Spoken with authority! Parish council clerk and Internet icon Jackie Weaver shares her thoughts on Meghan Markle, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson as she ‘auditions’ to be Prime Minister on new Channel 4 show
Jackie Weaver is in full flow, talking with – what else? – authority. Those in actual authority might want to reach for the hard hats now.
‘I mean, what is the POINT of politicians?’ says the woman whose decisive handling of a Zoom parish council meeting turned her into a national heroine and had people asking if she could be Prime Minister, please.
A year and a half on, she’s stepping up to the mark – not for real (darn it) but for a six-part Channel 4 programme called Make Me Prime Minister, which aims to test whether she is really up to the job.
This interview is turning into quite the manifesto. So far, she has shared her opinions – eye-wateringly honest opinions – of the sort you never get from real politicians.
Jackie Weaver has given her no-nonsense straight-talking opinions on the Prime Minister, the Duchess of Sussex and Nicola Sturgeon
She has demolished the Prime Minister (‘what do I think of Liz Truss? My answer to that is, Who is Liz Truss?’), rubbished the new Cabinet (‘is this a weirdness competition, or something?’), dissed the Duchess of Sussex (‘I’m Team Kate. Meghan is a bit of a minx’) and said that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, reminds her of her late mother. It is not a compliment (‘all I can see is a small, bitey Scottish woman who is often angry about everything’).
Now she’s narrowing her focus, savaging those who are actually elected to serve.
‘Maybe I’m just being stupid,’ she continues. ‘Maybe the whole point of politicians is to distract the country from policies, because they seem pretty short on the ground. Where is the vision? Where is the vocation?
‘It seems to me that the minute you become a politician you start saying, “Ooh, we won’t announce any policies in case the public don’t like them.” ’
She wouldn’t do that, if she were Prime Minister. Jackie Weaver would be scattering policies like confetti. Whether we liked them or not.
‘I don’t think I’d be very popular,’ she admits. ‘I’d tell people things they didn’t necessarily want to hear, but things that were right for the country.
‘I’d say we have to have a conversation about illegal immigration.
‘I’d say, “The NHS is broken, how are we going to fix it – you choose, we can raise taxes or we can have a conversation about rationing.”
Jackie Weaver is stepping up to the mark for a six-part Channel 4 programme called Make Me Prime Minister, which aims to test whether she is really up to the job
‘But I would say the things no politician dares to say now.’
The 64-year-old pauses. ‘I don’t think I’d be Prime Minister for very long, but at least in that time I might get things done.’ She would also be a PM the country could afford, we establish (‘Oh I’d be a cheap date as PM’).
There would be no expenses scandals in a Weaver administration. Certainly no Wallpaper-gate.
‘What the heck was that all about?’ she asks, throwing her hands up. ‘Apart from anything else, if you’re running the country, would you not be focusing on that? I wouldn’t be getting the decorators in. No. Why would you? Are the walls damp? No? Get on with it!’
Dare we ask if Prime Minister Weaver would have time for a complicated personal life? That sometimes seems to go with the territory.
She says: ‘I don’t know about you but even now, I fall into bed and wait for sleep to take me over.
‘When he was PM, Boris obviously had a much more active… social life. Where did he find the time?’
Throughout, the show, contestants are scrutinised by Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Baroness Warsi, former chairwoman of the Conservative Party
Obviously, the chances of her ever doing the job for real are non-existent, perhaps mercifully for international diplomacy, given her views on President Biden, whom she thinks should have been ‘at home enjoying retirement’ at the point he was on the campaign trail. ‘My God, what is that man on?’ she asks.
No doubt Jackie’s husband Stuart, an engineer who is into model aeroplanes, is relieved they won’t be moving into No 10 as well.
Yet Jackie will certainly be the one to watch on this rather audacious show.
She is among 12 wannabe political leaders from across the political spectrum, including a diversity consultant who campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights, an Oxford University classics student who idolises Margaret Thatcher, a hairdresser from Extinction Rebellion and an SNP activist who once made the final of Miss Universe.
No, the prize isn’t a stint running the country, but the show does feature those who have.
Former PMs Tony Blair and David Cameron are involved, offering nuggets of advice. Do they, at least, get the Weaver seal of approval? No. ‘I can’t think of a single politician who has impressed me,’ she says flatly.
Jackie (pictured) among 12 wannabe political leaders from across the political spectrum for the Channel 4 show
The show is akin to The Apprentice in format.
Each week, the contestants are put into groups, have to elect a leader and are set running-the-country tasks.
This is as bad as it sounds Episode one involves a wannabe Prime Minister and a maypole. Say no more. Throughout, the contestants are scrutinised by Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Baroness Warsi, former chairwoman of the Conservative Party. With filming now finished, I ask Jackie what she thought of these political heavyweights.
Her answer illustrates why she will never be Prime Minister for real. She’s way too honest.
‘Alastair Campbell was cheeky, naughty, irreverent,’ she says.
Fair enough. Baroness Warsi?
‘I thought she was incredibly condescending.’ Ouch!
She pivots, but only slightly. ‘That did need revisiting, though. The more I got to know her during filming, the more I saw that she was quite insightful and helpful. There was a warmth there that wasn’t immediately obvious.’
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Weaver takes no prisoners.
It is now 19 months since she was catapulted into public consciousness when the footage of her attempts to restore order in a chaotic parish council meeting in Cheshire went viral
It is now 19 months since she was catapulted into public consciousness when the footage of her attempts to restore order in a chaotic parish council meeting in Cheshire went viral.
