Ivory Tower: The concluding episode of our romantic comedy set in the Northern Powerhouse
Scene 1: The meeting of the N8 vice-chancellors.
Leeds: People, we have a problem.
York: Can we have one meeting at which we don’t talk about pensions.
Leeds: I mean the MIT of the North.
Liverpool: Absolute disgrace.
Manchester: If there is £100 billion of public money to be spent on a sloppily assembled and ill-judged vanity project, it should be us who are spending it.
Durham: Pork barrel politics at its worst.
Lancaster: Yes, at where’s our share?
Sheffield: The Russell Group office in London is saying that they’ve sent teams of civil servants from the Treasury and BEIS up there.
Newcastle: And did you see Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain walking along the pier at Morecambe?
Leeds: No, nobody watches that.
Newcastle: Of course, er… I read about it in my 8am Playbook.
Leeds: What are we going to do about it? Someone needs to get there first and tell these London civil servants what’s what.
Lancaster: I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, I know we’ve only got started but I’ve just had an urgent text, I need to get back to More… to more meetings—in Lancaster. As soon as possible. Err, it’s a student occupation thing… protesting about vegan sausage rolls. Not enough in the canteens, apparently. All very tedious but you know the students do come first. Bye.
Durham: The students come first? Is he alright?
Manchester: Is he going to Morecambe to nobble the Treasury team?
Manchester: Why the sneaky little…
Leeds: Ok, meeting adjourned. I need to drive to…
Newcastle: Me too
Liverpool: And me
Durham: Take my car, we can’t drive in a fleet of jaguars across the M62, think of the planet.
Leeds: Stuff the planet, there’s £100bn of research money at stake.
Sheffield: I came by train. Can anyone give me lift?
Scene 2: A café on the seafront at Morecambe Bay
John: So what are you going to do?
Jones: Write my report, send it to Dominic Cummings, move on to the next project: redrawing constituency boundaries to the benefit of the Tories or something.
John: And what is your report going to say?
Jones: That Morecambe would significantly benefit from a large infrastructure project such as the development of an innovation park and research-intensive university.
John: Would it?
Jones: Who doesn’t want the MIT of the North on their doorstep?
John: And who’s going to work there? Not a lot of people with PhDs in quantum computing round here.
Jones: People will move into the area.
John: And then no one will be able to afford a house in Morecambe anymore.
Jones: They would be asset rich. They could always sell their houses.
John: And do what? Where are they going to work?
Jones: The new facility would bring opportunities. It will need security guards, maintenance people, catering. They’ll need builders in the first instance.
John: Low paid, precarious work.
Jones: Longer term the professors will need cleaners, handymen, gardeners.
John: Listen to yourself.
Jones: Well, what would you do?
John: People in Morecambe don’t need a high-tech research institute full of foreign academics building a moon base for Elon Musk. They need access to skills training, lifelong learning, and decent jobs to go to in the morning.
Jones: And where are these jobs going to come from, if you don’t build something new to replace the old?
John: People don’t want an innovation park. They just want a high street with shops that are actually open and a functioning bus service.
Jones: That’s not my brief.
John: You can influence them. Tell them we just want a post office and somewhere to buy a box of tea bags that’s not Poundland. We want to be able to go to the cinema without driving 25 miles. We want a train that actually gets somewhere in under two hours and isn’t an old bus frame on rollers. We want a production at the Winter Gardens that isn’t the Crankies or Bobby Davro on Tour.
Waitress: Will you look at that, a helicopter landing on the bay. I hope it’s for Susanna Reid, so she doesn’t have to share a car back to London with Piers Morgan.
John: Idiot, who’s landing a helicopter out there. It’s very dangerous. The RNLI will end up being called out. Come on…
Jones: I bet you’re one of the RNLI crew, right? He is, isn’t he?
Waitress: Jack? For sure, Maxi is the mascot.
Scene 3: Morecambe Bay, Dominic Cummings is striding along the beach, two scarves and a shirt tail blowing in the wind from the helicopter blades.
