Master Class with Gordon and Jacob.

(The scene is the top floor of nos. 10-11 Downing St, now converted into the office of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is an immense space, chill and gloomy as the former Chancellor himself, floored with tiles of artificial Carrera marble. The ceiling bears an unfinished fresco depicting the victories of NuLabour in Pristina, Kabul and Basra, with space left to depict victory over the Enemy Within. In a corner of the otherwise unfurnished space is Gordon Brown’s titanic desk made of cheap tropical hardwood, cluttered with bric-a-brac and gobbledygook. On the wall behind the desk is a gigantic gilded emblem of NuLabour’s symbol, a fat bundle of straw — symbolising the straw men mobilised to justify their policies — wrapped around the handle of a mighty sink plunger symbolising the need to clear away obstructions in the pipe of progress such as dole scroungers, asylum seekers and Islamofascists of every stripe. Below the emblem is a full-length mirror. Brown himself sits at the desk on Kaiser Wilhelm’s old saddle-chair, wearing the uniform of Her Majesty’s Death-to-other-people’s-Head Hussars, but has wearily flung aside the cast-polystyrene pickelhaube. His head is with difficulty fitted into his hands.The door opens, revealing the specially tiny padded-walled lift which the previous occupant of this room inhabited for the last months of his career in Downing Street. Emerging from the lift is Dr. Jacob Zuma, President-for-life of the ANC and Father of his People, or at least of a spectacular number of them one way or another. He wears a cheap knock-off of a black Armani suit and golfing shoes, on which, perceiving the polished nature of the marble, he ecstatically slides until he fetches up with a crash against Brown’s desk, knocking Brown’s semen-encrusted inflatable Ayn Rand doll flying.

ZUMA (cheerily): Molo, uMnumzana.

BROWN (wearily): Away with ye, man. I am developing policies and must not be disturbed, lest the very fabric of our beloved nation-state be unravelled by those who would seek to undermine and deride us. Wait a minute — this isn’t the Zambibwe meeting, is it?

ZUMA: I suppose so. At least, that’s what Kgalema said it was.

BROWN: Who? Never mind. Sit down. Oh, sorry, there’s no chair. Military Intelligence say furniture is a key security threat, you see.

ZUMA: I am so happy to be here! I am prepared to stand forever in the presence of my Lord! (Rests an ample buttock on the corner of the desk, which, being British-built, creaks alarmingly.)

BROWN: Attaboy. (He fumbles on the desk till he discovers a large pair of cheap sunglasses, which he dons and his face at once becomes an immobile, beaming mask, and reads from a sheet of fax.) Orright, Morg baby, here’s the score. Don’s crowd want the power plants — they’re willing to pay every one of you a hundred. Larry and them want the railways — they’re offering seventy-five. Stephen says he can take the Beitbridge and Bulawayo roads — you have to build the toll plazas and you get ten for that. BAe want a look at your Chinese fighters, apparently in case there’s any stuff the Yanks haven’t given our boffins. And British Airways want Zimbabwe Airways out of operation in a month or you all get your legs broken. Kapish?

ZUMA: I think you have the wrong man, boss. (Idly, he examines a golden pen lying on the desk, and pockets it.)

BROWN: You’re not Morgan Change-the-Guy? (Takes off sunglasses, peers.) No, you’re not. Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?

ZUMA: The name is Jacob. Jacob and sons. And Baas amaMilibandi said I could come in.

BROWN: Oh, God, I forgot. You’re our man in South Africa. (Long pause.) So, um, how are things at home?

ZUMA: Very fine. (Long pause.)

BROWN: Um, did you have a nice trip?

ZUMA: Very nice. (Long pause.)

BROWN: Look, could you please go and sit somewhere else until this is all over?

ZUMA: All right, master. Baas amaMilibandi gave me my statement to read on the steps. I go to memorise it. (He skates away across the floor and, as he skates in circles, begins to read in a dreamy but loud voice.) “The appalling, atrocious humani — tarian crisis . . . The horrendous, horrific totali — tarian dicta — torship. . . The grotesque, gross vio — lation of basic human rights . . . The inept, incoherent mis — management of a once productive economy . . . The cowardly, corrupt refusal of the broader community to take manda — tory action . . . ”

BROWN (bursting to his feet): Stop it! Stop it, you — you tinpot Third World bully-boy! I won’t have you criticising Her Majesty’s government in those offensive terms! We have laws in this country, you know!

