THE WALKING DEAD

The most unwelcome endorsement a football manager can ever receive when his team’s results are going against him is that of his club chairman; a public statement that a boss has the full support of the board is traditionally a prelude to the chop. The fact that Boris Johnson has given his backing to Theresa May when the Prime Minister has proven yet again precisely how blind she is to her own shortcomings as PM isn’t necessarily something she should take as an indication she’ll still be around come the next General Election. After all, Boris’s own Downing Street ambitions remain unfulfilled and received a renewed boost following the far-from convincing performance of the Government on June 8. The next Election is pencilled-in for 2022 – just as the last one was pencilled-in for 2020. However, Mrs May’s fellow Tories aren’t exactly queuing-up to echo the Foreign Secretary’s dubious confidence in the PM.

Former Conservative Party co-chairman Grant Shapps remarked that Mrs May’s comments about going on and on were ‘too early’, whilst those who lost their job when May took up hers – such as ex-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Evening Standard editor George Osborne – were a little blunter when it came to the PM’s future. Tory grandee (and prominent Remainer) Michael Heseltine said ‘The long term is a difficult one for Theresa May because I don’t think she’s got one.’ Theresa May, on the other hand, has declared ‘Yes, I’m here for the long term…not just delivering on Brexit, but delivering a brighter future for the UK.’ To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, well – she would say that, wouldn’t she?

Many reckon Theresa May has managed to cling on due to the Brexit factor; others see the fact she’s still at No.10 is testament to the dearth of a talented contender in her Cabinet. Not that there aren’t a few in there who fancy her job. Boris Johnson may have been thwarted at the eleventh hour courtesy of Michael Gove last year, but May’s unconvincing leadership has given him fresh hope. When your most ringing endorsement emanates from a man who stands to gain the most from your continuing presence as a weak leader, it doesn’t bode well for ‘going on and on’.

The situation for the Tories in terms of a leadership challenge isn’t that dissimilar to the situation Labour found itself in when Gordon Brown lost the 2010 General Election. Granted, in the Conservative case, an ineffective leader unpopular with the general public did actually manage to scramble across the finishing line, but the victory came at a catastrophic cost, most of which has been spent paying the DUP; and the candidates to succeed her are hardly outstanding. Even if one takes a mercurial clown such as Boris out of the equation, we’re faced with a dullard like Philip Hammond or a dimwit like David Davis.

If the Tories regarded Jeremy Corbyn as their greatest electoral asset in the arrogant run-up to the last campaign, Jezza’s strong showing on polling day forced them to examine their own lack of assets; and the only Tories to have failed to come to the conclusion that their frontbench was a pretty woeful collection of nonentities were those too distracted by their self-interested egos to realise they were as mediocre as the next man. All will hope Mrs May stays where she is for the time being, as will the Labour Party; any Prime Minister who can lose a safe Parliamentary majority and can instil such apathy in the electorate as the PM has achieved over the past four months is a far more encouraging opponent than a strong leader with a landslide to her name.

In between bigging-up her ability to survive and prosper, the Prime Minister was waffling on about a ‘Global Britain’ as a means of proving to the doubters that we can trade beyond the borders of Europe without any economic upset; she also came out with the kind of meaningless statement re dealing with ‘those injustices domestically that we need to do to ensure that strong, more global, but also fairer Britain for the future’ that she delivered from the Downing Street lectern the day she moved into No.10. Well, she was able to shoehorn ‘strong’ into her spiel, though ‘stable’ was notable by its absence. At best, the furthest date from the here and now she can feasibly make it to whilst staying in the top job is probably the day we officially withdraw from the EU in March 2019; the thought that she could still be around three years later is inconceivable to anyone other than Theresa May – and…er…Boris Johnson.

The PM cited the example of her predecessor as to how announcing one’s intentions can prematurely curtail one’s premiership; but even though David Cameron revealed he was planning to step down after serving two full terms, there’s no doubt he would still be in the job today had the British public voted Remain rather than Leave last year – and he’d have almost three years left to go. Unlike Dave, Theresa May is head of a minority administration, and having to depend upon obstinate Ulstermen to prop her up is not exactly the most strong or stable foundation for planning to go on and on.

Theresa May is in the most vulnerable position of any British Prime Minister since Jim Callaghan, and were the country not engaged in an unprecedented diplomatic disentanglement that doesn’t need the additional headache of yet another Tory leadership battle, she wouldn’t simply be a dead woman walking; politically, she’d just be dead.

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GARDENERS’ QUESTION TIME

Maybe a glorified paddling pool was the most fitting tribute to our ‘Queen of Hearts’; the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, which opened to an underwhelming fanfare in 2004, was, like the public image of the woman it was supposed to be a tribute to, an impressive triumph of style over substance. In the years immediately following the premature death of the former Princess of Wales, many such fanciful schemes were suggested, some considerably abstract and bearing little obvious relation to the woman herself. Perhaps the unintentionally hilarious statue of Diana and Dodi in Harrods was at the forefront of the minds concocting these prospective memorials.

Joanna Lumley, an actress who doesn’t seem to act very much anymore, suggested a ‘floating paradise’ as one more bizarre tribute to Diana barely a year after events in Paris; this somewhat vague concept eventually morphed into the notion of a bridge that also doubled up as a garden – with or without the Diana brand attached to it. Following her successful campaign to gain Gurkhas the right to settle in the UK, Lumley suddenly had a public platform that proved immensely attractive to politicians hoping some of Purdey’s star quality would rub off on them. One such politician was the ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson. Riding high on the PR victory of the 2012 London Olympics, Bo-Jo gave the green light to what became the London Garden Bridge project.

Ah, yes – the Garden Bridge. It is now officially an ex-bridge, bereft of life and all that. The ambitious (if rather impractical) idea of another shortcut across the Thames that would serve as a novel rural facsimile in the heart of the capital looked good on paper, yes; but the proposed location wasn’t a part of London in desperate need of another bridge and the locals whose lives would be disrupted by its protracted construction weren’t even consulted as Boris took it upon himself to be the project’s salesman; when he gained planning permission in 2014, Johnson’s record in facilitating the ongoing despoiling of the capital’s skyline by constantly ruling in favour of developers over opposition didn’t give cause for optimism.