Jones: What’s he doing here?
John: You idiot, get that thing out of here. Don’t you know…
Cummings: Jones, who is this man?
Jones: His name is John. He’s trying to help.
Cummings: Well John, who is trying to help, do you know anything about algorithmic variation along a declining distribution curve?
Cummings: Right, well go get me a decaf double macchiato with soya milk. Jones, take me to your base.
Cummings: Where are you staying dimwit?
Jones: The Midlands.
Cummings: You are in the north cretin, no wonder this has got out of hand.
John: Don’t you talk to her like that.
Cummings: Are you still here? Soya Macchiato, hurry up.
John: I suppose there is a Costa inside the Winter Gardens.
Scene 4: The ballroom of the Midland Hotel
Mayor: Will you all calm down. Can I please have some silence and we’ll try to answer your questions. Quiet please. Oh this is hopeless. Mrs Clitheroe can you do something?
Councillor Clitheroe [shouting]: SHUT YER BIG FAT YAPS THE LOT OF YEES. [silence falls]
Mayor: Thank you, Mrs Clitheroe. Now, there is a lot of people here interested in the MIT of the North.
Treasury official: There will need to be an economic impact assessment.
Mayor: No doubt.
BEIS official: We need a value-for-money analysis?
Mayor: Yes, that too.
Piers Morgan: Mr Mayor, what makes you think you have the right to lecture other towns in the north about self-sufficiency when the Treasury is handing you £100 billion on a plate?
Mayor: I haven’t done anything. Have I Mrs Clitheroe?
Emily Maitlis: This area is designated an energy security high risk. What are you trying to hide Mr Mayor?
Mayor: I have nothing to hide. This is ridiculous.
Susanna Reid: Did you or did you not ask for the particle accelerator that will run under Morecambe, creating black holes, to be named after you?
Mayor: Black holes! Where?
[Chaos and shouting breaks out again. Dominic Cummings enters with Jones; silence falls once more. Cummings comes to the front of the hall.]
Cummings: Right, you lot can bog off back to London for a start.
Piers Morgan: That’s no way to speak to the press.
Cummings: I was talking to this rabble from the Treasury, and this other bunch of wasters from BEIS. Go on, you’ve had your big day out, now get back to your hovels and just pray I’m not looking for volunteers to transfer to the Student Loans Company.
Treasury official: Mr Cummings, I do think an investment of this size needs a proper analysis.
Cummings: Do you now? Do you think the Treasury knows better than me?
Treasury: We do have expertise over a long period of time in this area.
Cummings: Is he really going to try to answer that?
Treasury: That’s not to say…
Cummings: He is. He is actually trying to answer that. Son, pack your bags and get back to Whitehall. Tell Sajid bleeding Javid if he ever interferes in one of my projects again, he’ll spend the rest of his career running the tombola at the Conservative Central Office garden fete.
Treasury: Yes, Mr Cummings.
Cummings: And you BEIS lot, why are you still standing there? Don’t you have to get back to help put cones out on the Andrea Leadsom charisma by-pass? That’s it, off you go…not you, I’ll need you.
BEIS Special Adviser: It wasn’t my idea Dominic. I was against it from the start.
Cummings: Shut it! I’ll need you to write a speech for Chris Skidmore.
Emily Maitlis: Mr Cummings, isn’t it extraordinary for the prime minister’s chief adviser to come in person to Morecambe? Doesn’t this confirm your interest in spending £100 billion on an MIT of the North?
Cummings: Who do you think I am, Prince Andrew? I’m not answering that.
[Enter the vice-chancellors of the N8]
Leeds: Hold on, everyone stop what they are doing. I have something important to say.
Cummings: If it isn’t Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, Grumpy, Sneezy, and Doc. But never happy.
Sheffield: Mr Cummings, we’ve taken the unusual step of coming here in person as a group to say…
Cummings: Can it. I don’t want to know.
