The Lerks and the Purks.
This is another guest article by Graeme No3, one of our regular contributing writers. It’s perhaps a cynical observation on my part, but it seems to me the prime function of any bureaucracy is to grow bigger. The massive infrastructure that has grown up to fight the threat of Global Warming, when there hasn’t been any increase in temperature in nearly two decades, is a case in point. Undeterred, we continue to build evermore bureaucracy around the non-problem to research, regulate and extract as much money from it as possible. Milo Minderbinder would be proud.
“No, no, couldn’t agree at all”. The peevish voice continued, but in the outer office Lucy Lerk typed on – she had heard it all before. Inside, Lemuel Lerk, the Permanent Head of the Department of Cooperation and Coordination maintained his usual level of antagonism to any new ideas. “Not possible. Completely out of the question”.
Percival Purk, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Power & Climate Change, wasn’t concerned either, as he too had heard it all before. He had only suggested a combined social function for the two departments as a bit of Machiavellian manoeuvring. Now he could tell the Treasury that he had tried to economize but there had been no cooperation. The Treasury would know what that meant but would blame Lemuel Lerk. Besides, it was always fun to goad Lemuel, who had risen to the bait every time since the day they had joined the public service together.
So he returned to his office in good humour, which evaporated quickly when he found his wife’s nephew attempting to chat up his glamorous assistant, Pamela Purk. Peregrine Purk might be handsome but he was not at all diligent. Most of the public servants in the department had mastered the art of looking busy for most of the day, regardless of how little work they actually did. Peregrine completed his tasks swiftly lest it interfere with his pursuit of girls. He was the talk of the Ladies Rest Room, although he might not have been that pleased with some of the comments, especially those from Pauline and Phyllis Purk. Despite his devil my care attitude, a snarl from the Permanent Secretary was enough to send him edging out the door.
It was Pembroke Purk who started the whole thing by mentioning one Friday evening after work that the Lerk Social Evening was over the road, and if they could get in, the drinks would be free. That was enough for them to try their luck, but most didn’t make it past the doormen and retreated to the pub, but Peregrine had stood to one side watching a very nice pair of legs slide out of a car. As the equally nice body came up the steps she stumbled but Peregrine was there to save her. “Thank you Lancelot”, she said. “How did you know my name?” improvised Peregrine. She looked at him and said “you don’t look like him at all”, “I’m only new” was the retort, “so I expect I’ll have to settle for Lance or Lancelot two”.
She paused at the door as 2 other girls came up the stairs. “Laura, Lillian, have you met Lance? He’s new”. “No”, Leanne said Laura, and to Peregrine, “Are you a Lerk?” “No”, said Peregrine, “I’m surely Lancelot Purk”. They all laughed and Laura grabbed his arm and semi-dragged him into the party room. “Hey, Hands Off! I saw him first” said Leanne. “First in, first undressed” said Peregrine. He found the girls looking at him appraisingly, and Laura said “Well, you are fresh in the Department”. Lillian murmured agreement, then warned “don’t let Lionel hear you saying things like that.” Leanne looked slightly pensive.
Later when Leanne and Lillian had wandered off, Peregrine asked Laura who was Lionel? She was surprised and said “you must be very new in the DCC if you don’t know who the great Lionel is. His intention is to be the Permanent Head, and he’s determined that Leanne will marry him.”
“But does Leanne want to marry him?”
“She doesn’t know. Her mother is very keen, pointing out he has already high up, and will go higher. And he is quite attractive. See for yourself” she said, indicating a tall, dark stranger glaring at him. Peregrine didn’t need a gypsy to warn him about trouble coming.
Lionel and two burly friends advanced towards him, and Lionel said “you are a Purk and leaving right now”. Peregrine, after a brief survey of the two friends decided it was best to walk out. As he was escorted to the exit, he passed Leanne and Lillian who didn’t seem at all pleased to see him go. Indeed Leanne’s smile gave him hope for the future.
