Monday, 22 June 2009

Twenty Twenty-Nine: Speculative Short Story

This story details what I could envisage the UK being like in twenty years' time if the BNP continues to build on its recent European election success and becomes the dominant political party in the UK. I have based the society of Britain in 2029 on the BNP's stated policy objectives and, also, from my experience in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, of what apartheid South Africa was like, especially in terms of the racial categorisation of people. The advent of DNA analysis makes that easier than the physical categorisation the South African regime used, but of course no system is infallible.

The assumption is that growing in success and with many people leaving UK for life abroad, ultimately the BNP is sufficiently strong to defend democracy, perhaps in response to a manufactured terrorist crisis and then the UK becomes a one-party state with candidates selected from a list. This is similar to many authoritarian regimes and naturally owes a lot of the Nazi regime. I think that it is useful to think through the implications of parties' policies and see where, if unchecked, they could lead this country in the next few decades.

Victoria Day was the Canadian replacement for Empire Day. These were on 24th May, Queen Victoria's birthday. In the UK, Empire Day was officially celebrated 1916-58 when it became British Commonwealth Day; in 1966 it became just Commowealth Day and moved to 10th June, Queen Elizabeth II's birthday. In 1977 it was moved to the second Monday in March and is now mainly observed simply through a radio message from the Queen. Given the BNP's obssession with supposedly glorious elements of Britain's past, I envisage they would revive such anachronisms; others are mentioned in the story.

Twenty Twenty-Nine

Despite the heat of the mid-May evening, Alfred Napier closed the window. The sound of the brass band rehearsing in the park ahead of the Victoria Day celebrations had been nagging him for the past couple of hours. Of course, as a councillor he once would have expected to have air conditioning in his office. Yet, like a lot of things in Britain today, the New Great Britain as the government vigorously branded it, his air conditioning no longer worked. With the country having been expelled from the European Union three years before and the borders to Britain tighter than the Iron Curtain had been in Alfred’s youth, there was a labour shortage. People preferred to get jobs working in the new Ministry of Information or as Special Constables, basically thugs with a warrant to boss people around, than to train for a skilled job like air conditioning repair. Part of the problem was the fad in architecture of the past five years. All government bodies had been moved out of modern buildings into anything Victorian that could be found; alternatively, buildings constructed along those lines, which meant huge lobbies that were difficult to heat and poky offices that were either too cold or as now, too hot.

There was a knock at the door and Alfred stepped away from the window, realising he had let his mind wander. He knew it was displacement activity. His wife, Mary, had had an appointment at the hospital this afternoon to see about treatment for their son, Harold’s glue ear. Alfred knew that it was a straight forward procedure, but the National Health Service had lost so many doctors in the sweep of 2026 that waiting lists now stretched for years, even for the family of a man as comparatively privileged as Alfred. He wondered if he should lay out more bribes to see if he could get Harold moved further up the list. With the debts that the doctors who had been rushed through medical school in the past decade in an attempt to fill the shortfall, incurred, they were more than willing to take payments. Of course, everyone knew this and Alfred recognised that he was in competition with people much richer than himself. He wondered if his predecessor in this role had adopted the right method. Richard Waugh had been unashamed when speaking with fellow councillors about how he used blackmail and simple rumour-mongering to exert pressure on those he wanted something from. Many men would do Waugh a favour rather than have a visit from the Borders Agency following an allegation that they did not have four generations of indigenous blood or that their daughter had been consorting with a mestee or even a quadroon.

“Come.” Alfred called and went and sat down in his seat.

It was Harley, Alfred’s tea boy; though ‘boy’ was more a technical term these days than designation of age; Harley was only three years Alfred’s junior. Alfred knew that Harley had been born Henry, but had been compelled to change his name back in 2024 to something that was seen as being more suited to a man whose father had been born on St. Lucia. Alfred had changed his name too when it became apparent that, despite the history of English Anthonys, it was being perceived too much as belonging to the ‘Mediterranean’ category, especially when shortened to Tony. Mary always said he would have been unlikely to have got on the Party list for the council selection, if he had kept his old name. Back in the early 2020s people had begun to get so jumpy about that kind of thing.

