A Christmas Carol (retold)
Barely Blairley, quite Contrary, breaks the Telly.
Gordongeezer Scrooge had long forgotten his old business partner, Tony Blairley, who might as well have been dead as a doornail along with his rampant optimism and prophecy that “Things Can Only Get Better”. Scrooge was Blairley’s sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole heir, his sole friend, sole mourner, soul mate and our sole. Scrooge was, in addition, a squeezing, tax-wrenching, money-grasping, barrel-scraping, straw-clutching, covetous, gloomy old misanthrope. He was hard and sharp as flint, taciturn, unrepentant, and solitary as a bloated slug, with similar charisma.
No passing beggars, impoverished by Scrooge’s ruthless demands for immediate repayment of some bureaucratically-manufactured tax credit debt, dared implore Scrooge to write off so much as a farthing lest his grasping hand or bludgeoning fist shot out to steal more from their withered purses. No children dared glance upon his morose countenance lest he plunder their parents’ coffers and turn the residual coins from their pockets into dust. Even dogs slunk into doorways fearful of the evil eye of their dark master.
Yet one intrepid woman stepped momentarily into Scrooge’s gaze.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," ventured Paula Dean, leader of the Tax Credit Casualties, "it is more than usually desirable that, alongside your generosity to bankers, tax exiles and moat-owning politicians, your New Labour Party should make some modest provision for the Poor, innocently indebted and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries, some even suicidal and homeless, your Revenue having plundered all they ever had, under the guise of recovering your misbegotten, maladministered tax credits which, incidentally, you really should have written off."
"Poppycock! Humbug!” retorted Scrooge. “Cannot these paupers flaunt their poverty elsewhere? Are there no Salvation Army soup kitchens?"
"Plenty of soup kitchens," said Paula.
"And park benches?" demanded Scrooge. "Are there not numerous discarded extra large cardboard boxes to be found?"
"There are. Still," returned Paula, "I wish I could say there were not. All occupied."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop these peasants from following their usual course," said Gordongeezer Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
With that, Gordongeezer retreated into his usual bungling occupation of scrawling sycophantic letters to X-factor hopefuls offering heartfelt condolences for their having laid down their lives for Wham and Country, and to young soldiers’ mothers expressing regret at their early elimination from the show in Queen week, when really (he opined) it should have been Jedward.
Gordongeezer was interrupted mid-eulogy by the haunted face of Blairley, newly perished from all hope of European Presidency, bursting forth like flames from his own illegal war, and shattering his reverie.
The same face: the very same. Blairley, with his boyish, laughing face, ears jauntily jutting from his head, neatly coiffeured (if receding) hair, skin lightly perma-tanned from his jet-setting and yacht-basking, impishly sporting a new blue suit, crisp white shirt, and grey tie which matched his greying hair. His body, like his political legacy, was transparent; so that Scrooge could see, through his shirt, the residual blue glow from his suddenly-dimmed, statically-silenced TV bursting through, like a portent of the Bright Blue future which most of the desperate populace was eagerly longing for.
Scrooge had often heard it said that Blairley had been Bush’s puppet and lacked guts, but he had never believed it as strongly as now. As Scrooge felt the chilling influence of Blairley’s steely eyes and soulless countenance, he fell upon his knees, clasping his hands in front of his face.
"Dreadful apparition!” he wailed “Why do you trouble me?"
“I cannot rest, I cannot stay. No rest, no peace, but incessant torture of remorse! Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages of incessant Labour must pass into eternity before things can, indeed, ever Get Better. Mortal life consumed – and life’s opportunity misused! ‘Tough On Crime And The Causes Of Crime’ was to have rid these streets forever of corruption, vice and violence, not merely to have cleansed our nation’s wheelie-bins of the Wrong Kind Of Plastic! Hopeless am I! Were there no poor homes to which the dying light of Socialism could have guided me? Oh what a wretch was I! “
His once joyous countenance crumpled into misery and repentance.
“Hear me”, spluttered the remorseful Ghost. "My time is nearly gone. You will be haunted by Three Spirits."
