Bang The Doldrums

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The Department’s name has changed again.

Their Communications Manager isn’t surprised; weekend headlines spoke of policy shifts and cabinet reshuffles, of the PM shoring up her top team and cutting the dead weight. A response befitting the precarious position the country finds itself in, a plan to get us back on track.

Strong and stable, that’s what she said. We are making things better, they say – for everyone.

But that won’t make the day ahead any easier for the Communications Manager. He knows it’ll be one of press enquiries and signage changes, website updates and fretting minsters.

He pours himself a cup of days-old tea whilst the facilities team strips obsolete branding from the walls around him.

*

“A right bloody faff, that’s what it is. Feels like we hadn’t been the Department for Recovery for more than five minutes – I’d only just gotten used to saying ‘DefoR’.”

“I’d be fine if it weren’t for our email addresses. Spelling out ‘DefRaC’ to everyone you meet is a right minefield, I’ve given it out wrong three times already.”

“Is that how it’s pronounced, then? ‘Deaf Rack’? I thought it was ‘Dee Frack’ myself.”

“No official word yet, and I doubt we’ll get new brand guidelines ‘til end of play on Friday. Already heard the new Secretary of State say it two or three different ways in speeches, though, so who knows?”

“How do they expect us to stay on message at times like these? Honestly.”

*

It’s all about storytelling. Lines to take. Memorable mnemonics. Consistency.

The Communications Manager is there to get staff on the same page. To help them show the world outside a united front, demonstrate the strength and stability that DefRaC brings in every statement, email, tweet and speech.

There’s never enough notice of changes, though. One minute they’re the Department for Recovery, charged with bringing the nation back from the brink, the next they are something else entirely. The purpose has shifted, the narrative has changed, the brand must be refined.

The days of the DefoR are over, the time of DefRaC is now.

If only someone would tell him what DefRaC actually stands for…

*

The news is all over it, bleary-eyed reporters giving the latest in between re-runs and dead air. It’s a fresh commitment from the PM to subdue the escalating crisis, to strengthen the nation, enable a new stability. She’s committing more resources and expertise to setting things right than ever before, targeting a record 8.5 million units processed by financial year end.

People will soon see a difference on the street, she says.

That doesn’t stop the opposition piling on the scorn, of course. The news anchor interviews their party leader, who spouts numbers, science and facts, preaching how the PM is leading us towards our collective doom.

Nonsense, the great minds of DefRaC think in unison. Because they know that the time has come for decisive action, for the government to put firmer plans into play. True recovery will require more than empty rhetoric. It demands sacrifice, austerity, difficult choices.

Not everything can be recovered, the PM says. The time has come for the problem to be contained. DefRaC is the answer – the Department for Recovery and Containment.

We are making things better, they say – for most.

*

“Have you heard that Phillips has been seconded? He’s helping set up that new Containment team.”

“Favouritism, that’s what it is – he gets all the best opportunities.”

“Mmm. What is ‘Containment’ exactly, anyway?”

“Something to do with keeping unrest levels to a minimum, I think.”  

“Unrest?”

“Haven’t you read the latest key messages? It’s nothing to worry about…”

*

Units, units, units. It’s all the Strategy Manager thinks about these days, whether staring at the cold blue glare of his screen or the cracked grey plaster of the ceiling over his bed.

Three units recovered, one unit contained.

His job is to keep track of the numbers, demonstrating how well the Department is performing; how it’s delivering change, revitalising the country.

He can remember a time when he thrived on it, but now his numbers give him nothing but sleepless nights and shattered days. The PM promised record units would be processed; the scale of the task facing them is so very, very big.

One unit recovered, one unit contained, five units lost…

It often feels like the burden of success lies on his shoulders alone, the weight of expectation too much for one man to bear.

But no, he thinks, reminding himself of the latest key messages. They are on track, they are delivering, they are fixing the mistakes of governments past. They’ll hit their targets by the end of the month. And that’s important; they’re public servants, after all…

Joe Public needs to be reassured at times like these, to be told that the country is fine, all things considered. That it’s still the proud empire of old, cool Britannia, on the up.

