Staggering Hubris by Josh Berry - cover


You’re a staggeringly brilliant spad (special adviser) working in Downing Street in the early days of a new government.

The world is at your feet. Brexit is oven-ready. You have a degree from Oxford. Attractive spads of the opposite gender hang on your every word.

The only tiny cloud is some vague reports of people coughing a lot somewhere in China – but China is a long way off. What could possibly go wrong?

Staggering Hubris

Seriously? A spoof of the UK government and its world-beating fight against Covid-19? How could any writer wring humour out of such towering political intellects as our leaders?

Well, it seems Josh Berry wants to have a go in his satirical novel Staggering Hubris from the always-interesting British indie publisher Eye & Lightning.

From 1st January to 31st December 2020, we follow Eton and Oxford-educated, neo-yuppie Special Adviser to Boris Johnson, Rafe Hubris, through his staggeringly hubristic diary of events behind the scenes (or as he calls it, Volume 1 of the Rona Years).

In the process, we meet a riotous cast of real-life blowhards, bullies, incompetents and the occasional honest, hard-working intelligent human being.

At the centre, stands Hubris himself, clearly (in his own estimation) the most intelligent (though also by his own estimation not particularly hard-working). With an ego the size of the Palace of Westminster, he knows his place: at the top.

He’s qualified from birth, by nature of being born in the right place (and also – did I mention? – by having a degree from Oxford).

Bully Patel and Big Daddy Dominic

Berry developed the character of Hubris through a series of parodic YouTube videos.

Hubris is a behind-the-scenes man, advising Bojo, despising Matt and “Bully Patel” and lusting after the female spads, who he clearly believes have no defence against his charms. Looming large is “Big Daddy” Dominic, who drifts in and out of the office, uttering or emailing a series of increasingly obscure sayings, such as “Can you build a bridge to the moon using the contents of a spark plug?” and “dead cats are alive cats.”

It is, as Hubris tells us, unlikely you’ll have heard of him, unless you are a young woman on Tinder, one of his 500+ LinkedIn connections or a “high-end cocaine dealer operating in South West London”.

As in the videos, the book intertwines the real-life politicians with a cast of fictional spads and others. In the same way, Berry interweaves the reality of the pandemic, with its onrush of events spiralling out of control, with subplots of political intrigue and romance.

Yet, however behind-the-scenes he may be, Hubris doesn’t intend to remain out of sight for long. This is, he informs us, the first of “many memoirs as I inevitably ascend to the status of prime minister.”


This story of hubris (and Hubris) could have become repetitive and heartless, but Berry doesn’t let it. He manages to do what might seem impossible and give young Rafe Hubris a credible inner life when it comes to romance.

Despite the man’s overweening self-confidence, or perhaps because of it, we begin to suspect a rather less weening desperation.

Amazingly, and to the writer’s credit, we begin to care about this popinjay of a protagonist. There are moments of vulnerability, albeit brief, and rapidly covered in denial. There is a real human being inside there.

And that is the triumph of the book. For in these divisive times, it’s not an easy task to depict the “other side” as human and deserving of any care whatsoever.


Whether the book works for you may depend on a number of factors. If you believe that our government “got the big calls right” as they say, and are currently weeping at the way the “herd” has ditched poor Bojo, you’ll find this book a massive travesty.

If on the other hand, you think they blundered through, messing up at every conceivable occasion, you’ll find much here to reassure you that you were right.

For some readers, no doubt, it will read as a horror story. And to a large extent it is… But it is a horror story that we faced for real.

I suspect there is real anger behind the comedy. Yet the humour is full-on, from slapstick to scatological. Hogarthian, Dickensian, take your pick. The egos are massive, and there is great pleasure (for me, at least) at witnessing one downfall after another.

If there’s a place for satire in our world, and I believe there is, you can look back with anger. Or with angry laughter. Berry has decided to go for the laughter.

And I, for one, thank him for that.

Read more

Staggering Hubris by Rafe Hubris BA (oxon) – with Josh Berry

Rafe Hubris on YouTube