What's On: A Thick Imitation Of Political Life

‘What the fuck is this? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, C**t?’

Alistair Campbell can have a good night’s sleep at last. The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s British Governmental satire has reached its sarcastic, side-splitting end. Campbell’s alter-ego, Malcolm Tucker, the bullying, almost psychotic force of power equipped with expletives coarse enough to make an MP faint, and crude wit as quick as a bat out of hell, has finally been confined to the stuff of nightmares only. Campbell breathes into a brown paper bag.

The Thick of It, for those who don’t know much about politics, takes place in the Department of Social Affairs, a department constantly in day-to-day crisis, and scandals duly erupt like Mount St. Helen; lava flowing from the television screen into our front rooms as viewers curl their toes on the sofa. Iannucci presents a department trying to get through a tide of backstabbing discredit with as little opprobrium, as little public shame as possible; suitably though, the result of such incompetence is a second wave of disrepute beyond all strengths of the imagination. Secretary of State Peter Mannion ends a phone-call his wife by saying “I think the bailiffs are coming to take away my will to live”, and MP Nicola Murray renders that the Guardian hate her more than the PM: ‘What next? Am I going to be spat at in the street by Michael Palin?’

Usually they just try to ‘spin’ their way out of trouble, attempting to douse the opposition in slander in the process; a technique Alistair Campbell spent several years mastering during his years as Head of Communications for Tony Blair. In this final series, we see both the Department and the Opposition becoming the center of scandal as a public health-care bill fuck-up leads to the accidental leaking of the medical records of a mentally ill man.  A Leveson-style inquiry is conducted, and chaos and disorder ensues.

Unfortunately for those in the ‘care’ of these haphazard departments, The Thick of It is often remarkably reflective to the real political world. The Thick of It is a mirror image of a brutal world where stakes are high and reputations are destroyed; a world we call ‘politics’ But after all, when the key to comedy is reality, there is nothing left to do but laugh.

All the political jargon we hear dribbling from the poetic tundra of the politicians’ mouths is here baited and price-tagged. Cheap slogans like ‘Here2Hear’, job titles like ‘human router’, speeches and pep-talks wordier than ‘a fucking Will Self lecture’, and the usual meaningless political argot of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘sustainability’.

Iannucci’s satirical reflection shows how British politics has turned into a full-time PR campaign in the last 20 years. More than ever do manipulative, deceitful politicians and their untrustworthy slogans need to be abolished. ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking’ they ask – no, unless they’re as suicidal as Mr Tickle is doubtful we are.

Too obvious is the answer to the question, what do the real-life political bubble think about The Thick Of It? But they’re at least putting up a fight; Campbell’s recent war with Iannucci on Twitter proving that the programme’s smudge into reality is perhaps unique. After the Glaswegian writer received an OBE from the Queen, Campbell fired: “@AIannucci OBE joins the Establishment he claims to deride”, to which Iannucci shot, “It’s probably more Establishment to order your army to march into other countries for no reason”. The unbelievably flippant return from Blair’s ex-right-hand-man consisted of “swings and roundabouts”, but Iannucci’s three-letter return had the strength of a grenade: “WMD”. A Weapon of Destruciton The Thick Of It may well be, and it really was rather stupid to pick a fight with the man who breathed fire into the lungs of Malcolm Tucker.

In the run up to the US elections we can only hope the mirror holding up a grimy view of British politics is smashed. As for The Thick Of It, emerging leader-in-waiting Dan Miller is at least remaining modest. “Please, please” he says, quieting the applause; “I’m not Christ. He was quite a scruffy man”.

Words: Harry Wise

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