I have just been able to view the first season of the BBC TV satire The Thick of It that ran from 2005 through 2012. It purports to show the brutal backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes of UK politics and the media. Peter Capaldi is clearly having a great time playing Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister’s ruthless ‘enforcer’, who gets to do the PM’s dirty work such as getting ministers to take the blame for any mistakes even if they are not at fault, firing them, and then writing their ‘resignation’ letters. He is a domineering and aggressive person whose is constantly scheming and whose in-your-face belligerence cows everyone around him. His very appearance in their office makes their hearts sink. He wields tremendous power over even ministers of state, ordering them and their staff around. He is the PM’s spin doctor manipulating the media, This clip gives you a good sense of his character.
The show was the creation of Armando Iannucci who later went on to do the same thing about US politics in Veep. Both The Thick of It and Veep are notable for the massive amounts of swearing. The show’s Wikipedia page says the the creators actually hired a ‘swearing consultant’ to advise them on how to ramp up the swearing.
It is filmed in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style using shaky handheld cameras and characters speaking over each other. The show is an utterly cynical portrayal of politics, politicians, and the media. On thing I noted is that going by this show, British politicians seem to be extremely sensitive to how they are covered in the press and the opinions of political columnists, feeling the need to respond quickly and aggressively to any negative coverage. I do not think that it is so extreme in the US. Of course, British newspapers are also very aggressive since they are often openly partisan in their sympathies and do not make any pretense of their desire to boost their own party’s fortunes and run down the opponents.
Watching it while all the drama unfolds in the UK made the two-decade old series seem very timely. As the competition to replace Liz Truss goes down to the wire on Monday, we can expect a bare-knuckle fight between supporters of Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Boris Johnson. There are some Conservative MPs who cannot stand Johnson at any price and are threatening to resign or force a general election if he should win.
“There’s a lot of people who still just hate each other – that has not changed since the summer,” said a Mordaunt ally. “It’s only intensified. That is why Penny could emerge as the genuine unity candidate. There’s Boris people who look at Rishi and just really can’t stomach him and won’t want to serve under him – and I doubt they are going to be quiet in any situation in which Rishi is prime minister. She has none of the baggage. If not first, she is everyone’s number two choice. Her private numbers are much higher than publicly listed.”
The ‘anyone but Boris’ vibe is really strong among members as well as well as the public, according to another MP: “I don’t think anything is sewn up. There’s a realisation that if he won, I think a whole load of the party would just refuse en masse to obey orders.”
That may be just bluster on their part, though, a threat they will not carry through.
Meanwhile. Jonathan Pie delivers Liz Truss’s political obituary.