Britain should be proud of our myriad inventions, from railways, via the jet engine to the corona vaccination. But perhaps the best example of the nation’s sheer genius and contribution to humankind is Henry the Hoover.
From Buckingham Palace to Westminster to every rental flat in London, whether you’re rich or poor, it’s the great leveller; Henry’s cheeky face is always found peeking out of a corner. And so once again, yesterday, as Britain got the first glimpse of the government’s latest investment on our behalf, the Downing Street Press Briefing Room.
Images of the present-for-us-that’s-really-a-present-for-them were leaked to ITV, revealing a large room with stackable chairs, a telly and an inexplicable £2.6 million price tag. Oh, and a Henry Hoover (couldn’t they afford a Dyson?)
The new breifing room for Number 10 (which, confusingly, is at Number 9) will provide a West Wing style theatre for press conferences and major government announcements.
Oh, and a Henry Hoover (couldn't they afford a Dyson?)...
And we can expect it to sadly replace all those rooms that Hugh Grant danced through in Love Actually, and which more recently served as the backdrop to all Boris’s most depressing lockdown updates, as the place where the PM and senior ministers interact with the press and, via telly, the public.
And we can expect to see it a lot. Boris has already appointed the ITV’s Allegra Stratton as his Press Secretary and the plan is for daily press briefings for journalists to grill the government. Or, perhaps more cynically, for the government to get their successes and agenda on the six o’clock news daily.
'We've just spent, like, a zillion quid on corona, was this a good use of another two and a half £mil?'...
But if there’s a government spokesman wandering past, perhaps first question seemingly on most people’s lips is ‘errr, why do we need this?’, and after all the UK hasn’t particularly suffered for the decades that we’ve not had a special, super-expensive, press briefing room.
To which the difficult-to-refute answer is something along the lines of ‘don’t you want the press to have more access to decision makers?’
Warming to the theme, your second question from the floor is likely to be ‘We’ve just spent, like, a zillion quid on corona, was this a good use of another two and a half £mil?’.
The answer to which is ‘Umm, isn’t that about the going rate for one of Matt Hancock’s chums’ PPE deals? In governmental terms, it’s loose change’.
And then, after you’ve taken all that in, your next question is almost certainly ‘Guys, what’s with the colour scheme? Seriously, it looks gopping’.
To which the answer is ‘Yeah, no getting around that one’.
As shadow minister Rachel Reeves put it, “Given how much money Boris Johnson has thrown at his latest vanity project, we were expecting something a bit more impressive”.
Taking the appearance of a low budget daytime game show set, the orange and blue colour scheme is a surprising choice...
The room (worth more than a ten-bed country house in the Cotswolds) is decidedly grim on the eye. Taking the appearance of a low budget daytime game show set, the orange and blue colour scheme is a surprising, if not bewildering, choice.
As they deliver their press briefings ministers will be flanked by a number of flags, like all the best tinpot dictators or an American president (I know, the last four years they’ve seemed one-and-the same). While the lurid blue is singularly unattractive, the cheap pale grey carpet tiles will, at least, be easily replaceable after journos inevitably upend their Costa cups on it during each and every briefing.
So how exactly have they spent the 130 nurses salaries it took to fund the project?
According to a Freedom of Information Request submitted by PA, the entire overhaul cost £2,607,767.67, excluding VAT.
The breakdown comes to £1,848,695.12 for the “main works”, £198,023.75 on “long lead items”, plus £33,394.63 on broadband equipment. So I’m guessing they’re with Virgin Media then.
Even this last point has created controversy. The pictures came out on the day that the government’s defence review confirmed Russia as a major threat to UK security. And who supplied and wired in all the microphones and electronics? Err, only Moscow based firm Megahertz which has also done work for state propaganda mouthpiece Russia Today. Encouraging.
But personally I keep coming back to the garish orange and blue colour scheme. If we were going Dutch on the theme, maybe we should’ve gone Dutch on the price too…