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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
John Crace

‘I never doubted you! Now, let’s have sex’ – Cleo Watson’s Whips, digested by John Crace

Illustration of PM's red box for a Digested Read of Whips by Cleo Watson

It’s 11pm. The only things moving in the chamber of the House of Commons are the mice, who are shagging enthusiastically under the speaker’s chair. Out on the terrace of Strangers’ – the preferred Westminster drinking hole for many MPs and their researchers – are a group of young incels who wish they had the sexual charisma of an Andrew Bridgen. In her ground-floor office, Natasha Weaver, the secretary of state for the industrial economy, is speaking to a journalist on the phone about the latest gossip from cabinet. Behind her is her special adviser, with bulging trousers.

“You’d better shove it in,” she coos, romantically. “I haven’t got much time.”

“Do I have to?” says the spad.

“Yup. It’s in my contract that there’s graphic sex on page four.”

Outside, someone takes a photograph of her. He needn’t have bothered, as it makes no difference to the plot.

At Chequers, Madeleine Ford, the prime minister, who may or may not be Theresa May, is planning the speech she will be giving to her MPs at the party she is holding for them later that day. She knows her days are numbered.

“Why are your days numbered?” her husband asks.

“I’m not really sure,” she replies, curtly. “After all, Brexit isn’t mentioned once in the book, so it can’t actually have happened. And as no one in the government does anything except have sex, it can’t be just because of my stance on China.”

“Shall we have sex?”

“No. We’re just about the only couple in the book who don’t have sex.”

“In which case, I’m going for a swim in the pool given to the UK by President Nixon.”

“Why did you include that detail?

“Because showing I was ‘in the know’ was why I was given such a large advance,” says Cleo, who used to work in Downing Street.


Bobby is very worried. She wishes her best friends, Jess and Eva, whom she met at Cambridge, could advise her. She is meeting her local MP, Simon Daly, a junior minister in the Foreign Office, to ask for his help to stop the closure of the mental health unit where her father is getting treatment.

“I will see what I can do,” Simon says, knowing he has no intention of doing anything, as the unit is ripe for redevelopment. “But why don’t you come and work for me? You’re very pretty.”

“OK,” says Bobby, not bothering to wonder if she is actually a Conservative or if she wants to work for an MP.

Jess is a journalist in Glasgow. She cares very deeply about things. So much so that she has come to the notice of her editor. “I’ve had a word with the owner, Lord Finlayson,” he says. “We’re sending you down to work for Ed Cooper, the notorious political editor of the Sentinel.”


In Downing Street, Eva, a policy adviser who does no policy advising, is taking off her lacy red underwear. Jamie, her cardboard-cutout boyfriend, is panting with pleasure. Then Eva changes her mind. She had better get back to work.

“I’ll make it up to you later,” she says.

Eva is conflicted. She is one of 37 children, by 28 mothers, of Percy Cross, who, until he was caught shagging his fitness instructor two years ago, had been prime minister. “Think of it this way,” she had told him. “At least you’re not Boris. Then you would have been sacked for Partygate. But since Covid never happened, you never broke the law.”

Illustration of erect Elizabeth Tower for a Digested Read of Whips by Cleo Watson

The party at Chequers is a triumph. Madeleine’s speech, in which she says she is making the China deal a confidence vote, is a masterstroke. Simon is not sorry he missed it, as he was upstairs shagging Millie, his best friend’s wife. Her heaving buttocks can be seen in an upstairs window.

“I think I’ve seen off the rebels,” says Madeleine.

At the bottom of the garden, Dennis the dog is found with a large cut on his head. Someone has attacked him. We never get to find out who or why.

“I guess I’ve just taken one for the team,” says Dennis. “But I’m telling you, Cleo, I draw the line at being made to shag an MP.”

Eva decides it will be fun to have Jess and Bobby to stay with her. What better than to have everyone having sex under the same roof? She doesn’t yet know Bobby is a virgin.

Jess hasn’t featured much for a while, so she decides to have S&M sex with a police officer called Tommy before she moves to London. Lucky Tommy.

“Do I get to feature again in the book?” he asks, hopefully.

“Play your cards right and I will have phone sex with you one chapter before the end.”

Clarissa Courtenay is plotting to make sure her husband, Eric, becomes PM. First, though, she needs to have sex. Of course she does. Then she tells Simon to resign. That should be enough to get rid of Madeleine. It isn’t. Oh, wait. In about 50 pages’ time, she will resign anyway, in an unlikely plot twist, when a cabinet minister admits on TikTok that he is basically a crook. Not that anyone cares, as he ends up back in the cabinet anyway.

On her way to work, Bobby bumps into Jake, the impossibly handsome and kind planning adviser who tells her how best to ensure the survival of her mental health unit. Bobby wonders if Jake is her Mr Right. No one else does. They already know. Cleo has achieved the impossible. She has made Jilly Cooper look like Dickens.


There is now a long and boring bit full of details about how Westminster really works. Feel free to skip them. They are just another contractual obligation. Bobby also feels obliged to remind everyone that not all MPs are hopelessly venal. Although we don’t meet any who aren’t.

