“£205,” said Klaxon-Schmitt.
“£205? Pricey, Sir, but not unreasonable,” said Gertrude, the minister’s personal assistant.
“Yes, but only 15%.”
“Yes. It’s falling every week.”
“That’s bad. Last time we had 18%. And it was …”
Heinz Klaxon-Schmitt had just returned from a quiet alley in the East End where he’d negotiated extra sausage cards with an Armenian. Meat content had been falling on the latest cards, and still the price was going up. “Eat Meat as a Treat” had long been dumped in the bin of failed policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Advertising never seemed to work except for bad things, thought Klaxon-Schmitt, as he scratched his chin with the rationing cards. They meant sausage for Sunday lunch. Helga would be delighted. Germans found life very trying without sausage. Perhaps the advertising agencies just don’t try hard enough when the government is the client.
“The prime minister called while you were at your meeting,” said Gertrude.
“What did he say he wanted?”
“Something about CASPER.”
Klaxon-Schmitt grunted. “That blasted CASPER.” The opposition’s final solution to the problem of cutting emissions. With CASPER we could scrap all other legislation. It was a libertarian’s dream. And it was the biggest threat to Onan Hash’s regime since the Hedgehog Exemption. The Class Action Scheme for Polluters and Emitters. “What did you tell him?”
“That you were very, very busy on the farm transition programme and really couldn’t be disturbed.”
Just then the phone rang.
“It’s him,” hissed Gertrude, placing a plump palm over the mouthpiece. The flash of crimson nails and gold rings always sent a shiver through Klaxon-Schmitt.
Klaxon-Schmitt sighed and took the call. He sat back in his leather armchair, while Gertrude put a whisky on the table at his side. “Well?” demanded Hash down the line. “What’s your plan?”
It really was too much. Hash expected answers yesterday. Answers to the most difficult and complex questions. Klaxon-Schmitt was not a hasty man. He was meticulous and analytical. He picked his way through matters of state carefully and thoughtfully.
Klaxon-Schmitt sipped his whisky. “Look, PM,” he began. “It’s a very bold idea. It’s rapidly gaining in popularity. The people love it. We’ve had over a decade of green tape. So they’re ready for something new.”
“I know all that. Which is why I asked you to figure out what to do. CASPER is too good. We need to destroy it. What have you got for me?”
“Well, tomorrow morning by 9 a.m. or there will be trouble. By the way, Heinz, I got 18% at £180. It all depends on whom you know.” And with that the PM put the phone down.
Desperate circumstances called for desperate measures. In half an hour a war council had been convened in Klaxon-Schmitt’s office: Nat Eb, minister of economic decline, Stumpy Regenkurt, confidant of Eb and Sir Godfrey Wolfram-Harbinger, minister of justice. Yes, even Sir Godfrey had been untied and dragged away from Lady Daphne’s embrace to join this pow-wow.
Gertrude stayed late and ordered take-away bean-burgers and poured whisky.
“Sorry to bother you at this time, gents. You know how it is. PM needs an answer tomorrow 9am. And I’ve nothing to show. Empty handed. We’ve only got a few hours to respond to CASPER and the clock is ticking.”
“What the hell is CASPER?” snorted Sir Godfrey. “Never heard of it.”
“CASPER, Sir Godfrey,” began Klaxon-Schmitt, “Is the opposition’s not-so-secret weapon. They say that climate change is simply a question of property rights. American motorists cause emissions which lead to rises in sea-levels which create a nuisance for inhabitants of the Seychelles. So inhabitants of the Seychelles can sue American motorists for damages and to desist from their harmful activity. Inhabitants of the Andes, now years without rain, or the impoverished tribes of the AD, have suffered injury because of consumers of electricity in what we used to call the developed world. As those consumers owe our friends in the Andes a duty of care, the Peruvians simply have to sue the consumers to make good the damage.”
“Christ,” said Stumpy. “It’s blindingly simple! It will eliminate all climate change regulations in one fell swoop. Bloody geniuses those libertarians. How come we didn’t think of it?”
“I dare say,” grunted Sir Godfrey, “because some of us have been far too focussed on making money from the last years of global chaos and haven’t spent much time on their political responsibilities.”
“Oh yes,” retorted Stumpy. “And no doubt others of us have been tied up with other business, eh, Sir Godfrey?”
“Children!” snarled Klaxon-Schmitt. “We’ve serious business to sort out. If we don’t fight this then Monkford will be running this country in a few weeks’ time.”
To be continued.
1. CASPER might have been inspired by a paper called “Taking property rights seriously: The case of climate change” by Jonathan Adler.
2. AD = Amazon Desert