“You must be knackered,” observed Andrew Marr, more in unkindness than sympathy.
David Cameron certainly looked it; despite the extra layers of slap, the bags under his eyes still drooped. “Not at all,” the prime minister blustered. “I’ve had a very good night’s sleep.” In which case, all that can be said is that he must have looked a right mess last night.
These haven’t been an easy few days for Dave. The EU negotiations had been more protracted and difficult than he had hoped; his former best friend, Michael Gove, had jumped ship, and it looked as though one of his least trusted, yet most valuable, generals, Boris Johnson, might switch from BoJo to BoGo. Now he was faced with selling a deal (whose details seemed a little vague even to him) to the country on the BBC’s flagship Sunday morning politics show.
Dave got off to a sluggish start. The key phrases his advisers had prepped him with over breakfast – “important work”, “national security”, “uncertainty” and “very, very dangerous” – tripped off the tongue as if on time delay. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
Marr pressed him on benefits. How could he guarantee that the Department of Work and Pensions would be up to withholding migrants’ benefits when it still hadn’t managed to get its universal credits system up and running after five years? The only answer to be found in Dave’s brain was that with Iain Duncan Smith sacked as its minister, the DWP would run like clockwork, but somewhere in the depths of his hippocampus, Dave knew he wasn’t allowed say that. So he just burbled something meaningless instead.
Slowly, though, Dave’s body began to respond and his pulse rose above flatline. Dave remembered that Dave was pumped. He had gone to Brussels and he had bloody well given the EU a kicking. Angela Merkel! Donald Tusk! Francois Hollande! Whatever the name of the Polish president is! We gave your boys one hell of a beating!
“Can you look me in the eye on sovereignty, prime minister?” Marr asked. No problem. Dave’s eyes opened wider and remained fixed on Marr as he went into a long spiel about how, if we left the EU, our sovereignty would only be an illusion of sovereignty. With Dave we could be in the bits of Europe we wanted to be in and not in the bits we didn’t. Paris was fine, but we could give Lille a miss. Stick with Dave and things could only get meta.
Dave reached for his glass of water when Govey’s name came up. He had always suspected the justice minister might treach on him when he had sacked him as education minister in the last parliament, and now the little bastard had done just that. “We had a very dignified cabinet meeting,” Dave replied. Shorthand for no blood was actually left on the carpet. Though Dave was raring to spill some now. “Threats to security … no passenger information … very, very dangerous …” he said, making it sound as if a massive terrorist attack had been scheduled for 24 June, and if Britain voted for Brexit then all the blood would be on Govey’s hands alone.
Or possibly BoGo’s as well. A moment’s hesitation crept back in to Dave’s performance. Like the rest of the country, Dave is not quite sure whether to take Boris as a serious threat or a complete joke. This time Dave settled for serious threat. “Putin in the east … Isil in the east,” Dave continued, resuming his basilisk stare into Marr’s eyes. “And Nigel Farage, George Galloway, IDS and Chris “Failing” Grayling to the west.” Did not this Fang of Four offer the greatest threat to our national security? BoGo had been warned.
This article was written by John Crace, for theguardian.com on Sunday 21st February 2016 11.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010