The Connies. When, or if critical histories are written about these times they will most likely date the time the King was taken ill as the moment the Consensus as we know it began. In reality though, the strands of Consensus thought far predated the Crises. It was in the post-Crises power vacuum that the movement transformed itself; beginning as a woolly-minded Royal vision of the disparate elements of society being united by circumstance into an apolitical government for the common good, before mutating into the hard-edged nastiness we know today.
It would be churlish to blame the King or his Regent for the direction their well meant idea would ultimately take. How could they have possibly foreseen it would all go so terribly wrong? But with politics and the political class as we knew it suspended those who sought to run - and ruin - the lives of others were waiting for the opportunity to worm their way back into power; the King's incapacity was just the chance they needed.
As the Regent wanted to be a more distant, disinterested national figurehead he made no objection or paid too close attention when some sympathetic members of the Council suggested they could make use of the experience of a very few carefully selected individuals who were familiar with the principles of organisation and knew intimately how government and the civil service worked. The civil service had been rather bereft of direction recently; they really weren't as enthusiastic as they ought to be about carrying through the King's grand vision. They were a bit too institutionalised; used to a particular way of doing things. Perhaps some new faces at the helm would reinvigorate the process of creating a new society from the top down?
The overworked committee members were only too pleased to accept the help volunteered in the spirit of the times, and so the political class began to insinuate themselves stealthily back into public life. Along with them came a new wave of fellow travellers from varied backgrounds.
There were the health campaigners and members of the medical professions who believed their qualifications also gave them the right to dictate how others should eat, drink, and exercise. The authoritarian social workers who daily used their powers to make arbitrary life-changing decisions regarding those in their care. Head teachers involved in the administration of education rather than teaching, who - perversely for those in their middle age - obsessed to an unhealthy degree about what the pubescent children in their charge wore; down to the exact length of their skirt hems, their hairstyles, their socks or stockings and their shoes. They were used to being obeyed without question, and meeting out punishments to the disobedient.
Joining them were a whole raft of dirigiste environmentalists, convinced that if people wouldn't voluntarily comply with their prescriptions for an ecologically 'correct' way of living, they should be coerced into doing so. In addition came the public sector bureaucrats, for whom every problem could be solved by stricter rules and a more stringent enforcement of them. Also the Law and Order lobby; and the Sunday afternoon pub bores, who alone knew how to set the world to rights.
The Consensus as it came to be known wasn't exclusively left or right leaning; instead it garnered support across the political spectrum from the hidden legions of would-be dictators and curtain twitching nosey parkers. Anyone who displaced their lack of social skills and psychological deficiencies by seeking to impose their values upon their fellow citizens; those whose lives revolved around making plans for and the didactic regulation of the lives of others; all now found with the sweeping away of the old order - along with its last remaining checks and balances - a fresh canvas upon which they could paint their vision of a perfect world.
To begin with the members of the Council were unused to being in such a position of authority, but they soon began learning their way around their new roles; tentatively pulling on the levers of power.
At first there were easy decisions to make. They issued populist snap proclamations concerning - among other things - the regulation of 'lawless' cyclists with them having to obtain licences, registration tags, and compulsory insurance. They all but instantly wiped-out the payday loan and pawnbroking industries by imposing stringent lending conditions as well as limiting the interest which could be charged on loans to a non-compounded 2% per annum. With the easy credit industry effectively hamstrung it was hoped from now on people would learn to live within their means.
The Council quietly set aside their new green ethos long enough to set in motion another mad frenzy of state subsidised fracking; the Albans couldn't be trusted to abide by their promises so every drop of onshore oil and puff of gas left to us had to be wrung dry. We were assured, as we always are, that the environmental impacts were nothing to worry about; just remote possibilities whose effects could be easily remediated. By the time we learned the truth the hard way it was too late...
As well as those measures they announced their intention to finally enforce an outright banning of those infuriating junk sales calls and texts - something the failed politics had never been able to get around to doing; as well as the shutting down of the No Win - No Fee legal claims industry. They even had plans to finally crack down on email and blurt spam; though their campaign against using text speak, or transliterating - the substitution of for example, the letter z in place of an s or the -a ending to a word in place of -er in an attempt to reverse what they considered to be the vulgarisation of the English language - proved less popular.
These gimmicks won them initial public support: Even if they weren't urgent concerns, they were evidence of intent and action. The deeper societal reforms would of course take longer; but they would come in due course.
The Council members grew in confidence, then became intoxicated by their new power. Encountering little opposition they became bolder. Food Points were introduced; not rationing you understand, even though the Fed was in an even worse state as far as food supplies were concerned than the UK had been in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. No; this was a commonsense way of making sure that everyone got a fair share of what little there was. Eventually this system would become the genesis of Community Credit.
