DAY AFTER DEJA VU

Sigh!The performance of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet over the past couple of seasons didn’t exactly mark them out as potential champions; they played the game with all the flair of a Sunday League squad of pot-bellied bruisers nursing hangovers. True, the old boss splashed out the cash, but the team’s form has dramatically dipped since the title triumph of 2019, with tactical ineptitude leaving them engaged in a permanent relegation battle. Nevertheless, in footballing terms, the electoral success of the Conservative Party over the past decade-and-a-bit still puts them in the Manchester City or Liverpool category, though the recent downward spiral doesn’t appear as though it’ll suddenly be reversed by sacking the manager; a glance at today’s team-sheet suggests most of the major signings made by the new boss are of a Third Division calibre. And they still expect to remain in the Premier League with this team of mediocrities? Okay, so it’s a stretch of the imagination to imagine the likes of Therese Coffey running for 90 seconds, let alone 90 minutes; the footie analogy would maybe stretch to her standing in goal. But appointing such a visibly unhealthy individual as Health Secretary is like hiring a woman with a lazy eye to man the receptionist’s desk at Specsavers.

Still, at least the re-jigged composition of the four Great Offices of State will leave the Identitarian Left struggling to uphold the ‘Racist Tories’ narrative; for the first time in history, not one of those posts is held by an evil white man; that’s one in the eye for the Labour Party, I guess. The fact this even warrants a mention perhaps underlines how difficult it is to salvage any positives from this lame rearranging of the Titanic furniture. Moreover, if Ms Liz wants to persuade the electorate that hers is a true new broom, one thing she needs to refrain from doing is kissing Boris’s arse; lavishing praise upon her predecessor, something she did in both her acceptance speech and her lectern lecture yesterday, will not win her any converts; closely associating herself with Boris is like Ford pardoning Nixon; as an introductory strategy, it simply says to the public that she believes the man she replaced was innocent of all charges and we’re in for more of the same. Mind you, the nauseating fawning of the No.10 staff as Boris and his overdressed missus embarked on a final lap of dishonour yesterday morning demonstrated that in the eyes of some, Boris can do no wrong.

Boris indulged himself one more time in the longest farewell tour since Elton John’s last by addressing assembled groupies in the pissing rain outside No.10 before jetting off to see the Queen (inconveniently seeing out her days north of the Border). He again snuck in a bitter and thinly-veiled reference to being ousted by his party peers and mumbled something about some Ancient Greek again, and then – at last – it was all over; well, they thought it was. I’m not sure at what point this kind of drawn-out hello/goodbye ritual became compulsory for arriving and departing Prime Ministers, but it often feels like having to sit through an Olympic Games opening ceremony these days; one almost expects Beyoncé to dance on, plugging her latest single. Anyway, by the time Boris’s successor nabbed the lectern, fatigue caused both by the interminable wait and by the fact we’ve had to suffer this routine three times in the past six years meant that few were remotely surprised to find Truss’s opening speech crammed with the usual meaningless, superficial clichés that sound positive on the page and say nothing to no one when uttered out loud.

One Twitter wag pointed out that Her Majesty had the worst of both worlds during the changing of the guard; not only did Brenda have to endure one last audience with Boris, but she also had to endure her first with Liz Truss. And she probably thought she’d be spared all that in her retirement home up at Balmoral. Then, courtesy of the private jet lifestyle the two PMs have special licence to live whilst the rest of us are castigated for polluting the atmosphere with multiple carbon footprints, it was back to the capital and on with the show. The new Cabinet was unveiled with little time to spare, put together behind the scenes as the heavens opened and Larry languidly pottered about, exuding the only snippet of wisdom in the vicinity. It seems Ms Liz has chosen not to adhere to the old Lincoln policy of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer; unlike Obama’s shrewd move to make Hillary Clinton Secretary of State, Truss hasn’t offered a post to her fellow leadership contender Rishi. Exiling a rival like Sunak to the backbenches is a risk that previous PMs have come to rue – one thinks of Thatcher and Heseltine or Theresa May and Boris. Time will tell if it costs her.

Other notable big guns from the last few years – especially Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Grant Shapps and Dominic Raab – have also been excluded from this new Cabinet. Whilst it’s probably true to say few (if any) of them will be missed, their replacements don’t necessarily cause the heart to skip a beat. The survivors of the cull include Jacob Rees-Mogg – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary (catchy job title, that); failed leadership candidate Suella Braverman is promoted from Attorney General to Home Secretary; Nadhim Zahawi is demoted from his five minutes as Chancellor of the Exchequer to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; James Cleverly replaces Truss herself at the Foreign Office following his own five minutes at Education; ex-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is promoted to the Treasury; Brandon Lewis is relocated from Northern Ireland to become Lord Chancellor; Ben Wallace stays put as Defence Secretary; and early leadership contenders Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt are back as Trade Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons respectively.

