Life Support

by Derek Morrison

image 1 – Click the image above to view a high resolution version. A surrealist 2017 reworking by Derek Morrison of ‘The death bed of Queen Caroline’. Coloured etching, 1827. Wellcome Library [CC-BY-4.0]. View the 1827 original at
The anxious gathered near the leader’s bed
Machines pumped air and tubes they fed
She, who had once been so strong and stable
Was now on life support and no longer able 

Boris sobs loudly and weeps his loyal tears
Michael’s reassuring hug amplifies Boris’ fears
David is stoical gazing down at Come What May

While eyeing the exit and who’s in the way
Arlene slips into the bed to support she who is lost

But then whispers softly what will be the cost
Philip though stands alone on the ‘other side
He ‘remains and that they can’t abide
Party ghosts weep at this never ending story
Its rifts and fractures destroying all seeking glory.

The doctors ask should we switch it off?
The anxious gaze at feet, then jointly cough
Boris blows his nose and then declares
Let’s just wait, see how she fares?
Philip is silent, his thoughts racked with doubt
For by supporting ‘in they would have him ‘out
But all the anxious know the risks they face
If they bring forth another succession race
So Michael gives Boris an even bigger hug

Then David smiles, and his shoulders shrug
It’s better that we partially resuscitate
Than party is terminated by the electorate.

[To listen to this verse select below]

[See also enhanced multimedia version on YouTube] (


I am experimenting with different ways of presenting poetry and here I am exploring poetry plus imagery. As the entirely fictional narrative of this poem emerged its rather bizarre imagery was also forming in my mind. I imagined a political death-bed scene where the concerned (or at least those pretending to be) would gather around the afflicted so as to be seen to be offering their support, whilst also taking the opportunity of course to assess the other ‘relatives’ and ‘friends’. The 1827 etching ‘The death-bed of Queen Caroline’ was an artistic interpretation of a real event but yet it represented both the turbulence and pathos associated with the unfair treatment and early demise of King George IV’s wife – Queen Caroline; and that made it an interesting canvas for a reworking or surrealist ‘remix’ where leading actors of today would either have centre stage or – and – be given cameo roles (becoming a bed decoration is an antidote to hubris).

On a more technical note, the 1827 original of image 1 was based on a watercolour of an etching that had significant colour bleeding and so I undertook some digital restoration to correct the worst of these bleeds which had obscured some details. I also removed the footstool by the bedside,  and replaced it with an EU theme rug. As far as I know Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s DUP leader wasn’t around in 1827 but, for this 2017 version of the image, she was placed in the bed beside Theresa May. Boris Johnson was also given a crying (or is that laughing?) doppelganger. The  ‘ghosts’ observing the tragedy take two forms – the physically deceased (in greyscale) and the politically deceased (in colour); the latter allows for the distant possibility of resurrection – in this world at least.

The YouTube version of Life Support also incorporates image 2 (with both originals also displayed at the end of the video). The remix is intended to be rich in symbolism, but the nature and interpretation of those symbols is left to the readers/viewers to discover and consider.

image 2 – Click the image above to view a high resolution version. A 2017 reinterpretation by Derek Morrison of an 1833 colour lithograph. In the original, Britannia is lying on a bed receiving attention from a nurse and two physicians with conflicting views on the appropriate treatment for what ails her. One physician wants to increase her blood supply to improve her condition and the other to decrease her blood supply for the same end. In or out? Who knows the consequences? View the original image at US National Library of Medicine [Public Domain]
The 8 June 2017 election result caused a loss of the UK’s Conservative Party majority in Parliament and seriously undermined the position of the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Under normal circumstances she would have resigned and been quickly replaced by someone judged by the party management initially –  but ultimately by the membership – as being most likely to rebuild the party’s electoral position. The situation in the UK, however, is far from normal. Two inter-related factors are keeping Theresa May’s leadership on ‘stand-by’ power or – as some of the media like to say – ‘life support’. First, Brexit negotiations with the EU are now underway and a change of leader risks further destabilising the UK’s rather shaky start to the process. Second, the UK has a major dose of voter (and politician) fatigue. Another Conservative Party leadership farrago, therefore, is likely to trigger another general election at which point the voters may choose to exact punishment upon those who continue to indulge in internecine conflict and so fail to put their own internal houses in order, never mind the country’s. And so the putative ‘alphas’ dare not launch explicit leadership bids but can merely circle around each other (and their stricken leader) wondering when, and how, they can engineer the power cut that will turn off her life support without damaging their own health. Meanwhile, the hyenas, wolves, and vultures outside the intensive care unit simply watch and wait.

Dramatis Personae

  1. Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  2. Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  3. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  4. David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
  5. Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Dramatis Personae (Images 1 and 2, or YouTube version)

As above with the following additional cameo roles (blink though and you may miss them):

  1. A doctor, and bed decoration – Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party
  2. A doctor – George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now editor of the London Evening Standard
  3. A nurse and a bed decoration – Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
  4. A doctor, and skulker at the beside – Nigel Farage, controversial former leader of UKIP
  5. In bed with Theresa May – Arlene Foster, First Minister of the Norther Ireland Assembly and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who struck a deal with the UK Conservative Party so that the latter could stay in power after the loss of their parliamentary majority in the 8 June 2017 elections.
  6. Skulker at the bedside – Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who argues that the Brexit referendum should have required a majority vote from each country of the UK and so will view a poor result from the Brexit negotiations as a potential catalyst to another referendum on Scottish independence.
  7. Facing the other way – the chair
  8. Grounded – the EU flag
  9. Skulker at the bedside – Vladimir Putin- President of the Russian Federation who is always happy to seize opportunities to facilitate or exploit weakness and fragmentation in other power blocs.
  10. Skulker at the bedside – Donald Trump – President of the United State of America, deal-maker extraordinaire, slayer of evil tyrants everywhere, and putative builder of the Great Wall of America .
  11. Ghost 1 – Sir Edward Heath, Late Prime Minister who took the UK into the EU on 1 January 1973.
  12. Ghost 2 – Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Late Prime Minister of the UK whose turbulent engagements with the EU were considerable, but usually cast as great successes to the UK electorate.
  13. Ghost 3 – David Cameron. Still very much alive although apparently now politically dead. The former Prime Minister of the UK who asked the question that should never have been asked and so created the Brexit crisis.
  14. Ghost 4 – Sir John Major. Still very much alive former Prime Minister of the UK (1990-1997) who suffered so grievously at the hands of the nascent Brexiteers embedded within the heart of the Conservative Party.
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