At Costa Coffee, Michael Gove spilled the beans...

Stewart Lee
At Costa Coffee, Michael Gove spilled the beans.... Early on Wednesday morning, with rheumy eyes, the minister unburdened himself of his shame

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) finally called Russia’s bluff last week and banned its enhancement-addled athletes, many of them little more than skin sacks full of amphetamines and Calpol, from major world sporting events for the next four years. Perhaps it was this that saw sister organisation the World Anti-Lying Agency (Wala) inspired to flex its usually feeble muscles on Thursday morning, by banning the Conservative party from standing in the next election irrespective of the result, a decision I am proud to admit I had a small hand in.

Early on Wednesday morning, the day before the election, I found myself once more at Heston services on the M4, rated Britain’s worst service station in 2017. The dystopian plaza was deserted, but for a snivelling figure who bumped into me as he staggered from a toilet, sneezing green-tinged blood into his cupped hands. It was Michael Gove, from Dominic Cumming’s The Conservative Party ™ ®, for whom Heston services is something of a second home.

Gove and I had been on vague nodding terms for a few weeks nearly 30 years ago, when I was a lowly writer on a forgotten Channel 4 satire show he had fronted, A Bump Up the Konk. And we had encountered each other again in a queue at the Costa Coffee in windswept Heston services in September last year. A few months earlier I had made an offensive joke comparing Gove’s sexual proclivities to those of animals, in a standup set that saw the Times newspaper describe me as “the world’s greatest living standup comedian”.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the blurring of fact and fiction

Gove indicated, confidently, that he remembered me, and that he was aware of the material, and an awkward conversation ensued near the muffins. But when I plucked up the courage to ask him, directly, “What are you going to do about the mess you have made of everything?” there was a deep sadness in Gove’s two eyes that suggested he would have liked the opportunity to unburden himself of his shame, like a constipated man looking wistfully at a toilet. Gove was that constipated man. Maybe I should have been that toilet.

Momentarily hostilities froze. It was like the Christmas Day football truce in the no man’s land between the political trenches. If I could have been Gove’s confessor that September morn, his sewer of unburdening, maybe I could have saved Britain from being sacrificed on the altar of the vengeful orphan’s ambition. But the coffee came. And I went.

How odd it was to run into Gove again at the same location this week. “Ah, Leapy Lee,” sniffled Gove. “Been at the mince pies I see! I enjoyed your description of our last meeting. But at least that encounter was real. This one however is entirely fictional, as I hope you will make clear should you write about it. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the blurring of fact and fiction. In fact, Leapy, far from running into me in a toilet doorway on Wednesday morning, you were in fact at home, trying to contrive a column you could file on Thursday morning that would still make sense on Sunday, irrespective of the election result.”

“We’re through the looking glass Michael, as you know,” I said, leading him to a Costa booth and offering him a coffee. “What’s true and what’s false doesn’t matter any more. Your colleagues in the Conservative party have seen to that. And right at this very moment, in reality, you are on television telling the press the prime minister pocketed that reporter’s phone with the picture of the boy on the coats on it so he could concentrate on answering his questions, a lie on a par with saying ‘the cocaine was merely resting in my nose, officer’.”

Gove’s rheumy eyes seemed as if they were about to fill with tears of shame, and he dabbed at them with a snotted rag, a sure shortcut to conjunctivitis. “Is this off the record, Leapy?” he all but blubbed. “Do you think I am proud of what I have become? We re-edited Keir Starmer and the BBC news and pushed it all out online; we lied about a Labour activist punching a staffer; we lied about numbers of hospitals and numbers of nurses and even numbers of trees; we lied about appearing on Andrew Neil’s show and we’ve been lying about the EU for 20 years. We concealed bad receptions at public events and hid in fridges and fled from legitimate scrutiny. And an independent body has declared 88% of our online advertising fundamentally dishonest. 88%! And I’m at the centre of it all, Leapy, wheeled out daily to cover for people who probably despise me. I know that a victory won through lying and cheating isn’t worth celebrating. This isn’t what I got into politics for. But I must win Leapy, I must win.”

“Michael,” I said, looking into Gove’s pre-conjunctival pools, “we’re both adopted. I understand your pain. You are one whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed that you are reckless what you do to spite it. But this isn’t the answer. The way to erase the mark of Cain is to try to be better than the world that gave rise to you, not to lie and cheat your way to the top in an act of feral revenge. And by the way,” I concluded, holding up my hidden phone, “this isn’t off the record.”

Within 24 hours, my evidence was with Wala, and by Thursday afternoon the Conservative party was banned from the next election. Except it wasn’t. I never met Gove last Wednesday and I didn’t submit my findings. And Wala does not exist. Nothing was done and no one was punished, again. And I wonder how we find our way back to a functioning democracy.

Extra London dates of Stewart Lee’s latest live show, Snowflake/Tornado, have just been announced at the South Bank Centre in June and July, and it tours nationally from January