Initially, the public were told the bridge would be financed by private investors, but the struggle to raise the required funds necessitated the diverting of taxpayers’ money into the project – a total that now stands at around an estimated £46.4m. As Chancellor, George Osborne promised Boris £30m from the public purse, and a chunk of that squandered cash found its way into the black hole of the Garden Bridge courtesy of David Cameron; Dave ignored the advice of his civil servants by throwing more taxpayer’s money at it when the failure of recruiting enough private investors revealed a £56m shortfall in the accounts of the trust set up to handle the lucre.

The Garden Bridge had its critics from day one; they viewed it as an expensive vanity project that could be to Cameron’s Government what the Millennium Dome was to Blair’s. Its proponents, such as chairman of the trust, Lord Davies, claimed the Bridge would be a ‘beautiful new green space in the heart of London’; but it’s not as though Central London, for all its traffic bottlenecks and overcrowded pavements, doesn’t already have an abundance of spacious parks and green squares to breathe in – most of which have been part of the London landscape for well over a century.

The Garden Bridge could well have gone ahead as a felicitous white elephant for Japanese tourists if enough private investors had been prepared to pay for its construction as well as the projected £3m a year needed for maintenance once open; but for so much public money to have been squandered on ‘a public space’ without public consultation is outrageous, especially now the whole thing has been abandoned.

A review into the project chaired by Dame Margaret Hodge was severely critical of the methods of raising money for it and also of Boris Johnson for his inability to justify the public expense; Hodge’s conclusion was that it would be better to call time on the Garden Bridge before any further costs were unwittingly incurred by taxpayers. Johnson’s successor as London Mayor Sadiq Khan has finally pulled the plug on it following the findings of the review, though some say he could have spared even more expense had he done so earlier; his predecessor claims Khan has killed the Bridge out of spite, saying ‘The Garden Bridge was a beautiful project and could have been easily financed’, though his own failure to finance it without regular recourse to the public purse hardly backs up his response to the Mayor’s belated decision.

As another cheerleader for the Garden Bridge, even Lord Davies admitted earlier this year that the project was not currently ‘a going concern’. The trust still hadn’t purchased the land on the South Bank of the Thames that would serve as the bridge’s southern landing and no private investors have been persuaded to part with their pennies for a full twelve months. The total provided by private investors is alleged to be around £70m, though how much of the public money wasted on the project was spent on courting potential private investors is unknown.

Ultimately, the London Garden Bridge can join a list of other intended attractions for the capital that never made it beyond the drawing board, though some came closer to succeeding. Watkin’s Tower, London’s planned answer to the Eiffel Tower in the 1890s which, had it been completed, would still be taller than the Shard, made it as far as 154ft before being abandoned and then demolished, eventually making way for Wembley Stadium. But it’s interesting to note that one of the proposed ideas for the Wembley site prior to the partial construction of the Tower was a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza, in which food would be grown in hanging gardens. Perhaps the committee responsible for the Garden Bridge should have studied their London history books beforehand.

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A DIPLOMATIC PRECEDENT

gainsbourgDid Theresa May really not consider the potential banana skins when she appointed Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary? By airing his personal opinions on Britain’s dubious relationship with the appalling Saudi regime, Boris has contradicted official Government policy on the subject, even if few outside of Government would dispute his comments had more than a ring of truth about them. However, it was evident Boris was given the Foreign Office to neutralise the threat he may have presented to the PM from the backbenches; she probably presumed his natural talent for putting his foot in it might be curbed by the prospect of high office. It was a clever move on her part, though a considerable gamble; and by doing so, she was replicating the machinations of a predecessor in Downing Street who also handed the same prestigious post to a controversial rival – Harold Wilson.

George Brown may only be mostly remembered now by those who were around when he was a prominent Minister, but in his day was as divisive and colourful a character as Boris. A working-class hero in the traditional Labour mould, Brown had left school at 15 to earn a living and harboured a grudge over the privileged and university-educated thereafter; he’d come up through the Trades Union ranks and could rely on their support when selected for the seat of Belper near Derby at the 1945 General Election, which he duly won. Mentored by Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour during the wartime coalition, Brown wasted little time in making enemies by plotting to remove Labour PM Clement Attlee, something Attlee responded to by giving Brown a Ministerial post to keep him busy whilst keeping an eye on him.

Dismissive of Labour’s left-wing, Brown was opposed to the failed coup to install Aneurin Bevan as leader during the fall-out from losing the 1951 General Election; when his ideological comrade Hugh Gaitskell was elected Labour leader, Brown was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet, but his erratic temperament didn’t always win friends or influence people. Brown was, in the phraseology of the time, an ‘old soak’ – that is, he drank to excess; and this excessive consumption exacerbated his somewhat bullish manner. Despite this drawback, he became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1960 and fought off challenges from both Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson during his tenure in the job.

When the sudden death of Hugh Gaitskell prompted a Labour leadership contest in 1963, Brown seemed to be the natural successor, but his combative approach and – especially – his fondness for the bottle worked against him. Labour’s leading intellectual of the right, Anthony Crosland, famously reacted to the front-runners (Wilson and Brown) by claiming the party was faced with ‘a choice between a crook and a drunk.’ In the end, the crook won and Brown retained the Deputy Leader post, regaining respect within the party by playing a prominent part in organising Labour’s successful 1964 General Election campaign. Wilson rewarded him by creating the Department of Economic Affairs, an office about as much use as the Department of Administrative Affairs in ‘Yes Minister’; but, again, it kept Brown busy.

Following a post-financial crisis reshuffle, Harold Wilson raised a few eyebrows by appointing George Brown Foreign Secretary, a position for which a deal of diplomatic tact is generally required. After leading Britain’s failed attempted to join the Common Market in 1967, he publicly insulted the wife of Britain’s Ambassador to France; he resigned from the job following a drink-induced shouting match with Wilson, and the familiar ‘Private Eye’ euphemism for pissed MPs, ‘tired and emotional’, was first coined in reference to Brown. Brown lost his seat by over 2,000 votes at the 1970 General Election, though was elevated to the peerage more or less immediately after. His drinking continued to be a source of public embarrassment, infamously captured on camera when he fell into the gutter in 1976, though by this time he was perceived as a harmless has-been, admired for being ‘a bit of a character’ more than for anything he had achieved politically.

