“The launch director,” declared the NASA anchor man on September 2nd, with evident disappointment, “has declared a scrub.” It’s back to the drawing board. Artemis must trundle laboriously back to the laboratory. The news featured briefly on the brand new Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, and one of the pundits – was it Emily Thornberry? – remarked that NASA’s aborted mission was a kind of metaphor for the current political situation in the UK. Presumably she was referring to the impending launch of the new Prime Minister.
Inevitably, the Kuenssberg Show has already received a few brickbats from the TV critics. Newbie on Sunday show gets off to a confused start is the banner headline of Alison Rowat’s piece in today’s Herald. Ms Rowat complained that Ms Kuenssberg’s black sparkly dress contrasted with the light, bright graphics, in turn at odds with the pink trouser suit she wore in the credits. No-one, said Ms Rowat, would probably comment on the clothes if it (sic) had been a man. Well, Ms Rowat, you just did.
If the show failed to set the heather alight, I cannot think Ms Kuenssberg was entirely to blame. Interviewing Liz Truss must be akin to having a conversation with one of these effigies on Easter Island. Ms K asked Ms T is she were about to inherit a crisis (that she would be a shoo-in come Monday lunchtime seemed taken as read), and Ms T certainly foresaw challenges ahead. Yes, persisted Ms K, but is it a crisis? The Easter Island obelisk repeated that there would be challenges ahead.
I can’t help but compare and contrast the current situation with the last time Britain in crisis – real crisis – had to choose between two individuals for the role of PM. On May 10th 1940 the choice was between Winston and Lord Halifax. Halifax was the front runner but he declined, on the grounds that he would be unable to lead effectively from the House of Lords. Chamberlain, with evident regret, had to advise the king to send for Winston. Halifax was a good friend of George VI, who in turn was dismayed to have to ask Winston to form a government. Not that he let it show. Winston’s own account of the trip to Buckingham Palace in The Gathering Storm is very amusing.
Had the king sent for Halifax, history would doubtless have gone down a very different track. In the film Darkest Hour, Halifax’s decision to decline the premiership is portrayed as a piece of political skulduggery; the chalice Winston was about to receive was so poisoned that any government he formed would inevitably collapse in short order, and Halifax could then move in, from a reinforced position of strength.
And who knows, perhaps something similar is taking place even as we speak. Ms Truss may wish to call a crisis a challenge, but the contents of Tuesday morning’s in-tray may prove so toxic that she, or anybody else for that matter, may not be able to deal with it. Maybe this is why the Tory Party has voted her in. When she founders, once more the palace (or Balmoral) can send for Boris. Just flying a kite.
Of course, in 1940 Winston came through with flying colours, albeit having to endure a long and bumpy ride. 1940 might have been his finest hour, but 1941 was a terrible year of cumulative failure, and his political position was not secure until Montgomery secured victory at El Alamein in 1942, “the end of the beginning”. So who would dare predict what “events” (Macmillan’s term) will confront Ms Truss. Whatever scrutiny and criticism Laura Kuenssberg has to endure will be nothing compared with that levelled against Liz Truss.
But the highlight of Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg had to be the interview, in Kiev, with Ukraine’s very elegant, and articulate, First Lady. Mrs Zelensky chose to speak Ukrainian, although I have an idea she would have been as eloquent speaking in English. Her answers were very thoughtful. Questions in English and answers in Ukrainian demand that the interview must, of necessity, be allowed to run its course, devoid of interjection. The interview of a foreign dignitary on her own soil must also be respectful and not aggressive. But it occurs to me that that style of interview could be perfectly well carried over to the hurly-burly of domestic politics. If Ms Truss is going to be robotic, repetitive, thin on detail and, frankly, boring, let all of that run; let her speak for herself.
But I get ahead of myself. It is 10.15 on Monday morning, even as I write. The result of the prime ministerial contest is due around 12.30. Maybe Mr Sunak will get in. Or maybe there will be some kind of procedural glitch and they will have to run the contest again. The returning officer has declared a scrub.