As Denis Healey’s chief of staff during Labour’s suicide-note election campaign of 1983, I attended many meetings of the party’s unwieldy campaign committee first thing in the morning. Chaired by Michael Foot, the committee spent much time debating such urgent topics as the size of lettering on stage sets, and exactly who should appear on platforms and press conferences.
As many others have narrated, a mysterious silent stranger regularly attended the committee. No one could identify him or whom he represented. Some suggested that he was a trade union delegate, others said that he was a stray pollster, and still others identified him as one of Michael Foot’s Special Branch officers. One cynic suggested that he was a debt-collector.
I can now reveal the truth. The mysterious stranger was a 30-year-old Vladimir Putin, then a mid-ranking officer of the KGB as it was still called in that Soviet era. Putin had persuaded his service that if placed within the Labour party machine he could influence the result of Britain’s General Election. Unfortunately, his account of Labour’s campaign committee was too far-fetched for his KGB bosses to believe, and Putin had a temporary setback to his career when they accused him of cheating on his expenses. It was not until years later that he discovered how to manipulate overseas elections from a distance.
At one point, the mysterious stranger broke his silence to murmur: “poddovki”. I discovered later that this is a Russian form of draughts in which the object is to lose all your men as quickly as possible.
Letters to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General about the government’s decision to shield Tony Blair from a private prosecution for his conduct over Iraq
Rt Hon Theresa May MP
10 Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister,
The media have reported today that the Attorney General has intervened to block a private prosecution of Tony Blair over the Iraq war. I am not going to comment on the legal points (as reported) behind this decision. I would like to invite you to consider its wider political significance.
As a front-rank politician for many years, you will have noted the general collapse of public trust in government and indeed, many of the major institutions in British life. A major reason behind this is the perception that leaders and senior managers never accept, and are never compelled to accept, responsibility for error and failure. Sadly, the public have seen widespread evidence of this, over the banking crisis, over terrible episodes in the NHS, over examples of massive waste of public funds, over a succession of child abuse scandals. Occasionally, some suitable figure (such as Fred Goodwin) will be scapegoated. But the great majority of those responsible will move serenely into other well-paid appointments or into cushioned retirements and (usually) collect honours for their distinguished service.
Joining the Iraq war and occupation was the worst decision in Britain’s postwar history. It brought our country no benefits, only debt, danger, dishonour and death. As you know well, it has had a baleful effect on British policymaking ever since, and made it harder to secure public acceptance of the need to resist any genuine threat to our country. The Iraq inquiry report, when finally published, was a stark and damning indictment of those responsible, particularly Tony Blair. But no one at all has suffered any penalty in consequence, least of all Tony Blair. After becoming the richest ex-Premier in history by exploiting the experience and contacts he gained as Prime Minister at the taxpayer’s expense, he continues to hawk himself round the world as a statesman and to offer his simpering guidance to the British people.
I will return to Tony Blair but I would like to ask you first whether any person in public service (home, legal, diplomatic, military, intelligence and security) has suffered any kind of penalty for making, or acquiescing in, a bad judgment over Iraq, or conversely, received any kind of reward for resisting such a judgment or offering a correct one. I think that you yourself would find it very instructive to secure an answer to this question.
One other small question: did any person criticized in the Chilcot report accept its intended criticism without demanding a right to respond under the so-called “Maxwellization” process? All credit to any such person, although I suspect the answer is “no.”
Apart from the action on which the Attorney General has intervened, a number of families who were victims of the Iraq war are seeking to make Blair answer charges of misconduct in public office. I hope that the government will allow such an action to go forward so that the families at least have their day in court. If the government does intervene on Tony Blair’s behalf (and he is a very rich person who can afford his own defence) it will reinforce the public perception that their leaders will always look after each other and will never accept for themselves the rules and standards they prescribe for other people.
I would be grateful if you could invite the Attorney General to consider the view that the Chilcot report offers evidence to justify a prosecution of Tony Blair for the common law offence of manslaughter. The current CPS guidance on manslaughter suggests that there are two separate grounds for such a prosecution:
1) Causing death in an unlawful enterprise (akin to causing death by arson) or
2) Causing death by gross negligence of persons to whom he had a duty of care, namely our forces in Iraq and, as head of government of an occupying power, Iraqi civilians. In this case, the Chilcot report would be used to indicate that Blair’s feckless failure to assess and anticipate the risks of the war and occupation fell below the standards of competence expected in his position.
