This is the 68th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
The Careless Word, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 7th February 2013
Word count: 789
So, you want to understand? You want to take an interest? Nonsense. What you really want is to be a voyeur. Don’t worry, the least we can do is be honest with each other. Besides I want to tell you my tale.
I’ve always prided myself in being a more or less honest bloke. So what happened was really quite amazing.
I should explain, my job was in politics, I wasn’t an actual politician, I leave that to far more public spirited and vainglorious individuals. I was a tax consultant, working for the treasury as a special adviser. It’s honestly more interesting than it sounds. My specialty was digging out loopholes that people used to avoid tax, so the treasury knew what it was ignoring, ready for when they didn’t want to ignore it. Such as when a company annoys the government.
The stories I could tell you about tax avoidance, like the multimillion pound rock farm on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic. However, that’s not what you were bugging me about. You want to know how I near single handedly caused a whole government to collapse.
It was midway through the government’s term, and it was party conference season. There I am rubbing shoulders with politicians, musicians, actors, business executives and the news media. One of the most common questions I was asked by the people who knew who I was, or had asked, was what do I do.
Now given what I do, discretion is highly recommended. But if in honest, being responsible for spotting loopholes, and knowing what had been spotted made for a lucrative CV, and the government wasn’t likely to win the election in two to three years time it seemed like a good opportunity to advertise my skills and disembark. I wouldn’t have a job under a new government.
So I joked with a FTSE 100 managing director and a chief executive that we, the government, knew where the bodies were buried, and we intended to dig them up. Showing off basically.
Nothing too bad, you might think, but a journo overheard this whole conversation. If they had wanted to, they could have targeted me, it would have been embarrassing and I would have lost my job. Here’s what happened:
“Government adviser indicates bold new direction for treasury on tax avoiders,” “Tax avoiders to face heavy scrutiny and penalties”. It’s not the headlines that created the stir, Governments uses rhetoric like this to show they’re being tough. It was the detail of the articles, I cited several common tax schemes to my audience, and obviously the journalist.
This caused a frustrated outcry from many tax avoiders who may, or may not have had understandings with ministers. In one week donations to the party fell forty percent. Not entirely from tax dodgers, but the negative story built and built, prompting analysis and discussion.
The public were in favour, but a heavily business leaning Government found itself with nothing to lean on. The Prime Minister thought the leak was a plan by the Chancellor, so he was asked to step down, as were many of the staff. Somehow, I wasn’t noticed. By this point I was feeling a pang of guilt, I must admit, but the whole thing had blown up.
The government had become unstable, the prime minister was facing a revolt in the back benches, and his own cabinet
Nothing would pass through parliament, the Lords were being unruly with things that had already passed.
News came down that the Prime Minister was calling an emergency cabinet meeting. Everyone in the government waited with bated breath.
An hour later the Prime Minister was on television outside number 10, getting in his official car, with a police escort he headed out of Downing Street, news helicopters followed the convoy, all the way to Buckingham Place.
After sometime, the Prime Minister exited, and returned to Parliament where the MP’s had been recalled for a special session.
The Prime Minister read a statement, to the effect of:
The events of the past few weeks have brought instability where the country needs stability. The Prime Minister had met with the Queen and agreed to dissolve parliament ahead of a snap election to be held in seven weeks time. The Prime Minister also announced his resignation as the leader of the party.
So all in all, a pretty embarrassing time. As luck would have it, I did end up without a job, the party lost and I wasn’t in favour with the other party. I did alright though, got another job easily enough, like I said my skills were in demand. I think I’ve learned the hardest of ways that loose lips really do sink ships.