The shouts are familiar. ‘Have you lost control of Brexit, Mrs May?’ ‘Has the prime Minister cocked up Brexit, Mr Hammond?!’ ‘Do those new shoes hurt, Mr Gove!?’. Specially trained shouty men hired by the media have stood outside number 10 for decades, waiting for senior figures at whom they can shout pithy questions, which are rarely if ever answered by anything more than a strained smile.
Now though, the shoutiness has started to get out of hand. Some shouters are beginning to shout at the closed door of Number 10 when there is no minister about to enter or leave, sometimes at dead of night. Shouts have included ‘would a delay in the Commons vote under sub section 23 (a) of the Representation of the People Act trigger a need for further Parliamentary approval?’ and ‘ Has Philip gone to the pictures or is he staying at home with a jig saw?’ One shout in the wee hours, in response to a light being turned on in an upstairs window sounded like ‘Is that you getting up for a wee, Mrs May?’
These fringe shouts fall on deaf ears, yet the shouty men seem not to be able to control them. And they are getting less and less relevant. For example ‘Do you prefer paisley or toweling in a man’s dressing gown, Mr Fox?’ and ‘Are you related to the woman in the Shake ‘n Vac commercial, Mrs Leadsom?’ have been shouted, apparently without irony, and definitely without a reply.
In a further some say worrying development, the shouty men have started plying their trade outside their own front doors. Top Daily Express shouter Dan Smythe recently stood outside his Orpington home as his wife came back from the shops and shouted ‘Is it fish fingers for tea again, Mrs Smythe?’ and, outside a neighbour’s house ‘Are you willing to negotiate over illicit sexual intercourse before Christmas, Mrs O’Hara?’
There is a danger that more and more journalists will adopt the shouting-questions-outside-someone’s-house strategy, in a practice labelled by experts as Downing Street Syndrome. We asked psychiatrist Dr Jean Smithers whether the febrile atmosphere around Brexit is prompting a mini-epidemic of psychological disorder. We stood outside Dr Smithers’s Harley Street practice and shouted ‘Is the febrile atmosphere around Brexit prompting a mini-epidemic of psychological disorder?!’ just as Dr Smithers was leaving for the tube. She smiled but declined to answer.