Dean and CummingsFor the second post in a row I open with a reference to Watergate, though once again the post has nothing to do with the mother of all political scandals. I was just thinking of John Dean. An attorney and White House Counsel for Nixon, Dean was the reluctant Judas whose testimony to Congress in 1973 blew the lid wide open on the murky machinations at the dark heart of the Presidency. During his appearance at the Watergate hearings, John Dean didn’t come across as someone enjoying the grinding of an axe; despite being promised a degree of immunity from prosecution in return for co-operating with the committee, Dean still looked like a condemned schoolboy poised to receive a sound thrashing from the headmaster as a prelude to expulsion. He could probably foresee what his evidence would ultimately lead to, but the burden of playing a key role in the downfall of a US President perhaps wasn’t the kind of historical footnote he sought or relished. Whereas the Watergate hearings happened at the tail-end of the last era in which the vast majority of people didn’t want to believe the worst of their elected representatives – and indeed it undoubtedly began the process of terminal disillusionment in them – nobody expects anything better from them now.

Maybe the ghost of John Dean was evoked yesterday as a glaring contrast with the deliverance of similarly damning testimony of a government given by another former inside man. Indeed, the gulf between the diffident Dean and the hell-bent-on-revenge performance of Dominic Cummings couldn’t be wider. We’ve been living in a post-Watergate world of cynicism and scepticism when it comes to the integrity of political figures ever since John Dean confessed all in the summer of 1973, and Cummings’s grandstand audition for the next Tory administration – carefully distancing himself from the pandemic can-carriers by both laying into them and omitting names he clearly thinks will rise from the ashes and call upon his services in the future – was unedifying confirmation that the public’s tendency to believe the worst is entirely justified.

I’ve watched a sizeable chunk of the opening of John Dean’s Watergate testimony on YouTube, but just the first part of four instalments runs for six hours – and the rest nearly five each – so I’m presuming his appearance lasted several days; Dominic Cummings’s appearance before a select committee of MPs was scheduled for just the one day, but it still spanned seven straight hours – and I therefore had no option but to stick with the edited highlights. What made John Dean’s testimony so much more effective was that he delivered genuinely devastating revelations in such a mild-mannered manner; the weight of what he had to say seemed enhanced by the way in which he slowly unveiled it; moreover, the impact of those revelations was also given considerable clout by being made at that particular point in history, which was – as stated – a less cynical time. Cummings, on the other hand, embarked upon his theatrical kiss-and-tell at a moment when the standing of public servants probably couldn’t sink much lower. With Dean, it was the information that counted above all else; with Cummings, the focus was all on the performance; the information simply confirmed what most already knew.

I suppose one could say with friends like Dominic Cummings, who needs enemies? The man who ran away from the media spotlight throughout the fallout from his eye-testing expedition up north in the depths of lockdown owned the media spotlight yesterday and appeared to love every minute of it. He may have been ostensibly answering select committee questions, but he wasn’t going to leave without having done as much damage to the pretty threadbare reputation of his man at No.10 as was within his power as an ex-insider; this was the opportunity to get his own back after being prompted to jump last year – and Cummings grabbed it with both claws. His bitterness at being usurped at Downing Street by Carrie and her Woke entourage was laid bare; the day of reckoning had finally come for the jilted partner – and he damned Boris with all the vociferous, vengeful fury of a dumped spouse in a celebrity divorce case. The man whose rise to power he played no inconsiderable part in is now apparently ‘unfit for office’. Well, we didn’t need Dominic Cummings to tell us that, but it was still grotesquely compelling car-crash telly to see the ex-Svengali ripping into Boris and saying it out loud. According to Cummings, it’s ‘crackers’ that Boris is PM and that ‘thousands of people’ could provide better leadership. Boris is ‘a shopping trolley, smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’. Who was it pushing that trolley in the supermarket, though? Ah, yes – but maybe that proves Cummings was in sore need of an eye-test after all.

Of course, the pandemic was at the top of the agenda when it came to the actual questions Cummings was being posed yesterday; and his assessment of the approach taken by Boris and the Cabinet to the coronavirus gave him a chance to drive his first batch of nails into the Johnson coffin. He claimed Boris dismissed Covid as a scare story as late as February 2020, though to be fair that hardly makes Boris unique; he also said Boris’s main concern as the first lockdown was imminent was more the impact on the economy than lives – though once we were all under house arrest, the state of the economy proved to be a prime cause of worry for many. Boris’s reluctance to instigate lockdown was undoubtedly the reason it was delayed for so long, but Cummings paints himself as a bit of a hardcore pro-lockdown cheerleader whose advice was ignored, as though had it been taken by the PM thousands of lives would’ve been saved. He even said he overheard Boris utter the statement reported in the press, the one about him preferring to see ‘bodies piled high’ than impose Lockdown III. Not that Cummings reserved his most scathing accusations for Boris, however; no, the main guilty party in his opinion was Matt Hancock.

Cummings claimed he repeatedly told Boris to sack Hancock, but said the PM wanted the Health Secretary to stay in the job so he could take the majority of the blame whenever the whole affair eventually receives a public inquiry; Cummings more or less said Hancock was an incompetent liar and declared he should have been fired multiple times. Hancock’s hilarious, hurried response when briefly ‘door-stepped’ by a camera crew yesterday was to claim he was too busy ‘saving lives’ to react to Cummings’s accusations. Yes, our Health Secretary is actually a superhero armed with a super-power with which he heals the sick, dashing from one quarantined household to another. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Super-Cock! Super-Cock was forced to defend his record in the Commons today – a tough call considering his disastrous care home policy at the height of the pandemic, not to mention his jobs-for-the-boys approach to dishing out Covid-related contracts; Cummings’s assessment of Hancock is one few would dispute, though there was plenty of stating the bleedin’ obvious during the performance. It was just unusual to hear it coming from someone who had been there.

For a man who was hysterically denounced as an untrustworthy, bare-faced liar during the period in which his lockdown trip to Northumberland was exposed, it’s amazing how many Boris-haters on social media now suddenly believe every word Cummings says just because he’s saying what they want to hear. Most of us recognise Cummings’s agenda and though a lot of what he said was unarguable, particularly when it comes to the incompetence of the PM and those around him, let’s not pretend Dominic Cummings was some blameless voice of reason in the eye of the storm. Yes, John Dean was as keen to save his own skin in 1973 as Dominic Cummings is in 2021; but whereas at the Watergate hearings Dean didn’t shy away from his part in what went on in the Nixon administration, with Dominic Cummings it felt more like a case of ‘Please, sir – it wasn’t me.’

© The Editor


Dana InternationalWhen Richard Nixon famously proclaimed ‘I am not a crook’ in 1973, I’m pretty sure plenty people must have come to the conclusion that he was simply because he’d felt the need to declare his whiter-than-white credentials. Sure, the then-President of the USA’s standing was threatened by a break-in at a certain building in Washington, so he was keen to place considerable distance between himself and those guilty of trespassing on Democratic Party property; but whenever anybody has to over-emphasise something that should be a given, one cannot help but feel they have something to hide. The 21st century social media trend for adding the likes of ‘Anti-fascist’ to bios – as though the individual profiled would immediately be presumed a fascist unless they categorically stated they weren’t – seems to echo Nixon’s proclamation of innocence. Damning insults that were designed to accurately describe and denounce a particular philosophy have been so casually tossed around on the cultural battlefield in recent years that people are now compelled to declare everything they’re not before actually declaring what they are – though the speed with which they do so inevitably provokes suspicion.

