THE PLANKS OF SIR HUDIBRAS’ CAMPAIGN by EW Farnsworth
All had been quiet on Picklock Lane for almost a month as rain turned gradually to alternating rain and sunshine as the waters receded and the tentacle stories with them. Sam Straight visited the Cracked Bell pub daily for the scraps around which he could shape his mostly harmless fictions for the tabloids. Sheriff Fatty Millstone seemed to grow physically in proportion to his sterling reputation. The moon-faced giant was nursing what he called his perpetual pint while the newsman made his best effort to elicit anything he could use for tomorrow’s morning editions.
“Sheriff, things seem tranquil, but in my humble opinion, still waters run deep. I have the distinct impression we are sitting on top of stories that would shake the world if only they were told.”
“Mr. Straight, if you think I am going to contribute to your yellow press conspiracy theories, you are dead wrong. I, for one, love peace and quiet. I enjoy it while I can. Do not look so crest-fallen. I do agree things of great moment are in work, and they will change the world, but I will not tolerate my being credited as the source of rumours and innuendoes.”
Straight sat up in his chair and leaned forward to catch Fatty’s every word. “I never divulge my special sources. I will go to the grave with any secrets I elicit. Let’s talk on deep background only. May I record so I do not make any mistake?”
“Record as you like. I will speak parabolically only. You will have to fill in the blanks as your flesh out your monstrous lies.”
Straight laughed uneasily. “Lies? Surely you jest, Sheriff. Sometimes I embellish to draw out the hidden meanings. Then too, experience lends to the texture of life.”
Fatty sipped his brew and watched the reporter adjust his cell phone recorder. The man nodded the recording had begun. “You were saying the nation is fraught with silent cabals which might change everything.”
“I am sure you are aware a new political party is preparing to shake up the next election and a dark horse candidate will be running for PM.”
“Will you enlighten my readers about this turn of affairs?”
“I am not omniscient, Mr. Straight, but I have gleaned a few details about the new party’s planks, many of which evolved in this pub and even at this table. For example, the new definition of wealth.”
Now the newshound was fully alert. Wealth had been elusive for centuries, and few in politics had any intention of clarifying while they conspired to grab all they could on their way into and out of power. “Can you be specific? My readers are always ready to understand the mysteries of gain.”
“That is precisely the point. The new party is set to make the entire economy transparent. Every citizen will know exactly what every other citizen owns. There will be no more money laundering. Crimes will be solved by advanced software. The white-collar criminals will be discovered. Their ill-gotten gains will be seized forthwith, and they will spend a lot of time in gaol. What do you think of that?”
“You are right. That will change everything. Do you think the ‘powers that be’ will allow it?”
“I cannot fathom how, if the people caught wind of this movement, the powers, as you call them, can resist. Anyone talking against transparency will be an enemy of the state. The current PM would have a hard time not locking up naysayers and throwing away the key till the elections have run their course.”
The reporter shook his head, which was teeming with ideas for stories now. “How certain are you that this transparency issue will be a major plank of the new party?”
“As certain as I am about their views on equal rights for free roaming tentacles, limiting the rights of terrorists and reinforcing the public will by placing certain songs in protected status.”
Sam Straight screwed up his face. “Now I know why you think some of the new party’s ideas came from this pub and this table, particularly.”
“That is all you shall get from me today. I know you have deadlines. You had better hop to your writing. Your competitors are likely to come for their daily gruel too. You would not want to be scooped, would you?”
Fatty might as well have spoken to an empty chair. The tabloid writer almost bumped into Sir Hudibras, the MP, coming in the entrance for his daily informal conference at the back table.
“What ho! I see you have been stirring the snakes in the brain of our favourite tabloid writer, who was just leaving lost in thought.”
Fatty signalled the waitress to bring the notable a pint. “Sir Hudibras, the subject of wealth is a favourite among all classes of voters. The promise of transparency is an election winner. I am glad you have made wealth the epicentre of your new party’s campaign.”
