The following day Graham Nugent, the media magnate and owner of the Times-Courier, was invited to lunch with the Prime Minister at Downing Street and the story died on the vine, so to speak.
As had been predicted in the press, the Royal Commission on the state of the nation reported on the 27th of June. It was not a unanimous report; the Commission had failed to agree and the Chairman, Lord Silcott-Chivers, had authorised the issuing of both a majority and a minority report. In July, when the government duly released the Reports, the media had a field day. Apparently the Commission had spent its time in a spirited squabble about the nature of the problem.
The minority Report said simply that the answer was to eliminate the cause of the problem. That cause was the existence of GIS. The government should declare it an illegal substance, close its manufacturing and distributive processes and 'impose sentences on those producing, distributing or possessing GIS that are consistent with the gravity of the crisis it has created'.
The majority Report was a syncretic attempt to construct a practical way forward on the basis of the acknowledged fact that the widespread franchising of GIS, and the simplicity of its formula, automatically ruled out the possibility of its proscription. It was now a fact of life and the Report, therefore felt that society would have to deal with its consequences.
The Report then went on to suggest the sort of interventionist policies much loved by the political Left in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Government would have to underwrite new and bold initiatives to kick-start the economy, No attempt was made to cost the extent of the government's underwriting nor was there any acknowledgement of the fact that the government was in financial straights, that increased taxation would simply aggravate the problem or that funding from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund was 'temporarily' suspended.
The public release of the two Reports occurred the day before the final issue of The Dispatch and News. The lower half of the front page contained an editorial explaining the paper's demise but its bankruptcy was simply and cogently conveyed in the sentence, 'The fact is that, like thousands of other enterprises, we are broke!'
The top half of the front page carried the newspaper's comment on the two Reports from the Royal Commission. The piece was prefaced by the headline, in dense four-inch type: BULLSHIT!. It was to prove that newspaper's most quoted comment.
The Trade Union Congress announced a 'Day of Action'' in response to the crisis. In a press release it said that, because the Congress was anxious not to bring those workers who were working off the job, the Monster Rally which it was proposing as the main feature of its Day of Action would be held on a Sunday. It was agreed that the meeting should be in Hyde Park and that unemployed workers from every area of the country should march on London to show solidarity with their fellow trade unionists.
The Confederation of British Industry Chairman, Sir William Forbes-Heathcote, commented on the TUC decision not to interfere with production, 'We are all in this together,' said Sir William. 'Labour and Capital have a common cause which we must pursue together.'
The Times-Herald fastened on the Forbes-Heathcote statement. In an editorial it said that Sir William's remarks 'are not only brave, they are historic. When, more than now, amidst this awful crisis, can there be a more demanding moment for extirpating old class loyalties than now.' It urged the TUC to invite Sir William and other members of the CBI onto its platform at the following week's rally.
The suggestion was greeted with enthusiasm by the TUC and government, opposition and the media in general became frenetic in the fervent promotion of the impending Monster Rally.
From Monday of that week, press, radio and television were preoccupied with news and pictures of groups of men and women leaving distant towns and villages to make their way to London for the following Sunday. As the week progressed and the groups coalesced into large battalions, forming huge overnight encampments at well-organised points along their journey, the media became more fervid. Nothing like this had ever been seen in Britain before; literally hundreds of thousands were on the move in a vast cavalcade of sombre carnival. What did they hope to achieve? Journalists who asked the question were told, 'Well... we've got to do something!'
That was the considered opinion of the organisers, too!
A large, covered platform had been professionally erected well inside Hyde Park. At either side, and at strategic points throughout the park, tall tripods each carrying several loudspeakers had been placed. Both BBC and the independent television companies had co-operated in erecting a row of high-powered, masked lights to facilitate their camera teams. Either side of the large platform several mobile structures had been erected for journalists; each boasted telephones and fax machines and had, also, been provided with large screen television sets that would convey sound and pictures from the platform.