It was that purging of anything felt not to be sufficiently ‘indigenous’ that had started the EU towards expelling Britain. Of course, the National Party had been keen to leave the organisation right from the start; that had been the key thing that had attracted Alfred to them in the first place. However, previously their economists had shown how damaging it would be to suddenly been shut out from Britain’s prime market. The Commonwealth had its own trading partners and anyway, once the expulsions of ‘non-indigenous’ people back to many of these countries began, they had little interest in trading with Britain even with continued reference to the shared heritage.

“Are you staying late this evening, sir?” Harley said with his eyes dipped.

Alfred felt like shouting ‘look at me’, but knew that that would cause more trouble than the moment’s irritation he was facing. The mixed race people left in Britain had to face enough, Alfred felt, without this palaver of pretending as if they were slaves from a cotton plantation. Alfred dreaded the day when one of the more robust members of the council insisted that he be called ‘massa’.

“Yes, Harley, I want to finish this report. The committee meeting’s at eight tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“Erm, yes, erm, sir.”

Harley replied hesitantly and Alfred realised that that was because he was aware that he should display no knowledge of the affairs of the council. Alfred knew, however, that Harley had a degree in economics from back in the 2000s when mixed race people were still allowed to go to university, and in fact, when half of 18-year olds were expected to attend rather than now when it was something just for the rich and those of leading National Party members. Harley was never going to be able to do much more than make the tea. Once his grandparents died, Alfred was sure, Harley would flee across the Channel and be Henry once more. With the influx of skilled and educated mixed race people from Britain over the past decade, the economy of France; those of Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands too, were thriving.

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

Alfred hesitated. “Erm, yes, bring me one; make yourself one. Is Matilda still out there?”

Harley shook his head. “No, she went at … she went.” He cut his sentence short and Alfred realised he was reluctant to give away that Matilda had slunk off early again as he knew the trouble she could cause him if she found out.

Matilda. Alfred laughed at the name. Almost all women born in the past twenty years were named after queens. The number of Victorias and Elizabeths was ridiculous. For a while Matilda had been argued over. The connection between that queen and France had counted against her, but ultimately, Alfred imagined, she had been accepted simply to increase the range of names female babies could be given, just a little. Matilda’s father was the city head of the National Party and so she was simply given a job, despite the fact that she had few skills and, having being spoilt for all her life, almost seemed to expect Alfred to do her bidding rather than the reverse. Alfred had to admit that her father, Edward Dickens, at least seemed to feel that his daughter should get out of the house and do ‘something’, unlike the bulk of the princesses of Party bosses who simply idled their time and their fathers’ money away. However, it meant that Alfred was saddled with an assistant who was useless and spent most of her time chatting with friends via the computer, when the power supply was on, or slipping off for various beauty treatments.

Of course, Alfred knew that there were many women who would do the job better, but these days after they passed their mid-twenties, companies were reluctant to employ women. The government’s emphasis on women being at home producing babies, or, if infertile, adopting a child from a single mother meant that any working women older were looked at with suspicion. Mary had been an IT consultant in her younger years but stood no chance of working in that field now. The best she could have hoped for was secretarial or care worker jobs and then there were hundreds of younger women filling those each day while they sought a husband. Heaven help them, though, if they got pregnant out of wedlock. These days abstinence was the only permitted form of contraception and unmarried mothers automatically lost their child at birth before serving three years imprisonment. The government felt the loss of morals had been partly what had previously weakened Britain and, so, for the past decade had felt compelled to legislate on these too.

Alfred gazed at his computer screen but he was utterly bored of this report. These days reports were demanded with such tight deadlines it was always difficult to meet them. This was the so-called ‘national’ style of running business. It was felt that catching staff out with sudden demands kept them dynamic and always ‘ready for action’ as the phrase went. However, Alfred was now not so sure. It seemed to just leave him feeling edgy and he knew that he did not produce the kind of analysis that was really needed. This report was on the challenges of attracting sufficient primary school teachers to the city. It had been a grave problem for over ten years. No-one wanted to come and work in a city when so many tiny village schools had appeared across the country. Teachers liked the small class sizes and the fact that in those places there was less direct monitoring by the Ministry of Education about what they taught day-to-day and whether the content was sufficiently patriotic. The strict limits on what books could be used in schools and the tight budgets local authorities worked under, made it difficult to run a school successfully to start with. In addition, Alfred imagined that the contemporary emphasis on rote learning, especially of dates and famous names, could not be that interesting to teach. Accessing forbidden websites, even inadvertently, might end a teacher’s career and so they kept to just the official government ones when seeking teaching resources.

