THEIR SATANIC TRAGEDIES

Book BurningA painfully prescient quote from Salman Rushdie appeared on Twitter yesterday – ‘The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.’ I’ve no idea how old this quote is, but it’s reasonable to assume it was written in the long shadow cast by the fatwa of 1989. Since that groundbreaking moment of intolerance on the part of an entire State, intolerance towards freedom of both thought and speech, whereby any individual expressing an opinion deemed ‘wrong’ is fair game to be brought to heel by whatever means are at their opponents’ disposal, has filtered down to the masses, facilitated and fuelled by the ubiquitous social media that didn’t exist when Rushdie wrote ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988. Previously, a novelist in the West faced potential censure from publishers or book stores if they penned a work regarded as ‘controversial’, yet having a price placed on their head by the Islamic Mafiosi running Iran was a new development; just as the 1570 declaration of Pope Pius V that Queen Elizabeth I was a ‘heretic’ gave the green light to radical Catholics of the 16th century, the edict issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini five months after the publication of Rushdie’s novel not only placed the writer’s life in peril, it legitimised violent reprisals on the part of any mental fundamentalist if they felt their outrage was justifiable.

Amongst numerous other atrocities committed over the past two or three decades, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ massacre of 2015 can be traced back to the 1989 fatwa, providing yet one more extreme example of how the offended believe they are entitled to exact revenge to ease their offence. At the other end of the scale, Hollywood bigwig Will Smith felt similarly entitled to stroll up to comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars in the middle of his routine and sock him on the jaw simply because he didn’t like what the comic was saying about his missus. In comparison to the serious attempt on Salman Rushdie’s life at an event in New York State yesterday, Smith’s petulant punch seems trivial, yet both he and the lunatic who stabbed Rushdie and left him in a critical condition felt their actions were justified because they’d been offended. Where that leaves either a vulnerable novelist or a comedian when alone on stage, self-censoring their freedom of expression for fear an audience member might take offence at something they say and then leap onstage wielding a weapon or a fist, is worrying when a belief in one’s own self-righteous entitlement has spread from the ivory towers of a hardline Islamic regime to any disgruntled member of the public. An unpleasant precedent has been set.

It may be a blink in the eye of the elephantine memories of Radical Islamists – after all, that has a vintage of centuries – but 33 years have now passed since the Ayatollah delivered his death sentence on Salman Rushdie in absentia; therefore, the understandable security precautions that were taken in the early days of the author’s exile from polite society have been largely relaxed since. A famous story emanating from those days concerns a visit from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who was cooking a meal for Rushdie when said foodstuff ‘exploded’ in the oven, causing Rushdie to dive under the sofa in a manner reminiscent of citizens sheltering from the Blitz. It’s no wonder he was jumpy. Various people associated with his most notorious novel have met far worse fates in the last 30-odd years, and Rushdie naturally figured he was through the worst; he even parodied his situation on an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, when Larry David sought advice as he went into hiding following his announcement he intended to produce a musical based on the fatwa. Unfortunately, that joke isn’t funny anymore.

The Iranian Government has distanced itself from the Ayatollah’s decree since around 1998, though so far-reaching was the initial proclamation that the growth of Radical Islamist networks and various terrorist collectives this century has meant the message has never really gone away; there was even a bounty of $3 million offered by an Iranian religious foundation in 2012, meaning Rushdie has continued to exercise a degree of caution when it comes to public speaking. It’s interesting that the provocative burning of books on British streets in certain cities with a large Muslim population first became a regular sight in the wake of the furore surrounding ‘The Satanic Verses’, as did the appearance of those openly advocating the assassination of Rushdie on British television without being challenged – including the otherwise moderate Muslim convert Yusuf Islam, AKA singer Cat Stevens; these stunts went unpunished by police reluctant to be accused of racism.

One might say the inaction of authorities then has left a devastating legacy in the UK since; everything from the terrorist cells responsible for appalling carnage in London and Manchester in the 2010s to turning a blind eye to the insidious ‘grooming gangs’ in Rochdale to the teacher in Batley whose school was besieged by the local Muslim Gestapo in 2020 and remains in hiding due to a glaring absence of support from teaching unions – there’s a direct connection stretching all the way back to failure to act in 1989. Even the response of some of Rushdie’s fellow creative artists at the time saw the debut of the kind of gutless self-preservation that has subsequently become a hallmark of the artistic fraternity during the age of ‘cancel culture’, with even fewer prepared to stand up and be counted when the online hounds are unleashed to silence any artist who has dared to venture an opinion contrary to the consensus. Silence is compliance when one of your own is under threat; and the misguided solidarity shown towards a terrorist organisation like Hamas by the far-left in the West merely because their arch-enemy is Israel – remember ‘Queers for Palestine’? – is another risible strain of this; I’m just wondering how the Pride flag-waving zealots will react when the next World Cup is held in a Middle Eastern autocracy where freedom of expression is effectively outlawed – ‘Queers for Qatar’?

According to police, Salman Rushdie was poised to speak at the large outdoor amphitheatre at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State on the ironic topic of artistic freedom when a man ran on stage and stabbed him in the neck and torso; the attacker was swiftly – if belatedly – apprehended by security and Rushdie was rushed to hospital by helicopter. He is currently on a ventilator after surgery, with the author’s spokesperson telling the press that ‘Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.’ The culprit was arrested and is apparently sympathetic to the Iranian Government; if the attack was fatwa-influenced, the Iranian Government he’s seemingly sympathetic to must be the one of 1989, but Radical Islamists tend to live in the past so perhaps that’s no great revelation. I suppose the fact Salman Rushdie was one of the first artists to be exposed to the unhinged wrath of extreme opponents to the foundation stone of Western democracies means this grotesque attack coming at a time when everyone is susceptible to assault if they dare to speak their mind gives it the grim feel of a full circle being reached.

Voltaire’s famous quote on freedom of speech tends to be exhumed for paraphrasing yet again at moments such as this, even if many who spout about freedom of speech don’t necessarily live by Voltaire’s words; for far too many today, free speech is fine as long as it chimes with one’s own opinions; when it doesn’t, it’s deserving of censure, either by organising an online campaign of vile trolldom or going one further, as the head-case who attacked Rushdie did. If hate crime exists at all, surely something like this is the most barbaric example of it, not misgendering some delicate non-binary nitwit on Twitter. As a human being suffering such a brutal attack, one hopes Salman Rushdie survives it; as an increasingly-rare artist advocating freedom of thought, speech and expression, it’s absolutely vital he does.

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THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD

TrussShe may have sped ahead of her solitary rival in a leadership race for the most select of audiences – and she is indeed fortunate to be up against a man so adept at shooting himself in the foot; but Liz Truss (whose name always sounds like it belongs in the toolbox of a St John’s Ambulance-man) was today confronted by stats that don’t reflect her 26-point lead over Rishi Sunak amongst Tory voters. A survey carried out by Opinium suggests Truss’s much-trumpeted solution to the cost-of-living crisis – tax cuts – has not gone down well with the wider electorate; 34% of those polled believe taxes, as well as spending on public services, should stay exactly where they are, and a further 26% want them raised. The survey appeared in the Observer, so Conservative Party members – in whose hands the decision rests, like so many clandestine cardinals picking a new Pope – were not included. Nevertheless, the chosen 160,000 seem to be favouring the Foreign Secretary over the former Chancellor.

Some wag on Twitter cleverly redubbed Rishi’s Tunbridge Wells boast about redirecting ‘levelling up’ funds from deprived urban areas to wealthy Tory shires with a soundtrack of Alan Partridge during his disastrous stint hosting an open-air country show. It was an apt manipulation of a mistimed moment. Yes, Sunak was preaching to the converted and telling them precisely what they wanted to hear, but he surely must have known someone in that crowd would be recording his speech on their phone and was highly unlikely to keep it to themselves. Whilst not necessarily in the same league as Gordon Brown’s infamous ‘bigoted woman’ comment, it was still something of a cock-up characteristic of a campaign that has oozed surface and has been short on substance. One could argue Rishi’s prime concern at the moment is to capture the faithful on whose votes he is ultimately dependent for the keys to No.10 – hence such crowd-pleasing claims – yet he should be aware as much as his rival that a General Election in a couple of years means he has to reach beyond them too.