There was some minor uproar with the quiet removal of the Minister for Women job – though it emanated rather predictably from the Labour Party, which is ironic considering its official position is not even being able to define what a woman actually is. In reality, the post always had a patronising ring to it, anyway, reducing half of the population to a special niche minority; and with both a woman as PM and Home Secretary, one may as well have a special Ministry for Men as carry on with such an outdated and irrelevant office. Naturally, the underwhelmed response to Truss’s banal and forgettable ‘inaugural address’ of motivational-speak bullshit has been summarily brushed aside by Party toadies; one unnamed Downing Street crawler puffed, ‘Containing no other than five other candidates from the recent leadership election, this is a Cabinet which will unify the Party, get our economy growing and deliver for the British people.’ Nothing wrong with a bit of misplaced optimism, I suppose; but I’ve no idea which speech said crawler had been listening to on Tuesday – not the one the rest of us heard.

So, as has been pointed out in yet one more wave of hackneyed and endlessly-recycled media phrases, the new PM has quite an in-tray to look forward to when she sits down behind her desk at No.10. The hubris which certainly seems to be a hallmark of every resident to enter Downing Street with promises that things can only get better has been much in evidence, though the ego that convinces each of them that they and they alone have the solution to the nation’s chronic problems can only ever be crushed in the process – even if (like Boris) they eventually exit the job utterly in denial that they were wrong after all. In a weird way, the unprecedentedly low expectations greeting this new arrival may work in her favour; any minor success will feel like a major triumph when nobody anticipates anything other than failure. But the overwhelming air of apathy will take one hell of a miracle to disperse, and who believes in miracles anymore?

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WHO GIVES A S**T?

TrussThe title of this post – without the asterisks – used to be the title of a feature on the weekly video series I produced under the title ‘25 Hour News’ between 2014 and 2015 (or thereabouts); this satirical swipe at the banality of rolling news channels sometimes climaxed with said feature, usually consisting of one brief non-story about a vacuous celebrity, thus invoking the phrase ‘Who gives a shit?’ I guess this segment was a comment on the kind of non-stories about vacuous celebrities that still appear amongst the online headlines of Yahoo News, which hasn’t changed in a decade. You know the kind of thing – ‘Amanda Holden wears revealing low-cut dress at film premiere!’ and all that bollocks. However, perhaps the one thing that has changed in the past decade is that politics have gradually sunk to the same level as Amanda Holden’s revealing low-cut dress so that one can just as easily apply the ‘Who gives a shit?’ tag to our elected representatives. A sequence of what one might call Reality Television politicians – ‘characters’ like Boris who have used their loud personalities to capture the public vote much as contestants in the Big Brother House used to do – have dragged the standing of their profession to the lowly status it currently occupies, sharing the spotlight with Amanda Holden’s cleavage.

It goes without saying that spouting facile buzzwords and papering over the absence of ideas with meaningless pseudo-‘Birt-speak’ has been a hallmark of leading politicians since the slick and heavily-spun New Labour period; but the practice has certainly intensified in the 24-hour news and social media era so that what a Cabinet Minister or the Leader of the Opposition has to say about ‘Strictly’ is discussed in a manner that implies it matters as much as the more serious stuff they should actually be talking about. Failing that, just wear a T-shirt bearing the infantile legend, ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ and snigger at the back of the class. I suppose the ultimate triumph of this trend was the election of sitcom toff Boris Johnson as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister in 2019; and now three disastrous years later Bo-Jo has officially (if reluctantly) handed the reins of power to his Foreign Secretary, the frighteningly lightweight Liz Truss, whose lack of an OTT comic persona is compensated for by her undeniably hilarious inability to convey gravitas.

Ms Liz’s elevation to Prime Minister, following an interminably lengthy hustings campaign undertaken when the need for an effective, actual leader of the country has never been quite so urgent, was a thoroughly underwhelming spectacle; and now we have a new PM who few bar the most deluded Tory members expect anything from or even give a flying f**k about. Like the new Doctor Who or the new James Bond, who really cares who the new Prime Minister is anymore? We’ve had so many of them over the past 15 years – and all bloody useless – that it’s hard to summon up anything other than shoulder-shrugging indifference, knowing already that the only change they’ll make to our lives will be to make them worse. Indeed, some of the more cuckoo Boris groupies unimpressed by the two lacklustre contenders that were shortlisted to succeed him seem to imagine if Liz loses the next General Election, the Messiah will return from the wilderness and lead them back to the Promised Land. Interestingly, Boris himself has also hinted at this as a possibility, not quite releasing that a) we don’t have a Presidential system in this country and b) he’s not Donald Trump. Mind you, there are precedents.

