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Headscratchers / The Thick of It

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  • What is the meaning behind the nickname "Screaming Crutch"? I'm sure it's some kind of gay innuendo but I can't figure out how.
    • It's actually a reference to the British satirist/politician Screaming Lord Sutch, who was once the leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, an actual political party in Britain.

  • Am I correct in thinking that the lead up to the Inquiry was: 1. Malcolm forced Nicola to call for the Inquiry 2. Nicola promised Malcolm that the Inquiry would fuck him over. 3. Malcolm assured Nicola that the Inquiry couldn't possibly fuck him over as badly as it will fuck her over. 4. The Inquiry fucks Malcolm over pretty badly in which case how did he not foresee this?
    • Because Malcolm is incredibly confident that it won't possibly lead back to him. We've seen before that he can underestimate or not entirely forsee or predict everything that's thrown his way; Most of the series shows him reacting to Do SAC's fuck-ups and generally doing a stellar job of correcting them, but that's with time to do so. Throw him in front of an Inquiry where he thinks he has his bases covered and then nail him with the photograph of the leaked medical documents, and it's not something he can counter in his usual fashion.
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    • That's not quite correct: Nicola never specifically said the inquiry would fuck Malcolm over, just that he and Dan would find out what it was like to have her "pissing into [their] tent." Even at the time, when she still might have thought she had a chance to regain power, it was a vague, empty threat. And although Malcolm eventually did end up getting fucked by the inquiry, that was none of Nicola's doing. By the end, they'd both basically been beaten beyond hope of any recovery.
    • At the time Nicola and Malcolm had that exchange, the inquiry was ONLY supposed to be about Tickel. It would only have implicated anyone who supported the key worker housing selloff or generally treated Tickel like crap and drove him to suicide: definitely Peter and possibly Nicola, Fergus, and the Coalition advisors. Malcolm never predicted that Peter would try to deflect blame from himself by saying "the real story" was the leaking of Tickel's medical records ( a ploy that ended up working out perfectly for him; the Goolding Inquiry spent more time on leaking than the Coalition's policy or treatment of Tickel, so Peter came out of it smelling like roses). And Malcolm also didn't know the PM would broaden the inquiry to encompass the whole "culture of leaking"—which potentially implicated Malcolm along with everyone else ( and eventually brought about his downfall). It's hard to see how he could have predicted it; this broader version of the inquiry took everyone by surprise.

  • In Season Two, how could Glenn allow them to pin the email scandal on Terri? Sure he was defending his friend and Terri was nothing more than an annoying bitch to him, but the way he praises Malcolm for basically humiliating and framing an innocent woman who had just lost her father, and then makes light of Terri's grief seems quite out-of-character and corrupt.
    • Was this really out of character? OK, Glenn is the most moral character on the show in the sense that he actually HAS some principles (which many TTOI characters, e.g. Ollie and Adam, plainly lacked). But he wasn't above lying or insincerity, and his principles always took a back seat to the priority of keeping his job, at least until he resigns in the last episode and delivers his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to his colleagues. His switch to a new party in Season 4 is seemingly motivated by job security concerns. At the time of the e-mail scandal, keeping his own job meant helping Hugh keep his, even if it meant shifting blame for something Hugh said to someone like Terri, whose reputation he didn't have a stake in. He didn't even stay mad at Hugh for cynically using his own son as an example to get out of a tight spot during the Select Committee's questioning; in the Specials, he's right back in Hugh's corner, trying to secure a place for him in the new cabinet. If he's willing to make moral compromises like this in matters affecting his own family, why should we expect him to go out of his way (or defy Hugh) for Terri? In later seasons, we see him shamelessly sucking up to Nicola, Fergus, and the Goolding inquisitors, and even lying under oath. He may have enough scruples to feel remorse about these compromises of integrity, but still goes through with them.

  • Why do Phil and Emma flat together when they hate each other? (I know...Rule of Funny!)
    • Well, there are many possibilities. One is that one had a big flat that he couldn't pay and the other had no flat but money and so they decided to put their differences aside. Another is that Phil put an ad on the newspaper, Emma responded, they decided that as flatmates go they weren't that bad and they went on to live together, wrongly assuming that the other couldn't get any worse. Hell, maybe they actually liked each other at the beginning and it was sharing a flat that made things worse- after a year, I couldn't look at my flatmate without feeling the urge to repeatedly punch her in the soul.
    • In addition, if there's anywhere that living space is at a premium and renting costs are astronomical, it's Central London. Given that both would want to be as close as possible to Whitehall for work (which would push up the costs) and finding decent accommodation isn't easy at the best of times, they probably decided that the flat was good enough to compensate for the company and / or it wasn't worth the headaches that moving away and trying to find a new place / flatmate (and the possibility of ending up rooming with someone worse either way) would result in. They also probably keep their own space as much as possible, and the flat looks big enough that they're able to avoid stepping on each other's toes as much as possible.
    • Don't forget Emma's brother Affers. Possibly he's friends with Phil and had been rooming with either him or Emma already, inviting the other to join.

  • Who gave John Duggan a job? Surely it can't have been Malcom?
    • He might be a Poxbridge twat they hired just for his scholastic experience and now they either can't get rid of him or does enough good to balance the bad. Maybe he's vaguely good at his job but it gets hidden by his complete lack of social skills. Probably it's nepotism.
      • Or maybe (and I myself doubt it, but what the hell, Alternative Character Interpretation) he's a Bunny-Ears Lawyer extraordinaire. Maybe he is actually good, but he treats people who aren't politicians so poorly you forget it, and the reason why he wasn't even making an effort was because the first time our "heroes" were from DoSAC (a department so low he can't even be bothered) and then they're the Opposition, so who cares. Again, I doubt it, but the second time he appeared his only problem was the lack of social skills. Which, still, in his job is a big problem.

  • Did Malcolm leak Tickell's records? Obviously he's not a reliable witness, so his "wouldn't hurt a civilian" speech, or other denials hardly settle anything. BUT: having set up Helen to be photographed with "Quiet batpeople", would he really risk being caught the same way, at the very same time? And then tell the inquiry about how he set up Helen? If someone else set him up, though, or even accidentally gave him those numbers, who would it be?
    • Well... it's improbable that somebody would set him up. Nobody had any reason to create such a scandal just to get rid of Malcolm: if they really wanted to fuck him up, I'm sure they could have found something that would have taken care of him and him alone. I also doubt somebody would give him those numbers accidentally: if you think about it, it has every sense that Malcolm would try and get every information he can about the twat in a tent that's causing so much trouble to the Coalition. Maybe somebody in 10 Downing (or whatever it is the Shadow Cabinet version of it) could try and set him up, but the only two that could possibly get near Malcolm's stuff are Sam (who has no reason to do it, since he's basically her job) and Jamie (who would never do something quite so clever). Maybe Nicola, but that's really not something she would have done. It's highly probable that he found the numbers and leaked them. Now, you say that he wouldn't have done something as stupid as point to the very picture in which he's showing the numbers to the press: well... yeah he would. I mean, I know that we've idolized him, but he did do a lot of mistakes in the past. Stupid mistakes. Like, 'not checking if the mobile phone has actually sent the text' mistakes. Also, consider the fact that he believes to be above us petty humans and that he thinks that nobody would ever dare to attack him: he was, after all, quite cocky with the inquisitors, even using them to leak that Fergus had met Dan. So, really, it's not too hard to think that a very cocky person who believes to be above everyone else might have made a stupid error.
      • Well, I've never personally idolized him, and you're right that he's both very cocky and capable of doing stupid things, but he usually seems to have a sense of self-preservation. He also usually saves his overt Manipulative Bastard behaviour for people who have less power or won't tell. Boasting about something that could get him in serious trouble live on air to a public enquiry seems a bit out of character. Also, at least in the DOSAC files, he's explicit that he's used the "get them photographed holding incriminating documents" method a lot, so not watching what he's holding himself when there's cameras about AND he's just set up Helen for the cameras... As for the scandal part, any number of people would have reason both to implicate the others who got caught out in the enquiry and Malcolm himself. If they were from his own side, they could always insist he was a lone bad apple, and wash their hands of him, as Miller seemed to be doing. I'm not wedded to this view by any means, it just bugs me a bit.
      • But, you see, you have to remember that at the time Tickell was just a twat in a tent. Had somebody set that up, they would have pointed at that picture the very next day and said "the bastard is harrassing a poor undeserving homeless guy". In that case, however, everyone would have had every right to look at Malcolm disapprovingly: seriously, even the Coalition could use the opportunity to say "well, we would have never done that" and look good. It would have been very risky, because if Malcolm goes down then by fucking fuck he will take all of you down with him, but I guess that worse things have happened. Instead they ignored that photo for months and they only got to see it because Tickell died: that couldn't have been arranged. At least, I hope. That would have been horrible. And still, they needed an inquiry on the subject of leaking rather than on Tickell's death, and nobody could reasonably believe that everybody would cooperate in making an even worse mess out of it. It's more probable that Malcolm looked at the journal, thought "well, I've been cut out of this picture and they have no reason to look for the original photo" and got careless: he seemed to think, after all, that the Inquiry was just a show to quiet down the public and that for that reason the inquisitors wouldn't dig too deep in the culture of leaking.
    • It's pretty clear that Malcolm DID leak Tickel's records. It's the only really plausible reason for his having Tickel's NHS number. Besides, we know what his motive would have been: Exposing how Mannion was "picking on a man with a history of depression" and generally making the Government look bad.
    • Although he almost definitely leaked the records, Malcolm probably wasn't expecting to face punishment. He justifiably took it for granted that others summoned to the inquiry bore a more direct responsibility for Tickel's death. True, he leaked the guy's private medical info, but is that really as bad as selling his home out from under him, ignoring him, ridiculing him, and then evicting him from the place where he was squatting in protest? Compared to Peter (whose policy created Tickel's problems) and Nicola (who refused to criticize the Coalition for this until Malcolm had her cornered), Malcolm was practically Tickel's ally—certainly the only political figure who advocated making an issue out of the Government's appalling treatment of him. True, it was insensitive to leak Tickel's private medical history to score political points, and Malcolm's motives were probably cynical. But by leaking his records, Malcolm was arguably doing more to draw attention to Tickel's plight than anyone else in the Government or Opposition (and you could even defensibly say that Malcolm WAS using the leak to "show up hypocrisy... corruption... idiocy" in the Government, not to attack a "civilian" victimized by that Government). Moreover, the timing makes it pretty clear that Tickel's eviction, not the leak of his health records, was what drove him to suicide. Maybe Malcolm got careless out of cockiness, but it's also possible that he considered the health records leak insignificant next to how the Coalition had been treating Tickel, and the last thing he expected was that the inquiry would pursue the matter, let alone use it to pin the blame for Tickel's suicide on him.
  • Who is the new Sir Humphrey? We see directors of communications and plenty of special advisors but the Permanent Under-secretary of State for Social Affairs and Citizenship never appears (nor, for that matter, do there ever seem to by any junior ministers at Do SAC prior to the coalition).
    • The "thesis" of Yes, Minister was that unelected career civil servants (like Sir Humphrey) were too powerful because they held an information advantage over elected legislators/cabinet ministers (like Jim Hacker), and that was why the latter could never get anything done. The "thesis" of The Thick of It is different: It's that, in the new media environment, both permanent civil servants (like Terri) and elected legislators/cabinet ministers (like Cliff Lawton, Hugh, and Nicola) are at the mercy of spin doctors and image-makers (like Malcolm, Jamie, initially Stewart, and "the Fucker"). Terri is the closest equivalent to Sir Humphrey in this new scenario, and like him, she has job security, isn't accountable to the electorate for getting things done, and can be a "blockage" (or at least the ministers and advisors find it easy to scapegoat her for this). But in terms of power to set things in motion (or stop them), she's obviously got much less than Malcolm.
    • There's also apathy to consider. Humphrey might not have have many convictions, but the few he did have mainly centred around the idea that the Civil Service as represented by him — i.e. an elite of well-bred and privileged upper-to-middle class Oxbridge types with classical education, knowledge of Latin and plenty of gongs — were the best people to govern Britain. He was, for all his cynicism, strangely idealistic in a way, since he genuinely seemed to believe — or at least had deluded himself — that his actions, no matter how self-serving, weren't just right, but were necessary for Britain. Hence, he was more dedicated and devoted, and thus was a bigger part of the story. Terri, however, lacks these convictions / delusions. She's got the self-interest bit, but she is under no pretensions that she's in it for Britain — she's in it because she wants a decent civil service position with excellent security and benefits which she can basically kill time in until retirement, at which point she gets a decent pension. While the Civil Service might have had more Humphreys back in the day, in the 21st century environment of corporate-management-bullshit-style government I'm willing to bet that most civil servants are generally more like Terri, who are just happy to keep their heads down, muddle through, not cause any huge cock-ups or scandals and basically just ride the gravy train as long as they can. Hence, they're more in the background.
      • I understand, but my real concern was that there didn't even seem to be a Permanent Secretary. It's not that the character is in the background, or even that the job has been left vacant for a long time (as I know to happen in some government departments), it's that the position doesn't seem to exist at all!
      • Well, this one's simple; there probably was a Permanent Secretary, we just didn't see him or her because the show wasn't about him or her, it was about the more junior civil servants / advisors and their interactions with the minister. So we just assume he / she exists somewhere else and focus on the other characters instead. After all, there's already been a show about Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, why do the same thing twice?
      • Agreed, until Robin shows up the department appears to consist entirely of Hugh, Glenn, Ollie and Terri. There must be more people in a government department and presumably the Permanent Secretary is somewhere among the rest of them. Terri's role appeared to be doing what the Minister told her (as the Director of Communications, she was naturally frequently needing to take directions from him in regards to what would be communicated) whereas presumably the Permanent Secretary was off being in charge of the other civil servants and acting largely autonomously. As much as the classic comedy lover in me would have loved to see a conversation between a Sir Humphrey expy and Malcolm Tucker (Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness vs. Sir Swears-a-Lot), it's really no more unusual that the role didn't appear on The Thick of It than the fact that there were really no equivalents to Glenn and Ollie on Yes, Minister.
      • There's also the fact that The Thick of It focusses mainly on political communication, whereas Yes, Minister focussed on political administration. The conflict in the earlier show was between politicians trying to set policy and get civil servants to carry it out, and civil servants trying to block policy that they thought was impractical / ill-advised / working against their best interests. The Thick of It, however, is more about spin, messaging and politicians trying to control how information is released to the public, and how their advisors / civil servants help or hinder with this. A Permanent Secretary is an important figure in terms of the overall administration of a government department, but when it comes to the message that would be handled more directly by a Director of Communications like Terri or Malcolm. Not to mention that Sir Humphrey wouldn't have gotten within four feet of the media if he could help it or unless he would have benefited in some way from it.
      • ITTOI is a successor to 'Yes Minister' and part of what needed to be updated was the changed circumstances in Whitehall since that satire was written. The reign of the Civil Service was deliberately attacked and broken by the career politicians (for precisely the reasons seen in 'Yes Minister') and the New Labour era saw the Service replaced by a new political class that study politics in Oxbridge, start by volunteering for their party in university and go straight into political careers on graduation. One only has to read the news and see the near-constant attacks on Civil Service privilege, compensation and prestige. The Civil Service's current role in British Politics is Judas Goat.
  • Does anyone want to take a stab at what was going on with The Baroness Sureka?
    • Assuming that the Baroness is similar to her inspiration, Baroness Warsi, then it was probably to do with inappropriate use of parliamentary expenses; Baroness Warsi was caught up in the 2012 parliamentary expenses controversy.

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