The emphasising of specific racial, sexual and gender inheritances or preferences that are prized as defining characteristics when it comes to the Identity Politics worldview are sold as the ultimate non-prejudicial break with a past that supposedly judged people unfairly by placing them in separate, discriminatory groups – though it doesn’t take much of a genius to discern this is merely rearranging the furniture. The Identity Politics crowd bring their own prejudices to the table, and blackball manufacturers are one of the few booming industries at the moment as the list of cancelled parties is expanding by the day. Straight white men – or just white men in general – have been the demographic it’s okay to slate from day one, and straight women of any colour have become added to the death warrant as the insanity has accelerated courtesy of the ‘trans’ debate; a female student suspended from her course at a university in Soviet Scotland a couple of weeks ago – for the heresy of stating women have vaginas rather than penises – underlines yet again how ovaries are no longer security against cancellation.

Anybody with half-a-brain and a cursory knowledge of how these movements eventually descend into cannibalism saw this coming a long time ago, but those who sold their souls in the hope they’d be spared a visit from the Thought Police are now feeling the heat. The past few weeks have seen the Trojan horse of social justice exposed to a little more light and more of its unpleasant underbelly has been mercifully revealed in the process. The deliciously disastrous weekend tweet by a senior SNP official revelling in the UK’s nul points car-crash at the Eurovision by declaring ‘It’s OK, Europe – we hate the United Kingdom too’ lifted the lid once more on the narrow-minded bigotry at the rotten core of extremist Scottish nationalism, reminding us (as if we needed reminding) that, for all its touchy-feely Woke virtue-signalling, the SNP at its heart is no different from any other nasty nationalist movement.

And if evidence were required of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ factor at play here, one needs to look no further than the issue of race. Anyone of black or ethnic persuasion who rejects the Identity Politics league table of oppression is guaranteed to incur the wrath of those who have a rigid system of oppressed/oppressor in place and don’t like to see it being undermined. As long as ‘People of Colour’ accept their permanent lowly status beneath the iconic white jackboot and don’t attempt to emancipate themselves, they’re worthy of a pat on the head; dare to challenge this regressive state of affairs and they’re fair game for being subjected to ugly racist insults as bad as anything that can be dreamt up at a KKK dinner party.

Just as the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party wants the workers to remain at the bottom of the pile, forever in need of a helping hand from privately-educated middle-class Marxists because it provides the latter with their raison d’être, the Identity Politics obsession with race gives plenty a purpose that makes getting up on a morning meaningful. It’s also stuck in the 18th century, only able to see black people in chains; residency of the moral high ground is dependent upon the preservation of race in a pre-civil rights amber, and any Person of Colour refusing to go along with that can be legitimately called an Uncle Tom or any other antiquated racist epithet – and it’s perfectly fine for someone white to hurl that insult as long as they’re safely residing on ‘the right side of history’. The hypocrisy is hilarious.

The one racial and ethnic group that the Identity Politics crowd have barely bothered to conceal their prejudicial and bigoted hatred towards all along are the Jews. Not only is it fine for those whose favourite buzzword during Trump’s Presidency was ‘literally Hitler’ to revive every ancient stereotype of the Jewish people, but allying themselves with a pseudo-ISIS band of Radical Islamic fanatics like Hamas is deemed to be perfectly acceptable coz Hamas hate Israel – innit. The current wave of blatant anti-Semitism in the West has included pro-Palestine activists driving through Jewish neighbourhoods of London and using megaphones to advocate ‘F**k the Jews! Rape their daughters!’ as well as open assaults on Jewish bystanders at rallies held by those supposedly passionate about ‘social justice’ in numerous European democracies and across the Anglosphere. And amidst this depressing outbreak of ugliness, skewered Woke logic reached comic proportions when a side-splitting banner unfurled at one of the endless protests against recent Israeli retaliatory strikes against Hamas declared ‘Queers for Palestine’. Ever get the feeling these dipsticks haven’t got a f***ing clue as to whose bed they’re jumping into?

Israel, as with South Africa during the Apartheid era, is a favourite bogeyman for the far-left and is back in fashion every time a new generation acquires an appetite for attending demonstrations. The State of Israel itself routinely plays into the hands of its most vocal critics with its often brutal actions, even if one could argue that self-defence sometimes happens to be at the root of such actions; and overlooking the equally brutal assaults by Hamas whilst condemning Israel is like screaming at the Government for deporting illegal immigrants and then suggesting that the Tory daughter of Ugandan-Asian immigrants who just happens to have become the first-ever ‘BAME’ Home Secretary should herself be deported because…oh, hang on a minute. Yes, placing such intense emphasis on race has really resulted in a fairer, more tolerant society, hasn’t it – one where racism has no place whatsoever. Well, we were getting there; and now we’re heading somewhere else altogether.

The worrying precedent set in Scotland a few weeks ago, whereby a Woke mob surrounded a van carrying illegal immigrants and ‘liberated’ the detainees, ended on a fittingly farcical note in that the immigrants were then escorted by their self-congratulatory liberators to the nearest mosque. Only, they were actually Sikhs, not Muslims; well, brown people – easy mistake to make when you’re an ignorant f**kwit too busy patting your perceived oppressed pets to assess the consequences of your crusade. The climax of that ‘rescue’ to me pretty much summed-up the naive, dangerous stupidity of Identity Politics in action, and how easy it would be for its exploitation by less idealistic parties – and I’m not talking about the far-right, who are just as thick. The real danger comes when these airheads have a degree of power – though I suppose seeing the damage done by them at local government level serves as a warning as to where we’d be if they were in charge at national level. But then I look at the alternative at national level and I give up.

© The Editor


DylanAs there’s no one alive today who has lived in a time without either recorded sound or moving pictures, it’s easy to take for granted how ‘far out’ the concept of both must have seemed when they were invented. In the case of the latter, I recently became aware of objections which were made at the time, ones that had never occurred to me before. Prior to recorded sound, if someone you knew had died their voice was never heard again thereafter; it vanished into memory’s murky recesses and could only ever be recalled rather than revisited. Come the advent of recorded sound at the end of the nineteenth century, concerns were expressed in some quarters that being able to hear the voices of the deceased after they’d passed away, ones that had been preserved on the earliest wax cylinders or discs, was somehow disturbing the sanctity of death and messing with the order of things.

To be able to hear those voices again, as though calling from beyond the grave, sent a few shivers down various spines in the beginning, which is understandable when one considers such a thing had never been possible before – outside of a séance, anyway. The innovation was viewed as unnatural, though considering some of the dubious rituals the Victorians dabbled in re the recently-deceased – such as family photographs with dead children propped-up to complete the set – their concerns appear somewhat eccentric today. It does often strike me though how all subsequent generations are utterly dependent on contemporary written descriptions of the great men (and women) of the age immediately preceding the invention of recorded sound. For example, no composer was ever heard performing their own works by anyone other than those present at a performance before said performance was able to be recorded. We can only go by what was put down on paper at the time as to just how good Franz Liszt or Clara Schumann were as concert pianists; we can’t hear them, only their works as interpreted by later musicians and preserved on plastic.

