He was now Prime Minister, and he needed to hear this briefing before he did another thing.
Over the next hour, they talked him through Britain’s “continuity of government” plan, which would be activated in the event of a major disaster, military or terrorist strike against the country.
They gave him the details of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, where the boats carrying the warheads were and what they were tasked to do. They told him, in plain spoken language, free of any sugar coating or nicety, the better for him to understand it completely, exactly what those missiles would do if launched, and they told him under what circumstances that could happen.
What they did next, what they asked him to do, was something as ghastly as any leader, anywhere in the world, will ever have to face. Cameron was told to write a series of letters to the commanders on those submarines, one letter apiece, giving them their instructions in case continuity of government failed, and he and the key decision makers in London were killed or unable to give orders.
The letters were to be written by hand, and Cameron alone would have to decide what the final instructions would be. Did he give the order for the missiles to fly? Or did he realise that if things had progressed to that stage that no act of retaliation would put the world together again? Did he tell his men, therefore, to stand down, and try and get through it alive, without inflicting further agonies on the planet, and on the human race?
No-one knows, and no-one will ever know. Those letters were sealed, and are never to be opened save in such a dreadful event. Each was given to the commander of a Trident submarine upon its return to port, put in a special safe on the sub and there they stay until they are burned when the Prime Minister leaves office.
Each Prime Minister of the modern age has faced this awful task. None has ever spoken publicly about it, or as much as hinted at what he (or she) had written down. These ghoulish, awful documents are known as the Letters of Last Resort.
I understand the initial impulse that once caused someone to suggest their writing. There is a cold logic to those letters. They are the ultimate act of bureaucracy, the final act of box checking and “good government”, a last act or order. The irony, what gives them their grotesque quality, is that they would make no difference to the outcome. We’d already be dead, this country would already be destroyed, the government that would normally have issued those orders, one way or another, would be gone. They make the skin crawl because they are pointless.
On Friday night, I attended the Celtic Supporters Association Annual Rally, and it was a wonderful night where I enjoyed the company of a lot of exceptional people, caught up with some old friends and made some new ones. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with everyone looking back on their great memories as Celtic fans in a convivial, family atmosphere.
Whilst I was at the CQN table, talk turned to the continuing crisis at Sevco Rangers, a subject which is never far away from the lips of Scottish football supporters. The Sevco fans claim this is a mark of obsession, that it proves they are “the only show in town.”
Actually, they are a circus. When the circus is in town people go to see it and they talk about it, but those people are not obsessed any more than we are. Furthermore, it’s not the only show in town either. When the circus rolls up everything else doesn’t come to a close. The rest of the world rolls on, as here so does the rest of football, and this weekend in particular with so many exciting matches and high drama in the leagues.
What I came to realise during my talks with my fellow fans is this; the “machine” at Ibrox is out of control and running all by itself. Whoever was in charge of making sure all the various bits were running right has walked off the site. The gear works are grinding against each other, throwing the whole thing off. Some of the capacitors are shot. Soon, little bits are going to break off and get caught in the works themselves, and the thing is going to blow.
I’ve been writing about the crisis at Sevco Rangers for the past few years without fully realising that it was a deeper crisis than I knew. It’s become apparent that if you picked up the phone right now and dialled Ibrox you would get someone on the other end. But if you pressed the issue and asked pointed, serious questions you would wait and wait and wait for the answers … and none would be forthcoming, and not just because they are keeping things close-hold.
There is no-one there taking the big decisions. It’s almost as if there has been a decapitation strike at the heart of Sevco Rangers, obliterating all upper management and leaving the whole thing in the hands of the boot room team. In truth, I should have noticed this before now. The signs have been there for a long time. I don’t know how I missed them.
We have the manager telling the whole world he’s not responsible for signings and the CEO saying they should never have been made. Who did make them? Who negotiated them? The manager has defended his signing policy, but disavowed knowledge of the finer details. He claims the wages to turnover ratio is “the envy of world football” (because every team wants to pay someone like Lee McCulloch £7000 a week for playing against car mechanics) but refuses to understand than when basic running costs – those required just to keep the lights on – are more than turnover on their own that the player wages are bleeding the club dry.
We have a major shareholder coming out in the press and saying the club’s finances are unsustainable, claiming they put the business in danger of administration. We then have the CEO slamming him for it, saying he wasn’t speaking for the club and that a second administration will, categorically, not happen … and then contradicting himself when he talks about the consequences of the club not selling enough season tickets.
The manager’s contract was staggeringly high, yet no-one felt able to cut it until it conjured up a media firestorm and the fans went nuts. He’s on half pay until they are back in the top flight, and then he, again, will be on a £900,000 salary plus expenses plus bonuses.
