New Times,
New Thinking.

Is this election beyond satire?

With the Tories writing their own punchlines, the jokes in Michael Spicer: No Room are all too plausible.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Spare a thought for the nation’s political satirists at this difficult time. An election should be the highlight of their calendar: six weeks of launches, pledges, manifestos and debates across the country for anyone with a comedic eye to pore over.

But what do you do when the jokes write themselves, when one party seems determined to outdo any absurdity a humorist could dream up? Like announcing the election in the pouring rain, outside and without an umbrella, with the anthem associated with your main rival’s mega-victory blaring from a protester’s speakers in the background. Or going to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast to insist your campaign isn’t going to be a colossal failure. Or basing messaging around the importance of national security and then leaving an international D-Day commemoration early. Or descending into yet another scandal with reports that party figures gambled on the date of the election breaking just after your campaign director released ads warning the electorate not to “bet” on Labour.

Michael Spicer’s approach in the election special of his BBC series No Room is to zoom out from the parties to take aim at the whole election apparatus, with sketches that “spoof everything that’s driving us mad during the campaign”. The debates where candidates rush to give glib answers to impossible questions. The tactical voting dilemma taken to its logical extreme. How the policies that politicians bombard us with come to life in the first place.

Given the scale of the challenges this country faces, we could all use a few laughs. The issue is it’s still just a bit close to home: a policy focus group alighting on the genius idea of eco-homes powered by child cyclists doesn’t seem that far-fetched, and the thought of voting for a dog called Pippa is actually quite appealing. At the end of the “one-minute leaders’ debate”, Spicer announces: “We’ll be back tomorrow for the arm-wrestling special between Penny Mordaunt and Angela Rayner.” At this stage in the campaign, I would absolutely watch that.

Michael Spicer: No Room
BBC Radio 4, 29 June, 11pm; available on catch-up

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This article appears in the 26 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Lammy Doctrine