Since I transferred to 10 Downing Street I have discovered that there are dangers in working for the man at the top. When the PM's away, everyone tries to shoot me down. The last week or so, with Mr B mostly out of the country, I have been at the mercy of the civil servants.
They're a devious bunch, not upfront like us consultants. One of the top chaps (I've yet to pin names to them; they all look the same) dropped a heavy hand on my shoulder. "I suppose you've got time to spare while the PM isn't thinking about technology issues," he said. I was about to launch into the standard consultant's story about how a quiet time is an excellent opportunity to perform background research, said research being best undertaken in a wine bar, but he ploughed on.
"The thing is," he said, "we've got a computing problem that has us stumped.
Too much technology and not enough politics, I'm afraid. I'm a classicist myself." He gave that little "what I really mean is that I'm an important person who can't be concerned with those computer things" smile. You'd think a consultant of my experience would recognise a trap, but I charged in. "Don't worry," I said. "We can't all understand everything." "So true, so true," said the mandarin. "The thing is, you see, we've got this teeny problem with passports. Nothing serious, but the holidays are approaching and we all enjoy our fortnight on the Costa del Sol, don't we?" I was tempted to suggest the closest he'd ever got to Spain was a tour of the major sherry producers, but I thought better of it. "Mm," I said. The noncommittal "mm" that sounds knowledgeable but is designed to elicit more information when you haven't a clue.
"What with the requirement for children to have their own passport and the introduction of a new computer system, things aren't running awfully smoothly. There have been pictures of queues on the television. The PM doesn't like pictures of queues." I nodded, still not quite sure where this was leading. "So we'd like a proposal to sort out the problems. There's a holding exercise under way giving free two-year extensions, but we need more. It should be pretty simple. Can you have something in a couple of days? I told the PM you would." Snap. The trap had sprung. Panic time.
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