CALL ME DEAD

CameronWhen Gordon Brown forgot his microphone was still switched on during the 2010 General Election campaign, it arguably cost him his job; when David Cameron forgot his was still switched on while making his way back to the front door of No.10 after naming his successor yesterday he didn’t have to worry about that. Heard humming some unidentified upbeat tune rather than referring to Theresa May as ‘a bigoted woman’ under his breath, Cameron’s chirpy disposition was indicative of a man relieved to be getting out earlier than he’d hoped. The damage, after all, is done; and an absence of notable war-crimes on his Prime Ministerial CV means he won’t have to worry about future impeachment proceedings.

When David Cameron became Tory Party leader in 2005, Tony Blair had just begun his third term as PM; and after the abysmal performances of William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, a moderately improved performance at the polls under the stewardship of Michael Howard was still not good enough for a party that had taken power for granted for so long that opposition was proving problematic. The Conservatives hadn’t even been able to capitalise on an unpopular war at the expense of the Labour Government, so a rethink was required. This rethink comprised reproducing the example set by their opponents across the dispatch box.

Theresa May’s belated 2002 acknowledgement of the Tories as the ‘Nasty Party’ has been replayed for understandable reasons over the past couple of days; but the solution to the public perception at the time was to manufacture their own Blair, and David Cameron was only too happy to step into Tony’s shoes. To use a pop music analogy, one could say Cameron was the Boyzone to Blair’s Take That, photocopying the hit formula and retaining the anodyne elements that had proven popular without adding any additional grit. That seems a more apt comparison than saying Cameron was the Monkees to Blair’s Beatles – an insult to both acts. Besides, bland 90s boy-bands, with their emphasis on style over substance and an utter absence of dirt under their manicured fingernails, is closer to the truth.

Cameron’s blatant modelling of himself on his hero was excruciating; like Tony, he wanted to appeal to everybody by embracing every fashionable fad of the moment. Early efforts at being ‘green’ were illustrated by a windswept Dave being pulled along an Arctic landscape by huskies; early efforts at reaching out to the plebs were illustrated by the ‘hug-a-hoodie’ policy, with Dave doing just that on one especially toe-curling photo-op. What Cameron failed to grasp was that, by the middle of the 2000s, the public had already become cynical of such tactics; and Dave just looked like exactly what he was – a pale imitation of something that had been done years before, something that the public were tired of. Cameron’s pursuit of a populist agenda at the expense of what had worked for his party in the distant past was viewed as a radical development in staid Tory circles, however, and some voiced their dissatisfaction from the off, most prominently Peter Hitchens. That Cameron was trying so hard to obscure his posh-boy roots was merely confirmed when that infamous Bullingdon Club team photo featuring him and Boris Johnson emerged, much to his eternal annoyance.

The biggest break Cameron received as Leader of the Opposition came in 2007, when Tony Blair resigned and handed over the reins of power to long-time rival Gordon Brown, getting out just before the western world experienced its greatest economic meltdown since 1929. Brown’s dithering in the autumn of that year, failing to call an Election when his ratings were higher than they’d ever subsequently be, condemned the ex-Iron Chancellor and his party to eventual electoral Armageddon, something that David Cameron still couldn’t exploit when his big chance finally came five years after his election as Tory leader.

Of course, Dave was saved by the intervention of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who accepted the invite to enter into Britain’s first post-war Coalition Government. In retrospect, there was no real alternative for either party, with the Tories not receiving the mandate they needed and the Liberal Democrats still boasting enough MPs to make up the numbers Labour couldn’t match. We were in uncharted waters, but the imposition of a fixed five-year term for the post-2010 Parliament secured the stability an often uneasy alliance required; just how uneasy that alliance actually was became apparent when the next local elections saw the Lib Dems decimated at the polls while their Coalition partners improved their standing. This was played out on an even more devastating scale come the 2015 General Election, when Clegg’s party suffered one of the most humiliating wipe-outs ever seen in modern politics, plummeting from 57 to 8 seats.

The old Nasty Party tag had been all-too evident in the way the Coalition Government had reserved their severest cuts not for the industry that had provoked the 2008 crash, but for those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder, who weren’t in a position to fight back. The Tories then cannily aimed their inherent ruthlessness at their junior partners when on the 2015 hustings; and the public bought the hype, holding the Lib Dems wholly responsible for unpopular policies, even though Clegg and Co certainly curbed their senior partners’ nastiest instincts, ones that were released from the need to compromise when Dave finally received a mandate from the electorate when up against yet another inept Labour leader.

A lucky Prime Minister who even survived the potential disaster of Hack-Gate and all the embarrassing social connections it exposed, David Cameron’s undoing was to promise a referendum on Britain’s EU membership that the Conservative Election Manifesto of 2015 bound him to. His last concession to the backbenchers who had never trusted him, Cameron’s referendum didn’t go to plan when the deep divisions within the country he had failed to unite were exposed in a manner that left him with no option but to fall on his sword barely a year after leading his party to their first outright Election victory since 1992. The bitchy Cabinet resignation letter of one of his predecessors in the Tory hot-seat, IDS, claimed that Cameron and his circle didn’t give a toss about the great swathes of the electorate who don’t vote Conservative, and the EU Referendum gave those silent voices (as well as plenty within his own party) the opportunity to deliver their verdict on his premiership. That verdict was unanimous in its condemnation, and I suspect history will deliver a similar one once the dust has settled from the current chaos Cameron is entirely to blame for.

Not that any of this will be apparent come his last appearance as Prime Minister in the Commons on Wednesday – cue fawning tributes and praise that he will nevertheless gratefully accept; as slick and smooth and devoid of authenticity as he always has been, the Bob Monkhouse of British politics will exit the frontbench with insincere cheers ringing in his ears, ones that will perfectly complement the utter ideological landfill that has constituted the last six years.

