By the time journalist Nat Eb reached Szabadság Square, a sizeable crowd had already gathered outside the parliament. Many held up banners, scrawled with “Down with HE”, or “Hedgehog Exemption is Wrong”, and even: “A Two-Dimensional Life is not a Life”. A group began chanting: “Repeal the Exemption, Repeal the Exemption”. The cry went up, and reverberated across the Square. The mood was anxious, tense. “That’s the FADESZ hard core,” thought Nat. Half a dozen police were standing a distance from the crowd watching them uncertainly.
Inside the parliament the speaker was doing her best to keep order: “Mr Regenkurt, member for Bivajhernád, would you please let the honourable gentleman speak!”
“Honourable?” roared the Stump. “Honourable, my fanny! Where’s the honour in old Prickly?”
“Prickly” was Sebestyén Agg, member for Dombóvár-Szőlőhegy. A founder member of the ruling Live and Let Live Party, he had seen the writing on the wall for the Hedgehog Exemption, and had invested heavily in the shares of HIPSYS, the leading hedgehog impact prevention systems company. If the Hedgehog Exemption were repealed, his stock could easily double, triple, over night.
“You should be glad of the H.E.,” continued the Stump, ignoring the hisses and snarls from the benches. “You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for H.E.”
Agg stood up to speak. “Madam Speaker, fellow parliamentarians. The Do-As-Be-Done-By Act of 2021 has been one of the most successful legal steps of this country since the Ecological Constitutional Reform Act itself. As a result of DABDBA, huge swathes of legislation have been repealed. Take, for example, the wretched food safety regulations. Few of you will remember the days when the Brussels Health and Safety Law Book took six strong men and a pair of carthorses in harness … just to open it. Few will recall how Europe crawled with a veritable army of busybody inspectors and nosey-parker safety executives, officious little stalins, telling all and sundry when to wash their hands, wipe their bottoms, and how long a piece of cheese should be.
“DABDBA has done away with all that. Who dares feed a chicken with sewage nowadays? Who dares plug a calf with hormones? Who dares choke the land with vile, noxious chemicals? Now that food is once again food, and not the diabolical distillate of the devil’s laboratory, the very need for health and safety law has evaporated.
“And, Madam Speaker, fellow parliamentarians. That is how it should be. That is how God ordained it.”
Watching from the gallery, Nat noted this subtle appeal to the religious minority. Their vote might be crucial.
“And now I come to the Hedgehog Exemption. Yes, the honourable member for Bivajhernád is right in what he says. I have just completed a six month driving ban for collecting three hedgehog points on my licence.”
“Prickly pancake, prickly pancake,” jibed the Stump.
“And I would not be here, were it not for the exemption of hedgehogs from DABDBA. I would indeed be a prickly pancake,” said Agg, with a self-deprecating smile towards his taunter. “But I have learnt my lesson, and I believe that this Exemption is superfluous. In the spirit of small government, I propose that this piece of legislation is unnecessary. The squashing of hedgehogs on the roads is dealt with adequately by DABDBA.”
The vote was so tight that the speaker ordered a recount. And in the end the amendment was actually defeated by a whisker. The H.E. was saved, although in concession to the close count, the government agreed to extend the penalty to a life-ban on driving rather than six months.
It was still warm that evening, as Onan Hash and Nat Eb sat in the Green Dragon Pub sipping a chill beer. They watched through the window onto Szabadság square, cast in a gold light by the low winter sun. At the far end, four operators of an intensive chicken farm were being hosed down in their cage.
“You know, Nat,” said Hash. “I am actually rather relieved that it did not go through. I mean, what if they start attacking the Meat Eating Exemption? That really would be a bit close to the bone, don’t you think?”