Humphrey: Good afternoon, Minister.
Minister: Good afternoon, Humphrey. How are you? Do sit down.
Humphrey: Thank you, Minister. Have you seen the news? It’s quite dreadful!
Minister: What news?
Humphrey: The result of the Labour leadership election.
Minister: Ah, yes, that. Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. Can’t say it was a surprise, really. Why do you ask?
Humphrey: Well, I thought you might be a bit more interested than you appear to be. We are talking about the leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, after all! It is hardly a trifling matter!
Minister: Yes, I suppose we are, and I suppose it isn’t…
Still, not much of an opposition, is it? Bitter infighting, mass dissatisfaction with the leadership among the Parliamentary Labour Party, MPs who aren’t loyal to their leader, and a leader who isn’t loyal to her Majesty. Her Majesty’s Most Disloyal Opposition would perhaps be more apt…
Humphrey: Minister! An extremist has just been reelected as leader of the opposition, and you make light of the news! I am not sure that you grasp quite how serious are the implications of this event, quite what this means for our country, quite what it says about the state of British politics today!
Minister: Really, Humphrey! You mustn’t allow yourself to get so carried away!
Humphrey: But Minister, a not insignificant number of British people have just reelected someone who wants to do away with the crown – it’s unthinkable! And if they have such an utter disregard for the constitution, they won’t stop there! They’ll move on to the civil service! The very pillar of civilisation!
Minister: I think I may be beginning to warm to the opposition…
Humphrey: Minister, I implore you – this is no laughing matter!
Minister: Oh, do pull yourself together, Humphrey. There’s nothing much to worry about. It’s all under control. Actually, I’ve been been doing some thinking…
Humphrey: Gooood! So what, pray tell, are the fruits of your deliberations?
Minister: It doesn’t matter.
Humphrey: Please, Minister; you mustn’t be so modest. I really am interested to know what thoughts you have to bear on the subject.
Minister: No. I mean, the election result doesn’t matter.
Humphrey: The election result doesn’t matter?!
Minister: The election result doesn’t matter.
Humphrey: *stunned silence*
Minister: Watch my lips, Humphrey: Theee elleectttioonn resssuulllltttt dooeesssnnn’ttt-
Humphrey: – yes, yes, I understand what you’ve said; I just don’t understand how you can have said it!
Minister: Well, it’s quite simple really, Humphrey. The British people are at heart a conservative people. They see the value of their institutions, they see meaning in their traditions, they have attachments to custom and don’t underestimate the importance of these attachments for the social fabric.
Perhaps they have difficulty expressing what they see or even that they see it! Perhaps they have difficulty explaining why they feel as they do. But that doesn’t mean to say they don’t see what they see, or feel what they feel…
Of course, not everything about our institutions is perfect – and the British people can see that too. But we are a prudent, cautious people. If an institution has a problem it should be reformed, not abolished! Our forefathers have toiled too long for the institutions and customs we enjoy today for us to throw away the fruits of their labours in a fit of absence of mind – or in some overzealous bid to expunge imperfection when there will always be imperfection, for that is life!
No, the British people are a sensible people. They will not discard customs which it has taken centuries to establish for the fancy of the moment. In their wisdom and sound judgement, the British people –
Humphrey: – yes, yes, Minister… but let’s not get carried away. I believe you were making a point, rather than writing an election speech… and perhaps you might like to be a little more concise?
Minster: Ah, yes… well my point was essentially… that the more revolutionary ideas the opposition leader espouses, the safer we are – because the British people won’t have any of it.
Humphrey: I see
Minister: then I trust that you can also see why I am relaxed. The vote means that the opposition has effectively elected to makes itself unelectable, so to speak.
Humphrey: Well, Minister, I understand your reasoning. However, I do still think that the result shows that something is amiss about the state of the country, politically. For things to get so far out of hand…
Minister: Maybe, but at least the opposition voted to stay out of power. It means we needn’t work quite so hard to keep them out!
Humphrey: Minister, that was the only choice the party membership had been presented with. So the ultimate result – that the opposition is locking itself out of of power – can hardly come as a surprise…
Minister: Come again?
