I'm back within the inner core of the Column as part of a group discussing the best means of attacking the Connies' record in office. Our professor is here to advise us, but it is we who need to come up with a strategy to defeat the buggers; and it won't be an easy thing to do. The prof's analysis may well be correct, but those of us who aren't university academics have a hard time grasping the complex sociology of his reasoning. I'm not dumb but it is quite a mental exercise to understand his argument. If I've got it correctly it runs something like this.
The Connies actually have a considerable support base. Yes it's crazy, but it happens to be so. By now many people have a vested interest in the Consensus government continuing; the system they have created ensures power and pelf from those sitting on the Council all the way down to the local Compy who supplements their meagre income with the ComCred they receive from the issuing of spot fines or items 'confiscated' in random searches.
Not only have people become accustomed to living this way, they are so conditioned to it they can't imagine living in any alternative manner; and there are many who actually derive a perverse pleasure in seein the lives and bodies of others bent to their will. It has become more than just a struggle to survive and prosper within the system; it is now a way of life. But how could such a system develop in what was - at least in theory - one of the more liberal countries in the world?
The answer is rooted in the ante-Crises culture which predated the Federation and Council; one of economic insecurity and snide jealously inflamed by the many diverse fears concocted by a sensationalist, judgemental media. This led to a people feeling so anxious and fearful they judged the quality of their own lives in regard to that they perceived others to have; whether those perceptions were accurately based on first-hand observations or influenced by the constant hatemongering propaganda.
Over the years this bred a culture where not only was it considered socially acceptable to inform on a case of suspected wrongdoing - jumping to conclusions before knowing all the facts; it became actively encouraged with grass-in TV programmes not only providing prurient entertainment but hotlines to do so, giving those with a generalised or specific grudge an easy outlet to anonymously express their suspicions. Snitching was not only an exciting and satisfying way of enhancing your self-perceived status by doing your fellow strugglers down; it could on occasions be lucrative.
With so much of the work having already been done in advance the Council found it easy to shape the pliant clay of the populace to their design. Divide and Rule had always been a favoured means of control with the psychologically shocked, disoriented and malnourished people of the immediate post-Crises Fed being prime subjects for manipulation.
They wanted relief from the poverty, the conflict, the uncertainty. They wanted someone with a vision to lead them along a route out of this mess, and the Council offered them one. The radical communitarians in the vanguard of the Consensus movement being most in agreement with the hijacked views of the Royal Commission were used to acting assertively and taking leadership roles, so they were the first to insinuate themselves into the new power structures and as a result direct the policies of these new organisations to their way of thinking.
With increasing rapidity the state has ingratiated itself into peoples' lives as a result of the work and social services it dispenses. A thankful nation now conflates the Council and the organisers of those semi-voluntary services driven by the new ideology of collective self-improvement and reform into a single entity.
Given a sense of purpose again, goals to aim for, hope for the future, and a sense of self-worth, a new social movement has emerged from the state organised reconstruction efforts. Just as puppies eager to receive rewards and favour, a servile public delivered from a far worse fate set out with grateful enthusiasm to do their masters' bidding.
Totalitarians of every hue have dreamed of an indivisible fusion of state and people. In the creation of the Fed it finally appears to have been made real and workable. There is a place for everyone, and everyone in their place; whether they like it or not; with just the right combination of carrot and stick to sustain the system. In this brave new market collectivist world we all move forward together - well, most of us - while occasionally jostling against or trampling each other in our struggle to get slightly further ahead; to be seen to be doing that little bit more in the eyes of our new overseers. With the new state having greatly increased powers and control over the distribution of the means of life, as well as the will to use that leverage against its new serfs it has been easy to lead, and occasionally prod, a bovine public onto their new pastures.
Or to sum it up bluntly; feed someone who is hungry and they will be thankful enough to love you, as well as doing what you tell them to do.
This 'Stockholm Syndrome' in which those held hostage begin to submissively adopt the views of their captors is the underpinning of the Fed: A Consensus of Council, state, and people in a newfound unity of purpose.
