If Theresa May revealed one adorable quality in her first hours as prime minister, it was her love of doling out a punishment job. The mischievous scamp.
In succession to the tormenting of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis with Brexit-related posts designed to inflict maximum torture, here’s an idea for another: Prime Minister, appoint Philip Green to the portfolio of Government Procurement Secretary.
You may recall the 2010 “Efficiency Review” in which Green identified how to avoid “shocking waste” by more efficiently ordering goods and services. His solution was to centralise procurement and apply solid retailing principles.
Now it’s true, of course, that this promotion would deny Green the right to be called Sir Philip, as cynics curiously seem to think he deserves. The good news for fellow fans is that he would not only keep the knighthood, but add a grander title to it; an even longer title than Peter Mandelson’s.
Something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Baron Green of The Principality of Monaco And the Yacht Lionheart Floating In The Aegean While BHS Pensioners Nip Down To Their Local Food Bank”.
No one can be in the Cabinet without a parliamentary presence, after all, and with Green currently a long shot to win a Kensington & Chelsea byelection in the Tory interest, he would need to be sent to the Lords. This would not merely enable him to sprinkle the retailing magic which worked so splendidly at BHS on procurement. It would salvage the reputation of an honours system more sunken than ever in disrepute.
Not that it was ever in repute in the first place. Since David Lloyd George’s premiership almost a century ago, the retail trade of selling of knighthoods and peerages has had a public relations problem. But lately it has become more degraded than ever due to bargain basement discounting.
Where, at current prices, a knighthood once cost about £250,000, and a peerage at least a million, under Mr Tony Blair the price is believed to have plummeted to £100k and £250k respectively. Charge peanuts, and what are you going to get?
At the risk of seeming a touch Mitford-snobby, these titles have become simply too, too common for words. If the fee for Green to retain his K was set at the £571m needed to plug the BhS pension shortfall, with an additional billion for the upgrade to the peerage, titles would start to mean something again.
Even if you disagree and hate the system with revolutionary zeal, at least acknowledge this: the vision of Green making his Lords debut flanked by two Tory sponsors – Jeffery Archer on one side, and erstwhile advertising cocaine binger Tim Bell on the other – might illuminate the rancidness of British honours for anyone still in the dark about that.
Once installed at the Department of Procurement, meanwhile, the noble Lord Green’s efforts to save colossal sums by centralising the ordering of photocopying paper would be a joy to observe. Perhaps solving logistical problems which have for decades defeated very clever people is as childishly simple as his 2010 report made out. Maybe it would be as easy as some imagine it is to extricate the UK from the EU. Then again, perhaps not.
As for how to house him during gracious visits to the UK from Monaco or his elegantly understated sailing vessel, Theresa May will know what to do about that.
The special brilliance about her torture of the Three Stooges of Brexit was forcing them share the grace-and-favour country residence of Chevening. This was more than a witty humiliation of Boris Johnson, who, as Foreign Secretary, would have expected to have it to himself.
This sadistic masterstroke – and Machiavelli would have done the “we are not worthy” Wayne’s World vertical arm wave – shackled them not just to their punishment jobs, but metaphorically to each other. It created the image of an indefinite term of imprisonment in a Big Brother house for people who hated and distrusted one another before entering it.
How much more horrendous for Boris, Davis and Dr Fox would it become, do you imagine, if May added a fourth housemate in the shape of Lord Green?
Some TV scriptwriters might want to flesh out the cast list further to the tune of an additional pair of Brexiteers – possibly Chris Grayling; definitely Andrea Leadson – and write a sitcom loosely (very loosely) styled after Friends.
But the premise would clearly work best in the form of the most viciously dystopian reality show ever conceived. For while two hours with any of the existing Cabinet members named above would turn the stomach, two minutes with Green would have you hunting down the nearest curtain rope to use as a makeshift noose.
The final piece in the jigsaw would be hiring Green’s close friend Simon Cowell to orchestrate the production, and then flogging the format abroad. This would boost the British economy by billions more than his lordship could hope to save the taxpayer by purchasing Whitehall’s loo rolls in bulk from Malaysia.
After Brexit, let’s face it, gruesome reality shows may well be the only British export anyone anywhere else in the world still wants to buy.
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