Peregrine did some thinking over the weekend and on Monday morning he went searching. He did better than he hoped and found a whole area with an enclosed office left vacant and forgotten. It remained only to do a bit of cleaning and rearranging of the furniture. There was even a storeroom and there he found some old newspapers showing that the occupants had moved out several years ago. He also found a box filled with pornographic magazines, which Peregrine inspected thoughtfully, then relocated the box into the room he had chosen as his new office. Peregrine had decided that to counter Lionel’s importance he would enhance his status by being in charge of several people, and if that wouldn’t happen in his current section, it was necessary to create his own little empire, at least on paper.
He knew he could collect some discontents or underemployed fellow workers who would be only too glad to spend time away from their supervisor, and give an appearance of real existence. But he wondered how to insert this section into Department structure diagram, as that would require approval by the Treasury. He researched & found the procedure and even the appropriate forms but he temporized. He had a sign made for the entrance door – Climate Response, Adaption Procedures was his choice.
The Gods must have been amused, for chance brought Treasury Official George Brown to the door. He was auditing the Department hoping to find waste and overmanning that could be eliminated. Since he was a stranger he turned down the wrong corridor and found Peregrine staring into space with the Approval Forms A, C, F2 and G on his desk. George was looking for the toilet, but his hunting instincts were aroused by the empty desks. “Where” he asked “were the staff”? Peregrine hastily explained 1 was on leave, 1 off sick, and 2 at a Course on Productivity Improvement. George had heard this before, so he took the partly completed forms as proof back to the Treasury. He then asked the way to the nearest toilet and exited as if pursued by a bear. Peregrine realized that George intended to crush his little scheme, so inserted 2 of the porno magazines into the briefcase.
Back at the Treasury George was a cause of embarrassment. Arriving 2 minutes late at the meeting he fumbled in his briefcase and removed one of the magazines in mistake for the requested file. A horrified glance at the cover and his attempt to grab it back resulted in it sliding down the table spread wide (like the model). It was covered up (unlike those in the pictures) and George was moved elsewhere.
Peregrine took his courage in both hands and approached the Treasury. He explained that George Brown had taken the Approval forms and he had heard nothing since. He was told to see Barnum Brown who turned out to be a quite jovial type. At the mention of George’s name he and his off siders Barry Brown and Brampton Brown seemed to share a private joke. Peregrine played the anxious junior ignorant of any undercurrents. “Oh, George” said Barnum, “I’ve always thought that he wasn’t quite the right sort for the Treasury”.
“Always a mistake to have someone in Treasury with a name starting with G, they’re always useless” said Brampton. “Yes, remember Gordon? Gay Gordon” agreed Barry. “Spent so much time in the public toilet we talked of installing a phone there”.
Peregrine was shaken but Barnum reassured him “It was some years ago, we couldn’t get rid of him because he had a lot of influence in the Labour Party. We threw him out when Thatcher came in”.
“Obviously I was thinking of another Gordon” said Peregrine. “Oh, at least that one wasn’t gay” said the 3 officials. Peregrine hastily changed the subject back to the approvals. He came away with his section approved by Treasury for 7 persons only.
Now he could insert his section into the Department structure. He went to see the new Human Resources Manager, Poppy Purk who looked at his list of names and insisted on the numbers being increased to meet the new diversity, handicapped and equal opportunity criteria, so the section grew to number 12 on paper.
Just when all seemed to be proceeding according to his plan, the newspaper bought a shock with the engagement notice of Leanne and Lionel Lerk. Mother had obviously exerted some pressure. Peregrine knew he would have to expand his section much more to counter Lionel’s superior position.
He went to see Poppy Purk who admitted that there was pressure from the PM to expand the Public Service against Treasury advice. She looked rather curiously at Perry, as she now called him, and urged him to leave it to her. Peregrine got his extra personnel approved. As the internal Treasury investigation found out years later, the application had arrived just when the Official wanted to leave for the Christmas party. Since it seemed to involve the amalgamation of 3 minor sections into one sub-department, with an overall reduction of 4 in personnel, he rubber stamped it with no thought. So Perry now had a sub-department with 2 sections reporting as well, with a total of 70 positions possible.