We'll have to confront and defeat this culture in order to win the election. Given such a legacy of doe-eyed, fawning gratitude for what the Consensus has done in dragging a broken nation back - but not as far back as they would have us believe - from the brink of disaster, and an organisation which has had the best part of a decade to become such an integral feature in the fabric of most peoples' everyday lives; breaking their stranglehold on the electorate is going to be difficult.
At the end of his lecture there is a silence of contemplative thought and an awkwardness of not knowing how to respond. But a half-thought out idea of mine wrestles it's way to completion, and I break the silence.
"So if I understand you correctly, we're trying to defeat all that the Consensus is, and ever has been; their legacy in fact. That's a lot of a point to get across in one go, and perhaps it isn't possible to do." That prompts some startled looks. "But maybe we don't need to. Perhaps we're going at this the wrong way? If we can't attack the Connies and their record as a whole, then we could identify specific issues we can target - such as that hassle I had last week in the CSO - and use those as touchstones of discontent. I had a lot of positive feedback from people who suffered the same problems as I did, and I believe there is a lot of unexpressed resentment at the way things are.
What we could do is to somehow separate the Connies of the past and their legacy, put that to one side, then concentrate on attacking their recent record. I believe they are vulnerable on that score, and we can really hammer them in the here and now while they try to bask in their past glories. It's what people remember at the moment that will make the difference. We have to concentrate on the reality of the mess they've made of our lives now, and if we do then I think we have the basis of a winning strategy."
I can see the light of hope and understanding switching on in the faces around the table. Something has clicked and once it does the mental block we had been labouring to move out of the way vanishes, leaving our road clear. Of course it won't be that easy, but I feel as the meeting winds to its close I've been able to contribute something constructive to it.
While my stock is high I think now would be the time to broach that delicate matter to James. As the session breaks up I manage to arrange a few private moments with him in another office and as diplomatically as I can, explain my concerns.
"There's something on my mind I need to discus with you. As you may have noticed this afternoon, I'm taking my work on this campaign very seriously. As part of that I've been trying to put myself in our opponents' flacks, and consider the strategies they might use against the NRP in general, and you in particular as its leader. I think if they could dredge up any personal dirt to use against you then they wouldn't hesitate to use it, moralistic bastards that they are. So I followed that line of thought, and went trawling through the rumour mills of the dark web to see what they might find.
Whoever has been cleaning up behind you has done an impressive job, but what struck me is the extent of the sanitising. It's so large and widespread that I can't help but wonder what exactly has been erased. I know your private life is private, and none of my business, but those people in that room are devoting a great deal of their time and energy to your campaign; not to mention putting themselves at some personal risk. It would be a shame to see all that good work come to nothing because we were blindsided by a Connie ambush."
James looks temporarily taken aback but instantly regains his composure. "I appreciate your candour Richard, but I assure you, everything has been taken care of. All you saw is my legal team making sure all the false rumours and slanders were removed. We don't want to waste our time in the heat of the campaign dealing with nonsense and falsehoods so we're acting on it now. You've got a train to catch soon haven't you? I wouldn't want you to miss it."
The way he answers, and attempts to dismiss me begins to raise my hackles; but it would be extremely counterproductive for me to have an argument with him.
"Well as long as you're happy. I'm still concerned they're probably several steps ahead of us, and been anticipating your moves in advance. Let's face it; they're holding all the cards at the moment, and if I were them I'd have begun digging a long time ago. Any recent whitewashing won't have affected what they may have been able to find and archive in the past." Again a flicker of uncertainty, or was it guilt? flashes across his face. "All I'll say is that if there's something that may compromise the campaign, and you don't want to tell us, which is quite understandable; at least consider how you will respond if it does go public. You owe that much to us. We're all putting in a great deal of work on your behalf, and we don't want to see it all blow up in our faces." I see annoyance flash in his eyes. "But as you say, I've got a train to catch so I'd better leave now; all I'm asking is that you consider what I say." And with that I turn and leave as calmly as possible: There's no point in riling him any further.
I think I've given him pause for thought. I hope his annoyance will pass, and he'll understand my reasoning; I'll be deep in it if he takes permanent umbrage. But my overriding thought as the lift takes me down is his lack of denial, and the tacit admission of the clean-up. I wonder what exactly is it he felt he had to bury? I'm even more curious to find out now.