In either case, such a prosecution would re-establish the vital principle that no one in high public office is beyond the reach of the law.
Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC
5-8 The Sanctuary
London SW1P 3JS
I enclose a copy of a letter which your officials may already have received from the Prime Minister’s office.
On the matter concerned, an official spokesman made a somewhat delphic statement that you often intervene in private cases to protect the public interest. I would be grateful if someone could amplify this statement and explain why you believe that it would not be in the public interest for Tony Blair to be brought to court over Iraq. There can be no higher public interest than demonstrating that people in public office are subject to the rule of law.
Of course one wants to ensure that the courts do not pass judgments on political decisions: that would usurp the role of Parliament. But that assumes that those decisions were lawful, that the decision-maker acted within his or her authority and that he or she met the general standards of competence, diligence and integrity which are expected of public office-holders. When there is doubt about any of these points, it is right for this to be tested in the courts. The Iraq inquiry report amply supports such doubt: as I suggest in my letter, it provides double grounds for charging Tony Blair with manslaughter.
Further letter to AG 19 May 2017
I wonder if your officials are now able to reply to the above letter, which is a month old. I have had no reply from the Prime Minister either.
I would be particularly grateful to understand why you consider it in the public interest to prevent a trial of Tony Blair for waging an aggressive war. It seems to me very much in the public interest to give the courts an opportunity to decide whether this is indeed an offence under domestic law. That is a matter which the new Parliament may wish to consider at the earliest opportunity. Or is it your view and the government’s that waging aggressive and therefore unlawful war should not be a domestic offence?
A trial of Tony Blair would also demonstrate powerfully that ministers in our country are subject to the rule of law and face the same standards of criminal responsibility as other citizens.
On this day (April 12) in 1945 Harry Truman became President of the United States, on the death of Franklin Roosevelt. He won a famous re-election victory in 1948 to serve another term in his own right.
Years later Truman was asked by his biographer, Merle Miller, to name his greatest mistake. Truman’s was an eventful Presidency. He could have cited dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, or allowing MacArthur to drift into war with China, or failing to check Joe McCarthy or a heap of other big issues, foreign and domestic. But Truman immediately replied: “My biggest mistake was appointing Tom Clark to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t just that he was crooked (which he was) but he was such a stupid son of a bitch.”
How many current politicians, worldwide, merit the same description?
I reach this point in every Screenplay. It arrived this morning in the Lahore Movie.
I have pared down the major characters.
I have wiped out all the colourful but cluttering minor characters.
I have murdered all the little darlings, those cutesy bits of dialogue or business that seemed irresistible on first creation.
The Screenplay’s first hour is now reduced to its essential elements of raw drama.
And it’s a complete turkey.
No actor would want to play any of these characters, even if offered big money. No one would pay money to watch them in a cinema. Opening night and closing night would be simultaneous. In Luke Upward’s memorable piece of theatre criticism (about himself): “One could have stored meat in the audience. Long before the end, the rattle of retracting seats was like gunfire. Even the portly and the infirm leapt over them like young ibex, in search of the exits.” The only audience left in any cinema at the end of my movie would be teenagers in the back rows, too busy “making out” to notice anything on the screen.
And there is no remedy. Not even the sudden entrance of Beppo the Wonder Dog could save this movie.
Now I have had this feeling about every screenplay I have written. Now so too have dozens of agents, directors, producers and actors. And many more serendipitous readers of the screenplays I have left in cricket grounds all around the world or abandoned in the drawers of desks later sold in the shops of exceptionally indigent charities. And perhaps all these people are right.
The Screenplay is a turkey.
Fulham lost last night.
Mandelson still lurks and smirks in our political system.
Woe, woe, woe, thrice woe!
Proposed amendment to Law 16 section 6
Last hour of match: number of overs
Add at end of first paragraph
“Before that over commences, the batting side captain may on notification to the umpires decline during the next session of play the extra delivery which would normally be awarded for a no-ball or a wide under Law 22 or in the circumstances described in Law 22 (3) (v). This option may be exercised only at that point or at the commencement of a new innings, and shall be irrevocable. When that option is exercised, all references to an over in Law 16 shall mean six deliveries inclusive of any wides or no-balls or any delivery on which penalty runs are awarded. However, in all other respects the Laws related to wides or no-balls or penalty runs shall apply.”