© The Editor

THE ONE-WOMAN SHOW

MayAs much as we all love it, rarely has the print media appeared more obsolete than in the past couple of weeks; it doesn’t need falling sales to put it out of business, merely a remarkably fast-moving political apocalypse of the kind this country is currently experiencing. ‘Breaking News’, a normally annoying phrase we’re accustomed to being a permanent fixture at the bottom of the screen of rolling news channels, has now become relevant to every bloody headline as the fallout from Brexit continues to claim scalps on what feels like an hourly basis. All of this would make a cracking edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ if we had any contemporary Rock n Roll to serve as the soundtrack to events.

With Angela Eagle confirming she will mount a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn over the weekend, this morning’s official announcement of that kamikaze gamble has already been usurped by the far more unexpected announcement by Andrea Leadsom that she has withdrawn from the race to become the next Tory Party leader and, consequently, Prime Minister. Apparently, off-the-record she hinted that press intrusion into both her private life and past working life motivated her decision, yet perhaps this itself is reflective of her lack of experience in the public eye. It does, as they say, come with the territory; and she simply wasn’t up to the job if her silly ‘mother’ comment was anything to go by.

So, this means there is no longer a contest. The prospect of May and Leadsom dragging all of this out for another couple of months while the nation is doing a good impression of the archetypal headless chicken sounded ridiculous on paper, and we must at least be grateful to Leadsom for bowing out even before she and her rival have embarked upon a tour of the Shires. One can only assume Dave’s summer as a lame-duck PM will be considerably shorter than he anticipated in the wake of this development, and I guess he and Sam will have to begin packing their belongings long before September; mind you, going by his past absent-mindedness, Theresa May could well move in and find she’s got a child after all.

Much has been made by May’s supporters that her six years at the Home Office somehow represent success, though how many years did ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ run on TV, masquerading as a sitcom despite the notable absence of laugh-out loud moments? Longevity does not necessarily equate with achievement; and Theresa May’s achievements as Home Secretary are fairly threadbare. Whereas Andrea Leadsom appeals to many of that dying breed of old-school, golf-club, Nimby ‘Margot and Jerry’ Tories, Theresa May is regarded as dangerously liberal within such circles; but, as with Labour’s hardcore lefty Corbynistas, they are a small cult faction forming a minor part of a far broader network, and can never truly represent their party as a whole, never mind the nation. Like it or not, Theresa May is more in tune with the wider electorate than Andrea Leadsom would have been on subjects other than Brexit; and it is the wider electorate beyond partisan party activists that win General Elections.

As if to underline the ultimate powerlessness of party memberships, Leadsom’s withdrawal means that the new Prime Minister has been elected by a few hundred Conservative MPs as opposed to the similarly limited albeit slightly higher 150,000 Conservative Party Members. Theresa May indicated from the moment she announced she was standing to be Tory leader that she had no plans to call an Election in the autumn; but history rarely favours Prime Ministers who supersede retiring PMs without the electorate being involved. Neville Chamberlain, Alec Douglas-Home, Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown all came to power this way and all failed to win a General Election; poor old Chamberlain actually never got the chance to do so. Yes, both Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan did gain a mandate from the public – the former called an Election only a month after succeeding Churchill in 1955, whereas the latter waited just over two-and-a-half years before going to the country; but both were fortunate to be competing against a deeply divided Labour Party. Theresa May take note.

It is ironic in a week that has seen several MPs on both sides of the House calling for the head of Tony Blair on a plate that the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister David Cameron is facing no such demands. Watching him perform at his first post-Referendum PMQs, one would imagine he was a stand-up comic ala Michael McIntyre. There was nothing in his demeanour to suggest shame or regret at the absolute bloody mess he’s left the country in. If anyone should be held responsible for the current chaos, Dave is the man. All the fawning guff spewing forth from the mouths of Tory MPs concerning his six years at No.10 obscures the facts in a virtual whitewash of sanctimonious hyperbolic bullshit. Cameron has been an unmitigated disaster. From food banks and tax evasion to the EU Referendum and the impending, unavoidable split with Scotland, Dave hasn’t merely been managing decline; he has done his utmost to accelerate it. Theresa may not be the solution; but she surely couldn’t do any worse.

© The Editor

THE MOTHER OF ALL EXPECTATIONS

PollardThe comment ‘allegedly’ made by prospective PM Andrea Leadsom that she has some sort of moral edge over her Tory leadership rival Theresa May on account of her being a mother and May not being one was quickly rubbished by Leadsom following its appearance in a Times headline; but many women will have understood the sentiments implicit in the comment. There is a particularly smug school of female thought that regards a woman as somehow incomplete if she hasn’t given birth. The woman who hasn’t done so due to biological deficiencies is patronisingly pitied – which won’t make her feel any better – whereas the woman who has deliberately chosen not to populate the planet with offspring is viewed with suspicion and regarded as a virtual social pariah.

There are few cliques more intimidating to a young woman than the motherhood club, especially when those who have recently joined are so vocal in their praise of it. What takes aback those who are unqualified to join is the dramatic alteration in women who previously had a wide range of interests and conversational topics suddenly being reduced to baby bores. They spurn old friendships and instinctively gravitate towards those who share their new solitary passion; and on the odd occasions they find themselves in the company of women outside of the Masonic motherhood, they assume a photo gallery of their beloved sprog is as great a source of fascination to their unfortunate companions as it is to them.

The women’s movement spent decades deconstructing the ancient stereotypes of the female sex, yet the pressures upon today’s women to blend the old roles with new ones in the form of multitasking – career and family, not one or the other – means motherhood cannot be avoided as an issue; even when a career has taken precedence, there is the assumption that a family will still come, albeit a little later than expected.

Pop culture heroines laughingly labelled ‘feminist’ like Bridget Jones have also served to reinforce archaic attitudes, almost as though there was a conspiracy afoot to put women back in their place. Granted, the whole movement did suffer from poor PR for quite a while, giving the impression that all women interested in improving their lot were a bunch of short-haired and humourless butch dykes in dungarees; but an overtly feminine reaction to that misconception was inevitable, and with it came celebrity mothers wearing their children as fashion accessories.

