Speakers’ Corner – Government of the Absurd

The Ministry of Silly Walks is a memorable sketch by Monty Python, where John Cleese uses his great physical comic talent to lampoon the Westminster government and the civil service.  The humour emanates from the satirical, absurd, and surreal world that Monty Python created in the 1960s.  A more modern take on life in the UK Government, but equally dysfunctional, is given in the more realist world of Amando Iannucci’s In The Thick Of It.  It, too, seems unbelievable, only partially realistic through the Alistair Campbell-like character played brilliantly by Peter Capaldi.

However, three years of a Boris Johnson Tory government made such parodies impossible.  For satire to be funny, it must be incredulous.  How often have I heard myself mumbling, ’you couldn’t make this up?’  Listening to the evidence being heard at the COVID-19 Inquiry demonstrated that those at the heart of government partied while the minions suffered. The flagrant disregard for upholding the laws these elitists imposed on ordinary citizens is shocking.  It’s straight out of Orwell’s 1984

Then we had Liz Truss, a mistake that cost the UK economy £50 billion and inflicted even more misery on people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.  But the Tory Party remains unrepentant.  The future of the UK was left to the behest of a minuscule minority of unrepresented Tory members, whose values tend to be to the right of Genghis Khan.  Holier than thou right-wing nut jobs, most of them Tory MPs, invade TV stations like GB News and Talk TV, explaining that if Johnson and Truss had been given more time, things would have worked out.  You couldn’t make it up.

These characters are loud and angry, always angry, forever flailing at some windmill, like Sancho Panza in Don Quixote.  But never, never taking responsibility for their own actions, blaming someone else – European judges, criminal gangs, Political correctness. The Tories have had thirteen years in government, but you’d think they were victims, some innocents caught in the crossfire.  They rail against institutions, people, and facts as if they have had no influence on the outcome.  Immigration is a case in point; it defines the culture of the Tories.  This country has a dire need for workers, yet we cut off the supply by taking us out of Europe (against Scotland’s will, I might add).  Net migration is higher than ever; small boats cross the channel seemingly at will, but the Conservative Party never owns it. They act as if they are only witnesses to the debacle, not in charge.  The collusion of friendly media and client journalists allows them to act like this with impunity.

In the late 1970s, I watched the US satirical comedy show Soap, which ran for four seasons.  It was a spoof of a daytime soap about the ups and downs of two families, the Tates and the appropriately named Campbells.  They had many brilliant characters, but Burt Campbell, the father, was one of my favourites.  He convinced himself he could make himself invisible by clicking his fingers.  It was comedic genius.  He’d click his fingers and think he was invisible when any difficult situation arose in the storyline, be it a conversation or confrontation.  The family played along.  The results were gut achingly funny.  Try as the Tories might, clicking their fingers isn’t working for them anymore; the results of their incompetence are real and tangible.  Alas, Johnson, Truss, Sunak, Rees-Mogg, et al, aren’t funny, not even in a surrealist way.  They are beyond satire. You couldn’t make it up.

In the latest saga, the government lost their Supreme Court case from more than likely conservative-leaning judges, who explained in no uncertain terms that the Rwanda policy was illegal.  But don’t worry, Rishi’s solution is to enact an emergency law declaring Rwanda a safe state.  It’s Orwellian dystopia.  Forget the facts: that the UK government wants to ship these asylum seekers 4000 miles away; ignore the fact that we haven’t enough caseworkers to process the 175,000 outstanding cases still to be adjudicated; and God forbid, we forget the fact that Rwanda is famous for, wait for it, genocide. Of course, Mr Sunak, Rwanda is a perfectly safe utopian paradise.  You couldn’t make it up.

Rishi’s next great whizz of an idea was to bring back David Cameron, many of whom would argue was the architect of the calamity that has befallen the UK by enacting a European in-out referendum.  The sheer undemocratic nerve of Sunak, a Prime Minister with no mandate from the electorate, appointed an unelected Foreign Secretary by ennobling him and placing him into one of the highest offices of state.  These are the practices of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Moreover, the Tories have no appetite to investigate a Cameron-appointed Lady Michelle Mone, who lined her and her family’s pockets with over a hundred million pounds from selling unusable PPE.  Nor are they interested in discovering the scandal that was our £37 billion ‘Test and Trace’ system.  So why would little Rishi care about the role of Cameron lobbying in the downfall of Greensill?  None of it is amusing; their acts defy imagination.  You couldn’t make it up. It can’t surprise anyone that I want to live in an independent Scotland with a written constitution free from all this patronage and conferment. 

This week, we’ve had to endure Nadine Dorres, ex-cabinet member and fan girl of Boris, touring the TV studios touting her new book.  The book’s core tenet is that a powerful group of establishment figures in No.10 manipulated the people’s will by ousting Johnson and Truss.  It’s like the plot from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code –   Whitehall invaded by the Illuminati.   And yet it’s dark and sounds like the tropes the Nazis used in the 1930s and the idea of a world conspiracy against Germany. Of course, this should be met with hysterics and ridicule, especially since it’s written by a person who is having an extended ‘hissy fit’ because her elevation into the House of Lords was refused.  Instead, our media provides coverage and credibility.  It’s not funny anymore – it’s dark, scary, and frightening. 

The final straw for me was listening to a man from Suella Braverman’s’ constituency being interviewed by Sky News after she had been sacked.

‘The problem,’ said the old grey man with impressive confidence, ’is all the wokeness that’s going on!’

I don’t know what woke is.  I’m pretty sure the man on the TV doesn’t know either.  I suspect that he’s read about it in the Telegraph, Mail or Express or watched the right-wing TV channels, and he, like the politicians and Sancho Panza, has found a windmill to charge at.  And the Tories must think this is a good electoral strategy, as good old ‘Rishi’ appointed Esther McVey, her of GB News fame and occasionally a Member of Parliament, as Minister of Common Sense, or as the spin doctors are calling her, ‘Minister for Wokeism’.  On the one level, I’m laughing; the Tories think they must appoint a person solely responsible for Common Sense.  That’s straight from the Python sketchbook. On the other hand, it’s deeply disturbing.

Mind you, it makes you wonder how long it is before they have a Minister for Silly Walks.  Perhaps this is the development of a new art movement, The Government of the Absurd.  It might be that I don’t get the joke.  Sometimes, I wish, like Burt Campbell, I could click my fingers, and all will be well with the world.