Take the former Prime Minister Edward Heath: from the moment of his toppling by Margaret Thatcher in 1975 and right up until the shakiest moments of her first term at No.10 five years later, Heath remained convinced the Conservative Party would eventually crawl to him cap-in-hand and beg him to return to Downing Street. That said, this conviction was largely in Ted’s head and wasn’t shared by any of his fellow backbenchers; the fact that some of today’s more nondescript Tory MPs are so despondent at the prospect of a Truss premiership – not to mention still blinded by Boris’s tarnished charisma – that they are petitioning for their hero to come back shows just how successfully the all-surface/no-substance brand of politician has been sold as the answer. Naturally, with the overbearing nature of his carefully-cultivated character still obscuring for some the gaping moral void behind the facade, Boris is the most extreme example; yet there’s no more substance to either of the final two who battled it out to take his place. Whoever had won it was destined to be greeted by a chorus of ‘whatever’ from the wider electorate; perhaps having no say in the matter also added to this apathy.

Expectations have never been lower for a new Prime Minister and yet the need for a fresh tenant of No.10 to act on the many pressing issues facing the country has rarely been greater. I remember when Barack Obama was sworn-in as US President for the first time in January 2009, with the financial crash of the year just gone hanging over the ceremony like the blackest of black clouds. A lot of hope had been invested in Obama as a new dawn after the divisive Bush years, yet perhaps the scale of the task was too immense even for a man who had galvanised the American electorate into believing again; Liz Truss has no such hope resting on her shoulders, and she also comes into office knowing she has barely two years at the most before she has to call a General Election. If she’s to achieve anything at all, she has to act fast.

All US Presidents have to deal with the gauntlet thrown down by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the one that measures the potential effectiveness of a President by how he performs in his first 100 days; but few had entered the White House since FDR with such economic challenges facing them as Obama was confronted by in 2009. Truss has a similar set of challenges before her today, but she can’t hold the previous administration responsible in the way Obama could, what with her being a prominent member of the previous administration – and she was notably the only contender on the early televised debates to refrain from apportioning any blame to her predecessor (indeed, she even paid tribute to him in her acceptance speech upon winning the contest, greeted by momentary silence until someone was prompted to provoke a muted round of applause).

But this is a recurring problem when a governing party internally elects a Prime Minister, locking the electorate out of the democratic process; it’s something that generates the belief that nothing has really changed despite the change at the top – and the Tories have now done it three times in the last six years. It’s possibly another reason why the foregone conclusion of Truss’s promotion elicits such a lack of enthusiasm. Maybe the electorate is equally underwhelmed in the knowledge that when the next General Election comes in 2024, the choice will be between Liz Truss and Keir Starmer, presenting the people with an even more uninspiring option than we had last time round with Boris and Jezza.

Even if we weren’t being beaten into permanent pessimism on a daily basis by predictions of every crisis laying in wait for us, the future looms on the horizon like a worse version of the present. The understandable allure of the past was highlighted in an excellent ‘Spiked’ post penned in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death last week, in which it referred to the 1990s as ‘a holiday from history’. This brief calm before the unrelenting storm of the 21st century oozed hope, from the release and post-Apartheid presidency of Nelson Mandela to the end of the Soviet Union to the false dawns of Clinton and Blair; even the decade’s crises retrospectively seem minor compared to what we’ve endured since. No wonder those who came of age during the 90s now look back on it with the same feel-good nostalgia as Boomers recall the Swinging 60s. Anyway, back to 2022 – Liz Truss is Prime Minister, and who gives a shit? Well, we all should, I guess, but it’s no surprise so few of us do.

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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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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.

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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…

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CARELESS HANDS

Hay WainFaced with an obstinate Government boasting a string of broken promises, the women in the vanguard of the fight for the right to vote resorted to desperate, headline-grabbing incidents in the early 1910s; everything from choreographed window-smashing to arson to bombings became key components in the Suffragette arsenal, yet the increasingly militant elements of this period specialising in spectacular stunts invariably encouraged some part-timers for whom the issue was a convenient cause to hang their dilettante ‘radicalism’ on. That’s not necessarily something unique, of course; all crusades tend to attract the amateur agitator and anarchist when legitimate democratic means stall. Take Mary Richardson, a twisted fire-starter whose commitment to one cause was swiftly supplanted by another; once her stint as a suburban guerrilla ended, she moved on to champagne socialism and then fascism, specifically Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, whose organisation she ended up fronting the female section of. But if Mary Richardson remains remembered for anything, it is an act of vandalism undertaken in the name of suffrage – that of defacing The Rokeby Venus by Velázquez in 1914 as it hung in the National Gallery.