However, even those who don’t have a say in this contest – i.e. around 97% of the electorate – haven’t been convinced by Sunak’s slick spiel; Truss is well ahead of Rishi as preferred PM amongst all voters; and, as was pointed out at the beginning of this post, Truss’s lead over Rishi is even more impressive amongst those who voted Conservative at the last General Election. Perhaps equally encouraging for Truss is the fact that the same poll puts her ahead of Keir Starmer as a potential Prime Minister, albeit only by one point – though Sunak is four points behind the Labour leader; maybe the fact Truss is regarded by those polled as being more in touch with ordinary folk is merely because the ex-Chancellor makes David Cameron look like Dennis Skinner. And it’s also worth noting that a larger proportion of the lucky 2000 punters asked for their opinions went for the ‘none of the above’ option, which seems to say more about the contenders and the opposition when it comes to this uninspiring spectacle than any of the other stats such a survey can throw up.

Needless to say, anything remotely approaching a ‘honeymoon period’ that Liz Truss is anticipating probably won’t last very long; she’ll take the reins of power in September and within a month she’ll be expected to do something about the much-publicised, astronomical soar in energy prices that is – according to the MSM – poised to plunge most of us who aren’t Tory Party members into fuel poverty. Oh, and the Bank of England is adding to the beloved Doomsday narrative by forecasting the mother of all recessions. When it comes to the issue of energy prices, the futile pursuit of ‘Net Zero’ is noticeably absent from so many column inches as one of the reasons why energy bills will rise for those least able to pay them. The war in Ukraine is a far more convenient reason – and one guaranteed to receive the thumbs-up; after all, it’s bloody horrible and everyone hates Vlad, so it’s a preferable excuse than one shining a light on the way in which Western Governments have capitulated to the most fanatical zealots of the Green lobby at the expense of plebs already struggling to make ends meet.

As for the other treat we’ve got to look forward to in the autumn – i.e. the impending recession – well, it’s not as if nobody saw this coming, is it? If you completely close down industry for months and give no clear indication as to when all those mothballed businesses can reopen, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. The tax cuts Liz Truss favours over what she calls ‘handouts’ to help people cope is a clear nod to Rishi’s magic money tree during the furlough episode of lockdown, effective benefits for the employed which anyone with half-a-brain knew were glorified loans from the Government usurer that would eventually have to be paid back. Actual benefits in the shape of Universal Credit were unsurprisingly the first to feel the pinch, losing the £20-a-week uplift, and since then benefits haven’t kept up with inflation either. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey is keen on Parliament to be recalled from its summer hols to look as if something is being done – as is former PM Gordon Brown, who instigated a report into the cost-of-living crisis that has just been published.

Brown calls on the two leadership contenders as well as Boris to get their fingers out by delivering a special budget ASAP, and has aired his thoughts on the emergency, which are fittingly bleak for a man not renowned for being the life and soul of the party. But, let’s face it – we’re all now becoming as accustomed to emergencies as Brits back in the 1970s were, so the findings of this report make for the expected gloomy reading. Even before energy regulator Ofgem announces details of the rising price cap on fuel, the report claims many families and individuals in Britain appear to exist solely to pay bills at the moment; and having been in that position in the past, I know how demoralising it is. A grassroots movement encouraging those most terrified of what’s to come to essentially go on strike and refuse to pay their bills is a nice, collectivist concept in the tradition of what happened when the Poll Tax was introduced in 1990, but – like the fruits of Sunak’s magic money tree – it’ll still all have to be paid back in the end, anyway, so it’d only just be kicking the can further into the long grass, alas.

‘We are facing a humanitarian crisis that Britain hasn’t seen in decades,’ says Gordon Brown. ‘As living costs continue to skyrocket, families on the brink of making ends meet cannot bridge the gap. (The next Prime Minister) must ensure that families have enough to live, through this crisis and beyond.’ The author of the report, Professor Donald Hirsch, says even those receiving financial assistance from the Government stand to see their standard of living decline rapidly; Prof. Hirsch’s report states an unemployed couple with two kids will be as much as £1,300 worse off a year. Gordon Brown urges action immediately, and if that fails to happen soon, that failure will be responsible for ‘condemning millions of vulnerable and blameless children and pensioners to a winter of dire poverty’.

I guess many MPs will currently be sunning themselves on some beach that the majority of their constituents will never sun themselves on, and the recent publication of the latest expenses claims by Honourable Members suggests their world remains a parallel universe of privilege to ours. And, smack bang in the middle of this uneasy calm before a dreaded storm, we’re lumbered with a lame duck Prime Minister counting down the days till his eviction and a couple of potential replacements travelling up and down the country, selling themselves to people who are amongst the least threatened by what awaits the rest of us. Doesn’t fill you with much confidence, does it.

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SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT

La RueThey might be stereotyped as gammon-flavoured ‘White Supremacists’ at worst or plebeian homophobes at best, but the parents concerned about the indoctrination of their prepubescent children into the extremities of Trans dogma are rightly up in arms that the educational authorities have allowed nurseries, libraries and primary schools to be infiltrated by an ideology that should be reserved for those old enough to make their own minds up. The parents have been left with little choice but to gate-crash the disturbing trend for drag queens to host an alternative ‘Jackanory’ for toddlers in some of our public libraries, promoting ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘queer role models’ before an audience far too young to grasp the intricacies of a philosophy that routinely outfoxes adults. Drag queens – occasionally entertaining foul-mouthed parodies of female sexuality and purveyors of camp sensibilities in the right context – have no place broadcasting Identitarian propaganda to pre-school children in a supposed ‘safe space’. And those parents who allow their offspring to be exposed to a trend (unsurprisingly) imported from across the pond are as misguided in their attempts to raise a generation without prejudice as parents in the past were in trying to beat traditional gender roles into children exhibiting signs of ‘effeminacy’ or tomboyish traits.

Along with bowing and kneeling before the ubiquitous Pride flag in an enforced ceremony of emotional blackmail that would raise a smile on the chubby countenance of Kim Jong-un, accepting extreme Trans beliefs without question has become a sinister strain of social engineering in recent years, helped in no small part by the successful lobbying tactics of a one-time gay charity that lost the plot a long time ago. That now-beyond saving bastion of unhinged activism called Stonewall has a strong foothold in the corridors of power and a disproportionate influence in the corporate world; it awards brownie points in the Top 100 Employers Index to businesses and organisations that slavishly adhere to its Workplace Equality doctrine in a desperate bid to evade social media blacklisting. The gender-identity mantra pursued with such aggressive fanaticism by Stonewall since around 2015 has been adopted across the board by virtually all of our institutions, and any dissenting voices are silenced by unleashing online hounds that take no prisoners, whether the critic is male, female, straight or gay.

Former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies has been fighting a brave battle against the desecration of her old sport as it has allowed mediocre male swimmers suddenly identifying as female to enter women’s disciplines and to utilise their physical advantages in order to claim the top of the podium when the medals are dished out. For her troubles, Davies has been subjected to awful levels of online abuse; but just as race-baiting activism often exposes the racism of its practitioners, the deep-rooted misogyny at the heart of Trans activism is similarly plain to see when natural-born women rebel against the deranged dogma pushed at them from all sides. Labelled TERFs – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – any woman opposed to men who abruptly declare themselves women without committing to gender-reassignment surgery, those who believe simple self-identification entitles them to overnight access into female-only spaces such as public toilets and changing rooms, is fair game for the same treatment received by Sharron Davies and – even more so – JK Rowling.

The insanity of being beholden to this fantasy philosophy is evident in the increasingly embarrassing activities of Police Forces online (activities that erode the last remaining vestiges of respect for the Force even further), as well as headlines describing a ‘male rapist’ whose victims were duped due to ‘his’ prosthetic penis; yes, of course, this rapist was a woman identifying as a man, for an actual man obviously wouldn’t need a fake prick to commit his vile crime. Yet, the fact the misleading headline portrayed her as a man was as disturbing a diversion into fiction as the fact she has to be referred to as a man during court proceedings and in any reporting of the case. This is how the 2010 Equality Act – one of the most abused pieces of legislation arguably ever passed by a British Government – has been twisted to fit the Trans ideology. OK, one can identify as anything one wants to, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to fall in line with the individual’s personal preference; I mean, I could suddenly say I identify as an 18th century nobleman, but does that entitle me to turn up at the House of Lords in an ermine ensemble and demand entry to the chamber?

