Politics in the UK seems to have become calmer these days, with just the usual low-level turbulence, such as the former Conservative health minister
John Matt Hancock who thought it was a good idea to go on a reality TV show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!. That required him to fly to Australia and do some really disgusting things, leading him to either resign as MP or be forced out by the party, it is not clear which.
During his I’m a Celebrity stint – in which Hancock was repeatedly chosen by viewers to undertake tasks including rummaging for meal tokens underground surrounded by snakes and spiders, and eat food including a cow’s anus and a camel’s penis – officers from the West Suffolk Conservative Association suggested he should step down.
Hancock, who was first elected as an MP in 2010, served as culture secretary before becoming health secretary under Theresa May, keeping the job with Boris Johnson and throughout the bulk of the Covid pandemic.
He resigned in June last year after footage emerged of him kissing a friend and work colleague, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office, a breach of his own Covid-19 rules.
I find this action inexplicable but maybe Hancock thought that his future as a cabinet minister was over and that he could make more money this way than by being an MP .
There are also the some other minor scandals that have had the Conservative party ‘remove the whip’ from some MPs for some unspecified transgressions, meaning that. they can no longer sit with the party in parliament but are considered independents.
All these are the kinds of story lines that could have been lifted from the British satirical comedy series The Thick Of It that ran from 2005-2012 that I am currently watching. It features brutal political infighting in the UK where everyone seems to be unprincipled, ambitious, and power hungry, willing to do anything to destroy political opponents and even those on their own side in their efforts to rise to the top. It seems to be not that far from reality. The creator of that series Armando Iannucci created an American version of it in Veep.
Peter Capaldi stars in the series as Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister’s hatchet man and political strategist whose job is to keep everyone in line and do damage control when they mess up. He is a foul-mouthed bully whose bare-knuckle tactics are designed to keep everyone in fear. It is a career defining role and he reprised it in the film In the Loop (2009).
The show features Tucker and ministers dealing with one scandal after another. But even that show might not have been able to envisage the sheer chaos of the 45 days in office of Liz Truss who immediately after taking office, along with her Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng, tried to ram through major policies that spooked the financial markets and sent the value of the British currency tumbling. She then fired Kwarteng and appointed Jeremy Hunt who reversed almost all those policies before she herself ignominiously resigned
In a recent interview, Kwarteng says that they simply got carried away in their enthusiasm to make major changes.
Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted he and Liz Truss “got carried away” when they wrote the disastrous mini-budget that led to both of them leaving their jobs just weeks after they entered Downing Street.
“People got carried away, myself included,” Kwarteng told the Financial Times. “There was no tactical subtlety whatsoever.
“There was a brief moment and the people in charge, myself included, blew it.”
The article in the FT quoted an unnamed aide describing Truss, who left Downing Street after 49 days once her position became untenable among Conservative MPs, as “overcaffeinated” in her decision-making process.
“She was in this mode where everything had to be done immediately. I was worried she was going to blow up. She kept on saying she only had two years to do things,” before a potential election by January 2025.
Kwarteng said he had urged Truss to “slow down” over reforms, but a cabinet minister told the FT that she felt “invincible, almost regal”.
This is a shocking admission by people who are leading a country and are expected to exercise sober judgment, since so many people’s lives depend upon their decisions
The old saying that pride goes before a fall seems apt here.
Here is a mashup of clips of Capaldi from The Thick Of It with clips of Liz Truss.
While watching The Thick Of It, I was interspersing it with the British police procedural Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren. So indelibly etched in my mind was the actor Capaldi in his over-the-top portrayal in the former show as an overbearing, unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled, and hyper-testosterone-fueled monster that while watching season 3 of the latter (that was made in 1993), I was surprised to see him play a sensitive and frightened trans woman who is the main attraction as a singer in an LGBTQ night club. He looked and sounded so different that it took me a while to register that it was the same actor.
Here is a clip of Capaldi in Prime Suspect.