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“Please, five statues will be enough,” insisted the man with the
aggressive moustache. “Two in the capital, the rest in the other big cities.”
His left eye twitched, a hint his oldest comrades could recognise as the
faintest sign of doubt, one he had worked hard to suppress, and which this time
betrayed a vestigial anxiety that this wasn’t quite what he’d entered politics
for.  He turned to his finance minister. “Solid gold?”

“Of course Mr President, a tenth of bank deposits should be sufficient.
We'll issue Revolution bonds tomorrow to, uh, compensate the people.”

“Ok, good. Just make sure your folks get all their money out by 6
o'clock today. Now,” smiling, he stroked the shaving brush atop his lip,
burrowing beneath the fibres in an attempt to dislodge a wayward flake of
pastry. “What's next?” He jabbed at his iPad – each of the cabinet had been
issued an iPad – “that's right, the new media law.”


The President liked to speak last. He enjoyed watching his ministers
compete for his attention, his ear, his favour, and sure they could never quite
know which way his decision would go.  He’d affect a bored look, or appear
to study the life-size bust of Napoleon that was always placed opposite him.
This time his mind drifted off… he found himself thinking that he should
probably show a little less affection for the young education minister, maybe
he’d gone a little too far; he shouldn't have given tongues the opportunity to
wag.

“…EU trade agreement … human rights…” the foreign minister droned
on, though she had a point. That insufferable British commissioner with the
oversized teeth wouldn’t let it drop, he would have to make the censorship look
respectable.

The British, yes, there was something about the British, he wasn't sure
exactly what, it would come back to him, but he had to concentrate because the
discussion had moved on to the internet. He always thought it important to look
focused when the discussion turned to technology.  His regime was
progressive: those iPads, the @progressiverev Twitter feed, the Facebook page
on which officials and those bidding for infrastructure contracts would check
to see if he liked their Facebook posts, and the open discussion thread he held
every Saturday morning, live shots of which were broadcast on all government TV
stations.

But bloggers posed a problem. Since the Revolution, everyone had begun
to think themselves a political commentator. Even though most of it was
harmless sensationalist celebrity-watching, speculation about the costumes the
contestants on the talent show he hosted would wear and the songs they would
sing. He let the songs, which, he would tell those in the know, were invariably
out of tune, and the costumes, which he usually considered vulgar, pass. It was
best, his advisers insisted with rare unanimity to let the people have their
fun, but these so-called citizen journalists had taken to investigating. The
packing of the State Electoral Commission. His family’s financial dealings.  Those pictures of his brother that found their
way onto the internet after he fled a brothel without paying (pictures that
escaped even after the madam had been paid off).

The foreign minister, as usual, was right. It wouldn’t do to re-establish
the old regime's censorship. Brussels would probably let the trade deal
through, but he couldn't quite be certain. The Parliament has got assertive of
late and he couldn’t afford the risk that they’d call it off.

He’d once begun a speech to the National Assembly quoting Queen
Elizabeth: “I will not make a window into men’s souls.” And it clicked. She
didn't demand that people were Anglican, it was enough that they went to church
and used the Cook of Common Prayer every week. If they didn’t, they were hit
with enormous fines. That was it: he’d get some sympathetic editors to set up a
system of “self regulation” and they could hand out large fines – exemplary
damages he thought was the technical term – to bloggers and papers that didn't
sign up. This couldn't be called censorship, even that British ex-minister who
used to run a civil liberties pressure group considered it an incentive!

But, tempering his enthusiasm, his more cautious side began to reassert
itself, and he began to worry. It wouldn't look right if the government sued
journalists itself. Too crude. What to do? He'd been reading about Egypt
under Mubarak (he was starting to think that Hosni had a few things going for
him). There had been a man called Abu Zayd and a court made him divorce his
wife when a religious fanatic decided that he wasn’t a proper Muslim any more
so his marriage wasn't valid. The court took the case even though the fanatic
wasn’t personally affected at all. “Perfect!” thought the Leader: allow “third
party complaints” – the Party machine would make sure the right ones were
made.

The President smoothed his moustache again and stared at Napoleon. The
Ministers knew this meant he’d made up his mind. Their fingers hovered above
their iPads (the first to record the Presidential Instruction got the glory of
carrying it out). “Extend an official invitation…” he paused. Fingers tapped.
The cabinet looked up in suspense. Clocks ticked and tocked. Eyes turned to the
Napoleon bust, as if to divine their leader’s mind “…to Lord Justice Leveson.”

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