Yes, it’s mad enough when all of this is inflicted upon the voting-age public by academia, the media, the NHS, the Church of England, the Police Force and the worlds of sport and entertainment, but when children are subjected to it as well, something has to give. Parents who take it upon themselves to diagnose their kids as gender dysphorian and decide they need sex-change surgery are playing a dangerous game that could have lifelong consequences for their children. Take the case of Keira Bell, a young woman who a couple of years back won a High Court case against the now rightly-discredited (and soon to close) Gender Identity Service at the NHS Tavistock and Portman Clinic. Aged 14, the tomboy Bell came to believe this defining aspect of her personality meant she required gender reassignment when nobody told her it was perfectly fine to not be ‘girly’; after a mere handful of appointments at the said clinic, she was placed on a course of ‘puberty blockers’ whilst barely 16, her life in the hands of gender-identity ideologues who have espoused the belief that even 10-year-olds who don’t conform to gender stereotypes can undergo experimental treatments.

On testosterone at 17, Bell endured a double mastectomy at 20, yet shortly afterwards the damage done began to dawn on her. By this time, she was mature enough to decide personal issues around gender and sexuality for herself; but it was too late. She has since joined the lengthening queue of those who have ‘de-transitioned’, but the mental scars of her state-sanctioned mutilation will probably outlast even the physical ones. At times, the solution to Keira Bell’s adolescent confusion is chillingly similar to that practiced in Iran, whereby anyone suspected of homosexual leanings is automatically placed on the transitioning waiting-list; moreover, it’s also reminiscent of the kind of ‘chemical castration’ Alan Turing was subjected to in the 1950s, as though the G in the LGBTXYZ acronym is something to be discouraged; showing gay or lesbian symptoms when young is now seemingly seen as a green light for transitioning.

Confused teens in a mess due to a variety of tragic reasons have been sold the idea that changing sex is the panacea that will resolve their problems, with organisations such as the Gender Identity Service at Tavistock responsible for spinning such a dangerous yarn – though the likes of the NSPCC and Bernardo’s, establishments that are supposed to protect the interests of children, have been just as culpable in propagating this myth, along with the dubious Trans-youth lobbyists, Mermaid. And all are in the pockets of Stonewall, who have recently put forward the ridiculous proposition that ‘children as young as two recognise their Trans identity’. Stonewall already has a handy guide for parents and schools re children living as their ‘chosen gender’; along with primary school teaching materials selling fanciful theories as fact – such as claiming sex is assigned at birth by doctors rather than being determined by straightforward biology – it’s no wonder parents are waking-up to just how deeply the Stonewall agenda has been embedded in the educational system.

An acquaintance of mine who has spent the past twelve months or so transitioning from male to female took this life-changing decision following a slow realisation spread over several years. Children do not have the luxury of getting to know themselves in the same way, and any efforts to ‘sexualise’ them can also take them down some very dark roads indeed. However, it does appear that people are at last beginning to push back against this dogma; those in genuine need of help should be able to receive it, but those whose issues are not gender dysphorian should be steered well away from an ideology whose fantasy is not reality.

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MASS DEBATING

Dumb and DumberAlthough he remains television’s premier political inquisitor, Andrew Neil – the one-time heir to Day and Paxman – has seen his stock fall somewhat in the last couple of years. He quit the BBC in a flurry of publicity in order to be the frontman for GB News when it was launched as the ‘anti-Woke’ current affairs channel, yet backstage clashes saw him vanish from the station in a matter of weeks as GB News experienced its own off-screen, TV-am-style melodrama. After a period of silence, Neil re-emerged to tell his side of the story in the press and seemed to be begging for forgiveness from the MSM; slipping seamlessly into reverse gear, he resurfaced in the very newsroom GB News was supposed to be the antidote to, that of Channel 4. Perhaps it says a great deal about the quality of younger news presenters and interviewers that even after his recent about-turn and inconsistent opinions, Neil is still ‘The Man’, and nobody has impressed as the inheritor of the mantle he’s worn for over a decade. He’s fortunate this is the case, but he didn’t take as much time out as Jeremy Paxman had when he briefly returned to the fray for one last time during the 2017 General Election; alas, an extended holiday hosting ‘University Challenge’ and leisurely Sunday evening docs had utterly blunted his precision and Paxo came across as a parody of his old self. Andrew Neil, it seems, has still got what it takes.

On Monday it was announced Neil would be presenting an exclusive one-on-one interview with Prime Ministerial hopeful Rishi Sunak on C4 this Friday; and it looks as though the ex-Chancellor will be facing a grilling from Brillo alone. Sunak tweeted the announcement with a knowing ‘Just me then?’ comment, as Liz Truss appears to have turned down the offer. Mind you, if she’s seen as the continuity candidate, she’s sticking to the same script Boris penned during the last General Election, when he repeatedly refused to be drawn into an interrogation by Neil. Whilst supporters of the PM continue to wind-up the Boris-haters with talk of 10,000 members signing a petition for him to remain in the job or at least be considered a candidate in the leadership contest, the actual battle to seize the tenancy of No.10 is between his former Chancellor and his incumbent Foreign Secretary, whether or not the latter can’t handle Andrew Neil. Mind you, Liz Truss must imagine she doesn’t need to put herself in such a vulnerable position.

With the loss of two contenders who might have made a difference – Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt – the beneficiary of the whittling down has been Truss, whose lead over Rishi Sunak at the moment leaves the one-time golden boy with a lot of work to do, maybe explaining why he agreed to be grilled by Andrew Neil; Liz Truss’s abysmal showing on the first two TV debates perhaps points to another reason why she’s chickened out. She couldn’t really bottle it when it came to the BBC debate between just her and her rival, but I suspect confronted by Neil at his best (which one hopes we get), Truss’s evident limitations would be exposed even further. Having said that, her dullness and Rishi’s blandness are such a striking contrast with the sub-Berlusconi persona of Boris that neither could illuminate the small screen nor convince anyone outside of the tiny percentage of the electorate with a vote that either was worth investing in. Indeed, watching this spectacle as it unfolds almost makes me feel like a peasant witnessing the hustings at an 18th century Rotten Borough, with the two nominees in the pocket of the local landowner making their pitches to the gentry.

A candidate who fell at an earlier hurdle – Tom ‘I used to be in the Army, you know’ Tugendhat – has pledged he will gladly work in the Cabinet of either Sunak or Truss, exhuming the ‘serving the nation’ spiel he utilised during the first TV debate. ‘I would serve any Conservative leader who asked me to,’ he said on ‘The World at One’, ‘because it’s about serving the country and serving the British people. It would be a privilege to do so.’ Having recently re-watched the ‘Yes Minister’ episode in which Jim Hacker is promoted to PM at the end, I can’t help but imagine the furtive promises of posts which must have been whispered in corridors or made in dimly-lit rooms by both remaining candidates once everyone else had been eliminated. The booby prize back then – at least according to ‘Yes Minister’ – was the Northern Ireland job, though I guess some other Ministry is probably used as a similar threat today should a member of the Cabinet not vote a particular way. I suppose Scotland would be a pretty thankless task for a Tory Minister in 2022, though Ulster is still a far-from dream posting, if for different reasons now. However, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Treasury remain the biggest bargaining chips available to Sunak and Truss as they seek to court the favour of colleagues.

As was shrewdly pointed out on this very blog by a certain Mr Mudplugger at the time, the unexpected second placing of the UK at this year’s Eurovision now appears to have been a premeditated effort by European nations to ensure the Contest would be hosted once again by the Brits when the foregone conclusion of a Ukraine win would preclude that troubled nation as a venue next year. It’s coming home; it’s coming home etc. Anyway, the BBC’s choice of Stoke-on-Trent to be the location for the third TV debate on Monday was motivated by similarly canny planning. Of the city’s three Parliamentary Constituencies, two – North and Central – were Red Wall seats that fell to the Tories in 2019 after almost 70 years in Labour hands, whereas the other – Stoke-on-Trent South – has been blue since 2017. So, a Conservative city that has spent the majority of its life as a Labour one – where better to host the first head-to-head between the last two contenders standing?

