To give Calmgrove some fun, and because we know he doesn’t read ebooks, here’s Gert’s answer to Boris Johnson in the form of Alastair Endacott, Minister for Ageing under Prime Minister Flattley. Endacott has been very reluctant to move from the Ministry of the Arts to Ageing:
” Just between you and me, he’s not dealing with the change from Arts to Ageing. Seems to think it’s a demotion.’
‘I saw him on “Challenge” last night,’ said Tim. ‘I don’t think that joke about Mother Theresa and Picasso will go down all that well with our demographic.’
‘I don’t want to know, Tim. Just see if you can keep him on the rails today.’
[Flattley] put the phone down and went to the window. Speak of the devil, down below in the Members’ courtyard he could see the flamboyant yellow hair of Alastair Endacott. The last person he wanted as Minister for Ageing, but you had to make some trade-offs, and the Left had said it was their turn to have Arts and the Right had pushed for Endacott to get Ageing because there were a lot of perks there. Better than Arts, really. Not that Endacott seemed to think so.
‘The old buggers are pretty well immortal,’ Endacott had said. ‘Let me tell you, Ian, I’ve had a look at the figures and they aren’t pretty. Do you know how many of them there are going to be out there in ten years, at this rate? A fortiori, we have to make some cuts.’
‘You never said that when you were in Arts.’
‘That’s different. A few million here and there to a dance company, that’s peanuts. But we’re talking billions. And, let me tell you,’ – Flattley hated the way Endacott said this, as if anyone had to tell him anything – ‘let me tell you you’re brewing up a firestorm letting them run amok and throw their weight around the way they do. You can talk all you like about Wisdom Partnerships, what about that lot that’s going round beating up kids who don’t stand up for them on the train? And that nightclub that got burnt down because the music went on after 10 o’clock? There’s a rogue element, Ian, let me tell you.’
He hated to admit it, but Endacott was right. Somehow he had to wind back the use of Optiviva if it really was creating all these problems, but the Oldies were so wedded to it – you could almost say addicted – that even his government wouldn’t withstand the backlash that would come from withdrawing it. Maybe he could water it down, take the steroids out. Add a tranquillizer. But whatever he did it had to be handled with kid gloves. The last thing he needed was Endacott shooting his mouth off.
Yet again he cursed the concessions he’d had to make that let this idiot have the Ageing portfolio. It didn’t matter that he was an idiot, that could be managed, and all the better if a Minister was a bit dim. He just loved the sound of his own voice too much. He would never have got where he was without his father’s influence. He’d become a bit of a joke with his rumpled suits and childish mop of yellow hair. Hippo, the press called him. They loved to catch him on the back foot, presenting his enormous bottom as he attempted to gather cabinet papers blowing along the pavement outside his office, or leering down the cleavage of the Lady Mayoress as they crawled into a taxi. “Oooh, naughty Hippo.” So far it had all been mildly affectionate and the Oldies still felt the Department was on their side. But Hippo needed to keep his mouth shut. Those braying patrician tones, the little quotes in Latin, and that snorting throat-clearing noise he made without seeming to be at all aware of it could become a real problem if the wind changed for the government. He reached for his phone again and summoned Endacott.
‘Now Alastair,’ he said as the Minister eased his plump form into an armchair, ‘you may be right about a rogue element among the Oldies, but I don’t want you talking out loud about it. Diplomacy, charm, that’s what we need here.’
‘I think you should come down hard on them, Ian. Cut off their privileges. No Oldies have ever had it so good.’
That was the trouble with Alastair having been to an elite private school. Always wanting to “come down hard”. It had made him most unpopular in the Arts community.
‘No, Alastair. That’s just what we don’t want to do. My father had a saying from his days in the tropics: Softlee, softlee catchee monkey.’
‘What monkey? I don’t see how this is relevant here, Ian. Nulla poena sine lege, you know.’
‘I’m just telling you Alastair,’ Ian allowed a tinge of steel to come into his voice, ‘we watch and wait. Charm and diplomacy. I want you over at Florence Packer today to open the Caring Caravan. Sit in on the Wisdom Partnership meeting this evening. We’ll get some Press there.’
‘Couldn’t I send David, or Marian?’ said Endacott. ‘I am the Minister. I’ve got better things to do than sit round drinking tea with a lot of Oldies. Besides, I have a dinner engagement tonight.’
That wouldn’t work. Alastair had a dinner engagement every night.
‘I’m sure you can re-schedule in the interest of the constituents,’ he paused, ‘and your career.’
Even Endacott could see there was no way out. He sighed.
‘All right then. What exactly am I supposed to do?’
‘Get the feel. The mood. This is a key group. Florence Packer is a flagship for our Health Ageing strategy. See if you can identify any troublemakers. Don’t antagonize them, though, Alastair.’
‘Oh, all right.’ Endacott made his harrumphing throat-clearing sound. ‘I will attend, at my most alert and discreet. Meliora cogito.’
And with a superior smile he got to his feet, attempted to do up the button on his suit, and took his leave.
The Art Of The Possible