Tim Haigh is a critic, reviewer and broadcaster. His podcasts are posted at www.timhaighreadsbooks.com
Tim Haigh gained exclusive behind-the-scenes access to Number Ten and reports on the PM’s audience with “the gaffer”
THE NATION is in fine fettle. We are enjoying the sunny uplands of Brexit nirvana. A happy populace goes laughing to their shiny new jobs as waiters and fruit pickers and care home workers, jobs recently vacated by foreign workers who have all gone home to obtain advanced degrees and return as doctors, engineers and Premiership footballers.
And yet the Prime Minister is fretful. People have begun to notice that he is a little vague on policy. Cabinet meetings are becoming embarrassing (there are only so many times you can say, “How many hospitals are we going to build…?” before it starts to look like Play School). He needs to see the gaffer.
He quits the Cabinet Room and slips through a secret doorway into a dark passage, all dressed stone and exposed wooden rafters, at the end of which is a green baize door. Entering what has become known as The Adytum (look it up), he discovers Dominic Cummings, naked in the lotus position, pulling the legs off Rishi Sunak. Boris shudders. Must an eminence grise be a bête noir or is there carte blanche? he wonders, not for the first time.
Boris: Mr Cummings. I hope I haven’t interrupted you in medias res.
Cummings: What can I do for you, Boris?
Boris: Well, inter alia, I’d quite like a bridge from Scotland to Ireland.
Cummings: Not going to happen.
Boris: No, but listen – a garden bridge.
Cummings: I don’t like garden bridges.
Boris: De gustibus non disputandum est.
Cummings: I went to a good school too, Boris. You can’t intimidate me with Latin.
Boris: Dum spiro, spero.
Cummings: “While I breathe, I hope”. More Cicero. I’m busy, Boris. What do you want?
Boris: Boris Island…
Boris: OK. This plan of yours to bring poisonous nutters into government…
Cummings: My term was “weirdoes and misfits”.
Boris: You say potato, I say Priti Patel. Why did your man Sibisky resign?
Cummings: Beats me. He was exactly what I was looking for. But not to worry – he left behind a To-Do list.
Boris: Let me see that. Yep. Yep. Yep. “Hauwei to do 5G: check. Huawei to take over the Post Office: check. Huawei to build Hinkley Point C nuclear power station: check. Nota bene - see if Huawei will do HS2 for free.” Really? For free? No quid pro quo?
Cummings: Except when it comes to ticket prices. There is some other blue-sky thinking. The Taliban are picking up the Probation Service for us.
Boris: Aren’t they a bit extreme?
Cummings: They’re basically Group 4, but competent. Also, Donald Trump is taking over Crossrail, The KGB are CC-ing GCHQ PDQ on the QT, and Extinction Rebellion are building the third runway at Heathrow. I’ve pencilled you in to lie down in front of the bulldozers.
Boris: Hic, haec, hoc.
Cummings: That’s you declining, is it?
Boris: Sadly, I’ve got a foreign visit that day.
Cummings: We haven’t set out the time-table yet.
Boris: Ah. Well. Ah. Yes. Well. Uhm… Well.
Cummings: It’s OK Boris. We’ll have Grant Shapps make a meaningless gesture of sacrifice.
Boris: Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life. Anything else?
Cummings: Well, we were going to get Renault to make your four thousand buses. But apparently it’s now illegal. Bloody judges!
Boris: No, that’s alright. We’ll just build little ones.
Cummings: Little buses? Why?
Boris: De minibus non curat lex.