As the MP sat, the waitress laid his pint on a new coaster. She shook her curls and said, “When you tip today, think of all your talk of wealth. I need to buy groceries tonight.”
Sir Hudibras nodded as if he had not heard the young woman. He was frowning at his pint. “I have been circulating the idea of transparency around the city and among my colleagues in Parliament. They are now abuzz with thoughts on how to define wealth. All agree that budgets must be supported by taxes. Lord knows, we have expenses. And we know in rough terms where the money is. The question is how to realign and redistribute wealth to pay for programs. My problem is the almost universal animadversion to transparency.”
“You have hit the spot, Sir! As long as the yardstick for wealth is not administered on the rich and powerful, transparency will be acceptable. As a clarion call for the masses, identifying how wealth is currently distributed might be the seed for revolution.”
“I need help sorting this conundrum. Dame Hudibras will be coming to our meeting today to help. She is firmly of the conviction women hold the keys to victory, and I am inclined to agree with her. They were right in regard to suffrage, after all.”
“Her Ladyship has arrived,” Fatty said rising to pull out a chair for the new arrival and signalling to the waitress, who hurried to bring the woman a pint. Sir Hudibras stood while his wife was seated, but she was already spring-loaded to clear her mind in public.
“Wealth. That must be our primary plank. With it, we will be able to pay for what the people need. Without it, we shall have only empty promises and endless contention about imponderables. Gentlemen, thank you! Is no one going to offer a civil toast?”
Sir Hudibras harrumphed and raised his glass. “To your health, Fine Lady!” They drank copiously. “Fatty was just saying how the tabloids will blazon our transparency plank tomorrow morning.”
Dame Hudibras flared her nose and was about to vent when the entire tribe of scribblers rushed into the pub and forced their way to the back where they surrounded the Sheriff’s table shouting questions like, “What’s this about a new political party?” and “Tell us about transparency in finances?” and “How are you going to deal with the filthy rich? And who are they anyway?”
Sir Hudibras looked at the sheriff with alarm. Fatty stood and calmed the throng by offering a round “on the house”! As the waitress bustled, Fatty said, “I expect you have all been talking with Sam Straight.”
“Who?” the sheriff said looking nonplussed. “It seems the secret is out. There will be no putting Humpty Dumpty together again. Sir Hudibras can give you the news you are looking for if you will all just settle down with your pints. Isn’t that so, Sir Hudibras?”
“This is highly irregular. I am wholly unprepared, but I agree to say a few words for the public. After all, transparency is the number one theme or plank for the new party.”
The news men stopped being unruly as drinks were served to all. Sir Hudibras jotted a few notes on the back of one of his business cards. “Sheriff, please let me know when everyone has been served.”
Fatty noticed Sir Hudibras had written five words on his card. Looking around, he saw the assemblage was ready to hear the gospel according to Sir Hudibras, MP. “Your people are ready for you to speak, Sir.”
Sir Hudibras rose looking like the impressive MP and future PM candidate that he was. “You are all probably wondering why I called you together here today. I know I was wondering that too.” The crowd laughed at the great man’s genuine confusion.
“All citizens are aware how money makes the world go around. We do not know how it works, but it does. What if, by the stroke of a pen, the entire financial process and every monetary transaction were to become visible—to everyone? Further, that a just and equitable system of taxation paid our bills and kept outrageous criminality at bay? A few among the MPs have decided it is now time to make a few bold changes to set things aright. Therefore, we are forming the Transparency Party with five planks to a platform to carry us to power at the next national election.”
The assemblage was stunned by this announcement. “That’s all right. You may consider what I have said at your leisure. All you have to do now is applaud.” Laughter was followed by boisterous applause.
“I wanted to make things so simple, our planks could fit on the back of my business card. You can wait to hear the fleshed-out version, but I am prepared to give you the outlines of the platform now. Would you like to wait—or have the short version now while your pint is still only half quaffed?”
The citizens said, “Now!” and “Huzza!” and “Get on with it!”
“Our first plank is transparency. Since Adam Smith, we have been told about the invisible hand of capitalism, but only recently have we had the tools to make the operations of the invisible hand visible.”