ZUMA: Sorry, boss. Just reading my speech.

BROWN (falling back): Of course. Of course. I’m — sensitive today. (His head falls on the desk with an echoing sound. Zuma skates closer.) You would not believe what I have to put up with! Denigration! Disinformation! Downright lies! Smear campaigns! God, it’s awful! And if we didn’t control all the newspapers and the BBC, some of these things might even get out into the public eye, and Heaven knows what would happen to my personal popularity index!

ZUMA: Is that good?

BROWN: Absolutely fabulous. Holding steady at eighteen percent approval. As the New Statesman will point out next week, that makes me the most popular Prime Minister named Gordon Brown since records started being kept. No mean feat, you know.

ZUMA: Ninety-eight percent of South Africans want me to be President of South Africa now. One hundred and one percent do not want me to go on trial. e-TV proved this with computers —

BROWN: I don’t want to hear any more bad news! Especially I don’t want to hear any sentence with the word “trial” in it! (A Dalek rolls out of the lift bearing a tray with two tumblers, one glass containing 25-year-old Laphroaig, one plastic containing Yakisuki Caramel-and-Ethanol Imperial Salute. Owing to a programming error it rolls up to Zuma, who takes the Laphroaig. Brown swills back the Yakisuki at a single gulp, chokes, drops the glass.)

ZUMA: Are we finished yet?

BROWN: No! No! I have not yet begun to fight! Northern is the Rock on which I shall build my church, and if I must spend every pound in every working-class pocket in Britain, I will defend the rights of bankers! Why, the City is founded upon the unassailable strength of the pound, and if it were to tremble, what would happen? We’d end up having to spend filthy foreign money covered in silly pictures of people who can’t even speak English! Only a step from there and the gypsies and the pickaninnies would be dancing around my front door pushing excrement through the letterbox! That cannot be tolerated! Sooner than that, I would have to increase the term of detention without trial again! In fact, I might just do that anyway, on principle!

ZUMA: I meant, are we finished talking yet?

BROWN: Well, frankly, I hope so. I’m tired listening to you rabbiting on endlessly about your problems and troubles, your horrible diseases and your poverty and your homelessness and your overpopulation — don’t you people in the Third World ever think to wear condoms? (Zuma blushes invisibly.) It’s about bloody time you started thinking about others instead of yourselves. What about us in Britain? Do you have any idea how much trouble people like me have getting home through the traffic on the average afternoon, in constant danger of having the chauffeur say something impolite? How I long for the day when we will have executive jump-jet pads on every major building in the Square Mile! But what do you know or care about that, you who lounge in your huts in the sun swilling corn beer! What do you know about stress, about high blood pressure, about the gruelling struggle against global terrorism which I must fight night and day without rest or pause or privilege!

ZUMA: I am so sorry.

BROWN: Speaking of which, does your country want any arms? There’s be something in it for you, if you do. And you never know when you won’t need a Challenger tank or a Warrior troop carrier or an Interrogator mobile torture chamber.

ZUMA: That would be nice. Cash only, please. I have had trouble with bank drafts.

BROWN (cheering up): Of course! Always a pleasure to help. Between ourselves, we are going to sell all three things to Zambibwe when everything’s sorted out there, so if I were you, I’d start buying early, before they come over the border and start stealing your women.

ZUMA: We are in agreement. Just like in the press statement. (He looks over Brown’s desk, but he has already stuffed almost everything portable and shiny into the bulging inner pockets of his ill-fitting jacket.)

BROWN: Then bugger off. I need to be alone with my thoughts. They need a lot of room, believe me. (Zuma skates to the door of the padded lift, which opens; a Dalek comes out carrying a tray of caviar and cucumber sandwiches, which Zuma appropriates, stuffing two into his mouth as he steps into the lift. The bewildered Dalek begins to roll about in circles, emitting a hum of overload. Brown meanwhile stands up, slips his right hand into his coat at the third button, thumb on the outside, and glares at himself in the mirror.) Alone again. Always alone. We statesmen have a high and lonely destiny. But, praise be, I have resolved the hideous human rights crisis of Southern Africa. If George doesn’t mind, that is. Thank God for British ingenuity.

(The Dalek explodes.)


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