Liverpool: You’ll hear us out.
Cummings: Really? Whatever happened to my soya macchiato?
Durham: You see Mr Cummings; you don’t need to go looking for an MIT of the North.
York: It’s already here in front of you.
Newcastle: It’s in Newcastle and Durham and Leeds and Manchester.
Lancaster: And Lancaster and Liverpool and York and Sheffield.
Liverpool: And in Bradford and Sunderland and Salford and Teesside.
Leeds: Steady on Janet, I wouldn’t go that far.
Cummings: A constellation across the North that is already shining brightly, blah blah blah…
Sheffield: It’s true, you should be investing in what you already have.
Cummings: What and deprive the Mayor here of his black hole under Morecambe beach?
Mayor: Did he say black hole? I don’t think we want one of those.
Cummings: Right, you fat cat vice-chancellors turn your chauffeur-driven jags around and get back to pushing whatever paper it is that occupies your time when you are not dining out at the Atheneum on student fees. You councillors get back to work on potholes and planning next year’s Christmas lights. This show is over.
Maitlis: You can’t just dismiss public scrutiny Mr Cummings. The Morecambe Institute of Technology is a matter of public interest.
Cummings: There isn’t going to be a Morecambe Institute of Technology.
Mrs Clitheroe: Bugger.
Mayor: Black holes?
Cummings: At least not like that. You can have a skills-based, lifelong learning college concentrating on training for STEM. £5 million ought to do it. Speak to the DfE.
Piers Morgan: Why the reverse ferret Dominic?
Cummings: I spoke to this able young woman from the Cabinet Office who told me what the town really needs.
Mrs Clitheroe: The little minx.
Susanna Reid: And what’s that Mr Cummings?
Cummings: Something about a functioning bus stop outside Poundland and a wheel-chair ramp for Davros at the Winter Gardens.
Maitlis: Can we quote you on that?
Cummings: Of course not, I am an anonymous Number 10 source.
Scene 5: Morecambe station
Announcer: The next train leaving from Platform 1 is the three o’clock to Oxenholme. Passengers for London—and there seems to be a lot of you today—should change at Lancaster for the service to London Euston. Good luck with that. You thought Virgin Rail was bad, but you haven’t tried Avanti West Coast.
John: Not too disappointed not to have your MIT?
Jones: No, are you?
John: I’m buzzin’, the creator of the Daleks is coming to the Winter Gardens.
Jones: Thanks John. I guess this is goodbye.
John: It doesn’t have to be.
Jones: Why don’t you catch that National Express sometime.
John: You could always stay.
Jones: But Dominic needs me. He says, we are going to build a space port in the Orkneys.
John: Dom, of course. Did he like his soya macchiato?
Jones: Was that real soya? Not as good as the cockle chowder.
John: Maxi will miss you.
Jones: Just Maxi?
John: I’ll miss you.
Jones: You know, I think I might be a little bit in love with you.
John: Since when?
Jones: You had me at “tickets please”.
John: Oh Jonesy, I can’t believe it, maybe there is hope for this country after all.
Jones: Maybe I could stay for a bit.
John: Who would have thought a member of the London metropolitan elite like you could be with an unapologetic Brexiteer like me?
John: Maybe this country can begin to heal now that we’ve got Brexit done.
Jones: You are kidding me.
John: It’s no joke, another future really is possible.
Jones: You did what?
John: I voted Leave. That’s why people round here call me Jack, short for Union Jack. My other job is organising for UKIP in Morecambe and Blackpool.
Jones: Dear God. Stop the train, don’t leave! Take me back to London. Wait for me! [runs off]
John: But Selma, wait…
Jones: Enjoy your technical college mate. Try reading a book at some point. Don’t dare close that door, wait for me, I need to be in London. I must be in London!
Maxi: Bark, bark, growl, woof, woof!
John: I don’t know Maxi, was it something I said?
[The train pulls out the station. Credits roll. The end]