It’s Easter, Parliament is in recess. No more laws for another ten days. Brexit’s been punted back to October. Theresa May is holidaying in North Wales. Corbyn’s mooched off to Yorkshire. Even the hardest Brexit headbangers are trying to soak up a bit of holiday spirit. The period from the Christmas recess up until last week has been relentless and European Elections may only be a month away, but this week does feel like an End Of Part One moment.
So who's had a good war? And who's had a terrible one? No time quite like half-term to hand out a few marks.
Jeremy Hunt always has the air of a man trying out for the role of Jeremy Hunt in an ITV mini-series about Brexit. So far, Jeremy’s his contribution to Brexit has been to stay well out of it. Which is remarkable, given that he is quite literally the Foreign Secretary. It is impossible to think of anything meaningful he has said on the matter, except that he is technically “A Remainer”. Despite having all the hinterland of Lichtenstein, I have a strange feeling Jeremy may end up as our next Prime Minister. John Major was a practically unknown Foreign Secretary shortly before he was called up to replace Thatcher. Theresa May was a personality void in the heart of the Home Office for six long years. It’s the dead-inside ones you want to watch.
Good war: B+
Sorry, who invited Alistair Campbell anyway? Didn’t we all spend most of the past 15 years telling this guy he was the moment our politics broke – the embodiment of Phoney Tony’s Cronies, that he’d had a starring role in the suicide of Dr Kelly, and yes, the small matter of blowing up Baghdad?
In an age where we gleefully cancel third-tier actors for their passing thoughts on bathroom etiquette, how exactly has this guy been let back into Broadcasting House? By rights G4S should be chucking his latest dodgy dossiers into the street after him, but for the fact that he’s too brazen to care.
Respect, bro. Own it.
Good war: B+
Sir Keir Starmer
As much as John Bercow has been foghorning the names of “Peter Bone” or “Bambos Charalambous” around the Commons, the other great Brexit earworm has been Sir Keir hacking out the words “Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker” over and over again, like a ten-year-old choking to death on a Werthers’ Original.
In fact, the mysteriously-knighted Sir Keir always reminded me of the school swot from some Dennis The Menace annual. He’d bring out the bully in anyone. This week, we’ve learned that Sir Keir is apparently “an ideologue”, who is “holding the Labour-Tory negotiations to ransom” with his demands for a “‘People’s Vote’”. At least that would count as A Thing – because he’s been a dynamo of inactivity everywhere else.
Bad war: C+
With the looks of a Carpetright deputy manager, and the voice of a 1970s paedophile, glum grey Barry does all the unglamorous day-to-day work of mucking out Labour’s Brexit team. Technically only the Trade Minister, he nonetheless does everything boss Sir Keir won’t: mainly appearing on Sky News explaining out how you can both want a second referendum and never do anything at all about that desire.
Whispering Baz is a kind of Labour version of Ken Clarke – in that he possesses that most remarkable of political talents: the ability to swat the most barbed interview questions away with a withering roll of the eyes, half a giggle and a weary appeal to “common sense:” “Oh come on, Emily. You know you can’t expect me to answer that.”
If Labour do make it through this mess, they should build a Kim Il Sung-style mausoleum to him.
Good war: A+
Sir Vince Cable
Last month, Sir Vince managed to resign the Lib Dem leadership without anyone noticing. He picked a particularly busy evening in the news cycle, and seems to have been bumped down the running order by Meghan Markle’s baby bump and a lowkey stabbing in Edmonton.
The fortunes of the Lib Dems are a strange thing to measure. On the most recent polls, they now stand to double their number of seats, but we all know that if they’d propped an orange scarecrow on the Opposition benches for the past four years, they’d be polling pretty much where they are already. Which, in a sense, is what they did.
Bad war: E
Sometimes you have to remind yourself that Nigel Farage has had no real input into Brexit. He isn’t an MP. He hasn’t even had a political party all year. For a select few, though, the art of politics is simply sitting on LBC for an hour every day getting endless Darrens from Basildon to call in and agree with you.
It’s an astounding feat. Nick Clegg couldn’t even get 20,000 people in his own constituency to vote for him, but as the Brexit Party shows, in any given year seven percent of the electorate only ever want to vote for Nigel. He is the dark star whose gravity we all orbit.
Good war: A-
Last year, to the party’s grassroots, Jacob was Tory God (AKA “God”). But that was before the Brexit temperature went up another couple of notches. First there was the coup attempt – which ended up doing nothing except blocking a future Jacob Rees-Mogg from attempting a second coup. Then one day he totes random decided to swing behind the PM’s deal. Then he dusted off his knuckle-duster, declaring that the ERG might deliberately sabotage the next EU Parliament. Such manners…
It’s a worrying trend line that means he’s starting to look slightly out of his depth: less and less like the kind of child prodigy who was investing in the stock market aged 12, and more and more like Buster Bluth enlisted in the drone pilot squadron of the US Air Force.
Bad war: B
There’s Full FBPE Syndrome, and then there’s whatever Soubry’s got: a next-level version of taking everything terribly, terribly personally. What did Brexit ever do to her? Christ.
Anna is a force for moderation, in that she makes you realise that however bad things might still get, they’re never going to get as bad as they already are inside Anna Soubry’s head.
Bad war: F-
The latest Brexit Secretary is bright enough to know that he is totally irrelevant. In that sense at least, he’s brilliant. Steve’s job has not been to negotiate Brexit – that was done long before his time. His job has not been to manage Brexit either – that’s all done by the PM’s team. His job is to go out there and defend Brexit. To be a meaty punchbag, offering mindless pat answers about how this is “the best deal for Britain”, as though anyone, anywhere, was still listening.
Good war: A-
Hard to believe Ken was in Government when Ted Heath took us into Europe in ’72. Now, he’s in charge of head-butting his own side, being fantastically rude about Boris Johnson and rebelling against everything.
You know that terrible poem – When I Am An Old Woman I Will Wear Purple? That’s Ken. He realises the cigars should have taken him out around 2009, so he’s ageing disgracefully, living every day as a bonus round, a heartwarming triumph of the human spirit. They should make a Richard Curtis flick about him (Timothy Spall) in which he breakdances hilariously, and the final scene is Ken passing his Customs Union motion while dastardly Ian Duncan Smith (Bill Nighy) shakes his fist, and The Kinks play “You Really Got Me”.
Good war: A-
A morose vulture losing its feathers. Since Christmas, every time Theresa has seemed to wobble, Boris has appeared before the cameras with yet another new haircut designed to make him look “more serious”, “more Prime Ministerial”. It’s zoological, how much his ambition manifests in his plumage.
Yet ever since he resigned as Brexit Secretary, Boris has looked increasingly isolated. He’s always been a class clown precisely because he’s not clubbable, not a people’s person in small and intimate ways – his spray-on charm is all auditorium stuff, not House of Commons tea room stuff.
Now, as the ground game has progressed, Boris has ended up trapped inside the old “Boris Johnson” persona he grew around himself. And as his core of unflappable self-belief has withered, he’s left flailing about, muttering “Cripes, what would Boris Johnson do in this situation? What would he do now?” But the “Boris” character has melted away, leaving only some very average bloke underneath, who’s probably called called Trevor Knight or Andrew Dawson or something.
Bad war: C-