What a Blast! Can Joy last? The Ghost of Christmas Past
Brandy, whisky, rum? Nay, the first Spirit foretold by Blairley appeared as neither child nor man, but a broken figure, now with a single leg, now with a dozen arms – an ever-changing form with dissolving parts, reminding Scrooge of his own capriciousness and guilty indulgences in the political, if sometimes expedient, U-turn.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. Your Past”, announced the dreadful Ghoul. Gordongeezer had scarcely registered these words when he was led, in the Spirit’s wake, through city streets full of adolescent boys and girls in surprisingly high spirits, and streets full of merry music, played exceedingly loud.
“Behold”, cried the Ghost “Another idol is already displacing this Christmas cheer. Let’s see if the Red Rose you bore smells sweet and gives comfort and give hope to the poor, or if it pricks the fingers and spills the lifeblood of those who grasp its stem!"
Gordongeezer watched a flurry of images suspended in the air like holograms. 1997. A New Labour landslide general election victory has just ended Labour’s 18 years in the electoral wilderness. Blairley swaggers into office with bulging coffers of gold, an invincible majority, and a crumbling, lackluster opposition. A sense of baited-breath expectation enervates the country, awaiting fulfillment of the pre-election promise that Blairley and Scrooge will work miracles. A “new economy” is going to fill the pockets of the poor as well as the beloved super-rich. A manifesto pledge to “tackle the unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour and crime on our streets” resounds like a battle cry. Things, Blairley avers, Can Only Get Better. His new government freezes benefits paid to single parents, and spawns the mighty working families tax credit. It is “money with your name on it” for struggling families and the hardworking poor. No –one questions this; it is clearly a gift, not a loan-shark’s grubby “now you see it, now you don’t” vested-interest, sting-in-the-tail, empty offering.
All the while Gordongeezer Scrooge recalled these idle promises, noting how each of the nobler aspirations he and Blairley had once cherished had perished one by one.
“The even-handed world is hard on poverty, and condemns the pursuit of wealth”, Scrooge mumbled. “Bah! Humbug!”
Barely had the Ghost of Christmas Past abandoned the hapless Scrooge when he saw, propped upon his own Prime Ministerial couch, a jolly Giant, replete from feasting on traditional Christmas fare, crumbs embedded in his mouth corners, smacking his gorged lips. The Ghost of Christmas Present nonchalantly spreadeagled before him.
“- - - - the Peasants!” Inside Our Streets and Crescents. The Ghost of Christmas Present.
Suddenly swept along by the Giant into family homes, Scrooge first beheld Corporal Kim, a veteran of Afghanistan in his early twenties, crutches in hand, courageously stepping out on his first set of prosthetic legs. Surprised by enemy fire, with not enough night-vision glasses to go around, and unable to see his adversaries until too late, he had nearly bled to death, for economy’s sake. Scrooge told himself that he looked strong and hearty; he would live. What of the other Corporal Kims, crouching over unexploded mines, wired into hospital drips, drains and syringe-drivers, and being “repatriated” to cities lined with mourning families? Gordongeezer pursed his lips, deep in uncomfortable thought.
Next Gordongeezer’s gaze fell upon Rob Snatchit, Revenue Debt Collector (Tax Credits). Regularly sent out by Scrooge to beat at doors and interrogate the bemused occupants as to when their overlord could expect to receive the full repayment of the £15,467.26 they had unwittingly been overpaid, Snatchit was just answering his wife:
“Of course I will drink his health! I am, after all, his public servant and would never call him odious, stingy, hard or unfeeling! Scrooge is no Ogre, but a misunderstood man. Tax credits are not, and never have been, money with anyone’s name on other than Gordongeezer’s, and never let anyone be heard to speak otherwise! See how he has nobly rescued the Bankers? Offered a generous Amnesty to millionaire tax exiles! Graciously forgiven our Right Honourable Members for their fictitious mortgage claims, home-flips, moat-cleaning and adult movie rentals! Protected the Public Purse by selling our gold reserves! And yet it is still said that the mere mention of his name casts a dark shadow on the Party!”