There were other edicts as well; purely temporary but necessary for the emergency care of a fragile nation. Some of the measures we were told had been introduced with regret; they were not what we would have wanted to do had better circumstances prevailed. Some might even be considered abrupt or harsh but all were being implemented for the greater good. The slogan had been sullied in recent years but we really were 'All in it together' now and the Council would see that we were all taken care of, no matter what it took.
As the King had promised an interminable series of hearings took place in Westminster Hall. The proceedings of the Royal Commission focused not on the events just passed and the former government's handling of the Secession Crisis, for those wounds were still painfully raw, the information too national security sensitive to be heard in the public domain; the issues not to be disturbed until much later. Instead it was to be a more general discussion about what over time had led the nation to this sorry state of affairs.
As was to be expected a wide spectrum of views was presented by an assortment of eccentric characters. They addressed the Commission for their allotted five minutes or blurted their submissions in; were politely thanked by auto reply or the human chair, and having had their moment of publicity their views were entered into the record and promptly forgotten. But not all of them. Some were granted an extra ten minutes to answer questions from the panel; others invited back to expand upon their arguments in greater detail at a later date.
Selected people - sharp suited, well spoken, persuasive sellers of ideas - found themselves being heeded, and even co-opted into the nascent Consensus government. Conversely being slightly deranged, having outlandish ideas, poor standards of personal hygiene and grooming, or wearing aged musty tweeds smelling of dried cat's piss was often, but not always a barrier to being taken seriously. Sometimes those people succeeded in getting their point across beyond their wildest expectations. These were indeed strange and novel times.
But the idealism wasn't to last for long. Once the professional politicians insinuated themselves into the process they began to manipulate the naive assembly of well-meaning but inexperienced worthies back to more traditional ways of thought and action. Soon the tenets of what would become the Consensus' core beliefs were established.
The Commission would continue to sit and take evidence for some time to come but the conclusions that were to be drawn had already been decided well away from the chamber by those with predetermined prejudices. The more reasoned and sensible analyses of what had gone wrong with the nation the Commission had heard would be marginalised in favour of the explanation the politicians wanted to hear, and go on to become the assumptions upon which they would base their radical 'solution'.
It was concluded it wasn't the fault of those who ruled us we'd got into this mess; instead it was we the people who were collectively to blame for our own misfortune. Over the years we had become soft; lazy, obsessed with the pursuit of undeserved luxury and celebrity. We were slothful and brazenly promiscuous; predestined to take the easy option. We had become scruffy, benefit dependant, workshy, uncouth, lumpen, badly-behaved slobs grown grotesquely obese on our own indulgences among many other sins. A moral slackness had perpetuated through several generations, aided by a permissive state and the services it provided. This in turn had reverberated back to produce an administration that reflected the people it served so it was no surprise such a morally bankrupt system collapsed so easily.
In the past some far-sighted politicians had tried to force through the long overdue but unpopular reforms that were needed, but their efforts had come to naught when faced with such a headwind of opposition. But now things had reached this point and the political landscape had changed so radically this unhealthy state of affairs could no longer be permitted to continue.
The solutions the Commission proposed were just as simplistic as their explanation. In order to regain our status in the eyes of the world and begin the process of national recovery we would have to collectively change our outlook. The Victorian values of hard work, thrift, volunteerism, communitarianism, more unspecified hard work, obedience, servility, deference, self-improvement, sobriety, exercise, self-sacrifice, modesty, chastity, and yet more hard work would once again be the moral compass by which we would steer our way to a brighter future. The Council, operating with the imprimatur of the King, would see that it happened.
They set about their task with the revolutionary enthusiasm which only the truly demented can muster. A modern version of the Reicharbeitsdienst was created. In the manner of all centrally planned economies - be they fascist or communist - everyone, no matter what their ability, would have to contribute something to the common good. If there wasn't sufficient work to go around then it would be created or what there was available would be shared out, for everyone must work. This new regime would be character forming; it would inculcate some much needed discipline and the right attitudes into the workforce, as well as ending the criminal waste of human resources that was the enforced idleness of unemployment.
The term 'employment' was dropped in favour of the word Assignment to reflect the changing nature of work for most people from being employed full time to a combination of part-time employment, state mandated 'voluntary' work in order to 'earn' any top-up benefit, and the obligation of Community Credit. From here on everyone would be Assigned to do something. Whether the work was productive or not didn't matter; just the act of doing something would be edifying in itself.
