On Wednesday night the infinite number of monkeys that usually write the editorial for the Daily Mail had fallen victim en masse to the zika virus. And so, having made something of a name for myself in Fleet Street, having filled in for David Mitchell here these past few months, I was called in at short notice to articulate a Daily Mail front-page question of profound significance to our destiny as a sovereign nation.
A nation, let us not forget, with justifiable and fair provision for successful businesses to establish their principal trading bases in Bermuda and Jersey.
Yea, I was to ask indeed a question significant profoundly also unto the fate of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren and Michael Caine.
Whom wilst spakey for England? And, of course, by “England”, like Leo Amery MP in 1939, I meant the whole of the United Kingdom, although I did suggest to the paper’s proprietor, Viscount Biscuit, that the Scottish Daily Mail’s cover should not perhaps, in the current climate, feature the words “Whom Wilst Spakey For England” in massive letters.
So instead, Biscuit raided the padlocked underground safe where the imaginary photos of the magician’s excited dog are kept to provide a picture of .
Nonetheless. I was to ask again. Whom wilst spakey for England?
And again askest I. Whom wilst spakey for England?
It was a question inspired by one of the most dramatic moments in the history of journalism.
The date was 2 February, 2016, the day after returned from Europe, having just made an ambivalent statement regarding spurious migrants’ benefits, and waving a draft agreement from Brussels, saying to anyone who would listen, “I have in my hand a piece of paper.”
Next door to Harrods, the Daily Mail’s editor Paul Dacre was incensed and bellowed across the Tardis-like dimension-defying pen wherein his infinite and comatose monkeys slept: “Whom Wilst Spakey For England?”
And so, with my help, he hoped the entire front page of Thursday’s Daily Mail would do just that, voicing anger over the premier’s reluctance to enforce new obligations to Brussels, as surely as Neville Chamberlain had failed to constrain the paper’s old friend Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Nazi Germany, in 1939.
I was not, of course, to suggest there were any parallels whatever between the Nazis and the EU. Indeed, the Daily Mail would argue that one of the Union’s great achievements, along with Nato, has been to foster peace in .
But I did realise it would play well with my temporary Daily Mail paymasters if I could somehow create the association of the EU and the Nazis in the subconscious minds of my readers, without appearing to endorse the idea officially.
But, I was prepared to suggest for money, just as in 1939, we were once more at a crossroads in our island history, and hopefully not at a roundabout, where all the exits have been blocked off, except the one where you have to go into a Euro-style cafe and be force fed accurately measured Toulouse sausages by women in French maid’s outfits and Islamic veils.
Whom wilst spakey for England?
In the small hours of Wednesday night I sat high above Kensington High Street and looked at the sleeping, sweating monkeys. And I knew that if I could pull off this front page, I could have their jobs. And if Viscount Biscuit paid me only a fraction of their daily monkey banana bill, I would still be rich beyond my wildest dreams.
Now was the time to write the most brilliantly incendiary front page ever, driving billions through the Daily Mail’s website, both those in furious, bewildered agreement and those who would be clicking through only to check if my insane opinion was for real.
Now was the moment and the moment was now. For in perhaps as little as 20 weeks’ time, ill-informed voters, stuffed with incoherent arguments, like hissing geese force-fed nostalgia and hate to produce an inedible pâté of groundless opinion, would be asked to decide nothing less than what sort of country we want to live in and bequeath to those who come after us.
Our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren and .
Whom wilst spakey for England? I would ask again. And again. Whom wilst spakey for England?
But could I write the inflammatory piece that would secure my financial future? Could I live with myself if I consolidated the Daily Mail’s case? Could I sleep soundly if my ambition tossed those infinite monkeys on to an infinite heap of banana skins?
Would our liberty, security and prosperity be better assured by submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, accepting the will of unaccountable judges and linking our destiny with that of a sclerotic Europe that tries to achieve the impossible by uniting countries as diverse as Germany and Greece?
Or would our liberty, security and prosperity be better assured by submitting to an elected Bullingdon bureaucracy here at home, accepting the will of demonstrably unaccountable politicians, and linking our destiny with that of a sclerotic Eurosceptic camp that tries to achieve the impossible by uniting personalities as diverse as Theresa May, former Ukip hat-wearer , and Michael Caine?
Whom wilst spakey for England? Who for England wilst spakey?
Were we to be a self-governing nation, free in this age of mass migration to opt out of the attempts of the wider European community to cooperate to solve the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war, strike trade agreements with tyrannical dictatorships whenever we choose, and dismiss codes of practice regarding environmental safeguards, pollution and human rights if they displease us, like some pusillanimous ostrich, sticking its stupid head into the rapidly dissipating sands of time?
Whom? Whom wilst spakey for England? For England whom wilst spake?
For years, we have been bombarded with propaganda from one side, principally the Daily Mail, and from the Daily Express, whose tangential relationship with the very notion of a newspaper hinges only on the slim fact that it contains words.
Should I be part of the problem? Or part of the solution?
Whom wilst spakey for England? For England whom wilst spake?
I nailed my courage to the sticking plate. I banished the monkeys from my mind and wrote the editorial. The rest is already history.
Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (Series 4) will be on BBC2 soon