Humphrey: The truth is that the party membership had two candidates to choose between, both of whom could never hope to be elected in a General Election!
Minster: Surely you don’t mean to say that the moderate candidate was unelectable – he fought the campaign precisely on the argument that he was electable!
Humphrey: And he duly lost the election, Minister – and in so doing he deftly disproved his argument and affirmed the party membership in its choice of candidate.
Minister: Yes, but didn’t he mean that he would be electable in a General Election, rather than in the narrow sense of a Labour leadership contest?
Humphrey: Yes, well I doubt very much that he would have succeeded in a General Election either, frankly. You will recall that he said that under his leadership the British would negotiate with Islamic State. How were we going to do that – over tea and biscuits?
Minister: But isn’t that current Foreign Office policy?
Humphrey: No, Minister. That changed recently with the budget cut.
Minister: How so?
Humphrey: I’m afraid we can no longer offer them biscuits…
Minister: So it is essentially FCO policy…
Humphrey: Yes, but it isn’t something to go blabbing about to the voters – they’ll think the Foreign Office doesn’t know what it’s doing!
Minister: Does it know what it’s doing?
Humphrey: No, but that’s not the point!
Minister: What is the point?
Humphrey: The point is that the party membership was given a choice between an extremist who couldn’t get elected and a moderate who couldn’t get elected – and they chose the extremist!
Minister: Perhaps at that point they thought they might as well!
Humphrey: But it’s a dreadful decision! The British people are meant to be pragmatists, not ideologues!
Minister: Yes, but we’re talking about a fairly narrow section of the electorate…
Humphrey: Even so!
Minister: And I’m not sure the election was quite as simple as you make it out to have been. I mean, the moderate candidate wasn’t all that moderate, was he? As far as I could make out, he more or less plagiarised the extremist’s ideas and then added one or two of his own extreme ideas for good measure! It’s a remarkable way to behave when your election campaign is based on the idea that you’re moderate…
Humphrey: Which extreme ideas of his own invention are you referring to precisely? Besides getting IS around the negotiating table…
Minister: Well take the idea of having a second referendum with a view to giving the British people another opportunity to give the “right” answer. That’s pretty extreme, isn’t it! Particularly when you consider that a second referendum was repeatedly ruled out during the election campaign – the British people knew there would be no turning back from their decision!
No, it simply won’t do. On June the 23rd the British people were clear that their future lay outside the European Union – continuing to trade and cooperate with our European allies, but no longer being bossed about by those insufferable bureaucrats in Brussels! The British people chose their destiny! Now if a politician who doesn’t like their answer wants to repeat the question, what else might he be prepared to do? He would be setting down a very dangerous path indeed! If one thinks one can recall elections if one doesn’t like the answer, then one might well decide to do away with elections altogether because one doesn’t like the public!
Humphrey: I think I may be beginning to warm to this “extreme” moderate…
Minister: Humphrey, I don’t want to hear such an appalling suggestion! Although, I quite like your choice of words – “extreme moderate”. It makes a surprising degree of sense…
Humphrey: Yes, and while the moderate was extreme, the extremist was surprisingly moderate for an extremist – after he had toned down some of his extremism…
Minister: What are you referring to specifically?
Humphrey: Well, there were no more references to his “friends” Hamas, and he refused to have a tea party with Islamic State. That is to say, discussions.
Minister: Maybe he knew about the tightening of the Foreign Office budget…
Humphrey: And you’ll remark that the moderate’s newfound extremism helped make the extremist look moderate… you know something has gone awfully wrong when an extremist is allowed to look moderate!
Humphrey: But for all his more moderate positions during the campaign – including refusing to enter into discussion with Islamic State – the extremist remained an extremist. I mean, as far as I’m aware he hasn’t disowned his comments about Hamas being his friends – so he’s still pro-extremist at the very least.
Meanwhile, his so-called moderate counterpart, while increasingly extreme, still spoke out against extremism – so he remained anti-extremist, at least in theory.
Minister: This is all getting a bit complicated.
Minister: But if I can attempt to summarise… what you’re really saying is that an anti-extremist extremist moderate has made a pro-extremist moderate extremist look extremely moderate?
Humphrey: Yes, Minister…