Insert in second paragraph after “scorers.”
“He shall also indicate to them any exercise by the batting captain of the option to decline any extra delivery under the foregoing paragraph.”
Explanatory note (Not part of the Laws)
The purpose of this proposed change in Law 16 is to remove a long-standing unintentional anomaly, which affects timed matches at any level of cricket.
The side batting last reaches the last hour of play. It has no hope of winning: the batsmen are trying to earn a draw. In those circumstances, the extra delivery for a wide or a no-ball is of no advantage to them. Quite the contrary, it means that they have to stay at the wicket longer when the light and possibly the pitch are getting worse. If six wides or no-balls are delivered during the last hour, the batting side effectively has to face a full extra over in deteriorating conditions. A wide or a no-ball is a bad ball and the fielding side should not derive any profit from it. The proposal also prevents them from gaining an extra delivery if their conduct has given away five penalty runs.
The option would be irrevocable – the batting captain could not suddenly change his mind and go for a win after all.
Published in Private Eye 1439
The otherwise excellent treatment in Literary Review (Eye 1438) of Harriet Harman’s simpering memoirs failed to mention their most astonishing allegation. She claims that as Solicitor-General during the run-up to the Iraq war she was barred from any papers or meetings about the legality of the war on orders from the Attorney-General, Lord (Peter) Goldsmith. She did not resist these orders, although it made nonsense of her responsibilities to the Crown and the House of Commons, nor make any independent effort to involve herself in Iraq issues.
The memoirs express no regret for her behaviour. Like her master, Tony Blair and so many others, she seems incapable of acknowledging error or failure over Iraq.
After two attempts in the 1950s Gerald Kaufman became a Labour MP in 1970. He has represented people in inner-city Manchester ever since. I suspect that he could retrieve the details of every constituency case he has handled, with the same facility as recalling the credits of movies and lyrics from musical comedy. Before entering Parliament he was a successful journalist and was part of the golden age of British satire on BBC Television’s That Was The Week That Was. He created the legendary sketch Silent Men of Westminster about the MPs who never spoke. Where are they now when we need them?
Then Labour got into government, and as Parliamentary Press Officer he became a target for satirists himself, a regular cast member of “Mrs Wilson’s Diary” in Private Eye. He was a minister for every day of the Labour government of 1974-79, first in Environment and then at Industry. From that experience, he wrote How To Be A Minister. It is still the essential manual on the subject, and it ought to be a set book for all politics students.
In opposition he was the regular first choice of Labour MPs for the Shadow Cabinet, despite (or perhaps because of) his description of Labour’s 1983 election manifesto as the “longest suicide note in history.” As Shadow Home Secretary he was tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, long before Tony Blair got the idea, or even Gordon Brown. As Shadow Foreign Secretary, he glided the Labour party away from unilateral disarmament.
In 1992 he abandoned the Front Bench to become Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Select Committees are typically cosy and forgettable. Not this one. It was once said of him as Chairman that he was never satisfied until some senior executive was reduced to sobs of contrition. In 1999 he also found time to chair the Booker Prize Committee. After reading all the books, he then studied the books of the BBC, whence his Select Committee held a long inquiry into its resources and future funding. He has been both a staunch defender of the BBC and a stern critic of its managers – and a frequent contributor both at home and to the World Service.
Gerald Kaufman has one of the most powerful minds in British politics – and he has never been afraid to speak it, most notably about Israel and its policies. An evening with him is certain to be contentious, revealing – and highly entertaining.
As Luke Upward’s patron, the amiable Marquis de Tarpaulin, became more and more devoted to his collection of old cars, his soirées became more and more over-run with old car bores who did not know a salon from a saloon. Upward found himself wasting some of his finest figures of speech on people who thought that adynaton was an old-fashioned type of generator. The Marquis realized that these people were a threat to his reputation as a literary patron, but he was too amiable to turn them away, especially if they came from his part of France. This was the perennially damp province of Lot-Pressure, where the Marquis had served several terms as Mayor of its chief municipality, Aix-en-Toste. When asked where he lived in France, the Marquis liked to shout “A Lot, a Lot!”, a joke which Upward found grating on its 845th repetition.