Mrs Schumann, who paid the rent by hitting the road during her famous husband’s bouts of mental illness, is now again acknowledged as the significant figure she was acknowledged as during her lifetime. Her ‘feminist’ reappraisal was only necessary due to her talent being neglected in the decades following her death (1896) – probably because there had been no recordings as evidence of her gifts to pass down to future generations. But whatever perceived obstacles she faced due to her sex at the time were not necessarily unique – all artists are confronted by them, male or female; if they have anything about them, the talent will win out in the end. Just because most of the notable ‘Classical’ composers were men doesn’t mean they had success and plaudits handed to them on a plate; they had to work damned hard for it too. She, like them, deserved the reputation that has now been resurrected and doesn’t need a retrogressive ‘Woman Composer’ tag attached to reiterate that fact. She was as much a product of her age as her male contemporaries were.

I used the term ‘Classical’ as a generic one in the previous paragraph; in the modern era of strict musical categorisation it tends to be applied when referring to any orchestral music made over the past 300 years. Cut through lazy labelling and one comes across more accurate terminology to separate artistic and cultural phases, often encompassing not just the music but the art, architecture, literature, politics and philosophy of the age. These ‘epochs’ – the Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic etc. – produce sons and daughters whose restless spirits and hunger for change push their eras onwards and upwards until, like Icarus, they burn out and are superseded by another cast of characters and another epoch. Distance is usually required to recognise a diverse and disparate variety of movers and shakers can be grouped together under one all-encompassing umbrella, with what they shared being greater than that which divided them. With media coverage of Bob Dylan’s impending 80th birthday, I got to thinking how the age that produced characters like him and all the others whose simultaneous breakthroughs made such an impact (in part thanks to the ubiquitous presence of recorded sound) can probably now be acknowledged as an epoch in its own right, one we are witnessing the last rites of due to the advanced years of its prime practitioners – those who have made it this far, anyway.

The great William Shatner is a decade ahead of Dylan, but even the fact that the former captain of the USS Enterprise was perhaps a little too old to embrace the extremities of 60s ‘cool’ (though he had a go at it with his own…er…distinctive version of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’) isn’t relevant today. The original series of ‘Star Trek’ has long been enshrined as a component of the same cultural canon to which ‘Blonde on Blonde’ or the mini-skirt or the first Moon Landing belong; the further we’ve travelled from the moments in which these (sorry to use an over-used word) ‘iconic’ innovations and events occurred, the more it has been possible to discern the qualities they had in common, qualities that may well have not been so apparent at the time. Bit-by-bit, whether it be The Beatles or Bob Dylan or Muhammad Ali or George Best, the jigsaw of the second half of the twentieth century is now a complete picture with all its various pieces fitting neatly together as much as the pieces of the Baroque, the Classical or the Romantic retrospectively do. Perhaps we need to be once or twice removed to appreciate this.

Anyone who lives through such a period (or at least catches the arse-end of it) gradually learns it takes time to dawn on them that it’s over. The epoch which began in the 60s, realised its creative potential in the 70s, and achieved its most profitable commercial spell in the 80s is undoubtedly over now. It staggered on into the 90s, with manufactured scenes routinely appearing and disappearing to maintain the illusion it remained relevant, but the traditional remaking and remodelling that accompanied ‘The Next Big Thing’ slowly wound down. The support system that kept it on the front pages of most people’s lives – and everything from ‘Top of the Pops’ to the music press to the Sunday teatime Top 40 on Radio 1 played its part – has been dismantled. Who would give a shit if Ed Sheeran ‘went electric’ in 2021 like they did when Bob Dylan did in 1965? Somebody like Ed Sheeran is not important to anyone other than those who download his dirges as background Muzak; he’s meaningful in the same way Tommy Steele was meaningful. Even if he was an outstanding artistic talent, he would still be incapable of impacting in the way Dylan managed it because Dylan was in the right place at the right time at the right moment – and his creative spirit was a product of where he came from, a place that no longer exists.

Are we in in-between days today? It’s impossible to tell. Even if we come to terms with the fact that the aforesaid period which produced popular art of such invigorating and electrifying verve that it has continued to inspire those who weren’t even born when it appeared has passed into history, it means we feel somewhat bereft when we look to the same source for our earthly and heavenly bread in 2021. If we look elsewhere, perhaps we will find a similar spirit struggling to be heard in the digital cacophony of so many competing voices; and perhaps we won’t know until it’s gone if where we are now is another epoch or merely an interlude, a breathing space in which chaos reigns because it can. But we can’t complain we haven’t inherited some class family silver; we have the luxury of being able to listen to the young Dylan sing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ just as we can listen to any pianist of the last 80 years playing Clara Schumann – and that’s plenty to be getting on with instead of waiting for something to happen that maybe never will.

© The Editor


HellraiserMost new words that appear out of nowhere are as irritating and annoying as the people that constantly use them; others, however, may have a brief shelf-life but nevertheless sum up a moment with jaded genius. ‘Smombies’ was one such word that had its moment around five years ago, coined to perfectly describe the Smartphone junkies who can’t avert their gaze from their precious appendages even when strolling down the street. And now another new ‘un has materialised that splendidly sums up a phenomenon that is entirely contemporary and couldn’t have existed as recent as this time last year – ‘Vaxhole’. The accompanying definition reads ‘One who has been fully vaccinated for the Covid-19 virus and brags about it. Two weeks after that second shot and the Vaxhole is posting selfies from a Cancun bar.’ Whoever came up with Vaxhole – and I only saw it myself as a screen-grabbed post on a forum – I salute you. It’s a word that was badly needed.

The fad for people feeling the need to advertise their stint at doing something millions of other people have done, as though it’s something utterly unique and worthy of applause, is just the latest extension of commonplace trends that have long been prevalent across social media. It’s a mix of virtue-signalling and the self-important celebration of the mundane familiar to anyone who regularly uses Facebook or Twitter; whether temporarily adopting the flag of whatever happens to be the cause of the week (What’s it to be – the EU or Palestine?) as one’s FB profile picture or posting maps of one’s location if out for a meal (and an image of said meal), it’s basically pure ‘look at me’ narcissism. I’m sure there are already T-shirts and baseball caps on the market that say something along the lines of ‘I’ve Had the Vaccine’; the banal conceit of such a statement contains the same twee, infantile vacuity of those badges on children’s birthday cards that say ‘I am 7’, yet simultaneously throws down an aggressive gauntlet, challenging someone else to declare they haven’t had the Vaccine.

To paraphrase a tweet I saw a couple of days ago, when did vaccinations cease to be about protecting one’s self – which is surely their purpose – and instead become all about protecting others? If you haven’t had the vaccine, you’re to blame for every dead granny (rather than a government that flooded care homes with infected pensioners, of course); regardless of whether your own personal constitution actually requires vaccinating against Covid, to even contemplate your body as your property – which has always been the pro-abortion argument, for example – is somehow regarded as treasonous in some quarters. The politicisation of this coronavirus, which seemed to begin around a month before Lockdown I, is now so engrained that it almost feels as though it’s yet another string on the bow of the Culture Wars, another missile to be hurled across the barricades at the evil opposition; to proudly display one’s vaccine cattle branding is as political a gesture as demanding people be placed under house arrest was a year ago, just something else that acts as evidence of the good guys’ righteousness and virtue.