Despite leaving the Labour Party and supporting the formation of the Social Democratic Party, Brown’s old Labour colleagues who had broken away to set up the SDP thought his reputation would be more of a hindrance than a help and he only officially joined the SDP the year he died, 1985. His death, unsurprisingly, was due to cirrhosis of the liver. He was 70.

Whether Theresa May’s decision to promote Boris Johnson to the same post Harold Wilson appointed George Brown to fifty years before will result in an eventual resignation prompted by some ill-timed slip of the tongue remains to be seen. But the decision was a similar gamble taken for similar reasons. Nevertheless, Boris has made a promising start and I look forward to watching his progress.


GREG LAKE (1947-2016)

lake2016 has not been a good year for Prog Rock’s most contentious supergroup, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In March, keyboardist Keith Emerson committed suicide and now we learn the band’s guitarist and vocalist Greg Lake has passed away at the age of 69 from cancer.

Whilst his longest association with any group of musicians was with Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer, Lake first came to prominence as singer with the original line-up of King Crimson, providing the vocals on their landmark debut LP in 1969, ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’. Neither Crimson nor ELP were ever destined to be a hit singles act; their musical vision was far too expansive to be condensed into the three-minute pop song and they arrived at a moment when the album was considered rock’s premier art form.

Ironically, however, the two tracks Greg Lake is most associated with in the public eye were both massive hits, both peaking at the No.2 position in the singles chart – ELP’s instrumental, ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, and his own solo hit two years before, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’. Thanks to the now obligatory promotion of archive seasonal smashes via the extension of Christmas from a week to a full month, it’s hard to leave one’s home in December and not hear Lake’s 1975 monster blaring out somewhere. Pipped to the No.1 spot by ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ is no throwaway novelty ditty, sharing its grandiose musical structure with Prog by borrowing a melody from a classical composer (in this case, Prokofiev) and employing a full orchestra. The only miracle is that he manages to cram it all into 3 minutes, 31 seconds.

Though pretty much sick to death of Christmas hits now, even those less sentimental ones that illuminated my childhood, I retain a soft spot for ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’; and if I hear it playing in Sainsbury’s tomorrow I’ll probably exit the shop humming it – and, for once, not hating myself for doing so.

© The Editor

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CUTTIN, THRUSTIN, STABBIN, VOTIN

TexasSo, another back is stabbed, the latest in a frenzy of dagger-wielding to put Norman Bates to shame. Dave stabs Gove; Gove stabs Dave; Boris stabs Dave; Gove stabs Boris. While Jeremy Corbyn seems as bafflingly bewildered by the exodus of his Shadow Cabinet as his wide-eyed disciples, his bemusement with the viciousness of his fellow MPs underlines how his decades on the backbenches didn’t prepare him for the cruel cut-and-thrust of the frontbenches. Oh, politics is a dirty little business; and anybody unaware of this should either not get involved in it or (better still) know their bloody history.

The taste of power must be intoxicating, judging by the way in which it brings out the worst in everyone who comes within a whisker of it. Political history is littered with the corpses of those who blocked the route to power, so numerous that it would take a thousand posts on here to list the fallen. Deals are discarded, promises are broken, friendships are curtailed, alliances are severed – when power’s irresistible scent infects the nostrils, those under its spell will step over anybody to get their grubby paws on the prize

In the current brutal struggle for the future of the Tory Party, one could cite David Cameron’s justified demotion of Michael Gove following his disastrous spell as Education Secretary as the first blow struck. It incensed Mrs Gove – AKA Mail columnist Sarah Vine (she of the ‘It’s all about me’ Private Eye parody) – who has now been portrayed as the Lady Macbeth figure in this melodrama. Losing a household income of £36,000 overnight was evidently regarded by her as an unforgivable action on the part of the PM, and when hubby publicly opposed Dave’s stance by coming out as a Brexiteer Mrs Gove then apparently provoked the ire of Sam Cam following a series of sly tweets on the subject. Siding with Boris, Gove denied he wanted to be PM. A week on from the Referendum result, and a day on from an ‘accidentally leaked’ email by The Wife to the press, the Lord Chancellor has abruptly performed a U-turn, throwing his hat in the ring for the keys to No.10 and bringing about Boris’ shock withdrawal from the contest.

Corbyn’s refusal to budge as the Labour membership continues to venerate him as the second coming of Ghandi has been reinforced both by the decision of Angela Eagle not to stand against him in a leadership contest and the utter dearth of strong contenders to usurp the invisible man. What this challenge to Jezza has exposed is the threadbare talent Labour can boast in Parliament, something that will drag out the crisis and diminish the party’s standing even further. By contrast, while the Opposition commits hara-kiri, the Tories are simply getting on with it as the unsentimental Tories always do.

There’s the anonymous Stephen Crabb, replacement for IDS as Work and Pensions Secretary, a man who once said homosexuality was a disease that can be cured, and a man who evidently hasn’t quite worked out how to properly grow a beard; he’s making a meal of his non-toff background by referencing his one-parent family council house upbringing – just as David Davis did when he ran for the Tory leadership a decade ago; there’s Andrea Leadsom, another virtual unknown who only became a moderately familiar face when she shared some of the platforms during the Referendum TV debates; and, of course, there’s the token old man/making-up-the-numbers Ken Clarke-type candidate in the shape of ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

There’s no denying, however, that the two front-runners will be the Snooper’s Charter Master Theresa May and the dour little goblin himself. May has played the whole Referendum saga cleverly, keeping out of the limelight and allowing others to exhaust the public’s attention; and the exit of Boris from the stage has adhered to the Tory tradition of the favourite falling at the first hurdle, enabling her to emerge from the traps at the eleventh hour. When announcing her intention to run, May declared there won’t be the anticipated autumn or spring election, giving herself plenty of breathing space as an unelected Prime Minister for almost four years – something that seems fittingly ironic when the country has just voted against being ruled by an elite that the electorate never voted for.

