Bilderberg. It's a name that strikes fear into your heart. You can almost imagine Count Bilderberg, with his monocle, and his white cat, scheming with his minions how to implement the New World Order. You can see them clearly, lounging in well-upholstered armchairs, smoking cigars and sipping whisky, as they listen to a seminar on How To Utterly Crush And Enslave The British People, before heading out onto the wide patio overlooking the sea for a bite of tapas prior to attending the lecture on How To Bankrupt The World And Gain Absolute Mastery Over Everybody In It.
Well, that's what they're like, aren't they, Bilderberg conferences? Leastways it's much more scary to imagine that's what they're like.
It's not a bit like that, of course. That's just how paranoid bloggers imagine it. The reality is far more banal. When you arrive, you just find a lot of self-important politicians making a few vacuous speeches to each other. Sorry to disappoint you. And Bilderberg was not the name of some Count: it was the name of the hotel in Holland where the first conference took place.
All the same, it never used to happen. Politicians mostly stayed in their own countries, and seldom ventured out of them for long. If they met up with leaders of other countries, it was for 'talks'. The 'talks' were very formal, and when they were concluded there would be a 'statement' saying that France and Botswana had agreed a hydroelectric power plant or something, and after the formal photos they'd all get in their planes and fly back to their own countries, and to their homes in the counties or departments of those countries.
But now we have a new political culture, where politicians regularly fly into a Bilderberg Conference or a G7 conference, and they mingle together, drinking and smoking and eating cocktail sausages. And it's all a bit gossipy. Is Henry Kissinger coming this year? I do hope Peter Mandelson isn't coming; he spilt his drink all over the kebabs last year. Are the Russians going to bring some of that wonderful vodka we had back then? It's a high society where everybody knows everybody else. You almost think that Jack Kennedy might stroll in, with Marilyn Monroe on his arm.
And as you talk over drinks, and over dinner, and in seminars, you all gradually get to know each other. Together you become an elite society of world leaders. And you come to see eye to eye with each other, and you agree that Something Must Be Done about Global Warming. Have a chat with Al about it. He's in the corner over there, talking to Angela and Nicolas.
Back at home, your identity was that of a lowly minister or advisor doing what was mostly a tedious job. You were nobody much. But here, in this informal setting, you're among global superstars, the masters of the universe, the movers and shakers of the world. You can conclude a deal on the global coffee trade, and then pop another pork chipolata in your mouth. It's an exhilarating experience. It brings a rush of blood. You begin to feel like you're somebody important. You really do.
And then you attend one of the charismatic Professor Pocoloco's talks on 'The Challenge of World Leadership'. And Pocoloco says that world leaders must live up to their name. They must be leaders. They must be bold. They must seize the time. They must set out to Change The World. For The Better, obviously. And it fires your imagination. It fires it almost as much as Carol fired it in the back row of the Hackney Odeon.
'How?' you ask. And Pocoloco replies that you can, for example, ban smoking. Everywhere. All over the world. That's what true leadership is, he says. That's what being bold is. It would save millions of lives. It would improve air quality. It would make life better for everybody.
And you'd never had thoughts like this. You'd just been trying to balance the budget for the road network. You'd never entertained these sorts of bold visions of progressive leadership. You'd never thought you might be a Man of Destiny. You were just hoping to retire one day with a good pension.
'What else might we do?' you ask. Simples, says Pocoloco. Once you've banned smoking, then you ban drinking too. It would save millions of lives. It would make life better for everybody. People would live much more productive lives.
'And what else?' somebody else asks from the back of the conference room. And Pocoloco says that you get people to eat less and exercise more. It would save millions of lives. It would make for a super-fit and healthy and productive work force. No need for trains either; people would run 20 or 30 miles to work every morning. And everybody would be happy. They'd be smoke-free and alcohol-free and physically fit and they'd all have big permanent smiles on their faces. And they'd thank you for it. They couldn't have done it without your nudging. They might even raise a statue of you. You. George Potter: MP, of Fiddlesticks and Tossingham.
And you listen as Pocoloco sketches out his compelling vision of life in the New World. You go round the world deposing dictators and bringing democracy and No Smoking. And he sketches before you a tantalising vision of a green, carbon-free world full of vegetarian joggers and wall-to-wall windmills. And deep in your heart you're sure it makes sense. The conviction grows and swells within you.
And before you know it, you've signed up to the whole package. The smoking bans. The lifestyle modification. The 'nudging'. The windmills. Cap and trade. The lot.
And you actually do sign. The UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is over in the corner next to the pilau rice and lentils. And the Framework Protocol on Windmill Development is next to the sushi and the bean sprouts. Don't forget to clip the gold pen back onto the cover.
And on the way out, as you brush past Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Dean, you come across a man in evening dress, with a monocle, and a white cat. And he shakes your hand and smiles and says,
'Thank you for selling me your soul'.