Ivory Tower: the final-ever episode of our Westminster flat-share sitcom
The lockdown bubble shared by Michelle Donelan and Amanda Solloway, ministers for universities and science, has been stripped bare. There are piles of cardboard boxes everywhere, ready for the removal team. Only the sofa remains unwrapped. Mandy enters with one last box of personal items. She adds it to one of the piles, taking a last look around at the flat.
Mandy: Where did I put that bulldog paperweight? Maybe I’ll just leave it. Micks always said she liked it.
[Micky enters with a red box and dressed for cabinet]
Micky: Is that you then?
Mandy: Yeah, I’m all packed.
Micky: Well then.
Micky: Hey, girlfriend, don’t look so sad.
Mandy: I’m not sad—just taking a moment, you know.
Micky: Yeah, well, I best be off, I’ve got cabinet this morning.
Mandy: Don’t want to be late for your first day.
Micky: I’m sure no-one will recognise me. They probably won’t even let me into Downing Street.
Mandy: You’ll be great, you’ll smash it.
Micky: There’s a bottle of Lambrini in the fridge if you’d like to…
Mandy: It’s a bit early but I’d love to, just for old times’ sake.
Micky: No, I meant take it with…
Mandy: I’ll get the glasses. [She goes into the kitchen]
Micky: Mands, I don’t have time…
[Mandy comes back with an open bottle and two glasses on a rattan tray]
Micky: I can’t go to cabinet smelling of alcohol.
Mandy: You wouldn’t be the first.
Micky: Listen, Mands, I don’t have the time…
Mandy: They’ll start late anyway. Let’s toast your success.
[She pours two glasses]
Mandy: Cheers! To my mate Micky, promoted to the cabinet.
Micky: Cheers! OK, I’ve got to go now.
Mandy: And to me, sacked from my first and only ministerial job.
Micky: Now, now, Mands, don’t cry. You weren’t sacked.
Mandy: I’ve been sent to the Whips’ Office. They might as well have fired me out of a cannon or sent me to Northern Ireland.
Micky: The Whips’ Office is important.
Mandy: No, it’s not.
Micky: Gavin Williamson started there.
Mandy: Why don’t you just give me a hemlock chaser with the Lambrini.
Micky: You’ll be back as a minister soon.
Mandy: No, I won’t. I probably won’t even keep my seat as an MP.
Micky: Don’t say that.
Mandy: Come the election, Boris will have messed up just enough, and Starmer will have done just enough, for little old me to lose my marginal seat in Derby North.
Micky: There’ll be no Brexit Party next time.
Mandy: That’s because we are the Brexit Party now.
Micky: Yeah, I guess.
Mandy: You know, I worked hard, did what I was told, voted for all that nonsense, the will of the people and all that guff. I campaigned hard in the local elections for them. Got shouted at endlessly by Dominic Cummings. I sucked it all up, defended every one of them, including Barnard Castle boy, and look what they’ve done to me.
Micky: I’m sorry, Mands.
Mandy: Just another northerner used and then ignored by the Conservative Party.
Micky: Don’t speak like that.
Mandy: Why? It’s true.
Micky: No, I think the room is bugged. Just don’t go around saying that in the tearooms.
Mandy: That’s my new role, clearing drunk MPs out of the bars to go and vote for whatever nonsense Boris has cooked up this week.
Micky: They’ve given you a fancy title—aren’t you a lord of the Treasury now, or something?
Mandy: A title is just something they give you when they want you to do a job for nothing, or get rid of you. Look at Dominic Raab.
Micky: Not in my experience.
Mandy: I thought you were the universities minister—haven’t you ever visited one to see the pro vice-chancellor of logistics and car parking?
Micky: There’s been a pandemic and it’s been hard, but we’re all doing our best, you know.
Mandy: Sorry, Micks, I didn’t mean to have a go. You get along, you’ll be late for cabinet.
Micky: I’m not going until you’ve cheered up. You were the best science minister I’ve ever worked with.
Mandy: Thanks, babe. But what did I achieve?
Micky: There was Arpa.
Mandy: The bill is still not passed. Besides, it’s called Aria now.
Micky: Then there was your roadmap.
Mandy: The one that’s about to be torn up by the Treasury?