A smart, sexy and witty woman in the public eye such as TV historian Lucy Worsley has had her stated choice not to have children added to her evident eccentricities by a press that still cannot understand a woman who doesn’t have childlessness thrust upon her, but makes that decision of her own volition. Worsley’s response is to claim she has been ‘educated out of the normal reproductive function’ – a shrewd statement worded in a way guaranteed to wind up those who view Worsley’s personal choice as an unnatural affectation. The prevailing belief amongst some is that childlessness, as with death, is something that belongs in the hands of a higher power and not the individual it affects; it should visit without receiving an invitation, and its appearance should always be unwelcome.

Quite how childlessness can be regarded as an impediment to a successful career as a woman MP seems illogical to me. Traditionally, the long hours in Parliament and the late-night debates were always more of a problem for the female faculty at Westminster than the male one; and even though these traditions have been modified in recent years, the workload of any Cabinet MP who has both the business of high office and their constituency to cope with could hardly be helped by also having to fulfil the role of mother, a role which is bound to be rendered part-time. One would imagine not having that additional burden would be an advantage.

Andrea Leadsom’s mother boast, in a similar vein to Sadiq Khan’s ‘my old man’s a bus-driver’ routine, is about as relevant to her bid for the premiership as Sarah Palin’s ‘soccer mom’ cobblers was to her bid for the US Vice-Presidency; by falling back on such clichés, she undermines the efforts of other women in her position to be looked upon as equal to their male colleagues and not to be made a ‘special case’ of. Both she and Theresa May got where they are today without the condescending leg-up of all-women shortlists, so why feel the need to emphasise a specifically female trait? Do male MPs make a big deal about being fathers?

Andrea Leadsom’s comment – one she denied, yet the released recording appears to confirm it – smacks of the inexperience in dealing with the media that the rival Conservative camp are employing as one of many sticks with which to beat her. Granted, there are numerous MPs of many years’ standing who suffer from slip-of-the tongue syndrome – Ken Clarke is a still-active veteran of it; but what should be a positive development, that of two women running for the country’s top job, being currently dominated by an argument over whether or not one contender is more valid than the other simply because she has children is a rather depressing debate of a kind we should have left behind by now. It shouldn’t be a barrier to becoming PM; after all, there was no Mrs Heath for Ted to parade before the press, and her absence didn’t damage his chances.

© The Editor

CALM DOWN, DEAR – IT’S A LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE

EagleThe dithering is over; just when it seemed the Eagle had floundered, she’s finally confirmed she’s going to mount a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn after all. The woman who swiftly followed Hilary Benn out of the Shadow Cabinet a couple of weeks ago was pushed forward as an early challenger, yet seemed to exhibit the same lack of bottle that afflicted many of those who threw their hats into the ring when Ed Miliband quit and then hastily grabbed them back again. But the right wing of the Labour Party, desperately lacking any evident vote-winner, have turned to the eldest of the Eagle twins (by 15 minutes) because it would appear nobody else will dare to step forward.

Her challenge must present the left wing of Labour with something of a moral dilemma. Angela Eagle is a woman and a lesbian to boot, one of the first female MPs to come out (as far back as 1997). She ticks a fair few of the requisite boxes that should, in theory, earn her the admiration of the hug-a-minority brigade; but by daring to stand against Jezza – which, to the hardcore Corbynistas is as unforgivable as criticising Muhammad is to Fundamentalist Muslims – she will forever be painted as Labour’s Lady Macbeth, especially if she succeeds in toppling the Messiah. She also has to contend with the trade unions, furious that their man in Westminster could be ousted, an anger personified in arrogant threats from the General Secretary of Unite, Professional Scouser Len McCluskey. And then there are the online recruits to the membership, joining in their thousands day-by-day, as Corbyn’s attack dogs are fond of constantly reminding us. Even her own local Labour party in her constituency of Wallasey are opposed to her challenging the leader they support. I can’t say I hold out much hope for Ms Eagle.

Then again, who knows? The last two-and-a-half weeks have taught us not take anything for granted or to make assumptions based on the pattern of a past that can no longer be depended upon to predict the present. What’s most remarkable in this particular case is that a large proportion of Labour MPs have actually got round to challenging Corbyn’s leadership. Rumours of challenges to Brown and Miliband never even got as far as presenting those respective leaders with a candidate to stand against them, though in retrospect they were both deserving of a serious challenge to their fairly inept leadership.

Angela Eagle may seem a strange choice to challenge the radicals’ radical, however. To break down the intimidating wall of parties who have a vested interest in Corbyn’s continuation needs someone with considerable charismatic clout. Like the current Tory contender Theresa May, Eagle has a thin, reedy voice – all treble and no bass. One of the most convincing attributes a leader or prospective leader requires is the ability to broadcast their beliefs in a vocal manner that implies strength and imbues confidence. Listen to recordings of Margaret Thatcher before she became Tory leader and then after; out went the Home Counties housewife and in came the Iron Lady. The conscious deepening of her voice changed the persona she projected to the public and convinced many doubters she had what it took to be entrusted with the keys to No.10.

Such things may sound frivolous, but they count for a lot when a party leader has to get his or her message across to those members of the electorate who have yet to believe the hype. It’s arguable that had Ed Miliband looked like or spoken with the same voice as, say, a young David Owen, the great mass of floating voters may have fallen for him. But what were perceived as his odd looks and even odder voice worked against him as much as any policy he espoused. The collected bald heads of Kinnock, Hague and IDS probably didn’t do any of them any favours either. Like it or not, these are the kind of visual emblems that people pick up on in the beauty contest that politics has become.

