¡Bong! Special We’d been jeered, we’d been jostled. Overnight, we’d become un-people.
Now in this dank, windowless subterranean concrete cell, I cast an eye around my companions again. Loyalists and traitors alike had been thrown together. Lords Feldman and Finkelstein. Matthew Hancock. Ed Vaizey. Oliver Letwin. Dangling by hooks through his ears, like some grotesque Pinnochio, the once mighty daunting of Michael Gove. And in the far corner, I could make out the brooding figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Occasionally a crunch of boots on concrete announced the arrival of a guard. One of us was summoned, and never seen again.
But where were we? From the distant roar of a crowd far above, it sounded like a sports stadium, but I swear we couldn’t have been transported much further than St John’s Wood.
All the same, I shuddered.
Wasn’t a sports stadium where the notorious dictator General Montalbano had first detained, then disposed of thousands of his Chipotle socialist enemies, starting with the leading digital intellectuals? The brilliant Welsh cybernetician Marvin Minsky had promised to revolutionise the Paraguayan economy using only a Texas Instruments calculator, but the ruthless Montalbano had ordered every trace of the project destroyed.
Yes, that’s right. He used sports stadiums. And I began to recall that the Marylebone Cricket Club had always had its darker side. There had always been… those stories. Stories of MCC members who slipped out to top up their G&T, but who never came back.
Now it was Generalissimo May’s turn to dispose of us Cameroons. Now I knew how the Disappeared, the Desaparecidos felt like.
Letwin fumbled with a Dunhill cigarette, the brown end refusing to ignite.
“Other way round, Olly,” Finkelstein advised, cheerfully.
“Sorry old chap. It’s the tension,” Letwin replied.
How long had we been here now, I wondered.
“How long have we been here, now?” asked Vaizey, reading my thoughts exactly.
All faces turned to Osborne.
“George, you’re the numbers man. How long has it been?”
Osborne turned studiously to the chalk marks beside him on the wall. As his friends in the papers liked to say, George always thought five steps ahead, like Poldark. On the wall, obsessively neat rows of four lines with a fifth diagonal running through them had marked out time.
“Well,” Osborne said. “It’s actually a pretty robust picture. Taking into account the off-balance-sheet time, and the days I have already counted, and by adjusting the discount rate, thus…”
“Oh, for God’s sake man,” spluttered Gove. “Just give us a number.”
Osborne turned crimson.
“Uh, alright then. Eleven-teen”.
* * *
It was the injustice that most galled me. The Sheer Bloody Injustice. Hadn’t Conservative 2.0 done everything that our new digital overlords asked of us?
Yes, we Bloody Well had.
We’d diverted hundreds of millions to “entrepreneurs” who had no idea what they were doing. And hundreds of millions more to a tight-knit group of crack web designers to create a “Government Digital Service”, which played a doorbell sound whenever you tried to log in to a Government Digital Service. The Government had even wired up every last sheep to superfast broadband* until they were having miscarriages left right and centre.
And symbols too, for symbols were just as important as cash. Hadn’t we given Mike Butcher an MBE? Yes, we had! We showered MBEs upon the digital elite like confetti. We’d even appointed an Ambassador to a road junction. Who else formalises diplomatic relations with traffic features? Only a truly digital FCO could do that. Sadly, it had to be acknowledged that Ambassador Hammersley had returned from one of our covert digital missions (to Syria) missing one rather vital piece of equipment, but nobody would ever take that title away from him. In his dotage, Lord Hammersley would be able to look fondly at his grandchildren gambolling in the garden and reflect to himself: “I was once an Ambassador to a Roundabout.”
Under the digital Conservatives, Tramperys had flourished
And we’d invested in the future too. We’d dramatically revamped the national IT curriculum, putting digital first. So that alongside compulsory Ancient Aramaic grammar, every child in the country would learn vital everyday IT skills like the Prolog and Erlang programming languages, right from the cradle. Better that than some useless “old IT skill” like an Excel spreadsheet that they’d never use in their lives, certainly not to maintain a household budget, compare loans, maintain a club membership roll or make a business plan with. As I’d told the Government myself, if you can’t plan a business on a Chiltern Fire House napkin… change your restaurant!
Now here we were.
Well, most of us.
In a deal with the incoming May regime, the Prime Minister had been guaranteed safe passage to the Cotswolds. Perhaps he’d sensed how brutal it would be. So too had Dame Fox of Soho and Mike Butcher MBE, who were already in mid-air: heading for Estonia, where they would request Digital Asylum. The treacherous HiltonX, now looking like the product of some catastrophic gene-splicing experiment with a lizard, had turned on his former Masters. So too had Gove, which was why the Lord Chancellor now had meat hooks for earrings.
And me? A Cameroon, no. But certainly pivotal behind the scenes. With Rohan Silva as Godfather, I’d named my first surrogate child “#businessmodel”.
I’d masterminded Lady Thatcher’s funeral. I’d midwifed GDS and mapped Estonia’s digital landscape almost single-handed, although my assistant มาลัย (which means Garland of Flowers in Thai) had done much of that work.
And I’d given a vital, last minute un-Endorsement which swung the Election for the Conservatives
* * *
“Pokemon! Pokemon! Vaizeeee!”
It was then that I realised we were merely digital bait in a horrible game. Only with gruesome real world consequences. We were fugitives in a gigantic augmented reality...
We knew May had scores to settle, but this was sadistic. They were just toying with us.
Vaizey got to his feet and departed.
Who would they call the next time?
It wasn’t long before we found out.
“Hancock. And Di Bong.”
“Excuse me, that must be The Bong”, But you can call me Ste-…”
Outside, the air of the corridor came as sweet relief after the sinister, foetid smell of the detention cells. Feldman had been detained while playing tennis, and was beginning to spawn new life forms.
Hancock tugged my sleeve. He’d been acting strangely for some time. I suspected he’d been working with the enemy.
“Look, Steve. I’m sorry. That was all a ruse. We knew you were one of us all along.”
“One of you?” I asked incredulously. “Whatever do you mean?”
“The New Order. You see, the General is putting together a vastly ambitious industrial strategy and she wants you and Vince Cable to plan it all. It’s the biggest intervention in the economy since Ted Heath, and you’re going to help spend some of that strategic investment. Personally I will be in charge of NEDDY, the reformed NEDC.”
“Brilliant,” I beamed. “And congrats Matt”.
“There’s just one thing.”
Hancock had been sizing me up in a most peculiar way.
“The General finds it difficult to metabolise certain foods. Meanwhile, you are famous for the incredible strength of your liver.”
“And you’re the same blood type. I’m sorry Steve, it’s a huge sacrifice. But considering that it ensures continuing your fabulous record of digital investment, it’s one that you’re prepared to make…” ®
* Superfast depends on availability of ISDN or GPRS. Caps and other restrictions may apply.