A rare nude produced during the era of the Inquisition, The Rokeby Venus is a portrait of the Goddess of love in a sublimely sensual pose of relaxation, seen from behind. Mary Richardson attacked the painting with a meat cleaver in a frenzy reported in the press at the time as though she’d attacked an actual woman, though the damage done was considerably restricted by the glass separating the canvas from the public. An action that was successfully neutralised due to the diligence of the National Gallery’s chief restorer, the stunt nevertheless resulted in a six-month prison sentence for the culprit and laid the foundations for every ‘activist’ assault on a work of art thereafter, legitimising the gesture in the process. Perhaps echoing the activism of a century ago, climate change protestors on Monday decided to make their own point re an iconic artwork by attacking one of the most recognisable British paintings of the 19th century, John Constable’s The Hay Wain, in the same venue Mary Richardson formulated the template in 1914.

The Hay Wain has been a magnet for protestors of one form or another before, however; a decade ago, a Fathers 4 Justice member stuck a photo onto the canvas, though the painting was not permanently damaged. This time round, a group calling themselves Just Stop Oil mirrored the middle-class luxury of having time on one’s hands characteristic of some of the more bourgeois Suffragettes by honing in on the painting and gluing themselves to the frame whilst attaching images of prominent polluters of the atmosphere such as aeroplanes to the canvas itself. Even the latter act has a stale obviousness about it. Terry Gilliam beat them to it by half-a-century, applying his manic creativity to the picture in one of his Python animations that saw the bucolic tranquillity of the serene scene rudely interrupted by industrial progress. Then again, unlike the protestors, Gilliam has more in common with Constable, being an artist himself, and one who immediately knows what inspired mischief he can inflict upon an image. Even Banksy has applied similar tactics to famous works of art without resorting to damaging the originals; but one wouldn’t expect ingenious intervention from philistines who can only destroy rather than create, which is a hallmark of contemporary ‘activism’.

The action provoked an evacuation of the National Gallery section housing The Hay Wain as the apparent leader of the group – who goes by the name of…er…Eben – announced ‘Art is important. It should be held by future generations to see, but when there is no food, what use is art? When there is no water, what use is art? When billions of people are in pain are suffering, what use then is art?’ Not much use, granted; but then, neither is a cheap stunt enacted by narcissistic doom-mongers incapable of making a point through artistic means and thus reduced to the defecation of genius that says more about their own absence of creative inspiration than it does the cause they profess to be promoting. Over the weekend, five members of the same organisation also disrupted the British Grand Prix, invading the Silverstone racetrack during the opening lap; they sat down on the tarmac and no doubt instilled the hope in spectators that the race would continue with the protestors seen as point-scoring obstacles to be mowed-down ala Roger Corman’s futuristic flick from the 70s, ‘Death Race 2000’. Whatever the outcome, the issues that spawn such activism will never be resolved by actions that alienate art-lovers, sports-goers and members of the general public alike. Interrupting art and entertainment in the name of a cause is something that only ever has a counterproductive effect on those it aims to ‘educate’.

Meanwhile, in other news…having controversially illuminated Wimbledon with his antagonistic form of gamesmanship, Australian tennis-player Nick Kyrgios is reported to have been summoned for an appearance in a different kind of court next month. The quarter-finalist has been scheduled to face Canberra magistrates in August in relation to a charge of common assault on a former girlfriend last year. Naturally, the spectre of Amber Heard and her Oscar-winning performance as a professional victim hangs over any allegations of domestic abuse made against a celebrity ex, though the timing of this story has come at a moment when bad behaviour on the part of male figures in a position of influence is once again headline news.

As with Alex Salmond, any rumour of how power in male hands can be manifested as a sexual weapon naturally provides the MeToo narrative with ammunition. The former Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood is currently confronted by a slew of accusations regarding his sexual misconduct towards women whilst presenting a show on the station for the best part of 20 years from the early 90s to the early 2010s. Personally, I always found the Ali G-like ‘street’ patois of the son of the Bishop of Peterborough a bit toe-curling during his stint on the airwaves, though recent revelations come as far more embarrassing to the Beeb than Westwood’s waffle on his long-running rap show. After all, the BBC are still attempting to portray their dirty old men employees as strictly belonging to a generation most prevalent back in the 1970s. Westwood was supposed to be the ‘cool’ alternative to the bomber jacket-wearing old guard that used to be naff fixtures on the Radio 1 Roadshow.

Half-a-dozen allegations against Westwood were grouped together and made public for the first time in a BBC3 documentary and whilst the veteran DJ (he’s 64) has refuted the allegations, it’s now emerged the BBC had received these complaints whilst previously denying all knowledge of them. BBC DG Tim Davie – who was in control of the Corporation’s radio output whilst Westwood was still on Radio 1 – had claimed he’d seen no evidence of complaints following the broadcast of the programme publicising them, though if the allegations were known internally at the Beeb, the situation has parallels with Downing Street, where a civil servant has come out and stated Boris Johnson had received advance warning of Tory MP Chris Pincher before his appointment as Deputy Chief Whip, a job Pincher quit last week.