Such dedication! Yet with a kaleidoscope of images spinning before Scrooge, he saw enough snippets of contemporary human relationships and furtive activities to suddenly realise that the mantra “Tough On Crime And The Causes of Crime” actually meant very little to a society plagued with hate crime, intolerance and the spectre of poverty, degradation and hopelessness. Failure to uphold law and order, justly, had made Blairley, Scrooge et al a national joke. After a dozen or more years of general malaise and political betrayal this was clearly the worst country in the more economically developed world in which a child could grow up. Troops had been shunted into distant countries and tasked to kill in the name of peace. Soldiers had been left to die through chronic under-funding and shambolic leadership. Over 12 years of New Labour sleeze and abandonment of the communities they were meant to serve had alienated and depressed a nation. Scrooge’s government in particular was particularly hurt by an expenses scandal which incited public anger and despair, against a grim backdrop of recession, soaring unemployment, draconian tax credit clawback tactics and excessive taxation falling most heavily on the already-poor. The populace was choking, although not – like the Giant - on a seasonal diet of turkey and trimmings, but fed up to the back teeth of Scrooge’s gourmet feast of high taxes, wasteful spending, rising crime, curtailment of individual freedom, a punitive yet nannying state, corruption from the political classes, excessive regulation, and acts of war, all insincerely justified, shrink-wrapped, cherry-topped, marketed and given political spin by a complacent, condescending, hypocritical government.
Just as Scrooge felt things could get no worse, and indeed could Only Get Better, from the Giant Spirit’s ample robes burst forth two children, hideous, miserable, pitiful creatures with woe and wretchedness etched on their contorted faces.
“This boy is Ignorance, and the girl is Want. Beware of them both, but especially Ignorance, because he is the bringer of Doom, unless you intervene.”
“Is there no hope for these desperate creatures?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no soup kitchens? No park benches? No cardboard boxes?” taunted the Spirit, as the Bow Bells struck twelve.
Silenced by his own words, Scrooge bowed his head. When he lifted his gaze, the Giant had gone, and in his place stood a diminutive figure swathed entirely in black robes, with only an outstretched hand visible.
“Am I in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?” stuttered Scrooge.
No words were uttered, but images rushed before Scrooge’s wary eye.
Think of a Sum. Hearts are Numb. Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (ho hum).
Scrooge saw the future, and it was neither good, nor orange: a catastrophic meltdown of trust in politics. Sinister new political figures, first offering cheap populist initiatives, then spouting racist rhetoric, denouncing diversity, waving flags with saturated hues, gaudy to the eye and as lurid and stomach-lurching as coagulating blood. Dangerous, false patriotism. Intolerance. Hatred. Anger. Scapegoating. Bigotry. Shadowy, sheeplike, sleepwalking figures following mindlessly in their leaders’ wake, periodically stopping to genuflect and intone chants of bigotry and gratuitous aggression. New Labour had run out of steam, in the wake of globalisation’s new and cruel edge, and was intellectually exhausted, its few remaining members bickering half-heartedly in the wilderness. Its right-wing heirs were gleefully fashioning policies to cut back social provisions. The media was gleefully recounting stories of exaggerated immigrant crime, murderous, psychotic feral children, the Wonders of Eugenics, the poisonous influence on the young of non-traditional or single parent families, whipping up hysteria, inciting racial tension, and scapegoating innocent communities for the failings of the State.
“Ghost of the Future!" Scrooge cried, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.”
A dense fog swirled around him, suffocating him, and just as he thought he could hold his breath no longer, it suddenly dissipated, and he saw before him a lifeless, shrouded corpse.
“Socialism” a bystander’s voice casually pronounced. “Finally dead, ready to be buried and the dirt stamped down!”
The speaker was shabbily dressed, and probably poor. Why was she so matter-of-fact, Scrooge wondered?
"Time of death?" inquired another, nonchalently.
"Last night, I believe. Although it was coming a long time."