Matilda had recited the names of the monarchs when she had been interviewed for the post of personal assistant as if it equipped her for any job. Of course, with the criteria that Alfred had to work with, in part, it did. That knowledge of British history and a clean nationality certificate, let alone a father in the Party, rather any ability to do the work, had been more than sufficient for her to get the place.

The computer warbled and brought Alfred back from his pondering. He clicked on the icon and brought his wife’s face on to the screen. He could see she was back home. Partly he hoped that meant the visit to the hospital had been a success, but his wife’s face seemed to tell a different story.

“My love. How’s Harold? Did you get to see Dr. Allison?”

Mary melted into tears and Alfred wished he could be there to hold her. He imagined that Allison had gone to deal with the child of a Party leader or someone who offered him more money or a parent who had simply threatened the doctor to get his attention.

“They refused us. They said Harold’s not indigenous. They took a swab from me too. They said we can’t go to that hospital. Apparently we can’t use a national one any more; we have to use community facilities from now on.”

Alfred’s head reeled. ‘Community’ was a euphemism for second class. The hospitals that the ‘non-indigenous’ were sent to, generally underfunded and filthy.

“That’s not right, we’ve got our nationality certificates. There must be some mistake. They must have mixed you up with someone else. Look, calm down, I’ll phone the hospital direct and get them to sort this out. We’ll have it sorted. Okay? It’s going to be alright. I’ll be home soon. Give Harold a treat, keep him happy. I know he feels uncomfortable, but it’ll soon be sorted.”

“Yes, okay.” Mary looked a little more cheerful. “Hurry home, Tony, erm, Alf. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Alfred said, a little self-conscious that someone might overhear that he had had a personal call here at work. He guessed that the connection was tapped anyway, though where the funds to employ people to listen to every mundane conversation came from, he had no idea. Alfred would have been happier if his elder sons, William and George, had been at home, but term at their army academy did not end for another seven weeks. Alfred wished that he could just shove this report aside and go home to his wife. Not for the first time was he tempted to get Harley in to write something for him, but knew that would risk both their jobs and, if it came to light, would render the report meaningless: no-one in government was permitted to accept anything written by a mulatto.

Alfred heard footsteps outside the door but could tell from their weight and number that this was not Harley returning. There was a terse knock on the door, but the two men did not wait for a response before entering. Alfred guessed that only his position had warranted the knock; these men were more used to opening doors with their feet. He did not need to take in the details of the uniforms to know that they were from the Borders Agency. Of course that body’s role encompassed everything pertaining to racial legislation in Britain these days and these two particularly looked like men who were more used to chasing down quadroons trying to pass as white than checking passports. They were both over six feet tall, with shaven heads and large moustaches that, despite apparently being drawn from Victorian styles of the British Army, always made Alfred think of fat Germans running a beer hall.

“Mr. Napier?”

From the man’s pronunciation that he was one of those who had come to Britain from the southern USA once the implementation of the National Party’s agenda had got underway. In terms of ability and even numbers, they had done nothing to replace those people expelled from the country. Many had had their expectations dashed. In contrast to what they had expected, that they would be stringing up blacks from lamp-posts as their grandfathers had done, they had ended up hassling those who had a few genes that no longer fitted with the government’s demands. Much of their day was spent excluding such people from certain buses, parks, beaches, schools, hospitals and jobs, reserved for the ‘indigenous people’.

“Yes, I’m Councillor Napier.” Alfred felt he had to pull rank to show this pair he was better than them.

The two men took chairs unprompted. The other man had a leather case from which he pulled documentation. He spread it out across the table.

“This,” the second man spoke with a strong West Midlands accent, “is the report of your son’s latest DNA check.”

“And you are?”

Alfred’s question seemed to surprise the men. There was a quick glance between them and Alfred was pleased that he had drawn them up short.

“I am Sergeant Hopkins,” the American said, “and this is Corporal Neal, we are from the Borders Agency, Councillor.”

“Thank you.”

Alfred felt he had won a little victory. He wanted these men to be uncertain as to the extent to which their careers were in jeopardy if they mistreated him. He might not be all-powerful in this city, but he was not without influence. Major Kendal of the Borders Agency had dined at his house.
“Can I offer you some tea?”
“No thank you.” Hopkins replied and Alfred noted there was no ‘sir’.
It seemed apparent now that the mix-up at the hospital had had wider repercussions. This could be tiresome to resolve.

