My Waterman conspiracy theory was sunk by Nadhim Zahawi’s incompetence | Stewart Lee

The sad death of Minder star Dennis almost provided me with some material for this column, but the education secretary scuppered it

Everyone can remember where they were when, on Monday of last week, they heard that Pete Waterman, of 1980s pop-production duo Stockhausen and Waterman, had died. I was on a garage forecourt on the A1 near Melton Mowbray eating a bag of chicken Fridge Raiders in the rain next to a broken outside toilet. And as the jolly earworm of I Should Be So Lucky burrowed into my brainpan, it had never seemed less appropriate.

Sadly, Pete Waterman did not live to see the timeless and dignified pageantry of Tuesday’s Queen’s speech to parliament. The most expensive hat in the world was driven, in its own luxury car, to an inappropriate event that, against the backdrop of impending starvation and Brexit-bonus economic disaster, now seemed cruelly tasteless. Prince Charles, like the mythic prisoner of a hypnotic cabal, listlessly intoned a draconian bonfire of citizens’ rights, whacked out of his gourd on organic wine. The jewel-hat sat next to him on its own velvet cushion, like an oligarch’s cat. If it were sold, it could probably fill every food bank in Britain for ever.

Idea for screenplay – The Queen II. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen with all wrinkles drawn on him) comes out of exile to advise the royal family once more on how, given fuel poverty and the public mood, now might not be the best time, your majesty, to drive the most expensive hat in the world around London in its own luxury car. The cautious moderniser Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) agrees Blair may have a point, while sucking on a Cornish leek. The Queen (Brian Blessed I am afraid, as Helen Mirren is now too expensive) sees a dead pig hanging upside down in the Buckingham Palace abattoir, is reminded of that nice David Cameron and wishes he was still in charge. He should be so lucky!

However, Pete Waterman should be so lucky as well, as it turned out he wasn’t dead after all. The Rick Astley hitmaker was merely the misplaced subject of a typically bewildered Monday morning mis-tweet by the horse-warming education secretary Nadhim Zahawi. “RIP Pete. A great actor. Grew up watching Minder.” Zahawi presumably meant Dennis Waterman, who had died, rather than Pete Waterman, who had not. The minister was displaying a fluency with arts and culture to rival Nadine Dorries. I felt the seeds of this week’s column starting to take root. Soon the Tories would enjoy the sting of my satire!

The Conservatives and their slave journalists in the rightwing press, or the press as it is also known, had spent more than two weeks now stirring the bullshit barrel of the Beergate non-story. But since Starmer’s kamikaze resignation promise, the Tories’ bubbling Beergate cauldron was boiling over, threatening to take down Big Dog with it and spattering the shiny faces of his fourth-estate facilitators with filth.

Dan Hodges of the Daily Mail runs home to calm down by dancing to his favourite record, the Wurzels’ I Want to Be an Eddie Stobart Driver. Carrie Johnson’s ex-boyfriend, Harry Cole of the Sun, an eldritch death god manifesting as a baked potato, dabs dung from his apple cheeks unenthusiastically. And Alex Deane, from Twitter (and sometimes the TV at night), appears to have fallen into the actual cauldron, the festering filth fusing naturally with his human form at a subatomic level, the Swamp Thing of client journalism.

Sensing that Beergate might be about to blow, a Fukushima of falsehoods, the panicked Conservative attack machine suddenly decided it didn’t think Starmer should resign after all. Would they, I wondered, turn to other methods to steer the headlines, so they could continue to asset-strip the country, like a troop of Longleat monkeys systematically dismantling the exterior fixtures of a 1970s family car while also masturbating?

Zahawi would, as ever, be the perfect distracto-patsy, the Prometheus of the morning press round, his liver pecked out daily by Kay Burley. Zahawi grits his teeth as Burley whips him like a hot mare, thinking of the consolation of the warmed stallions waiting for him at home. I imagined a situation where CCHQ’s dead-cat plan for the week was to use Zahawi as a plausibly stupid mouthpiece for a drip feed of ludicrous announcements, primed to distract from the Tories’ ongoing corruption and incompetence.

On Tuesday, Zahawi could take to Twitter to announce: “Sad to hear Gérard Depardieu has put his head into a bee nest to get honey, like a fat bear. Has been stang so much with bee juice he is now half a bee, like Timothy West in that thing.” On Wednesday, CCHQ attack strategists might command Zahawi to tell his 86.8k followers: “Sad. Eels have gone in Hilary Mantel’s computer & laid eggs in electricity where new book on the Polish playwright Stanisława Przybyszewska kept.” On Thursday, Zahawi would announce: “Adult film star Rocco Siffredi’s penis gone black and fallen off into Rome’s Torre Argentina square. Stray cat has run off with it before it could be winched to safety. Condolences Rocco!”

But my fantasy of Zahawi fabricating a world of fictions to save his government from scrutiny evaporated minutes before my deadline. Apparently, a blameless Zahawi had merely been repeating an inaccurate tweet about Pete Waterman from his nemesis Kay Burley. Had Burley ensnared Zahawi in a honeytrap of lies? Whatever, my idea for a funny column was strangled at birth. The best laid plans of mice and Nadhim Zahawi often go awry.

Boris Johnson’s flank exposed, would client journalists re-stoke the shit volcano of Beergate? Poor Dan Hodges of the Daily Mail was exhausted. Hadn’t he done enough? Mad with fatigue, he took to Twitter and pressed send. “People are assuming that if Starmer gets away with not breaking the law he’s in the clear.” It’s relentless.

• Rescheduled national 2022 dates of Stewart’s 2020 tour, Snowflake Tornado, Edinburgh fringe shows and dates for the 2022/3 show, Basic Lee, are all on sale now


Stewart Lee

The GuardianTramp

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