LibDemVoice is delighted to bring you A Christmas Carol, a contemporary re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, told in five staves (as Dickens called them). The fourth stave, The Ghost of Austerity Future, follows. You can catch up with Stave One, Mensch’s Ghost, here; and Stave Two, The Ghost of Avarice Past, here; and Stave Three, The Ghost of Arrogance Present, here.
As sketched by Bodz
Osborne stared at the umbrella and blinked. All around him the Olympic stadium was burning and crashing to the ground and he was immobilised in a hospital bed. But why had Boyle given him an umbrella? He opened it and to his surprise and delight the umbrella pulled him upwards from the bed and into the sky.
“I’m just like Mary Poppins!” he cried. He had never admitted before that the woman he most admired, after his mother, was Mary Poppins. He loved her discipline, her scolding, and he would have dearly loved to have been tidied up by her. “Mary Poppins, I’ll be your Dick van Dyke any day,” he cried as he flew north.
He awoke some time later to find himself yet again sitting on a snowbound railway platform. “Oh, Corby again,” he sighed.
“It’s freezing. I would swap Dante’s Inferno for this!” he muttered. This gave him a troubling thought. “Am I in purgatory? Is Corby purgatory?” As he mulled over this theological question, he heard thought he heard singing coming from the direction of the car park. He turned, stood with arms outstretched and called: “Is this the joyful singing of the blessed souls? Does Charon’s boat await me?”
He heard strains of singing again, now loud enough for him to catch the words. “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”
“Bloody carol singers,” he cursed. But even a foolish and grumpy chancellor could not ignore the catchy tune. He even began to sing along. “Feed the world. Let them know it’s Christmas time.”
Behind him, a loud and familiar voice joined in:
“There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dreaded fear.”
Osborne stopped singing and squinted hard. He could just make out a shaggy figure in sackcloth holding a shepherd’s crook emerging from the gloom. Recognising the ghostly apparition he cried out. “Bob Geldof? Please tell me you are not the ghost of Saint Bob. I have been tormented enough.”
The spectre laughed at him. “Hard f**king luck!”
“Oh,” Osborne said meekly. “But why are you here? Why am I here?” he said miserably. “I don’t even know what day of the week it is.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” the phantom snorted. “It’s a Monday.” He placed the hook of his crook around Osborne’s neck, hauled him forward and whispered: “I am the Ghost of Austerity Future. And I don’t like Mondays!”
Before Osborne could protest, Geldof launched into the air dragging his hostage behind him. Some while later, this odd couple came to rest outside a very familiar building.
“It’s the Bank of England,” Osborne cried with pleasure. “Mervyn King will help me out.”
He strode purposefully towards the door only to find his way barred by a policewoman with a semi-automatic weapon. “Let me pass,” he commanded. “I am the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a member of the Cabinet and a Privy Councillor. I demand to see the governor of the Bank of England.”
The policewoman eyed him with disbelief and distaste. She spoke slowly with deep sarcasm: “And I am Angela Merkel. Go away!”
“But you can’t be Merkel,” Osborne whimpered. “Angela never gives me orders!”
The officer was unimpressed. “Go away little man before I find I need to use this very German gun.” She lifted her Heckler & Koch carbine and pointed its muzzle towards him.
Osborne turned to beg Geldof for help but his tormentor was nowhere to be seen. Defeated and miserable, he slunk away through the snow. Finding no refuge in the deserted City, the miserable miser staggered aimlessly towards the Mile End Road.
After what seemed to be so many hours, he could at last see the burning fires of the Olympic Stadium. “So it wasn’t a dream,” he said to out loud.
“No, it was a nightmare!” The shout came from behind him and Osborne spun around to find Geldof leaning on his crook.
“Geldof, where have you been?” Osborne demanded. The saint in sack cloth shrugged. “Just trying to solve the world’s problems.”
“But that’s my job,” bleated Osborne. Geldof glared at him. “Then solve these f**king problems.” He grabbed Osborne with his crook and hauled him into the air.
Minutes later they were in the shadow of the Olympic stadium. All around dishevelled people shuffled and shivered, huddling together to shelter from the blizzard. Many rushed towards the visitors holding their hands out for money, or pointing to their mouths for food.
“But,” Osborne stuttered. “This is Britain. No one goes hungry. I’ve made sure of that.”
Geldof looked at him scornfully and led him to the back of a very long queue. “It’s the queue for the bank,” Geldof told him. “But its half a mile long,” Osborne said. “Anyway, I’ve got cash.”
The saintly Geldof spoke quietly, as though to an idiot. “Not that sort of bank. These people are desperate for food. Many have walked miles to get here. The most important bank in Britain 2015 is Food Bank plc.”
Osborne looked paler than a ghost. “Okay, I get that point,” he whispered.
“Then we need queue no longer,” Geldof said with a leery grin. “Fancy a game of bingo?”
“But I’ve never gambled,” Osborne stuttered. “I am the guardian of the economy. I can’t and won’t gamble.”
Geldof spoke into his ear. “Except with people’s lives. Except with people’s wellbeing.” And with that he dragged the protesting chancellor off to the bingo hall.
They squeezed into the last two seats at the back of the auditorium and studied their cards.
The impresario shouted into a crackling mike. “Welcome men, women, boys, girls…” The rest of the sentence was drowned out by shrieks of “get on with it” and other comments far too impolite to report. He began again.
“Welcome everyone to the 4,000th session of Benefits Bingo. Tonight, we have prizes beyond imagination!” The hall erupted in cheers and every statement the he made thereafter was cheered to the rafters.
“Game One. One line wins you a job interview through Jobcentre Plus. Full house and you get guaranteed a job. And it’s not with Alan Sugar!”
“Game Two. For every line, you win enough baked beans for a week. Full house and…” He paused for adulation before announcing the main prize. “Full house gives you Tesco vouchers for a month!”
Osborne turned with horror to Geldof. “Dreadful apparition!” he screamed. “What is this terrible vision I am witnessing?”
Geldof spoke calmly. “All life is a gamble. When universal credit failed and your financial cuts drove the economy into near destruction, there was no safety net left. People gamble with their futures here. After all, it is no different from the National Lottery – a tax on the hopes of the poor.”
“Are there more of these horrors?” Osborne asked miserably.
Geldof looked at him with the practised contempt of a rock star. “On every street corner, in every town and village of Britain, people beg. Tell me why? Young people no longer have a hope of job. Tell me why? Too many people no longer have a decent place to live. Tell me why?”
Osborne fell to his knees. “Saint Geldof. What can I do?”
Geldof lifted Osborne’s chin drew it to within an inch of his face. “Just give us the f**king money,” he bellowed.
Osborne placed his head into his hands and wept. “I hear, I hear. I’ll help. I’ll reform. But please don’t send me back to Corby!”
After a few minutes, he looked up and found that Geldof was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a very familiar figure was sitting before him. “Hello David,” he said nervously.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Ludlow, Shropshire. He writes on communities, planning, the environment and history.