ON CHRISTMAS Eve, Ebenezer “Scrooge” Osborne sat busy in his Treasury counting house.
He could hear people outside beating their hands on their breasts to keep warm. The door of Scrooge Osborne’s office was open so he could keep an eye on his clerk, Wee Danny, who sat in a dismal cubicle, copying letters. Osborne had a modest fire, but Danny’s fire was so small it was only one piece of coal.
“A merry Christmas, uncle!” cried a cheerful voice. It was Scrooge Osborne’s nephew, Nicholas Clegg. “Bah!” replied Scrooge, “Humbug!”
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Clegg. “You can’t mean that. Christmas is a time for spending in the shops and making merry in the economy by cutting VAT.”
“What’s Christmas but a time for paying bills without money, in typical socialist fashion!” responded Scrooge Osborne, spitting. “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, starting with Vince Cable!”
“Not so uncle!” cried Clegg. “Christmas is when men and women open their hearts and think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave. I believe Christmas, though it has never put a scrap of gold in my pocket, is a good thing; I say, God bless it!”
Wee Danny started to applaud. Instantly sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, extinguishing its last frail spark.
“Another sound from you, Alexander,” warned Scrooge, “and you’ll celebrate Christmas by losing your situation.”
Wee Danny showed Scrooge’s nephew out, but inadvertently let two others in, who introduced themselves as Messrs Miliband and Balls. “Osborne and Thatcher’s, I believe,” said Balls, referring to a list. Testily, Scrooge replied: “Mrs T of blessed memory has not been with us for many years. What do you want?”
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Osborne,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge Osborne replied. “Are there no prisons? Are the workhouses not in operation? Were benefits not raised a whole one per cent in the autumn statement? When I walk to work each dawn, I count the number of closed curtains, proving the idle are still lying abed. They don’t deserve my charity.”
Wee Danny was about to interject that on his pittance of a wage he couldn’t afford curtains, but thought better of it.
Much later that Christmas Eve, having grudgingly given Wee Danny the next day off, Scrooge Osborne returned to his gloomy chambers that had once belonged to his partner, Mrs Thatcher. He fell asleep muttering, “Austerity! Austerity! Austerity!” Deep in the night, Scrooge was awakened by the noise of clanking chains. At the foot of his bed appeared an apparition that announced itself to the frightened Osborne as “the ghost of Christmas past”. It clasped him by the arm and said: “Watch!”
Scrooge Osborne saw, in a vision, his happiest days as a young clerk at Fezziwig Bank. Old Fezziwig had been a model employer and a model banker, rejecting trading in fancy derivatives and over-leveraging in the wholesale markets.
Those had been good days and Osborne had even been engaged to Fezziwig’s daughter, Belle. But then came Gordon Brown’s financial bubble. Scrooge left Fezziwig, tempted by the huge bonuses offered by a City investment bank, and gentle Belle married someone else.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Why do you delight to torture me?” But more was to come.
Next appeared the “ghost of Christmas present”. Scrooge beheld the home of Wee Danny.
The clerk, his wife and numerous offspring were eating a miniscule Christmas pudding, but enjoying it greatly. They included Tiny Tim, the youngest child who was lame and sickly.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.” The ghost replied: “I see a vacant seat in the chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner. If these shadows remain unaltered by some future plan B, Tiny Tim will die.”
Scrooge Osborne heard Wee Danny propose a toast: “I’ll give you Mr Scrooge, Founder of our coalition feast!”
This did not please Danny’s wife, who said, “Founder of the feast indeed! I’d sooner vote Ukip than praise Scrooge Osborne.” Finally, as the night was waning, the most terrifying spirit appeared to Osborne, the “ghost of Christmas yet to come”. The ghost took him to observe a little knot of businessmen and politicians.
“When did he die?” enquired one, a blond man who was the Mayor of London. “Last night, I believe,” said another. “Just after Labour was declared winner of the 2015 election.”
“It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral,” said a third, with a yawn.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, realising he was the dead person. “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows by an altered life. I can learn to make difficult decisions. I promise to honour Christmas in my heart, and to keep it all the year – just as the British Retail Consortium proposes.”
Scrooge Osborne awoke from his troubled dreams in a cold sweat. He threw open the window and asked a young boy in the street below what day it was? “Why, Christmas Day,” the boy replied. “Hooray!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. I’m going to spend, spend, spend! “
Some people laughed to see the alteration in Scrooge Osborne, especially in the Tory press, but he little heeded them.
For he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset. But Osborne’s plan B worked, the economy grew at 3 per cent, unemployment fell, and Tiny Tim got well on the NHS (which wasn’t privatised). There had been quite enough austerity for Scrooge Osborne.