Everyone has known for months that the club was heading for the rocks. As if the overspend isn’t bad enough, the King situation and his demands, along with the split in the support, means they’re not just trying to curtail current levels of spending but they’ll have more worries on top of it. Any common sense approach to this crisis would have any other company entering administration and starting the long, torturous job of making real cuts. Not at Ibrox.
I’ve pondered this in a number of pieces before now, asking especially why the club didn’t enter administration before the season ended. I had no answer until Friday night, and yesterday, with the 1-1 draw at Dunfermline, Sevco Rangers ran out of time to take that course of action.
When the End comes, when the club is devastated by the next explosion, as it will be, either during this summer or in the first few months of next season, the submarines will be at sea already, and when the commanders open their safes they’ll find instructions which chill the blood. All that’s left will be washed away by what the administrators are authorised to do, whether it’s a sale and lease back of Ibrox and Murray Park or the dissolution of the club itself.
It’s much too late to avoid the annihilation of Sevco Rangers.
All that’s left are whatever Letters of Last Resort have been prepared somewhere, the documents which set out the precise terms in which the investors from London and elsewhere are getting their investment back. These people are not in the habit of shrugging off losses. They will have a figure in their minds, a ceiling, on how high the debts will be allowed to get before they stop carrying them, and they pull the plug. They are watching a boardroom at war with itself and the outside world, and although they are not directly involved in the day to day running – something they must now sorely regret – they are the ones providing the money to keep it going.
The time for putting together a plan to turn this around came and went many months ago, probably around the time McCoist was allowed to sign all those players. If a plan existed for calling a halt to the madness, and entering administration voluntarily, creating the conditions for a “soft landing”, the time for activating that plan expired yesterday, at full time at East End Park.
A voluntary administration depends on near unanimous support around the boardroom table. Those who have been agitating for this option – and it’s believed they include Graham Wallace, despite his recent comments to the press – have been over-ruled by others. Those others have their own plan, but it too requires a wider level of support than can be mustered. Add to this the King group, and the shareholders who back them, and even an Emergency General Meeting might not sort out this shambolic lack of control.
Besides, calling an EGM at this point would result in every institutional shareholder bailing out. Those who’re keeping the lights on would be calling in their debts, and that would be the catalyst for a complete meltdown, a day too late for it to impact on the current season rather than next.
The Sevco Rangers board is split, and not just down the middle. It is fragmented, and the decision making process is a jumbled mess as a result. There is no “continuity of government.” It is an unbelievably, anarchic shambles. Those charged with “running things” are unable to make major decisions, and so they’ve allowed the entire institution to stray over the final line, the point of no return. They are stuck with the current “plan”, the one that was cobbled together on the back of a fag packet, the one that leaves the club leaking money like a sieve.
What you are seeing is anarchy, in which McCoist is doing as he pleases, in which everyone knows the taps need turning off but no-one has the out and out authority to do it, where another CEO has awarded himself a 100% bonus not dependent on any verifiable targets, where they haven’t been able to get a credit card company to take their business for season tickets and where they are paying off low-level staff who’s total wage costs probably don’t add up to half what they’ll need to pay their new director of football when he’s finally appointed. If it looks chaotic that’s because it is.
The idea of Cameron sitting down to write his Letter of Last Resort seems grim and ghastly when we look at the state of the world as it is today. Yet, it speaks to decisiveness, even after the moment for it, and the need for it is gone.
Government endures when it is strong, when it speaks and acts clearly, when it has authority.
It was not always so, in every part of the world. During the 15th and 16th Century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was run by a parliament in which every member had what was known as the liberum veto. It gave even the lowliest legislator the ability to block any decision with which he was in disagreement. It’s from this time period and this manner of running things that the pejorative term “a Polish parliament” comes … it refers to an institution where “responsibility” is so de-centralised that literally nothing gets done, because no-one can make decisions.
The result was over a century in which foreign governments would bribe individual legislators to block motions which sought to strengthen Poland and its empire. The country was plunged into anarchy again and again and it lost all its imperial strength. Its economy collapsed, its army was emasculated, its people were starved and enslaved.
By the time the liberum veto was abolished, much of their territory had been assumed by their neighbours, the country’s finances were in ruins and the divisions within it had resulted in near political, social and economic paralysis. If that sounds familiar then it should.
A new series of calamities are going to strike Sevco Rangers, and they will make those that have come before look like what they are; foreshocks. The big quake will rock them to their unsound foundations, and it’ll all come tumbling down.
Yesterday was more than just the end of a season.
It was the beginning of the end … of everything Sevco.
Brace yourselves for one Hell of a close season.
[calameo code=0013829934949a119a7fc width=550 height=356 view=book page=73 mode=viewer]