To the Minister of Housing and Lands: The Hon Showkutally Soodhun

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By the dog, it’s almost a year ago that we last exchanged a few thoughts! Unfortunately the thinking may have been rather one-sided as you clearly prefer announcements to reflection. As the same condition is infecting Washington, perhaps there’s a virus on the loose. The cure may lie in our trying to clarify your proper role, as you seem to have too many fingers in too many porky pies. As Miss’s latest report says, you need to concentrate more on core subjects.

At one point, you and Lemon Man nicked the Middle East from Foreign Affairs, although he now seems set on a great misadventure of his own. When venturing into overseas affairs, it’s important to understand cultural differences. Arabs have always been very hospitable, but they don’t expect to be asked for presents – and, whatever they mean to do, they’ll never say No. Middle Easterners are Arabs first and, while they’re well aware of religious dogma, they display considerable agility in circumventing it. It’s the same spirit that prevails in Green Plains, where punters have to go to the peripheries to buy Loto tickets. You should have had a thorough diplomatic briefing before embarking on your missions to avoid any misunderstandings. By the way, whatever happened to the new embassy in Riyadh?

Announcements create noise but are more effective when followed by results. We have yet to see hordes of doctors descend on Saudi Arabia and the sight of princes and yachts swarming around our new marina was at best a pipedream. You’re now apparently intent on sorting out the beaches, as well as clearing up the countryside. No doubt your colleague at Environment finds this all awfully helpful.

Cultivating a caring image may serve you well but, to show empathy with the Admirables, it might be more convincing to use public transport rather than private jets, even when your hosts find it the quickest way to secure your evacuation. Dishing out thousands of houses for the needy isn’t going to tackle the main problem your ministry should be dealing with. In any case, shouldn’t social housing be a matter for Social Integration? It might be more relevant to focus on land use and on what kind of buildings should be allowed and where. At the moment, it’s a free-for-all and planning regulations are largely inadequate – or ignored.

Castles in the air are not terribly useful, especially if it means high-rise buildings in inappropriate places. Presumably many of them have emerged from the cashback system. Multi-storey buildings are often obtrusive or just plain ugly, creating a permanent blot on a neighbourhood or landscape. You could create a lot of jobs in the deconstruction sector by employing non-bribeworthy inspectors to roam the countryside to check whether suspect buildings have the necessary permits – or, when they have, how they obtained them. Having made a hash of things, there’d also be fresh opportunities for Melrose Lawyers Unltd.

Court jesters were very popular in the Middle Ages and there have recently been attempts to revive the role. In the US, it’s filled by the Overlord himself but here it may be better to cut out the jests and simply stick to your brief. The role of Vice is a protocol one, not an invitation to wave magic wands in all directions. Nonetheless, you might have expected to be third in line but, despite the abolition of slavery, harsh reality still favours former masters.

Yours sincerely,

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