So, the choice for the nation’s next PM will be May – with her humourless headmistress ambience and whiny Mavis from ‘Coronation Street’ vocal inflections – or Gove, with his sixty-year-old man trapped in a twelve-year-old boy’s body/Brains from ‘Thunderbirds’ demeanour. A choice between a matron in kitten heels and another Murdoch crony with a missus spreading the word via the Daily Dacre; and unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party, it’s a choice you have no say in at all. Yes, it’s good to be back in the bosom of democracy now we’re free from Brussels bureaucrats, isn’t it?


GORDON MURRAY (1921-2016)

MurrayThe death at the age of 95 of Gordon Murray, creator of the ‘Trumptonshire Trilogy’ of ‘Camberwick Green’, ‘Trumpton’ and ‘Chigley’, was announced today. The first of the trio was initially broadcast in the monochrome days of 1966, though he had the foresight to produce it in colour, which gave the series and its two sequels a longevity that carried it from the late 1960s all the way into the early 1990s as a perennial pre-school treat on lunchtime BBC1. The gentle portrayal of idyllic English village life probably seemed anachronistic even in 1966, yet the charm it effortlessly exuded and the sense of easing the viewer back into a womb-like state of blissful childhood comfort never waned and no doubt accounts for its lengthy shelf-life as a TV fixture.

Although interconnected and often confused with one another, each instalment in the Trumptonshire saga had its own distinctive qualities. ‘Trumpton’ opened every episode with the town hall clock and the two figures striking the bell, whereas ‘Camberwick Green’ opened every episode with the musical box from which that week’s profiled character would emerge. The musical accompaniment – each lead personality in Trumptonshire had their own theme song – featured the vocal talents of ‘Play School’ legend Brian Cant, and everyone for whom these songs constituted the aural backdrop to infancy can remember them.

From the Trumpton Fire Brigade to the troops of Pippin Fort, from Windy Miller to Lord Belborough, and from the drone-like workers at the biscuit factory to PC McGarry, it’s a wonder Gordon Murray’s Little England wasn’t evoked at some point during the recent EU Referendum, so exquisitely does it paint a picture of a nation that never was for a nation that always wanted it. The man who gifted more than one generation of children the kind of children’s programme that, as with the finest works of Oliver Postgate, defied the contemporary view that kids need to be slapped around the head with loud and fast images to prevent their allegedly short attention spans from wandering has left us a legacy that is as rich as any that the written word gave us in the centuries before the medium of television entered the arena. It may have been a product of an era that has now sadly receded into history, but it’s preserved forever – not just on digital disc, but in our heads. God bless, Gordon.

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JEUX SANS FRONTIERES

Jam - CopyEngland experienced its second euro exit in a week last night, and Roy Hodgson falling on his sword left the field clear for Bo-Jo to play the nation’s saviour once again. Why not? Don’t rule anything out at the moment. The anger within some Tory circles at Boris’ blatant leadership machinations and convenient ride on the Brexit bandwagon is gathering pace now, so perhaps opting for management of the diabolical England football team might be the less fraught choice for the blond bombshell. Most paying attention could see through Boris’ obvious reasons for throwing his considerable weight behind the Leave team, and it’s not such a great surprise that many of the wild claims made during the campaign were downplayed and denied in the 24 hours after the shock result of the Referendum was announced. But, as has already been made clear, the EU was just one aspect of the public’s response to being given a rare opportunity for democratic assassination.

The big movers and shakers of the European Union appear more eager for Britain’s withdrawal from Brussels than Britain itself. Mindful of delay and dithering creating a vacuum that could be filled by dissenting voices emanating from their respective backyards, the major member states want us to honour our decision by getting a move on. But for a group of individuals whose Promised Land was supposed to be so simple and straightforward to achieve – a simple cross in the right box on the ballot paper, after all – the leading Brexiteers seem rather reluctant to start the ball rolling. Of course, the Tories need to sort out who will lead them back into Austerity Land now that Dave is packing his bags; and then there’s a probable General Election to prepare for too. The fact that the country’s credit rating has been downgraded and the pound is languishing at a thirty-year low suggests urgent action would be handy; but the compulsion to set the wheels in motion by those who desperately wanted the authority to do so appears to have deserted them.

The recklessness on the part of certain cheerleaders for the gamble of quitting the EU, and the way in which they disregarded the inevitable ramifications with such cavalier nonchalance, was absent from the subdued manner with which they greeted the outcome. Nigel Farage was virtually the only key player to treat the result with the kind of euphoria seen amongst the public who wanted it. The difficulties that lay ahead and indeed are already confronting the country as a consequence would appear to have sunk in, and the old adage of being careful what you wish for has hit home.

What so many of those who yearned to break free from European bureaucracy voted for was understandably exploited by the politicians who wielded the tin-opener without contemplating the sheer number of worms poised to burst out of the can; but the sudden trust placed in these politicians was perhaps a result of the fact that the shedding of collective responsibility and the uncharacteristic candour that accompanied this implied they were actually speaking the truth for once. Since when has that ever been the case, though?

Ironically, it is the losers in this affair that are sticking to the stories they peddled before any votes were cast. Gideon emerged from hibernation yesterday; he may have relented a little on his final apocalyptic prediction of a couple of weeks ago, but many of the financial implications he warned the electorate of are now piling-up in his in-tray. He must be hoping Dave’s successor is quickly installed so he can wash his hands of the whole business and pass on the mess to the next luckless Chancellor.

The absence of tactical ability and utter cluelessness as to what constitutes a winning formula that the now ex-England manager Roy Hodgson demonstrated with such unique ineptitude during the national side’s embarrassing European excursion of the last fortnight seems to mirror the lack of foresight employed by the Brexit brigade. England entered Euro 16, as they do with each tournament, riding the crest of a patriotic wave rooted in past glories and a historical reputation, just as romantic legends of Britain standing alone against the Continent were played upon by the leading lights of the Leave crowd. It’s an effective weapon to utilise (and a canny button for cynical fingers to push) when the present pales by comparison. What Englishman and woman with a love for their country wouldn’t want to regard it as the best in the world and fall back on former achievements as justification for that love? We can point to Henry V or Nelson or Wellington or Churchill or even Alf Ramsey and prove we can do it.

