Kill the poor and needy, and the welfare system will look after itself

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The honeymoon may be over and the hard grind now starting. Yes (writes our New Testament political correspondent, Simon the Scribe), it looks as if the popularity that surrounded King Herod when he first came to power has now ebbed. The last straw seems to have been his announcement that all new-born male babies should be slaughtered. King Herod, however, stoutly maintains that if the welfare system is to be reformed, then tough measures must be taken.

"We inherited a government which was being crippled by the level of pay- outs to the needy and poor," says Herod, who swept to power on a platform of "I'm next in line to the throne, so what else do you want to know?" policies. "I am determined to root out this awesome welfare burden. And one way of doing this is by reducing the number of children being born, so I have ordered all male children up to the age of two to be culled. It makes a lot of sense economically. It's purely a one-off measure, and if it rights the budget, then we'll never have to resort to it again."

Opponents of the scheme point out that this will hit very hard at parents with children under two years old. That if their children are taken away from them, they will have to start their families all over again. King Herod says that this is precisely the point, and that if you physically get rid of the poor and needy, the welfare problem automatically rights itself.

Does this (writes our New Testament social affairs correspondent, Limpling Lazarus) include the disabled? That is the question which disabled people everywhere are fearfully asking. They do not want their benefits to be cut just to fund some mythical reform of the welfare programme. Some of them are reduced to the breadline, and one poor homeless man was found in the desert, barely alive on a diet of locusts and honey. What next?

However (writes our New Testament economics correspondent, Matthew the Mathematician), this comes hard on the heels of another unpopular move by King Herod, who ordered everyone to go back to their home town for a census to be taken. Well, strictly speaking it was ordered by the Roman Emperor, but King Herod will get all the flak, as he is sometimes perceived as being in thrall to the bureaucrats in Rome, at the heart of the Roman Economic Community, as it styles itself.

These bureaucrats have increasing powers to dictate policy to Herod. So are we being ruled by King Herod or by the Treaty of Rome? That is the unwelcome question which Herod increasingly has to face.

Nor is that all (writes our New Testament diplomacy correspondent, Peter Passover). It is increasingly being said that Herod is being influenced by personal advisers who have no democratic standing. The so-called Three Wise Men who have been staying with King Herod, and who supposedly have been bending his ear, are not the kind of people Israelites want advising their king. These three men seem fabulously wealthy. They are based overseas. But what do we know about their tax arrangements? Why should we listen to what overseas advisers tell us? And is it true that King Herod plans to spend his next summer holidays in a villa belonging to one of them?

Nevermind about that - there is a most extraordinary rumour going round (writes our New Testament gossip correspondent, Thomas the Tittler) that what the Three Wise Men are here for is to look for a baby who will grow up to be King of Israel, and that that may be the real reason behind the strange decision to cull male babies. This new-born baby is rumoured to be the son of God, and thus will be one of the most eligible bachelors for many a long day, when he grows up! Not only that, but the rumours insist that he will one day rule the world, and I have it on the best authority that some people have already changed the date and are starting their calendars again from Year Nought!

I have it on the best authority (writes our New Testament court correspondent, Luke Lickspittle) that our gracious King Herod has no intention of renumbering the years. For a start, this would infuriate the bureaucrats back in Rome. For another thing, if you start renumbering the years from Nought, you find yourself at the start of a millennium, and the last thing King Herod wants to do (I understand) is face the expense and needless controversy over a huge Millennium Project. Look what happened to the Hanging Gardens of Ephesus, he says ...

(Coming soon: Cherie Blair as Salome, and Peter Mandelson as John the Baptist ...)

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