Tied and trusted

“Trussed?” Sir Godfrey Wolfram-Harbinger, Minister of Justice, started, rudely awoken from a pleasant reverie. Daphne, again; strong, commanding Daphne. He glanced at his damp palms, suddenly surprised that he could so easily move them.

“Not ‘trussed’ you filthy fool,” whispered Stumpy Regenkurt. “‘Trust’.”

“Ah yes, deary me.” Sir Godfrey spoke in an airy sing-song. “Trust, trussed. Trust, trussed,” he mused.

“Well, if you’re trussed you have to have trust. Otherwise it must be utterly intolerable,” chuckled Stumpy.

“How do you know, you old bugger?” asked Tony Savage, Minister of International Friendship, who overheard him.

“No, no, he’s quite right,” sighed Sir Godfrey. “It’s all about trust.”

It was a cabinet meeting in Onan Hash’s second term of government, in the early years of the Great Reforms.

“That’s exactly my point,” continued Hash impatiently. “All about trust. Trust is at the heart of a successful society. Trust and trustworthiness. And my question, gentlemen – and ladies (he smiled courteously at Dame Daphne Bulge, Minister of Education) – is what do we do to build – to rebuild – trust and trustworthiness in our society? I want our government to develop a series of policies to nurture trust and trustworthiness. I want it at the heart of our manifesto. Dame Daphne, I think you had some ideas… about how we create that bond of trust which tightly binds people together in our-”

His sentence was drowned out by a fit of coughing and spluttering from Sir Godfrey, who whipped a polka dot handkerchief from his pocket, and plunged his face, beetroot red, into the soothing silk.

Dame Daphne gave a quick, final dab of crimson lipstick and snapped shut her mirror. She looked up, radiant and full. Half the cabinet sighed. Sir Godfrey concentrated heavily on shuffling his papers. “Trust has to begin at home,” began Dame Daphne. “And then it radiates out. It radiates into the street, into the community, into schools and shops and pubs and churches. And from there is spreads across the fields from village to village, and finally reaches the towns and cities.”

“Where it peters out,” said Stumpy. “Come on, Dame D, let’s be realistic. You can’t have trust in towns and cities, they’re just too big. Too many people, too little shared culture, too much diversity, too much opportunity to game the system anonymously and get away with it. You just can’t have trustworthiness in a big society. Trust comes with knowing and intimacy. It’s a small thing.”

“But think of the prize,” appealed Hash. “Think where we could get to in a land of trust and trustworthiness. We wouldn’t need to spend on security, we could halve the number of police and enjoy massive savings in law and order.”

“Hear, hear,” murmured Sir Godfrey.

“Precisely,” said Dame Daphne. “And it’s all about nurture. Nurturing intimacy. We can only trust what we know. And the more we know someone, the less likely we are to wish to breach the trust they give. So this is why I plan to launch the Urban Friendship Programme. To promote friendship in the streets of cities and towns. We’ll organise a decade of street parties and community events and …”

Stumpy Regenkurt winced. He turned to his chum Nat Eb. “Sounds very suspect. Did she clear this with Hash?”

Nat Eb put his hand over his mouth and bent towards Stumpy conspiratorially. “I think it’s deliberate. It’s the rope he’s given her to hang herself with.”

“What makes you think that’s what she’ll use the rope for?”

“… and love-ins and so on and so forth and all these jolly events will foster friendship and belief in one another and therefore create trust even in built-up areas.”

But the cabinet was not persuaded. In particular, Heinz Klaxon-Schmitt, Minister of Finance, was frowning and shaking his head vigorously. In the end he couldn’t hold back any longer and raised his arm. Hash gave him a nod.

“Dear, dear Dame Daphne, I wonder if you would permit me one small observation,” he purred. “You see, my friend, Mr Eb, is charged with carefully reducing GDP so that people will enjoy more well-being and be less anxious about the rat race and the pressure of economic growth. A very good thing, too. But unfortunately your scheme threatens to undermine his work. It’s very simple, you see. Gross domestic product is a function of the velocity of the economy. The speed at which money circulates. Obviously, the more trust there is in a society, the less time a transaction takes, and so money can circulate more quickly. Hence the more trust we have in society, the higher the GDP.”

“So if we want to wind the economy down –“he looked across at Nat Eb – “then we’d better start undermining trust in our society not building it up.”

Onan Hash scowled. Why hadn’t his treasury man warned him of this?

“And furthermore,” continued Klaxon-Schmitt, “think of the deniers.”

“Deniers?” said the prime minister, alarmed. “What have climate change deniers to do with it?”

“Well, I am afraid that boosting trust will strengthen their hand,” explained Klaxon-Schmitt.

“Boosting trust will help the CCDs? How’s that? Are you mad?” Sir Godfrey was now wide awake. In these days of balanced economic decline, where young people spent their days working purposefully on the land and not idling in shopping malls, his principal remit was to keep CCDs under lock and key and prevent them from making martyrs of themselves. The odd eccentric lord and frustrated journalist still ranted on about scientific conspiracy and the meaning of freedom from time to time, but the Tower was well sound-proofed. Sir Godfrey didn’t like it when people talked of CCD revival.

“You see, belief in a just world is the seed-bed of climate change denial[1]. Those that believe in a just world are far more likely to respond to the bad news by denying that the bad news is true. It’s the way their psychology tends to work. And these days all we have is bad news. Now, your scheme to promote trust is going to make more people believe in a just world. Not necessarily so, but a good chance. As we get used to people smiling and being nice to us, there is a danger that we could start to assume that the world is more just than we thought. And so we’ll be more likely to become CCDs.”

“Meaning more work for Sir Godfrey,” smiled Stumpy Regenkurt. “More work, less play.”

“Oh yes,” said Tony Savage. “Come the CCD revival, Sir Godfrey will be practically tied to his desk, day and night.”

“Dame D will make sure of that,” whispered Stumpy. “Personally.”

Sir Godfrey fairly wobbled with rage at Stumpy’s taunts. As they filed out of the cabinet room, he shook a plump finger at the chief advisor to the Minister of Economic Decline. “You just be careful, young man. Be very careful. Any more like that and I’ll personally make sure you end up in the Tower, denier or not.”


1. See Apocalypse Soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just world beliefs by Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer of the University of California, Berkeley.

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