The Marquis was quick to welcome four visitors from Lot to a soirée where he proposed to unveil one of his most magnificent acquisitions. M Taupe was a short-sighted gentleman, curiously attired in a thick black velvet suit despite the stifling conditions. Upward was quickly irritated by M Campagnol, who was a minor poet. M Blaireau was grumpy and silent. But the youngest of the four, M de Crapaud, was transfixed by the Marquis’ collection. His already glaucous eyes glazed over at each motor car, and he made strange gurgling noises.
Finally the Marquis removed the family tarpaulin from his new acquisition. Even the normally indifferent Upward had a momentary intake of breath. It was a gorgeous 1930s Hispano-Suiza, which had once belonged to the French confidence trickster, Serge Stavisky. Under the direction of Ricky Rubato, the twelve specially tuned car horns within the previous collection sounded a fanfare to the new arrival, the theme for Alain Resnais’s elegant elegiac film Stavisky, composed by Stephen Sondheim (the one that goes Dah-ti-tum Dah-Dah-ti-tum-ti Dah-ti-tum-Dah-Dah).
M de Crapaud’s eyes now began to swivel. Several politicians present begged him to join their party, but he did not hear them. His strange noises merged into a continuous “Poupe-Poupe!” Before anyone could stop him, he flung himself into the driving seat of the idling Hispano, wrenched it into gear, and drove it out of the grounds. A few miles away, still saying “Poupe-Poupe!” he was extricated from the motor, which he had crashed into a ditch. It was still roadworthy, but its priceless flower-holder was beyond repair.
From the regular court, M de Crapaud received sentences of one year for removing the car, and another year for driving it without a licence. The court added 18 years for cheeking the police. He received a matching sentence from the special French Cours d’Élégance, which is responsible for policing the chic.
After this incident, the Marquis lost interest in his cars, and Upward resumed his rightful place as the chief ornament of his collection.
January Holiday misery as mild weather causes severe disruption to emergency arrangements for transport. Severe delays on roads caused by need to remove stockpiled salt and grit. Prime Minister’s New Year message is redacted to one word “New” on orders of Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, aka Sir Cover-Up, but full three-word version is accidentally exposed by aide to photographers in Downing Street on the back of some cake recipes. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt launches new bid to wipe out NHS deficit: 12 hospitals full of “bed-blocking” patients are emptied and converted into car parks. At inauguration, Donald Trump responds to criticism of conflict of interest by putting the United States into a blind trust run by members of family, leaving him free to concentrate on business and television career. In White House (renamed Trump Central) wife Melania announces first policy move by administration, a ban on all foreign fireplaces to fulfil his election pledge of making American grates again. Brexit threatened by further delay through court case brought by owner of historic house, Toad Hall. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson denounced for gaffe when he says that the world is bigger than the EU.
February Supreme Court rules that Brexit cannot happen before Parliament debates impact on rights of toads, and says that it will shortly consider related proceedings by a mole, a water-rat and a badger, to be represented separately by senior and junior counsel paid from public funds. Clown Peppe Grillo takes over Italian government. Withdraws Italy from EU, saying he cannot match comedy on offer from EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. Greece, Spain and Portugal follow suit. In France, historic Gaul party makes surprising reappearance and makes strong showing in Presidential election polls. Harper Beckham, age 5, releases debut music video, a “techno-garage-thrash” cover version of Shirley Temple’s Animal Crackers In My Soup. Stung by criticism of his soppy Christmas song, brother Cruz (11) releases follow-up – an edgy, self-parody number called Bank It Like Beckham. Brother Romeo (14) takes over mother’s fashion house. Brother Brooklyn (17) is nominated for Nobel Physics Prize after completing the Theory of Everything while learning to park his Mercedes. David and Victoria Beckham deny that they are pushy parents. “It’s all just a bit of fun for the kids.”
