Theresa May’s career is looking more like a tragicomedy by the day – and Tuesday’s vote won’t help
On the eve of Theresa May’s kamikaze vote comes a mind-blowing epiphany: for two years, most of us have turned for guidance to the wrong Jimmy Perry and David Croft sitcom.
The mistake was understandable. Once the bravado about Brussels not liking it up ’em faded to screeches of “Don’t panic, don’t panic!”, and then wails of “We’re all doomed”, the government’s slapstick cluelessness did bring Dad’s Army to mind.
At this 11th hour, however, with May’s balloon about to go up and immediately down again, it appears the true blueprint is a later and lesser Perry and Croft nostalgia-fest.
If you’re not familiar with Hi-de-Hi! from its original BBC1 run in the 1980s or the decades of cable repeats, don’t beat yourselves up. High culture isn’t for everyone.
Suffice it to know that it was set in a inexpressibly dismal 1950s holiday camp called Maplins, run by a sensationally talentless group of showbiz has-beens, never-weres and not-in-a-trillion-parsecs-will-bes.
In a heavily crowded field, the most wilfully daft character was Su Pollard’s Peggy Ollerenshaw, a zany chalet maid striving eternally to join the entertainment staff known, for fairly obvious sartorial reasons, as Yellowcoats.
Last Wednesday, it has newly emerged, Pollard attended one of May’s bleak Brexit cocktail hours on the arm of her friend Andrew Rosindell, a muscular right-wing MP whose penchant for posing with his bulldog is adequate shorthand for his Brexit position.
Pollard is of similar mind. After addressing her hostess with a rousing “Hi-de-Hi, Theresa!”, she treated the PM to a spirited keynote speech. “We want Brexit”, she repeatedly urged, adding for variety: “We want Brexit now. What’s happened with Brexit? Why is it taking so long?”
These are big and difficult questions, and whether May tried to answer them is as unknown, for now, as whether she responded to Su’s greeting with the ritual “Ho-de-ho!”.
But if May falls in the days ahead, and this encounter is among the final public vignettes of her tenure, it has a fittingly barren tragicomic feel.
In those livelier party days when he was promising to place the UK at the heart of Europe, Tony Blair carved moments from jesting with Noel Gallagher about his (Gallagher’s) cocaine consumption to schmooze Helen Mirren.
But Britannia had stopped being cool long before Vernon Kay featured on a Chequers lunch guest list.
Now that it is roasting in hell, the No 10 showbiz headliner is a plus-one with “look-at-me-I’m-mad-I-am-totally-bonkers!” rainbow ribbons in her hair charging around the room yelling a 35-year-old catchphrase at everyone in her eyeline.
A Downing Street source later claimed that May is “a huge fan” of Pollard’s work.
While that sounds unlikely, if not actionably slanderous, it could be that the PM sees her character as an even more inspiring role model than Geoffrey Boycott.
To everyone other than Peggy herself, she had more chance of being recruited by the Soviets as an early cosmonaut than realising her Yellowcoat dream.
Yet week after week, rejection after rejection, humiliation after humiliation, she ploughed on with an undeniably cheery optimism to blur the dividing line between the heroically tenacious and the insanely futile.
Until May’s relentless efforts to revive her Chequers plan after its neonatal death last summer, Peggy was our leading exemplar of triumph winning out over reality.
Victories come no more pyrrhic, as even May might have to accept on Tuesday night. In the wake of a savage defeat, she might resign and she might not. No one, to restate the bleeding obvious, knows nuffink.
But assuming John Bercow sustains his suppleness in interpreting the rules (not that there are any rules; only countries with written constitutions have those), it will be pretty irrelevant whether she Stay-de-Stays or Go-de-Goes.
If Bercow allows the Commons to complete its nascent coup by usurping the power to pass legislation, it will barely matter a jot whether it is May, Boris, Moggy, Pollard or Soo the Panda from Sooty and Sweep who carries the title.
At the most definitive political moment in Britain’s entire peacetime history, the office of British prime minister will be a sinecure.
God knows if the Commons en masse would find the will and wisdom to settle on the least abysmal outcome, or chart a safe passage if it did. But since the executive has had its chance, and blown it to a degree that will stupefy historians for centuries, this seems as good a time as any to let the legislature do the legislating.
If so, the choice for MPs is crystal clear. It is between a hurriedly manufactured new compromise plan that permanently keeps us in the customs union; a second referendum, with all the rancorous horror that entails; or the dreaded no deal.
If they cannot avoid the latter – and who is deluded enough to be confident about anything? – it will be a one-way trip back to that alleged halcyon era of the 1950s.
The first time around, a people raised in poverty and forged in war handled the privations with a stoical enthusiasm that with hindsight strains belief.
For their annual week’s holiday, they went to spartan holiday camps, where they warded off the rain with knotted hankies, uncomplainingly ate the sparse and terrible food, and smiled contentedly through the consuming drabness.
It would be fascinating to observe how the populace would cope with a rerun. For those of you intrigued by the thought, but with no compelling desire to participate in the social experiment, a glimpse into that genteel 10th circle of hell will be available shortly when Peggy resumes her crusade to join the Yellowcoat ranks on UK TV channel Gold.