“Basically your son’s DNA check shows some non-indigenous characteristics that were followed up on.” Hopkins had taken over the narration.

“Are you sure there has been no mix-up? A mistake at the hospital.”

“Mr. Napier, they only call us in when they’re certain.”

Alfred realised that these men would go nowhere near the biological analysis, they just did the enforcement.

“This has been followed up on and it revealed something from your wife’s record. Did you ever meet her grandmother?”

“Once, she was at our wedding. She does not live around here.”

“No, she lives in France, doesn’t she?” Neal snapped as if that was a crime in itself.

Alfred felt guilty for an instant. He had asked Mary to pressure her parents to remain in Britain and they worried that it might come at the time when Alfred was being considered for the Party list, but until now, fortunately, it had not.
“Did you know that Mrs. Gould was half-Burmese?” Hopkins asked.

“Must have come here as a baby, say, in 1948, when the floodgates opened. You know, when we lost India, a lot of them came over here.”

Joyce Gould certainly had long straight hair, but she had freckled in the sunshine as Mary and her mother, Helen, did. Then Alfred found himself wondering a little at Hopkins’s claim to ‘we’ losing India.
“No, I didn’t know that.” He responded calmly.

“And the grandfather, Gould, he wasn’t born Gould, but Gold, you know, a Jewish name. Probably forced their way in here in the 1930s.” Neal said almost with an enthusiasm.

“There are people, not Jewish, called Gold.”

“Not in this country.” Neal sneered.

“Well, why was none of this detected? Mary and I have had our checks. You are saying that my wife has sixteenth Burmese and possibly an eighth Jewish blood, though probably none, so why is it only now that you know?”

Hopkins hesitated and Alfred was pleased that he had got him back on the defensive.

“The history of this country has been plagued by so many tides of different races sweeping into it; miscegenation, bastards, all that kind of thing makes it tough.” Hopkins drawled, what, to Alfred, sounded like a speech repeated by this man’s boss. “There are sometimes backlogs in processing the results and, you know, we are reaching new levels of sophistication in how we detect cross-breeds. Great Britain leads the world in this type of DNA analysis. It costs billions, sorry, milliards of pounds in research to get it right.” Hopkins said proudly.

“Yes, yes, I know that. Many milliards.” Alfred said, now with irritation as he knew how much his city could benefit from even one of those many billions.

Alfred allowed himself to laugh a little to see that even a Borders Agency man could slip up and forget the directions on the use of ‘proper’ English. He knew how challenging these changes were. Coming from the construction industry, Alfred remembered how he had had to adjust from millimetres to inches and the re-adoption of shillings and pennies alongside pounds had taken him months to master.
“You have been shown the evidence.” Hopkins seemed to be getting back to his script.

“So what happens now?” Alfred was a little uncertain. He remained convinced that this was a mistake, but pondered if a bribe was in order. He wondered how much cash he had in his drawer.

“Your wife has already been re-categorised. She has been given octoroon status, but she may be reduced to quadroon if we do find her grandfather had Jewish blood.”

For an instant Alfred envisaged one of Hopkins’s ancestors being as comfortable as him, with these terms like octoroon that the National Party had imported from the Americas of the past. They had come in when talking about ‘one-eighth non-indigenous persons’ had proven to be so cumbersome.

“So, the community hospital for her?”

“Yes, Mr. Napier and for your sons. Being mestees, William and George will be expelled from their academy this evening. You might like to make arrangements to collect them. They can join the waiting list for a community school in this city.” Hopkins outlined.

“Of course, your wife won’t be permitted to live in Wollaton district and will have to move closer to the city centre. I have no doubt your office has a list of the districts that the kind of people like Mary and her sons are permitted to live in.”

For a moment Alfred was going to protest or argue he would have to move with his wife and children, but realised that someone deemed to be ‘indigenous’ would not be allowed to live in districts allocated to octoroons. Even if he tried to live there he would be chased out, he was sure.

“This,” Hopkins said, lifting up a folded form, “is your application for divorce. It will be processed immediately and you will not be liable for charges of miscegenation, though obviously they will be held on record in case you happen to make a ‘mistake’ like this again.”

Alfred felt stunned. It seemed incredible that his marriage of over twenty years was being dissolved by documents being delivered by these two bully-boys.

“This is your resignation from the council.” Hopkins turned a printed letter towards Alfred. “In your case, we have included the phrase ‘to spend more time on my business interests’ as ‘spending more time with my family’ is inappropriate as you do not have one.”