It is possible that few Brexiteers genuinely believed a victory was likely and therefore the prospect was fixed in their heads as a unrealisable dream, one they could wistfully imagine without having to deal with the actual aftermath of; but taking such a risk with the future of an entire nation in reality required a solid series of plans in place and not a blank page that nobody seems willing to aim a pen at. Did they really think Merkel or Hollande or Juncker would casually receive the rejection and allow Britain to extricate itself from the EU at its leisure, or allow us to stay in the single market without accompanying freedom of movement? I don’t believe they thought about it at all.

I’ve no doubt this current crisis is the latest in a long line of end-of-the-world scenarios that have periodically pummelled the country ever since Denis Healey had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF forty years ago, one more humbling body blow to the national character, like losing 2-1 to a team of part-time amateurs from a nation with the population of Leicester. But we get knocked down and we get back up again. That, at least, is one talent we have in abundance; and it will come to our rescue now as it always has done before. The solution is not to keep holding EU Referendums until Remain get the result they want, nor is it to tackle the unelected European mandarins with an unelected Prime Minister. There’s a rocky road ahead, yes; but the lark is always ascending.

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THIS WRECKAGE

CameronWell, the fallout is proving to be somewhat chaotic, if predictable. The overindulged generation to whom nobody (least of all their helicopter parents) has ever said ‘no’ have already started up another of their tedious petitions to demand a second Referendum because they find it impossible to accept the majority disagreed with them; Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she’s preparing the ground for a second Independence campaign; Jeremy Corbyn has declared he will fight any challenge from within his own party, seemingly oblivious to the impending catastrophe awaiting Labour should the autumn see a General Election with him in charge; the metropolitan politicians who have received a resounding kick in the goolies still can’t understand why their groins are smarting as they continue to sneer at the voters who abandoned them; the Brexit frontrunners are keen to keep the celebratory festivities going because it serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that they have no idea what they’re supposed to do next; promises of billions raining down on the NHS have quietly been removed from the winning speeches; and furious Remain Conservatives are planning to spike the Tory leadership race by casting Boris Johnson in the Michael Heseltine role, wielding the dagger without a cast-iron guarantee of the crown.

David Cameron’s swift announcement of his resignation ironically mirrored that of Gordon Brown’s in 2010, staged exactly the same way – from the same podium in the same location to the simpering countenance of the missus by his side. It was deliberately timed to catch Boris off-guard, and Dave’s intention to see out the summer at No.10 in the manner of an impotent US President at the end of his second term gives him the opportunity to plot against his expected successor before the 1922 Committee kick-starts proceedings. With the SNP intending to exploit the chaos just as we all knew they would, Cameron could well go down in history as the PM who lost both Europe and Scotland, ranked alongside Lord North (the predecessor who presided over the loss of America in 1783) in an unenviable pantheon of failure. If he can salvage anything from the wreckage, it is to sabotage the succession of the man who has dogged his political career.

One notable absentee from the spotlight since Thursday is the man who could also take some blame for Dave’s downfall, his campaign co-ordinator and ill-advised adviser on tactics, George Osborne. If Cameron is toast, then Gideon is charcoal. The Chancellor’s rightly-derided threat of an austerity budget as punishment for a Leave vote was the last desperate bullet of a man whose barrel is now well and truly empty. If he had any semblance of a conscience, he would go immediately; but, of course, he doesn’t and he won’t. He knows now that the slim hopes of him moving in next-door are completely trashed, so he seems determined to hang on as a caretaker Chancellor in an act of petulant revenge on the party – and country – that rejected his vision.

In normal circumstances, a Prime Minister resigning barely a year into winning a General Election would be the lead story on everybody’s lips; but so dramatic have the last 48 hours been that even this ordinarily top-of-the-bill development seems to have been relegated to B-picture status in the overall scheme of things. I guessed this would happen if the vote went against Cameron, but it still seems surreal that it actually is happening, perhaps because I didn’t really believe we would take the Brexit route. Even on social media, news of Cameron’s imminent departure has been received with a surprising lack of euphoria, particularly by those who have spent the past six years demanding it. Indeed, it must be difficult for the left-leaning anti-Cameron networkers to know how to react, finally getting what they wanted but getting it as a side-effect of everything they didn’t want.

Giles Coren, a man who got where he is not through his own endeavours but through the name and standing of his late father Alan, takes an astonishingly vicious swipe at ‘old people’ in his Times column today, one that smacks of a sullen adolescent blaming his parents for his own failings. ‘The wrinkly bastards stitched us young ‘uns up good and proper on Thursday,’ he writes. ‘From their stairlifts and their zimmer frames, their electric recliner beds and their walk-in baths, they reached out with their wizened old writing hands to make their wobbly crosses and screwed their children’s and their children’s children for a thousand generations.’ The sour grapes whining of a wealthy London-centric celebrity whose presence in Fleet Street is due entirely to nepotism via one of those ‘wrinkly bastards’ is indicative of the Remain cheerleaders’ narcissistic inability to fathom why their fame didn’t swing it.

There are a lot of angry people in Britain right now, not just in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but England too. The yoof are especially incensed because their experience of the democratic process is limited. The fact that voting in any form won’t necessarily ensure the outcome one voted for is something that doesn’t appear to have registered with them and they’re looking for someone to blame. If that means blaming all ‘old people’ or labelling everyone who opted for the contrary position to them as racists, we shouldn’t really be surprised. What makes this remarkable moment in the country’s history equally compelling and frightening is the absence of precedence and the lack of a roadmap laying down the destination of the nation; but the Millennials like everything neatly pre-prepared and packaged, like an app that will tell them what to do. All is up in the air and all is uncertain; and nobody knows what comes next.