Five units contained, twelve units lost…

His numbers are important, he thinks, sifting through endless spreadsheets, endless data. He dreams up elaborate new ways to demonstrate how the Department’s actions are having an effect, doing the trick, fixing things. Flashy new infographics flow from his fingers, laced with icons, buzzwords and data, destined to sit alongside the latest quotable soundbites sent from above.

The more they process, the better the world will become. Because units are stacked high on every corner, now, blocking drains, flooding the streets, making a stench, getting in the way of life for those still living.

Fifty units lost, sixty, seventy…

Yes, the Strategy Manager thinks. Defective units must be dealt with, for the good of the country.

He forces down the voice inside as it desperately tries to remind him what the units are.

*

“I think it might actually be ‘Deeth Rack’. Like ‘Teeth Rack’. But ‘Deeth’.”

“You could be right there. The PM definitely said something like that, didn’t she?”

“Although, I think I overheard someone saying ‘Death Cack’ earlier on. That’s not right, surely?”

“Haven’t you pair heard? New policy. We’re DefCaC, now.”

“Ah, right. ‘Death Cack’ it is, then. The red tops will have a field day with that name, won’t they?”

“Mmm, the headlines write themselves.”

“Wonder what the extra C stands for?”

“Who can say?”

*

Another article, another bit of poorly written nonsense about the Department. What the Communications Manager wouldn’t give to go back to the ‘Carry On’ scandals they had in the good old days. Sleazy Home Secretaries making their homes in the beds of their married secretaries, bungling Foreign Ministers spouting racial slurs on tours of the Commonwealth, Chancellors paying for their groceries with the public purse.

Mishap-fuelled MPs were marketable back then. A heartfelt apology in the Mail, a slap on the wrist from the PM and a stint on the backbenches or Big Brother, before a swift ascent to the cabinet once more as a familiar face, a man of the people, someone you can trust.

The big issues are all so much bigger, these days. Tabloid sensationalism loses something of its charm when the homes are few and far between, the slurs stir rioting lynch mobs and the only expense is life.

Still, people want the same old story, be it tabloid fodder or the charms of clickbait. ‘You’ll never guess who’s skeleton this DefCaC minister has hidden in his closet’, the headline reads.

It’s important for people to have something to be angry at, these dark days.

*

“Have you seen Hopkins anywhere? He missed our 10:45 conference call.”

“I think he’s on leave.”

“Really? I saw him just last week.”

“Yeah. Well, that’s what that secretary on fifth told me, anyway.”

“The blonde?”

“Lovely, isn’t she?”

“No argument there. Heard that her other half was cleansed recently, too, so she’s fair game.”

“Cleansed?”

“New policy…”

*

Here they are, arguing on Question Time.

“What are you actually doing to set things right?” the Shadow Minister shouts, wagging his finger. “We’re talking about the wellbeing of the masses, but all your lot seems concerned about is enhancing the lives of the few.”

The host tries to calm him down, but not really. This is what the people want, after all. They want to see their leaders bicker and fight, voices echoing throughout empty studio arenas as they fling slander and speculation at each other.

“Your party is once again ignoring the fact we’ve already had a perfectly democratic vote on this matter,” the Secretary of State for Containment and Cleansing screams at his opposite number, face red and eyes strained. “The numbers don’t lie, sir. This is what the country wanted, what they voted for. We must respect the will of the people!”

“Well, ah, that doesn’t change the fact that …” the Shadow Minister stutters, searching for words that will please all comers. “I mean, cleansing, it’s, well…”

There was a time that they had live audiences for this sort of thing. Not possible anymore, of course, but the TV cameras still roll and the debate is transmitted out, to somewhere, to someone, presumably.

This is what the people want, they think, what they feed upon.

The debate rages on, parties indistinguishable, static building.