March Supreme Court rules that an otter may join proceedings on Brexit case, and says it will consider applications from a weasel, a ferret and a stoat, with counsel for each on standard overtime with contingent fees and refreshers. Trump administration announces plans to fulfil another campaign pledge. Instead of a wall on the Mexican frontier, Trump Corporation will build a casino stretching from California to Texas. The jackpot prize will be a green card to live and work in United States. In football, England stumble to a shock defeat against Iceland the supermarket. Gareth Southgate resigns, replaced as England supremo by Watford’s dynamic mascot, Harry Hornet. “He’ll create a real buzz around the England team,” says FA spokesman. Beckham children announce retirements, saying they are sick of incessant exposure and want to enjoy a normal childhood. Agents offer exclusive pictures to media of all four in normal childhood activities. Another gaffe by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson when he claims that Britain will always be ahead of the United States, by at least three hours. The criminal justice system seizes up when a driverless car is tried for speeding.
April Supreme Court admits all the rest of the cast of Wind In The Willows to anti-Brexit proceedings and considers further applications from two well-known bears, a lion, a witch, a big friendly giant and a visiting tiger at a tea party. More counsel appear, charging ullage, pillage and corkage. French Presidential elections won by Gaul party candidate, Monsieur Asterix. He and his Prime Minister, Monsieur Obelix, withdraw France from EU under impression that it is still the Roman Empire. Half of Belgium follows suit, as do Balkan nations and Cyprus, while Malta applies to rejoin the Knights of St John. Prime Minister Theresa May announces new Brexit negotiator – her childhood hero Geoffrey Boycott. He accepts an earldom and sets off for Brussels with her new strategy. Sir Jeremy Heywood orders this to be covered up immediately but an aide accidentally reveals her instructions to Boycott on what to say to any EU proposal: Yes, No or Wait. Sudden economic slump leads Chancellor Philip Hammond to beg Beckham children to end retirements.
May Earl Boycott expresses confidence in Brussels role. “This lot can’t play. My granny could score off them.” He takes guard and makes opening statement. Is still in at lunch interval. And at close of play. Supreme Court rejects application by Peter Pan to join the Brexit case. “Pan has never grown up and is therefore a minor. He is also a citizen of Neverland and has no rights within the EU.” Harry Hornet picks an all-mascot England team, with Pete and Alice Eagle (Crystal Palace) as flying wingers and Stamford the Lion (Chelsea) in central defence. Responding to plea to end retirements, the Beckham children take over the Treasury. Hammond is replaced by Harper (5) as Chancellor, with brothers as junior ministers. They forego official salaries so as to keep more valuable pocket money from parents. Harper revives economy overnight with another Shirley Temple cover, Come And Get Your Happiness. New plan for media regulation is delayed because Sir Jeremy Heywood orders a cover-up of the name of the Culture and Media Secretary. This creates further delay because nobody can remember the name they are supposed to cover up.
June Earl Boycott continues opening Brexit statement, featuring highlights of his early career. Baltic members leave EU to escape remainder. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney predicts total recession if UK proceeds with Brexit and is rebuked by Chancellor Harper Beckham with another Shirley Temple cover Oh My Goodness. Unemployment falls to lowest level since Boadicea, output soars and giant beanstalks spring up beside M25. Harry Hornet’s England team stumbles to shock defeat against IKEA, after Stamford the Lion is sent off for eating an opponent off the ball. Harry Hornet resigns and is replaced by Roy Race, veteran player-manager of Melchester Rovers. FA spokesman says “Roy has an amazing record for Melchester, and is more than ready to step up from the Cartoon League.” In USA, Trump administration soars to new popularity records when Donald is persuaded to return to Presidency and fire one Cabinet minister each week on network TV: this also becomes favourite viewing of Prime Minister Theresa May. Royal Navy becomes extinct when its last frigate capsizes under weight of visiting admirals, defence officials and consultants.
July Earl Boycott continues opening Brexit statement, with more career highlights. Nordic members leave EU. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says in a speech that “some foreign governments really aren’t terribly nice.” Number 10 briefs that this is one gaffe too many. He is fired by Theresa May in a Trump-style ceremony. Roy Race is criticized for his first selections as England football manager, all from his former team in Tiger comic apart from goalkeeper Billy the Fish. “He’s been outstanding for Viz,” comments Hornet (now a TV pundit) “but it’s a big step up from a two-inch goal to a full-size one. And the whole team is giving away a big height advantage.” Tony Blair gives televised press conference denying plans for a political comeback. As white-coated figures remove him to an undisclosed secluded location he murmurs “I’m ready for my close-up now.”