Meanwhile Laura, who fancied her chances with Peregrine, warned Lionel that Leanne and Peregrine were still corresponding. Lionel decided to deal with this and went to his Club. There he sought out Roger H from the BBC and suggested climate deniers like Peregrine were a fifth column in the Department of Power & Climate Change. He knew he could rely on Roger Rabid to put the spotlight onto Peregrine. Then he had a word with Percy Purk, wondering if Peregrine’s rapid rise would constitute any sort of threat to him. Percy hadn’t heard of Peregrine so naturally said no, but grew thoughtful. Lionel suggested that it would be not good for the Department if an inexperienced junior made a fool of himself on TV. Percy was wide awake by now and assured Lionel that Peregrine would very soon have an opportunity to NOT make a fool of himself on TV.
So Peregrine appeared on the BBC on Climate Change is Coming, or as it was known in the BBC, Completely Crush all Criticism. “What was his Department doing about the forth coming Climate Conference?” he was asked.
“Nothing” was the prompt response.
The flabbergasted BBC presenter asked “But surely you’ll be at the upcoming Climate Conference, pressing strongly for an agreement?”
“Of course not” said Peregrine. “It’s not our role to interfere with other Departments, who are doing an excellent job. Our focus is on the longer term”.
“But 97% of climate scientists say we face disaster if there isn’t an agreement”
Peregrine “I’m sure that 97% of the BBC thinks that too, but they’ve been saying that before the last 20 Conferences. And with China not agreeing to cut emissions before 2030, India not willing to make any cuts, and Putin not likely to cooperate with the EU or USA either, any chances of an agreement this year are remote”.
This was too much for one of the other believers on the panel, Vivian Vestmaker, who demanded to know if the Department denied Climate Change? “We are 100% believers in Climate Change” said Peregrine, “it occurs all the time. The temperature hasn’t gone up for nearly 18 years so some natural change in the climate must be counteracting the expected rise.”
“But the warmth will come back sometime.“
“Of course” said Peregrine “although the IPCC has said that continued warming is likely to be beneficial until 2050. Before then we will have plans in place.”
The retiring Cabinet Secretary was watching on TV and said to his dinner companion Sir Percival Purk, as he now was, “your boy is doing well. Any relation?” “My wife’s nephew” from Sir Percival, wondering why Peregrine seemed to be speaking for the Department.
Next morning Sir Percival made some enquiries. By mid afternoon Peregrine was summoned and had to admit all. Sir Percival drew himself up to his full height and glared at Peregrine “What? I can hardly believe it, an entire sub department complete with 2 sections and 70 positions conjured out of thin air, and all approved by the Treasury. Well done, my boy. We must cover it up of course. Say nothing to anyone. Now, I have to go and see the PM”.
This was true, as the retiring Cabinet Secretary had recommended Sir Percival as his successor. The PM asked Sir Percival what he could advise about a small problem he had. He had a critic, with some following in the party and spoken of as a future PM by the gullible, and would like to have him busy doing nothing.
Sir Percival suggested a new Department, with the critic as Minister.
The PM asked “but that would make him float higher”. Sir Percival looked steadily at the PM and said “This ship could spring a leak at any convenient time. Do you really want to know the details?”
The PM smiled and said “Certainly not. I’ll leave the details to you. Don’t worry about him noticing anything, he will be too busy appearing on the BBC for that”.
So with the Minister came the new Department which needed staffing. Sir Percival had a word with several Permanent Secretaries suggested that they could promote anyone they didn’t want out of their Department. Lionel Lerk had succeeded him at the DPCC and knew just who fitted that. Lionel’s second marriage, to Laura, is reputed to be as rocky as his first, but under him the DPCC has stagnated.