With a surname reminiscent of a ‘Carry On’ character, Pincher’s peccadilloes leaned towards gentlemen rather than ladies – he’s accused of groping a couple of guys at the Carlton Club; but if Boris knew and still gave Pincher the job, don’t expect our PM to admit it. Mind you, does anyone expect Boris to exhibit honesty when it comes to what he did or didn’t know about anything anymore? I doubt it.

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IN A SAFE SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

vlcsnap-2022-06-28-01h10m06s215Whilst checking out Paul McCartney’s set on TV over the weekend and simultaneously ignoring predictably disparaging online commentaries (you’ll only be praising the few living legends left once they’re gone, guys), I eventually began to weary a little of the endless cutaways of Sebastian and Jocasta sitting on the shoulders of their uni sweethearts. I suspended my instinctive hostilities towards the gap-year gig-goers until remarking to a friend that the Glastonbury Festival was essentially Glyndebourne in a leather jacket; this followed on from my summary of it a decade ago as the indie scene’s equivalent of the Royal Variety Performance. The latter observation appears irrelevant now considering the said scene has failed to throw up a suitable headliner capable of drawing the punters in like the old guard, whose reliance on backing singers to ‘carry them’ is the best we can hope for when taking their advanced years into account, not to mention the inability of their lamentable heirs to deliver the goods. At the same time, all are within their rights to criticise, regardless of their ignorance.

After all, viewers of any live showbiz event in this day and age have to endure the tiresome parade of pop star and movie star f**kwits giving their ill-informed opinions on complex political situations of which their celebrity status – amazingly – does not necessarily translate as in-depth knowledge, regardless of their misplaced conviction we should sit in reverential silence and listen to their sermons. If these idiots are allowed a platform to air their half-arsed expertise, I see no reason why equally ignorant amateurs shouldn’t be able to do likewise on social media. It’s always those who know the least on the subject under discussion that want to lecture others on it, anyway, so the non-famous are just as qualified as the famous. Ironically, many of these were induced into hysteria at the prospect of bonkers billionaire Elon Musk purchasing Twitter; his stated intent to restore traditional interpretations of free speech to an outlet infamous for curtailing contradictions to the consensus in recent years provoked a memorably OTT reaction, though I do wonder if it was all simply a publicity stunt on the part of Musk to raise his profile even further – or a deliberately mischievous wind-up.

Many of the hilariously foaming-at-the-mouth responses to the Musk bid came from the same people who compared the Union Jacks draped in displays across London thoroughfares during the Jubilee to Swastikas in Nazi Germany – those who mysteriously don’t come to the same conclusions when the flying flag is the bloody rainbow one flapping in everybody’s face. There’s an argument to be made that the flag of a nation has a divine right to be displayed whereas a pretend flag has to earn its status through something other than enforced emotional blackmail; but it’s a point we’re evidently not allowed to make when each and every corporation and institution cynically latches on to the ubiquitous LGBTXYZ agenda as though they really ‘care’ and every terrified pleb is scared of being ostracised on Facebook if they don’t stress their support via profile pics.

I suppose when Boris undergoes a rare moment of truth-telling and states that women are not actually born with a penis, it gives such chickens a chance to criticise an easy target and restore their status as being on ‘the right side of history’, but this is an insecure security that is symptomatic of the age in which we live. Smugly delusional in their denial of reality, such cowards imagine the agents of social justice will somehow cease their crusade once all ‘undesirables’ are cancelled, yet they don’t seem to realise such agents won’t stop once they’ve excised ‘the enemy’, which is a shape-shifting entity with no end in sight. I won’t evoke the French Revolution simply because I make the assumption readers will be aware of how that particular historical event progressed from admirable idealism to ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ in an exceedingly short space of time; yet, the recent case of comedian Joe Lycett – visited by Plod courtesy of a solitary complaint by one offended punter – shows how even the most on-song Woke troubadours are just as vulnerable to cancellation as those who don’t buy into the prevailing trend, something that perhaps underlines just how worthless signing-up to the prevailing trend really is.

Tapping into this climate, the Government’s proposed ‘Online Safety Bill’ has received a mixed response from those who stand to be affected by its proposals – whether conscious or no – and even a one-time Minister has now weighed-in with his size nines. Lord Frost, the former Brexit Minister, has urged his former Cabinet colleagues to think again when proceeding with this lamentable piece of kneejerk legislation. ‘A Conservative Government,’ he said, ‘should not be putting this view into law. The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects and consign the rest to where it belongs – the wastepaper basket.’ He added that the proposed Bill was both ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘un-Conservative’ and that it would be highly damaging to free speech as well as benefiting the ‘perennially offended’ seeking to be permanently protected from anything they happen to disagree with.