For a short while the Council even considered a literal interpretation of Keynes' suggestion of forcing people without jobs to dig out and refill trenches to 'earn' their benefit; but a squall of rioting against that proposed Outdoor Relief soon made them back down. In any case, once the economic reforms gathered pace there would be more than enough to be done.
In addition to opportunistically pitching itself as an entrepreneurial low wage zone for industries relocating from the ruins of the Korean peninsula (and for many years real wages in the UK had been lower than those paid in Korea) the Fed would show its best face to the world by ensuring that every unkempt or derelict area was tidied and every piece of litter picked. It was to be another example of the Council's determination to address the underlying causes of the national malaise. In a reversal of the 'broken windows' syndrome the Fed would be spruced-up, its people kaizened to be malleable, even willing participants in the transformation. This would become the new state religion and no apostasy would be tolerated.
This then was their bizarre vision of our future. What was surprising was how this fantasy of the ruling elite came to be shared by the wider population, and how over time it would develop into a messianic quasi-religious social movement.
History is replete with examples of mass acceptance, even enthusiastic approval, of ideologies directly contrary to the best interests of the people supporting them. In the case of the former UK the most recent examples of this collective masochism were during the Thatcher years, and again during the Cameron Coalition.
There must be some fundamental predisposition to subservience in our genetic make up that leads so many economic victims to further victimise themselves by putting up with being lectured about 'unsustainable' living standards by multi-millionaires without those wealthy moralisers fearing for their own safety: Let alone give serious consideration to the obvious nonsense we were 'paying ourselves too much' or not working hard enough. To uncritically accept being told that 'Hard Choices' must be made by those whose idea of a Hard Choice is whether to send their children to Eton or Harrow. Or think it right and proper those who profited so much from the fact they alone had the money to make money were in any way fit to tell those without a job that they were getting 'something for nothing' and so must perform meaningless displacement activities to justify their existence in the eyes of the maliciously prejudiced wealthy. Nevertheless this tendacious interpretation of the facts became the accepted dogma and the ideologues continued to shape society to reflect their warped vision of a new nation.
In addition to work, discipline would be the Council's preoccupation. The prison service was to be remodelled into a 'Rehabilitation' system, with the process going beyond mere incarceration, but to include the erasure by brainwashing of criminal tendencies.
In newly constructed centres (and of course there would be a great increase in the number of people 'needing' to be Rehabilitated thanks to the creation of plenty of new 'offences'). Offenders' anti-social personalities would be systematically dismantled by exhausting work and conditioning before they were reconstructed back to being productive, law-abiding members of society. As with the worst prison state regimes of the past, the Council decreed they should be open and transparent about their new brainwashing camps - at least to begin with. There would be no attempt to hide them in out of the way places: Instead they were to be a publicly visible deterrent to socially destructive behaviour; and a means of intimidating any potential dissenters.
The people of the Fed were also to become responsible for policing each other. A new Community Police drawn from the citizenry would relieve the police of the burden of dealing with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour. They would be able to fast-track cases through a revised Community Court system weighted against the defendant thanks to sweeping changes in the law and rules of evidence. There would be many cases for the new courts to hear thanks to a populace encouraged to inform on each other for minor rewards, and provided with many new ways with which to do so.
Legal challenges by civil rights groups would in time limit the scope of action of the ComPol, but equally the Council were adept at oozing their way around most of these temporary difficulties. All of this was achieved with remarkably little opposition. Some people spoke out against it, but speaking out was all they could do and their voices were duly ignored by the relentless process.
Despite the raft of police state legislation bequeathed by the Blair governments the Council felt it needed still greater powers of control. The dour civil servants in the Home Office duly obliged, pulling out folders of preprepared bills from their grey filing cabinets they never in their wildest dreams thought they'd see passed and sending them for the royal hand to sign. Most of the instruments were approved, though the Regent baulked and refused the assent to a few of the more outrageous drafts.
As many of the more aware people of the time were, I was astonished at how quickly and easily most of the measures were allowed to pass. I suppose that it was a case of 'boiling the frog'.
You don't understand the analogy? I'll explain it. If you were to heat a pan of water to boiling point and then drop a frog into it the unfortunate amphibian would realise its peril and leap out. But were you to start with the frog sitting in a pan of cool water, then slowly raise the temperature degree by degree it wouldn't comprehend the danger it was in until it was too late. Until you look behind you you can't see how far you've been driven in the wrong direction, how far your world has changed bit by barely remarked upon, hardly noticeable bit until it became this waking nightmare.