Micky: Then there was your bullying thing.
Mandy: That stopped after Dominic Cummings left.
Micky: No, I mean your touchy-feely ‘change the culture of research’ thing.
Mandy: Won’t be changing anything now.
Micky: To be honest, everyone in the party thought it was a bit woke.
Mandy: Priti Patel told me she liked it.
Micky: She told me she’d rather take the knee than…
Mandy: Oh, I see.
[There is a pause, and the flatmates sit on the sofa in silence]
Micky: Do you remember the fun times we had in this flat?
Mandy: The lockdown party that got out of control.
Micky: And Boris turned up.
Mandy: So did the police.
Micky: And Boris creeping out the window.
Mandy: And down the drainpipe.
Micky: He seemed well practised at that.
Mandy: Did you ever report that drainpipe to the landlord?
Micky: No, but I suppose we should. It’s come right off from the wall.
Mandy: Fun times.
Micky: And do you remember when Paddy Vallance came round and you asked him, if there wasn’t enough Oxford vaccine to go round, if you could have the Durham one?
Mandy: Pity he always brought Chris Whitty with him.
Micky: Do you remember that party when Matt Hancock turned up?
Mandy: With that lucky, lucky lady.
Micky: The minister of hugs, indeed. There, you almost smiled. That’s better.
Mandy: Smiling at Matt Hancock? No thanks.
Micky: See, you are laughing now.
Mandy: It’s just so unfair, Micks, you know.
Micky: I know.
Mandy: There’s me packing my boxes and being sent to keep red wall Tory MPs in check. There’s you, dressed like Amal Clooney and going to Downing Street.
Micky: This old thing? I got it in a sale online.
Mandy: What have you got that I don’t?
Mandy: It’s my accent, isn’t it?
Micky: No, it’s not that.
Mandy: It is that.
Micky: That’s not true.
Mandy: You never eat oatcakes when I make them.
Micky: I just prefer salad.
Mandy: For breakfast?
Micky: Look, don’t be so down on yourself.
Mandy: I’ve hit the glass ceiling in the Conservative Party. Who was the last northerner to make it in this party?
Micky: William Hague.
Mandy: That’s Yorkshire—that doesn’t count. The place is like the mother ship for Tories.
Micky: Wasn’t Michael Howard from Liverpool?
Mandy: He was Welsh and had a seat in Folkestone.
Micky: How come he always said he was a Liverpool fan?
Mandy: Who knows? Just another glory hunter. Just another bloke promoted above his abilities because he went to the right university and has a posh voice. I’m just one of the Lidl Tories.
Micky: You’re not so little.
Mandy: No, Lidl. You are a Waitrose Tory and I’m a Lidl Tory. That’s what Liz Truss says.
Micky: Talk about promoted above your abilities.
Mandy: See, I couldn’t even get her old job, signing trade deals with Liechtenstein.
Micky: Maybe you’ll like the Whips’ Office.
Mandy: Hushing up every tabloid scandal, threatening MPs to tell their wives or husbands what they’ve been up to with the staff, suspending anyone who makes a joke about Carrie Symonds’s wallpaper. It’s not really what I came into politics for.
Micky: What did you come into politics for?
Mandy: To make a difference, probably. I can’t remember now. What about you?
Micky: Don’t recall. Now I just remember the long nights at the local Conservative association, weekends spent at conferences, travelling the country being interviewed for hopeless seats, knocking on doors in the rain.
Mandy: Being patronised by men everywhere.
Micky: Abused on Twitter.
Mandy: Well, it was all worth it for you in the end.
Micky: Maybe. I should go now—don’t want to keep the boss waiting.
Micky: Anyway, you did make a difference, Mrs top science minister.
Mandy: Did I?
Micky: You did to me. I wouldn’t have got through lockdown without you, bestie.
Mandy: You too, girlfriend.
[The pair hug]
Micky: I’ll see you around the division lobbies.
Mandy: See you later, legislator.
[Micky smiles at her friend and leaves. Mandy reaches down the back of the sofa and finds a bulldog paperweight. She stares at it for a while, then puts it in the last open box. She goes to the door. She takes one last look around the flat and puts out the light. She leaves]