A modest proposal for our cheats and scroungers

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The Independent Culture
DON'T YOU just love this idea of booting all the scum out of sight? All the drunks and whackos, the inadequates, the sociopaths and the addicts? Yes? So do I! And to hell with where they go, or what happens to them when they get there, or what drove them to it in the first place. Nuts to them all! I love it! You'd have thought it was a Tory idea, but it turns out to be the other lot who started it - the caring, soulful, wealth-redistributing, young ones - and now they're all in the same boat, pulling together, and there's hope yet for the ship of state...

Piccadilly Circus, 4am on a sharp October morning - and some hopeless unshaven recidivist lurches into a puddle of light and tries to steal the woman I am with, a miraculous confection of high-voltage eroticism whom I have been flattering all evening. The cheek of it! He is out of luck, of course, but - the sheer brass bloody neck of the sod!

Sometimes I wonder how they think they can get away with it. I couldn't do it, myself, and nor could anyone I know, though, God knows, we've all thought about it from time to time, late at night, in the bar, pissed and pissed off: "If they can do it, why the hell can't we?" But we've dismissed the idea in the end. Too proud, I suppose, to give up all our rags of self-respect and go begging for favours; so back we go to our various trades (and isn't it curious how the best minds of my generation seem to have gone into light entertainment?) But we still play the game. We still give when it's demanded of us, though we know they'll just waste the money on junk. No matter how much they proclaim that it's to get them back on their feet, the truth is that it just goes to feed the habit, to reinforce their insane conviction that they can survive like this, drones, non-productive passengers, a pointless encrustation on the rim of life.

Holborn: the pitiless hour before dawn - I have learnt that I, too, am out of luck. "If you can't flatter me in Italian," she has announced, "I am going home." And has gone home. So I am lurching fitfully along Southampton Row (not on my direct route home but I've been blown north by a punitive crosswind) when a terrible figure, not quite in 3-D, leaps from a doorway like a stencil. "Hello!" it shouts; "Hello! Hello!" I smile and wave, recognising him; his name is Hello, a local one who I thought had been kicked out ages ago, or gone bye-bye in the heatwave. Hello has been celebrated in song. Some of you may remember it: "Hello, hello, hello!/ What a wonderful word: Hello/Hello, hello, hello!/ You can hear it/ Wherever/ You go"; which is all very well but it's not such a wonderful word when there's no follow-on and that's all there is. But I don't say this. I say "Hello, Hello." Hello looks startled; his eyes flatten, and he fades back into his wall.

What good are these people? Even the ones who deliver great long pompous meaningless orations; even the blotto ones who press their faces up against your own, making solemn promises which change with every wind-shift; even the religious ones who go to meetings and possess zeal and the secret of joy and want to share it with the rest of us, by force if need be; even they are only, in the end, shouting "Hello!" but not really hoping for a reply.

The worst thing about the scum is their shamelessness. They know we despise them, they know their very existence is an embarrassment and that our society would be better off if they were all somehow... erased. But still they approach us, still they try to hold us in their shifty, moist-eyed gaze, still they extrude their sausagey old tales.

Haverstock Hill, teatime - she's sitting on a bench beneath a 100ft cloudbase. Plump innocent cheeks, fortysomething, a tartan shawl, an empty can of Pepsi Max beside her on the ground. "Excuse me," she says (the voice is soft, gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman), "but I've lost my Travelcard and I'm trying to get enough money to get out of London and I wondered could you perhaps be kind enough to spare 50p or perhaps pounds 1 I would really be most grateful..." She's not scared enough, not ashamed enough; she's done this before, and what does she think all of us are trying to get enough money to do? But I have just come from the Royal Free Hospital where my bad, yellow-eyed woman is dozing; I can still smell her breath, with that faint post-operative scent of Halothane, electricity and freshly-cut grass; cruel mutilating words were in the air - malignant, invasive, radical - but the news is good, and I cannot see clearly. I didn't tell her I was worried, of course. Didn't even tell myself I was worried; just sat immobilised, because if it was... if it was what it could have been, then it would be the end for both of us, because I don't think I would want to stay here if there was no place for her. So I hand over a quid with a vague sense of resentment that even though God doesn't exist, he might still have demanded a more sizeable oblation in return for staying his hand.

Like sacrificing the scum. Well, why not? They're just feeding their habit at our expense, telling us lies to get what they want, sniffing for the next fix. We may pity them; we may feel it is, in some queer way, our duty to help them and support them. But they are just using us and manipulating us, and shall such fellows live? Shall they buggery. Whip them out of town! Run them up the M1 at gunpoint like weasels, their chops wet with stolen egg! Flog them to tatters and dump them, bleeding, on the Watford outskirts! That's the way to make Britain great again.

By these fine and uncompromising means, we will be rid of the scum: rid of those politicians, of whatever doctrine, who, inadequate and addicted to the opiate of power, pluck at our sleeves with their wizened tales and toothless entreaties, panting for a hand-out, desperate for support. Once we are rid of them, we may be able to do something for all those poor bastards out on the streets. !