Artillery Row Sketch


WARNING — contains spoilers about Dunkirk

What on earth is going on at Tory conference? One minute Liz Truss is changing course, the next we see her on the TV insisting that she won’t. Brexit hardman Steve Baker turned into a bearded superhero called Captain Conciliation. Kwasi Kwarteng is at once focused on cutting the top rate of tax and views the issue as a distraction.

The explanation is surprisingly simple: this year’s Conservative conference is being directed by Christopher Nolan. The genius behind The Dark Knight has deployed his trademark time-bending narratives to weave a tale of astonishing, haunting complexity. 

For instance, reporters have struggled to make sense of Truss’s strategy of giving interviews that are out of date before they’re broadcast. But this is because the conference features multiple Liz Trusses on different timelines. The Truss you can see announcing U-turns is being pursued through space-time by the Truss who is giving interviews insisting she won’t back down. It’s possible that one or both of these Trusses is a robot, although if she’s come from the future, it’s a pretty depressing commentary on the state of artificial intelligence in 2050.

People have noted Truss’s habit of answering different questions from the one she’s been asked. Now we know why. When Sam Coates of Sky News asked the prime minister whether she still trusted Kwarteng, and she gave an answer about energy bills, it looked as though she was swerving. In fact, she was giving a frank and direct answer to the question that the Coates in her timeline — let’s call him CoatesALPHA — had asked. This is also why she seems to pause so much. Truss is actually a fluent and lively speaker who has, in her universe, been known to reduce audiences to fits of helpless laughter with her self-deprecating charm. But sound is slowed, flattened and occasionally reversed as it timeshifts, giving the impression to our ears of a halting monotone.

Once viewers have understood what is happening — as when they realise there are three different timelines in Dunkirk, for instance — they grasp that the key to deciphering the story is working out which Truss you are currently watching. TrussSUNDAY was wearing a maroon dress. She is, according to the most popular fan theories, probably the same Truss who put on a dark jacket to speak to regional TV stations in interviews that were, confusingly, broadcast on Monday. She is not going to change course on taxes.

TrussMONDAY is, we believe, wearing a black suit with a white blouse. She has already U-turned on tax, but won’t be giving in on anything else. She could be seen giving interviews on Tuesday, but TrussTUESDAY was wearing an orange high-vis vest and a hard hat. Or was she wearing a brown jacket? In which case, who was the Truss in the hard hat? Was that a glimpse of TrussPRIME, believed to be the protagonist, who is hunting down the other Trusses one by one and humiliating them, possibly on a mission to avert a future catastrophe?

Does it seem like Cabinet ministers are at each other’s throats? Far from it! The Cabinet is entirely united, and so is the tenibaC, which is moving backwards in time through the conference. Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke are joining conference from the second one, which is why they’re still supporting the top tax rate cut: that’s the policy that’s in their future. Clarke also appears, in a twist, to be attending from a timeline in which the conference is being held somewhere else. That’s why he delivered his speech in a blurry video from what appeared to be a nuclear bunker. Don’t ask too much about what’s happened in his universe, but rest assured that outside the bunker, everything is very level. If not very up.

Part of Nolan’s skill is to show us the way that different perspectives alter your perception

Part of Nolan’s skill is to show us the way that different perspectives alter your perception. For instance, many people picture Jacob Rees-Mogg as a man who thinks it’s none of the government’s business if a company thinks it can make a quick buck putting arsenic in fizzy drinks. But put him on stage with Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs and he suddenly seems very reasonable. You couldn’t simply abolish all regulations, Rees-Mogg explained on Tuesday, because “you’d suddenly find that children were able to go up chimneys”. It wasn’t clear that Littlewood saw this as a bad thing, but Rees-Mogg was clear that he was against. Perhaps we’ve got a Rees-Mogg from the progressive end of the 19th Century.

There are still mysteries. Which timeline gave us the Kwarteng who popped up on GB News in the middle of the afternoon to insist that the Treasury briefing about the timing of his next financial statement was wrong, only for the Treasury to insist that it wasn’t? Perhaps, as with other Nolan productions, this will only become clear on repeated viewing. The second or third time through, we’ll suddenly realise that the central character of the conference is actually Michael Gove. With luck, some dedicated Young Conservative will cut all the events into the “correct” timeline and put it on Youtube, although purists will refuse to watch it. 

Back with the main storyline, Wednesday will see at least one of the Trusses deliver a closing address to Tory conference. Which one will it be? Will it be more than one? Will they fight? Will this be the climactic moment of every Nolan film, when the timelines all finally intersect? Are we… could we be… approaching Trussception? 

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