I guess, as with everything else that has been unnecessarily politicised during the post-2016 period, politicising the vaccine does no favours for either side of the argument; it gives over-exposure to the fanatics in both camps so that minority extremist opinions are portrayed as representing everyone either in favour of or opposed to mass vaccination, negating nuance and neutralising all debate in the process. Black & white heroes and villains make for better copy, I suppose. A Covid vaccine of some sort was undeniably required for those most vulnerable to the virus, whether that vulnerability stemmed from old age or (to borrow a once-overused term) those with ‘underlying health conditions’. It was a given that few would dispute. To those susceptible to the virus, Covid was (and remains) deadly. But now that the advertising campaign for the vaccine has been extended to include the world and his wife – regardless of however healthy, young and barely at-risk from Covid they might be – to question the real need for it beyond the vulnerable has almost acquired the medieval heretical status of denying the existence of God.

We are not yet at the stage whereby people who have decided they don’t need the vaccine are being physically forced to submit to it, but there is certainly immense subliminal pressure to conform being channelled through MSM and online outlets 24/7. Again, the decision whether or not to receive the vaccine is now no longer an act of autonomy based upon what the individual believes is personally best for him or her, but what is best for everyone else. That seems a fittingly collectivist attitude for a virus that was gifted to the world by a Communist super-power.

Project Fear has convinced many that anyone who happens to be vaccine-free should basically be exiled to a leper colony, prevented from interacting with anyone who has had the jab – even though anyone who’s had it should, in theory, be safe from being contaminated by somebody who hasn’t. Whether or not the vaccine-free actually have Covid or not is all-but academic to this mindset. Some of the fire & brimstone death wishes aimed at the vaccine-reluctant sound depressingly similar to the deranged curses placed upon Leavers by Remainers barely a couple of years ago, which shows how the coronavirus and its vaccine have been reduced to the latest chapter in an ongoing saga we’ve been living for five years now. The ‘vaccine passport’ is another symptom, another tool of pressure to force doubters into submission by preventing them from venturing anywhere farther afield than their local high-street if they dare to question perceived wisdom. It’s little more than glorified emotional blackmail.

Anyone travelling to countries in Latin America, Africa or Asia where malaria is rife naturally takes precautions against the disease via pre-journey shots; but receiving anti-malaria jabs if one won’t be visiting any of those countries would be rightly viewed as a pointless exercise. Similarly, when it comes to anyone whose work is undertaken in claustrophobic and crowded environments that are prime Petrie dishes for super-spreading, it probably makes as much sense for them to receive the Covid vaccine as it would for the elderly, the ill and the party animal whose social life entails close contact with hundreds of people. If none of those scenarios apply to an individual who is in general good health and is not routinely susceptible to influenza or the common cold, should he or she then be pressurised into receiving a vaccine they don’t necessarily need simply to satisfy the demands of wider society?

The latest variant, which we all knew would come along right at the very moment when restrictions were poised to be lifted, is being painted as the sole obstacle between freedom and backtracking towards lockdown; encouraging a close examination as to how the Indian Variant has been allowed to spread despite all the restrictions might expose a few uncomfortable truths, so the vaccine-resister is thrust into the firing line – the perfect patsy for all those understandably frustrated by the thought of going through it all over again. And anyone who dies courtesy of this variant will therefore have been killed by someone who decided their own physical health was robust enough to negate vaccination.

Whether or not a person chooses to take out a full-page ad on social media declaring they’ve had the vaccine or whether they’ve received it and decide to keep that fact to themselves should be up to them; having to nail one’s colours to one more mast – as was deemed essential during the Brexit Wars – just takes us back to divide & rule, pitting people against each other in angry little groups because it’s so much easier to manipulate them that way. A vaccine should not be a political or ideological weapon. It’s just a shame it now is.

© The Editor


MaskWhen certain fixtures have been part of the cultural landscape for so long that nobody is precisely sure how or why they got there, you know it’s hard to imagine life without them. Although there are several suggestions as to why wigs became part of the courtroom uniform for the legal profession in this country, one interesting theory that may nonetheless be as apocryphal as the rest is that the familiar white wigs we all recognise from dramatisations of trials were first worn as a curious means of marking the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and simply stuck. Of course, periwigs were fashionable accessories for both sexes at the time anyway, but the legal design never fell out of fashion in the theatre of justice. Indeed, for all the understandable accusations of the headgear being an archaic irrelevance 300 years on, wigs are so intrinsic to the British courtroom experience that judges or barristers seem to lose their authority when stripped of them. Wigs were normalised for that one context long before the everyday variety disappeared beneath Madame Guillotine, and they have largely remained with us in that context ever since.

I only bring this up because I was thinking about the ‘Covid facemask’ the other day. Hell, how could I not when venturing into anywhere that isn’t our own home necessitates covering up our bloody mouths and noses? But I just wondered if, like the horsehair wig in court, we are now stuck with it for good when visiting any interior public space. So successful was Pandemic Project Fear in convincing the majority that every risk-averse recommendation must be adhered to, once mask-wearing became mandatory there were plenty who saw it as a vindication of the (over) precautions they’d already been taking long before the rest of us were forced to comply. This means some people in this country haven’t been anywhere without a mask on for more than a year now; if they were convinced such a restrictive item of ‘clothing’ was necessary when even professional scaremongers like SAGE weren’t insisting they must be worn, will a time ever come when they’ll feel safe enough to remove them? Moreover, will a time ever come when they’re actually allowed to remove them?

I’ve seen several online headlines over the past few days that highlight people who don’t want to remove the mask and are quite happy retaining them, even if their compulsory use should ever cease. I think for such sad individuals, masks have become akin to a baby’s dummy; and just as it can often be quite a challenge to wean toddlers off their comforters, persuading mask-wearers that it’s not necessarily a good thing to hide half their faces forever could be just as difficult. I’ve seen lone individuals wearing them whilst walking outdoors through quiet suburban neighbourhoods where social distancing is a given and there isn’t a shop in sight to justify a mask; I’ve even seen drivers in otherwise empty cars with masks on – I mean, what do they think is going to happen? Do they imagine Covid will be tapping at their window, desperate to get in like some sort of virus version of Cathy? Some mask fanatics have essentially become the helicopter parent to their inner child. Fair enough, if this sartorial insanity makes you feel safer, so be it; but I’ve had enough of your paranoid hypochondria being imposed upon me by the state, especially now that restrictions are gradually lifting and the death rates are plummeting.