It’s Jess’s first day working for Ed Cooper. She is wearing a backless leather dress and at lunchtime does the splits and five backflips on the bar. She then tells him to get on the back of her motorbike and pleasure himself. As you do. Ed is hooked. She has him tamed. She’s going to like this job.

Back in her office, Natasha has grabbed a man off the street and made him bury his head between her mottled thighs. She picks up the phone.

“What’s wrong with you, Cleo?” she barks. “Why am I only ever featured having sex with random strangers?”

“Sorry, babe,” says Cleo. “That’s just the way things are.”

“Well, as long as I don’t turn up later giving evidence to a select committee having inserted a vibrating egg.”

“I promise.”

“It’s not that I mind the sex, you understand. It’s just that I would have preferred it if it hadn’t all been so badly written.”


There is pandemonium in Eva’s house. Percy has just returned from the US unexpectedly, having been fired by the university where he was teaching for shagging one of his students, Holly. She has also come to London with him.

“I think I’m in love,” he says, before keeling over with a suspected heart attack.

For a moment, Eva cries fat tears. Look, I didn’t write this stuff. Then she realises that her father has only got indigestion from eating too much pizza. Still, it has made her realise that Holly isn’t all bad. Maybe she will get on with her after all.

“I must get down to not writing my book about Wellington,” Percy says.

Ed admits that Jess is a promising journalist as he has a world-beating wank while fantasising about her. She isn’t even that bothered when he keeps stealing her stories. Jess is in this for the long haul.

At the select committee, Natasha is getting hot and flustered. Damn Cleo for giving her a vibrating egg. “The bill is coming,” she gasps. Something is, at any rate. No one at the committee bats an eyelid.

The leadership contest is hotting up. But Clarissa is confident that Eric is the frontrunner. It helps that her husband is a complete idiot without a mind of his own.

“So what do I do now?” Eric asks.

“What do you think? You have sex with me.”

Eric does as he is told and takes her against the fridge. Clarissa notices the word “Smeg” imprinted on her back. How appropriate.

Everyone continues to have sex wherever possible. Even Bobby, who is hopelessly in love with Jake, who, as well as being terribly handsome and kind, also turns out to have the most enormous member. Bobby thinks she is the luckiest woman alive. Jake thinks he is the luckiest man alive. What could possibly go wrong?

“I’m sorry to interrupt you all,” says Cleo. “But it’s come to my attention that not much of real interest has happened so far. So I’ve got to stop you all having sex for a while – that doesn’t include you, Natasha, obviously. You can carry on being taken from behind while answering departmental questions in the Commons and squeeze in some unlikely plot twists.

“Well, I’m not going to,” yells Clarissa, as she sits on Eric.

“Nor am I,” moans Ed, as he pleasures himself yet again while being humiliated by Jess.

“I’ve got more children to have that I don’t want,” says Percy.

“Stop sulking, everyone,” Cleo insists. “I’m in charge here.”

Grumpily, everyone attends to the plot. Amazingly, the more one-dimensional and hopelessly moronic Eric becomes, the more popular he is. Somehow, he even forgets to tell everyone he is a war hero. But never mind. One by one, his opponents start dropping out of the race.


Meanwhile, Simon, whom Eric has promised to make chancellor, is in trouble. A note he has written threatening a woman into having an abortion has been passed to Jess. Bobby pretends the note was for her, as she wants to protect Millie, whose husband has a cock ring that keeps falling off. Eva also finds out. She and Jess don’t think twice about making life hell for their best friend. Jilly Cooper starts sobbing.

It gets worse. In exchange for a peerage, Percy agrees to publish a photo of himself doing coke with Eric’s main rival. When a website publishes the story about Simon, Jake confronts Bobby.

“Was it you?” he asks.

“I can’t tell you,” she sobs. “Because we have to have a big bust-up so we can have a big reconciliation at the end.”

“OK,” says Jake. “I’ll wait. You’re dumped.”


At last, the denouement. Thanks to a cunning plan, Bobby gets to keep her mental health unit, although not before telling Simon that she hates him with the fire of a thousand suns. As no one ever said.

Jess, Eva and Bobby agree they are all going to be a bit nicer to each other from now on. Eric gets to be prime minister, although not a very good one. And not for long. We won’t worry about that. Everyone goes back to shagging like rabbits. Even Rishi Sunak is thrilled. It’s just like Riders.

“Oh Bobby,” Jake sighs. “I never doubted you for a moment.”

“And I never doubted you. Now, let’s have sex.”

Eva puts on her red lacy underwear. Jamie is in for a treat.

Percy gets his knighthood. Perhaps even a place in cabinet.

Simon also gets a K.

Natasha is still made to have sex like a performing seal.

Jess buys Ed a butt plug. Ed’s eyes light up.

Cleo laughs all the way to the bank.

All’s well that ends well.

Digested read, digested: Sexminster.

Cleo Watson’s Whips is published by Corsair (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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