An all time high
Strangers are just people you haven’t infected yet
“Right now, terrible things are happening to donkeys.” We were watching Sky News, which was covering the much-anticipated reshuffle. Although it turned out that it had briefly taken a break to run what felt like bitingly satirical adverts.
They were back! Was it a problem, Sam, that there wasn’t much in the way of actual news to report? No it wasn’t, Adam, because professionals like these guys can talk for hours about their specialist subject. And as Kate was just saying, they also had to keep an eye on Twitter. What are people saying on Twitter, Kate? Well, Adam, they don’t very know much either.
It’s quite hard to screw up as Foreign Secretary
It was great fun. Out went Robert Jenrick, Gavin Williamson, and Amanda Milling. By coincidence, they were the three lowest-rated members of his Cabinet among Tory members – Boris Johnson has a Flashman-like instinct for sucking up to the audience when he’s doing his bullying. Also out was Robert Buckland, the well-liked but fundamentally dutiful Justice Secretary, to make room for the day’s big demotion, of Dominic Raab.
It’s quite hard to screw up as Foreign Secretary. It’s not that it’s impossible to get things wrong, but it’s not easy to do it in a way that the voting public actually notices. Johnson managed it, of course, getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison sentence increased. But Raab of Kabul really raised the bar.
We knew he was for the chop, because he’d been summoned to see the prime minister in his office in Parliament, which was where the bad news was being delivered, away from the cameras. We’d been told he might be offered a Cabinet Office role because of his “eye for granular detail”, presumably a reference to his time on the sandy beaches of Crete. But he didn’t seem to be taking it well. The meeting was going on too long.
At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Johnson had mocked Keir Starmer for trying to move his deputy, Angela Rayner, and ending up giving her an even more impressive job title. It was characteristic that the prime minister now did a similar job himself. Raab was removed as Foreign Secretary, and rehired as Justice Secretary, Lord Chancellor, and Deputy Prime Minister. The last part was apparently a sop to his ego, handed over at the last minute. Perhaps he has WhatsApps from Johnson about Afghanistan.
The Sketch is excited at the prospect of highbrow panto
The moves left vacancies. Crucially, with Williamson and Jenrick gone, who was going to fill the vital role of “person manifestly less suited to their job than Boris Johnson”?
Many fingers pointed to the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. But the Sketch isn’t so sure. First, Dorries is a genuinely bestselling author. She writes books about rosy-cheeked nurses in Liverpool, their covers hinting at secret pregnancies and sisterly feuds. She’s clearly good at it: she has declared well over £100,000 from her publisher in the last year, around ten times what Johnson got from his.
Second, the prime minister clearly sees the culture job as less “Minister for Fun” and more “Secretary of State For Telegraph Articles About Statues”. Dorries has been doing this on a voluntary basis for years. As far back as 2017, she was complaining that “left wing snowflakes” were “dumbing down panto”. Oliver Dowden, a man who almost certainly has a secret past of watching BBC Four to relax, always looked uncomfortable in the role of “Man Complaining That National Trust Brochures Are Too Sophisticated”. Dorries could be a natural. Besides, the Sketch is excited at the prospect of highbrow panto. Coming next year to the Blackpool Grand, Chekov’s Three Ugly Sisters.
The winning bid for Cabinet incompetent on Wednesday came from a surprising quarter. The usually steady Sajid Javid was touring the studios to explain the government’s plan to definitely probably maybe avoid another lockdown-inducing Covid outbreak. Why, he was asked by Sky, were he and his fellow Conservatives ignoring their own advice on wearing facemasks in crowded places, like the House of Commons?
Perhaps, after the Brexit years, the Conservatives have become addicted to ever-riskier behaviour
“They’re not strangers!” he protested. “What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers.” He repeated it later to the BBC, telling them masks were appropriate only with “complete strangers”.
It was a quite extraordinary moment in public health policy. Why are they doing this? Perhaps, after the Brexit years, the Conservatives have become addicted to ever-riskier behaviour, seeking out more and more dangerous situations. They made Boris Johnson prime minister, and somehow got away with it! What next? Put Dorries in the Cabinet! Announce the virus can’t pass between people who are on first-name terms!
Do they secretly hope to get caught? Is that the thrill? Terrible things may indeed have happened to Jenrick and Williamson, but as thrill-seekers will tell you, that only adds to the edge for those left standing.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe