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.

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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.

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GRAY DAY

BorisIf gun culture was as prevalent here as it is in the US – yet one more example this week highlighting just how prevalent, of course – I reckon Boris Johnson could probably get away with ‘accidentally’ shooting dead a member of the Cabinet and declaring he didn’t recognise his trigger-happy actions as murder or even manslaughter; he’d no doubt face angry calls for his head at PMQs and still survive as PM, brazenly blustering his way through a denial that those lackeys he hadn’t killed would applaud and support in the face of Opposition outrage. He’d apologise to his dead colleague’s widow and then say it was time to ‘move on’. The incumbent Prime Minister would be able to evade justice because he’s surrounded by deliberately-chosen mediocrities on his own side and confronted by hapless no-hopers on the other, giving him the kind of leeway no other PM in living memory has ever been able to enjoy. I should imagine all of his surviving predecessors are green-eyed when it comes to his good fortune, not to mention envying the apparent apathy of the general public towards his shameless bullshit.

After months of column inches devoted to exposing what Boris did during the pandemic war, Sue Gray’s ‘Partygate’ report – in as un-redacted a version as we could hope to expect – has finally been published, and the forced apologies are in full swing, especially in relation to the way in which some of the menials at No.10 were treated by those present at the restriction-breaking ‘work events’ held during lockdown – though probably no different from how Boris treated his luckless ‘fag’ at Eton. ‘I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded,’ said Boris without a hint of irony in the Commons, ‘and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff. And I’d like to apologise to those members of staff and I expect anyone who behaved that way to apologise to them as well.’ One might almost imagine he hadn’t been there were it not for the photographs that emerged on ITV News in the days leading up to the publication of the report.

Certainly, from some of the descriptions in the Gray report, a Downing Street concept of a party bears more of a relation to the kind of juvenile bash teenagers indulge in when their parents are out for the evening, the kind where some drink alcohol for the first time and the carpet is consequently exposed to the inevitable end results. Once the grownups are back in the room, cue a major league bollocking from dad, followed by a cleanup campaign by the guilty, with threats of being grounded for weeks echoing in their ears. I suppose the main difference here is that there were no parents to come home and restore order; the more junior civil servants present took their lead from the senior attendees, assuming it was okay to be there and to get stuck in because Boris and chums were doing likewise and exercising little in the way of authority; the image is of unsupervised children being allowed to run wild – like ‘Lord of the Flies’ with karaoke.

‘The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture,’ says Gray, laying blame firmly at the door of Downing Street and those who, in theory, are supposed to be the grownups there. The infamous shindig held the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in April last year officially ended at 4.20am, which at least shows the partygoers didn’t merely reserve their contempt for the lower orders whose lives they’d made a misery with regulations they themselves declined to adhere to; the lack of respect towards Her Majesty, which one naturally expects at such a moment, is pretty glaring. However, the first prominent ‘work event’ scrutinised in the report took place on 20 May 2020, a garden party at No.10 attended by around 30-40 people; it was a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering organised by the PM’s-then principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. Mind you, there is at least an awareness that the party wasn’t strictly legit in a later WhatsApp message from Reynolds to a SPAD, in which the former opined ‘we seem to have got away with it’.

Another much-discussed work event, the so-called ‘Abba party’ held in the PM’s flat at No.10 on 13 November 2020 – one at which Carrie Antoinette was allegedly present – isn’t included amongst the 16 separate gatherings examined in Sue Gray’s report; the bash – apparently staged to mark the hasty exits of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain – was being investigated by Gray when the Met’s own investigation began, so she suspended her work for fear of prejudicing the police case. The Met are being a tad cagy about this one, admitting there were breaches of Covid regulations yet refusing to reveal how many attendees were fined; then again, it was hardly a unique occasion. The Met investigated 12 work events altogether, issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for eight of them, with 126 fines dished out to 83 people in total. As well as those gatherings already mentioned, there were also get-togethers on 18 and 19 June, 17 and 18 December (all 2020) and 14 January 2021, each resulting in retrospective fines.

‘Wine Time Fridays’ appear to have been introduced at No.10 as part of Boris’s charm offensive in the workplace, which seems like one more manifestation of his deep desire to be liked; were these placed on hiatus in the same way everyone else’s social life had to be during lockdown, I suspect most couldn’t care less if Downing Street staff enjoyed unwinding with a bottle at the end of the working week. That they carried on regardless when it was suddenly illegal to either hold or attend such gatherings is what irks and hurts those who were forced into isolation and alienation by lockdown. The Prime Minister, of course, continues to plead ignorance of his own emergency legislation that outlawed what he regarded as work events. ‘It’s clear from what Sue Gray had to say that some of these gatherings went on far longer than was necessary,’ he said whilst being repeatedly heckled in the Commons, ‘and they were clearly in breach of the rules and they fell foul of the rules.’ Your rules, mate.

Unfortunately, the photographic evidence so far doesn’t really support some of the more debauched descriptions of events at Downing Street, one of which features Boris and Rishi at the PM’s birthday ‘do’; shockingly, jugs of juice and M&S sandwiches can clearly be seen in this outrageous image! The fact the two were fined for being present at what resembles a coffee morning at a church hall perhaps yet again underlines the ridiculousness of the rules and restrictions we were all expected to abide by at the time – ditto Sir Keir and his beer. That none of our lord and masters chose to practice what they preached is one reason why this story refuses to go away in the face of rather more serious mounting issues since. Yes, they were quick to don their masks and visors when out and about in order to set a shining example to the rest of us; but once they were behind closed doors it was socially (un)distanced party time, something we were all told would probably be responsible for the death of granny – when the old dear was actually more likely to meet her maker after Matt Hancock sent her back to the care home.