Ironically, as someone who hasn’t set foot in anyone’s house or used any form of transport for over a year, I feel I have – in my own way – become as conditioned to a certain style of living as much as the aforementioned mask fanatic. For them, the mask represents an additional shield against a virus they’ve probably had a couple of injections to keep at bay by now, yet the illusion of safety they’ve derived from the mouth nappy is something they’re reluctant to relinquish as they re-enter the social sphere. For me, the prospect of a grand reopening of society is something I have to admit I feel slightly apprehensive about. It’s not really anything to do with fear of becoming infected by the Chinese lurgy, more a case of having got used to minimal social contact for a period of time that has been an extended one, even by my own personal standards (which far exceed those of the average punter at the best of times). I’ve said it before, but it’s undeniable that I genuinely liked the ambience of the empty roads, tranquil streets and audible birdsong that characterised Lockdown I in its early days. It was an atmosphere I slotted into without any great difficulty; had it not been for the supermarket queues and scarcity of toilet paper, I probably wouldn’t have minded certain elements of the first lockdown remaining in place.

Naturally, I’m speaking from a purely personal perspective there; I acknowledge I was in a fortunate position compared to many people in this country, for whom normal service being suspended was a disaster with nightmarish consequences they’re still dealing with a year later. Mind you, Boris has declared social distancing will end within three weeks, so presumably that means all the other outstanding restrictions will eventually follow suit over the coming months. Or (as James Burke might have once said) does it? The caveat in the PM’s announcement was a warning of another wave next winter, with the latest in a long line of endless overseas variants waiting in the wings threatening to reduce the current restriction-lifting to a brief burst of sunshine like the one we glimpsed before Lockdown II. Gruesome events in India seem to support the World Health Organisation claims that the pandemic will be with us for the rest of the year, and if the next variant comes from the Subcontinent, don’t be surprised should this year’s winter end up being reminiscent of last year’s.

‘The end of the lockdown is not the end of the pandemic’ was the statement Boris maybe reckons will be his own ‘It is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning’ line. We shall see. The Prime Minister also announced there is to be ‘an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis’ into the pandemic and the way it was handled by the combined powers-that-be of the state, though does anybody really expect this will result in the Government finally answering for some of the more disastrous decisions it made? And, of course, as is customary (just think of Grenfell), it will drag on and on like some legal version of ‘The Mousetrap’; it’s not even expected to begin for another year. Perhaps the Government is hoping by the time the inquiry publishes its findings the pandemic will have been all-but forgotten about. If healthy, vaccinated people of all ages are still forced to be clad in masks when that comes around, don’t bank on it; then again, masks are already so halfway to being normalised that perhaps nobody by then will be able to recall a time when they weren’t worn or why they were ever introduced, so who knows?

In a clever move designed to appeal to the nation’s dubious fondness for the marking of private loss in public, Boris also spoke of a ‘Commission on Covid Commemoration’ as a sentimental sweetener to bury some less benign policy moves. Some of the proposals for dealing with demonstrations that were announced in the Queen’s Speech this week could be perceived as either further over-caution when it comes to public gatherings or as an attempt to prevent the anarchy that characterised last summer’s BLM exterior redecoration projects. Then again, they could be regarded as evidence that the powers invested in this Government by Covid-19 have whetted an authoritarian appetite which is seizing the opportunity to extend public order measures that the coronavirus facilitated. We can’t say we didn’t see this coming, though. Surrendering every civil liberty that government suggests is necessary as a short-term sacrifice for the long-term good and then expecting each individual right to be returned is a bit…er…naive. Not getting them back will mean you’ll eventually forget you ever had them in the first place – just like never wondering why you need a mask.

© The Editor


LabourAs they used to say back in the day on ‘Big Brother’ eviction nights, the votes have been counted; and what do the votes tell us about the electoral map of the UK following last week’s local, mayoral and devolved elections? Well, it’s essentially as you were. One can talk about a vaccine roll-out effect, I guess; but it seems the negative publicity metered out to the Tories and SNP in recent months had little impact on the voters – or perhaps they saw the excuse for an alternative and figured it was yet another case of ‘better the Devil you know’. It didn’t affect the London Mayor either; Sadiq Khan’s indisputably useless record on combating crime in the capital and his infatuation with Woke virtue signalling didn’t count against him when he was confronted by numerous vanity projects on the part of actors and other self-publicists with no political experience. Similarly, north of the border it appears the far-from flattering revelations to emerge from the prolonged Alex Salmond farrago – not to mention the SNP’s unnervingly authoritarian approach to governance – didn’t persuade the Scottish electorate to invest in something else. The only real losers on Thursday and Friday would seem to have been the beleaguered Labour Party.

Amazingly, Keir Starmer sweeping into Hartlepool and scoffing fish & chips with a pint – just like all northern working-class folk do in between being darn t’pit and walking t’whippet – didn’t convince the voters in the North-East, and they handed a traditionally safe Labour seat to the Tories for the first time. Fancy that. One could argue that Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election was the only result that really mattered last week, though Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford would probably disagree. Wee Ms Krankie needed another mandate from the Scottish electorate to legitimise her tedious second referendum obsession and hope it would paper over the corrupt cracks in her appalling administration. It’s not as though anyone other than the most blinkered, anti-English redneck is under any illusion now that the party is somehow morally superior to any of its rivals; enough dirt was exposed beneath the manicured Caledonian fingernails by the recent investigation into the Salmond affair to open the eyes of voters, yet Sturgeon’s clan still retained power. With opinion polls suggesting a second independence referendum will probably result in the same kind of split as the last ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ plebiscite, Sturgeon will wait for the right moment to strike, but she’ll keep harping on about it until that moment arrives, for she’s got nothing else to harp on about in the meantime.

Mirroring the pyrrhic victory of Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford received the thumbs-up from voters following months in which he’s revelled in his role as the puritanical lockdown overlord for the Valleys. He no doubt imagines the backing of the Welsh electorate vindicates his stance over the past year, just as Sturgeon views her re-election as a resounding endorsement of her equally totalitarian idea of rule. In the afterglow of the final count, however, perhaps both should consider the quality of competition on offer and the fact that ancient prejudices and bigotries towards parties other than the one yer ‘da’ always voted for continue to count for something in the constituent countries of the UK other than England. That Mark Draper’s party beyond Wales was up against a similar piss-poor alternative and still had a disastrous showing maybe paints a more accurate picture of where we are outside of the enclosed tunnel vision that devolution invariably engenders.

Sir Keir hasn’t pissed about, mind; his immediate reaction to the results in England was to instigate a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle – an action akin to a wife of 30-plus years changing her hairstyle in the vain hope her disinterested husband will suddenly find her attractive again. The few that noticed Starmer’s response took note of the fact that Angela Rayner lost her job as party chair as well as carrying the can for the disastrous campaign as national campaigns coordinator; a minor storm in a neglected teacup followed Rayner’s removal, but the former ‘thingle mother’ has actually been promoted, now shadowing Michael Gove; it may sound like the least appealing promotion imaginable, but Rayner can at least be consoled by the fact that nobody outside of Westminster Village really gives a shit. Talk of the Party relocating from its London base in order to reconnect with its lost heartlands is merely another PR stunt as meaningless as the BBC shifting its operations from Shepherd’s Bush to Salford. The Labour Party could set up shop in the Outer Hebrides and it would still venture no further than the boundaries of the metropolitan bubble it took with it should its hands be soiled by contact with uncouth locals whose vote it nevertheless craves.