Elected to Parliament in 1992, Eagle held a series of junior posts in the Blair Government from 1997-2002 and achieved a prominent ministerial spot under Gordon Brown, promoted to Work and Pensions Secretary in 2009. After the 2010 General Election defeat, she served as a member of Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet, eventually becoming Shadow Leader of the Commons; when Miliband fell on his sword last year she aimed for Deputy Leadership of the party, but only finished fourth. Under Corbyn, she was Shadow Business Secretary, the post she quit a fortnight ago. It’s fair to say she hasn’t exactly set Parliament alight over the past couple of decades; in fact, it took until 2012 before the general public noticed her by default, when David Cameron used her as the butt of his hilarious Michael Winner joke. I admit I myself only recently realised she had a twin sister, let alone that Maria was alongside her in the Commons.

So, it would seem the real challenge here is not to convince the necessary number of Labour MPs that Angela Eagle can lead her party and then, as is hoped, her country, but to convince the membership. Good luck with that, dear.

© The Editor

LIVE FROM DALLAS…IT’S THE MASSACRE OF THE WEEK!

VietnamThe 1963 assassination of President Kennedy and the way in which America appeared unable to compute the shock of it without rerunning and analysing the gruesome murder via the ghastly Zapruder footage almost rendered the gory reality of it something to which the nation eventually became immune. It was too unreal to be real. It may as well have been a gunfight between cowboys in the Wild West or a gunfight between gangsters in Chicago or even a ray-gunfight between Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless in outer space; that was the narrative that made sense to a country that had evolved its mythology through cinema and TV, with a far wider audience exposed to it than were exposed to the oral mythology characteristic of ancient civilisations.

The moment JFK’s head was blown to smithereens by Oswald’s bullets and Jack Ruby then fired into Oswald on live TV, the sensationally dramatic nature of reality and its fictionalised counterpart became almost interchangeable. US involvement in Vietnam was called ‘the first television war’ – bloody, uncensored and incessant, with a seamless segue between TV coverage and the Hollywood-made dramas screened after the news broadcasts. The assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968, another tragedy presented as though it had been consciously scripted to appeal to the bloodthirsty appetite of the television audience, prompted Jim Morrison of The Doors to observe that America was so numbed and jaded by the endless parade of bloodlust beamed into its living rooms that an assassin appeared to have superseded the movie or rock star as the nation’s most iconic product.

British author JG Ballard echoed Morrison’s sentiments in his 1970 book ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ and regularly cited the JFK assassination as the moment he felt life as presented to the world via media outlets rendered it indistinguishable from fiction, and how repetition had slowly engineered a subconscious craving for horrific events. Woody Allen made a similar point by using satire in the opening sequence of his 1971 movie ‘Bananas’; a political assassination in a South American republic is portrayed as a sporting event, complete with commentary from noted US sports presenter Howard Cosell.

I find myself constantly referencing all of these artistic reactions to American gun culture every time the massacre of the week grabs the headlines. It is beginning to feel as though each horrible slaughter is the latest instalment in some grotesque movie franchise, where the same film keeps being made over and over again, with every successive remake provoking less of an emotional response than its predecessor, forcing the filmmakers to up the body count. The whole cinematic impact of 9/11 was so reminiscent of a big-budget blockbuster disaster movie that it seemed to enhance the disbelief of the viewing public that this was really happening. Similarly, the psychological horror flick ‘The Blair Witch Project’ cleverly replicated the lo-fi visuals of the amateur video camera to chilling effect and further erased the join dividing fact and fiction; just as real atrocities had echoed Hollywood via television, now cinema was imitating the small screen’s presentation of reality.

There appears to be a direct line from that to the brutal murder of a young man shot dead at close range in his car by a police officer this week; captured on camera by his girlfriend passenger and streamed live on the internet as it happened, the appalling incident and the manner it reached those not present in the car seemed to be the natural, awful culmination of everything Ballard had foreseen from 1963 onwards. Technology’s democratisation has been laying the ground for such a moment for years, something ISIS have already gleefully capitalised on with their online beheading rituals. A news reporter being shot dead live on US TV last year was so twentieth century, after all.

‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’, Nigel Kneale’s remarkable 1968 BBC play, portrayed a future society so immune to any form of dramatic titillation that it can only be entertained by real events that have nevertheless been deliberately choreographed by TV executives. Real sexual intercourse is televised live – as with ITV’s demeaning keyhole-peeping gutter voyeurism of the moment, ‘Love Island’; but relentless exposure rapidly renders the audience bored, so two of the competitors are dumped on a desolate island, ignorant of the fact a psychopathic murderer is also present. Viewers eagerly await the inevitable, and the viewing figures shoot up as a consequence. As children in the backseat of a car on a tediously long journey are prone to utter – are we there yet?

My reaction and, I suspect, the reaction of many receiving the news of the most recent mass murders on the streets of a major American city this week, is dangerously bordering on massacre fatigue. The first-ever post written for this blog beyond the introductory one dealt with the killing of 14 people in California, carried out by one of their work colleagues in the name of Allah; that was on December 7 last year. I’ve no idea how many hundreds have been gunned down in America since then, but statistics released in the wake of this week’s events show that 507 of them were shot by police officers alone. Almost 300 innocent people lost their lives in a Baghdad bomb blast this week, but Iraq is a nation barely a decade into its democratic experiment. America is 240 years into its own, which doesn’t bode well for Iraq if America is held up as an example of success.

And it seems somehow sadly apt that the climax of this week’s catalogue of barbarity was a sniper gunning down five policemen just a few blocks from the scene of the crime that set the ball rolling 53 years ago – a ball that seems set to keep rolling, rolling, rolling. Rawhide.

© The Editor

WOMAN’S HOUR

Minnie & EnaWell, it’s official now. Britain’s next Prime Minister will be a woman – and it’s got sod all to do with women-only shortlists. The elimination of Michael Gove from the Tory leadership contest yesterday was the price he paid for his backstabbing binge of the past few months, and few tears will be shed by the fact that the Golem of the Notting Hill Tories will not get the job he’s spent years denying he wanted after all.