Naturally, many broke lockdown rules and many remained free from having a police record; others weren’t so lucky. If, as we are occasionally informed, our politicians are only human too, I guess it’s no surprise some of them also broke the rules. Then again, members of the public who did likewise didn’t devise those rules in the first place and didn’t bombard the populace with a steady stream of propaganda, including threats of the dire consequences facing them if those rules were broken. The unravelling of Project Fear is embodied in the Partygate affair, though best not to get too complacent; who knows what treats they’ve got lined up for us re monkeypox, eh?

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LOCAL HEROES

BallotOn one hand, yeah, it looks like carelessness – the Conservative Party has lost two MPs in the last couple of weeks and now stands to definitely lose another whenever the next General Election comes around. On the other hand, there’s something inevitably familiar about the reasons for all three quitting: Sleaze. After being exposed as the Tory Member whose in-House search for tractor websites naturally led him to online porn, Neil Parish was faced with little choice but to voluntarily walk the plank. The MP for Tiverton and Honiton’s grubby escapades in the Chamber have prompted the same old calls for a reform of Parliament and its ‘institutional misogyny’, just as we had five years ago when Michael Fallon’s resignation as Defence Secretary after admitting to touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee prompted the circulation of a clandestine and eye-opening ‘hit list’ of MPs behaving badly that some of us perused at the time. If anything had been done to sort the problem out back then, we maybe wouldn’t be where we are now; but there you go.

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, isn’t on his way straight away – thus sparing his party another by-election; but he’s announced he will be when this current Parliament runs its course either next year or the year after. An MP since 1997, Blunt has been dogged by calls for him to quit ever since he somewhat foolishly defended fellow Tory, Imran Ahmad Khan, who has only just surrendered his seat following his recent conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was part of the new intake of Tories who smashed the ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, turning Wakefield blue for the first time. Questions over his original selection as a candidate have been raised (when rumours about his dubious behaviour were apparently circulating beforehand), but his conviction has led to him being appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, which is a very polite Parliamentary description for the sack. Actually, perhaps this quaintly meaningless title should be bestowed upon anyone being fired from any job. ‘How come you’re home early from work, luv?’ ‘Bloody boss called me into his office and told me I’d been appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. Bastard.’

All of this comes in the wake of Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock and ‘Partygate’ and Rishi’s missus and a pervasive, putrid stench of rotting reputations, not unlike the same odious odour that emanated from the Conservative Party in the early 1960s and – especially – the mid-1990s. All parties that have been in Government for a decade or more slowly see their mortal remains begin to decay and disintegrate after that length of time, but the Tories always seem to do it so much better than anyone else. And now the electorate has the opportunity to make its feelings known towards the governing party at the ballot box, with the local elections taking place tomorrow. The previous occasion in which most of the seats up for grabs on 5 May were contested was way back in 2018, and it’s fair to say a hell of a lot has happened since then. And yes, folks, that’s what they call an understatement.

Last year’s local elections were undertaken at the time of Covid restrictions and left the Tories in a relatively strong state after their first test since the sweeping victory of 2019; at the time, their impressive gains were attributed to a post-vaccine bounce, when the speed and success of the roll-out gave people the impression the end of the pandemic was nigh. By contemporary standards, it was a fairly optimistic moment. This time round, the mood of the nation has altered yet again and it’ll be interesting to see how much of the ire directed towards the party during a cost-of-living crisis will be reflected in the way people vote. Only the most diehard and deluded still see Boris as an electoral asset, yet one could argue the Tories’ (and the PM’s) most effective electoral asset remains the Labour Party. The shadow of Brexit, the toxic legacy of Corbyn, and the scourge of Identity Politics are three factors that continue to drive a deep wedge between Labour and its one-time hardcore support base in the old Northern heartlands. Labour may well score points on campus and amongst the metropolitan middle-classes, but until the party reconnects with the far greater numbers that always stood by it in less affluent locations it’ll never be returned to power. Local elections tend to be an interesting means of gauging how far Labour has come or how far it has continued to fall behind actual public opinion rather than the minority opinions of MSM mouthpieces and broadsheet elites the party seems to use as an ill-advised yardstick.

The one thing in Labour’s favour is the fact that London – which appears to be its new heartland – will see the contesting of every seat in every borough, meaning there are over 1,800 of them to fight for, and the omens are good. However, success for Labour in the capital when it comes to these local elections could present the party with one more superficial impression of its resurrection as a potential party of government, as it doesn’t yet appear to have realised that what happens in London largely stays in London. The rest of the country remains unmoved by what Labour has to offer. A year ago, the party performed badly in the local elections and lost the Hartlepool by-election as a pre-match warm-up, but even if it does better in 2022 than it managed in 2021 – and it would take something special to do worse – the fact that the majority of the seats on offer tomorrow are in Labour-leaning areas will again give the party a distorted picture of its popularity if it does as well as expected; after all, in the 2018 local elections, Labour gave the Tories the best bloody nose it had landed since 2012 and yet was still trounced at the General Election the following year.

Perhaps the Tories needn’t be too concerned about Labour and should instead concentrate more on the Lib Debs, whose post-proroguing ‘detoxification’ and return to their familiar protest vote status could be perceived as more of a threat. That said, the Tories are lucky that few of the locations where their traditional popularity is waning are on offer this time round; the sense of relief in Conservative circles that the Home Counties will only constitute a tiny portion of the battleground on Thursday means worries over a potential Lib Dem challenge will be minimised. Labour’s failure to reconnect with its ex-Red Wall regions has also left Tory support staying fairly strong in the old blue collar ex-industrial towns Labour abandoned, so the party should be safe in those areas.

Regardless of Thursday’s events, the Tories are already looking ahead to the next General Election, devising what they have called an ‘80-20 strategy’, which refers to keeping the 80 marginal constituencies they hold and capturing a further 20 they’ve earmarked as potential gains. With the threat of Rishi Sunak as the most likely contender to stand against Boris now seemingly neutralised, the PM can breathe a sigh of relief that his ninth life has proven to be as jammy as the eight before it. He is the most fortunate of Prime Ministers, a man entirely unsuited for the prestige of his office yet surrounded by mediocrities in his own party and confronted by an Opposition comprising a fair share of its own mediocrities, none more so than the man who leads it.

This week’s local elections may well contain a sizeable amount of protest votes that serve as a comment on the way the Tories have been performing at a national level, but even if Labour and the Lib Dems do well, it’s still a long way from a General Election. That the governing party is led by a serial philanderer and liar who was charged by the police for committing a criminal offence and yet has simply kept calm and carried on without fear of losing his job is something that says everything about where we are and how we get the politicians we deserve. Then again, if you’re concerned about bin collections, cast your vote.

© The Editor

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SNATCH OF THE DAY

Sharon StoneOver the past week, the corridors of power seem to have been transformed into the cheesy plot of an ‘erotic novel’ penned by Edwina Currie; perhaps John Major’s former bit-on-the-side was on to something after all. Then again, it’s not so long since a quick grope beneath a CCTV camera by Matt Hancock was splashed across every front page on Fleet Street, so none of the current wave of ‘revelations’ are especially jaw-dropping. Granted, unnamed MPs watching phone porn in the Chamber is a new one, though why anyone would want to view porn in public when the accompanying physical response to it cannot be entered into without the risk of arrest on the grounds of indecent exposure is beyond me; yet, maybe the brazen thrill of watching it in a public place is part of the appeal for those who indulge in it – like dogging. Added to this grubby incident there’s also the alleged tribute to Sharon Stone on the part of Labour’s Deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner; considering how damaged every VHS copy of ‘Basic Instinct’ being returned to Blockbuster back in the day must have been whenever it came for that notorious scene to be played (and played and played), it’s a relief the camera crew working for BBC Parliament exercise a little more discretion.

I’m not quite sure if the suffix ‘gate’ has been attached to the saga of Angela Rayner’s crossed/uncrossed legs yet, but to do so would elevate it to a significance it doesn’t deserve at a time when one might say there are a few more important issues for our elected representatives to deal with. Perhaps it’s just a deliberately distracting story after an endless slew of relentlessly depressing heavyweight ones, and a convenient chance for Labour to play the sexist card when they appear incapable of chiming with public opinion in any other way. However, as it naturally slots into a certain feminist narrative, it’s being held up by some as emblematic of ‘institutionalised sexism’, which is as prevalent a presence as ‘institutionalised racism’ when it comes to our institutions in the popular imagination. The fact that Ms Rayner has been accused of joking about flashing her pins in the PM’s eye-line – supposedly overheard on the terrace of the Commons – suggests if the alleged flash actually happened it could well have been intentional.

Anyone who doubts that some women are not beyond occasionally weaponising their sexuality by deliberately exploiting men who are vulnerable to such cheap tricks evidently doesn’t get out much. If Angela Rayner did intentionally give Boris a peek in order to put him off his stride, she at least did so in the knowledge she couldn’t have picked a better target. After all, the PM has had his Benny Hill moments, as his numerous wives and mistresses will testify. Mind you, as a speech bubble in the current Private Eye points out in a photo of Rayner addressing the Government benches, she’s the one who has to look across at a twat every day, not Boris. At the same time, the sense of this story being used as a point-scoring exercise by Labour is kind-of ironic considering the Party can’t even define what a woman is; laughable Labour logic implies that the PM could just as well have been confronted by a dick should his gaze have wandered over to a lady on the Opposition benches – and, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of dicks on either side of the House.

But if Angela Rayner gave Boris an accidental flash, it would support the notion that the Commons is not really the right environment to wear a skirt that leaves little to the imagination; it’s only a couple of years or so ago that the now-‘Mayor of West Yorkshire’ Tracy Brabin made a speech in the Chamber dressed in an off-the-shoulder number that one wag said made her look as though she’d just been done over the dustbins round the back of her local KFC at the end of a hen night; and if Parliament didn’t have some sort of dress code, then male MPs could theoretically turn up for a debate dressed in T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps. Nobody is accusing any female MP of dressing ‘provocatively’ and therefore ‘asking for it’, but an awareness that they are in a workplace and should at least make the effort to dress accordingly is probably required. They’re not on a pissed-up day-trip to bloody Aintree, when all’s said and done.

It goes without saying that accusations claiming Angela Rayner was overheard bragging about putting Boris off by doing a Sharon Stone have been sidestepped by Labour, which has instead chosen to adopt the familiar victim line, with the Mail on Sunday – the paper that broke the story – singled out as a peddler of archaic misogynistic muck-raking. The article contained comments from the usual anonymous sources stating that Ms Rayner ‘knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks’. In a way, the most offensive thing about that line is the implication that, by virtue of his privileged background, the PM is somehow in possession of a verbal dexterity that the low-born Rayner can’t match and therefore has to resort to the tactics of a back-street slapper to outwit him rather than employing a highbrow luxury like intelligence.

Whatever one’s opinion of Angela Rayner, it cannot be disputed that making it all the way to Deputy Leader of a major political party has been a considerable personal achievement on her part; but she is her own worst enemy. Her infamous ‘Tory Scum’ rant merely handed ammunition to opponents who had a far smoother ride to the top, and by playing the sexist card she is once again confirming her enemy’s view of her intellectual limitations. Of course some male MPs, particularly those schooled in the gladiatorial arena of a single-sex environment like Eton, are insensitive towards their female colleagues in the Commons – largely due to their lop-sided impression of what women want – and a fair amount of genuine, old-fashioned sexism can be endemic in such characters; yet, at the same time, there are some female MPs who play upon this misogynistic ignorance and manipulate it to their own political advantage in a manner that is just as shameless and serves to render them no better than their opponents.

Responding to the story Angela Rayner said ‘As women, we sometimes try to brush aside the sexism we face, but that doesn’t make it okay…it can’t be women’s responsibility to call it out every time. I don’t need anyone to explain sexism to me – I experience it every day. Every time I do a PMQs somebody has an opinion on what I wear.’ Probably true, but many similarly critical column inches are also devoted to the appearance of an MP such as Michael Fabricant and his hairpiece, just as they once were to the gargantuan bulk of Cyril Smith, long before less apparent aspects of his personality were made public. Yes, women are confronted by forms of sexism on a daily basis, and they don’t have to be Members of Parliament; just ask any woman who’s ever driven her car into a garage or has had to suffer a handyman in the house recruited to fix repairs; female MPs are in a unique position to rise above this, and playing the sexism card is a cop-out when they could do so much more.

The most worrying element of this sublimely frivolous story is the fact that the Speaker of the House considerably exceeded his authority by demanding that David Dillon, the Mail on Sunday editor, be summoned to appear before him. Mr Dillon rightly refused the summons, as did his political editor Glen Owen; even Boris Johnson – a former journalist himself, lest we forget – supported the stance of the Mail on Sunday, stating that journos should ‘not take instructions from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be.’ This statement was added to by a Downing Street spokesperson, who said ‘The Prime Minister is uncomfortable at the idea of our free press being summoned by politicians.’ He went on to say that the PM wouldn’t want ‘any perception of politicians seeking to in any way curb or control what a free press seeks to report.’ Indeed. In these troubled times, both politicians and political journalists should be focused on issues of far greater importance than the height of a hemline.

© The Editor

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THEY FEEL FINE

Boris and RishiAlas, poor Rishi! Remember that period, not so long ago, when the Chancellor would stand beside the PM and the pair together would look like a ‘before and after’ photo from one of those diet ads you often see on the backside of buses? Shagged-out, shabby, flabby Boris struggling to compete with the glowing picture of slim-line, male-model health that was Mr Sunak in his popular prime – the time when Rishi was dishing out the reddies to the furloughed workforce and soaring up the popularity polls as the heir apparent; seems like an aeon ago now, doesn’t it. Rarely can a contender have been so downgraded in so short a space of time as Rishi Sunak. From his badly-received budget to revelations of his wife’s tax avoidance to his fine for breaking lockdown restrictions, the Chancellor has had a terrible few weeks that appear to have left his alleged leadership ambitions in tatters. Obviously, the PM won’t be complaining; even though he himself is carrying the can for Partygate and has also been fined, the electorate expects nothing less from Boris after two and-a-half years. Rishi, on the other hand, offered hope (for some, at least) and is now fighting for Premier League survival in the relegation zone.

Considering some of the plebs who broke the restrictions suffered fines totalling £10,000, the fact Boris, Rishi and the rest of the Downing Street rabble have been punished with a £50 penalty is a bit like me and three receiving a fine of half-a-sixpence if Covid penalties were flexible enough to reflect salaries. Adding to Rishi’s woes (according to some reports, anyway), the Chancellor’s presence at the PM’s No.10 birthday bash in June 2020 was entirely accidental; the unfortunate Sunak was apparently en route to a Covid strategy summit in the Cabinet Room when he stumbled upon the cake being cut – or perhaps Boris deliberately (and craftily) invited him to sample a slice in anticipation of it all eventually coming out, thus ensuring his rival would be beside him on the deck of the sinking ship once the iceberg appeared.

Some say Sunak considered resigning as a result of being fined for breaking rules that a Cabinet he was a prominent member of had formulated without actually following – and there have been the inevitable calls to walk the plank from point-scoring Honourable Members on the Opposition benches. To quit over this might win back a semblance of respect from those outside the Party (the Conservative one, that is), but whether or not it could curtail Rishi’s hopes of one day moving next-door remains debatable. One ‘insider’ has claimed such a move on Sunak’s part would be received as ‘an act of regicide against Johnson’ that wouldn’t go down well with the Party faithful, yet the kind of honour-among-thieves mentality that enables the Tories to project a united front means little behind the scenes; after all, Boris himself was actively building his challenger fan-base when both David Cameron and Theresa May were in peril. Then again, that’s Boris; when it comes to a moral code, he’s perhaps the most shamelessly immoral Prime Minister we’ve had for the best part of 200 years.

The latest apology from the PM walks a familiar path when those caught-out are forced to own up to something they’d have otherwise kept quiet about – unconvincing and trite. It didn’t occur to him at the time that he was breaking the rules the rest of us had no choice but to abide by; well, he was only the head of the Government that introduced them, after all. He also denies lying to the Commons about the Downing Street ‘bring your own booze’ work events, which is a brazen denial in the face of overwhelming evidence; yet this is an age whereby 2+2=5 in so many areas, and we shouldn’t be surprised that a natural born liar should be as adept at contradicting fact as any online male activist who thinks merely self-identifying as the opposite sex means the rest of the world has to regard them as a woman. ‘There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting or less than ten minutes,’ said Boris of his 56th birthday party. According to the PM, ‘people I work with passed on their good wishes. And I have to say in all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that it was.’ Oh, well – job done, then.

Whereas the dependable toadies have sprung to the PM’s defence – Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, to name but two – it’s telling that some of the PM’s biggest internal critics have toed the Party line in the face of the latest crisis. Critics like Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who has previously called for Boris to go. Yes, he even played the Ukraine card. ‘I understand why they (the public) are angry and I share their fury,’ he said. ‘The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister needs to respond to these fines being issued. However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of a war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time. It would destabilise the UK Government at a time when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.’

Of course, it goes without saying that events in Ukraine are a tad more serious; but to evoke them in a statement on this particular subject seems especially reprehensible; it doesn’t excuse one single drop of plonk from No.10’s wine cellar being spilled at the very moment when police drones were encircling innocent dog-walkers or Her Majesty was burying her husband. Boris and his pissed-up posse were mooning the general public at a time when rules devised by them were making the lives of the general public a misery; and it’s only right this needs to be addressed, regardless of whatever is currently happening in Eastern Europe. Over 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued by the Met as a delayed reaction to shindigs in Whitehall at the height of Covid restrictions, and the investigation isn’t over yet. A serving Prime Minister – and his missus – being charged with breaking the law by the police and having to pay a fine is pretty unprecedented territory in recent history, yet the thick skin of the PM remains intact for the moment as the power of his suspected challenger suddenly seems rather diminished.

The Chancellor has been as apologetic as Boris in the light of the fines being issued. ‘I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence,’ he said. ‘I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine. I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the anger and frustration caused and I am sorry.’ Whether the electorate will show any sympathy for Sunak when they clearly have little left for Boris remains to be seen. The findings of a snap YouGov poll asking whether or not the PM should resign revealed 57% of those asked responded in the affirmative, as did the same numbers when asked if the Chancellor should follow suit. 75% also agreed the Prime Minister knowingly lied to Parliament about breaking the restrictions.

The usual suspects have lined-up to exploit the situation, including the ever-reliable Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon. But so entrenched is the public’s cynicism towards the utterance of every politician – a state of affairs the politicians themselves are wholly responsible for – that the predictable calls for Boris to quit from the Labour and SNP leaders just feels like further desperate point-scoring. We don’t need them seeking to boost their popularity by saying out loud something we all already know. We’re not as stupid as they think we are.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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FREE TIME

Zaghari RatcliffeHow many Foreign Secretaries does it take to change a light-bulb? Not entirely certain, but probably not as many as it took to secure last week’s joint release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori after they’d served six and five years respectively in Iranian detention. When Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on trumped-up spying charges in 2016, Philip Hammond held the post of Foreign Secretary; during her detention, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has watched the revolving door at the Foreign Office from a distance and observed Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and – finally – Liz Truss all pass through it. It’s no great surprise that she has expressed a degree of understandable bitterness that it took until the incumbent holder of the post before she managed to be released and returned to the UK. But her release – and that of Ashoori – was achieved through brokering a deal that can be seen as a last resort on the part of the British Government.

And the deal wot dun it? Repaying a debt stretching all the way back to the Shah of Iran during the last years of his reign in the 1970s, that’s wot. This was the period when, despite being an unelected Absolute Monarch running a ruthless regime fairly intolerant of any opposition, the Shah was the West’s man in the Middle East. Photos that routinely pop-up online of the stylish Western fashions worn by pretty Iranian girls who could’ve just as easily been in Milan as Tehran are often used as pre-1979 evidence of sartorial freedoms being exhibited without fear of condemnation, assault or imprisonment. What we now tend to think of as the characteristic (and considerably less uninhibited) standard uniform issued to all members of the female sex in Iran is conspicuously absent from images that portray the country as an exotic and glamorous destination for the beautiful people. But Iran experienced its own Industrial Revolution during the last Shah’s modernising 38-year reign, creating a prosperous and educated middle-class; the country also capitalised on the energy crisis of the mid-70s, placing it in a strong economic position during its dealings with the West.

In the golden age of OPEC, when the ruling elites of Arab nations belatedly began to take control of their natural resources and recognise the advantage they suddenly had over the struggling European powers, the figure of the chauffer-driven sheik buying up large chunks of London became a familiar one in popular culture. At a time when the Arabs appeared to be in possession of the strongest hand, pro-Western Middle Eastern countries were courted by Europe and America, and the Shah of Iran was one of the favourite rulers to flatter and enter into business with. When the British economy was making one of its perennial journeys up Shit Creek, the mouth-watering prospect of the Shah ordering UK military hardware for the princely sum of around £650 million was a nice little earner for the beleaguered sick man of Europe, and the first batch (185) of an intended 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 Armoured Recovery Vehicles was delivered to Iran.

The full payment for the entire order was received by a MoD subsidiary company, International Military Services, and then the Iranian Revolution occurred; the Shah was deposed, and the rest of the tanks remained on home soil; the rest of the money, however, was not returned when the tanks failed to be delivered. Selling arms to a hardline Islamic Republic that seized American hostages and held them against their will for 444 days wouldn’t have been seen as a good move, and the economic sanctions imposed on Iran also served as a convenient excuse for not repaying the debt from a British perspective. Iran’s efforts to recoup the money owed then dragged on for years; at one point, the International Chamber of Commerce found in favour of Iran, though the agreed payment of £328.5 million from IMS was prevented from being dispatched due to the ongoing sanctions. And this has been the stalemate position for over a decade – until now. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe claims that her captors once offered the unpaid debt as a reason for her detainment; in 2021 Jeremy Hunt also raised the possibility the two cases may be connected, though Boris Johnson denied this. Considering the absolute bloody mess he made of resolving Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation during his own disastrous stint as Foreign Secretary, his denial must have added further fuel to her despair over the diplomatic failings of Britain to secure her release.

Relieved that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release at least took place on his watch (if not the watch he was on when her plight was his responsibility), the PM enthusiastically praised Liz Truss for managing to achieve something he himself failed miserably to do when in her job; but the freed prisoner herself was less complimentary and asked why any of Truss’s immediate predecessors couldn’t have done likewise. ‘I have seen five Foreign Secretaries change over the course of six years,’ she said in a press conference on Monday. ‘How many Foreign Secretaries does it take for someone to come home? We all know how I came home. It should have happened exactly six years ago.’ Zaghari-Ratcliffe gave more credit to the ceaseless campaigning of her husband Richard, and her lack of ‘gratitude’ towards the UK Government was at least accepted as reasonable by Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted ‘Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.’

Like Anoosheh Ashoori, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has dual British-Iranian nationality, and the 43-year-old London-based charity worker was visiting family in Iran with her infant daughter in 2016 when she was arrested as a spy and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The sentence became one of house arrest when she was allowed to switch from a prison cell to her parents’ home courtesy of Covid in 2020, though a year later she was the victim of a fresh albeit equally dubious charge of planning to topple the Iranian Government and was sentenced to a further five years. She lost her appeal against this additional conviction and it has taken until Foreign Secretary No.5 before Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finally been able to leave Iran and return home to her husband and child. Her case has been one of the most high-profile over the past six years – thanks in the main to social media campaigning and the ineptitude of the UK Government in negotiating her release; but she wasn’t alone.

There are dozens of holders of dual nationality passports currently behind Iranian bars, many of whom are American-Iranians, though one – Morad Tahbaz – has British-American-Iranian citizenship, something of a double-whammy where the Iranian Government is concerned. The 66-year-old wildlife conservationist was arrested along with seven colleagues in Iran in 2018 on espionage charges whilst they were in the country to track and film endangered species. Although he was released from prison ‘on furlough’ the same day as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, he was back inside within just two days and remains there, despite British Government assurances to his family. In reference to this particular case, the ever-active Jeremy Hunt has said Iran is ‘using an innocent person as a pawn in a diplomatic game’, adding he felt the American element of Mr Tahbaz’s nationality was a major factor in Iran’s reluctance to release him before some bargaining can be concocted.

The welcome freedom Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe can now enjoy after six years is something which a good deal of behind-the-scenes work has undoubtedly ensured, though her captivity was ill-timed in that it has taken place during the most woeful era of Ministers in living memory. Few of us would place our trust in Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, let alone put our lives in their hands, yet Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had no choice but to do precisely that. In short, she’s bloody well earned her freedom.

© The Editor

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THE NINTH LIFE

BorisI’ve been asked the question several times over the past couple of weeks if I think Boris is toast. I’ve only refrained from replying in the affirmative because of the evident absence of contenders waiting in the wilderness for the call to mount a challenge. There’s no obvious Michael Heseltine figure building up support and no Geoffrey Howe moment giving such a candidate the ammunition to strike when the Prime Minister is at his most vulnerable. Right now, the members of the Cabinet appear too mindful of their own perilous positions to stick the knife in with a devastating resignation speech or risk a career by standing against Boris, and of those exiled to the backbenches, none have the political clout or popular appeal that seemed set to hand the reins of power to Heseltine in 1990. Perhaps the fact Mrs Thatcher’s former Defence Secretary famously failed in his bid is at the back of Ministers’ minds as they shuffle uneasily in their seats and watch on as Boris stands in the firing line following the publication of the Sue Gray report into the ‘alleged breaches of lockdown’ at Downing Street.

Certainly, this is the PM’s most testing time since he blustered his way into Downing Street in 2019, ousting an unpopular and ineffective predecessor, neutralising the Brexit deniers by proroguing Parliament and enjoying a brief bask in the glow of a landslide Election victory. Then…well, we all know as to how events (dear boy) took control of the narrative; always tempting to imagine a non-Covid parallel universe in which the damage done by Boris’s multiple personality flaws was minimal due to them not being unduly tested, maybe even a non-Covid parallel universe in which Dominic Cummings remained the Prime Minister’s Mandelson rather than coming back to haunt him as the ghost of parties past. But it was not to be. Boris Johnson faced an unprecedented crisis and, unlike his great hero and inspiration when confronted by the nation’s darkest hour, he blew it. Whatever comedic charm lingered from his days as a refreshing alternative to the production-line politicians so loathed by the electorate was well and truly exhausted and extinguished by the double standards at play during the coronavirus Project Fear.

Interestingly, the majority of the outrage emanating from the ramifications of Project Fear isn’t so much based around the anti-democratic nature of the restrictions themselves – not to mention the extreme manner of their policing; lest we forget, the Labour Party currently indulging in a socially-distanced foxtrot on the PM’s grave repeatedly wanted those restrictions extended even further into the private sphere. No, what has struck a nerve with the British public more than anything in the wake of all the revelations is that the sacrifices they were asked to make and the misery they were forced to endure throughout the numerous lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were not deemed sufficiently life-saving by those imposing them, those who took to our TV screens night after night to reiterate them in scaremongering, doom-laden language that implied following them was a do-or-die scenario. If the Government didn’t believe in them – and the behaviour of certain Ministers (including the First Lord of the Treasury himself) proves they didn’t – then they took us all for mugs. Well, that’s a bloody great surprise, isn’t it.

After dragging their heels in a fashion contrary to the way in which they vigorously policed the plebs during the lockdowns, the men from the Met have finally got their finger out and are apparently ‘investigating a gathering’ held in Boris’s Downing Street apartment, one that might possibly have breached the laws at the time. As has now become common knowledge, this gathering was no isolated incident within the ivory towers of the PM’s abode and the Met aren’t simply investigating this one non-party; they’re looking into all the others as well. According to the MSM, the Met investigations are responsible for the eagerly-anticipated Sue Gray report being published in an edited format, a bit like a trailer for the movie that remains frustratingly unreleased in its director’s cut. ‘As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigation process,’ writes Gray, ‘they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating. Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.’

A huge sigh of relief coming from the direction of Downing Street, no doubt; but the PM hasn’t been entirely let off even with the slim-line, 12-page version of the report that appeared today. The paragraphs highlighting the ‘failures of leadership and judgement’ that are ‘difficult to justify’ may not name names, but it hardly even seems necessary. Of the 16 ‘events’ Gray has studied, booze looms large as the drinking culture that seems to be endemic at No.10 falls under the spotlight. ‘The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,’ writes Gray. History tells us past PMs such as Churchill and Harold Wilson often found solace in a decanter to relieve the stress of the difficult times they governed in, but a quiet after-hours soak in spirits at the end of the working day is a far cry from a pissed-up Downing Street bearing more of a resemblance to a Bullingdon Club pub crawl than the heart of Government. And this at a time when the country beyond No.10’s hedonistic bubble was experiencing extreme personal privations imposed upon it by the same people gleefully ignoring them.

Last month, Boris denied during PMQ’s that a party had been held in Downing Street on 13 November 2020; if the Gray report seems set to contradict this denial, the PM could be accused of misleading Parliament, an offence that might be expected to be accompanied with a resignation. But don’t hold your breath just yet. The Commons having its first opportunity to react to this ‘sample’ version of the Gray report was bound to produce a hostile environment for Boris, with the predictable calls for him to quit emanating from opposition parties. Tory backbenchers have not refrained from joining in, however. Noted anti-Project Fear Conservative MP Steve Baker spoke of the propaganda campaign’s effect on the public, ‘to bully, to shame and to terrify them into compliance’, and there’s also a fair bit of head shaking when it comes to the decision to hold a couple of parties at No.10 the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh; regardless of one’s opinion of old Philip, the staggering lack of sensitivity as the sovereign prepared to bury her husband is breathtaking.

As ever where shaky ground stood on by Tory Prime Ministers is concerned, a good deal rests with the response of the 1922 Committee and the 54 complaints against the occupant of No.10 that are required to trigger a leadership contest. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and the convenient intervention of the Met with regards to the full, unexpurgated incarnation of the Sue Gray report means Boris can momentarily deflect questions by announcing there will be no complete Government response to questions on the subject until the police investigation is itself complete – and that’ll hardly be this week. In the Commons today, the PM was able to quote from the current version of the report to support his stance: ‘No conclusions should be drawn or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.’ Boris added that ‘it isn’t enough to say sorry’. No, it isn’t; yet, what might be deemed enough by those locked out of the Downing Street shindigs doesn’t appear likely at the moment – though we shall see.

© The Editor

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PARTY FEARS ’22

Boris PartySo, it was all ‘technically within the rules’ – I wonder if that would’ve worked as an excuse for two pals sharing a packet of crisps on a park bench when confronted by an over-officious Officer of the Law and told they were engaged in an illegal picnic? Probably not; but then, as we all know, those who invent the rules and regulations don’t live by them while we are expected to. Yes, some of us suspected the pandemic’s Project Fear was little more than a smokescreen for rushing through draconian legislation that would remain on the statute books thereafter as an unprecedented means of a democratically-elected government acting out its totalitarian fantasies, but we were written off as conspiracy theorists, of course. Then again, many shrewd observations of events were received with similarly dismissive contempt as the masses followed the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mantra of the political class. Indeed, we ought not to forget that HM Opposition enthusiastically pushed for – and demanded even more of – the ridiculous restrictions that few could realistically expect to live under, ones Boris was hardly alone in breaking. But as the star salesman for them, he stands to lose more than anyone else – as HM Opposition knows only too well.