By 3.30 in the afternoon, when the proceedings commenced, the park was well filled and, still, there were lines of marching men and women entering through the various gates. Children, too, of all ages were present, in pushchairs, on parent’s shoulders or marching in imitation of the adults. There was a cacophony of motion against a background of sellers of one sort or another, offering anything from ice cream to newsprinted political philosophy.
The Right Honourable Vincent Close, the Member of Parliament for Greenditch, opened the meeting and, after a few brief introductory comments referred to the presence of Sir William Forbes-Heathcote, the President of the Confederation of British Industry, and Will Younger OBE, Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, together on the platform. With a great rhetorical flourish, Close said that their joint presence on the platform was 'historic' and added that '... indeed, it speaks more eloquently of the gravity of the crisis facing this country, and every other country, than anything I could say.'
One after another they came onto the podium with their notes and spoke into the battery of microphones. The real believers around the front of the platform maintained a disciplined attention; the less believing became restless and here and there, where space could be found, parents and children began to play, sometimes noisily, on the grass.
The words ushered out from the platform. Speaker after speaker spelt out the gravity of the problem, some adding interesting statistical highlights to their remarks. All-in-all though, nothing was said that had not appeared in newsprint over the previous months or mulled over by the experts of one sort or another who contradicted each other on television each night.
Everybody seemed to agree that we were all together in this crisis, that people had to tighten their belts until, hopefully, we got around the corner; that it was a patriotic duty not to rock the boat, that we were a brave people who had faced crises together before now. There were no real solutions offered and the only new information came from Sir Peter Fowler, the Tory MP and Privy Councillor and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The former announced that the Royal Family was solidly with the people in this awful hour; indeed, he had sight that very day of a communiqué issued by the Palace in which it was revealed that the Royals had reduced their travel expenses in the current year from £47 million to £45 million.
For his part, before advising the audience that however bad things were with us, we should never forget that they were much worse for many hundreds of millions of people elsewhere, the Archbishop revealed his firm conviction that if we kept praying, we could persuade God, 'in his infinite compassion', to intercede for us.
By this time, the attention span of most of the audience had been well surpassed and some of the more raucous began to offer course responses to the weighty words from the platform. With less discipline than they had shown earlier when they entered the park, people now began to leave. They had come, some at great sacrifice to their comfort and their resources; they had listened, trusting, hoping to learn; confident that such an eminent group of wise men and women would know what to do. Some spoke their anger, their disillusionment, coarsely; some were quiet; all were despondent in the knowledge that those wise men and women, whom they deferred to as 'they', had neither hint nor notion of a solution.
It was hopeless! It was the Great Plague that was going to destroy them and their loved ones. Many of those who had set out early in the week for London had taken leave of their wives and children hopefully. Like those who had left home this morning, or the previous day, they went off with hope in their hearts. This was the twenty-first century! The wise men and women - the 'they' who, in the eyes of the believers, were all-knowing - could perform the most wondrous of miracles. They could work out the trajectory from which to send people out into orbit and on course for the moon; they could make machines that could make machines; they could fashion society to their needs and their liking. Surely they could...?
But they couldn't! There was nobody, not a single person who could meet the awful problem created by the discovery of a means of curing human ailment within the confines of a market economy. The fear engendered by this realisation was being realised by those who had come in a spirit of hope. But there was no hope! Only a force beyond that of the great... the specialists and experts... the men and women whose obscure qualities were rewarded with the dreams of those who simply applied their skills and energies to the resources of nature and produced wealth... The Great, the Wise, the Experts had failed! Now, like our primitive forefathers, if we were to survive we would have to pray for rain!
The dejected battalions were moving away. The loudspeakers still blared their clarions of hopelessness as each of the great and the good was given a moment of glory. But now they were talking to themselves; the believers, hugely burdened, would have to search for other gods.
GENERAL IMMUNITY SERUM By Richard Montague