Her solution – muting microphones, removing individual councillors from the virtual room, despite their pleas of her having ‘no authority’ – were hailed as heroic responses to bullying.
This was a woman-of-a-certain-age putting the men in their place, and not giving a flying fig about their protestations.
Piers Morgan called her the greatest feminist icon since Emmeline Pankhurst and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song about her, an honour normally reserved for the likes of Eva Peron and Jesus.
And almost immediately, this mother-of-three, who used to work for Mothercare, was being asked why she didn’t leap out of the world of parish councils and on to the national political scene.
‘No fear,’ she said, perhaps sullied by the suggestion. Not as a mere Member of Parliament, at any rate. ‘I’ve said I wouldn’t want to stand as an MP, because to get anything done you have to align yourself with a party, and once you do that, you have to toe the party line,’ she explains.
Jackie’s solution to the chaos in the virtual parish council meeting was to eject certain members
‘But if someone offered to pop you into the top job… well, you’d be an idiot not to take that, wouldn’t you? You would if you had any vision.’
Our democratic system doesn’t allow for just being ‘popped’ into the job though, does it?
She refers me neatly to the installation of Liz Truss as PM. ‘What was that all about?’ she asks (it’s a favourite phrase).
‘The public didn’t have a vote. The decision was taken behind closed doors. It makes you wonder what else is going on behind doors’.
An audience with Jackie – conducted, appropriately, on Zoom – is certainly entertaining.
She is all the things we think we would like our politicians to be – forthright, funny and impassioned. She is candid about her own failings too, which is another reason why she’d be a rubbish politician in real life.
If there is a touch of the dictator about her, at least she knows it.
‘I don’t think of myself as a team player,’ she tells me.
‘I shouldn’t say that but, heck, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.’
Back to the real politicians. She’s at pains to say that it’s the ‘system’ she has issues with, rather than individuals, but still she takes them down one by one.
Boris Johnson, she says, was an ‘intelligent man who knew how to play the public’.
Boris Johnson, Jackie says, was an ‘intelligent man who knew how to play the public’
She didn’t buy the lovable, endearing, dishevelled Boris schtick. ‘The hair thing, the shambolic thing, that was all about disarming the public.’
It sounds as if she watched Partygate with disgust.
‘More disappointment, I think. I sound like an elderly relative, but what got to me was the sheer acceptance from the public – that sense of, Oh well, what do you expect from politicians?
On to Prime Minister Truss. Oh dear. When she says ‘who?’ she means that she has no idea either who Truss is or what she stands for. As for the Cabinet: ‘I’m afraid my initial thoughts were, “Who the heck are all these people in the Cabinet? I’ve never seen any of them before”, closely followed by, “Is this a weirdness competition?” ’
I stress that I don’t know Liz Truss, but my sense of her is that she is able to see what people want – by ‘people’ I mean party people – and she is able to persuade them that it is something she can deliver.
‘My worry is that she is surrounding herself by likeminded souls. Where is the challenge there? Where is the person who will stop you when you start to believe you are actually special?’
Jackie does have a certain sympathy for Truss’s nightmare first days in the job but, when she watched her deliver that reading at Westminster Abbey during the Queen’s funeral, she did not immediately think: Behold Leadership. ‘I’m afraid I thought she seemed out of her depth. She looked a bit like the head girl from the local posh school.
Jackie does have a certain sympathy for Truss’s nightmare first days in the job
Let’s not linger too long on the new Prime Minister’s curtesy to the new King to which Jackie said: ‘I hope we never have to see her dance’
‘That said, I think almost anyone would have been intimidated in that place.’
And let’s not linger too long on that unfortunate curtsey to the new King. She shudders. ‘I hope we never have to see her dance.’
Is there any sense that you feel comforted by the idea that Prime Minister Truss is at the helm now, steering us through difficult times? She thinks for ages.
‘I’d like to say yes, but no. It’s like trying to build a solid structure on something that has no foundation.’
It was once mischievously suggested that Weaver had a majestic quality about her that transcended politics and that she would be more suited to being a Deputy Queen, were such a role to exist.
Perhaps inevitably we get on to the subject of the Queen’s death.
She has been lamenting, after all, the loss of a sense of duty, vocation and sacrifice in public life.
She wouldn’t say she was a natural Royalist, ‘but you can’t help be swayed, engrossed, sucked in, however you want to put it, by the pageantry and the history.’
And by the woman who headed it all. ‘Yes, you could see in her something amazing.’
She says she feels sad that the Queen’s last years were marred by the soap opera of her family woes, all that ‘dirty washing played out in public’.
Jackie gave her views on the Duchess of Sussex, calling her ‘a bit of a minx’
Jackie said she is ‘Team Kate’ describing her as ‘the perfect daughter-in-law’
She’s also (here comes that honesty again) ‘absolutely glued to the story of Catherine and Meghan’.
So is she Team Kate or Team Meghan?
‘Oh Team Kate. She’s the perfect daughter-in-law, isn’t she? Meghan is a bit of a minx.’
‘Any woman who slobbers over a man, as she did in that first interview…’ You feel you are, what, being played a bit, I jest?
‘No,’ she says, gravely. ‘That I am being played fully.’
What of Harry? ‘When Megxit happened, I thought he had been led astray. Now I wonder if I had gone it wrong all along.’
She gives another of her ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ looks, reminding me of the headteacher who sends you home to think long and hard about what you have done – but expects you to come back tomorrow, to do better.
Would we hate Jackie as Prime Minister? Probably, eventually.
Would she care? Would she heck.
Make Me Prime Minister starts on Tuesday at 9.15pm on Channel 4.
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