Here we are at the second of The Thick of It’s two hour-long special episodes, titled “Spinners and Losers.” If you’ll remember, “The Rise of the Nutters” depicted the rush around Whitehall to garner favor with the new group of rising politicians, the supporters of Tom Davis who were known as “Nutters.” As that special ended, the current Prime Minister resigned, leaving the floor theoretically open for Tom to step in as the new leader. “Spinners and Losers” depicts one night of turbo spinning, shifting of power, and manipulation that Malcolm – of course – presides over. Though at times he, too, is struggling his way through this transfer of power. Let’s take a look at how he handles having to fight for his life in the Government.
As the episode opens, Ollie is talking to Ben about a “˜huddle’ that politicians are having with Tom to discuss strategy moving forward now. Ollie wants to be included in this “huddle,” of course, because he wants to get in good with the new guys, as everyone does. Glen is trying to keep in touch with Hugh because it’s his duty to keep him abreast of everything going on with the new leadership. As everyone frantically makes calls regarding the potential new leader, Terri arranges for a holiday because she knows she won’t really be needed during this kerfuffle.
Ollie gets a call from Angela Heaney – his ex-girlfriend and a journalist we’ve seen before – who is trying to figure out what’s going on in the Government. Her newspaper needs to run a front page story and she doesn’t know if Tom is standing for the leadership unopposed or if someone is going to stand against him. (Quick side-note for American viewers who may not know: “standing” for election is the same as “running” for election.)
While she’s trying to get information of her own, Angela breaks some news to Ollie. She says that someone is booked to appear on “˜Today’ the next morning to announce they’re standing. This worries Ollie – will someone be getting on Tom’s way? And who might it be? Though he doesn’t know who it is, Ollie needs to appear as though he’s in the loop. So he tosses out Geoff Holhurst’s name, which is false. News certainly travels fast as Robin begins getting calls from reporters about Geoff possibly standing.
Malcolm shows up looking for Jamie, and he wants to know who is going to be on Today tomorrow. When Glen suggests a politician who is considered too old to be a viable candidate, he’s made to feel like the old timer. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning for poor, old Glen. They all see Dan Miller on the television, denying that he’s standing against Tom. They laugh it off, but are clearly a bit worried about Dan possibly causing trouble.
As Malcolm is going to meet with Geoff Holhurst, he runs into Cliff Lawton – the man he fired within the first five minutes of season one, episode one – and he utters one of my favorite lines from the show. Malcolm says, “I’d love to stop and chat, but I’d rather have type two diabetes.”
Malcolm meets with Geoff and tells him not to stand against Tom. Geoff keeps saying that he’s not interested in standing, but Malcolm seems to want to make it clear that he shouldn’t, threatening him with exposure of his drinking and the affair he’s been having. Besides, Geoff has a head that is disproportionately tiny to his body – or so says the running joke.
As Geoff leaves, Nick Hanway shows up to talk with Malcolm. Nick is the press guy for Tom and he basically wants to be Malcolm when Tom comes into power. Nick says they know who’s going on Today and he wants to know if Malcolm knows as well. Malcolm does not know, as we’ve seen, but he needs to come with a name to show that he knows just as much as Nick knows, and it needs to be right name. Malcolm takes a stab in the dark and says Dan Miller, which turns out to be true.
Just then, Jamie enters the office announcing that he’s going to be backing a rival candidate to make trouble for Tom. Jamie’s MO throughout this episode is to simply make trouble for Tom and create waves among the Nutters he hates so much. As the next scene shows, Jamie’s rival candidate is Cliff Lawton.
At DoSAC, Robin is worried because she keeps getting calls regarding immigration policies. Everyone tells her to keep that quiet because the priority right now is dealing with the new leader and the mess that comes along with that. However, that doesn’t work and it causes a walkout at the immigration center that Peter Mannion visited. Now, on top of everything having to do with Tom and possible rival candidates going on, they also have to clean up this immigration mess.
Malcolm rushes in and says he’s calling in Jamie to firefight the immigration story. He says that Jamie will be working with Robin, and Robin says what no one else will – she’s terrified of Jamie. Malcolm says she’ll just have to deal with it because they need to bury this story. In the first of several desperate moments, we see that Malcolm is worried. He’s worried about proving himself to Tom and making himself relevant in this new Government. Here, he gives another of my favorite speeches,
“Tomorrow – from broadsheets to wank rags – I want pages one, two and three to be a profile of Tom looking like a fucking political colossus, you know – Tom meeting the Pope, Tom in a NHS hospital chatting to little, baldie kiddies. I want pages four and five to be a timeline of British politics with me at the center, looking fucking indispensable and fucking benign, and I want page six to be fucking Israel or some bullshit, not a fucking DoSAC deepshit legacy-distracting cock-up!”
Later, Jamie is huddled in an office with Robin and Cliff, simultaneously helping Cliff write a speech to announce he’s standing and giving lines to Robin regarding the immigration walkout.
At the newspaper, Angela’s latest information from Ollie says that no one is standing against Tom. Her editor – who will later become the special adviser to Fergus Williams – tells her to get going on a Tom story for the front page.
Terri calls Malcolm to say that Robin told her Jamie is huddled up with Cliff Lawton. Malcolm seems worried – he needs to clear the way for Tom if he wants to prove himself useful, after all. So he calls Jamie and teases him about choosing Cliff, which causes Jamie to give up on his rival candidate. However, he’s not finished trying to destroy Tom. When he returns to the DoSAC office, Jamie is feeding the press rumors about Tom and his overuse of antidepressants. This causes Tom to begin losing supporters because, presumably, he doesn’t look like a strong leader with these rumors out there.
Off in a distant conference room at Richmond Terrace, Julius is hidden away with his biscuits and a radio, listening to a cricket game. Glen finds him and, looking for a reprieve from the mess going on outside, decides to join him. As they talk, Julius reveals that he’s the one leaking the immigration information to the press. Clearly, he’s bitter about how his legacy project was messed up and, to get revenge, is now causing trouble for everyone dealing with the new leadership issue.
Malcolm sends Ollie into Tom’s huddle, which looks like a bit of a mess, to be his mole. Everyone at the huddle is worried that Tom is hemorrhaging supporters and seem to think he might not stand now. Malcolm rings Ollie and tells him to feed Nick this plan – perhaps Clare Ballentyne might be a good replacement for Tom as leader. Nick loves this plan and soon everyone in the huddle is stampeding their way to Richmond Terrace for a meeting with Clare.
When Ollie tells Malcolm that his plan succeeded, Malcolm says he’s very happy. But why? What could he gain by feeding Nick this plan? Where is this all headed, and will Malcolm come out clean on the other side? Find out next week in part two of “Spinners and Losers.”