Andrew Neil’s interview with Theresa May proves the universe is godless
Britain is just a pawn in the British PM’s hellmouth game, but at least David McWilliams can laugh in the face of the apocalypse
On BBC1, Andrew Neil, his noggin covered in downy fluff like a bespectacled peach, interviews the supreme leader of Oceania, Theresa May (The Andrew Neil Interviews, Monday). She is resplendent in a red jacket and has a silver chain around her neck, a piece of the chain that formerly bound Britain to Europe, I guess.
We don’t see her arrive but presumably she first materialised not in her human form, but as the usual swarm of lobbyists, swivel-eyed loons and minor chaos demons that constitute Tory frontbenchers now.
The interview is taking place beneath a big white x on top of a sort of red, blue and yellow sigil. This is, I believe, the new flag of Britain. In the background, we can see the Houses of Parliament and the Thames. There are giant insects everywhere. There is a gaping portal to hell. Cthulhu is wrapping his tentacles around Big Ben. He is, as you know, the post-Brexit Minister for Social Care. Everything is fine, says May.
To be fair to Neil, he’s soon asking May about her “uncosted and half-baked policies”. May says her safe words, “strong and stable leadership”, but it doesn’t stop Neil (he must have some sort of protective amulet). He goes after her for backtracking.
You see, the Tories have, in recent days, u-turned on putting a cap on social care costs. They were formerly all for punitively punishing those with dementia but, as Neil points out, they’re letting Labour write their policies now.
May says her other safe words: “Jeremy Corbyn!” She tries this tactic a few times. Each time she does, the producers are meant, I think, to flash a picture of Corbyn on screen, but they keep forgetting. So let me describe the picture here: in it Corbyn’s eyes are flashing red and he is drooling and there is blood on his fangs and his tail is swishing around the place and there’s a speech bubble saying “Socialism!” and another saying “I Heart The Ra!”
It’s not working. Neil asks where she’s going to get the £8 billion she’s promised the NHS and she more-or-less pats her pockets and says “I’ve got it somewhere.” When he asks “How many pensioners will lose their winter fuel allowance?” her answer amounts to “some pensioners” when the only good political answer is really “no pensioners”.
No one has told the Tory party this. They just assume right-thinking people hate the vulnerable. Then again, this is an upside-down shadow party run by a woman who is aggressively pursuing an isolationist policy she actively campaigned against and whose eyes consequently evoke the meaningless emptiness of a godless cosmos.
Drama imitates life
May’s Britain is starkly drawn in Jimmy McGovern’s drama Broken (which has been rescheduled to start next Tuesday on BBC1) in which Anna Friel’s single mother runs up against a cruelly Tory-reformed social welfare system and finds herself without income and in an ethical quandary when tragedy hits her family. She seeks solace from Sean Bean, a kindly priest suffering flashbacks to an as-yet unseen trauma. It’s a typically beautifully acted McGovernesque melodrama that ruminates on poverty and faith and gives every character, even villainous ones, wounded dignity. Watch it.
Over on RTÉ1, David McWilliams is explaining May’s post-Trump, post-Brexit world on Brexit, Trump and Us (Monday), and amid the usual RTÉ current affair streetscapes and mood-music, he has a gimmick. Someone at RTÉ has given him 100 humans to play with. Yes, after years making do with mere case studies, David McWilliams owns actual people now. We all knew it would happen sooner or later, but I assumed civilisation would have crumbled entirely first.
They are an apparent cross-section of the Irish population and he gets them to line up under statistics culled from a survey the programme has commissioned on Ireland’s attitudes to Europe. And sometimes he makes them to move around the room and get into boxes according to his whims – “Who here is divorced or separated?” “Who feels like an outsider in Ireland?” “Who regards Ireland as home?”
The 100 do his bidding without question. They are but pawns in McWilliams’s game. They follow him around the place bolstering his arguments. When, over the course of the programme, he visits the Northern Irish borderlands, multicultural Marseilles and London-based Brexiteers, I presume all 100 of his new humans are just out of shot, milling about aimlessly. I like to think that whenever McWilliams says “my people will talk to your people” at meetings, this is the shower that turn up.
“They can’t kick us out,” he says, which rather brilliantly, makes our future in the EU sound a lot like squatting and McWilliams sound like a deadbeat dad running a scam from the back of his car
McWilliams’s new slaves notwithstanding, Brexit, Trump and Us largely remixes his greatest hits – his notion that contemporaneous politics isn’t about left and right but about “insiders” and “outsiders”; that without corporate investment we’re “just Portugal with lousy weather”; that Ireland has been “the best boy in the class” and could do with a few “messers” on our negotiating team.
But I like McWilliams on the telly. His chirpy optimism flies in the face of the dystopian doomsaying we now associate with the disheartened and beaten journalistic class (see byline picture above). If things veer apocalyptic, he’s determined to enjoy the apocalypse. He argues that all this populist turmoil is an opportunity for this plucky island to stay in the EU and annoy them all by manipulating our corporation tax any which way we like.
“They can’t kick us out,” he says, which rather brilliantly, makes our future in the EU sound a lot like squatting and McWilliams sound like a deadbeat dad running a scam from the back of his car. I don’t know how much sense his ideas make, but I like him for this. I might set up a meeting with his “people”.
I usually mock television talent shows but after this week’s horrific attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, I don’t have the heart. I was all set to liken Britain’s Got Talent (Saturday, TV3), Simon Cowell’s ultra-competitive masquerade of cruelty and hope, to the Tory party’s war on the poor, but now all I can see is happy chirpy people – golden throated Maltese teens, crooning flatcapped pensioners, masochistic middle-aged magicians – singing daft songs and swallowing razor blades for fun and engaging in operatically camp dance moves (“We are soldiers!” proclaims the leader of The All In Dance Crew) and it looks, well, totally benign.
Maybe the bar for kindness got lower. Maybe pop music looks more defiantly political now. Maybe I’m just a bit too sad for more jokes this week. But I want people to keep singing silly love songs. It’s what we’re all about.