A few weeks ago I was delighted to see two very familiar names in the candidates’ book of the Savile Club. Younger readers may not recognise Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, but among the sitcoms they have under their belt are Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart, and my favourite – The New Statesman.
Running from 1987 to 1992, it followed the mercurial rise of an unprincipled, sociopathic, Thatcherite MP played by Rik Mayall, the series instantly fit into the blossoming political satire spearheaded by Spitting Image. It also gained a reputation for prophecy.
A first series episode, for example, had Alan making a quick buck from illegally dumping nuclear waste in a mine shaft which just happened to run under a school (but “only a council school”). “And then about four weeks later,” Gran explained on TV show Comedy Connections, “there was a big story in one of the papers saying that a school in Grimsby had a consignment of nuclear waste found under the school.”
The series thrived because, like The Thick of It, audiences recognised that there was a great deal of truth even in its absurdity. The truth was as strange as fiction, and the series rarely went too far into the fantastical. One instance where it did was the final episode in which Alan, now an MEP, orchestrates an elaborate scheme which results in the Conservative Party splitting into the pro-EU Progressive Federalist Party and the anti-EU New Patriotic Party. The New Patriotic Party goes on to win the general election, leading to Alan installing himself as Lord Protector and setting Britain on a course to leave the EU. It seemed too silly and far removed, even with the civil war then going on in the party, to be effective satire.
— Marks and Gran (@marksandgran) March 15, 2017
— Marks and Gran (@marksandgran) March 20, 2017
Then 23 years later, of course, we are actually leaving the EU, politics is beginning to reformulate along Leave or Remain lines, and just for good meaure, Aaron Banks splits with UKIP to form the bloody Patriotic Alliance.
I tweeted Marks and Gran to alert them to their latest, delayed, prophecy and asked them on Twitter how they’d feel about an interview on the death of satire. After all, what do you do once truth becomes stranger than fiction? When Donald Trump is President of the United States of America and David Lammy MP can pen an Evening Standard column on why Brexit means London should become a city state?
“Who said satire was dead?”, they tweeted back. “Maybe It’s just catching its breath.”
Well, I’ll say it. I’ve spent my ten years in the Conservative Party wanting to leave the European Union, and I’m still delighted we are. But, my God, has it made politics boring.
Everything is now tied to Brexit, no matter how absurd, but because Brexit is now on a set course and no-one can do anything about it, political discourse has been reduced to childish posturing and namecalling, and crackpot bloody schemes to make London its own country. I’m not catching my breath. I’m yawning.
Paul is Creative Director for Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Whiggery
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty