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The Columnist
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King Tony
  Episode I
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History of King Tony







Kung Tony

or “New Labour’s Lost, Love”

A concise history of the rise to power of King Tony and of what occurred thereafter…

 The time is 1994, shortly after the death of army leader Lord John Smith. The scene is a restaurant in London called Granita. At a table sit two men, Prince Tony and Duke Gordon Brown.

Gordon: Thou summonedst me to speak with thee alone,
And yet this is no kind of private place.
Would we not be better off sequestered
In some sheltered, secret rendezvous?

Tony: Fear not, old friend! Who would suspect
That two great princes such as you and I
Would venture into such a lowly bistro?
We are safer here than skulking in the dark,
Made invisible by our very brashness!

(A waitress appears with notepad.)

Waitress: The time has come, fair gents, to make your choice,
Or shall I leave you eke five minutes more,
To scan the menu, and withal the specials...?
- Good Lord! Do now mine eyes deceive me?
Or is it young Prince Tony here in person,
Sitting at our humble, scrubbed pine table top?

Tony: I am he indeed, but here on secret mission.
Pray do not give me any recognition.

Waitress: Of course, my Lord. But first just sign my pad.
Thou art the first big autograph I’ve had!

Tony: With pleasure. ( SIGNS). Now give us some more grace
To choose between the hake and bouillabaisse...

Gordon: Tony, thou art mad to think we’re incognito!
That serving girl did know you straightaway!

Tony: And seemed most pleased to see me, did she not?
Whereas for you she did not spare a glance.
This is the truth thou hast to learn, old friend,
That thou may be the cleverest prince on earth,
But I am he the public love to cheer!

Gordon: When I am leader of our gallant troops...

Tony: Whoa, there, brave Gordon, stay a little while!
To be a leader thou hast not the style...
I have a deal to put to thee tonight.
When our great army do go out to fight
Against the ranks of reigning King John Major,
The enemy at present seem to wager
That thou as leader cannot hope to win.
Thou hast two beetling eyebrows black as sin.
Thy jaw is loose, thou hast a craggy jowl.
And all the world mistrusts that gloomy scowl.

Gordon: So what dost thou suggest?

Tony:That I’m made king
But only till we’ve settled everything.
When once my dashing charm and winning smile
Have won the day, I’ll abdicate in style
And give the throne to thee, for thee to rule,
Like some stern teacher in a naughty school.

Gordon: This could work out. But how shall I ever know
Whether I can trust thy word or no?

Tony: Oh, Gordon, Gordon! Thou shouldst know long since
That I’m a pretty regular sort of prince...

 (At a nearby table, Sir Peter Mandelson is eavesdropping.)

Mandelson: (sotto voce)
I like the way that young Prince Tony schemes.
Once I loved Gordon. Now, I’m swapping teams.


As the two men, Prince Tony and Duke Gordon, make their way home, they encounter three old hags.

1st Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be a mighty warrior!

2nd Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be king hereafter!

3rd Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be a leader of the world
Tony: (ASIDE) These girls do echo but my secret thoughts...
(ALOUD) Say, who are ye, and wherefrom are ye sent?

1st Hag: Old Fleet Street hacks are we, who know the score.

2nd Hag: By Murdoch, our grim master, are we sent.

3rd Hag: Who promises to back ye in the Sun
As long as ye do offer certain favours...

(The hags whisper in Prince Tony’s ear. He nods.)

Gordon: But what of me? Ye offer Tony all!
Have ye no promises for me besides?

1st Hag: Ah, Gordon, ye must wait a little while.

2nd Hag: Ye shall be chancellor for many years
3rd Hag: And then at last! – Oh no, the glass grows dim!
I cannot see what fate’s in store for him.

1st Hag: Come, sisters, come – our deadline waits for us.

2nd Hag: I see the headline now: “It’s Tony – No Fuss!”

3rd Hag: And under that: “ Has Gordon Missed the Bus?”

(Cackling, they vanish. Tony and Gordon move on thoughtfully. Mandelson emerges from the shadows.)

Mandelson: Warrior, king, world leader – everything!
Thus I can soon be steward to the king...


The year is 1997. Prince Tony has defeated King John Major and has been crowned king after the Battle of Sedgefield. Now he returns in triumph to London, to the cheering crowds, together with Queen Cherie, spin physician Dr Alastair Campbell, Dame Anji Hunter and many another courtier. He pauses in Downing Street to address the adoring hordes.

Tony: My loyal folk, this is a dawning day,
On which to celebrate the coming of the light!
For far too long in darkness we have dwelt.
Now throw ope the curtains, blow away the dust!
Banish sickly doubt and welcome hope!
For this is how we start and mean to go!

(Duke Gordon Brown, standing in the cheering crowd, scowls to hear this)

Gordon: Bah, this is tosh! ‘Tis meaningless verbiage!

(Beside him stands Sir Peter Mandelson.)

Mandelson: Aye, so it is, but they do love it so.

Gordon: Mandy! I did not think to see thee here,
Who once my friend was, and now a traitor is.

Mandelson: Ooh, that’s a bit acerbic, if I may say!

Gordon: Say what thou willst, but one day thou willst pay.
That day when Tony climbs down from the throne
And lets me have it as my very own...

Mandelson: Oh, grow up, Gordon! That day will never come
When the English throne is warmed by thy Scottish bum!
King Tony makes these pledges all the time
- On education, hospitals and crime -
And then forgets what he has ever said,
Yet sleeps a guilt-free slumber in his bed!
And now excuse me – I go to seek a loan
Wherewith to buy a lavish London home...!


Time passes. King Tony’s popularity waxes and wanes. Then waxes. Then wanes. We find him in consultation with Dr Alastair Campbell, the royal spin physician, in 1999.
Tony: Tell me, Campbell, how I may be loved.
How may I feel the people’s warmth again,
As happened when the Lady Diana died?

Campbell: Well, sire, I would not recommend you wait
Until another people’s icon dies!
A grand state funeral for Sir Elton John...

Tony: I thought that he was still alive and with us...

Campbell: And so he is. I merely think aloud.
The trouble is, my Lord, that no-one really cares
About the actions of their mighty king.
There was that time when Bernie Ecclestone
Did give you a million notes, all crinkly green,
To put some ads for smoking on his cars,
And you were forced to give it back again.

Tony: Aye, that! That was a shameful episode.

Campbell: Not so! They did not care a hoot. To them
It was a game that did not mean a thing.
But now’s the time to win their wavering hearts
By waging war, and winning it as well!

Tony: War? What war? Me? Lead another army?
‘Gainst whom? And why? What enemies have we?

Campbell: It hardly matters why, or who, we fight.
Remember Margaret, Queen of all of Britain,
And how she went to war ‘gainst Argentina?
She won. And was much loved by everyone,
Though no-one knew the cause of her campaign.
Thou canst do much the same.

Tony: And so I shall!
 …But who shall I fight? Just give a little clue…

Campbell: Look at this map. This place called Kosovo...


The new century. The Millennium. Greenwich. The Dome. Enter King Tony to open it ceremonially.

Tony: This dome. This plot. This Palace, aye, this vault
Which soars above the skyline like a bird...!

(Unseen, in the crowd, is Duke “Red” Ken, a rebel.)

Ken: A bird? A mushroom perhaps, or, more like, a turd!
A huge white elephant turd, that fouls the sight
And stinks up London’s skyline day and night.
King Tony’s grave or perhaps his mausoleum!
They do not heed me now, but when I’m Mayor,
Tony won’t be the king in London fair...!


The year is 2001, and King Tony prepares for battle again, this time against the army of upstart Duke William Hague. Morale is low in the Hague camp on the eve of battle

Hague: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

Portillo: Get on with it, Hague! This is no time for jokes!

Hague: Tomorrow we do march against the foe,
The mighty ranks of our much-hated king,
To topple him from off his loathsome throne...

Howard: And after that to plead with him for mercy,
As we fly beaten from the battlefield…

Hague: I sometimes feel a lack of your respect.

Widdecombe: Then take that dreadful baseball cap off NOW!

King Tony wins another battle, and we move into 2003 with him still triumphant, but with another rebel leader on the horizon,  The scene is the Royal Palace at Westminster, where King Tony is in conference with his spin physician, Dr Campbell.

King Tony: So tell me, Campbell - what's the latest news?

Campbell: Well, sire, there's strikes upon the railway lines.
There's patients left on trolleys, there to die.

Tony: Oh, fie on all this stuff! This is not news!
By news I mean the doings of our foes,
The fortunes of the upstart Duncan Smith,
This leader of the rebel retinue
Who hopes to oust me from my natural throne!

Campbell: Ye must not waste your time on Duncan Smith.
 He is a balding dog! Think not of him!

Tony: Aye, so he is! A grinning sorbet ice,
All smiles and frozen eyebrows doth he seem.
Whene'er I see this Duncan Smith arise,
I always do mistake him for another!
Perchance 'tis Francis Wheen, the satirist?
Or maybe Gorbachev, the Russian prince?
There is a family likeness in these dogs
Who run together in a rowdy pack
- All second raters, fighting for a bone!

Campbell: It may be so. And yet he has a point.

Tony: Who? Duncan Smith?

Campbell:I fear he may.
For when he says that you do roam the globe
In search of righteous causes to embrace
Like Mother Theresa fuelled on ecstasy,
I feel he may be talking lots of sense.
They see you on the telly, in the East,
Preaching peace to Indian potentates
While all the time the railways do not run
And Wembley is not built, and rivers flood.
Oh where is Tony? - hear the people cry !
He's buggered off! - is what they all reply !

Tony: Oh, Campbell, you are right. And yet there's sense
Behind my constant roaming round the world.
For when I'm absent, people want me back.
But when I'm here, 'tis naught but blame I get!

(Enter a manservant, Birt by name.)

Birt: Your majesty, I stand at your command.

Tony: Do you indeed? What service to perform?

Birt: Why, everything! I think outside the box!
I push the envelope as far as it will go!
Blue sky thinking is my specialty.
But I can also downsize with the bes...

Tony: Yes, yes. I’m sure you’re right. Now get ye gone.
(Exit Birt.)
Who was that madman, Campbell? Dost thou know?

Campbell: He is but a poor sad creature, good my Lord,
Who drifts around the Palace like a ghost,
Convinced that he has got a use for us.

Tony: How came he here?

Campbell: We hired him out of pity.
And now he begs for meaningful employment,
And so we bid him go and banish crime,
Or get the railways working bang on time,
Or even get the motorways unsnarled.

Tony: And does he so?

Campbell: Why, sire, he thinks he does!     
Ever and anon comes he and says:
“All crime will vanish if you use my plan”,
Or, “Today all traffic will flow smooth and easy”!

Tony: This seems to me a sorry sort of joke
To play upon an unsuspecting bloke.

Campbell: Alas, poor Birt, he hath no sense of fun.
Humour to him is as romance to a nun.
And so we give him these small jobs to do
To keep him out of harm and in full view.


The year is 2003 and King Tony needs yet again to bolster his popularity. He pays another midnight visit to the three old hags, to seek their advice.

1st Hag: Eye of newt, beak of squid...

2nd Hag: Horn of goat and ear of kid…

3rd Hag: Mix it up and put the lot
In the witches’ cooking pot!

All: Let it stew, then send it all
Off to Heston Blumenthal!

1st Hag: Where’s thou been, sister, north or south?

2nd Hag: I’ve been spreading foot and mouth.

3rd Hag: I’ve been busy with BSE...

1st Hag: Avian flu’s the thing for me…

All: But King Tony never cried,
For he doth hate the countryside!

(They cackle. King Tony advances to meet them.)

Tony: Say, thou midnight hags, how goes old Murdoch?

1st Hag: We are no longer journalists, King Tony.
We have a more contemporary trade.

2nd Hag: We are top chefs upon the television,
Bowing and grinning as we make our food.

Tony: Well, well, that may be so. I would not know.
I never get a chance to see the telly.
Unless, of course, to see myself thereon.
But tell me now, what shall I do to climb
Back into favour with th’opinion polls?

1st Hag: Declare a war upon Saddam Hussein.

Tony: Just that? No more?

2nd Hag: It will be quite enough.

3rd Hag: Just say you’ve found a lot of rockets and stuff
Pointed at Britain, ready to be fired.

Tony: But that’s a lie!

1st Hag: A lie is what’s required.
And you can topple a tyrant you dislike!

Tony: Saddam Hussein, you mean?

1st Hag: No, Greg Dyke!


The war against Iraq is commenced in partnership with King George of America, and although King Tony is again the winner, he is never free of secret doubts. One day he receives a secret visitor, cloaked and masked.

Tony: Unmask thyself! I’m a pretty straight sort of king.
And I like to see a person face to face!

(The visitor unmasks himself and turns out to be Duke Gordon.)

Tony: And there again, I’m not so sure I do.
Not if the stranger turns out to be you...

Gordon: Your majesty – ah, how it hurts my soul
To utter words of deference to you! –
Your majesty, the time has come to say
That you have lied to me too long.
You did say once that you would warm the throne,
Then move aside when once the time was ripe.
When comes that time? We all of us grow old.
I do not wish to wait for evermore!
As Chancellor I’ve stewarded this land.
I have the right to rule it now, as planned!

Tony: And so you shall! But I have much to do.
So many aims t’achieve before I leave.

Gordon: Like what?

Tony: Like saving foxes from cruel hunters.
Like getting the Olympic Games for London town.
Like letting gays get married to each other...

Gordon: Oh, this is damnable to listen to!
Thou grasp’st at any straw to keep the throne!
Thu art a fearful liar, false and vain
- I’ll never trust a word thou sayst again!


The year is 2006. The scene is the King’s Bedchamber. King Tony is pacing up and down, unable to sleep.

Cherie: What is it, good, my Lord? Come now to bed!

Tony: I cannot sleep. The voices that I hear
Do keep my thoughts a-boiling like the vat
Round which the three foul sisters sat and cackled.

Cherie: What voices? What sisters? What nightmare talk is this?

Tony: Duke Gordon’s voice the loudest comes to me,
But in a chorus I can also hear
The voices of all those I’ve discarded.
Slow Blunkett’s Yorkshire voice. And Mandelson.
Ron Davies. Stephen Byers. And Robin Cook.
All voices from the past, reproachful now,
Saying, in unison, one sole fateful thing:
“Legacy? What legacy, my Lord?”
Cherie, my Queen, shall I not be remembered
For all that I have done to save this land?
…Alas, she is asleep. She hears me not.

(Enter the ghost of King Lloyd George.)

Tony: But what is this, this pale and midnight form,
With whiskers white, and most old-fashioned clothes?

George: I am the ghost of old Lloyd George, the king
Who brought this country into wartime victory.

Tony: And so did I! I know just how you feel!

George: Aye, so you did, like me, but that is not
How I am now remembered in this land.
Not as the victor, but as the buyer and seller
Of titles, peerages and sundry honours.
Oh yes, they say, he was the man who raised
The necessary cash by flogging titles.
This overshadows all my other work!
King Tony, let not the same fate you befall!

Tony: Yes, but how shall I avoid that awful doom...?
Too late. His spirit fades and does depart.
I do distrust what this vision does portend,
And when at last they come to write The End
At the close of my reign, let’s hope the public choose
To greet my curtain call with cheers, not boos.
Not that it really matters either way.
I shall soon be lecturing in the USA!

Curtain, shuffling, noise of local elections, jockeying for position, auctioning of memoirs, settling of old scores, etc etc etc...

April 25th 2007


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