And those two contenders looked like their future representations at Madame Tussaud’s in the bizarre intro to the BBC debate, staring into the camera side-by-side as Sophie Raworth introduced them; in fact, I had to make sure they were indeed the real thing and not waxworks by checking their blinking – not that it’s easy to tell, to be honest. Anyway, Sunak responded to the first question from an audience member – all Tory voters last time round, apparently – by paying tribute to the former Northern Ireland First Minister and Good Friday Agreement player David Trimble, whose death had just been announced; he then launched into a defence of his economic policies as well as a simultaneous assault on his opponent’s plans for the economy. Rishi reckons his record as Chancellor gives him a grounding in economics that Truss lacks and one that will provide him with an advantage as PM; he also constantly played the pandemic card whenever his record came into question, as though that freak event was to blame for any shortcomings in the office. He played the Brexit card too, eliciting applause from a studio audience in a city that voted overwhelmingly Leave. Smart move.

China came up as an issue, with both contenders accusing the other of sucking up to the Chinese; but this was a pattern throughout the debate, each hurling allegations between their respective lecterns based on quotes they’d made in the past. The descent down to playground level has been exacerbated by tit-for-tat comments emanating from supporters of both camps on the subject of suits, shoes and earrings; Truss dismissed such trivialities by harping on about the locality in which the debate was staged as well as her upbringing on the middle-class mean streets of Roundhay in Leeds, whilst Sunak counteracted accusations of his expensive fashion tastes by constantly referring to his immigrant parents and how hard they worked to provide for him. Sunak’s near-catchphrase ‘You know what?’ had a small handful of outings again, whilst Truss’s right arm was as active as before; but the fact that Sunak felt the need to distance himself from Boris whenever the PM was mentioned seemed to suggest he was reaching out beyond the Tory faithful that Truss appears content to solely appeal to. Maybe Andrew Neil will hone in on that come Friday. We shall see.

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ANOTHER FINE MESS

Tory LeadershipAs has been said several times since the Tory leadership race was pared down to a pair yesterday, if Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are the best the Conservative Party can come up with to replace Boris Johnson, maybe they’d have been better off leaving Boris in the job. Well, blame the Tory MPs if you want to blame anybody. If online polls are any kind of guide, the actual membership out in the Shires seemed to favour the eliminated outsiders Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt – both of whom would have provided the break with the recent past that the two remaining contenders cannot by virtue of being tainted by their Boris associations, regardless of how Sunak has been recast overnight by the Right of the Party as the Conservative antichrist. Now those same Tory Party members who largely preferred the other candidates have to decide between the lacklustre couple their elected representatives selected, and what a choice for 0.3% of the electorate to be presented with.

Although not all of them stood up to applaud Boris’s PMQs finale in typically sycophantic fashion, those Tory MPs that clearly didn’t want the PM to go must be wondering if the erratic old frying pan was preferable to the unfamiliar fire they now find themselves in. Usually, a Prime Minister is forced from office when there’s an outstanding successor waiting in the wings; this time round, there was nobody. Rishi may have been in the lead from day one (or long before considering how instant his campaign was), but it still feels as though most are making do with the ex-Chancellor as a potential PM because the dearth of talent on the Tory frontbench means there’s no one else to get excited about; maybe the Party should have considered this before ousting the man who won it one of the biggest majorities in its history less than three years ago.

Theresa May was notable in keeping her hands to herself during the applause that accompanied Boris’s theatrical exit from the Commons yesterday; in fact, there’s almost a fascinatingly Heath/Thatcher vibe to their increasingly frosty relationship now, with the sulky old Maybot no doubt basking in the same euphoric sense of karma at Boris’s toppling as Ted did when Maggie was forced out in 1990. Her blatant visual statement was not wholly unique amongst her colleagues, though it had more of an outing on the other side of the House, where both the SNP and the Labour Party came across as scoring petty political points with what could be viewed as rather childish petulance. Or maybe they were merely in mourning as the man who they probably regarded as their greatest electoral asset left the stage. For voters allergic to the louder-than-life Boris, Sir Keir presented them with the perfect colourless antidote, whereas the Labour leader will now be going head-to-head with either a Tory PM who mirrors his blandness (Sunak) or one who reflects his dullness back at him (Truss). Both candidates could make the chalk & cheese contrasts Starmer was dependent upon with Boris at the next Election a suddenly redundant weapon.

‘Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror’ were amongst Boris’s final telling words to the Commons as PM, something that could be perceived as another dig in the direction of the man who set the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago. Rishi Sunak is viewed by some Tories as being as guilty of treachery as Michael Heseltine once was, which might explain the otherwise unfathomable reason why Boris loyalist Liz Truss has managed to make it all the way to the final two, regardless of her dismal performances in the TV debates. And, of course, there’s the old saying concerning the wielder of the dagger failing to wear the crown; Rishi is seen as the assassin by Boris disciples, and perhaps the only option open to them that might soothe the pain is to see Sunak denied Downing Street by Liz Truss. Don’t rule it out as an outcome, though they should be careful what they wish for.

Last night, ‘Newsnight’ excavated some typically embarrassing early TV footage of both contenders, with 2001-vintage Sunak resembling one of those interchangeable adolescent archetypes routinely upgraded every couple of years on the likes of ‘Neighbours’. Meanwhile, the clip of Liz Truss in her former political life, speaking at the Lib Dem Conference in 1994, was pretty much up there in the toe-curling stakes with the infamous schoolboy incarnation of William Hague in 1977. Truss looked and sounded like the sort of annoying middle-class student who can’t help herself from lecturing anyone within range on a subject she’s just read about for the first time the day before, acting the expert in the most condescending way imaginable. True, most of us would find footage of ourselves as teenagers something of an endurance test, but it was possible to see in the 19-year-old Liz Truss the unmistakable genesis of everything about her that remains irritating three decades later.

The last man to relocate from No.11 to No.10 was Gordon Brown, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for Rishi Sunak. However, one of the reasons the dour Scotsman failed to connect with the electorate was his cringe-inducing attempts to echo the overconfident slickness of the man he replaced as soon as he moved next-door. A personality transplant carried out in public painfully highlighted the fact Gordon Brown was not Tony Blair, and all the forced Colgate-ad smiles and head-shaking efforts at cracking jokes during speeches failed miserably. What Gordon Brown should have offered was an alternative to Blair, not a supermarket own-brand version of him, and when it comes to following Boris the one thing we can at least be certain of is that neither Sunak nor Truss will take the Brown route; they’re playing upon the fact they can’t be anything but an alternative. The Boris character, seemingly the unholy offspring of PG Wodehouse and Jilly Cooper, is an utterly impossible act to follow in terms of imitation; Boris has inhabited that character for so many years now that he became a parody of himself a long time ago, and any attempt to ‘do a Boris’ by his successor would be like Mike Yarwood succeeding Harold Wilson in 1976.

So, what we are left with is the bland and the boring. Sunak has the ‘Cameron factor’ that both May and Boris lacked, even if it’s a one-time winner that the electorate had already become weary of by the time of the EU Referendum. On the other hand, one of the few things Truss has in common with Boris is her knack of saying something stupid in public, as well as a stint as Foreign Secretary almost as memorable as that of Johnson, if only for her embarrassing grasp of geography giving the game away. Sunak is too polished and too smooth, whereas Truss is a poor communicator prone to gaffes – no wonder the latter is regarded as ‘the continuity candidate’ by Boris groupies like Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Neither of them, however, is offering a clear vision for the country other than promising the usual goodie-bag of incentives to win over voters. Truss says she will reverse the National Insurance rise and suspend the green levy; Sunak says he will cut income tax and increase corporation tax. And that’s about it.

According to the latest listings, Sunak and Truss will engage in a debate on the BBC next Monday, and the cancelled Sky debate is scheduled to belatedly take place in a couple of weeks. Whether or not any further sparks will be ignited when the two are deprived of the other candidates whose interjections and accusations at least made the programme worth watching is something we don’t yet know. Whatever happens, neither can look forward to the lucrative book deals and after-dinner speaking their departing predecessor is probably pencilling into his diary before handing the chalice he poisoned to the lucky winner in September.

