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I, Maybot, page 1


I, Maybot

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I, Maybot



  The Rise and Fall


  For Tom and Debby


  Title Page



  Over to you, says puffy-eyed Cameron as the Brexit vultures circle

  Boris’s career undone by a Poundland Lord and Lady MacGove

  Boris? Michael? Andrea? Theresa rules the roost after manic Monday

  Choosing a cabinet might be fun after all, thought Theresa

  Talk to the hand, Leadsom: Theresa May’s perfect first day

  Theresa could have reinvented herself as anyone – but she came as Maggie

  So Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. Is that it?

  Brexit means never having to say you’re sorry (or anything at all)

  The PM’s Brexit confusion is contagious

  Talk to the hand, Theresa, because the EU aren’t listening

  Theresa struggles to take back control – from her own Maybot

  Hammond warned against Brexit and no one listened. Now it’s payback

  Theresa May feels the love from her cabinet after unhappy Eurotrip

  Theresa May stumbles on a question of thought

  Sophy Ridge gets her money shot from the Maybot

  Maybot fails to channel happier times with theme of social injustice

  It’s not EU, it’s us: Maybot outlines Brexit divorce plan

  David Davis sees Article 50 defeat as a win in his alternative facts narrative

  Theresa May and Trump: PM shows lengths she’ll go to for Britain

  The Undertaker’s budget brings death, taxes then a crazy kamikaze attack

  Philip Hammond digs deep as he explains his NICs U-turn

  Maybot stuck on repeat as Sturgeon lets rip over referendum

  End of the affair: May finds breaking up with EU is hard to do

  David Davis: the UK’s secretary of state for badly needing a lie-down

  Dead-eyed Theresa May puts the Tories’ interests first

  May convinces MPs that Brexit requires her strong and ignorant leadership

  Kim Jong-May awkward and incredulous as journalist asks question

  Labour’s hint of a pulse leaves Theresa May unsated

  Supreme Leader produces pure TV Valium on The One Show

  Cries of ‘Corbyn, Corbyn’ filled the hall. He had waited a lifetime for this

  Close your eyes and believe in your strong and stable Supreme Leader

  Dim and Dimmer: two Tory car crashes for the price of one

  Maybot policy reboot ends in an embarrassing interview meltdown

  ‘It’s very clear’: May disappears into a dreamland of her own

  The Hand is left to do the heavy lifting while Maybot reboots

  Up against the Maybot, Corbyn struggles not to be a personality

  Maybot malfunctions under pressure over disappearing police

  It had come down to this: vote Maybot, she’s a bit better than Corbyn

  The Maybot asked us to strengthen her hand over Brexit – we declined

  The Maybot is trapped in the first phase of election grief – denial

  The Maybot is rebooted as strong and humble. Stumble for short

  Maybot’s reboot stumbles as PM struggles with self-deprecation

  State opening of parliament a crowning humiliation for Maybot

  Maybot’s magic money tree? It’ll spread the love in Belfast, says Green

  Corbyn scoffs as Theresa tells tall tales of G20 glory

  You call that a relaunch? The Maybot’s broken record is still not fixed

  Maybot’s ‘little tear’ interview: a masterclass in robot ethics

  About the Author



  With the coalition coming to the end of its five-year term of office in May 2015, David Cameron hatched a plan to keep the Conservative Eurosceptics on message during the general election campaign: he would offer them the carrot of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union within two years. It was a plan that worked rather too well. Cameron had anticipated the Tories either losing the election or returning to power in another coalition. Either way, the promise of an EU referendum would get quietly shelved.

  Instead, the Conservatives were returned with an overall majority and Dave was forced to put up. With the early opinion polls showing a roughly 65–35% split in favour of remaining in the EU, Dave saw no point in delaying the referendum and spent the latter half of 2015 and early 2016 meeting with the 27 heads of the other EU countries in the hope of coming back with a new four-point deal on UK membership that he could present to the country as a marked improvement. The only problem was that the deal looked, to all intents and purposes, identical to the one we already had.

  By now, though, Dave was committed and, as there was no backing down, he took to the airwaves to sell a deal whose details seemed a little vague even to him. First up was The Andrew Marr Show, the BBC’s flagship Sunday morning politics show. He got off to a sluggish start. The key phrases his advisers had prepped him with over breakfast – ‘important work’, ‘national security’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘very, very dangerous’ – tripped off the tongue as if on time delay. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

  Marr pressed him on benefits. How could he guarantee that the Department for Work and Pensions would be up to withholding migrants’ benefits when it still hadn’t managed to get its universal credits system up and running after five years? The only answer to be found in Dave’s brain was that with Iain Duncan Smith sacked as its minister, the DWP would run like clockwork, but somewhere in the depths of his hippocampus, Dave knew he wasn’t allowed to say that. So he just burbled something meaningless instead.

  Slowly, though, Dave’s body began to respond and his pulse rose above flatline. Dave remembered that Dave was pumped. He had gone to Brussels and he had bloody well given the EU a kicking. Angela Merkel! Donald Tusk! François Hollande! Whatever the name of the Polish president is! We gave your boys one hell of a beating!

