Notes from the bunker

Artillery Row

If you haven’t seen Downfall, you’ve almost certainly seen its most famous scene. As shells fall on Berlin and the Red Army advances, Hitler sits in his bunker and listens as his generals lay out exactly how bad the situation is. One by one, his options are whittled away until eventually it sinks in that all that awaits is total defeat, humiliation, and annihilation.

On an entirely unrelated note, as Liz Truss returns to her bunker underneath the big table in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, difficult conversations are happening in Downing Street. It’s 11am on a Thursday morning…

The Cabinet exchanges uneasy glances

Penny Mordaunt attempts a cheerful smile. She does not succeed. “Prime Minister – the Labour party has made a breakthrough across a wide front. In the South they are taking Bedfordshire and Norfolk. In the North, the Red Wall is broken. In the East and West, losses are limited because fish don’t vote. But indications are that even the haddock are pretty gloomy about your prospects.”

Truss waves this away. “Don’t worry. Kwasi’s resignation will bring it under control.”

The Cabinet exchanges uneasy glances. Mordaunt steps forward from the crowd. “Prime minister… Kwasi…”

Jacob Rees-Mogg finishes the thought. “Kwasi is briefing against you in the Times. He says you have weeks remaining in office.”

An awkward silence develops, extends. In this room, time now has no meaning. Glaciers run like rivers. The sun and moon flicker across the sky. Empires rise and fall, newly sapient species emerge, flourish, and die off. Eventually the universe undergoes total heat death, frozen into stasis until a spark suddenly appears; a second big bang. Energy. Light. The reinvention of particle physics, and eventually an earth, evolution, Britain, and

“Prime Minister?”

“Yes. I see.”

A second pause, blessedly shorter. Mordaunt and Rees-Mogg glance nervously at each other. Eventually, Truss settles on a response: “Would everyone who has briefed against me in the last week please leave the room.”

When the dust has cleared, Truss looks at Rees-Mogg and Mordaunt, then at Jeremy Hunt, and then at the space where the Cabinet is not. “Are you all that’s left? Are you the only ones who still believe in my plan?”

“Let’s go find Donitz”

A strangled coughing noise like the last quack of a dying duck emerges from Rees-Mogg as he chokes back an 18th century epithet. Hunt takes the initiative. “Prime Minister, it’s important that we’re all on the same page. We still believe in you as party leader. For now.”

Mordaunt steps in to finish the train of thought: “Prime Minister, nobody should have to go through a period as tough as this alone. We’re here for you. Also, we don’t want you to do anything drastic, like announcing more tax cuts. I’m not sure Rishi’s heart could take it.”

Truss frowns. “So I’m not in charge?”

Rees-Mogg decides to clear the air. “In a very real sense, Prime Minister, you are still the Prime Minister, and still in charge. But in another, also very real sense, no.”

Mordaunt leans over and offers Truss a sheaf of papers. “In fact, to take the strain off you, we’ve come up with some policies that we think might-”

“Win us the next election?”, Truss asks hopefully.

“Win us some seats. In 2029.”

Truss leafs through the pages. “A new quadruple lock, indexing pensions to the rate of cosmic expansion?”

“It tested very well in focus groups”, says Hunt optimistically.

“Street vetoes?”

“Again, it’s very important to keep house prices high.”

“The death penalty for online rudeness?”

“Police clearance rates need a boost,” Mordaunt says. “And the base is very pro hanging.”

Truss turns to the final page. “National Service for Our NHS: a proposal for nationalising the British economy?”

Rees Mogg clears his throat. “It is, Prime Minister, the only policy popular enough to offset the 45p tax cut.”

Truss stares blankly in front of her. It’s difficult to read her expression because this is her default response to most things, but there is a distinct sense that the cogs have ceased to turn. The triumvirs look at each other. “On second thoughts,” Hunt says kindly, “let’s go find Donitz. Rishi! Rishi!”

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