by Gerald Heys
Fred Makepeace had broken a convention. Going straight to Downing Street from party HQ instead of to the Palace was simply not done.
At number ten he bumped into retiring Cabinet Secretary Sir Aubrey de Jute and the old boy gave him the basilisk eye. So Fred smiled the winning smile, the thumping-majority smile, and told Sir Aubrey he knew the protocol: he wasn’t PM until he’d ‘kissed hands’ with Her Majesty, right?
Maybe Sir Aubrey suspected he needed to steel himself first. Mind you, if pages fourteen to seventeen of your pledge to the British people proposed the abolition of the monarchy, then you probably did.
Sitting opposite Her Majesty now, tea in hand, Fred saw Real Labour’s manifesto on the coffee table, open at page sixteen – the now defunct Swedish royal family on their bikes.
King Olaf, he reckoned, looked a lot like his granddad, a renowned trade union militant who hated negotiating with management: ‘Never get too close to your enemy because …’ Now, what were his exact words?
‘How is your tea, Mr Makepeace?’
‘Tetley’s. A favourite of yours, I understand.’
‘Why, yes, Ma’am.’
‘You have the reputation of being a man who eschews frivolity.’
‘I’ve been called ascetic, Ma’am. And worse.’
‘Like Cromwell?’ His face must have betrayed him, because he saw her smile faintly and say, ‘Comparisons with figures of the past can be irksome. Don’t you think?’
‘Indeed, Ma’am.’ Elizabeth III had the reputation of being just like numbers I and II: a safe pair of hands and as tough as old boots. Not that she looked like an old boot – far from it. Lustrous black hair and those violet eyes.
‘Mr Makepeace, this may not be the time, but I am as you may imagine somewhat curious about aspects of your programme.’
Here we go. ‘Indeed, Ma’am?’
‘I have to make a speech to both houses shortly in which I may have to announce the abolition of myself. This has caused me a degree of – how shall I put it? – contemplation.’
‘We propose a referendum, Ma’am. That’s all.’
‘Let the people decide.’ A frown and a pause. ‘Your economic policies are interesting. They have a look of the past about them. Nationalisation of the banks … Virtual abolition of the stock exchange … I expect they’ve made you unpopular in some quarters.’
‘My maxim has always been to never let your feelings get in the way of what is right.’
‘Admirable. And what of the millennium celebration?’
No bloody way. He had to put his foot down. Having a party to celebrate a thousand years of William of Normandy’s progeny was out of the question. ‘I’m afraid it may be cancelled, Ma’am.’
She nodded, thoughtful. ‘I understand completely. Tighten our belts, yes? But if you propose to get rid of me, it would be nice to have a little party beforehand. Say goodbye. A thousand years of anything surely shouldn’t go unnoticed, unmarked …’ A very nice smile. Like a TV presenter, but warm, sincere.
He sighed inwardly. ‘I’ll give it some thought, Ma’am.’
She lifted the teapot. Another cup? Why not. It was rather nice.
As she poured, his grandfather’s words came tumbling back: ‘Never get too close to your enemy, if you can help it … You might find you like the bugger.’
‘Another Viennese finger, Mr Makepeace?’
Happy New Year from The Pygmy Giant!