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Speed Read: One Week in Westminster – a short play

Every week, The Friday Speed Read spends Thursday evening trying to persuade Laura Kuenssberg to come out for a drink and maybe contribute some insight and analysis to this week’s column. It always fails and then has to spend a dark night of the soul wondering how to respond to the latest chaos: sometimes it goes well; sometimes it’s a play.

One Week in Westminster

A tragedy played as farce

by Sarah-Jane Hansard

Scene 1: Monday

Lights up.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson paces around the gloaming of his candle-lit, spacious bathroom in a monogrammed dressing-gown. At one end of the room, next to the cupboard where the spare toilet rolls are kept, is a bath of ice-cold water in which lies his chief strategist Dominic Cummings. He is wearing a hooded cowl.

DC:        Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.

BJ:         I can scarcely countenance that you’d forego the well-trodden rigmarole of removing one’s outer-vestments before leaping into the old h2o for a scrub and policy conflab.

DC:        What?

BJ:         Your cowl is wet Dom.

DC:        I have foreseen it. And I’ve told you, it’s “My Master”, not Dom. Or Nickers.

BJ:         I’m remain the Prime Minister, My Master.

DC:        You’d be quite sweet if you weren’t so damned pathetic.

BJ:         And you’re certain, My Master, that we sack our own chaps if they vote for the anti-no deal bill? I heard Grieve on the radio and he . . .

DC:        Never mention his name! Bringing shame on the house of Dominic!

BJ:         My gargantuan apologies, but it looks like we’re chugging hemlock here. And it would mean the end of Ken, Rory, Sir Nicholas Soames who is Churchill’s Grandson. And I bloody love Churchill more than I love my own brother.

DC:        Traitors must hang.

BJ:         We’re bringing back hanging? Gosh! I mean, great but don’t you think that’s a moderately tough sell?

DC:        Figuratively, you classical moron. At least for now. But yes, screw all of them. If they defy me, er, us, then they’re out. Now, you’re going to scrub my back.

BJ:         Yes, my master. I have foreseen it.

DC:        Get your own lazy catchphrase.

The Prime Minster reaches for a loofa and gingerly approaches the bath. Thoughts of love mix with thoughts of hate and make him dizzy.



 Scene Two: Tuesday

Lights up.

On the green leather of the government benches in the House of Commons a tall man in a double-breasted suit lies supine. He’s dreaming of buxom nannies and the feudal system. All around him, the chamber is on fire, as Cumming’s Johnson’s government lurches towards defeat.

Speaker:             The Leader of the House.

Jacob Rees-Mogg slumbers on.

Speaker:             Someone wake him up.

Random MP:      Jacob! It’s 2019!

JRM:                    (waking with a start) What? How the bloody hell has that happened?

Random MP:      The ship’s sinking Jacob! The PM needs you. Save us with your rhetorical mastery.

JRM gets to his feet. Summoning the ghosts of Cicero and his old Latin master, he clears his throat.

JRM:                    As we come to vote today I hope all members Mr Speaker will contemplate the current constitutional confusion and consider the chaos this concatenation of circumstances could create.

Silence descends as the Commons tries to pick meaning from the alliterative soup and then promptly defeats the Government in the vote.


Scene Three: Wednesday

Lights up

Jeremy Corbyn is removing the sweet peas from their canes at the end of his allotment. It’s been a decent year for sweet peas, not a classic certainly but not bad given the largely terrible weather.

His reverie is broken by the arrival of John McDonnell.

JM                       There you are Jez. I went to the pub and you weren’t there. I thought you’d be half cut by now; there’s a lot to celebrate.

JC                        I want an election John. I want an election more than I want my leeks to be thicker.

JM                       I know you do boss. But listen, Blair’s right. It’s a trap.

JC                        How can you stand there and use that name in front of me? I thought we were comrades.

JM                        We are Jez. But solidarity goes both ways.

JC                         That doesn’t make any sense John.

JM                        I hoped you wouldn’t notice. But listen, we give Johnson an election on his timetable and we’ll lose. Plus we’ll end up with no deal by default and you’ll be spending a lot more time with your vegetables. Which I admit doesn’t sound too bad.

JC                        Read my lips: I really really really want an election.

JM                       And you’ll get one my flower. You will. But just wait. For a bit.

JC                        Okay, for the sake of brevity, you’ve convinced me. But if I appear on the front page of tomorrow’s Sun with my head photoshopped on to the body of a chicken I am going to be mightily cheesed off. Comrade.

JM                       I swear to Lenin that’s not going to happen.



Scene Four: Thursday

Lights up

On a blasted heath somewhere in Westminster, Jo Johnson MP is waiting for his brother who is precisely 37 minutes late.

Suddenly from a nearby bush there is loud rustle, a volley of Latin swear words and then the Prime Minister emerges, looking furtively around him.

BJ                         Brother Jo.

JJ                          Boris.

BJ                         I must make haste Jo. My maste . . . Dom doesn’t know I’m here.

JJ                          But you’re the Prime Minister.

BJ                         I know, I know. But he does that thing where he shoots blue lightning from his fingers and says I’ll pay the price for my lack of vision. It’s pretty terrifying and so abundans cautela non nocet and all that.

JJ                         Drop the Latin Boris. We need to speak plainly.

BJ                        I’m naturally affronted that you’d posit, no matter how tentatively, that our divers tête-à-têtes over the decades have registered less than fully transparent.

JJ                         Boris please.

BJ                       What is it Jo?

JJ                         Boris. Listen to me. I am leaving.

BJ                        But I’ve only just got here.

JJ                         No. I mean I am leaving my job. I’m resigning from your Cabinet. I am resigning as an MP.

BJ                        What? For God’s sake why?

JJ                         Because you’re wrong Boris. I can’t stand smiling at your side as you drive this once-great nation off the edge of a cliff. No Deal would be a disaster. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living a fantasy.

BJ                        Where’s your backbone? Where’s your vim? Your guts? No Deal is nothing to be afraid of. All we need do is square our shoulders and get on with it. There’s greatness ahead.

JJ                         That’s nonsense Boris. And you know it.

BJ                        But if my own flesh and blood can’t trust me, how can I possibly convince the country?

JJ                         I’m sorry.

BJ                        Yes. Well. Sorry isn’t going to stop him shooting blue lightning at me is it?

JJ                         You’re my brother and I love you.

BJ                        Et tu, Jo?

JJ                         I’m afraid so Boris. I’m afraid so.

Jo Johnson walks off stage.

Boris drops to knees.

BJ                        Oh life. Is bigger. Is bigger than you and you and are not me. The lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eyes. Oh no, I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.

He weeps as a dark figure in hood and cowl appears behind him.

BJ                        Coming my master. I’m coming.

DC                       I have foreseen it.



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