Another day. Another body under Boris Johnson’s battlebus. Another Tory adviser on the white steps of another Canonbury villa. Another pantomime of regret fabricated from whatever tortured sounds and sad shapes the face can muster. Another bright satellite burning up in Johnson’s doomed orbit. Intended to absorb difficult questions, Allegra Stratton was a five-and-a-half foot human loofah made of chlorinated chicken, 30% full of liquefied facts.
Her press secretary role was created in 2020, a firewall between Boris Johnson and the troublesome world of events. This week, for example, she might have shielded him from the unproven suggestion that he had helped to fly 170 asylum-seeking pets out from collapsing Kabul, like the animal-loving politician played by Steve Coogan in the forthcoming Disney+ film Taliban Dolittle.
Stratton was even given her own Downing Street press conference hub in which to answer hacks’ pesky queries, at a cost to the taxpayer of £2.6m, a strategy assumed to be more effective than merely hiding the prime minister in a nearby fridge at the first sign of a microphone, a notebook and some semblance of journalistic ability.
Bizarrely, the only time the £2.6m speak-space made any impression was this week, a year after its completion, when footage emerged of Stratton on its podium, rehearsing plausible denials of a Covid rule-breaking party in Downing Street last December, and finding the whole thing a wizard wheeze. “Is cheese and wine all right? This is recorded,” she laughs. “This fictional party was a business meeting and it wasn’t socially distanced.” Watching Stratton flail, it’s obvious why her press secretary role was so swiftly canned. Had she been given the job she would have made things even worse. As it happens, she didn’t get the job, and made things even worse anyway, a special kind of genius.
Under lockdown, I admit, I went to a party. Or did I? Suddenly I am not so sure. Was it a party after all, or just some people in a place? There was cheese and wine, I think. Does that make it a party? There is cheese in a cheese sandwich and wine in a wine bottle, but that doesn’t mean either is a party. Or does it? Maybe I attended a cheese sandwich? Or climbed into a wine bottle, like a tiny Spanish galleon? Or maybe I went to a business meeting? I met people, certainly, but did I do any business? If there are no people in a room, but there is cheese, does that mean it is a party? Whether it was a party, not a party, a business meeting, a cheese sandwich, or a wine bottle, one thing I am certain of is that the correct procedures were observed. And a man who may have been at the party, or wasn’t if it wasn’t a party after all, will soon be contracted to confirm that. By me.
Last month, vaccination checks were at the discretion of venues, and it seemed unlikely that the government would insist on face coverings in theatres. After all, Boris Johnson likes to watch Macbeth mask-free while masked people all around him wonder what he takes away from the tale of an ambitious traitor and his manipulative wife. But by Wednesday night, a massive dead cat was required to distract from a day of denied parties and prioritised pets, so Johnson banged plan B on the kitchen table, alienating backbench Covid sceptics.
Given the irrefutable evidence of Boris Johnson’s government’s corruption and callousness, how can those few Tory MPs that appear to have a conscience, such as the new intake that voted against their leader’s attempt to spare Owen Paterson, remain in the disgusting party? They should retire from politics, or join the Liberal Democrats, which is essentially the same thing.
Even given everything that has happened this week, there are many diehard Tories, clinging to an inflatable bendy banana marked “Get Brexit Done”, who will still want to vote for the party despite its utter rottenness. After all what’s the alternative? A blandly competent Labour party notably not hell-bent on asset-stripping the country’s infrastructure to line their own pockets? That simply won’t do!
But the Tory faithful will require a blood sacrifice to convince them their concerns are being addressed. And maybe this time some doorstep weeping and a symbolic sacking of soon-to-be-forgotten Foreign Office Sirs will not be enough. Fate has handed us the perfect votive offering to assuage Tory anger: Pen Farthing’s Afghan animals.
Farthing’s innocent 170 refugee dogs and evacu-cats are now permanently branded by association with Tory negligence and Boris Johnson’s lies, even though the intervention by Johnson’s own personal parliamentary private secretary on the poor beasts’ behalf isn’t definitive evidence of his guilt. But on the corner of Hyde Park, where once stood the bloody tree of Tyburn, let us pile a pyre of faggots. Let banks of seating be laid upon the lush slopes of the magnificent Marble Arch Mound. Newly relieved of her latest government role, Allegra Stratton serves party cheese and party wine as Boris Johnson, and other chief actors in the cavalcade of contempt for the lonely Covid dead of lockdown, take their seats, to watch through their onion tears. Then the lie-stained animals are burned en masse, all 170 of them, on a bonfire lit with flamboyant regret by a vindicated Ant and Dec.
And let the smoke from the smouldering bodies be visible, yea, even from the hills of Gog Magog, and serve as a ritual purification of Conservative-soiled Albion, in this valley of dying stars, in this hollow valley, this broken jaw of our lost kingdom.
Dates from Stewart’s 2020 tour rescheduled to 2022 are on sale now. He also appears with director Michael Cumming at live screenings of King Rocker, their documentary about Birmingham’s post-punk survivors the Nightingales, at Dalston Rio on 16 December and the Midland Arts Centre on 18 December