I’ve been waiting to write something insightful and sensible about the recent changes in Zimbabwe. Sometimes it’s better to wait and digest what has happened rather than rush into print. I’m afraid this is the best I can manage. Make of it what you will. — MM
The year was 1982. It had been 37 years since the end of the War. Field Marshall General Lord Sir Duke Earl Whitecliffs of Dover was worried. There has been a steady undermining of the sacred cause, he thought. Those spitfire pilots who gave their lives (The Few, as he liked to refer to them) would be turning in thier graves. Not for nothing did they fight those glorious battles with the Hun in the skies above the green and pleasant land.
I never thought I would see the day. A Prime Minister who had been a child during the war? Had never served? And a woman? God help us.
I’m determined to do something about it. It is simply wrong that anyone who has not been directly involved in the War should serve in public office. I mean, this is the freedom of civilisation we are talking about. The odd mayor would be alright. One could even stomach a few opposition MP’s – they were such a bloody waste of time anyway. But the Prime Minister? Never!
Lord Whitecliffs picked up the telephone and dialled his close friend and comrade in arms, Major General Shakespeare Gordon Kitchener.
“Shakes, we’ve got to do something. It’s an insult. It’s a betrayal of the battle against the Jerry’s. What’s next? Are we going to allow people who have never heard of Winston Churchill run for any office in this country?”
“I agree Dover. Bloody disgrace. Some the top boys and I have had a meeting. We’re going to assert power. It won’t be a coup as such, just the army taking over and placing her under house arrest. Let her know that resigning is the only option.”
“Yes, I see.” Lord Whitecliffs wasn’t sure. “We don’t want a coup though, Shakes. I mean, we’re not savages. We’ve run this country on the basis of the rule of law for a 1000 years. We can’t change that now. Never in a 1000 years.”
“Don’t worry Dover. The people are behind us. We will take over BBC 1, 2 and 3 and broadcast to everyone in the country and the world. We’ll simply tell them that this is not a coup. Anyone watching BBC 4 is probably on our side anyway. We’ll send Captain Tweed Stonehenge to front it. He was with the Americans when they liberated the concentration camps you know? He did a bit of reporting during the war. Impeccable credentials.”
Even Lord Whitecliffs was surprised how quickly it happened. Spitfires circling over London, and the Mathilda Mark II tanks parked on the Mall. Sporadic gunfire was heard outside 10 Downing Street but Whitecliffs heard later that it came from a policeman who had entirely misread the situation.
That evening he switched on the television to listen to the news. Captain Stonehenge made an excellent job of it. Dressed impeccably in Battledress, Serge, he delivered a powerful message.
“The military has temporarily taken power to establish the rightful rulers of this country. Our struggle was long and dignified. We will not allow it to be forgotten or besmirched by the forces of fascism and communism. The current PM is free to resign whenever she wants. This is not a coup.”
Whitecliffs poured a whisky. Things were returning to normal. Absolutely intolerable, he thought. To think that our war veterans were not honoured by having the automatic right to assume positions of power! Elections? For God’s sake.
Suddenly he noticed that the stockmarket had crashed. Lowest level since the war, they were saying. Whitecliffs wasn’t in the least concerned. Leachers and manipulators, all of them, he thought. We can’t allow a stock market crash to divert our attention. The telephone rang.
“Dover? It’s Shakespeare here. Look man, I’m not sure this thing is going to work out. A couple of the spitfires have conked out and the some of the old buggers we’ve had to wheel out to drive the tanks can’t take the pace anymore.”
“Well, it should all be over soon Shakes. I mean, it’s not a coup. You don’t have to keep going for much longer. When is she going to resign for God’s sake? Is anyone putting pressure on her?”
“Of course we are. She’s been promised a million pounds a year and a plane ticket to Marbella every year. Of course there’s the question of who takes over…”
“You’re not suggesting…”
“Yes. Exactly. You were always very popular with the men you know. C’mon Dover you are the perfect choice.”
Whitecliffs scratched his white goatee. “I’ll consider it, but only if we introduce rationing again. You know how good those ration days were for the country. Suffering together. Business as usual, Mr Hitler. You know?”
“Excellent idea Dover. I’ll get the junta, er um, the lads to discuss it. I’m sure they’ll agree.”
“And one other thing Shakes. I’d like Dame Vera Lynn to sing at the inauguration. See if you can persuade her to do that.”
“Consider it done old chum. Actually, we’ve surrounded her house with Chelsea pensioners and one of them is in there with her as we speak. They’re trying to persuade her to do a rendition of ‘Bluebirds’ on BBC 1,2,3 and 4. That will lift everyone’s spirits. Don’t you agree?”
“Indeed.” said Lord Whitecliffs. “Yes, indeed.”
“One last thing Dover. You better get rid of that Japanese skull you kept after the Burma Campaign. May not go down too well these days.” The Major General put down the phone.