*

The Secretary of State has barely had the job a week and already everything has changed, is changing, will change.

He longs for the days when being in the cabinet meant ribbon cuttings in the home counties, knighthoods for retirement and an occasional ribbing on Have I Got News For You.

He paces back and forth in his office, lights flickering and dust falling as he rehearses his lines. The latest polls have them holding steady at a 30% approval rate, which is good, all things considered. Sure, there aren’t quite as many voters as before, but it’s the percentage split that matters.

His hands tremble as he tucks his in his crumpled, pit-stain yellow shirt. He had never thought it possible to miss fabric softener quite as much as he now does, but time makes fools of us all.

He isn’t made for this dark new world.

None of them are.

*

Getting everyone to update their email signatures, that’s the hardest part. It’s a relatively quick task, but who has time for it amongst the latest unit processing reports, messaging re-writes and meetings, meetings, meetings?

The Communications Manager crafts his email bulletin, stressing the importance of consistency at times of great peril, of showing a united front, of inspiring trust. Can’t have someone calling themselves DefoR or DefRaC, not anymore.

They are the Department for Containment and Cleansing, now. DefCaC, DefCaC, DefCaC. Drill it home.

He sends his bulletin out to the all staff mailing list and receives bounce-backs galore, all automated, all the same: ‘This person no longer works for the Department of…’

None of them get the bloody name right.

*

“We need case studies showing how our interventions are having a positive impact on the elderly. Anything spring to mind?”

“I can’t really think of anything…”

“There must be something positive we can say, though? The PM needs the information by close of play.”

“It’s just that, well… I’m not sure that we actually do help the elderly, now you mention it…”

“How about cleansing? The stats are looking good, aren’t they?”

“They are on the up, certainly, but it very much depends on your definition of ‘good’…”

“Well, there you go. We can say ‘one million more elderly people helped through government cleansing efforts’ or whatever.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Better that than the alternative…”

*

It used to be a nightmare, getting through security at the Department. Like an airport, that was the joke; full body scanners, I.D checks and airlock doors. Queuing for hours each week like the walking dead, sweaty from the sardine-can tube and a dash across Parliament Square.

The Communications Manager is glad he doesn’t have to go through that any more. This is much better, he thinks, tucking himself into his foldout bed, deep down in the sprawling basement of the Department.

He drifts off to the distant sound of clinking, frozen pipes or perhaps something else entirely – the noise of an angry world muffled by the safety blanket of Whitehall walls.

*

“Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”

“It’s sort of… sweet…”

“Ah, yes. I think it’s, ah… coming from Hopkins’ office.”

“Oh. Ah. I see. ‘On leave’. Right.”

“Cleansing have already been called, I think.”

“Oh, that’s good at least. Still, shame we’ve lost Hopkins at a time like this.”

“Indeed. Doesn’t help our workload, does it? We’re under-resourced as it is!”

“I know! So many people ‘on leave’ all at once, it’ll be a wonder if we hit our targets by year end…”

*

The PM sits at the heart of everything, captain of a long-sunken ship. Special advisors dart out from her bunker into the walled off world of civil service, keeping the rotting wheels in motion for another day.

Which way to turn next, she wonders, candle light flickering as the walls shudder around her. The situation is hopeless and she knows that at heart, but the party must prevail, they must stay the course.

It is a tug of war between pride and people, expectation and disaster. Continuity is the only option left.

The PM neatens her hair by shattered mirror reflection and dim light, ready for another commanding performance, another big announcement, another declaration of the bright future ahead of us.

*

They are the Department for Cleansing now, although the few of them left mostly say ‘DefoC’.

The policy shift was fast and decisive, but acting quickly is important, isn’t it? The government must make the hard decisions and tough sacrifices to restore the nation to its former glory. Some might disagree with that, but the main thing is to show a united front.

This is what the people voted for, after all. This is what they wanted.

We are making things better, they say – for those that remain.


By TomAntonyDavies

Writing sort. Manchester, England.

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