Something that will be looked upon by few other than the Labour hierarchy as one of last week’s few ‘success stories’ was the election of Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire Mayor – arguably one of the more vacuous exercises in self-indulgent bureaucratic pointlessness local government has yet to dream up. Beyond the euphoric electorate of dynamic Northern Powerhouses Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, Brabin’s election to the latest vapid office of no interest to anyone who cares about life that stretches further than the end of their street wouldn’t register at all if her ‘promotion’ didn’t necessitate a further nightmarish by-election prospect for her party. The former constituency of Jo Cox will now be vacated and fought over sometime in the summer, as the police and crime responsibilities that come with Brabin’s shiny new status disqualify her from remaining an MP under electoral commission rules. The Batley and Spen seat is a marginal one, with Brabin’s majority at the last General Election slashed to 3,525, so I should imagine the Tories are looking forward to that particular by-election more than Labour.

The Conservative Party shouldn’t become complacent, however; just because the Tories trounced a terminally weak opposition doesn’t necessarily mean the electorate were giving their full endorsement to Boris’s mob. It’s unarguable that they enjoyed a remarkably impressive showing for a party in office for over a decade – and in the wake of a unique situation in which they haven’t always acquitted themselves admirably; but the supposed success of the vaccine, which the MSM never tires of telling us about, is being credited with building on the gains made in 2019 and suggests no amount of ‘sleaze’ headlines make the slightest bit of difference once the voter enters the polling booth. That said, the triumph of the party definitely owes something to the nature of the pandemic narrative; that the public have to receive the permission of Michael Gove that it’s now okay to embrace again says a great deal as to how the Tories have moulded public opinion through their relentless campaign of fear and intimidation over the past year or so; convincing the electorate that the Tories know best when voting comes around is merely a natural by-product of this tactic, and it has paid off.

These elections weren’t really the ‘giving the powers-that-be a bloody nose’ type that the EU Referendum offered us five years ago; they weren’t even comparable to the shock experienced by the wannabe powers-that-be in 2019. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that the end results changed little with the exception of a bit more ground being gained by the Tories; after all, people have had other distractions from party politics during this last twelve months, and maybe figured this wasn’t the time for a seismic shift. The apple cart has been upset enough of late.

© The Editor


Wyngarde Sketch - CopyIn between flexing like a whore and falling wanking to the floor, time still manages to squeeze a few goalpost-moving chores into the mix as well. Yes, I know I’ve written about it before, but even if it doesn’t go the whole hog and blow my mind, it never fails to at least light a little fuse there whenever I measure distance. If I was to look back, say, fifty years from the date of my birth, I would find myself either on the Western Front or storming the gates of the Winter Palace. Today, the same span returns you to 1971; and because some of my earliest recollections stem from that year, the factor of living memory makes it feel so much closer than half-a-century away. Naturally, my 1971 would have been considerably different from yours if you were approaching adulthood or were already there. My 1971 retrospectively resembles the set of a public information film; that’s how it looks to me now, anyway. My world was shot on 16mm. It was small-scale, compressed into compressed little houses on compressed little streets with compressed outside privies and compressed corner shops. But as I was only knee-high to a midget at the time, it didn’t seem especially claustrophobic.

EnaAll doors were open to a 3-4 year-old on that street; I can still picture the interiors of most houses because I seemed to have a free pass into all of them. I must have been a likeable kid, I guess. Despite my easy familiarity with them, however, every adult was formally addressed as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ bar an old lady in a permanent headscarf who was known to all the children as ‘Auntie’. There was a middle-aged woman called Mrs Sharp a few doors down and I remember I always addressed her as Mrs Sharples; I can’t recall if she looked like Ena, but she didn’t appear to mind my confusion. Actually, considering it bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain street on the other side of the Pennines, the residents didn’t disappoint. I remember there being an equivalent Minnie Caldwell and Albert Tatlock and Elsie Tanner, but I suppose they came with the furniture back then. Any available neighbour was happy to look after me if the need arose, and it often did. Other than the ones who were drawing their pensions, many of the adults playing central roles in my 1971 were probably half the age I am now, which is a sobering thought.

Charlie GeorgeFor me, 1971 was the last year before school, so it retains a sense of innocence and purity in the memory, coated in infant amber that contrasts with the wider world of 1971 that I learnt of gradually, long after my personal experience of the year had slipped into history. I can’t, for example, recall any major news story of 1971 from the actual time. Even decimalisation, which dramatically changed the country’s century-old currency in February, didn’t register because I was simply too young to have acquainted myself with the old money before it had gone. The Ibrox Stadium disaster; the disastrous introduction of Internment in Ulster; the generational culture war of the ‘Oz’ obscenity trial; the devastating famine in Bangladesh; Idi Amin seizing power in Uganda; the death of Jim Morrison – all events too huge to inhabit my little head, all events that needed me to grow a bit more before I had the space to take them on board. Even Charlie George’s memorable FA Cup Final winner that sealed the Double for Arsenal – and it’s exactly fifty years ago tomorrow when the lanky, long-haired legend lay flat out on the Wembley turf after scoring it – yes, even that passed me by in 1971, though my father was at the game.

BolanAt least my ear was picking up signals from elsewhere. Pop music was connecting me to otherworldly places that only telly, comics, and astronaut-driven moon-buggies were otherwise informing me existed; pop impacted in a way that news stories from the year didn’t. There are a remarkable number of hits from 1971 that take me back there, and it was a richly varied year for music. The first stirrings of Glam Rock were infiltrating the singles chart and illuminating ‘Top of the Pops’, with both T.Rex and Slade scoring their inaugural No.1s; Elton John and Rod Stewart also broke through to a scene where the giants of the decade just-gone were still the standard bearers, though for perhaps the final time. The recent cultural earthquake of the Beatles’ break-up saw a flurry of eagerly-anticipated solo releases, yet a bickering Lennon & McCartney were overshadowed by the feel-good vibes of George Harrison. Both The Who and The Rolling Stones delivered the goods again with landmark releases, whilst acts to whom the 60s was merely a launch-pad, such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell, went from strength-to-strength by unleashing albums that remain classics in what turned out to be quite a year for LPs that have stood the test of time. And while all this was going on, David Bowie and Alice Cooper were waiting in the wings, preparing to catch 1972 unawares.

8Hair was fashionably long for both sexes in 1971 – and there were only two then. Skirts were shorter than before or since; if you’re a leg man, watching any TV series from the beginning of the 70s means you’re in for a treat. The term ‘Metrosexual’ had yet to be coined, but many of the leading men on television in 1971 that the ladies liked were undeniably well-groomed. Two of the most preposterous albeit enjoyable series from the ITC stable of flamboyant escapism premiered that year, ‘The Persuaders’ and ‘Jason King’. The former saw Roger Moore essentially auditioning for the Bond role, though the character of Lord Brett Sinclair was perhaps a little too effete to fill 007’s squarer shoes. Similarly, the immortal Peter Wyngarde as the hilarious novelist-cum-secret agent who’d first appeared in ‘Department S’ a couple of years before was far too camp to convince as someone you’d trust with a licence to kill; but within the confines of his imaginary international playboy/espionage landscape, he made perfect sense. A world of your own was something I could relate to myself in 1971.