  ‘Can you look me in the eye on sovereignty, prime minister?’ Marr asked. No problem. Dave’s eyes opened wider and remained fixed on Marr as he went into a long spiel about how, if we left the EU, our sovereignty would only be an illusion of sovereignty. With Dave we could be in the bits of Europe we wanted to be in and not in the bits we didn’t. Paris was fine, but we could give Lille a miss. Stick with Dave and things could only get meta.

  On the plus side, Dave knew who his enemies were as the Tory Eurosceptics and UKIP were all known quantities. At least he thought they were. Having apparently promised Dave that he was a committed Remainer, Boris Johnson had a last-minute change of heart while playing tennis with his sister, Rachel. BoJo had become BoGo. This tilted the odds considerably, as Boris – despite his Bullingdon Club background – had always been immensely popular with voters. They liked his style and forgave him misdemeanours that would cost other politicians their careers.

  Boris could say what he liked. And frequently did. Demented bureaucrats forcing us to under-power notres vacuum cleaneurs! Why shouldn’t we be allowed to crash our camions into ponts if we wanted to, rather than have them restricted to four metres in height? If the EU had its way no one would be allowed to talk Franglais ever again. And that was often pretty much the entire message.

  Were there any downsides to leaving the EU? Absolument non. The Frogs and the Krauts would still be gagging for all our clobber and we could keep out any foreigners we didn’t like. Un no-brainer. A few people were confused by this. If it had all been that simple why had he apparently agonised for so long over which way to jump? Was it possible he was just in it for himself? Was he just positioning himself to be the n
ext prime minister whatever the result of the referendum? Têtes you win, queues you lose. ‘That’s an outrageous thing to suggest,’ said BoGo, crossing his fingers tightly behind his back. ‘This isn’t about me.’ If true, it would have been the first thing BoGo has come up against that wasn’t.

  While Nigel Farage and UKIP made the referendum all about immigration, Boris and Michael Gove made it all about money. Lots of it. If we left the EU, we would have an extra £350 million to give to the NHS each week. Even if we didn’t. The treasury select committee – one of the few oases of objective facts throughout the referendum campaign – asked Vote Leave to remove the £350 million slogan from the side of its campaign bus on the grounds that it was grossly untrue. Vote Leave smiled politely and said, ‘If it’s all the same to you, we’ll leave it up there as we’re not that bothered about how many lies we tell.’

  Not that the Remain side were campaigning with any great conviction. Jeremy Corbyn had always been a Eurosceptic when he had been on the backbenches and made a reluctant and underwhelming advocate for remaining in the EU now he was Labour leader. Several prominent Conservatives (including Theresa May – lest we forget) were notionally on the Remain side, but managed to avoid saying almost anything in three months, leaving Dave and Chancellor George Osborne to do all the heavy lifting. Their tactic was not to sell the benefits of remaining in the EU so much as terrifying everyone with the consequences of leaving.

  ‘I’m not about Project Fear,’ Dave declared firmly. ‘I’m about Project Fact’.

  The difference between Project Fear and Project Fact wasn’t immediately obvious. A greater emphasis on frightening facts, rather than factual fears.

  Of course everything would still be OK if Britain did decide to leave the EU but no one should be under any illusions that it would be a Great Leap in the Dark, a world of continual night where the country would be left at the bottom of every global pile going. Trade deals? We might get something negotiated within a decade, but there were no guarantees. That kind of thing. Those kinds of facts.

  With the Remain camp running a dismal, joyless campaign and Vote Leave promising the Earth, the polls began to narrow significantly. Two weeks before polling day, the first poll came out predicting a Leave victory. The Remainers were visibly panicked but even on 23 June, the day of the referendum, no one on either side really thought anything but a narrow vote to stay in the EU was on the cards. The electorate had other ideas. Whether because voters really did want ‘to take back control’ or because they just fancied sticking two fingers up to the establishment, the UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU. And so a tumultuous year began …

  Over to you, says puffy-eyed Cameron as the Brexit vultures circle

  24 JUNE 2016

  Shortly after 6 a.m. a van pulled up outside Downing Street. With still no sign of David Cameron, who had been expected to make a statement minutes earlier, the hordes of photographers gathered outside the prime minister’s front door snapped the newspaper delivery man instead. Something to do. This was history and no one wanted to miss a moment.

  There was still no sign of the prime minister nearly an hour later when someone opened the door of No. 10 to let Larry the Downing Street cat out for his morning stroll. The photographers got their cameras out again. Larry sat on the porch for five minutes, wondering if he was about to be the fall guy in a dead cat bounce. Surprised to find himself still alive, he exited stage right.

  Another half an hour passed and Larry reappeared. The front door opened and he went back inside. Still no sign of Dave. It was becoming startlingly clear that No. 10 was in crisis. The prime minister knew he should have made a statement long ago, but he still didn’t really have a clue what he was going to say. What could he say? He’d gambled the future of the country for an internal party squabble and he’d lost.