Naturally, we shouldn’t expect the Met to pursue this issue; they may have revelled in their role as storm-troopers for the cause – as did all the Jobsworths promoted to positions of ‘power’ when playing at law enforcers outside supermarkets or at family funerals; but their ultimate taskmasters are above the law and won’t be punished or prosecuted for such flagrant abuse of a law they promoted as a ‘do or die’ policy that they were evidently exempt from, a law that only applied to everyone outside their bubble. Hell, this was obvious extremely early on when Dominic Cummings journeyed Oop North for his impromptu eye-test at a time when even motorists were confined to ‘zones’. It was obvious a little later when Matt ‘goose’ Hancock was exposed as a hypocrite courtesy of some convenient CCTV. And now it’s obvious once again following a string of belated revelations that confirm Downing Street as the capital’s ‘bring your own booze’ Party Central.

In May 2020, a time when the plebs practically required a written excuse to leave their homes and were only allowed to meet one other individual out of doors whilst enduring sixty minutes of exercise, Boris and his gang were having a wine and cheese party – sorry, ‘work event’ – in the garden at No.10; that same month, with restrictions for the rest still being firmly enforced by coppers and Covid Marshals, 30-odd invited guests were enjoying some ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the same swinging location alongside Mr and Mrs Johnson; in November 2020, a gathering in the Downing Street flat hosted by Carrie allegedly took place (Lady Macbeth denies it), whilst a leaving do for a No.10 aide was also held there a fortnight later; but it was Christmas 2020 in Tier Two London that was the real party season for our lords, ladies and masters. The Department of Education had a staff shindig on the 10th; the Conservative Party hosted an ‘unauthorised event’ at their London HQ on the 14th; Boris drew on his past experience presenting ‘Have I Got News for You’ when chairing a ‘Christmas Quiz’ for Downing St staff on the 15th; and some sources also claim the infamous Xmas bash the Daily Mirror finally got round to exposing a year late was held on the 18th.

Under normal circumstances, office events in the weeks leading up to Christmas are par for the course, and there’s no reason to think government departments are any different from endless other businesses up and down the country. Let’s face it, who the hell would ordinarily care if Downing St staff and a few pug-ugly Ministers indulged in a festive tipple and the odd under-the-mistletoe grope? It’s not as if anybody feels aggrieved that they weren’t invited to such a gruesome get-together. But it’s all about context, innit. These were not normal circumstances. When the Downing St Xmas party marathon was in full swing, Tier Two rules stated it was illegal for two or more people emanating from different households to meet indoors. It goes without saying that many ignored these rules in the same way that many had little choice but to support the black-market economy during WWII by buying essential items from street-corner spivs; but taking such a risk when heavy fines and possible prison sentences were the trumpeted punishment was something entered into out of desperation after months of social isolation. What really grates is that not only those who aggressively demanded tougher restrictions and penalties via a media platform were caught out disregarding the rules (remember Kay Burley’s birthday conga across the capital?), but the very people responsible for drilling them into the petrified populace weren’t adhering to them either.

If our lawmakers genuinely believed lockdowns, social distancing, social bubbles, tracking, tracing and masks were the absolute difference between life and death – and repeatedly told us so during their doom-laden press conferences – then why didn’t they live by them in the same way they expected the rest of us to? If these extreme measures were the only life-saving solution, surely those who devised them must have figured they ought to abide by them too? But they didn’t – probably because they didn’t believe it; many didn’t believe it, but while the few partied on regardless the many were bombarded and browbeaten by ‘The Science’ and were threatened into submission by the prospect of astronomical fines and/or an agonising demise without family or friends entitled to gather round their deathbeds. Sadly, the latter fate came to pass for thousands, and it’s totally understandable that some of the most incensed responses to the truth of government double standards have come from those denied the right to be with their loved ones as they breathed their last.

In the Commons yesterday, Boris was faced with little choice but to admit he attended at least one of the Downing St shindigs but continued to deny he did anything wrong, still sticking to the ‘work event’ narrative. ‘With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,’ he said. ‘I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way…I regret the way the event I have described was handled. I bitterly regret it and I wish we could have done things differently.’ Amidst the pathetic acceptance of this ‘apology’ by Tory toadies ascending the greasy poll, we need to note the distance between event and apology; had none of this come out over a year later, most of us would remain in the dark and Boris would hardly be likely to volunteer the information anymore than Richard Nixon would have voluntarily spoken about anything to do with Watergate had he not painted himself into a corner. There are few apologies as hollow and disingenuous than that of a politician caught out and forced to say sorry.

The notorious old rake Lord Boothby once said ‘the Tory Party is ruthless’ in relation to how it disposes of its leader, and when one thinks of how IDS was ousted before he’d even fought a General Election or, more infamously, how Mrs T was unceremoniously forced out, it’s hard to dispute Boothby’s claim. One wonders if this really is Boris’s ninth life, but there has always been a vocal section of the Party that has never warmed to him and never wanted him as leader, so a chorus of criticism from his own side isn’t exactly unprecedented. At the moment, the PM’s Ministers are publicly backing him, though the 1922 Committee only requires 54 backbenchers to register their complaints to trigger a challenge. At the same time, the internal machinations of the Conservative Party are secondary to the genuine anger felt way beyond the point-scoring circus of the Commons; millions of people made the sacrifices they were asked to make for the greater good, and Boris Johnson wasn’t one of them.

© The Editor

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