Artillery Row Sketch

One App to rule them all

Mordor was much better than this

“One App to rule them all,
One App to find them.
One App to ring them all,
And in self-isolation bind them.”

The shadow of Mordor hung over Parliament on Monday, after Brexit Hardman Steve Baker offered quite the most intriguing explanation of the nation’s troubles, and in particular for the behaviour of Boris Johnson.

“There’s a scene in Lord of the Rings where Theoden the king is under the spell of his advisers,” Baker told a Times podcast. “And he has to be woken up from that spell. When he wakes from that spell joy comes to pass in the kingdom.”

It’s one of those answers that raise so many more questions. For instance, who is Baker casting in the role of Gríma Wormtongue, the balding, slimy aide to Theoden who is dripping poison into the sick king’s ear? No, I can’t think of anyone either.

If Britain is Rohan, then in the capital city of our most powerful ally, Gondor, is the ruler denying the dangers facing his land and preparing to set himself on fire? Well, OK, possibly.

Sir Christopher would make a magnificent Ent: ‘don’t be hasty’ is the motto he lives by

Let us leave aside the question of whether joy does come to pass in Rohan when Theoden awakes. This is certainly a novel take on the Battle of Helm’s Deep, which sees fairly high casualties among the people of Rohan. And indeed, the issue of who is going to take on the duty of telling the prime minister that his fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped his sword, to which all I can say is after you, Gandalf.

The big issue with all this is that the problem with the bewitched Theoden is that he refuses to act, whereas the main complaint that Tories have about Johnson is that he’s acting rather too enthusiastically.

As Parliament debated the virus (they agree that it’s bad, but they don’t agree how bad), Health Secretary Matt Hancock was dismissive of this idea. “The two realistic options we have are suppression until a vaccine comes, and letting it rip – and I know which of those I support.”

In Hancock’s interpretation Conservatives opposing measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus do indeed resemble the Rohirrim, but at the point in the films when they charge down a hill shouting “Death! Death!” at the tops of their voices.

Others disagree. The role of the White Wizard was taken by Sir Desmond Swayne, his lustrous locks swept back and reaching past his collar.

“Less than a year ago I celebrated what I thought was the election of a sceptical and liberal Conservative administration,” he told the Tory benches, almost with his back to the opposition – this is, after all, a debate principally within the Conservative Party. “And now I’m left wondering if the prime minister hasn’t been abducted by Dr Stangelove and reprogrammed by the SAGE over to the dark side.”

If his cinematic metaphors were mixed, his target was clear. He demanded, more or less, the sacking of Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, the Saruman and Sauron (or possibly Sauron and Saruman, it is so very hard to know) of the piece.

Sir Desmond sat down. As so often in Tolkien, the Eagles were coming, or one of them, anyway. Labour’s Angela Eagle stood. “It is a pleasure to follow the honourable gentleman,” she observed, drily, to considerable laughter. “I agree with precisely zero of what he had to say.”

Other Tories attacked the Government’s strategy in a similar vein. Baker, now in the chamber, wanted to know why important regulations governing people’s freedom had only been published at the last minute. Why did the Government find it so difficult to release information in a timely manner? Though if anything is a sign that Johnson is returning to health, it’s surely the arrival of his copy long after a deadline has passed.

John Redwood, what do your elf eyes see? “The virus waxes and wanes. The situation changes on the ground.”

Sir Christopher Chope rose slowly. “I’m not yet persuaded that I need to support the continuation of the Coronavirus Act,” he said. Sir Christopher would make a magnificent Ent. “Don’t be hasty” is the motto he lives by.

Other roles remained uncast. And there were glaring absences from the chamber. With so much focus on university lockdowns, where was the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson? Out picking litter in his constituency, according to his Instagram feed. He has some part to play yet, for good or ill.

Or had we all completely missed the point of Baker’s Tolkien comments? The chain of events that begin with Theoden being released from enchantment end with the blond king dead, trapped under his horse. The throne is taken by his sister-son, Rishi, or possibly Gove, I forget the details.

In the meantime, the best advice I can offer comes earlier in the film: “Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

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