The government photo diary on Flickr is a travesty in itself | Stewart Lee


Ddid you know the UK government has a Flickr account? A rapid succession of unexplained photographs gives the impression that things involving conservative politicians are happening, at a very high level and at some speed, but offer no explanation of what they mean. It’s Perfect – the taxpayer-funded, vanity-engineered photo diary of a bunch of globe-trotting lightweights, hopelessly out of their depth, subject of international ridicule and national scorn, rendering the kind of shapes and faces they imagine significant. Arrival in the conference room with a document. Wear a face mask at the station. Gesture towards the thing. Put the helmet near the scaffolding. Laugh with the peasant. Expression concerned. High visibility jacket. Hat.

I’m filing this column 36 hours early. I was able to take a vacation abandoned last week by a politician eager to be seen as taking Ukraine seriously, in a public relations move already known as Reverse Raab. (Indeed, rumor has it that some politicians who weren’t actually on vacation quickly organized one so they could be seen returning.) By the time you read these words, they’ll have five days and everything could have to arrive. Madness. Madness. War.

Over the past two weeks, Nadhim Zahawi, our Apology and Doormat Education Secretary, has been discussing his leader’s obvious dishonesty with some little school children who discovered him on News; the police are suddenly dickless; and, in an act of heroic hypocrisy, incoherently-toned comedian Jimmy Carr was condemned as ‘deeply disturbing’ for his Holocaust material by Prime Minister Boris Piccaninny-Watermelon Muslim-Letterbox Tank-Topped-Bumboys Romanian-Vampires Cocaine-Event Spiritual-Worth Gay-Marriage-Three-Men-and-a-Dog Jimmy-Savile Wallpaper Johnson, who is presumably an expert in the field of monetized and eye-catching crimes. The attempts of newspaper columnist satirists to make jokes about current events are like trying to nail eels to a curtain. The curtain is ruined and the eels die.

As I begin this column it is Sunday 13th February and the last time I looked at the UK Government’s Flickr was mid-afternoon and Liz Truss stood with her mouth open in front of a tapestry representing lakes while Sergei Lavrov scratched his head, like an itch. chimpanzee, and who can blame him? It is now 6 a.m. on Monday and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace gestures critically at a fur-covered microphone, as if accusing someone at the British Embassy in Moscow of trying to make fun of it by providing it. Was it there that he diplomatically evoked Hitler’s appeasement, in a place that lost 27 million people in World War II? The irony is that if Wallace were able to walk around the table with Putin, he would find they have a lot in common – a homophobic opposition to gay rights, a penchant for the dark art of political slander without foundation and early baldness – but the UK government’s Flickr account instead gave the impression that Wallace is talking tough with furry audio material.

I go back five days to the famous Liz Truss fur hat fiasco. There’s the Foreign Secretary framed by a wooden door, against a backdrop of serious Soviet architecture, looking like a small player in the genre of 80s spy drama where Alexei Sayle would steal the show as a pastry chef of the KGB; the notorious Red Square fur hat sequence depicts Truss as a contemplative loner cutting her hat band across the diplomatic landscape, followed only, presumably, by her photographer, makeup artist, stylist, milliner, Peta protesters and one of those men who hold those big circles of silver foil.

A day earlier we see Michael Gove on a ‘refresher visit to Birkenhead and Liverpool’, the latter city which Margaret Thatcher’s government notoriously wanted to put into ‘controlled decline’. There is a thin blue line between leveling a red wall seat and leveling it simple. As Gove walks past a barber shop, the awkward obscuring of an assistant’s gray bonce behind his raised fist makes it look like the Secretary of State for Upgrading is addressing a small, furry rodent, asleep in his hand. “Nosey Nip gives me all my political advice. He lives in a tin can in my anorak.

On February 3, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Michael Portillo, the Cuprinol Wood Goblin, are on a bench at Marylebone station, laughing out loud at an immediately discredited rail policy announcement. In all four shots, a delighted Portillo wears a bright purple blazer, but Shapps’ stylist gave him a bright red blazer for two shots and a black one for the others. Or maybe the black Shapps blazer is the real Shapps, while the red Shapps blazer is Michael Green, Corinne Stockheath or Sebastian Fox, the pseudonymous identities under which Shapps ran dodgy get-rich-quick schemes.

At Hammersmith Academy on January 6, cuddly stallion Zahawi makes menacing claw gestures around age 7 News viewer will soon become his main ideological adversary. And on Monday, former culture secretary Sajid Javid visits Willows nursing home and calls two elderly Michael Bublé ticket holders, who paid five times more than the odds, “chatting middle-class champagne socialists who have no interest in helping the ordinary worker to earn a decent living by acting as an intermediary”.

Lacking context and appearing cynically staged, British government Flickr photographs can be crafted to tell almost any story, surely a gift for those endlessly creative members of the public who craft the satirical memes that delight us daily. Michael Gove stands alone on a windswept pier; Steve Barclay stands in front of a projected slide titled “Arp Spoofing”; Liz Truss runs at high speed across the Brooklyn Bridge, but cannot escape the judgment of history. The UK government Flickr has given you the tools, creators of internet mischief. Now do your job. On the other hand, why bother? The conceited follies of the Conservatives’ Flickr account announce the arrival of the first British government that makes a fool of itself.

  • The rescheduled 2022 national dates of Stewart’s 2020 tour, Snowflake Tornado, are on sale now; the autumn 2022 London dates of his new tour, Basic Lee, are also on sale; “You can prove anything with facts” shirts are available here


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