Lord Whitecliffs returned to his whisky and his seat at the fire. Prime Minister, hey? Well, well, well.
The empire, he thought suddenly. We must have it back. I know who to speak to about this. Lord Carrington. Major in the Grenadier Guards. Military Cross. He was in the last Churchill government for God’s sake. What more could you ask for?
“Hello Peter? This is Whitecliffs.”
“Of Dover. Whitecliffs of Dover. Field Marshal. Battle of Berlin.”
“Oh yes, of course Dover. How are you?”
“Very well thank you. Look, I was thinking about trying to get back the empire once I become Prime Minister. What do you think?”
“Well, we just gave the last bit of it away two years ago. I mean, there’s really only Hong Kong left now.”
“Which bit was that?”
“Rhodesia. Dreadful bloody business, but its over now. We’ve handed it to a good chap. Robert Mugabe. Properly elected and everything.”
“I see. Well, couldn’t we just invade and reverse the whole thing.”
“I’m not sure that would work Dover. I mean, we’ve got the Argentinians breathing down our necks in the Falklands at the moment. Might be overstretching ourselves a bit.”
“Oh. Bugger. Well perhaps I’ll speak to our High Commissioner in Salisbury and see what he thinks. Maybe some money could change hands, if you know what I mean?”
Carrington put down the phone. How rude, thought Whitecliffs.
His Excellency The Comrade President Robert Mugabe sat listening to the recording. The rest of the politburo were grim faced and silent.
“So, they are planning an invasion?” Mugabe said slowly, using his best imitation of the Queen’s English. “Are we to believe that these clandestine recordings are indeed a true reflection of their intentions?”
Comrade Secret Chavakanzika spoke from the end of the conference table.
“Comrade President I personally collected these recordings. I managed to tap the lines from the High Commission phones. They are genuine.”
Comrade Stalin Mau Mau was working himself into a rage. He couldn’t contain himself any longer.
“We must set up camps!” he spluttered. Even he couldn’t make himself use the word “concentration.” “We must detain their kith and kin immediately. They are traitors living among us!”
His Excellency The Comrade President Mugabe twirled his gold signet ring. He turned to Comrade Churchill Gonakudzingwaruvimbo. They had been side by side in the bush in Mozambique for a decade. He trusted Churchill.
“What is your proposal Comrade Churchill?”
Comrade Churchill rubbed his hands and swallowed what he was chewing. He shifted his vast bulk to the other side of the seat.
“Yes. Traitors. They were singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at Highlands presbyterian Church on Sunday. You know what that means? They have been informed of the invasion. We have one of our people in there, listening.”
His Excellency The Comrade President Mugabe peered at Comrade Churchill.
He continued. “We need to tap the American Embassy too. It might be the CIA. We should call Comrade Castro and see if the Cubans have heard anything.”
By the time the politburo adjourned for a traditional meal (only traditional meals were allowed), they’d come up with a plan and a press statement:
“We reject the imperialist colonial machinations and dastardly plotting by the current illegitimate regime in London. Lord Whiteman of Dover and his henchmen have been headed off at the pass, so to speak, and our independence is secure. Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!”
The phone rang.
“Hello Dover? Peter Carrington. I’m afraid your call to the High Commissioner in Harare hasn’t been a great success. They’ve intercepted it.”
“Call to where?”
“Salisbury. Rhodesia. Zimbabwe now,” said Lord Carrington.
“Oh. Well, perhaps we’d better call the whole thing off then.”
“Yes. Good idea. We can’t go around reclaiming these places you know. I did a lot of work getting that constitution signed up. The Queen didn’t want to go over for the ceremony but we managed to persuade her to send Charles. He handed over the keys, you know. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Yes, yes of course. Oh well. Lose a battle to win the war. If you know what I mean,” said Whitecliffs.
“I’m not sure I do know what you mean, actually, ” said Lord Carrington.
“The war! To set up a legitimate government in this country. Come on Peter, you were in the war. It was the closest we’ve come to invasion since the Normans. We can’t have just anyone running the country. We can’t have these bloody spoiled beatniks thinking they have a right to get elected and make the rules.”
“Yes quite,” said Lord Carrington, unsure of how to respond.
“Now, have you spoken to the Queen about knighting the cabinet this afternoon? It’s essential that the whole cabinet is knighted before the end of the week,” said Whitecliffs.
“Ah yes. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that too.” said Lord Carrington. This is absurd, he thought.
“And the table? Do you remember?” asked Whitecliffs. “I asked you to organise a round table for the cabinet office. We can’t be doing with a long rectangular table. It’s a complete joke. I’d like that in place in time for the first cabinet meeting after the knighthoods have been awarded. We’re returning the country to glory Peter. Don’t beat about the bush here!”
“Yes, Prime Minister,” answered Lord Carrington quietly. I wonder whether a High Commissioners position might be a way to escape for a few years, he thought. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere where we haven’t had too much influence for a while. I can’t do another Rhodesia. Johannesburg, perhaps?