  As sterling dropped another few cents, a French broadcaster rehearsed her lines. ‘David Cameron est fini,’ she said. ‘David Cameron is finished.’ It was apparently going to be a dual-language broadcast. On the other side of the gates at the far end of Downing Street, an organ grinder played an off-tempo version of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ while passing cars honked their horns in approval. The Brexit vultures were closing in.

  At 7.40 a.m. Lord Feldman, the Conservative party chairman, knocked on the front door of No. 10. He was kept waiting outside considerably longer than Larry. The new world order was making itself felt. ‘Have you got anything to say, Lord Feldman?’ a reporter shouted. He hadn’t. No one else seemed to have anything to say, so why should he?

  Still no Dave. At 8 a.m. the financial markets opened and £100 billion was wiped off their value within minutes. So much for the prime minister calming City nerves. Shortly before 8.30, Dave’s favourite oak lectern was carried out into the street, and moments later he and his wife Sam walked out. Both looked puffy-eyed. It had been a long night, and the day was going to be even longer.

  ‘Good morning everyone,’ he said, grasping the lectern with both hands. ‘The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered. Across the world people have been watching the choice that Britain has made. I would reassure those markets and investors that Britain’s economy is fundamentally strong.’

  His body language was anything but reassuring, and neither was his implication that the British people had come to the wrong decision. He wasn’t the right man to lead the negotiations for this country’s exit from the EU, he continued, so he would be standing down as prime minister before the Conservative party conference in October.

  It was said with dignity as well as edge. Scotland was already seeking a second independence referendum to keep the country in the EU, Northern Ireland might do the same, Spain was making claims on Gibraltar and Britain faced years of economic uncertainty. If Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were so sure they could sort out this mess, they were welcome to have a go. His job had stopped being fun and he’d had enough.

  ‘I love this country, and I feel honoured to have served it,’ he said, his voice beginning to crack. Only a huge effort of will got him to the end. ‘And I will do everything I can in future to help this great country succeed. Thank you very much.’ Dave and Sam instinctively moved to kiss each other. At the last second they caught one another’s eye and thought better of it. To touch would only lead to more tears. They deserved some dignity.

  Over at Vote Leave headquarters, Boris and Gove were looking equally stunned. Neither had either expected to win or Cameron to resign, and what had started out as a bit of a game had become horribly real. Sombre faces were the order of the day. Boris began by paying tribute to Dave – ‘He’s been a great prime minister and his only fault was to have the job I wanted’ – before trying to appeal to the young people who had resoundingly rejected him. Having spent the entire campaign ignoring the young, he couldn’t help but sound unconvincing. Sincerity has never been Boris’s strongest suit.

  Gove’s shock felt rather more real. He looked like a man who had just come down off a bad trip to find he had murdered one of his closest friends. But even he couldn’t avoid hypocrisy. After openly rubbishing each and every expert for weeks, he tried to reassure everyone that everything was going to be OK because Brexit would be entrusted to great minds. Both declined to take any questions from the media. Which was just as well, because right now they didn’t have a single answer.

  * * *

  As half the country celebrated the referendum result and the other half reeled in shock, it quickly dawned on everyone that the political classes were totally unprepared for what came next. Some were calling for Article 50 to be triggered immediately, others were insisting on a delay while a few seemed to be in denial that the referendum had ever taken place.

  Into this vacuum stepped … another vacuum, as all the key players in the referendum campaign seemed to go missing. Though you might have thought that Boris and Gove, the two main architects of the Leave campaign, would have been only too keen to share their cunning plans with a di
vided nation, the merry pranksters had other things on their mind. Lunch. Cricket. Lunch. That sort of thing. Why was everyone so keen on hearing about a plan? Couldn’t they understand that Brexit was never about having a plan? It was about taking back control of not having a plan.

  Nor were the Remainers in any better shape. Some professed amazement that anyone had actually taken them seriously when they had said they supported Britain staying in the EU, while the best that David Cameron could come up with in the Commons was that there was almost unanimous agreement within the Cabinet to appoint some experts to try to come up with a vague plan about how to make an even vaguer plan to think about how Britain was going to leave the EU. Indeed, it rather looked as if the main priority for the Conservative party wasn’t Brexit at all. It was choosing a new leader.

  * * *

  Boris’s career undone by a Poundland Lord and Lady MacGove

  30 JUNE 2016

  Even the most sophisticated of wife-swapping parties can end in tears. The Conservative annual fundraiser at the Hurlingham Club had started so well. Car keys had been flung into a solid silver bowl and Leavers and Remainers were happily getting off with one another. ‘I know I called you a duplicitous, lying moron during the referendum campaign,’ they cooed to one another, ‘but deep down, darling, you know I’ve always fancied you.’ The champagne flowed, the beds bounced, the sheets squelched.

  Then in walked Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s wife. Sarah wasn’t at all happy. She didn’t mind that her husband was copping off with someone else – hell, he’d been cheating on everyone in the Conservative party for as long as she could remember. What really upset her was that Mikey was being so poorly rewarded for his infidelity. Her husband was selling his body far too cheaply. If he was going to sleep with Boris he should at least be guaranteed one of the great offices of state. The treasury, for instance. So what if Mikey was hopeless at maths and couldn’t even be trusted with the shopping?

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