So, it’s down to a two-way tie between a woman who has been entombed at the Home Office for six years and a woman who has only been in Westminster for the same period, one that few had heard of when she shared a podium with Boris during one of the EU Referendum TV debates. Conservative MPs gave Theresa May a large thumbs-up yesterday, with 60% support; but the decision ultimately rests with the Tory Party membership; and what happened when the Labour membership chose their leader last year proves that it pays not to make lazy assumptions about foregone conclusions.

Anyone old enough to remember 1990 will recall how John Major, despite brief stints as both Foreign Secretary and Chancellor, was still relatively unknown to the general public when he overtook odds-on favourite Michael Heseltine to succeed Margaret Thatcher. Theresa May has been a familiar face on the Tory frontbench for a good decade, but to imagine either that fact or her longevity as Home Secretary means she’ll be packing away her Christian Rock CDs in preparation for sticking them on the No.10 sound-system in the autumn would certainly be tempting fate.

Appointed Home Secretary for the Coalition Government in 2010, Theresa May impressed when she addressed the Association of Chief Police Officers and basically told one of the most inept and corrupt public services to put its house in order or else the Government would do it for them. But her time at the Home Office has largely been characterised by a failure to reduce immigration, an increase in the surveillance state, a willingness to curtail civil liberties, and endless extensions of anti-terrorism legislation that often place free speech and the right to criticise the Government of the day in peril. She is not a gifted public speaker, nor does she exude much in the way of charisma or force of personality; but the very absence of these particular skills leads some to believe she may possess that most cherished of prime ministerial attributes when the nation is experiencing a degree of turmoil, ‘a safe pair of hands’.

And of what of her opponent? Andrea Leadsom is such an unknown quantity that I had to check I’d spelt her name correctly when typing this. Apparently, she’s Energy Minister, though that post doesn’t come with a seat at the Cabinet table. Constantly reminding everyone on television that she had a life outside of politics before entering Parliament doesn’t necessarily make her any more credible than May in that this life was largely spent in banking, possibly the only profession ranking lower in the public estimation than politics. She is, however, playing a canny game by pointing to that pre-political existence as proof of her anti-elite credentials, something that counts for a lot after six years of the country being ruled by an Old Etonian PM; and she was of course one of the prominent Brexiteers, another factor in her favour.

Were she to simply become Tory leader, her lack of experience in high office could perhaps be something that wouldn’t act as an obstacle; neither Blair nor Cameron had any at all when they were elected leaders of their respective parties. But, lest we forget, whoever wins this contest also becomes Prime Minister. Just as well a General Election isn’t required to decide the outcome, for wooing the Conservative Party membership would seem a far easier job than wooing the entire electorate; after all, there’s only around 150,000 of them – the majority being middle-aged, middle-class and male; and most have been waiting for a woman to lead them out of the wilderness for a quarter-of-a century.

Leadsom’s positive polling amongst this group is unsurprising. By Conservative standards, May represents liberalism, whereas Leadsom has a potentially stronger appeal in the shires because she holds traditional Tory opinions on certain subjects, such as fox-hunting and gay marriage (a vote she abstained on in Parliament).

Regardless of her six years as Home Secretary, Theresa May – along with her rival for the job – now has to endure exhaustive press intrusion into her private and personal life that simply doesn’t apply to other ministerial posts. The media scrutiny will also have the time to dig deep, for the result of this contest won’t be announced until September, as neither the Government nor Parliament seem to appreciate a summer break might just have to be sacrificed this year on account of the exceptional mess the outgoing PM has left his successor to sort out. I guess I could end by saying ‘May the best woman win’; but that might be misinterpreted…

© The Editor

YO, BLAIR!

BlairLord North and America, Chamberlain and Munich, Eden and Suez, Blair and Iraq – some Prime Ministers will be forever remembered for their failures, and any achievements will languish in the shadows of the disasters that define their place in history. There is a rather pathetic irony to Tony Blair’s inclusion in this pantheon of doomed and discredited reputations, in that he more than any of his immediate predecessors was desperate to leave a legacy. However, this legacy won’t be the Good Friday Agreement or the minimum wage or civil partnerships or the Freedom of Information Act, but an unnecessary military adventure that claimed over a hundred British soldiers’ lives and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, leaving a toxic aftermath that continues to spill blood on a virtual daily basis at the scene of the crime. Barbaric events in Baghdad this past week are directly descended from events that began thirteen years ago on Blair’s watch.

For a man so apparently obsessed with legacy, I can only assume Blair is either ignorant of history or simply stupid. There are so many examples of what becomes of a society when a totalitarian regime is removed and the people are left to their own devices that for Blair to pay no heed to them at all seems to highlight both ignorance and stupidity; and one doesn’t even need to go back that far to find them.

Blair only had to reverse barely a decade to recall the chaos in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall; irreparable tears in the Iron Curtain unleashed all the sectarian and nationalist forces that had been suppressed during the decades when Balkan countries had been Soviet satellite states; suddenly realising their newly independent nations were up for grabs led to the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. It was still going on when Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997, and the British Army’s own role in Kosovo was something he was happy to take credit for. How could he witness what had gone on there and not make the connection with Iraq should a dictator who had been in power for twenty-five years be abruptly toppled? Probably because his unquestioning compliance and infatuation with a US President blinded him to everything that was all-so sadly inevitable.

As Blair came to power, Bill Clinton was a year and-a-half into his second term; having emulated Clinton’s ‘third way’ policy, and to a large degree modelled his hip, swinging persona on Bill’s charismatic public image (opting for strumming a guitar where Clinton had blown a saxophone), Tony had an evident fixation with the tenant of the White House. And it wasn’t merely Clinton, but the office of the President itself. Blair’s idea of government was, as has been often pointed out, ‘presidential’ – minimising the role of the Cabinet and surrounding himself with aides and advisors rather than fellow MPs, with the odious Alistair Campbell particularly prominent.