OzWhen the pages of ‘Oz’ were dissected at the Old Bailey that summer, the moral majority recoiled in horror at what the youth were getting up to, but the Christian backlash against ‘The Permissive Society’ was gathering pace via the likes of the Festival of Light; it also had plenty to object to when Stanley Kubrick released ‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the end of the year, despite the fact that the story itself is actually as moral as anything a Bible-basher would recognise from his book of choice. The violence perpetrated by Alex and his Droogs seemed to cause less palpitations to Mary Whitehouse and her God-fearing cohorts than the sexual element in the movie, yet violence was a greater threat to the stability of the streets, what with the emergence of that working-class terrorist, the Skinhead. The new urban bogeyman was making his mark on the football terraces in 1971, with hooliganism becoming the latest social menace. But it wouldn’t be a flash in the 1971 pan; it would outlast both the year and the Skinhead himself.

002For all the moral panic fuelling Fleet Street, however, the wave of self-confidence carried over from the heyday of England’s swinging seems to have still been largely intact in 1971 – a last hurrah for faith in the future. Maybe it only began to finally, belatedly disintegrate with the chill economic wind of the following year, the one that whipped-up Britannia’s skirts to reveal the moth-eaten, make-do-and-mend underwear of a grand old lady whose best days were behind her. Stitching up the holes in her knickers by candlelight in 1972, she must have wondered what went wrong. Her one-time protégé on the other side of the Atlantic by the name of Uncle Sam had his own problems at the time, but doesn’t everybody, whatever the year? It is always the worst of times for one person as much as the best of times for another; it just depends where you’re at. Where I was at in 1971 is on scratchy and grainy subconscious celluloid now, but the impression made by it is as sharp and vivid as ever. Some good stuff came out of that year, and I’m glad I was there, half-a-century ago.

© The Editor


MonkeyOn those rare occasions when the football season is a two-horse race, it’s often a case of who’ll blink first; one of the two teams chasing the title bottles it at the eleventh hour and the other ends up being crowned champions. Is this because the winner is the better side or because the loser blew it on the last lap? The record books simply record who won and who didn’t, though it may be said at the moment of the final whistle that the champions didn’t win the title so much as the runners-up lost it. Should the SNP remain in power north of the border or Sadiq Khan retain his regime south of Watford this week, would it be fair to say neither won but the competition lost? The Conservative Party under Boris Johnson seems capable of every cock-up imaginable without fear of being thrown out of office, for a weak alternative to a weak Government will inevitably result in the continuation of the incumbent party, however much of a mess it has presided over. Similarly, the first real post-pandemic test of the electorate across the country tomorrow will see local, mayoral and devolved administration elections take place that may well end with parties and individuals worthy of being booted out simply staying where they are because the alternative was even worse.

Amidst the regional nature of the so-called (permission granted to cringe) ‘Super Thursday’, there will also be an election affecting the national picture courtesy of a by-election in a Red Wall seat. It’s in Hartlepool. Yes, Hartlepool, where the people infamously strung-up a monkey during the Napoleonic Wars because they were convinced the poor primate was a French spy. As is so often the case with small towns struggling for claims to fame, this bizarre legend has to a degree put Hartlepool on the map and its local football and rugby teams have adopted the monkey as mascot and logo respectively. Even stranger is the fact that a man dressed in simian costume going by the name of H’angus the Monkey stood in the town’s mayoral elections in 2002, with free bananas for Hartlepudlian school-kids key to his manifesto; against all odds, he won – and was re-elected by a landslide three years later. By the time he was in office, H’angus had reverted to his real name of Stuart Drummond, though Hartlepool is now nationally known as somewhere that once executed and then later elected a monkey.

As far as I know, no monkey is standing in 2021, but the town that was home to Brian Clough’s first faltering steps into football management could well provide the match of the day tomorrow. Hartlepool was a classic northern Labour stronghold for decades, supplying the town’s MP in every General Election since 1964, yet like so many Red Wall areas in England the 2016 EU Referendum proved to be a watershed for this unchallenged dominance. The North-East was broken down into 12 voting areas in 2016, and of the 12 only the region’s one big metropolitan city – Newcastle – followed all the other big metropolitan cities in the country by voting Remain; the rest of the North-East more accurately reflected the indigenous mood by voting Leave. Hartlepool did so with a margin of 69.6%, the highest margin in the entire North-East area. We may be five years removed from that resounding finger gesticulating in the direction of the political class of Westminster, but it’s fair to say subsequent events have not turned the electorate back towards the Remain-friendly Labour Party.

A Parliamentary constituency that was once in the hands of Peter Mandelson just about remained Labour-held at the 2019 General Election, though with a dramatically reduced majority from 2017 (3,595) as the Brexit Party grabbed 25% of the vote; and Mike Hill, the man who retained it stood down in March this year, prompting tomorrow’s by-election. Hill resigned his seat in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation, something that caused his temporary suspension from the Party in 2019 and something for which he will face an employment tribunal later in the year. It has not been an auspicious exit, yet perhaps reflects the low standing in which Labour is now held in the region. Paul Williams, the Party’s man hoping to succeed Hill, is faced with pre-election polling claiming less than 40% of those who voted for Labour in 2019 will do so again this time round. Neighbouring traditional Labour councils in Durham and Sunderland also appear under threat at a time when the Tories at a national level have hardly endeared themselves to the public; that Labour is struggling to regain ground lost in 2019 even after the bungled handling of the pandemic by the opposition demonstrates just how much the Party has summarily failed to address its dwindling working-class support in areas it could once win with its eyes closed.

Hartlepool is the kind of dyed-in-the-wool Labour seat that might have once fallen to the Lib Dems if it was ever going to fall to anyone – though the one-time ‘protest vote’ party has paid the price for throwing its lot in with metropolitan minority interest Identity Politics even more than Labour, so we now have the once-unthinkable situation where the Tories are the credible alternative to North-East traditions. Keir Starmer may have tried to address the anti-Semitic legacy of the Corbyn/Momentum era of the Party, but the leader’s rush to take the knee for BLM, his perceived dithering over Covid, and his support for endless lockdowns hasn’t exactly won back the working-class vote that has been deserting Labour for decades as the leadership has taken it for granted; one would think the disastrous example of Scotland would have alerted Labour to what was going on in its northern backyard, but whilst Trans-rights and gender pronouns have been preoccupying those gathered round the dinner-party tables of Islington, those who loyally stuck with Labour until roundabout Blair’s second term have been abandoning the Party as swiftly as the Party itself has abandoned them for first-world problems that don’t mean a jot when you’re forced to claim Universal Credit in Hartlepool.

Six of the neighbouring North-East constituencies to Hartlepool fell to the Tories in 2019, and morale amongst the ground-force foot-sloggers entrusted with door-stepping floating voters and trying to persuade them to come home to a party that appears to view them with barely-concealed contempt hasn’t been helped by the realisation that cost-cutting measures will result in around 90 clipboard-carrying party activists being made redundant the day after polling day. Rather than winning voters round with convincing promises of what Labour will do for them if returned to power, the party reeks of desperation unprecedented in one that should be way ahead in the polls after more than a decade of Tory rule in one shape or another. The Batley and Spen Labour MP Tracy Brabin – holder of the constituency once held by Jo Cox – has only just been cleared of allegations accusing her of bribing the electorate with brownies during campaigning for the utterly meaningless post of Mayor of West Yorkshire; regardless of the fact the last thing such a region requires is another layer of bureaucratic local government, the actions of Brabin – whether legal or not – make Labour look cheap, like a budget supermarket laden with BOGOF offers on every aisle.