August Earl Boycott continues opening Brexit statement in Brussels, completing memories of career, but still no sign of a declaration. The other half of Belgium leaves EU. Prime Minister Theresa May announces surprise location of new London airport runway. It will go to “Boris Island” after all in the Thames Estuary, and she adds that Boris Johnson himself will be part of the concrete. The solar eclipse which creates eight minutes of darkness across the United States is blamed on Russian hackers. A giant poisonous jellyfish causes terror to bathers in the Mediterranean Sea, but is badly stung by Sir Phillip Green. The unknown Culture Secretary announces new system of media regulation. All journalists and other “content-providers” will be put on bail, which will be forfeit on the ruling of a tribunal of celebrity PRs.
September Earl Boycott continues opening Brexit statement in Brussels with career highlights of his granny. Poland leaves EU. New £10 note is withdrawn after discovery of traces of nuts. Prime Minister Theresa May is photographed relaxing at Number 10 in a mermaid blanket. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn denounces May for exploiting an endangered marine species and adds “Besides, mermaid blankets are so last year.” Trump runs out of Cabinet members to fire on television and reappoints his own family to run the United States. His son Barron (11) is made Defense Secretary. Trump defends choice: in computer war-game simulation, the boy had much the fastest finger on the button. British teenagers are humiliated by a survey showing that they drink and smoke less than their parents and take fewer recreational drugs and enjoy a hot milky drink at bedtime. Government restores their morale by banning Ovaltine as a class A substance.
October Earl Boycott finally declares. Nigel Farage visits October beer festival in Munich, where he easily outdrinks German politicians vying for popularity in their elections. He is declared surprise write-in election winner, as last man standing. First act of Reichskanzler Farage after thirtieth stein is to withdraw Germany from EU. This is swiftly followed by all remaining members apart from Luxembourg. Governor Mark Carney warns of disaster if UK loses access to Luxembourg, since so many British multinationals say they make all their profits there. Roy Race’s cartoon England team totters to shock defeat by Lidl. The replacement is motivational Spanish manager Pep Talk. He restores familiar players, but in a modern 3-4-3 formation with Wayne Rooney as a false number 10 playing in the hole behind the space. A mystery minister announces new system of media regulation: all content of all media to be supplied by the subject, without the intervention of journalists.
November Earl Boycott takes guard for a second innings. Luxembourg leaves EU. Theresa May hails his masterly Brexit strategy of boring the EU into extinction. Boycott becomes Duke of York in a re-constituted Royal Family in place of Prince Andrew, who takes command of a second-hand Royal yacht, purchased on eBay from Sir Philip Green. Chancellor Harper Beckham presents Autumn Statement with another Shirley Temple favourite On The Good Ship Lollipop. Economy instantly booms with lemonade stands everywhere and crackerjack bands filling the air, but Parliament is deserted because so many politicians are rehearsing for Strictly Come Dancing. Hot favourites are Liam Foxtrot and Peter Mandelson as a Twister. Tony Blair, in televised rehearsal with cousin Lionel, denies plans for a comeback. England team under manager Pep Talk struggle with his new formation and lose to Costcutter. He criticizes Wayne Rooney for playing in the space instead of the hole.
December Larry the Downing Street cat beats politicians and wins Strictly Come Dancing, although veteran partner Jerry the Mouse has to drop out and is replaced by Squeaker Bercow. While playing a war game on a screen in the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Barron Trump (11) accidentally launches a strike against the entire Russian air force. It is completely successful and Putin surrenders. Master Trump’s success produces demands for a more youthful British government and the Beckham children take over the country from Theresa May. “It’s all just a bit of fun for the kids,” say David and Victoria. Sir Jeremy Heywood is sacked as Cabinet Secretary: cover-ups are finished and all government information is released in full with accompanying videos by the young Beckhams. Resulting receipts eliminate Budget Deficit, even when their agents take their percentage.
Published in the Yorkshire Post 23 Dec 2011 (revised 23 December 2016)
Ebenezer Scrooge was a successful banker who survived early derision to earn recognition as a champion of sound finance and a pioneer of environmentally sustainable living.
