Mrs. Margret Thatcher sat in her office at 10 Downing Street reading for the tenth time the dispatch from the British Embassy in Khartoum. She took off her glasses and sighed. “How stupid of me,” she murmured to herself. “Why didn’t I think of that myself”. She pressed a button and said, “Tell Lord Whitelaw to come and see me immediately.” she stood up and paced around the room. There was a knock on the door and Lord Whitelaw’s massive head appeared. “You wanted to see me, Prime Minister?” he asked.
“Come in, Willie.” She said handing him the dispatch from Khartoum.
Lord Whitelaw read very slowly and then asked:”Does this concern us, Prime Minister?”
Mrs. Thatcher gave him one of her Iron Lady looks. “Of course it does.” she snapped. “You are supposed to be my political adviser. You have been advising me to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections. Why do we have to go through all that trouble and expense if I can simply dismiss the Cabinet and form a new one?”
“I am not sure that will be constitutional”, Lord Whitelaw said hesitantly.
“Why not?” Mrs. Thatcher shouted. “If the Sudanese Prime Minister can do it, why can’t I?” She added pounding the table, “ in any case we don’t even have a constitution to worry about!”
“We do have precedents and an unwritten constitution”. Lord Whitelaw sa1d mildly.
“Then we can make this anew precedent and let the unwritten constitution remain unwritten”, Mrs. Thatcher retorted.
“But Prime Minister”, Lord Whitelaw pleaded, “if you dissolve parliament and hold elections you can rule for a whole new term”.
“Suppose we lose the election?” Mrs. Thatcher demanded. “We don ‘t have a Falkland war to bandy on about any more.”
“We can’t lose, Prime Minister,” Lord Whitelaw said, “firstly, the polls show us 10 to 12 points ahead and, secondly if we start slipping we can always conjure up a new war. Our American allies have already declared a war of sorts on the Japanese and we can jump into the fray any time we like”. Lord Whitelaw grinned thinking of what he had to pay for the· Honda he recently bought for a member of his family. “That I assure you, Prime Minister, will be the most popular war in our history. Our ‘Buy British’ campaign has been most effective.”
Mrs. Thatcher wondered what the old man was talking about; she thought the war with Japan ended in 1945.
“This is no laughing matter, Willie,” she said firmly, “elections are still a risky business. I like the Sudanese solution.”
“But, Prime Minister, “Lord Whitelaw said, “their situation is different and they have many advantages that we lack. They had been blessed with a ‘collision’ government while we have to labour under a ‘collegial’ one. We have one Queen, they have five and …”
Mrs. Thatcher cut him short. “Willie!” she said frostily, “I thought 1 told you never to mention the word ‘labour’ again.” The good Lord made the mandatory effusive apologies but he was not to be side-tracked. He made the pertinent question: “What about joint responsibility?”
“Simple,” sheanswered, “Dennis and 1can take care of that. Afterall, we took the vow of ‘Till Death do us part’ a longtime ago.”
”I mean you can’t justdismiss your Cabinet,”Lord Whitelaw said, “Youwill have to submit a collectiveresignation.”
“This is the whole point, Willie” Mrs. Thatcher said passionately, “The Sudanese Prime Minister proved I don’t have to. It is amazing to think that we taught these people parliamentary democracy and they are now teaching us how to make to make it work more effectively. Queen Victoria would have been amused. It is a revelation, if you ask me.”
“Will Her Majesty agree to this?” Whitelaw asked.
“The Queen reigns but does not rule,” Mrs. Thatcher admonished him. “Besides, she is now so busy looking over this year’s Honours List she will sign anything I submit to her.”
The Prime Minister motioned Lord Whitelaw to sit down and said: “You don’t seem to understand the whole range of possibilities provided by the Sudanese example, Whitelaw. Remember the Westland affair? Had I adopted the Sudanese solution I would have sent the whole Cabinet down the drain with Michael Heseltine and that Secretary of Trade and Industry whose name I have now happily forgotten. I could then have avoided the unjustified accusation of acting in a highly selective manner, an accusation which, as you know Willie, nearly cost me a vote of confidence in the Commons and confronted me with the unthinkable possibility of a forced resignation. Sacking the whole unharmonious Cabinet would have been not only an equitable dispensation of justice, but also a proper interpretation of joint responsibility”.
“But if you take such an action now,” Lord Whitelaw asked, “where will it leave you?”
“Minding the store all by myself,” Mrs. Thatcher replied and then added almost as an afterthought, “with a little help from Dennis, of course.”
“But Prime Minister, you will have· to appoint a new Cabinet eventually, ” Lord Whitelaw persisted.
“Yes, Willie,” Mrs. Thatcher replied, “and that is the beauty of the whole exercise. The name of the game as demonstrated in the Sudanese approach is consultations. I can take all the time in the world in the process of consultations keeping everybody hanging on the slender hope of being appointed to the new Cabinet.”
Mrs. Thatcher then did a very unusual thing. She smiled. A real genuine smile. And still smiling she added: “even Neil Kinnock and the two Davids will be left in a state of suspended anticipation dreaming of a national unity government.” The Prime Minister resumed her iron mask and continued, “the period of consultations before forming a new Cabinet can last for more years than I will get if I dissolved Parliament and called for new elections.” Mrs. Thatcher paused and added pointedly,” assuming, of course, we can win the election. “
“Is this what the Sudanese Prime Minister is planning to do?” Lord Whitelaw asked.
“Read again the dispatch from our Embassy,” Mrs. Thatcher said, “all the signs are there. There is absolutely no other explanation to his innovative interpretation of the notion of joint responsibility. “The Prime Minister was silent for a moment looking at the ceiling.
”Incidentally, Willie,” she said slowly, “Get Sir Geoffrey to arrange for the Sudanese gentleman to make a state visit to Britain. He can personally enlighten us on the deeper dimensions of his strategic concepts of parliamentary democracy. “
“Anything else, Prime Minister?” Lord Whitelaw asked.
“Yes.”Mrs. Thatcher said, “I want you brief the Party’s leaders on the new strategy and prepare the decree for the Cabinet’s dismissal, for the Queen to sign, of course. Then arrange with the BBC for a prime time spot on TV for me to make the historic announcement. That will be all, Whitelaw. “
Lord Whitelaw stood up and started shuffling towards the door. As he opened it, he heard Mrs. Thatcher’s voice. “And, Willie,” she was saying, “One last thing, after you do all that, you better start looking for a new job.”
Lord Whitelaw wasn’t worried about that. He was just wondering what life was really like under Oliver Cromwell.
SUDAN TIMES 7 June 1987