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THE SUMMERTIME BLUES

SummerNo, I haven’t melted away like a budget supermarket ice-pop, though a 7-day absence might lead to that assumption when one takes into account the latest extension of Project Fear. Monkey Pox clearly wasn’t enough to stoke a revival of the Pandemic panic favoured by the MSM, so an especially roasting heat-wave appears to justify the compulsory fear-mongering tactics; in fact, I’ve been waiting for that ever-dependable soothsayer of hysteria Neil Ferguson to pop up and tell us how many thousands are going to die. We’ve certainly had enough heat-waves every occasional summer this century to be accustomed to the routine and we’re not as dumb as our lords and masters imagine. Those out there – not me, I hasten to add – who enjoy baking in sunshine are more than likely to apply the requisite amount of sun-cream to their flesh, and schools that remain open probably won’t have children dispatched at the gates by parents who’ve knitted them woolly pullovers to keep out the chill. Care-home staff members have been advised to spray their dehydrating elderly inmates with cold water as they would their window-box flowers – and what is the recommended sword & shield protection against summer Armageddon? A bottle of water, sun-cream and…er…a hat.

Whilst 1976 – yes, it was inevitable that would be mentioned – is still the most continuously hottest summer ever recorded, the single hottest days in UK history that made the record books took place in 2003 and 2019 respectively; not that you’d know this when the Met Office now measures heat-waves using a system that has only been in place since last year; no wonder this summer is receiving the ‘hottest ever’ accolade, along with a suitably apocalyptic ‘red heat warning’ element. Even a Met Office meteorologist who designed the new map and its inferno-insinuating colour scheme claims his baby has been doctored by the media to fit the current narrative, saying the map was ‘just the latest example of a vocal minority trying to spread misinformation in response to the Met Office’s science-based weather and climate forecasts’. His explanation for the change of colour from muddy green to scarlet on the said map was that it enabled the colour blind to appreciate an increase in heat when the shading alters more severely; he also claimed the colours don’t correspond with the temperatures provided, with the former intended to depict the far higher temperatures commonplace in Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent.

So, yes, be careful out there; but don’t be scared to be out there; you might be mistaken for a chicken – like Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss. Both bottled out of a third TV debate of No.10 hopefuls for fear that their entertaining bickering might paint a poor picture of the Party for viewers at home. They clearly don’t realise that most reckon the brand has been irreparably damaged enough by their predecessor, so a couple of Boris’s former team exchanging a few terse words is hardly going to make the electorate rush to the nearest Labour Party offices in disgust. Besides, only a tiny percentage of those witnesses to a minor spat in public will have a say in who wins the Downing Street keys, anyway, and the contenders have already been depleted further in the absence of a third debate. The mild-mannered Tom Tugendhat will have to reserve his references to having been on the frontline in Afghanistan and Iraq for the backbenches in future, as he and his war stories were eliminated in the latest round of voting yesterday. That leaves Sunak, Truss, Penny Mordaunt and rank outsider Kemi Badenoch as the last four before the numbers are whittled down to two.

Sunak, peddling the casual ‘call me Dave’ tie-free look, almost established a new catchphrase in the second televised debate, considering how many times he prefaced a speech with ‘You know what?’, though it has yet to ascend the cultural apex of ‘I agree with Nick’. Liz Truss’s evident ineptitude meant she failed to even try to come up with a catchphrase, though her right arm hovering in the ex-Chancellor’s direction every time she made what she regarded as a valid statement would serve as a visual pointer for any budding Janet Brown, I guess. I wasn’t surprised by Rishi’s slickness or his Blair-like insincerity; he came across as a kind of Bob Monkhouse without the late comic’s famous joke book to fall back on. But Liz Truss was even worse than I imagined beforehand, reminding me more of Theresa May than Margaret Thatcher, with a weak speaking voice and an unconvincing way of selling herself that was uncomfortably reminiscent of Mavis from ‘Coronation Street’. I can only think that her inexplicable popularity amongst some members of the Conservative Party is down to her being seen as a ‘continuity candidate’ for those who lament the forced exit of Boris. It’s certainly nothing to do with her woeful sales pitch, and it’s entirely feasible that one more pitiful performance on TV would have exposed her limitations even further. No wonder she pulled out at the eleventh hour.

Penny Mordaunt gave what could generously be called a competent showing over the two debates we got, neither making a big impression nor making a fool of herself. The main obstacle between her and Downing Street is the ongoing campaign being waged against her by supporters of the two favourites, particularly her backtracking on the Trans issue. Having gone on record in the past uttering the infamous phrase ‘Trans women are women’, Mordaunt is now in reverse gear, denying statements that have been resurrected in the public arena as a means of demonstrating she’d be another PM saying one thing one day and saying the complete opposite the next. At least Kemi Badenoch challenged her on this subject during the second debate, and when Kemi was given the chance to speak (which didn’t appear to be as often as the other candidates) she impressed. It would be a breath of fresh air were she to overtake the other three and capture the keys to No.10, but despite recognition of her as one to watch, perhaps her bid has come too early in her career to cross the finishing line at this moment in time. If she managed it, it would be the real break with the recent past that Tom Tugendhat repeatedly emphasised as a necessity for winning the next General Election, but the odds seem stacked against it right now; and the Tories may well pay the price at the ballot box in 2024 for not taking a gamble on Kemi Badenoch.

As it is, Boris’s successor won’t be crowned until the autumn, anyway, as the PM won a vote of confidence in the Commons last night by 349 votes to 238, giving the Government a majority of 111. It means he’ll remain Prime Minister for the next seven weeks, serving out his premiership like a lame duck President in the final months of his second term. The five-hour debate in the Commons was fittingly ill-tempered as Boris attempted to big-up his record in office, extending the highlights that were edited during his resignation speech a couple of weeks ago. Still exhibiting the brazen denial of what actually curtailed his residency at No.10 – i.e. himself – Boris even looked to the future with the same gung-ho bullshit. ‘After three dynamic and exhilarating years in the cockpit,’ he waffled, ‘we will find a new leader and we coalesce in loyalty around him or her. And the vast twin Rolls-Royce engines of our Tory message, our Conservative values, will roar on – strong public services on the left, and a dynamic free market enterprise economy on the right, each boosting the other and developing trillions of pounds of thrust.’ It’s a wonder a fleet of Spitfires didn’t soar over the Palace of Westminster at the climax of his speech.

Oh, well; a third televised Tory leadership debate might have provided a brief distraction from the ‘red heat warning’, if only for the likes of me to write about it afterwards; but what we saw in the two debates more or less confirmed everything we suspected about the leading candidates, anyway. And we have no more influence over who’ll be our next PM than we do over how hot it is.

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VEERING OFF-SCRIPT

Kemi BadenochOne of the few plus points when Donald Trump was elected US President in 2016 was at the least the opportunity to watch the ‘Progressive Left’ that controls cultural output in the West embark on a highly entertaining four-year meltdown as it struggled to come to terms with the fact the plebs didn’t do as they were told and vote for their candidate. Since then, of course, most of the Progressive Left’s toxic philosophies have been imported into the UK, so one wonders what entertainment we might be in for should the Conservative Party choose to elect a black woman to succeed Boris Johnson. After all, the Woke wing are as set in their blinkered ways as the mega-computer that malfunctioned in the typically prescient episode of ‘The Prisoner’ warning of the dumbing-down of education titled ‘The General’, when No.6 simply punches the question ‘Why?’ into the machine and it blows a permanent fuse. The patronising expectation is that people of colour are supposed to think the way the Identity Politics police tell them to, so how does that explain Kemi Badenoch?

