Under the Intelligence Service Act 1944, the SIS’ remit extends to working in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK, and Orange’s research has flagged up a threat.
She murmurs to a colleague: “Since 9/11 we’ve been obsessed with potential terrorist attacks on key installations and infrastructure. But could one of Osama bin Laden’s spies or a foreign power somehow have infiltrated the government at a senior level to sabotage the economy?”
The statistical evidence certainly points in that direction. Inflation is running at 4.4%, house prices have fallen 12.5% year-on-year, mortgage lending and car sales have collapsed to all-time lows, unemployment is rising along with repossessions and since the credit crunch began the pound has fallen 20% against the euro.
And yet, Orange recalls, at the last Budget chancellor Alistair Darling said that UK plc was in good shape to weather the economic storm and that all the indicators were benign.
Orange says to her advisers: “Could this litany of disaster really be the result of market forces, bad management or indecision? It doesn’t seem possible.” As employees of the Crown they are embarrassed. Then a team member pipes up.
“It doesn’t seem possible that a secret agent could be working so close to the heart of government. Wouldn’t they be obvious?”
Orange sneers dismissively.
She says: “Remember Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and the fourth man, Sir Anthony Blunt – he was the Queen’s art adviser and was not exposed as a spy until 1979. We have to think the unthinkable.”
So they consider the politicians who may have misadvised Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the chancellor. Housing minister Caroline Flint has committed some faux pas, they say. And her predecessor Yvette Cooper mucked up Home Information Packs.
Then their thoughts turn to Darling. He dithered over Northern Rock and his statement that the economy faces its worst period in 60 years has really screwed things up. But the chancellor? Impossible, surely.
Orange says: “Perhaps we should think of the modus operandi of the culprit. They’d have to sound plausible while talking rubbish.”
Then she finally puts her head in her hands.
“But that doesn’t rule out anybody, not even Brown.”
The truth dawns – with the current government, the forces of evil can afford to take a sabbatical.