So this article is a sequel. I’ve already written about how the plot of ‘Plague’ has coincided with real life, but, astonishingly, the coincidences keep coming!
There is the recent, real, discovery of hundreds of bodies, skeletons, in a lost medieval sacristy belonging to Westminster Abbey as reported in The Guardian at the weekend. Not, I know, the same as the discovery of a plague pit, with or without modern corpses, but startling nonetheless and an example of how the land around and beneath Westminster, or Thorney Island, still has secrets to divulge. Just as it does in the novel.
But an even closer correlation between ‘Plague’ and what is happening now might be what I can only call the procurement scandals. In the novel large government contracts, worth several billion pounds, are being tendered and, as one of the characters says ‘…the contracts aren’t being awarded in the usual way.’ It’s corruption – the contracts are being given to companies run by associates and accomplices of the villains, who also make money on the stock exchange as the shares of those companies rise in value. At least in the book the companies in question have the relevant expertise and a track record in providing the types of services being tendered for.
In real life, however, we see huge contracts being awarded to companies with little or no experience or expertise in the field of activity required, but which do have close ties to various individuals in government. The Good Law Project, together with Every Doctor, are pursuing judicial review of the procurement of PPE from three companies, one specialising in pest control, one a confectionery wholesaler and one an opaque private fund owned via a tax haven. The PPE – face masks – sold by the last of these companies, Ayanda Capital, under a contract worth £252m, was found to be unsuitable for use in the NHS (and untested). Yet at least this contract was publicly tendered. The contracts granted to Public First, a company with close ties to Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings, seem not to have been tendered at all and The Good Law Project and a number of non-Tory MPs are seeking judicial review of the awarding of them. They have also begun proceedings against Michael Gove in regard to one of these contracts. Contrary to government regulations, the contracts themselves have not been published (once granted, contracts are required to be published within thirty days).
As the same ‘Plague’ character, a journalist, says ‘There’s a smell attaching to it. Lots of money involved.’ My main character Cassie is, of course, working on minor procurement contracts at the start of the novel, but she has no enthusiasm for the work. As a former senior civil servant I sympathise with those who are having to deal with the situation now, knowing that the correct procedures aren’t being followed. It seems that Ministers are hiding behind COVID and emergency powers to hand large sums of money to preferred bidders, regardless of said bidders ability to deliver the contracts.
I wonder if there will be a Stranger then Fiction III? What about those share prices? Watch this space?
For more on ‘Plague’ try Walking a book, walking a river The Bookwalk continues With an address like that you must be very wealthy