How life imitates art. The row about the handwritten note by a ministerial aid saying Britain could “Have its cake and eat it” in Brexit negotiations is straight out of Armando Iannucci’s brilliant satire on political spin The Thick Of It.
For those who have missed this “must see television”, in the final series the potty-mouthed government spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is finally brought down after a memo on dirty tricks against a protester is revealed when it is photographed being held by him as he walks through Westminster. Sound familiar? For “Tickell-gate” in the The Thick Of It read “Cake-gate” when notes taken by an aide to Mark Field, vice chairman of the Conservative Party, were captured on camera and said to reveal the Government’s negotiating stance on Brexit.
In the 1980s senior politicians and their aides were advised to watch Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s excellent comedy series Yes Minster and Yes Prime Minster which satirised the interplay between elected officials and Whitehall mandarins so accurately that some thought it was a documentary. The Thick of It fast forwarded this the late 1990s and early 2000s and the character of Malcolm Tucker was said to be inspired by Tony Blair’s legendary spin doctor Alistair Campbell. In the US they have Veep, starring the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus stumbling into high office.
While many have gripes about the Blair/Campbell era, there are many political commentators who look back at this period has a halcyon era when the wheels of government ran smoothly. In echoes of the campaign in Argentina to reinstate Juan Peron – which the catchy slogan “Bring Back The Thieves” – some are calling for Tony Blair to return to mainstream politics to unite the pro-European centre ground in its time of need.
The plain truth is that no-one seems to know how Brexit will play out. As one CEO recently said to me “I’m under pressure to pick a team to take us forward, but no-one can tell me if we’re playing cricket, football or rugby.” There is a vacuum of information about the Brexit, and into a vacuum any leak resonates loudly, as was shown with the Deloitte’s report leak on civil services resources early last month.
As Donald Tusk, the perennially amusing President of the European Council, recently said: “I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.” But ultimately the word that comes to mind is one that Malcolm Tucker invented – omnishambles.