Frankly, it's high time Tiny Tim stood on his own two feet

Dear Mr Cratchit - or can I call you Bob?

First of all - thanks for your vote. It meant a great deal to all of us in the Labour Party - especially those of us who got elected! Thank you for your letter and I am writing to you in person to answer the points you raise.

This is the first Christmas since the Labour Party has been in power and we aim to make it a bumper one for you and your family. I, personally, as Prime Minister, am delighted that Mr Ebenezer Scrooge has accepted the post of Paymaster-General in our new cabinet. I know you are worried about possible impropriety with regard to his St Helier-based company SCROOGE OFFSHORE but in my opinion he shares our general concern that the ordinary people of this country should have decent schools, decent healthcare and decent holidays. As you yourself pointed out to me in your letter, last Christmas "he capered around the dining-room table shouting 'Happy Christmas'!" Ebenezer is no stereotypical hard-hearted capitalist. He is an extremely soft-hearted capitalist, as many of us are in the New Labour Party. He has given me his personal assurance that, as a direct result of his conversion to the Christmas spirit, he will continue to chuckle and rub his hands and, as soon as the prospects for growth under the European Monetary Union are a little clearer, to grant his employees increasing amounts of time off from work so that they, too, can be jolly on a fairly continuous basis!

I know, also, by the way, that you have been worried about the turkey question. As you may know, the recent free vote in the House of Commons means that, by the year 2000, we will be looking at ways of involving turkeys in the Christmas celebrations that will be more positive and involve more than simply being eaten. These birds are killed in a frankly barbarous and horrific manner, as anyone who has been inside an abattoir will testify. I have to say for me this is a question of conscience. The conscience of a majority of MPs in the House will not allow them to eat turkey on Christmas Day and it won't allow you to do so either. Sorry!

The real reason I am writing to you is to explain - as I am doing to everyone in my constituency, including the Twists and the Nicklebys - the precise nature of the current position vis-a-vis your son's disability benefit. As I understand it, at the moment Tiny Tim receives not only a free crutch but also a regular shampoo and set at a local hairdresser's nominated by the Westminster Social Services Department. He is also receiving elocution lessons and regular therapy from a team of trained social workers, who have all made it clear that the message he gives out is an extremely positive and helpful one. You've written, most movingly, of "his beautiful curls" and "the sweetness of his little face", but at the moment we are having to review the whole package of disability benefits and I cannot give you an unqualified guarantee that the crutch and the free haircut are what Tim really needs at this time. I also have grave doubts of allowing him free use of the hat. Our aim is to get him back into the community and working. Although he has only a few months to live, we in the Labour Party are committed to making those months productive and useful for him, for you and, of course, for us. The crucial thing, as one my ministers has pointed out, is to get the disabled standing on their own two feet; even if, as you say, in some cases they only have one.

It seems to me from what you have told me about him that a career in the media might be appropriate. Although you say he has "a slight lisp" this can be positively endearing in the young and he seems to have the kind of charm and charisma that would be wholly appropriate to a certain kind of documentary or even a commercial. Might he not model children's clothes? I particularly liked those words of his you quoted "God Bless Us Every One!" and have passed them on to the Labour Party's Media Department to see if they might conceivably be of use in our campaign to make it clear to the people of Britain just how much we care and just how cheerful we are determined to be. If we were to do so of course we would approach Tim or his agent through proper channels. Ebenezer might well come and see you personally. I must say, judging from the photograph you have sent of him, he is the sort of child with whom no self-respecting politician would refuse to be photographed!

I'll deal in my next letter with our proposals for Non-Lone Unworking Mothers - I am sure you want to get Mrs Cratchit out of the house and earning as much as we do! Thanks again for your letter and God Bless Us Everyone!


q Wallace Arnold is away