The former Minister for Women and Equalities is undoubtedly the sole intriguing contender in a rather tired and jaded list of runners and riders competing to replace Boris at No.10 – and not just because she’s something of an unknown to the majority of people outside of her Saffron Walden constituency. She launched her campaign early with an impressive piece in the Times a few days ago, and by hitting out at the cancelling culture of Identity Politics and the overreach of the State, she instantly connected with many way beyond the narrow confines of the Tory Shires whose favour she already seems to have won by standing a close second behind Penny Mordaunt in the poll amongst Party members on ConservativeHome. Unlike some of her fellow contenders who see no shame in being a ‘continuity candidate’ (surely the last thing the country needs), Badenoch looks forward whilst shrewdly avoiding alienating those members who still believe in the soon-to-be-ex-PM by describing Boris as ‘a symptom of the problems we face, not the cause of them’. She added that ‘What’s missing is an intellectual grasp of what is required to run the country in an era of increased polarisation, protectionism and populism amplified by social media’.

Badenoch made a key point when she wrote of how her vision of governing Britain ‘can achieve things despite entrenched opposition from a cultural establishment that will not accept the world has moved on from Blairism.’ Rishi Sunak, the bookies’ favourite, launched his own campaign in a slick manner all-too reminiscent of Blair, and the billionaire smoothie exuded an insincerity that wouldn’t make anyone looking to pick up a second-hand motor part with their pennies. He reminds me so much of a slippery estate agent and the argument that he has Cabinet experience due to his largely ineffective spell as Chancellor isn’t a good enough reason to make him PM. Badenoch has Cabinet experience too, and that’s more than either David Cameron or St Tony himself could boast when they took office. Okay, so she might have received the backing of Michael Gove, but we shouldn’t hold that against her. Anyway, a reminder of what she’s up against came via ‘working-class barrister’ and noted fox-killer Jolyon Maugham, who asked in a sneering tweet if the Tories would dare elect a ‘brown person’ as PM. Considering half of the four great offices of state have been occupied by ‘brown people’ during Boris’s tenure and his Cabinet has been the most racially diverse in history, why wouldn’t they?

Three of the contenders in this race – Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Sajid Javid – are in interracial marriages, further disrupting the narrative; and if you push the narrative that anyone non-white is an oppressed victim, then any person of colour who contradicts it by tearing up the rule book and transcending such restrictive boundaries by not acknowledging their place is fair game to be called an Uncle Tom, or – as was the case with the black Supreme Court judge who helped overturn the Roe Vs Wade ruling in the US – an ‘uppity ni****’, as he was labelled by an activist on Twitter. It’s like inserting the word ‘white’ into one’s description of a detested individual – and even the most otherwise seemingly sane people now do it – as though their whiteness is the cause of everything you hate about them, as though without that they’d be OK; therefore, for a person of colour to cross the Rubicon and see beyond colour is asking for it.

How will the Identitarian storm-troopers of the Left react if the next PM is a black woman and one with the ‘wrong opinions’ who has voiced the feelings of millions by saying out loud that people are sick and tired of being told what they can and can’t say? Badenoch already roused the Identitarian ire when she announced the ending of the disastrous ‘gender neutral’ toilet experiment in all new public buildings, so expect a storm.

When any prominent person of colour veers off-script, the Progressive reaction is the point at which virulent ‘antiracism’ merely exposes itself as straightforward racism. Minorities who have the wrong opinions and white people who aren’t prepared to self-flagellate in public as penance for their Original Sin – perfectly fine to apply racism to them, of course. Activists want the races to be educated separately in the US – Jim Crow, anyone? – and their segregationist ‘antiracism’ naturally extends to frowning upon the coming together of races by marriage. Someone calling herself ‘Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu’ tweeted in response to the news that Badenoch was running, ‘Her power grabbing ambition is rooted in discrediting & delegitimizing antiracism efforts, denying systematic racism’ – the bread & butter of race-baiting activism, of course – ‘whitewashing British Empire & enabling White supremacy against black people. She can crawl back into her mother.’

What we are seeing now is a long-overdue backlash against this kind of thinking, which has been allowed to run riot across all our institutions for far too long; and the backlash is not some far-right extremist movement; it’s ordinary, apolitical people of all colours and all genders who are sick to the back teeth of this Soviet-style mind control, weary of the constant policing of their speech. Take early noughties one-hit wonder Macy Gray, who aired a ‘controversial’ opinion on the trans issue, received the predictable vomit of online abuse and hatred and then hastily retracted her opinion and begged forgiveness as she claimed to be on ‘a learning curve’ (reminiscent of Keith Lemon a couple of years ago); she should never have apologised and bowed before our cultural Politburo in this way, for forgiveness and redemption are not elements of the religion – you give them the proverbial inch and they take more miles than The Proclaimers have ever walked. But we see this happening time and time again and people have had enough. Whether or not a long shot like Kemi Badenoch can arrest this by becoming PM is in the lap of the Conservative membership; but at the moment she seems like the only fresh apple in a fairly rotten barrel.

MICHAEL BARRATT (1928-2022)

Michael Barratt94 is certainly what used to be referred to as ‘a good innings’, and that’s the age that avuncular pair of safe childhood hands Michael Barratt made it to before exiting the stage a couple of days ago. As the anchor of ‘Nationwide’ for eight years, right from its beginning in 1969, gruff-voiced Barratt was the Harold Wilson lookalike who linked the country at teatime from his desk at Lime Grove, routinely swivelling around on his chair to face one of the monitor screens behind him and conducting a down-the-line interview with BBC studios from Bristol to Birmingham and from Norwich to Newcastle; vicars jumping over eggs, skateboarding ducks and beer-drinking snails were amongst the many regional attractions to receive national coverage and lead to the inevitable parodies on comedy shows such as ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’. Barratt wasn’t beyond sending himself up either, making a couple of memorable cameos in episodes of ‘The Goodies’ at the height of his status as a much-loved fixture of the television furniture in the 1970s. So ubiquitous was he in the middle of the decade that as a child I was even convinced it was him and not Lenny Bruce to be found with all the other famous faces on the cover of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Part of me still wishes it was.

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RUSSIAN ROULETTE

ElenaMedia types who weren’t even there have spent several months now banging on about how Britain is going ‘back to the 70s’ simply because they assume today’s perilous economic climate is somehow comparable to that of a decade they only know through endlessly recycled clichés of candlelit households, picket lines, and pavements piled high with rubbish. Ironically, however, whilst the hysterical heads on our news channels were promoting the cost-of-living crisis as the embodiment of this narrative, the summer’s premier sporting contest came close to experiencing a moment genuinely reminiscent of a 70s incident that almost caused its cancellation 49 years ago. Like Wimbledon 2022, Wimbledon 1973 saw a British man reach the semi-final of the singles’ tournament, yet the achievements of both Cameron Norrie and Roger Taylor were overshadowed by events off-court.

In 1973, the Open Era was still a relatively new innovation and the leading tennis players of the period were feeling liberated by the sudden change in their circumstances – especially financially. Take a player like Rod Laver, still the only man in the history of the sport to twice hold all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year; the fact he achieved this in 1962 but then not again until 1969 highlights how from 1963 to 1968 Laver was unable to compete in such tournaments, as their Olympian ideal stated one had to be an amateur to take part; once you turned pro and tried to make a living from your talent, you were effectively exiled from the competitive game thereafter. A long-overdue change to the rules in the late 60s restored the world’s greatest tennis players to the Grand Slam stage, including Laver; but who knows how many more titles he could have added to his 198 (which remains a record) had he not lost five years in the middle of his career. By 1972, buoyed by the lucrative Open Era, the formation of the Association of Tennis Professionals had given players some independent clout and this was something they demonstrated the following year when they flexed their muscles against the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the global governing body of the game.

The first opportunity for players to take a stance came when Nikola Pilić, Yugoslavia’s No.1, was suspended by his own national lawn tennis association on the grounds he had bowed out of a Davis Cup tie played by his nation; the suspension spanned nine months and was supported by the ILTF; it was eventually reduced to a month, but that month encompassed the Wimbledon fortnight. The ATP responded to the ban by stating that if it wasn’t lifted they’d pull their players out of the tournament in support; what followed next were weeks of legal wrangling which eventually ended in an ATP boycott of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. 13 of the intended 16 seeds pulled out, with only the likes of the 1972 Wimbledon runner-up Ilie Năstase and Britain’s Roger Taylor defying the boycott amongst the more established players; up-and-coming youngsters such as Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors took advantage to progress in the absence of the bigger names (including defending champ Stan Smith), and the title was won by Czech Jan Kodeš, whose presence representing an Eastern Bloc country probably meant he had no option but to compete.