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THE END OF THE AFFAIR

vlcsnap-2016-06-24-12h39m46s147So, where to start? Well, we’re out. I didn’t really see this coming, I have to admit. I thought it would be close, but I didn’t anticipate the result we’ve ended up with. David Cameron, barely twelve months into the first mandate a Conservative Prime Minister had received from the electorate in twenty-three years, has announced he’ll be gone by the time of the Tory Party Conference in October, leaving the path clear for Boris. A motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn has already been issued by Labour MPs. Nicola Sturgeon has more or less declared she’s preparing for another Scottish Independence Referendum. Martin McGuinness has called for a plebiscite on a united Ireland. I’ve a feeling we’ve only just begun.

There’s been a lot of fatuous waffle so far today about ‘standing together’, about ‘uniting the country’ now that the decision has been made; I don’t envy anyone entrusted with that particular task. The fact is that the result of this Referendum has exposed the bleedin’ obvious, that Britain in 2016 is more divided than it has been at any time since the ideological wars of the 1980s – not just economically or socially, but regionally and nationally. It somehow seems apt that the pound has plummeted to its lowest level in thirty years. Nigel Farage, understandably euphoric this morning, has achieved his lifetime’s ambition and one wonders if he’ll now turn into a pumpkin at midnight. He referred to the result as ‘Britain’s Independence Day’; he was partly right. This isn’t Britain’s Independence Day, though: it’s England’s Independence Day – independence from Scotland, from Northern Ireland, and (eventually) from Wales. What could turn out to be England’s very own Declaration of Isolation has possibly set the ball rolling for the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

How did we get here? A cynical conspiracy theorist could surmise the whole EU issue was a mere smokescreen for a Tory Party plot to oust Cameron and for the SNP to restage 2014’s Independence Referendum; if so, both have succeeded. Dave’s dangerous gamble, perhaps the key selling point of the Tories’ 2015 Election manifesto, is probably the most personally disastrous move by any serving PM since Ted Heath took on the miners in February 1974; he was really left with no option but to walk. The liberal wing of his party represents a small section of Conservative England and it’s reflective of Cameron’s utter ignorance of the world beyond his privileged little circle that he didn’t foresee he had presented the old-school True Blue corners of the country with a golden opportunity to give him a kicking.

But this hasn’t just been a rejection of David Cameron’s brand of Toryism; it’s also been a rejection of all so-called metropolitan politicians of either colour who have ignored and neglected their traditional core support for decades. As divisive as she was, Margaret Thatcher was the last Prime Minister to take the concerns of the ordinary working man and woman into consideration. Cameron has indeed been the heir to Blair, treating anyone that didn’t fall into his preferred demographic with contempt, thus leaving huge swathes of the nation without a voice or party in Parliament. UKIP’s success in both long-time Tory and Labour heartlands – and the phenomenal rise of the SNP – has made this all-too evident. Donald Trump’s emergence across the pond has happened for similar reasons.

The Remain campaign was dominated by celebrities masquerading as those who (like Huggy Bear) are in synch with ‘the word on the street’. Well, they clearly weren’t listening to that word, because the word was ‘Leave’. Maybe if Eddie Izzard had tried to engage in debate with Farage on ‘Question Time’ instead of shouting at him like a hysterical Anne Robinson, those accustomed to dominating a stage rather than sharing it might have come across as less remote to the people they profess to care about than the Westminster Mafia does.

The immense size of the turn-out for the EU Referendum has exceeded any turn-out since the 1992 General Election, and this is a crucial point. Persistent grumbles that there’s no difference between the two major parties have arisen from a belief that whichever party one votes for, nothing changes. The Referendum was different, however. Europe was pretty much a red herring in some respects, for this was a chance to vote against an entire political class, Tory and Labour, that a good deal of the electorate felt abandoned by; and the outcome speaks volumes. Many of those who made their way to the polling booths yesterday don’t bother making that journey during an Election, and this was something Dave didn’t take into account. He’s now paid the price for his aloofness, and no amount of unconvincing tributes to his premiership from the opportunistic old rival now ready to jump into his grave will excise his ultimate failure as a leader from the history books.

And the fact that Labour failed to take a lead in the campaign again underlines the cult factor of Jezza, an appeal that doesn’t stretch beyond the hardcore faithful. The Corbynistas, sentimental old socialists and their gauche social networking children, are the only people in the country who look at the Labour leader and don’t see a professional backbencher out of his depth; the Messiah couldn’t even motivate the Labour vote in his favour when his party isn’t as publicly split over Europe as the Tories. He performed dismally in his first opportunity to prove his mettle, so even if whoever succeeds Cameron goes to the country in the autumn, anyone not deluded by romantic nostalgia for the good old days of the left must be able to see Labour is doomed with him at the helm. What consolation for the Conservatives that must be.

I don’t believe any of those who most vigorously campaigned for a Brexit have the slightest clue about what happens when they take down the Union Jack bunting. The aim was always to get out, not to sit down and navigate a path through the aftermath. I find it hard to feel celebratory with the prospect of a future in the hands of Boris, Gove and Grayling. As I peer through the barbed wire on the White Cliffs and cast my gaze over the silver sea, all I can see is Le Pen and Trump and every other ‘outsider’ capitalising on two decades of neglecting the people by the ruling class. As a human being, I find these extremely scary times to be living in; as a writer, however, I reckon I struck gold…

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GOODBYE MR CAMERON

TwatsThat late Westminster rogue and eccentric Lord Boothby once observed that ‘the Tory Party are ruthless’ when it comes to disposing of a leader; there rarely seems room for sentiment if the rank and file have decided El Presidente has to go. Unlike Labour’s dithering with Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and (it has to be said) Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservatives get on with it. Rumours of coups or challenges don’t linger like a bad smell for weeks and weeks before evaporating into the ether, as is the case with their opponents across the dispatch box. Past records count for little when the decision has been made.

Iain Duncan Smith was axed before he’d even fought a General Election; Ted Heath was deposed even though he’d won one; John Major pre-empted the axe by resigning as leader and then successfully standing for re-election; and most notoriously of all, the Tories even toppled Thatcher from her throne after she had led the party to three successive General Election victories. None of this history bodes well for David Cameron. He became Prime Minister by default in 2010 and had to cobble together an administration by forming Britain’s first peacetime coalition since the Second World War; he may have won the Conservatives their first General Election for 23 years in 2015, but a meagre majority of 12 can easily be whittled down, especially when Parliament is now locked into fixed five-year terms.