Promotion was a new experience for Peregrine, for he was now fifth from the top. But before he could grow complacent rapid changes occurred. One of those above Peregrine was the ex-Treasury Official George Brown. He didn’t appear at work one Monday. The front page of New of the World the previous day was headlined WITCHES IN NUDE ORGY and illustrated with his picture with bits blacked out, but not his face. George was annoyed for he pointed out that his face was what people recognized. He soon decided to quit the Department and join the Brussels bureaucracy.
The Permanent Secretary was the next to go, after the scandal of his housing extensions at public expense at his previous post. He made it worse by initially trying to brush it off as a minor matter, but the pictures of the 2400 sq. ft. conservatory and his denial of the ball room made continuing impossible.
The Under Secretary took early retirement and Peregrine was set to get the top job, as his immediate superior was only months away from his longed for retirement. He moved to the Azores explaining that the arrival of Global Warming meant that British winters were getting too cold for him. Peregrine married Poppy Purk, who had followed him home one day, and let him keep her. Somehow a mixed marriage with a Lerk didn’t seem attractive any more.
A sudden heart attack caused the PM to leave politics, and Peregrine’s Minister took over, leaving Sir Percival with no option but to leave the Department in existence.
Peregrine was unwise to suggest that the Department would not be narrow when looking for solutions, and alarm bells rang in interested areas. Within a week Peregrine had a deputation of senior persons from the UN, the EU and several “concerned” NGO’s about his intentions. “What did he mean, the next IPCC report, if there was one”.
Peregrine went on the attack “Look at their record, mistake after mistake. They talk as if peer review somehow sanctified a paper, yet those chosen fall apart under criticism. And 30% of their fourth Report has been exposed as not reviewed. They claim the Science is Settled, but they don’t dare debate it”.
“So, you are a Denier” said the EU representative. “Far from it” said Peregrine “it is time to change our approach”.
“We’ve already changed from Global Warming to Climate Change and now Climate Disruption” said the miffed UN representative. “Where has it got you?” retorted Peregrine, “all those claims about disaster in 5 years you have been making for the last 30 years. The public have noticed that it never happens”.
“What are you suggesting?” “We should concentrate on the pollution and the environmental aspects, and the effects on the poor. Those push the right emotional buttons. If you don’t change your approach then the whole thing will crash and the money will stop flowing”.
It was a struggle for them to accept something that sensible, but they agreed that the last danger had to be avoided, so Peregrine went his way without opposition from the real powers, although The Guardian and the BBC were downright hostile.
5 years later Peregrine is still going. His scheme for Bio-fuelled Burning Clean, portable ovens has helped millions of Africans to better health. Over 2 million of these BBC ovens have been distributed to date, and smoke filled lungs are becoming rarer. It is unfortunate that the Africans prefer kerosene as the fuel because it is one quarter of the price, but that is a minor trouble. 9 countries have decorated Peregrine just for this advance.
Extra money has become available to install sustainable electricity systems in remote parts of southern Africa and parts of Asia. There was some criticism from the usual suspects about the use of diesel generators as back-up, but Peregrine pointed out that the UK had 4,000 diesel generators as backup for its unreliable wind farms, and the units could be run on biofuel once an adequate supply became available. WWF explained that the shortage of biofuel was caused by the widespread revolt on their plantations by the native workers, who had chopped down the oil palms and planted food crops, because the workers claimed it was their land.
Peregrine has also used his influence with the PM to expand his department, and also absorbing other parts of the bureaucracy. The Foreign Office lost its Climate Change section, as did the British Council because the Department of Climate Response & Adaption Procedures looked more dynamic. Then the new International Liaison Section requires 272 (at last count) to keep in touch with the EU, the UN, and the various green NGO’s who want the advantages of being known where the money is. There are rumours that Council Environmental Departments could be absorbed, in the name of greater efficiency. Other parts of the bureaucracy working with the environment or climate change are worried, and nervous bureaucrats whisper to each other “when it’s Climate Change, look out for the C.R.A.P.