Scrooge began his career in the warehouse business. Through exceptional economy (and by forsaking the prospect of marriage) he accumulated enough capital to establish, in partnership with Jacob Marley, a private bank in the City (Scrooge preferred the old term “counting house” even after it turned into a global business with thousands of branches). Marley died, but Scrooge continued to build the business, enduring much mockery and even hatred for his austere methods and personal lifestyle.
Seven years after Marley’s death, Scrooge endured a mental aberration, in which he imagined himself visited by ghosts (including Marley’s). Convinced of their reality, he turned against his existing life and values. He embarked on a frenzy of philanthropic activities and employed a young writer, Charles Dickens, to publicize them. He also turned over management of his bank to his clerk, Robert Cratchit, and his nephew, Fred Goodwill.
However, he was soon alarmed by their profligate policies, and at this point he also received a doctor’s opinion that the ghosts were a delusion induced by mouldy gruel. Scrooge instantly resumed his former life. He abandoned philanthropy and dismissed Dickens, and reassumed control of his bank. Cratchit (still an employee) was dismissed but Fred Goodwill was able to build a glittering career elsewhere in banking.
Scrooge endured renewed mockery and hatred, particularly from the disappointed Dickens. As a banker he was derided for his belief in cash in hand and good security for loans, and for keeping his bank’s head office in its original shabby premises, rather than in an iconic new building. He was attacked for denouncing minimum wage and health and safety legislation as organized theft.
But Scrooge’s business values were vindicated when his bank survived the great financial crash of 2008, with large reserves of cash. He had the satisfaction of taking over the bank run by his nephew (now Sir Fred Goodwill) and re-employing him as his clerk.
Scrooge also enjoyed a complete re-appraisal of his personal life. No longer derided for avarice, he was honoured for his environmentally-friendly lifestyle, especially his commitment to energy-saving. He even published a book of gruel recipes, which displaced Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver on the bestseller lists. It was enlivened by a confectionery chapter with several types of humbug. Scrooge was asked by successive governments to advise on welfare reform, and although disappointed by their refusal to restore the workhouse he secured adoption of many other measures against the workshy. In a rare jest, he wrote his own epitaph “Better Scrooge than scrounge.”
Sir Wilkins Micawber OM was a Nobel prizewinning economist, whose optimistic theories strongly influenced the formation of the euro. Troubled until middle age by profound economic insecurity, he emigrated to Australia with his family and prospered as a farmer and magistrate.
But Micawber hankered for English life, and having provided for his large family, he returned to London and his passion for economics. Entirely self-taught, he never held any formal academic appointment but was much in demand as a writer and lecturer. Micawber’s style contributed strongly to his success. No dry-as-dust conventional economist, he combined pleonastic prolixity, rhetorical redundancy and otiose orotundity with sudden insights.
Micawber’s early work focused on the benefits of balanced budgets, both for households and governments. An analysis of metal price movements earned him respect among experts in the copper field. However, his global reputation was secured by his pioneering theory of Favourable Eventuality Expectations. Micawber showed that the strength of belief in a benign economic outcome was a strong influence on its probability. Later he suggested that economic optimism made some favourable outcome a near-certainty, even one not originally envisaged by the forecaster. Micawber’s theories were especially popular in the financial sector during its boom years. Behind the scenes, he helped to plan the euro, for which he predicted a golden future. He received the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2007. The same year he was knighted and made OM.
His reputation suffered from the world financial crash and the travails of the eurozone, and he was widely blamed for fundamental flaws in the euro’s design. He stood by his theories and defended the European Project with his customary circumloquacity. But Micawber’s spirit was terminally crushed by the UK referendum vote to leave the EU. In his very last economic forecast, he predicted that “Nothing will ever turn up again. Indubitably.”
Estella Havisham overcame her own disappointment with matrimony, and the even more powerful example of her guardian’s, to build an international business as a wedding planner. She was a perfectionist, who supervised personally every detail of her clients’ arrangements. She achieved special success with her recipe for an imperishable wedding cake and her designs for non-flammable wedding dresses. Her business model was simple: to demand full payment before the wedding, knowing that it would be much harder to collect after the bride had been jilted or discovered that the groom was a serious mistake.