Cameron perhaps anticipated future storms on the eve of the 2015 General Election campaign by announcing he didn’t intend to serve more than two terms at No.10. This threw up all kinds of excitable permutations on the part of media commentators as to what this premature retirement would entail come the unnamed day when Dave departed Downing Street. Would a leadership election provoke a General Election? Would the succession be smooth or bitter, depending on the successor? Then again, it’s possible Cameron’s inside knowledge of a forthcoming EU Referendum may have enabled him to prepare for an earlier exit than he might have wished for. Granting his Cabinet the suspension of collective responsibility was unavoidable if a fair debate was to be achieved in the weeks leading up to June 23, but it has also allowed simmering discontent with Cameron’s Premiership to bubble up to the front pages in a way that normal circumstances would never have permitted.

In comparison to Harold Wilson’s shrewd invisibility during the 1975 EEC Referendum campaign – when he kept a discreet distance whilst his divided Cabinet argued amongst themselves – Cameron has been at the forefront of this year’s Remain debate; it could be because, unlike 41 years ago, what was then called the ‘Yes’ camp seem less certain of a guaranteed victory now than they did in 1975. As Prime Minister, Dave clearly reckons the Remain team require his statesmanship clout if they are to sidestep defeat; having narrowly avoided being the man who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, Cameron seems to believe if he can avoid a Brexit scenario when backing the opposite opinion, he might just extend his time at the top to a full second term. The prospect of the vote going against him would probably make his position as Prime Minister untenable, and his detractors within the Tory Party know it.

He has had as many critics in Tory circles as outside of them during his eleven years as leader; some, such as columnist Peter Hitchens, have attacked Cameron’s now-discarded claim to being ‘the heir to Blair’ from virtually day one and have never let him forget the now-embarrassing boast. One of the more recurrent criticisms of Cameron is that he doesn’t appear to stand for or fundamentally believe in anything; he himself admitted he was ‘not a deeply ideological person’ before finding himself with genuine power, and one has to at least condone his honesty, for this statement has never been contradicted by actions. After Thatcher, conviction politicians of the most bloody-minded persuasion have largely lingered on the backbenches as the desperate fear of being rejected by the electorate has permeated the highest echelons of British politics; whichever way the wind appears to be blowing, that’s the way our leaders are going. Even Corbyn has been forced to refute decades of Euro-scepticism now that he’s somehow at the head of the Labour table.

The manner in which the Leave section of Cameron’s Cabinet have personally aimed their anti-EU criticisms at him has the ring of a school ‘away week’ whereby the teachers reluctantly submit to a more casual relationship with their pupils and suffer the indignity of being addressed by their Christian name rather than the obligatory ‘Sir’. But there has been a remarkable savagery from some of the men and women Dave made Ministers that suggests the most vocal will be in for a frosty reception in the Cabinet Office on June 24 if the vote goes in Cameron’s favour. Having said that, I doubt any of them would have exhibited such a cocky lack of respect for their leader if they didn’t believe victory will be theirs come Referendum day. Whether they admit it or not, they’re already backing Boris; and if the whole campaign is to avoid being hijacked by a Tory Civil War, perhaps Dave should fall on his sword whatever the result. History’s judgement may well be a little kinder if he does so.

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THE EUROPA LEAGUE

Eurovision 2016When presented with an ultimatum by Napoleon in 1806, Holy Roman Emperor Francis II not only had to abdicate and accept the dissolution of an entity in the centre of Europe boasting a vintage of eight centuries; he also had to endure a scathing summary of his overstretched Empire’s irrelevance in the continent’s new order. Bonaparte told the humiliated Habsburg that his Empire was akin to an old maidservant who had been raped by every member of the household in which she served. It was time to put her out of her misery.

Although the Holy Roman Empire’s genesis had been in the distant medieval era and it cannot be viewed in the same light as the war-like nations of Europe that were engaged in constant conflict with each other, it had continued as a useful and desirable ally for any competing European power poised to lock horns (whether England, France, Spain or Holland) for the remainder of its existence, mainly due to the sheer scale of the land it covered and the number of troops it could therefore call upon when battle commenced. Largely governed by Germanic rulers, the Empire nevertheless reached as far south as Northern Italy and comprised a complex sequence of sovereign kingdoms, city states, duchies, principalities and hundreds of other sub-divisions that, on paper, maintained a degree of independent sovereignty, though officially owed their allegiance to the Emperor. In retrospect, it’s hard not to view the Holy Roman Empire as a prototype for the European Union.

Perhaps if Boris Johnson had used his evident intelligence to draw parallels with Europe’s previous centralised economic and political powerhouse instead of taking the lazy Livingstone route to Nazi comparisons, maybe his latest gaffe could have been avoided. Both Nazi Germany and Napoleonic France evolved from mere nations into a system of continental conquest and subjugation, one that imposed order on central Europe by invading its sovereign territories and brutally expanding the boundaries of the conquering country in the process. By contrast, the Holy Roman Empire was a bureaucratic brotherhood of nations, part Common Market/part NATO; it even crossed the great divide between Catholicism and Protestantism in its member states. The Emperor usually emanated from an established dynasty of rulers, but was nevertheless an elected monarch, even if his electorate consisted of the elite Prince-Electors rather than the general public. Sound familiar?

The demise of the Holy Roman Empire was made easier by its sprawling size, particularly when Napoleon’s armies could pick off one vulnerable member state after the other before striking at its Austrian heart and forcing the Emperor to surrender his crown and bring the 800-year-old institution to an undignified end. It had become bloated, complacent and effectively irrelevant to the nineteenth century, and all that was required to kill it off was one ruthlessly ambitious demigod who had no respect for its ancient traditions. Unlike Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany, the EU is not a county and neither was the Holy Roman Empire. Boris resorted to crass Napoleonic and Nazi references because he knows these are ones that the British public can relate to in basic black-and-white terms, not to mention ones that will invoke the spirits of Trafalgar or Dunkirk. Utterly meaningless spirits when it comes to this particular debate, but potent ones all the same.

