Mitch Benn: A very frank prank

Comedian Simon Brodkin, also known as Lee Nelson, confronts Prime Minister Theresa May during her keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference . Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

People have been asking me if I know Simon Brodkin, the character-comedian/prankster who interrupted the Prime Minister's conference speech to hand her a mock redundancy notice.

I wouldn't go so far as to say 'know'; we've bumped into each other a few times on the comedy circuit over the years. I remember being quite impressed by the authenticity of the Liverpool accent he adopts in the guise of Jason Bent, a Steven Gerrard-ish football star character. As a genuine (if somewhat lapsed) Scouser myself, my ears are particularly sensitive to bad fake Scouse accents (I've seen way too many Beatles biopics over the years) but Brodkin's was surprisingly good. You might remember that it was in this persona that Brodkin gatecrashed a press conference being held by the scandal-mired FIFA boss Sepp Blatter and dumped $600 worth of (real) banknotes over Blatter's head. This was probably the most effective of Brodkin's 'stunts'; the image of Blatter covered in cash struck a resounding chord and his already crippled tenure ended soon afterwards. The jury is out, and will likely stay there, on how 'effective' Brodkin's intervention at the Tory conference was/is likely to be. I guess it depends on what one means by effective; if the stunt was intended solely to generate publicity for Brodkin himself (as all such stunts are, to some extent) then it's worked a charm; I mean here I am, 235 words into this column and thus far the whole thing has been about him, the cheeky sod. And perhaps we should just enjoy Brodkin's antics for their own sake while we may, because he is going to get himself shot sooner or later (indeed, the most pressing question thrown up by the incident is where the hell – and moreover WHAT the hell – was the Prime Minister's security detail that day?).

If Brodkin had some wider purpose in mind – perhaps to hasten Theresa May's departure, as it appears he may have done Blatter's – then some commentators have expressed the opinion that this has backfired, that his prank has, if anything, increased public sympathy for the beleaguered PM. It's certainly true that, probably counter to his expectations, Brodkin's contribution to the speech was by no means the worst thing that befell May at the lectern that afternoon. There was the coughing fit, the sudden attack of laryngitis and the frankly surreal disintegration of the lettering of the slogan on the backdrop behind her (that was the moment at which, had this been a political sitcom rather than reality, the audience would have lost all suspension of disbelief and switched off). It would have been almost inhuman, whatever one's political leanings, not to feel at least a twinge of sympathy for the plight of the stranded PM. The scenario did, after all, evoke those nightmares we all have of being pushed out onstage unrehearsed and floundering (it could scarcely have done so more vividly had she been in her underwear). I'm not convinced, however, that sympathy is of any real help to May right now. Do we really want to feel sympathy when we consider the leader of the country, rather than admiration or confidence? Of all the adjectives a Prime Minister might hope to see appended to their name, is 'pitiable' really one? Are we really more likely to keep her in power because we feel sorry for her? Now, the titters and gasps having subsided, that specific humiliation being passed, we are left with the question: why should we feel sorry for the Prime Minister anyway? There isn't anything she's going through right now which she hasn't brought upon herself, and, moreover, upon us. The referendum may not have been her idea – that particular bit of cowardly idiocy she can lay at the door of her predecessor. But in the aftermath, it was her decision to run for the party leadership, it was her decision to deny her own political wisdom – that Brexit is suicidal folly – and reject, and in due course, demonise and defame, her fellow Remainers as traitors and saboteurs. It was her choice to call the surprise election – for the ostensible (entirely selfish) reason that she 'needed' a bigger majority, and most probably for the (even more entirely selfish) reason that this would shift the electoral timetable away from our projected exit from the EU in March 2019, and it was also her own (perhaps none too carefully considered) decision to act like nothing had happened when the results came in and her majority was gone. It was also, while we're here, her decision to put Boris 'Piccaninnies' Johnson in the Foreign Office, and if she's foolish enough to take the bait he's currently dangling in front of her and sack him (thus putting him in an ideal position for a post-Brexit leadership coup) that will be her decision as well. It's a nasty, draughty, rumpled bed in which the Conservative Party now lies, and it is one it made for itself. The trouble is that we're all stuck in that bed as well. Everything the Conservative Party has inflicted upon us since 2015 – the referendum, the post-referendum schism, the election, the post-election turmoil, the chaotic and incompetent preparations for Brexit – has been done purely in pursuit of party advantage. As I've said before, they may claim (and some of them may actually believe) that they're acting in the national, rather than partisan, interest, but this is only because they can't tell the difference. It's all about what's good for the Conservative party (or what's supposed to be). As and when they do go to the country, whether it's under May or under Boris, in 2022 or in six weeks' time, we need to remember this, remind our neighbours of this, and act accordingly.

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