Frost makes the point that the Bill threatens to outlaw comments online that would be perfectly legitimate offline, and he’s not alone in his concerns. Other former prominent Tories such as Liam Fox and David Davis have been similarly frank in their assessment of the proposals. ‘The Bill could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times,’ said Davis, though one can’t help but suspect the Woke mole in the heart of Government, Carrie Antoinette, is pushing the PM into giving his support. The Institute of Economic Affairs reckons the intended law has ‘scope, complexity and reach that are breathtaking’, for whilst it puts pressure on tech giants to curb odious online content re child pornography and ‘hate crime offences’, the interpretation of the latter is utterly subjective and down to where one stands. The Labour Party, whose leader can’t bring himself to own up to biological fact for fear of alienating potential metropolitan voters, is keeping quiet about the Bill, though that’s no great surprise.

I noticed Sir Keir was quick to virtue signal re the recent overturning of the Roe Vs Wade judgement of 50 years ago in the US, though – as some troublesome wag on Twitter pointed out – the Labour leader was curiously reluctant to voice women’s rights when it came to denouncing those named and shamed in the report into South Yorkshire grooming gangs belatedly published last week, most of which took place in towns and cities run by Labour councils. Similarly, professional virtue signaller and renowned smarmy creep Justin Trudeau was quick to register his outrage re Roe Vs Wade, yet – as was also highlighted on Twitter – the Canadian PM wasn’t so ‘your body, your choice’-friendly when it came to how those with-child were treated during the pandemic. ‘You tried to mandate I take a vaccine with unknown fetal side-effects while I was PREGNANT,’ said one tweet. ‘You sure as hell don’t care about bodily autonomy’.

Such tweets emphasis how vital online platforms can be as a method of registering dissent, and whilst Boris’s rancid administration has routinely demonstrated its skill in deflecting attention from guilty parties, attempting to sneak this inconsistent and ill-thought out legislation through Parliament is burying bad news on a grand scale. The damage such a Bill stands to do to a nation that established the notion of free speech throughout the Anglosphere is incalculable, though maybe the damage has already been done and this is simply the official seal of approval.

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NO SURPRISES

Lib DemIn their former guise as non-Democrats, the Liberals once presided over one of the most celebrated results in by-election history – and it happened exactly 60 years ago, when Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14,760 in Orpington and transformed a safe Conservative seat into a 7,855 majority for the Liberal Party. The Tories had been in government for 11 years at that point, yet had already acquired the weary detachment from the electorate that is often a by-product of a decade in office; the familiar whiff of a sex scandal that can accompany such tired longevity was just round the corner, though in 1962 the name John Profumo had yet to become a household one; ditto Christine Keeler. Last night in Tiverton and Honiton, it would appear history was going through one of its routine habits of repeating itself as the Lib Dems inflicted one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats on the Conservative Party ever seen at a by-election as former Army Major Richard Foord triumphed over the Tory candidate, wiping out a majority of 24,239 in a seat that had never been free from Conservative hands since its creation. And the by-election only happened because the sitting Tory MP Neil Parish was forced to quit after he’d been outed for watching porn on his phone in the Commons.

On the same night a second Tory seat fell, this time to Labour; Wakefield, one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies captured by the Conservatives in 2019, returned to its traditional home. This by-election was also provoked by a resignation connected to a sex scandal; fittingly, the last time a government suffered simultaneous defeat in two by-elections was during the John Major era, which was also the last time such a sleazy collection of reprehensible individuals constituted the ruling Party. Even by past standards of sleaze, however, the case of Imran Ahmad Khan is especially unpleasant; Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, though he didn’t resign his seat until convicted. He’ll be spending the next 18 months being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Considering Wakefield voted Leave in 2016 (as did Tiverton and Honiton in its Mid Devon guise), it was no great surprise its voters spurned Remoaner Labour in 2019; yet a Tory reverting to type is perhaps as predictable an outcome as last night’s results, and Wakefield turned red again whilst Tiverton and Honiton turned orange for the first time.

According to some sources, the Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton is officially the largest majority ever to be overturned at a British by-election, one that even exceeds the Lib Dems’ huge victory in North Shropshire last year. However, only the most gormlessly deluded Tory wouldn’t have seen this coming; most Conservative MPs returning to the Shires during the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday were confronted by angry constituents who’d had enough of the leadership, yet only 148 acted on their constituents’ behalf by registering their dissatisfaction with Boris in the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago. With a majority of Tories deciding to keep the PM in a job, it was left to the Lib Dem’s victorious candidate to say out loud what the 148 who voted against Boris declined to. He declared the voters of Tiverton and Honiton had spoken for the whole country by sending out a clear message. ‘It’s time for Boris Johnson to go – and go now,’ said Major Foord. ‘Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.’

