bank branch 25-3-Year B; ‘branch closed for next month’ (sic)
Abandonment of final attempt to make use of promised `facilities’ 25-3-Year B