When Clinton was superseded by George W Bush, any superficial political ‘differences’ anticipated between a Labour Prime Minister and a Republican President were rendered null and void. Blair was so in love with the concept of the Presidency that it didn’t matter which side of the American political divide the President came from. For Tony, it was as though the class nerd had been taken under the wing of the school bully, and he eagerly followed the Commander-in-Chief round with an excitable grin on his face, hardly able to believe the Leader of the Free World was his bezzy mate. Of course, this was all in Tony’s head. The rest of us cringed with embarrassment to see the humbling dynamic of The Special Relationship laid so bare.

The personal price paid by Blair for his love affair with the American Presidency is a permanent blot on his copybook that no amount of airbrushing will ever entirely remove. What’s perversely ironic is how Blair’s part in Iraq as recounted in the Chilcot edition of ‘War and Peace’ seems to have painted a portrait of a British Prime Minister at the head of the world leaders’ table for the first time since 1945. Had things turned out differently, what a legacy that would have been; talk about punching above your weight. But perhaps it was this obsession with legacy and determination to make a mark on the international stage that made Blair such a gift for an American administration more than happy for a gullible idiot to act as their patsy, as he continues to do.

Anthony Eden’s effort to arrest Britain’s slide into imperial oblivion with Suez was a desperate act by a man who had to step into the shoes of Churchill, a man who had waited years for his illustrious predecessor to retire and was determined to make his own mark by seeing Hitler reborn as Nasser; he needed a Hitler to prove himself. The humiliating withdrawal imposed by a furious Eisenhower highlighted the change in the world order that Eden was in denial of. With the exception of the Falklands, there would be no more military interventions by British Prime Ministers inspired by old colonial commitments.

Harold Wilson was forced to take the flak for not condemning US involvement in Vietnam, but that was the price he paid for spurning Lyndon Johnson’s entreaties for Britain to commit troops there; he could easily have gone along with LBJ because the war was America’s and America would ultimately carry the can for the disaster – quite a contrast with Blair’s approach, making Iraq as much of a British concern as it was an American one. And Blair’s ambition to be remembered as the great restorer of Britain’s international prestige, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a nation that has spent the majority of its independent existence at war with someone, overrode every other consideration – for the people of Iraq, for British servicemen and women (and their families), and for the country. I would add for himself, but going by his press conference yesterday, he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

© The Editor

YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT

Howard KirkA plotline running through ‘The History Man’, Malcolm Bradbury’s celebrated satire of 70s campus politics (both social and sexual), involves characteristic mischievousness on the part of the novel’s anti-hero, the promiscuous lecturer Howard Kirk, who spreads a rumour that an infamous eugenicist has been invited to speak at the university; this purely invented grenade that Kirk tosses into the lap of the lefty student activists who view him as being on their side sparks vociferous demonstrations that lead to the oblivious guest speaker receiving an early example of the ‘no platform’ treatment. Bradbury’s 1975 book accurately parodies the hypocrisy of the era in which it is set, both in the character of Kirk and in the advocates of campus free speech who believe the currency of speech only comes free if it mirrors their own opinions. Funny how we appear to have come full circle forty years on.

‘Power to the People’ was not only one of the rare memorable songs produced by John Lennon during his brief political phase in the early 70s, but it was also a buzzword of student activism during the same period. When the People had the opportunity to exercise the one democratic power at their disposal, however, few opted for the Marxist model promoted by the students whose very place at university was thanks to genuine Socialism at work via the post-war Attlee Government. If they had, Ted Heath wouldn’t have been elected PM at the peak of the sit-ins and demos that came to characterise the popular image of student politics at the time.

Four decades later, students possessed by a placard fetish have found a new cause over the past week or so – the result of another democratic exercise on the part of ‘the People’ that hasn’t chimed with their own point of view. They’re extremely angry and they will scream and scream and scream until they get what they want. It worked on their parents when they were children, because those parents caved-in to their every demand – unlike the parent/child relationship endured by the students depicted in ‘The History Man’, who no doubt received a clout round the ear-hole whenever they acted like spoiled brats. Perhaps that’s why that generation decided on a different approach to parenting once they graduated and grew up; and look what that has left us with.

The closing caption in the final scene of the superb 1981 BBC TV adaptation of ‘The History Man’ exposes Howard Kirk’s true colours when it reveals he voted Conservative at the 1979 General Election; I suspect Howard Kirk also voted Leave in the EU Referendum, for he would now belong to the age-group that has been portrayed as the assassins of Yoof in the wake of Brexit. Despite the fact that the baby-boomers, along with tweedy Tories from the Shires and BNP/Britain First white-trash stereotypes, couldn’t have swung the result without the same decision being made by millions who don’t fall into any of the camps carrying the can, they have been singled out as responsible for condemning a generation unaccustomed to not getting their own way to perceived oblivion.

Of course, there are far wider representatives of this generation, ones who can’t afford higher education anymore than their parents can afford to fund it, and their voices have been conveniently silenced by the gap-year backpackers who shout louder than anyone else. To assume everyone under the age of 30 is out on the streets demanding the Referendum result be reversed is to ignore those twenty-somethings denied the luxury of sponging off the savings of their parents, the ones struggling to make ends meet in minimum-wage dead-end jobs without the safety net of mummy and daddy to fall back on when debts need honouring.

It is amusing how the EU has been embraced so passionately by this particular social demographic, adopting the flag as their Facebook profile picture and painting their faces in it for the obligatory demo. Yet, when questioned in vox pops on the street, their actual knowledge of the institution is embarrassingly limited, bordering on nonexistent. The EU has suddenly become a ‘cause’, and like every T-shirt subject to the vagaries of fashion, it’s only a matter of time before it’s replaced by some other hash-tag fad. Declaring the older generation have robbed them of a future or swearing to never again give up their seat on the bus to a pensioner are the reactions of political virgins and/or the ignorant. They have been raised in a blame culture as well as one in which victimhood is chic, so now they can kill two old birds with one young stone rather than questioning why so many of them decided not to exercise their democratic right by actually voting.