"It's likely to be a very cheap funeral," said the same speaker; "for upon my life I don't know of anybody to go to it. Who’s going to rule over us now? Suppose we make up a Party and volunteer?"
"Enough!” cried Scrooge, quite agonized by such apathy. “If there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this sorry creature’s death, show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!"
No sooner had Scrooge uttered his plea than he found himself standing, unnoticed like the invisible, alien visitor he was, over a kitchen table covered in several years worth of tax credit award notices, bank statements, unpaid bills, lists of itemized telephone calls, unopened brown envelopes, garbled, false and contradictory official explanations for errors, annotated all over in green handwriting, lurid red final demands, and, in its own separate, neat and sinister pile, a cluster of letters from his beloved Revenue demanding immediate payback of £7,592.66 overpaid working tax credit, Or Else. The topmost of these, threatening immediate court action, was the one over which a red-eyed woman was miserably slumped.
“But Gordongeezer has allowed overpaid Pension Credits to be written off,” an older woman, perhaps Red Eye’s mother, was gently whispering, arm draped around the younger woman’s heaving shoulders. “And once the lawyers laid into him, on behalf of that child poverty charity, he’s relented on overpaid benefits, as well! Scrooge might finally now relent, and write off all his tax credit overpayment mistakes, too! Nothing is past hope, if other such miracles have happened!"
"He is past relenting," muttered a man, perhaps Red Eye’s husband. "He is Dead. As is Socialism, for all the good it did us."
Thankful in her soul to hear it, Red Eye said so, with a slightly guilty catch in her voice that news of a man’s demise could ever cheer her.
"To whom will our debt be transferred?"
"I don't know. The Courts perhaps, although Scrooge has contrived it that they will hear no defence once the Revenue produces its own papers and lies. The bailiffs? We have precious little for them to seize. We will have a new leader soon, and it would be a bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with lighter hearts, Caroline!"
With some hope, finally, of tax credit justice, whoever had just died, Scrooge could clearly see that this was a warmer, happier house.
"Please let me see some tenderness connected with a death," Scrooge begged his shrouded companion, "I need to forget that bleak corpse, Spirit! That numbness of feeling in its presence. And those hearts which rejoice when they should weep. Let me see regret at a soul’s passing.”
Obligingly, the Spirit bore Scrooge to the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett. An empty scarlet ceremonial tunic of a Grenadier guardsman swayed from the post to which it had carefully been tied, drawing the eyes of a weeping crowd to its heart-rending significance. Church bells tolled, and thousands immediately fell silent, with only the quiet sobbing of a distraught woman heard.
Scrooge was almost glad when this unbearable image faded, and he found himself standing over a neglected grave bearing the familiar name: GORDONGEEZER SCROOGE. NEW LABOUR. R.I.P.
"Was I that man who lay upon the bed?" Scrooge cried, falling to his knees. “Did I bring about the death of hope? And then of my Party?”
The Spirit’s shriveled forefinger slowly pointed from the grave to Scrooge, and back again.
"Spirit!" Scrooge cried, clutching desperately at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!"
Through his shaking, imploring, outstretched hands, Scrooge watched as the Phantom's hood and dress shrunk, collapsed, and rematerialized into his own bedpost.
And there we must leave Scrooge, for this is a tale of our own times and in 2009, our present, as it stumbles into 2010, in the absence of any Ghost or Tardis, we must stay.
What will Gordongeezer do, as the last few days of this year, and months of his leadership, tick away? Will he imbibe a Dickensian Christmas Bowl of Smoking Bishop with a poor employee? Spread Christmas cheer to struggling families through titanic turkeys, or trimmed taxation? Write off non-fraudulent tax credit overpayments without further ado? Distribute resources more fairly? Consider that what war is good for may be absolutely nothing? Become as good a friend, as good a leader, and as good a man, as the good old world will ever know? Maybe. (Maybe not.)
The rest of this tale is for Scrooge himself to write. Will he go gentle into that good night? Or will the last Labour leader leaving turn off the low-energy light?
God (if we have one) bless Us, Every One! The End.
Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.