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BBC Radio 4’s Party’s Over is a perfectly timed tale of a disgraced prime minister

Imagining the escapades of a fictional failed politician provides ample opportunity to comment on some real ones.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Maybe someone in the Radio 4 scheduling department has a crystal ball, because the timing of series two of Party’s Over is simply too perfect. Miles Jupp stars as disgraced former prime minister Henry Tobin, as he struggles to adapt to life beyond Downing Street, with the help (or not) of his status-obsessed wife, cack-handed bodyguard and besotted PA. In season one, Henry made various attempts at post-PM relevance, from chasing a publishing deal for his memoirs to launching a new political party, and his failures are no less entertaining for being completely inevitable. The second season kicks off with his plan to nab a seat on the Commonwealth Games committee and enjoy a lucrative jet-setting career. Needless to say, it does not go well.

What makes this show so entertaining isn’t the plot (the storylines are pure, predictable sitcom), but the premise. Imagining the escapades of a fictional failed politician provides ample opportunity to comment on some real ones. There are gags about classified USB sticks left on trains and government procurement gone horribly awry that anyone who pays attention to politics will recognise, and the writers aren’t afraid to name specific targets. Matt Hancock comes under fire at one point, while later Henry’s wife berates him: “You know less about gymnastics than Nadine Dorries knows about culture, media and sport.”

Of course, it’s hard to write political satire more absurd than the recent reality. Partygate gets a reference (“I haven’t seen that many people resign since Boris Johnson’s last birthday party”), but the scripts must have been finalised long before Tory MPs ousted their leader. The joke of Party’s Over is how comically inept Jupp’s character clearly is: weak, self-serving and utterly unsuited to being prime minister in the first place. Having proved a disaster in office, what can someone so dogged by scandal possibly do now? Fortuitously, it looks like as if we’re about to find out.

Party’s Over
BBC Radio 4, 29 July, 6.30pm

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This article appears in the 27 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Special