Making a knight of it

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The Independent Online
Starting today: a terrifying saga of modern political Britain which rips the lid off Westminster and Whitehall and reveals the seething bed of nails beneath! Or do we mean can of worms? Or is the expression "kettle of fish"? Anyway, it's a jolly good read, and we cannot see the Government surviving long after its publication.

Roger was a civil servant.

He worked in the Ministry of Sundries.

The Ministry of Sundries looks after all the business of government that nobody else admits responsibility for. If the Home Office don't want to know, and the Foreign Office is not involved, and the DTI disclaims all knowledge, and all other ministries say: "Not our pigeon, old boy", then the MoS is the one to turn to.

"What sort of things do you actually deal with?" his friends sometimes asked him.

"Oh, we deal with the kinds of thing that everyone thinks Stephen Dorrell deals with, but which are too irrelevant even for him."

It was a good joke.

It was also true.

At cabinet meetings, whenever the Prime Minister wanted to know who was responsible for such and such a thing, and everyone else round the table shook their heads, they all looked eventually at the Minister for Sundries. When the Minister for Sundries shook his head and said it didn't concern him, he usually had to resign. So he always took things on board, no matter how crazy, such as maverick knighthoods ...

"Morning, Roger," said Edith, coming in and hurling her beret like a Frisbee across the room in the direction of the hat stand. "Could you process this? The minister says it's urgent. And highly confidential."

She threw over a folder marked "Knighthood for Dam-ian Conyers".

"Who's Damian Conyers?"

"Head of a huge Midland building company. He's given loads of money to the party over the years. We're offering him a knighthood now. Or rather, you are."

"I didn't know that the MoS dealt with knighthoods."

"We don't. Or rather, we do, but only the ones nobody else wants to claim responsibility for."

"So why are we suddenly anxious to give Mr Conyers a knighthood? I thought the party always said it never gave titles for cash."

"It doesn't. It gets the cash first. Then later it hands out a title. But there is absolutely no connection between the two events."

"Then why are we giving Mr Conyers a title now?"

"He hasn't given money for a little while and the party is desperate for it. They think a title might jog his memory."

Roger thought this over. There was a flaw in the argument somewhere. He felt too tired to spot it. He drew some writing paper to him and began to offer Damian Conyers a knighthood.

"Anything else in the post?" said Damian Conyers to his secretary.

"Just the offer of a knighthood."

"Tell them I don't need one. I've got a perfectly good Mister already."

"It's serious," she said. "They're offering you a title."

"Is it from the National Lottery?" asked Damian Conyers. "Do I have to show a ticket stub?"

"It's from the Ministry of Sundries," said the secretary, "and there are no strings attached."

So far, so good. We now come to the unbelievable part of the story, which readers may have difficulty swallowing. But when Damian Conyers had given large sums of money to the party, he had done so because he believed in what they stood for and wanted to see their work carried on. He had no thought of personal reward, least of all a title, and he was somewhat shocked to be offered one.

He therefore ordered his secretary to turn it down.

There was minor uproar at the MoS.

No one had ever refused a title before.

"Oh, my God," said the minister. "What does he know that we don't know?"

"I don't know," said Edith. "Shall I ask him?"

"No," said the minister. "Just shred the offer of the title. Get rid of all the evidence that it was ever offered to him. Forget the whole thing."

Someone had once said to Roger that when a government started shredding its records, it was either about to make a run for the hills or about to be defeated in a snap election. He felt a cold chill run down his spine and hit the waistband of his underpants.

We bring you part two of this chilling tale of government corruption, sleaze, bureaucratic conspiracy, incompetence and rather long tea breaks on Monday morning, unless of course I get an offer of a knighthood over the weekend, in which case I shall abort the whole story and pretend it never happened.

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