Keir Starmer is already attempting to pre-empt the expected loss of Hartlepool as well as a sizeable chunk of local government control north of Watford Gap by claiming Labour’s ‘recovery’ will take more time, playing down Party hopes ahead of ‘Super Thursday’; nothing quite like encouragement from the leadership to generate confidence, is there? But at least one could say Starmer is being realistic; if Hartlepool is added to the lengthy list of Labour’s one-time heavy-industry heartlands that now constitute the backbone of Boris Johnson’s 80-strong majority, few will be entirely surprised. Indeed, I suspect those who formulate Labour policy a long way from the land harried by William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago couldn’t give a monkey’s.

© The Editor


CircusWhen the wide eyes of a nine-year-old perused the pages of ‘2000 AD’ in 1977, one strip set in the far-flung future of 23 years hence seemed less feasible to me than anything involving robots, ray-guns or spaceships. In it, I recall an irate father was poised to deliver a smack to his misbehaving child when the mother interjected by reminding her husband, ‘We don’t chastise children in the 21st century’. This required more stretching of the imagination than the rest of the stories in the comic put together; I clearly remember thinking how such a scenario was never going to happen in my lifetime. I mean, routine smacks, slaps, clouts and belts from grownups was part and parcel of my childhood experience, and had been part and parcel of all the childhood experiences there’d ever been before mine. That was one of the perks of being over-18 – you could physically put an unruly child in its place, just like parents and teachers did on a daily basis to those of us who were kids back then. The idea that this would one day cease as a legitimate punishment and would indeed be frowned upon, even legislated against, was pure pie-in-the-sky. Judge Dredd didn’t seem remotely fantastical next to that.

Yes, this was the age when it was still okay for adults to dispense a clip round the ear-hole, and it was also the age in which latchkey dogs roamed the streets, impregnating the neighbourhood bitches, leaving messages wherever feet were guaranteed to tread, and terrorising kids who were terrified of them. Owners let Rover loose without a second thought, turfing him out of the house on a morning in the same way they’d turf their children out during the school holidays; they all ran wild and unsupervised in a way that’s utterly unimaginable today. Mind you, some animals I came into contact with during my childhood weren’t given carte blanche to roam; some were put to work and became more like family breadwinners than the human head of the household. Farmers relied on animals to play their part in the running of the family business, but there were also those four-legged creatures whose working lives were entered into purely for our entertainment.

Circus folk, for example, relied on the attraction of animal employees to pull the punters in. Urban children who maybe lived several towns away from the nearest zoo had a rare opportunity to see bona fide beasts up-close when the big top magically appeared overnight on the local common. Elephants, lions, tigers – yer actual wildlife of Africa and India lifted out a context copyrighted by David Attenborough and transferred to the showbiz stage. It should have been one hell of an eye-popping experience, yet even as a child in that radically different and un-squeamish era, the two circuses I saw in person made me feel sorry for the animals. As impressive as their choreographed routines might seem on the surface, performing elephants always had sad eyes that gave the game away; they were like reluctant strippers faced with little option but to take off their clothes in public just to make ends meet; they weren’t doing it through choice.

Perhaps the fact that one circus I saw as a child was a small, rather shabby low-rent affair a long way from the glitzy glamour of the circuses that always seemed to be broadcast as part of the Christmas Day TV schedule also impacted upon my perception of them. The conditions certainly enhanced the drowsy, drugged-up apathy of the lacklustre lions and toothless tigers on display so that even the crack of the whip failed to breathe any sense of urgency into them. All the animals looked worn-out, weary and wasted, going through jaded motions that were an archaic hangover from the Victorian age. I can’t imagine such a set-up being allowed today – and it wouldn’t be, thankfully. Like the boxing kangaroos occasionally wheeled-out to enliven a lacklustre variety show on TV, not everything in the past was superior to now; some things really have changed for the better. When the Wild Animals in Circuses Act of 2019 came into effect at the beginning of last year, circuses in England were belatedly banned from including wild animals in their line-ups, following similar Acts passed in Scotland and Wales a year or two before.

At a time when so much legislation that passes through Parliament seems to constitute little more than the ongoing erosion of civil liberties and all the hard-fought rights of which we were once so proud and are now prepared to give up without much in the way of a fight, how refreshing to see changes to the law that are actually worthwhile and long overdue. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill received its third and final reading last week and is deserving of a round of applause. It increases the maximum sentence for cruelty to animals from a paltry six months to a far more substantial five years. Coming at a moment when a vile crime like dog-theft is on the increase, the Bill couldn’t be more timely; whilst the Wild Animals in Circuses Act is intended to curb the exploitation of exotic beasts, this new Bill casts its net wider and turns its attention to abuse of the domesticated members of the animal kingdom, those we are far more likely to come into contact with than lions, tigers or elephants.

All-too often, it seems, animal rights are monopolised by (and assumed to be the exclusive property of) the ‘activist’, the stager of stunts and the disturber of the peace, the kind that arguably does more harm than good in making people aware of animal exploitation and cruelty – just as legitimate concerns over the future of the planet become negatively associated with the disruptive clowns of Extinction Rebellion, putting people off the issue when it’s so closely linked to the prats that use it as a vehicle for their own antisocial narcissism. However, legislation such as the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill and the Wild Animals in Circuses Act wrestle the subject out of the hands of the activist and remind us that this is an issue that concerns all of us. After all, it’s barely a year since the overnight removal of traffic from the roads and aircraft from the skies suddenly opened the floodgates for animals to claim the vacated spaces with amazing speed; the birdsong soundtrack and the surreal sight of deer grazing on suburban lawns served as a salient wake-up call to the fact that we actually share this place and don’t own it outright.

It’s been a long, slow road to getting here – the Proroguing of Parliament in 2019 and then Covid held things up somewhat; but the Statute Book and Royal Assent were finally in sight when the Bill crossed the finishing line at the eleventh hour just 24 hours prior to the conclusion of the current Parliamentary session last week. The various animal charities that have played their part in pushing this deserve credit, and Lord John Randall paid tribute to their work. ‘I commend all the charities involved for the weight and purpose they brought to this campaign,’ he said, ‘to secure one of the most significant changes to animal welfare legislation since the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.’ The Act referenced in his statement had helped lay the ground for both this new one and the Wild Animals in Circuses Act, and even though it won’t end the maltreatment of animals overnight, it undoubtedly reflects a wider change in attitude towards animals within society during my lifetime.

The founding of the RSPCA in 1824 opened eyes to everyday levels of commonplace cruelty that to us today seem barbaric, and perhaps future generations will look back in astonishment at some of the things we tolerated in the same way we now look back at bull-baiting, cock-fighting and fox-hunting. Ah, thinking about it, maybe there’s still plenty of work needs doing yet.

© The Editor