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16th Mar 2018

Weekly SOAL: Why we have well and truly entered the Banter Cabinet era

Long live the Banter Cabinet



Don’t get me wrong, I love the Banter Cabinet.

There’s nothing I like more than catching a glimpse of the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on the news insulting the Burmese or being booed by the French.

It puts everything in context, reminding us that we’re currently in a governmental Banter-era and that yes, actually the world is a raging cesspit full of awful people and everything is hopeless and, come the rapture, let’s embrace it. It sweeps away any pretence of a British meritocracy and reminds us that all our ills come from internal power struggles within the political party that happens to be in government currently. It says to us, “One day you too could be plucked from the mean streets of Bullingdon and make it to the Foreign Office.”

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I’m all for having Boris Johnson as our Foreign Secretary. It keeps him off the streets, and as long as there’s literally no news happening, he can’t really cause any damage.

Except that we’re in the most newsy era in history. You can’t move for news. Take this week, for example, when a Russian nerve agent attack on British soil has led to into an escalating war of words with a foreign power. Suddenly this country’s choice of Foreign Secretary doesn’t seem as funny. Suddenly the banter catches up with us, and we’re all shrugging and looking at each other as if to say, “Well it wasn’t my idea.”

Suddenly you’ve got the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addressing the Russian ambassador, calling on Russia to “immediately provide full and complete disclosure” of its Novichok nerve gas programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and that they have 48 hours to respond. Suddenly, we’re all here looking like dickheads of having a Banter Cabinet.

It’s like if Joe Pasquale did the voiceover for a Hollywood blockbuster. The message gets lost because all you’re thinking about is whose idea it was to make that casting decision.


And then there is Gavin Williamson. Truly, the Gareth Keenan of the Banter Cabinet. A man, let us not forget, who keeps a pet tarantula called Cronus on his desk because it sends a message to anyone who enters his office. Presumably that message is, ‘here, in lieu of any discernible personality and gravitas, please feel intimidated that I named this spider after the Greek God who ate his own kids.’ He’s the type of man who likes black marble worktops.

Having appointed himself Defence Secretary last November, perhaps the Russian spy attack has been the biggest test so far for Williamson. If our Foreign Secretary is a bumbling buffoon, at least – AT LEAST – our tough guy defence secretary would strike the right tone in issuing a statement to Russia.

As luck would have it, Williamson was due to deliver a speech anyway, at a Rolls-Royce factory in Bristol. The stage was set. The whole world was listening, at least according to the man who introduced him to the gathered media, the director of the thinktank Policy Exchange, Dean Godson.

“The Russians should go away and shut up,” were his words. I hope you’re taking notes, Jeremy Corbyn, because this is what real statesmanship looks like. This is the kind of forthright statement that tyrants like Vladimir Putin – another self-styled hard man – need to hear.

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Inside the Kremlin, Putin must have been reeling. Never before will he have had to face such strong words from a foreign government. He should go away and shut up. But go away from where, exactly? He’s not here, he’s already in Russia. How far should he go? Perhaps the genius of Williamson’s statement is in its ambiguity. World War III historians will be analysing his words for generations to come.

Having neither gone away nor shut up, the Russian Defence Ministry issued a statement in response, calling Williamson “a vulgar old harpy”. Nah, this is actually fine and normal. This is the natural climax of the Banter Cabinet – a comical war of words with a foreign nuclear power. Whilst they shout, “I know you are, but what am I?” and make loser signs on their forehead at each other, we’ll all be incinerated in the nuclear blasts anyway.

Long live the Banter Cabinet.


Over to Parliament now, where the Conservatives this week played to type to push through changes to free school meals which will see up to 1.1 children lose out.

I wonder why it is that the so-called ‘difficult decisions’ Conservative Ministers always talk about invariably explain how “we should stop kids from having one hot meal a day” and never “we should ask corporations to pay a little more in tax.”

It’s all to do with money, or the lack of, I suppose. Brexit won’t pay for itself.