Okay, so there’s a slight element of ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ about that last statement, though in the thick of Lib Dem euphoria, it was probably understandable. This was one hell of a blow inflicted on a sitting administration, with the even-more predictable defeat in Wakefield the icing on the cake. The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Ed Davey have been fortunate that the far-from enthusiastic response to Keir Starmer’s lacklustre Labour Party has enabled them to reinvent themselves yet again, emerging from the disastrous shadows of Jo Swinson’s Remain crusade and capitalising on widespread disillusionment with the two main Parties; it’s precisely what the Lib Dems did so well under Charles Kennedy, and when the alternatives are as uninspiring as Boris and Sir Keir – not to mention the motley crews assembled on the respective front benches of the pair – it’s no wonder the tide has turned for the Lib Dems again. Considering the likes of Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have smaller leads over the Lib Dems than that which the Tories had boasted in Tiverton and Honiton until last night, perhaps the new Lib Dem MP’s melodramatic warning should be heeded after all.

Boris had wisely kept a low profile during the by-election campaigns in the two constituencies; as with the increasingly-unpopular Ted Heath during the October 1974 General Election, the Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the promotional literature delivered by the hapless footsloggers trying in vain to court votes on behalf of their doomed candidate and attempting not to mention the Party leader on the doorstep. A not-dissimilar policy was tried by Labour canvassers in 2019, as I found out when I made my feelings on Corbyn and his cronies clear when confronted by one at the time. Anyway, Boris wasn’t at home to make excuses; at the moment, he’s in Rwanda, officially to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government shindig, but it’s possible he might be checking out the Kigali B&Bs earmarked for those pesky illegal immigrants. In his absence, the Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden became the latest Tory to walk a plank Boris refuses to countenance even exists.

Dowden’s resignation is the most high-profile response to two heavy defeats irrefutably linked to the ongoing fallout from Partygate. ‘We cannot continue with business as usual,’ wrote Dowden in his letter, though the PM is unlikely to receive that statement as advice. On the eve of an anticipated wipe-out at the two by-elections, Boris simply said ‘Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term.’ Not the most encouraging message to the troops, but at least one rooted in realism; the Tories were seemingly prepared for defeat, if not what turned out to be the scale of defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. The Wakefield loss was no more of a surprise than the other seat, though tactical voting at Tiverton and Honiton saw Labour lose its deposit. There was also pre-by-election unrest at Wakefield’s Labour constituency branch when the entire committee resigned in protest at their preferred candidate, trade unionist Kate Dearden, being excluded in favour of a candidate parachuted in by the NEC; not that Keir Starmer will be bringing that up as he attempts to bask in the glow of his winner, Simon Lightwood.

When one considers the Labour and Lib Dem perspectives on Brexit, they’ll no doubt adopt a ‘don’t mention the war’ attitude now that two Leave constituencies are in their hands; even without the Partygate revelations, it’s possible the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ that enabled the Tories to triumph in the two seats in 2019 was regarded by voters in Wakefield and Tiverton as a done deal in 2022 and it was time to move on to other pressing issues, such as the cost of living; maybe they figured the Tories couldn’t deliver on that, considering the Tories’ policies in the pandemic provoked it. But it’s hard to escape the undeniable influence of what Boris and his cohorts got up to during the most testing period for the public in post-war British history when it comes to this pair of results. Let’s face it, though, Boris Johnson is a very lucky Prime Minister; he doesn’t have to call another General Election until 2024.

© The Editor

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THE 2022 COMMITTEE

Boris and BrendaWell, that was an interesting extended weekend. It began with Boris being booed by the peasants present at the Jubilee festivities and ended with him surviving by the skin of his teeth thanks to the spineless toadies within his own Party. Ah, yes, the Jubilee – part Olympics opening ceremony, part climate change propaganda broadcast, part Lord Mayor’s Parade, part Pride Parade, part 90s Brit Awards, part ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finale, part Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, part celebration of all things military and all things eccentric, with Cliff exhumed as the Ghost of Eurovision Past whilst Sam Ryder carried the silver baton on and on and on. Leaving my largely student-dominated neighbourhood on Thursday afternoon was a relief – anticipating a noisy few days – though the on-foot exit was like navigating my way through a joint stag & hen do in downtown Ibiza (via Aintree) with a cast of thousands in wacky fancy dress. My destination was a more sedate residential location, though even there a bouncy castle drew in a dozen children whose combined vocal excitement gave the expected racket back home a run for its money. Mind you, none of this will happen again for decades, and the hyperactive kids leaping up and down on that inflatable edifice are probably the only ones around now who’ll be around then.

