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Tune in, switch off - Tucker is triumphant

We are almost halfway through series three of The Thick of It (BBC Two), one of the few political satires on TV, and there is no mistaking that Malcolm Tucker is back in town.

Plotter, rotter and rottweiler, Peter Capaldi's legendary creation combines the evil intelligence of Iago with the verbal dexterity of Billy Connolly, striking fear in the eyes, agony in the heart and laughter deep in the stomach.

Satirists have their work cut out mocking today's politics, now in a place so absurd they resemble an Armando Iannucci script. You couldn't make it up but he has done. Life mirrors art; satire becomes reality and, as Tucker would say, "we're all fucked".

If there is any difference between this comedy and Westminster, it is that these characters have more personality than our politicians, who are as diminished and disposable as those plastic figures we used to get free in cereal packets.

Nicola Murray MP (Rebecca Front) is now head of the ragbag department, Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC). She is a real person with dyed roots, stretch marks and a fear of lifts that will rule out visits to constituents in tower blocks.

Tucker tells her that she is unsackable after only 12 days in post, but that is before she has been informed of the massive, irretrievable data loss of 170,000 immigration records. Remind you of anything? No, the postal strike is not a clue.

"Who primarily should I be shouting at?" she asks her terrified team. "Somebody has done a huge poo on my desk and I want it cleared up." Ollie Reader, fresh-faced policy wonker and special adviser, has been watching too many Attenborough programmes and favours an ostrich plan: keep it secret and hide. But if there has to be a victim, there is always the one who makes weak tea.

Ollie is like the bright young things I meet when I go to sessions at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, where future policies are road-tested on headteachers for their reactions.

The teeny boffins are all boosted brain and limited life experience, though they might be able to write satire well.

Communications director Terri Coverley was headhunted from Waitrose, and proves how bad the private sector can be at developing people. "My bum is clean," is her defence as she guzzles her fifth banana.

As grand inquisitor, Tucker's explosive expletives have all the force of a scatter bomb. He is the Cerberus that does bark in the night, a slime dog who reminds us of the dark underbelly of modern politics. Modelled on Blair's Campbell, Brown's McBride and Cameron's Coulson, he is in the comic tradition of bullies such as Basil Fawlty abusing Manuel or Blackadder insulting Baldrick.

He does invective with genius ingenuity. He is scarily nasty and belly-achingly funny. "Wear brown trousers and a shirt the colour of blood," he warns his potential victims. If this were typical of the bullying we have to deal with in school, at least we would have a good laugh in the staffroom at the end of each day.

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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