49 years later, the Russian invasion of Ukraine provoked several measures by the world of sport; the ATP – not quite as anti-establishment as in its original incarnation half-a-century earlier – responded with the token gesture of relocating the St Petersburg Open to Kazakhstan at the beginning of the conflict, but didn’t enforce a ban of Russian or Belarusian players from tournaments, unlike other sporting bodies, such as FIFA, UEFA and the IOC. When Wimbledon came around, however, a ban was imposed. The ATP’s rather petulant reaction, one that perhaps emphasised how far it had come since its formation 50 years before, was to remove world ranking points from Wimbledon. Prestigious competitions such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup upheld the same ban of players from Russia and Belarus, yet both the French and US Open declined to follow suit; in the case of the former, it decided to go with the unsatisfactory compromise of having players from the guilty countries participate as ‘neutral players without national flags’. The decision of the All England Club was applauded by several Ukrainian players, though the ATP sided with the now-ITF this time round. Defending Wimbledon men’s champion (and a man who retained his crown yet again yesterday) Novak Djokovic criticised the ban, though as someone who has already suffered at the hands of a political incursion into sport via his experience at the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, perhaps it’s understandable he wants to keep politics out of tennis. At one point, it seemed as though the tournament was threatened with a rerun of 1973, though in the end it didn’t quite work out as planned for the All England Club.

One might say Wimbledon’s ban has backfired – and the moral conundrum of holding sportsmen and women responsible for the actions of the nations whose flags they perform under is a contentious one; it denied the competition the men’s world No.1 Daniil Medvedev, for one thing; but if the non-appearance of Russia’s former Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova (who sensationally defeated Serena Williams as a 17-year-old in 2004) at the past champions’ parade was a notable casualty of the ban, it was perhaps viewed as less of an awkward absentee than usual BBC pundit Boris Becker, who no doubt tried to catch what he could of the tournament whilst sewing mailbags on D Wing. No, the implications of the ban became more embarrassing for the All England Club as a girl born and raised in Moscow progressed through the tournament and ended up making it all the way to the ladies’ final; up against Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian No.1 and the first North African woman to make the final, Elena Rybakina was not exactly the winner the burghers of Wimbledon were hoping for. Jabeur winning the opening set of the final eased a few furrowed brows; but Rybakina dug deep and struck back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

There was no doubt Ons Jabeur was the woman the All England Club and the BBC were keeping their fingers crossed for, but Rybakina spoilt the party and maintained the impressive trail she’d blazed throughout the tournament, none more so than when crushing in-form 2019 champ Simona Halep in the semi-final, 6-3, 6-3. After the pre-tournament headlines had been so focused on the enforced absence of Russian and Belarusian players – a decision that was entirely in line with the UK’s support of Ukraine, lest we forget – perhaps the ultimate embarrassment for Wimbledon came when the Duchess of Cambridge in her capacity as patron of the All England Club had little choice but to present the Venus Rosewater Dish to a player destined to be used as a propaganda weapon by Moscow, regardless of how much distance Rybakina has attempted to place between herself and her homeland’s government. At the same time, she remains rather evasive on whether Moscow is still where she lives.

To be fair to Rybakina, her defection to Kazakhstan dates back to 2018 rather than being a convenient switching of flags to evade an international boycott; she’s not guilty of the kind of canny relocation that South African cricketers routinely engaged in during that nation’s lengthy stint as a sporting pariah during Apartheid. She only really represented the country of her birth at junior level; when she turned pro and embarked upon the women’s circuit full-time aged 19, it was the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation that offered her financial support and far superior coaching facilities than that which were being provided back home. She changed her nationality and has therefore competed under the Kazakhstan flag for the past five years; the fact remains, however, that the women’s winner of Wimbledon in a year when Russian players were exiled from the competition was a born-and-bred Muscovite. Maybe there’s a point to be made somewhere in there – a match-point, perhaps.

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THEM’S THE BREAKS

Boris AgainGoing, going…not quite gone yet. Okay, so Boris has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party but remains Prime Minister until the Tories decide which of their multiple planks can succeed him. After having appointed a string of Ministers who seemingly only accepted their new jobs in order to tweet their resignation letters a couple of days later, Boris has encountered the same two-faced treachery that he suffered when Michael Gove stabbed him in the back six years ago; Chancellor of the Exchequer for 48 hours, Nadhim Zahawi spent his first day at the Treasury praising the PM and the next recommending that he resign, which is a novel way of expressing gratitude towards the man who promoted you to the post. Mind you, Zahawi is the former Under-Secretary of State for Vaccine Deployment who repeatedly stressed Covid passports were most definitely not on the agenda during the pandemic and then bigged-up their domestic introduction a few months later, so it’s not as though he doesn’t have a track record of this kind of behaviour.

One Twitter-user pointed out that the roll-call of resignations which appear to run on like the credits at the end of a movie highlighted the unwieldy, cumbersome size of Government; indeed, with so many previously-unknown politicians with previously-unknown job titles on the list, I half-expected to see the Minister of Silly Walks somewhere in there. Reminiscent of when his first administration was reduced to a minority courtesy of defections to the Remainer cause, the PM woke up to be confronted by so many members of his Party quitting their positions this morning that he would have struggled to find anyone to fill those posts even if he’d attempted to stay put. As it was, Boris was left with no real option but to go, a decision which he announced to the nation from the familiar Downing Street lectern at 12.30 this afternoon. But, like his immediate predecessor at No.10, Johnson will hang on in the job for a while after falling on his sword; he hopes to stay until the Conservative Conference in October, yet even someone who wanted to be PM as much as Boris surely won’t relish remaining that long when he knows all bar a handful of Ministers he appointed want him out now.

Then again, Boris had a thinly-veiled dig at those who drifted away from him in his resignation announcement. ‘As we’ve seen at Westminster,’ he said, ‘the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.’ After listing what he regarded as his achievements in office – Brexit, the vaccine rollout, support for Ukraine – he then momentarily acknowledged his disappointment at having to step aside. Referring to his failed attempt to persuade his colleagues it would be counterproductive to change leader midterm, he said, ‘I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’ He then added, ‘I know that there will be many people who are relieved, and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world.’

The breaking voice and crocodile tears that characterised the exits of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May weren’t present, yet it was evident to see in the PM’s body language that he was genuinely deflated at being forced to walk the plank. The third consecutive Prime Minister to quit without completing his term of office, Boris may have led the Tories to one of their greatest General Election victories in 2019, but he is undoubtedly the author of his own downfall. And it would appear the Chris Pincher affair was one scandal too far. Although the allegations that the Deputy Chief Whip sexually assaulted a couple of men when pissed out of his head at the Carlton Club dated from just over a week ago, it turned out Pincher had a history of bad behaviour of this nature, something Boris apparently knew of when he appointed the MP to the job. Of course, Boris being Boris he first publicly denied that he knew and was then forced to admit he’d known all along. But this was just another in a long line of lies and denials that have defined so much of his premiership from the pandemic onwards. He may have at least exhibited rare honesty when he said in response to those who wanted him to change his ways that he would not undergo a ‘psychological transformation’, and I suppose it was Boris’s inability to learn from his many mistakes and to imagine that he could bluster his way through every crisis by calling on his raffish charisma that in the end proved to be his undoing.

No doubt all those who abandoned Boris in his hour of need will be sickeningly singing his praises when he makes his final Commons appearance as PM, as they did with Theresa May three years ago; but such is the nature of the backstabbing beast. And one of them will emerge as Boris’s successor. At the time of writing the prospective contenders have yet to launch their respective campaigns, though the next few days will see a slew of hats being thrown into the ring. Out of Cabinet since Theresa May’s day, backbencher Jeremy Hunt would dearly love to succeed where he failed three years ago; and the two men whose resignations set this ball in motion, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, would also be favourites to run; despite being sacked by Boris last night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael bloody Gove having another go, even if he is a man extremely difficult to warm to; and one more Cabinet member who turned on the PM, Nadhim Zahawi, is also a possibility.