At the same time as Bo-Jo was playing his pound-shop Churchill, Eastern Europe was embroiled in a war of words set to music. Ukraine won Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest with a number apparently inspired by the singer Jamala’s great-grandmother being forced to leave her Crimean homeland by Stalin in 1944 (the title of the song) during his revenge on Crimean Tatars for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. This effective ethnic cleansing resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 deportees from the Crimean Peninsula to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in Central Asia. Not exactly the basis for an upbeat entry into a song contest noted for its banal lyrical content, but a highly charged one at this moment in time.

Let’s face it, though, the Eurovision has been a hotbed of political bias ever since the old Eastern Bloc countries were welcomed into the fold over 20 years ago. The blatantly partisan nature of the voting was one of the reasons Terry Wogan gave up his stint at the microphone, and it seems whatever controversial move Putin’s Russia makes is only ever really punished in the incongruous environs of an entertainment event while an impotent EU and UN watch on. I remember lipstick lesbians t.A.T.u. being greeted with a chorus of catcalls and boos during their performance for Russia at the tournament in 2003, so voters opting for a song criticising past Russian activities in a country that has recently been annexed by Putin is no great surprise.

Predictable outrage in Russia itself to Ukraine’s triumph hardly ranks the song’s success alongside one of the Eurovision’s great robberies, such as General Franco allegedly rigging the victory for Spain over Cliff in 1968, but it does show that the continent of Europe, from its western to its eastern tips, is a far-from happy bunny at the moment – something that the approaching deadline of June 23 (and all the hypothetical propaganda surrounding it) probably isn’t helping.

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ET TU, BORIS?

BorisSo, Bo-Jo has gone and done it. The darling of the anti-Cameron right has once again highlighted his canny opportunism by coming out and declaring his pro-Brexit stance, thus enhancing his credentials as a potential PM in the eyes of the Sun, Mail and Express when Dave calls it a day – something that may come sooner rather than later if the Great British public goes with the ‘no’ vote. Of course, just as there’s more to Cameron’s pro-EU position than simply wanting to remain attached to mainland Europe, there’s a hell of a lot more to Boris’s public declaration than promoting the referendum we now know will take place on June 23.

Curiously, whilst David Cameron seems to embody all the privately-educated elements that irk those not fortunate enough to enjoy his privileges, the Mayor of London’s background is just as privileged, if not more so; his appearance on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ revealed he was descended from George II, no less. But whereas Dave comes across as an insincere, vacuous posh boy whose desperate efforts to mix it with the plebs underline his cluelessness, Boris’s bumbling comedy persona and recourse to archaic ‘crikey’-isms unheard since the heyday of Billy Bunter have endeared him to sections of the public who see in him a rare example of a genuine individual where contemporary politics are concerned. In a way, it’s no real surprise that a populace in love with the cosy Neverland of ‘Downton Abbey’, where toffs are benevolent to the lower orders and forelock-tugging servants know their place, should take Boris to their hearts. And he’s no fool, despite his performance before the cameras; he knows this has been his key selling point from day one, and he’s determined to play the part all the way to No.10.

That Boris will now be sharing a platform with those other two professional political mavericks, Nigel Farage and George Galloway, is only fitting. All three have what the likes of George Osborne and Theresa May – the other two main front-runners with their eyes on Dave’s mantle – will never have. Osborne is detested by all but the most devoted Tory and May has the hectoring vocal whine of Mavis from ‘Coronation Street’; neither could be regarded as an odds-on floating vote-winner. Boris not only has the edge over them, but over the two rebels whose team he has joined. Put simply, the crucial difference between Bo-Jo and Farage and Galloway is that the Mayor can actually discern the reins of real power in his sights, a member of the governing party rather representing a minority fringe that can claim column inches and TV spotlights without turning that into sizeable votes.

Johnson’s election as London Mayor back in 2008 confirmed there was more to this man than the clumsy clown who became a household name after hosting ‘Have I Got News For You’ with such chaotic comedic panache. After initially surrendering his Parliamentary seat to run for the capital’s top job, his first move towards regaining a significant foothold within the Conservative Party came when he returned to Westminster in 2015. Despite sharing former membership of the notorious Bullingdon Club with Cameron and Osborne, Boris had a slightly wider education thereafter, working for both the Times and Telegraph before becoming editor of the Spectator for six years. His political career has contained enough scandals to ruin a lesser man, yet he seems to have emerged from both insulting Liverpudlians and engaging in extra-marital affairs a stronger character, his popularity undimmed by unfavourable headlines, which is no small achievement.

If a little forensic examination is applied to his record as London Mayor, it’s evident Johnson has exerted a paucity of good will towards the masses who voted him into office, preferring to cosy up to big business and enabling architects to take a bloody great scalpel to the London skyline with an absence of appreciation for the damage done to it by endless Towers of Babel. Yet, Johnson was re-elected Mayor in 2012, following his consistently high visibility during that summer’s London Olympics, and has regularly utilised his Wooster-ish charisma to his advantage, exploiting a wide-ranging popularity unparalleled amongst his Cabinet colleagues to ascend the next level of the greasy pole. What other politician could get away with quoting Latin in public and not be viewed as a pretentious prat?

Faced with a choice of, say, Michael Fallon or Boris being the star guest on ‘Newsnight’, how many members of the electorate would actively tune in for the first interview, other than those desperately seeking a cure for insomnia? By consciously developing a character in stark contrast with the never-ending parade of Parliamentary dullards spin-doctored within an inch of their lives for fear of putting a foot wrong and inadvertently revealing a flash of personality, Boris Johnson has successfully capitalised on a dearth of colour in Westminster and as a consequence is one of the most recognisable politicians in the country. He learned early on that by obscuring his ambition in affability and eccentricity, he could win over voters who would never warm to a cold fish like Iain Duncan Smith.

Whether the public’s fondness for Boris could be extended to electing him as their leader remains to be seen; but by allying himself with the prevailing anti-EU sentiments dominating discussions over the impending referendum, Bo-Jo has again demonstrated his talent for being in the right place at the right time. And I suspect he’ll do likewise when Dave eventually falls on his sword.

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