Ironically, voting Leave was a far more dangerous and radical move than preserving the status quo, yet it’s perhaps apt that the genuine anarchy the decision could unleash is the consequence not of the faux-radicals waving their silly placards and stamping their feet, those conservatives with a small ‘c’ who believe the communal uniform of piercings, tattoos and unnaturally coloured hair somehow signifies radicalism, but their parents, grandparents and less-privileged contemporaries. Not that they would ever accept this from the womb-like safe space of their cosy echo chamber; they simply respond to being caught out as all children do, by name-calling, finger-pointing and crying. If, as has been reported, some Leave-voters now regret their decision, there must be just as many Remain-voters watching this pitiful festival of sour grapes and wishing they’d gone Brexit after all.

© The Editor

THE NAUGHTY 90s

EvansWhat is going on? Cameron, Hodgson, Farage; and now Evans; yes, it’s true – Chris Evans has followed those other esteemed public figures through the exit door by quitting as host of ‘Top Gear’. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how I’ll ever get over it. Okay, sarcasm aside, has so much money ever been spent on so few for the entertainment of so many few? The ridiculous hype surrounding the re-launch of what was once the BBC’s most bankable show seemed destined to condemn it to failure; to imagine the factors that had made it so bankable – all three of them – could somehow be replaced in one fell swoop was a rather overambitious aim; but the Beeb had no real option as it desperately sought to prove the series could survive without the three-way dynamic that had turned it from a motoring magazine programme into a slapstick sitcom based around a trio of overgrown schoolboys and their expensive toys.

Recruiting another overgrown schoolboy with a penchant for expensive toys of the four-wheeled variety could be viewed both as an attempt to maintain the established traditions of the show and an effort to reduce the average age of the audience. If Clarkson and May appealed to survivors of the 70s, Chris Evans and Matt le Blanc are very much 90s men, at one time sharing the prime-time Friday night schedule on Channel 4 – with ‘TFI Friday’ and ‘Friends’ respectively. The choice of an untested double act plucked from the laddish zeitgeist of 20 years ago appeared to be a desperate gamble that has evidently crashed and burned.

That zeitgeist would seem to be coming back to haunt Chris Evans in the least desirable way at the moment, with police interest in the legacy of hedonistic years on the piss with Baker and Gazza piqued by stories of the ginger magician’s most unappetising magic trick – that of pulling a snake from his trousers. Back in ‘the day’, as they say, this would have been regarded as a hallmark of his cutting edge credentials; when David Baddiel and Frank Skinner presented ‘Fantasy Football League’ around the same time as ‘TFI Friday’, the former once confessed a photo shoot with the World Cup ended with the latter ‘wiping his knob’ on the trophy. This was the era of ‘Loaded’ and Liam Gallagher, don’t forget; and Evans is man defined by his times as much as Dave Lee Travis is defined by his; that both times are not especially compatible with the mores of the present day isn’t necessarily their fault.

Evans has never gone out of his way to make friends; surrounding himself with stooges paid to respond to his every utterance with side-splitting hysteria, his ego is the stuff of legend, and it is true that he’s a man it is very hard to like. Despite being well aware of the risks, former Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister turned to Evans as the saviour of the station in the middle of the 1990s, a time when the Smashie and Nicey image of Radio 1 DJs had turned a radio station allegedly aimed at a teenage audience into a laughing-stock peppered with has-beens and leftovers from another era, playing MOR Pop for listeners in their early 30s. Evans was signed-up along with several other younger recruits, although the rebranding of Radio 1 was initially a disaster, one that saw listening figures plummet and the man who had been led to believe he was ‘the guv’nor’ quickly making unreasonable demands of a kind Bannister had dreaded.

The love affair between Chris Evans and Radio 1 was short-lived, but as pop culture moved on and TV work dried up in the new century, Evans eventually returned to the national airwaves via Radio 1’s cardigan–clad uncle, Radio 2, as that station underwent one of its own periodical age-shedding exercises. Enough distance between now and the 90s had instilled the requisite nostalgia in forty-somethings to provoke an ill-advised revival of ‘TFI Friday’, putting Evans back on the small screen and persuading a distraught BBC he might be the man to step into the gargantuan shoes vacated by Jeremy Clarkson. If one colossal ego could take what had originally been a programme about as entertaining as ‘Gardeners’ World’ on wheels and transform it into a global money-spinner by making the motors secondary to the comedy routine of the presenters, maybe another colossal ego could maintain the momentum and ease the corporation through the trauma of losing one of its most popular (if divisive) stars.

For all his faults, however, Clarkson is a journalist who had spent years on ‘Top Gear’ in its previous incarnation, injecting some much-needed wit into a straitlaced show by bringing a sardonic eye to the reviewing of cars of all shapes and sizes. However far the series moved away from its original remit when he, May and ‘The Hamster’ rebranded it, Clarkson’s trainspotter-like knowledge of the internal combustion engine at least rooted it in a degree of anal know-how. Chris Evans has no such background to boast of; he was able to continue the adolescent fantasy of speeding around deserted airfields in sports cars because he’s essentially been doing that ever since he made his first million. A celebrity collector of such vehicles, Evans was selected by the Beeb for this reason alone; and it would seem the CV of a motoring dilettante hasn’t been enough to save the show from ratings oblivion.

Announcing his resignation from the programme, Evans has done so in a week when his off-air activities have attracted some unseemly headlines; and it’s hard not to join the dots between the two. The bonfire of the seventies has all-but burnt itself out now, and it was inevitable Inspector Knacker, having acquired an appetite for time-travelling, would turn his attention to more recent decades – if only to avoid the less exciting job of investigating genuine crime in the here and now. The many enemies Evans has made over the years are hardly bound to express much in the way of sympathy for the man; but he’s an easy target to aim at, and those eager to cut him down a peg or two know it.