Brenda in her 70th year as sovereign has the luxury of infirmity as an excuse for only attending the events she can be arsed attending; the State Opening of Parliament received the Royal thumbs-down, whereas Her Majesty was more than happy to attend the horse show at Windsor a day or two later. Therefore, Brian was lumbered with once again settling into his Regency role during the majority of the weekend’s celebrations, sat beside the one son whose company he can tolerate, along with his gurning grandchildren. The BBC commentary was suitably supine as Auntie sought to reassure the viewers it hadn’t entirely abandoned its traditional adherence to Queen and Country, though it was undoubtedly a pleasure witnessing Sadiq Khan squirming in his seat at the abundance of Union Jacks and the absence of BLM banners. And then, as the last of the bunting succumbed to the elements, attention rapidly switched back to the PM. Suddenly, there were finally enough objections to Boris from his own Parliamentarians to trigger a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Jeremy cockney-rhyming-slang re-emerged from the backbench wilderness to make his opposition to Boris public, though the predictably infantile Twitter response from the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was characteristically dim and unhinged (never a good combination), probably helping to sway a fair few Tory MPs into siding with Theresa May’s Health Secretary; to paraphrase an archaic saying, with allies like that, who needs enemies? As the day wore on, the media was awash with Boris apologists reluctant to declare their own leadership ambitions till it was safe to do so; without fail, they constantly played the Ukraine card. ‘There’s a war on, so let’s move on’ seemed to be the mantra of the moment, even if the golden opportunity to confront the next General Election by refreshing the managerial dugout with time to spare was staring them in the face. Like a struggling Premier League club toying with sacking their coach mid-season in a bid to pull away from the bottom three, the Conservative Party only had a limited window to act before a relegation battle became terminal.

If Boris had lost the vote of confidence, he would’ve had to stand down and step back as a leadership contest took place without him as a candidate. This wouldn’t have been comparable to Churchill being booted out by an ‘ungrateful’ electorate exhausted by six years of war in 1945, however; the electorate had no say in this vote; it was down to Boris’s Parliamentary colleagues, and the notable absence of an outstanding challenger to take the PM’s place perhaps played a part in their indecision. Some might feasibly claim Boris has never really had the chance to display his Prime Ministerial credentials because Brexit took up all his time in the probationary phase of his tenure, and then the pandemic fatally derailed his premiership before it had even had the opportunity to get going, appearing as it did just a few months after his landmark landslide in December 2019. But that would be like saying Edward Heath never had a chance because of the Northern Ireland Troubles or the 1972 Miners’ Strike or the Oil Crisis that was a side-effect of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

These are the kind of crises in which Prime Ministers prove their mettle; and – speedy vaccine rollout aside – Boris blew it. Whether the dodgy cronyism in the awarding of Covid contracts, or the dispatching of infected elderly patients from hospital back to care home, or the belated revelation (and begrudging apology) of Partygate, the PM has used up all lingering vestiges of approval for his slapdash antidote to the careerist conveyor belt professional politician – at least amongst the voters. The Tory faithful beyond Westminster Village have not been as sanguine as Members of the Cabinet when it comes to Boris’s antics. MPs returning to their constituencies for the Jubilee Bank Holiday have been confronted by angry constituents who were no longer prepared to cut the PM any more slack, and it was probably this abrupt awareness of their own perilous position as much as anything else that persuaded 40 percent of dithering Honourable Members to voice the concerns of these constituents when the 1922 Committee had no option but to invoke the confidence vote.

Theresa May survived the same situation in 2018, yet that pyrrhic victory hardly strengthened her position and she fell on her sword within a matter of months; one suspects Boris, in mirroring his predecessor’s success, will not be so quick to buckle under pressure. He will no doubt have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street, regardless of what the country is telling him. Boris may have retained the favour of 211 of his fellow Tories, yet 148 declared their opposition to his continued rule, which is a fairly devastating statistic. Boris now has an uninterrupted twelve months at the helm before the next General Election, and the Conservative Party will discover if sticking with him will reap benefits at the ballot box or herald the dreaded Labour/SNP coalition that was evoked as a warning by scaremongering Tories faced with the prospect of their captain being forced to abandon ship. The pandemic can no longer be relied upon as a convenient excuse if Boris fails to deliver the goods over the coming year, so now is the time for him to show what he can do – if he can do it.

Boris has a stay of execution for the moment, then – even if his authority is utterly shot to pieces by a mess of his own making. Her Majesty, on the other hand, is seeing out her days on a crest of warm affection that her descendants cannot call upon. Making an increasingly rare appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony beside a carefully-chosen cast that didn’t include her disgraced favourite, Brenda looked her frail age as she watched what will undoubtedly be the final flyby of the Red Arrows undertaken in her honour. If one strips away the flaccid frivolity of much that constituted the official Jubilee spectacle in the capital, there was a strong feeling of an era ending amidst the token flag-waving.

This is a woman who has occupied the throne for longer than most of us have been alive, someone whose face we see every time we post a letter or slot a card into an ATM, however infrequently we do either of those things these days compared to when we were younger. She has been there throughout the premierships of 13 of Boris’s predecessors, stretching all the way back to his hero Sir Winston; and there’s a strong possibility she may even outlast her incumbent PM’s shaky reign and offer her hands to be kissed by his successor before she signs-off and permanently hands over to her unpopular heir. What Boris wouldn’t give for that kind of staying power.

© The Editor

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