'I know they will thank me in the end,' says our columnist, with tongue in cheek — though who knows how firmly?
Some years ago, the parents of an old friend retired from the diplomatic service. They took a flat in Maida Vale and began by choosing carpets and arranging their ethnic furniture, sourced from various Asian postings. Then, exhausted, they went into their dining room and sat down for lunch, one at each end of the mahogany dining table. And there they remained, so my friend says, until it dawned on them that if they wanted something to eat, they were going to have to get it themselves.
Homecomings are fraught with revelations. Going away can alter your expectations, and the best reason to go abroad in the first place may be to change the way you think about home. Many of us return from our summer holidays to see our familiar world anew, from peeling paint in the bathroom to political stories in the news.
Coming back from Croatia, I perceived a range of domestic issues that, if I were to be given unlimited power for a few days, like a Roman consul, I could resolve by fiat. I might start by banning horticultural plastic. Clever designers would produce pots made of papier-mâché or recycled wool, which would be almost as cheap; the import trade that brings plant disease into the kingdom would be knocked for six. On the back of my new-found popularity, I’d scrap HS2 and nationalise the railways, with all one-way tickets at £10.
Every doctor and nurse would be allowed to nominate a hospital manager whose salary, if they chose to stay on, could be halved; with the millions saved, I’d employ a team of school-leavers to introduce a secure computer system to run the health service. If that worked, as it would, I’d move them on to defence procurement.
“Before you know it, I’d be dismantling large supermarkets by decree and turning off the internet at night”
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More cheers would greet my abolition of VAT, which encourages tradespeople to work less and makes it cheaper to build new houses than to renovate old ones. Business rates will be abolished for high-street shops. Online retail will be taxed, as will the very rich. By now, I will probably need a jester, or at least someone at my shoulder whispering that I am merely mortal, like Julius Caesar.
Our youth will find themselves doing three months of Natural Service when they turn 18, during which time they would forge unlikely friendships, pick litter, clear ditches, learn to lay hedges and look after hounds, returning to their towns and cities fortified with vitamin D and bursting with pride. I know they will thank me in the end. I might ban shooting, but I would lift the ban on hunting with dogs, combined with an advertising campaign and an ambitious series of hunt walks.
There will be a right to roam in England and Wales. I’m scrapping road tax and adding road-building and maintenance costs to the fuel surcharge. I’ll reinstate the House of Lords as a house for lords and ladies and get rid of the place men and women. I’ll send each of the major ministries to a provincial city and move the Houses of Parliament to Leeds until the Palace of Westminster is repaired. SUVs and electric cars will be taxed double at point of sale — sorry.
Having done so much to improve the country, I might start suffering from what SDP founder David Owen observed in his medical capacity as the ‘possession-of-power disorder’. Before you know it, I’d be dismantling large supermarkets by decree and turning off the internet at night. I might start levelling capital gains with income tax and I’d almost certainly end up with an all-female bodyguard. It’s a thankless task, I know, but someone has to do it.
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