Miles Kington: High noon at the New Labour corral

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"This isn't the 19th-century Midwest – this is Britain in the 21st century!"

David Blunkett, on Radio 4's 'Today' programme, 5 July 2001

THE SUN was getting high in the Arizona sky. Every time a horseman rode through the main street of New Laboursville, he kicked up a dry cloud of dust.

Sheriff Blunkett strapped on his gun belt tightly and groaned.

Another hot day ahead, when men's tempers might rise and people might do stupid things and the sheriff might have to go in and sort them out.

He groaned again.

"Mighty lot of groaning goin' on in there," said his deputy, looking in through the sheriff's door.

He had to look in fairly often, because Sheriff Blunkett was blind and couldn't do everything for hisself. It might have seemed cussed to appoint a blind sheriff in a troublesome town like New Laboursville, thought the deputy, not for the first time, but hell, they'd tried almost everyone else, and maybe the bad guys would stop short at shooting a blind man. He couldn't be worse than Sheriff Straw, who couldn't solve any crime at all so instead had acted tough with illegal immigrants. Shoot – anyone could push an unarmed Mexican around! Didn't prove nothing. Sheriff Straw had also run a Chilean badman out of town. Goddammit, the Chilean had been 90 years old! How bad a badman could you be at 90?

"Yeah, I'm groanin', because I got this here belt too tight, and I cain't see to loosen it," said Sheriff Blunkett tersely. Together they relaxed it by a notch or two. Then the sheriff filled his holsters and together they went out into the main street. The sheriff sensed that there was a lot of people out there waiting for him.

"Big crowd," muttered the deputy. "Looks like trouble."

"Hey, sheriff!" yelled someone. "When are you gonna do something about the crime figures?"

The sheriff said nothing, but his hand went like lightning to his holster. Many in the crowd ducked. All that reappeared in his hand, however, was a roll of paper. It had writing on it. Sheriff Blunkett was well known to read Braille. In a town where most people with good eyesight were illiterate, this gave him an edge.

"I been doin' plenty," he said. "I been doin' a statistical breakdown of local crime, and correlatin' the read-out and Ah've discovered that something over 90 per cent of the crime is committed by five per cent of the population. Well, we got ourselves a solution right there. We search out the five per cent..."

"...And string them up!" shouted someone. There was a big laugh.

"We put them behind bars," said Blunkett, ignoring this. "Leave it to me. Now git back to your homes before they're all burgled in your absence."

As the crowd dispersed, the Sheriff felt rather than saw a shadow fall across him. He recognised the perfume.

"Don Portillo?" he said. "What're you doing in New Laboursville?"

"Merely a courtesy call, Sheriff," said the suave Hispanic. "I had heard that things weren't too good round here. Thought I'd see for myself."

"What kind of things?"

"Oh, word gets around that the trains are breaking down. And that the stage coaches ain't running too good. And that the doctors in your old hospital cain't cope no more. Likewise the teachers in the town school. Well, that seems a terrible shame to me, Sheriff, and I reckon maybe someone else should offer to take over."

"Listen to me and listen good," said Blunkett curtly. "Number one, trains ain't my affair nor them other things. Go see Governor Blair if that's on your mind. Number two, we don't want you round here. We run the Hague gang out of town last month, and I thought you'd gone with them."

"Ain't no Hague gang no more," said Don Portillo. "It's shaping up to be the Portillo gang. And we think we can run this hick burg way better than you can. Why, you ain't nothin' but a jumped up school inspector! How on earth you goin' to deal with lawlessness and child abduction and overcrowded prisons and lack of rehabilitation for offenders and mass rioting between Asian and white communities and..."

"Whoa there!" said Sheriff Blunkett. "Things ain't nearly that bad! This is the Midwest in the 19th century, not Britain in the 21st..."

Which he instantly wished he hadn't said, as it didn't seem to mean anything.