© The Editor

STRINGS ATTACHED

SebastianOne of the cleverest early sketches from ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ was a parody of the infamous chat show encounter between two of the Pythons on one side and Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark on the other, arguing over the moral merits of ‘Life of Brian’. The sketch turned the encounter around by presenting Rowan Atkinson as the dog-collar director of a movie called ‘Life of Christ’, which Mel Smith as a film critic declared to be a direct attack on the cult of Monty Python; the latter pointed out that the lead character, Jesus Christ, even shares the same initials as ‘the Comic Messiah, John Cleese’. It may seem blatantly obvious, but it only belatedly occurred to me a few days ago that somebody currently claiming considerable headlines also shares those initials, and this ‘JC’ is a recipient of a similarly religious-like devotion on the part of his followers. Recent events, however, have made me ponder on precisely who is really behind the Cult of Corbyn, and how great a say the man himself has re the storm he’s been placed in the eye of.

Reports over the past few days claim that not only did a delegation of Shadow Cabinet Ministers seek an audience with the Labour leader to try to resolve the ongoing crisis over his leadership, but the Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson also sought to speak at length in a private one-on-one meeting with Jezza; both parties were denied access to Corbyn by his aides. The reason given for this denial of access was that both meetings would have resulted in Corbyn being bullied by these members of the party (ones who are supposedly junior to him) into resigning; but preventing anyone perceived as dangerous from speaking to the Messiah has a strangely sinister ring to it when one examines the language employed.

‘We are not letting that happen’ said the customary ‘unnamed source’ alleged to be part of Corbyn’s Pontifical Swiss Guard. Added to that were ‘He’s a 70-year-old man’ (he’s actually 67), ‘There is a culture of bullying’, and ‘We have a duty of care’. A duty of care? Are these statements being issued by political advisors to the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition or are they coming from the offspring of a dementia-stricken old dear, keeping him under effective house arrest and giving themselves power of attorney in order to protect their inheritance from rival siblings? Corbyn can consistently address his disciples from a public podium, playing the martyr being assaulted by evil establishment forces and adhering to a narrative cannily scripted by the hands of others, yet his Shadow Cabinet and Deputy can’t get near him thanks to the Hollywood starlet-style wall erected around him. That doesn’t sound right.

As a career backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn had no need to surround himself with SPADs when all he had to concern himself with was voting against his party on a serial basis since the 1980s. But the unlikely gesture of Jezza throwing his hat into the ring during the post-Miliband leadership contest last year now seems more like a calculated plot by Labour’s far left to exploit dissatisfaction with the other contenders and the Blairite wing of the party by aggressively pushing an outsider to serve as patsy for their plan to seize control. And the more their man is under attack, the greater his support within the membership, which strengthens both their position and their grip on the party.

Seumas Milne is one of Corbyn’s ‘protectors’. The man who was appointed Jezza’s Director of Communications is the son of former BBC Director General Alasdair Milne and a graduate of Winchester College and Oxford, so his background doesn’t exactly fit with the avowed anti-elite shtick key to Corbyn’s cult appeal. However, his political path fits perfectly with the familiar formula of rich kids overcoming the guilt of privilege by finding solace in the left and then lecturing the less privileged on the solution to their ills. He worked for a magazine produced by the Stalinist wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain after leaving ultra-establishment Balliol, and by the time he’d moved to The Guardian the signs of future paranoia towards any powerful organisation daring to challenge Corbyn’s authority – whether the BBC, Fleet Street or the Labour Party itself – were already in evidence when Richard Gott, a colleague at the paper, resigned over KGB connections and Milne claimed those who had exposed him were on the payroll of MI5. His six years as Guardian Comment editor ended when it was felt his pro-Palestine/anti-Israel views were becoming a tad obsessive. And we all thought Andy Coulson was a bad appointment.

Corbyn’s decision to appoint Milne would seem to fit with his own publicised opinions on subjects Milne wrote extensively about during his decades in journalism; but the evident inability of Corbyn to connect with anyone beyond the fanatical faithful – shown at its most disastrous on June 23 – was bound to lead to criticism, and it is unsurprising that any criticism of Corbyn is spun as establishment animosity and Blairite bias by Milne. Question the testimony of sexual abuse ‘survivors’ or the Jimmy Savile mythology and one is a Paedo Apologist; question the competency of Corbyn as Labour leader and one is a right-wing racist Tory scumbag.

The current coup attempt (if it can even be called a coup) has served to reinforce Corbyn’s status as the browbeaten saviour of the Proles; and while social media continues to be dominated by blind adulation and veneration on the part of those who have been successfully sold the concept of Corbyn as the Second Coming, behind-the-scenes machinations by shadowy figures with a nihilistic agenda may well be preventing the resignation of a man under such immense fire that anyone with a genuine say in their career would most likely have fallen on their sword by now.

The bloodletting amongst Conservatives following Michael Gove’s backstabbing activities may have been called Shakespearean by the media, yet it would seem events on the other side of the dispatch box bear an even closer resemblance to a drama by the Bard. I can’t help but suspect the architects of this entire coup story could well be the same disreputable characters who facilitated Corbyn’s rise in the first place; the threat of his possible toppling conveniently discredits the centrist MPs who will be blamed for it forevermore and maintains the ridiculous reputation of the Labour left as morally superior to the Labour right.

Corbyn’s appearance as a candidate in 2015 was something they seized upon with relish, but I don’t believe they give a shit as to the psychological impact on the man himself after the relentless pressure he’s been put under of late – a man who appears to be principled and true to the beliefs he has always espoused, a man entirely unsuited for a hot seat stained by their ruthless thirst for power, a thirst that will utterly obliterate the Labour Party if they are allowed to continue.

© The Editor