Alfred’s head spiralled through all the options. He wondered whether he could bribe these men to lose all this stuff. Could he try to challenge this in the People’s Court? It seemed futile: he knew that even men simply suspected of miscegenation received rough treatment, let alone someone like himself who had lived with an octoroon woman for twenty years and fathered three children by her. Perhaps a prison sentence for that would be what he needed, to get him away from all that was happening. Realistically, though he knew he would still have to live the rest of his life and his options would be wider if he still had his business. Now his plans began developing. He knew people, he could start getting funds out of the country, say to France, and in a couple of years he would be able to fetch Mary and the boys and they could flee abroad. Better than that, if he invested in property in Spain he could channel funds there, yes that was what he would do, run down his business and build a new life there. Of course, Mary would have to tolerate months in the ghettos of the city centre, but she was strong, he knew.

“Your Party card.” Hopkins asked.

Alfred reached into his jacket and pulled out the worn leather wallet that had held his membership of the National Party. Of course, without it he would never have been able to work in any public sector job, let alone hold office even at local level. His membership dated back over a decade and he wondered whether, if he had been in the Party from when its rise had started, or had been more visible in its activities in the years since he had joined, he would have somehow have found a way now to stop what was happening. He guessed not.

“Well, that will be all gentlemen.” Alfred said as he briskly signed the various forms and shoved them back across the desk. He took the DNA record and dropped it into the bin for shredding that sat by his desk.

Neal took the documents and Alfred’s membership card and thrust them all into his leather case as if they were unimportant.. The councillor stood and began ushering them to the door. He was concerned that they would escort him from the building, but realised that they had no powers to arrest him unless they pressed the miscegenation charges and it seemed they would not. They would inform the town hall security staff, but Alfred guessed he had some minutes before they would arrive to eject him.

The two Borders Agency men were through the door now. Alfred was eager to return to his computer and wreak as much damage as he could before he went. Let the council disentangle the schools and hospital policies once he had done that.

“Sorry to rush you two, but I need to get down to working on my business interests as soon as possible.”

With that Alfred closed and locked the heavy door.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of British political dystopias (and nice work, BTW), I sighted a copy of the novelization of Wilfred Greatorex's 1990 the other day in a charity shop. I dimly reall seeing an episode or two back in the day; it was a late-70s dystopia apparently aimed at the average Daily Mail reader, since in its nightmare future, the oppressive government was a left-wing one.

Have a look at this synopsis for full details; it really does sound like a pre-Thatcherite Tory nightmare of what would happen if those vile lefties got their way:

Rooksmoor said...

Yammerhant, thanks for the feedback. I am glad you liked it.

I had only ever seen reference to '1990' on websites about dystopian TV series. I was neglectful not to see if there was a related novel. Thanks for alerting me to it.

Yes, another interesting example of dystopias from a right-wing perspective is '1985' by Anthony Burgess published in 1978 portraying a Britain dominated by trade unions and with immigration by Muslims (funded by oil-rich Arabs) far exceeding the actual levels of the 1980s let alone those of today. I am surprised the novel has not seen a revival given current populist views against Muslims in inner cities both in the UK and France. Perhaps the title makes it seem irrelevant to readers and maybe his heirs might do to rebrand it to '2025' or something.

Burgess clearly was the leading right-wing dystopian, as 'A Clockwork Orange' (1962) shows a Russian/Soviet-influenced UK.

I wonder if 'Daily Mail' readers buy dystopias. I have always thought such speculative writing was more a liberal and left-wing thing. I remember my father owning '1985' and he was left-wing back then and even more so nowadays.

In my experience I find that right-wingers tend to see dystopias as 'the truth' rather than being speculative. Another of this ilk, is 'Fugue for a Darkening Isle' (1972) by Christopher Priest about African immigration into Britain. I have admired Priest's work but find this novel really offensive and racist and I imagine that its relative obscurity these days has mean it has avoided condemnation.

On Wikipedia it claims Priest's 'A Dream of Wessex' (1977) features a Sovetised Britain, though I more remember the renewable fuel vs. fossil fuel contrast in the novel. 'The Quiet Woman' (1990), however, seems to condemn a right-wing character who manipulates media to frame people. Maybe Priest's politics have shifted or perhaps the end of the Soviet bloc has changed his views.