The Tories may be the nation’s greatest political punchline, but it’s getting less and less funny to think what it would be like when they actually take office next year. Thank goodness for the opposition in The Thick of It, then, who are re-teaching us how to laugh at them in the run up to what must surely be their characters taking centre stage in the show.
The opposition were visiting the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship to discuss plans with senior civil servants about what they would do if – or, rather, when – they take office. (Ever noticed how there are never Tories in the programme, just some posh opposition? Hmmmm.) So who are the new team we could see take office?
First up is shadow minister Peter Mannion. The special episode that introduced the opposition in early 2007 showed Mannion as a reasonably principled politician who was at sea with the bewildering Cameroonian bent that he was being forced to conduct his work. This episode, however, showed a man with the potent ability to take on Malcolm Tucker in a verbal slanging match. (“You’re looking well for someone twice your age. Any news on the aneurysm?”)
Mannion seems to be the first politician in the show to have enough nouse to handle whatever political crisis is threatening to engulf him, something that is made all the more noticeable in an episode where current minister Nicola Murray continues to fall apart as her daughter attacks a classmate’s hair with hair straighteners.
But what is also clear about Mannion in this episode is that he is a character who takes a stand to try to do the right thing, by not dragging Murray’s private family business into a political slanging match. As a contrast to the amoral and boneheaded politicking around him, it’s little wonder that Terri claims that Robyn calls him Peter Man-yum.
Of course, while it’s fun to see someone able to square up to Malcolm, it’s even more fun to see Malcolm give the bollocking of the series to ‘Shitehead Revisited’ researcher Phil Smith, while Olly laughs himself senseless on the far side of a glass door from the carnage.
It’s suiting that Olly should find Phil’s plight hilarious, considering that Phil is the new arrogant, amoral youngling of the show. He also gets to be the unreformed stereotypical Tory for us to hate, all damp smells, pictures of Thatcher, floppy hair, and above all else, an uncontained contempt for the poor (“So what are you saying? It’s wrong to send your child to a comprehensive?” “Yeah, it’s wrong, or at least very, very careless.”).
If Phil is the show’s Thatcherite paradigm, then blue skies PR man Stewart is the Cameroonian one, and the two get on with surprising gusto, discussing “multi-dimensional, fractal retaliation” policy and making politicians practice fist bumps.
We also saw little of Emma, but as Olly’s (presumably ex-) girlfriend, she provides a useful link by which to keep in old characters during any presumable transition next year.
The government, meanwhile, is continuing last week’s plot of wringing political capital out of cost-free initiatives, by this week looking to create the ‘fourth sector’ of ‘extraordinary ordinary individuals’. As someone who has written about the public sector extensively, this is such uncomfortably familiar satire that I suspect some chunks of the script may have just been copy-and-pasted from Home Office press releases.
Hopefully, the four remaining episodes will give enough time to see the two teams come to blows over such work. Or, at the very least, give another opportunity for Malcolm to scream at Phil in a corridor.
Read our review of episode 3 here.