Greasy Pole: The Queen speaks – sort of
Through an amazing, not to say unique, set of circumstances, Greasy Pole has come into possession of an early draft of the Queen’s Speech to the nation on Christmas Day. As usual, the speech makes an impressive human document, covering a wide range of vital issues with the customary insight, compassion and courage. However readers must bear in mind that this is the first draft of the speech; when the broadcast takes place it may turn out that some changes have been made.
Speaking to you this Christmas Day, I am humbly aware that I am carrying on a tradition begun by my grandfather and carried on by my father. We are all agreed that tradition plays a vital part in our lives – we all find comfort and security in the confidence that things will stay as they are even if it would be much better to change them. Of course as the Queen I am more in favour of this than most people – after all it is tradition that is often used as a clinching argument for keeping me and my family where we are. For so many of you, my viewers, it would not come amiss if you had less regard for tradition and more for thinking about re-organising society. But we won’t go into that right now.
To begin, let us look at what my government have been doing and what they intend to do between now and next December 25. (You must not be misled by the words “my government”, into thinking that I tell Tony Blair and the rest what to do. The opposite is true; that is why I am speaking to you today). My government continue to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which seem to have no end in sight. You may recall that Mr. Blair and the other leaders assured us that Iraq would be a quick, clean business and not another Vietnam. They did not remind us then that the late President Johnson had promised the American people that Vietnam would not be another Korea. What future war, we may ask, will be justified on the grounds that it will not be another Iraq? And how many will be killed while this is going on?
This is not say that it has been all bad news from Iraq. If we can forget the soldiers who have been killed and their grieving families and the tens of thousands Iraqi corpses which testify to the murderous efficacy, if not the unfailing accuracy, of American and British weaponry, there is another side to the story. Bechtel, a big and powerful American engineering company, has just finished a contract to repair the water, power and sewage system in Iraq, supposedly to the benefit of the people there. For this Bechtel were paid $2.3 billion by the American government. And what has been the result? Well 52 Bechtel employees were killed during the work. Anything else? The electricity comes on for only a few hours a day, for much of the people there is no clean water supply and the sewage is largely untreated. In a recent issue of the New York Times a professor of economics wrote that “By any material measure, Iraqis are worse off than they were under Saddam”.
Crime is another matter which my government are vigorously tackling. Theft may be all very well if it is the kind which allows one class to have access to most of the wealth but not when someone tries to help themselves outside the law. Violence is admirable when it is the clean, clinical type guided out of the skies of Iraq by trained people in uniforms but it is unacceptable when it is a few rowdies on the street after closing time. So Mr. Blair’s ministers are cracking down on it; they are planning to bring in more laws which will enable courts to pass longer sentences on offenders. This will almost certainly mean more people being sent to prison and I confess I am a little puzzled by this; the government wants tougher sentences because of the high re-conviction rate for released prisoners and it seems rather odd that in these circumstances there should be plans to imprison more people.
We can all remember Mr. Blair’s fine speech when he declared his intention of being “tough on the causes of crime” – meaning a crack down on problems like poverty in families, which is a standing incentive to people to take what they see as the short cut of crime to alleviate the pressures they are under. As part of this crackdown the government set up the Sure Start scheme, heralded by Mr. Blair as “…an idea (that) would lift all the boats on a rising tide”. But now he has had to admit that It has not worked like that; he now says that “…Their problems are so multiple…these families then end up having five or six organisations dealing with them, but no one is actually dealing with them. If we are to change that we need a different way for government to operate”. (Of course he did not really mean that last bit – governments “operate” as needed by this social system, with its poverty and doomed schemes like Sure Start).
An example of this was the collapse of the company Farepak. Now I don’t need to have anything to do with Farepak because it was a firm which promised to help people with very little money to save up, a little at a time, for Christmas so that they could afford the turkey and the drink and food and the presents for the kids. It is not clear how many people were impressed by this idea; one estimate is that about 150,000 families were involved – another estimate is that their “savings” amounted to about £41 million. And all this was in the expectation that come Christmas they would get a nice hamper or some high street vouchers. Except that, like Sure Start, it did not work like that because Farepak’s parent company – European Home Retail (EHR) – was in trouble over their overdraft with Halifax Bank of Scotland. When it turned out that EHR was using the savers’ money to pay off their bank loan Farepak collapsed, leaving those hopeful families facing a very bleak Christmas. HBOS blamed EHR for failing to have a “viable solution” to Farepak’s problems. The chairman of EHR, Clive Thompson, retaliated that Farepak had been “hung out to dry” by the bank.
But the sprit of Christmas, which I am recommending to you today as the way out of the world’s problems, is not entirely dead. Clive Thompson unburdened himself on BBC Radio, saying “I feel very deeply for all those people who have been hurt by the collapse, in particular those who saved for Christmas – which has been ruined”. These charitable words were offered by someone who is a past president of the Confederation of British Industry and who has sat on the boards of six FTSE companies. Not to be outdone, the managing director of Farepak, Gilodi-Johnson weighed in: “I am really gutted that everybody has lost out like this”. Well yes.
So there it is, this Christmas 2006. While one class in society enjoys a securely affluent life style the other endures the kind of poverty which sometimes requires them to put together scraps of money in order to survive a paltry holiday. Huge corporations make massive profits from war and the ensuing social strife. All of this at a time when we are told that this is a season of peace and goodwill. It suits me and the class I represent, to believe that. But you?
Merry Christmas. Suckers.