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Four crazy-eyed former Prime Ministers


I ’ve commented on these pages before – to understandably limited sympathy – about the restrictive nature of print deadlines, particularly when it comes to major news events that happen in the period between submitting a piece and seeing it appear in the magazine. Nonetheless, with the benefit of experience, it’s usually possible to predict with reasonable accuracy how things are likely to pan out, and to write a column that retains its relevance in the months and years to come.

In the leadup to polling day, things looked bleak for Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives. His decision to make an early exit from the D-Day commemorations to take advantage of Domino’s Two For Tuesday offer had met with widespread derision, not least because it was Thursday.

Flagship manifesto pledges, including electrified cycle lanes and the compulsory euthanasia of non-pedigree dogs, so popular with party focus groups, had failed to impress the wider electorate.

The much-vaunted ‘Brexit benefit’ free trade deal with the ruling military junta of South Dystopia, claimed to be worth up to £850 over ten years, was ruled unlawful on the basis of the country being fictitious – a decision condemned by Suella Braverman as “yet another egregious example of judges being really, really judgey”.

And dog-whistle amphibian Nigel Farage dramatically announced his intention to stand for election, in a wholly predictable move that completely blindsided Conservative party strategists.

Anticipating a colossal defeat, dozens of sitting Tory MPs decided to stand down before the election, leaving the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg and the ghost of Paul Daniels to form the first all-spectral Cabinet in British political history.

Meanwhile, a highly respected ‘poll of polls’ predicted that just one Conservative candidate would be returned at the election – Sir Crispin Pryze-Hunt, MP for Deepest Buckinghamshire since 1945 – rendering him the new party leader by default at the age of 112.

The turnaround, when it came, was as swift as it was unexpected. Just as the Tories prepared to face yet another PR crisis following the publication of sordid photographs involving three senior Cabinet ministers, a toothless goat and a space hopper, the story was instantly overtaken by the revelation that Keir Starmer had erroneously used his butter knife when eating his starter at a 2003 charity event.

The right wing press seized upon the news, citing ‘Startergate’ as definitive proof that the Labour leader was unfit to govern. Starmer’s defence that he was not, and would continue not to be, Jeremy Corbyn, fell on deaf ears with the electorate, and the polls took their first small but significant shift in the Conservatives’ favour.

Emboldened by this rare moment of hope, Tory strategists urgently began rifling through the pile of discarded Post-It notes on the floor of Central Office in search of policy ideas to resurrect. And so came the chance occurrence that would transform the election campaign.

A junior researcher, armed with a roll of Sellotape and tasked with reattaching the torn-up notes, inadvertently taped two different policy halves together. Party officials swiftly understood the power of the so-called ‘accidental policy’, a news conference was hastily c onvened, and teams of volunteers headed for the coast armed with buckets and shrimping nets.

Within a week, the first cargo plane of Great British raw sewage took off from Heathrow, bound for Rwanda. The rest, of course, is history. Rishi Sunak’s beaming face was on every front page, posing in front of what the tabloids dubbed the ‘Bumbo Jet’.

The polls turned on their heads overnight as the public finally came to appreciate that, after fourteen years of financial mismanagement, political turmoil and unimaginable public health disasters, the only people who could be trusted to fix the myriad problems were the ones with the invaluable experience of having caused them.

The Tories’ eventual tally of 501 seats was some 50,000% above the previously projected figure of 1 – a figure that the polling companies were quick to point out remained well within their stated margin for error. The British constituency map turned almost entirely blue, with the conspicuous exceptions of Liverpool (obviously) and Scotland.

Analysts would later come to accept that Douglas Ross’s decision to utilise a loophole in electoral law to stand as the Conservative candidate for all 57 Scottish seats may have backfired.

A triumphant Sunak returned to Downing Street to unveil a new Cabinet including no fewer than four crazy-eyed former Prime Ministers in Liz Truss, Lady May, Lord Cameron and the newly ennobled Lord Johnson, forming what came to be known as the Government of the Seven Circles.

But what happened beyond that will remain a mystery to me, as that was the day I began digging a tunnel to the centre of the Earth. Now that it’s finally complete, I fully intend to remain there until my dying day.

So there you have it: an account of the 2024 election, written some while in advance but as I say, near-enough-futureproof. But I suppose I might be wrong.

That’d be nice. ■

Tom Wheeler

The Rival Candidates, a 1784 engraving by Thomas Rowlandson. Credit: Boston Public Library

Douglas Ross’s decision to stand as the Conservative candidate for all 57 Scottish seats may have backfired



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