When it comes to Boris loyalists, I can imagine Liz Truss fancying her chances, though it’s interesting that the most popular contender amongst Conservative Party members is Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary whose memorably dim gung-ho warning to Putin wouldn’t fill the wider electorate with confidence re his capability for running the country. The YouGov poll that asked Tories to state their preferred candidate also threw up a surprise when it came to second favourite – former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, the Brexiteer Royal Navy reservist best remembered by the general public as a contestant on ITV’s short-lived reality series set in a swimming pool, ‘Splash!’. Mordaunt is sufficiently far enough to the right on some issues to satisfy traditional Tories and leans Woke-ward on others to satisfy the more ‘liberal’ wing; she’s also ahead of Rishi Sunak in the quoted poll. Priti Patel and Dominic Raab rank surprisingly low as contenders, but so far only Attorney General Suella Braverman has confirmed she intends to run, so we shall see how her fellow runners and riders fare over the coming weeks.

One of Boris’s predecessors Sir John Major has joined the chorus demanding it would be in the best interests of the country for him to go immediately rather than hanging on till October. However, the former PM is a long-standing critic of Johnson and re-emerged as the Ghost of Tory Past at the height the Brexit Wars to reaffirm his Europhile credentials; other voices calling for Boris to leave Downing Street as soon as possible do so from a politically beneficial perspective, such as Keir Starmer – though one wonders if Boris was Labour’s key Election asset in the same way Michael Foot was regarded by the Tories in 1983. A new leader who proves competent and potentially popular might present the Labour Party with a far stiffer test in 2024 than Bo-Jo. But today’s events are something for which Starmer has been praying for a long time, so it’s no great surprise he’s putting the boot in.

Let’s face it – Boris as PM was always going to be a gamble; it was highly likely he’d bugger it up once in office, for his main political skill always seems to have been to win every contest he enters; that’s what he’s good at, rather than carrying out the job he’s elected to. Nobody wanted the job more than him, and nobody is sorrier to walk away from it than him.

© The Editor

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TUMBLING DICE

TwatzThis is one of those stories that writing about without the breathing space necessary to avoid irrelevance makes all the more harder. The Winegum not being a rolling news channel means I’m often hoping some major development fails to occur before publication; never have the delayed limitations of ye olde Fleet Street printing press seemed more applicable to penning a post on a blog like this than when the main headline of the day keeps shifting shape before one has the chance to complete a paragraph. Michael bloody Gove has f**ked-up what I’d already written by abruptly advising the PM to step down, though I should’ve known by now that what Gove says one day is not necessarily what Gove says the next. At the time I began writing this, the Secretary of State for Buggering Up, Housing and Communities was backing Boris; by the time I was careering towards the arse-end of the post, he’d adopted the opposite stance. Actually, the intended opening line of this post still makes sense, if only due to the fact it highlights the untrustworthy unreliability of Michael Gove.

Before I was rudely interrupted, I was poised to say that when you’ve got Michael Gove watching your back, you know you’re in trouble (which at least remains a potent observation). Boris’s back still bears the scars of the moment six years ago when the poisoned dwarf switched from supporting the leadership campaign of David Cameron’s wannabe successor to launching his own failed bid for No.10. And yet, in the turbulent hours following yesterday’s cataclysmic events, Gove was lining up alongside the likes of Patel, Truss, Raab and Dorries to back Boris. By contrast, a nondescript Minister, a Parliamentary Private Secretary, a trade envoy, and the Conservative Party Vice-Chairman have all quit in the last 24 hours, following on from two rather more high profile resignations and succeeded by the best part of 25 other minor walkouts as the rats belatedly gain the confidence to jump the sinking ship. All are now united in their demand that the PM goes, and one imagines a vote of no confidence might well give them the opportunity to marshal the troops and oust Johnson.

If only that could…oh, hang on a minute – hasn’t that already happened and didn’t all bar 148 of them support Boris and keep him in a job? I wonder what they thought Boris would possibly achieve in the month since then to warrant their backing – something he hasn’t managed in the past three years, perhaps, to mend his crooked ways and emerge as a strong and stable leader with integrity and a vision for Britain. Well, there was the gift horse; they strolled over, looked in its mouth, and moved on – oh, and then yesterday happened. Whilst maybe lacking the drama of quitting in the middle of a Cabinet meeting ala Michael Heseltine, the twin resignations of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid nevertheless represented one of those moments when a path is set in motion that history tells us usually only ever ends one way. All those opportunists sticking with the status quo on the surface are publicly echoing the words uttered merely days ago by those just gone, yet it seems pretty clear that all of them are saying one thing both to the media and to each another whilst privately contemplating what doors this shaky state of affairs will open for them.

The voluntary exits of the Chancellor and the Health Secretary have narrowed Boris’s options even further, pushing their replacements into posts many reckon they’ll only occupy for a short space of time, like football coaches who step in as caretaker till the end of the season as the board searches for a permanent manager. I can’t help but think of Lord Carrington, recalling his role as Energy Secretary during the Three Day Week, stating he was in the job ‘for five minutes’ before the watershed General Election of February 1974. Aside from Priti Patel, who seems secure at the Home Office, it’s hard to think of any other Minister who has the room to breathe and implement any policies before they’re reshuffled elsewhere. Had details of Sunak’s tax-dodging family business not emerged a few months back, chances are he’d be odds-on to mount a leadership challenge and gather enough support to succeed; but golden Rishi’s star has become somewhat tarnished in the eyes of the electorate since his glory days as the guarantor of the furlough chequebook, and it’s more of a gamble now to place a bet on him being Boris’s definite successor than it was until relatively recently.

Mind you, both he and Sajid Javid have a history of association with banks and hedge funds that are hardly likely to endear either of them to the man in the street, who still credits the ruthless avarice of financial institutions with the fact he’s struggling to pay his bills. Sunak and Javid – like the Home Secretary – may have successfully contradicted the narrative of the Left by being children of immigrants who spurned the oppressed ethnic victim storyline so beloved by the Labour Party and have risen to high office regardless; but, unlike members of the Labour Party, their racial profile has never defined them and their reputation rests entirely on their deeds, none of which are particularly impressive.

Again, as has been stated on here many times before, Boris Johnson’s saving grace during his shambolic premiership has been the lack of a strong challenger waiting in the wings, the kind that Heseltine became to Thatcher; in some respects, he shares his good fortune with Gordon Brown. By the time the Iron Chancellor had the keys to No.10 handed to him in one of the smoothest transferences of power in British political history, all of the New Labour big guns of the 90s were effectively played out and past it, and the up-and-coming young guns were led by the Miliband brothers.

The fact Brown couldn’t capitalise on this was mainly due to his out-of-his-depth ineptitude, as has been the case with Boris. Both also found themselves confronted by unexpected crises merely months into their Downing Street tenure – Brown the financial crash of 2008 and Boris the pandemic – and whilst both emerged from their respective crises with a degree of credit in the eyes of the international community, their efforts registered less on home soil, where the aftermath was felt most keenly by the general public rather than the corporations that always appear to survive and thrive whatever the crisis.

Boris’s admittedly skilful manner of neutralising the Remoaner mafia within the Commons and the MSM won him plaudits amongst genuine democrats at the time and undoubtedly aided the Tories’ landslide victory of 2019, though the onset of Covid and all the double standards surrounding its numerous issues – many of which were only exposed after the event – have done irreparable damage to the Boris brand this year so far. The no confidence vote of June was intended to be the judgement by the Conservative Party on their leader’s pandemic performance, yet it turned out to be something of a damp squib for the wider public. Despite the endless tabloid revelations of what Boris and his cronies had been getting up to during a period in which the rest of us stood to be fined for indulging in perfectly normal social activities, Boris has clung on with the tacit support of the majority of his Party. Now, however, that support seems to be ebbing away.

I’ve no doubt that by the time I press the publish button on this post, Boris will probably have resigned and Putin will have launched nuclear missiles at the Isle of Wight; but I’ve no option but to try and comment on events as best I can, regardless of how fast-moving those events happen to be. The last time I can recall the speed of events overtaking my ability to chronicle them and comment on them was during the Tory leadership race of 2016, especially that two or three days when the contenders had been narrowed down to Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom and the latter suddenly withdrew her candidacy, leaving the field clear for the former. Stay tuned – I’ve a feeling I’ll probably be back tomorrow at this rate…

© The Editor

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