DO not adjust your sets. Last week the Sunday politics shows were waiting breathlessly for Sue Gray’s report on the Downing Street parties.
Publication was imminent, we were told. Probably Wednesday, Thursday at a push. Wrong, wrong, and wrong the other times too, courtesy of a last minute intervention by the Met.
Yesterday it was deja vu all over again, or deja Sue as one punster had it. That left producers with a problem. Should they carry on speculating about Gray, or move on to other pressing matters, including Ukraine and the cost of living crisis? The answer, in keeping with these improvisational times, was “both”.
Handily, Liz Truss was the Minister appointed to tour the studios. As Foreign Secretary and someone frequently tipped to replace Boris Johnson should he decide to spend more time with his literary career, Ms Truss was the Sunday show equivalent of a supermarket “twofer”, or 2 for 1 offer.
On Ukraine, she said it was “highly likely” that Vladimir Putin was looking to invade. As for the possibility of British troops fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Russia, that was “very unlikely”.
Legislation would be introduced this week to widen the number of sanctions targets, she told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday and Sunday Morning with Sophie Raworth.
With this, plus the Prime Minister heading to eastern Europe this week and Ms Truss going to Ukraine, Downing Street is hoping to move the story on from the Gray report.
On the Truss scale of probability, that one sits on the “highly unlikely to impossible” mark. The UK media can go abroad as well, as Mrs Thatcher discovered on the steps of the British embassy in Paris during the Tory leadership contest of 1990.
Having covered Ukraine it was on to the rising cost of living, including a looming hike in national insurance. Taxes were never popular, said the Minister, but the money spent during the Covid crisis had to be paid back.
On this Ms Truss was shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, who had appeared in the Sunday Times, under a joint by-line, defending the rise.
Not that such a display of unanimity stopped questions about possible leadership bids. Asked on Sunday Morning if she was tempted by the job of Prime Minister, Ms Truss said: “There is no contest. There is no discussion.”
Was Mr Johnson the best person to take the party into a General Election? “Absolutely he is.”
She added: “He has achieved an 80-seat majority for the Conservative Party. He has delivered on the Covid vaccine programme, the booster programme, he’s delivered on Brexit and he will do a fantastic job winning the next election for the Conservative Party.”
The General Election popped up on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show with Martin Geissler. The programme led on the Gray report, with Geissler’s first guest the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford.
“You couldn’t really make up what’s gone on,” began Mr Blackford.
“I think it’s more a guddle rather than anything else perhaps, but the point is the report should be published. There is no reason why it should be held up.”
Parliament could use its powers to compel the Government to release information it wants, but going down that route would take time.
“The best thing would be for Sue Gray to give [the report] to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister to take responsibility and publish it.”
The Sunday Show producers had again asked for someone to represent the UK Government, but still no dice. This week’s creative solution was Rory Stewart, former Conservative MP now a senior fellow at Yale. It was a good call, another “twofer”, given Mr Stewart’s foreign policy experience and the fact he had once stood against Boris Johnson in a Conservative leadership contest.
“I think he’s a terrible person,” said Mr Stewart of his former Tory colleague. “I ran against him partly because I thought he would be a terrible Prime Minister.”
British politics had a tendency to lurch between “slightly slick showmen” and rather serious figures. “I hope the time for the serious figure has returned,” he added, mentioning Rishi Sunak (“thoughtful, a grown up figure”), Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, and Tom Tugendhat as possibles.
With that there was nothing to do but go back to the production that is Waiting for Sue Gray. Even Beckett gave audiences an ending of sorts.