Sir Hudibras saw that he had the people’s total attention. “The second plank is equitability. All citizens should be accountable in justice. Think of what we have been through together in the modern age. Does it seem right that a terrorist should be allowed to sue a citizen who stopped an act of terror at the risk of his life? I know everyone appreciates the efforts of our sheriff to keep the peace. We must support him by ending the extension of rights to non-citizens who break our laws.”
The crowd now confidently applauded both to show their support of the sheriff and to feel their pride as citizens.
Now the MP was warming to his message. “Our third plank, levelling, is to make all citizens of this great country one indivisible force for the common wealth. Here we mean not to discriminate against the tentacles and hybrids of all forms. There shall be no more pogroms, no more witch hunts and no more covert attempts to harm or disadvantage our fellow citizens.
This idea had less general support than the former two. Fatty took note of the desultory applause, but no one derided the plank.
“The fourth plank concerns cashlessness, by which we mean the old form of exchange will disappear entirely in favour of a new one where every citizen will always carry with him or her the means to live and thrive. I am aware this seems a bit far-fetched, but few citizens are aware how much cash lies fallow in warehouses and vaults worldwide for nefarious purposes. At a certain date, those repositories must be surrendered or become worthless. Then we shall see how much of the global economy has been trammelled by crime.”
The citizens applauded the idea that crime would be eradicated, but some looked askance as they had not considered how this plank would work in practice.
“My fifth and final plank may seem less impacting than levelling or cashless transactions. It is the principle that all men and women are entitled to a living wage whether a job is available or not. We call this plank universal income. Why should people starve in the nation that pioneered modern capitalism? Why should families threaten to break apart when one spouse loses his or her job? Please show by your applause that you support these five ideas taken together.”
The assemblage clapped, more from their sense the speechifying was almost over.
“I see I have worn you out. Or is it you have finished your pint and want another?”
The people laughed. Near the bar, one man held up his empty pint glass and said, “I will have another, please!”
Sir Hudibras said, “Give that man another pint. The same goes for any other thirsty citizen. As for the press, I trust you have enough to write your stories. Today I will not bore you with details. You will hear more—plenty more—in the weeks and months ahead. Sheriff, please lead the choir with ‘God Save the Queen’!”
Fatty obliged. After he had finished, he sat down to drink the rest of his pint and order another.
Dame Hudibras said, “Husband, you were wonderful. I am so excited.”
Sir Hudibras harrumphed and observed, “Not everyone applauded everything, but, in balance, the ideas held together quite well. What do you think, Sheriff?”
“I think we must convene tomorrow at this time to review the tabloid views of your little speech. You have certainly thrown your hat in the ring as the leader of the Transparency Party and the party’s prime candidate for the Prime Minister-ship. We shall see whether the main-line press decides to follow your campaign. That, in turn, will indicate whether the interests controlling power and money will back the platform.”
Through the entrance came Sam Straight, who seemed distraught. “What is this I have heard of Sir Hudibras giving a major speech while I was off filing my story?”
The sheriff said, “Major speech? All he did was read from notes on the back of one of his business cards.”
Sir Hudibras handed the card so Sam could read the five points.
“Good grief! This is really major. It spells revolution. I am impressed. What do you plan to do next?”
“He plans to read tomorrow’s tabloids and take his cue from those,” Dame Hudibras proclaimed. “As you were unfortunately absent from the speech, perhaps you would like a pint to wet your whistle?”
Sam Straight never turned down a pint, so he drank while the Hudibras couple and the sheriff talked about the future cashless society. When he had absorbed as much as he could bear, the reporter said, “I know all about the cashless society. I never have enough cash and I am always running out.” They all laughed at the reporter’s naïve construction.
“Don’t get any evil ideas about stealing the coins the octopus has collected in his garden. I don’t want to arrest you for theft, but I shall if you steal. Nothing in the five planks of the Transparency Party changes the fundamentals for law and order here on Picklock Lane.”