It was the same with the people of the Fed. For years before the Crises administrations of all parties had been routinely granting themselves powers no government should ever have under the guise of protecting the people from terrorism, crime, or their own self-destructive tendencies. Most people carried on with their lives with their minds dulled by soap operas or sports and celebrity 'news', completely oblivious to what was taking place. Some of those who realised what was happening actually thought it a good idea for the state to have still greater intrusive powers over their lives. So it can be argued the process had been well under way long before the Council took charge.
If ownership is defined as the ability to exercise control or enforce modifications in an individuals behaviour to a form deemed more 'acceptable' in the eyes of the state, then people had become acclimatised over the previous decades to the state in effect owning them by deciding - among other matters - the narcotics adults could ingest into their bodies; what they could view in cinemas and online; or what was regarded as illegal 'extreme pornography'.
Previous administrations had thought it acceptable to interfere with personal liberty by pricing people into giving up smoking - making the habit prohibitively expensive if people chose to ignore its advice - and determining that alcohol could only be drunk in the strengths and amounts it deemed 'safe'. The insistent official nudge was felt in regard to travel choices by the imposition of extortionate taxes on fuel despite the fact alternative means of transport were often impractical or unavailable.
Then there was the constant official preoccupation with individuals' weight and state of health, as well as the ever-insistent evocation to exercise. The state even considered there was nothing wrong in regarding everyone as a potential criminal or threat and surveiling them accordingly in a myriad of ways; the obsession with gathering information about citizens' lives as if they were inventory items to be catalogued and tracked also promoting the subtle but incremental change from the state being the collective property of the people to the people becoming collectively owned by the state.
Over the years a citizenry who thought themselves free had been bound by a growing body of restrictive laws and petty rules. Once the Council assumed power, the process accelerated and intensified.
As What Could Never Happen Here began to happen here the insurgency which had sprung up in opposition to the old regime might have been able to do something to stop or at least slow down the inexorable construction of an open prison state; but by the time the direction in which the Council was heading became clear too much of their momentum had dissipated. The insurgency's decentralised nature and lack of a decisive leadership; one of its strengths, was also a weakness. There was no unifying force to hold it together and so it began to fragment.
Many had joined the insurgency out of a sense of self-preservation, fearing what the previous government had in store for them. With its dissolution they thought their pleas had been heard and acted upon. Some of the soft-core supporters were persuaded to join the Social Reconciliation programmes, pledging to give up violence and hand in their weapons in exchange for an amnesty and extra Food Points. Others honestly believed the Consensus was working in their best interest; that it represented and would be responsive to them. In time they would come to realise how mistaken they were.
Meanwhile, the hard core insurgents, realising what was going to happen, suspended their struggle, cached their weapons, and dropped out of sight. They knew that resisting a popular polity at this moment would only lead to their ostricisation. Apart from sporadic action to maintain their proficiency, to remind the people they still existed in the shadows, and in the hope that an occasional rap across the knuckles would dissuade the Council from going too far they would have to bide their time until the moment was right again. They would be needed once more; they could be certain of that. But until such a time, any opposition to the Connies would remain largely ineffective.
If there is an afterlife, and famous dead leaders from the past can see the world they have passed on from, they would recognise exactly what was happening. The ghost of Hitler would approve of the recreation of a state obsessed with making its citizens work at any cost; as well as the concept of a people moving together as one under the direction of the will of those who led them. The communist revolutionaries would see much of their pitiless ideology reflected in the Council. Mao especially would endorse the minutiae of individuals' lives being subject to government scrutiny, the emphasis on Re-education Through Labour for 'anti-social' elements, and the Red Guard zeal of some of the more extreme Connie elements.
Erich Honecker and the central committee of the formet German Democratic Republic would applaud the creation of a society where, in addition to the pervasive but sometimes incomplete or unreliable electronic surveillance methods, an intimate network of human informants was constructed. Robert Mugabe might regret the initial lack of opportunities for bribery, corruption and cronyism in the new regime, or bemoan the lack of violence employed against its enemies when other means failed; yet these were early days; that rot would set-in later.
But surely it would be the members of the Kim dynasty who would observe with wry irony, if not laugh out loud with maniacal pleasure, to see how much of their ethos had survived the destruction of their Korea and been transferred - adapted to the local conditions - to both Alba, and to a lesser extent the Federation.
History also has many examples of utopian visions turning sour. Eventually the inescapable realities intrude into the collective delusion. But while a people brutalised and emotionally damaged by recent events suspended their critical faculties in favour of the false hope offered to them, the Council would have things mostly their own way: The inevitable disillusionment could be postponed for a while longer.
Meanwhile it was a case of waiting and enduring; seeing how long it would take, how much further damage the Consensus would do, and who would suffer the most until we as a nation came once more to our senses. A decade on, it appears that we are still far from doing so.