AROUND THE WORLD IN 365 DAYS

Old Father Time2022 – yet another one of ‘those years’; yes, this glorious century hasn’t exactly been short on them, and if you, like me, had a fittingly crap Christmas then you won’t be sorry to see the back of 2022, even if 2023 is hardly loaded with optimistic anticipation. When a year is characterised by chaos, chances are the chaos is as prevalent at the top as it is at the bottom, and we certainly had that in abundance from our ‘betters’ this year. The fact that 2022 saw the UK led by three different Prime Ministers – including one who had the shortest run in the history of the office – suggests either those at the top are keeping up with the rest of us, or they’re largely responsible for the chaos, depending on how one apportions responsibility. But when one recalls the year began with the fall-out from the Partygate affair that eventually led to Boris’s premature exit, and that by the autumn his immediate successor managed to set off alarm bells in the City – provoking an even more premature exit – then looking to leaders for leadership proved an utterly futile exercise, fracturing even further the already fragile faith and trust in our elected representatives.

And then, the Health Secretary overseeing the pandemic response turns himself into a tawdry celebrity with a staggering absence of shame and guilt in a desperate attempt to court redemption; who in their right mind could respect an unprincipled worm like Matt Hancock, a man whose actions seemed as emblematic of the corrupt, degenerate decay at the amoral heart of an amoral administration as Boris Johnson himself? If that’s the way those at the top behave, perhaps it’s no wonder those of us who reside closer to the bottom express nothing less than absolute contempt for them – and no longer have any belief in their ability to make our lives better; and if they can’t, who can? That can’t really be good for democracy. But it’s not as if the UK was alone in being exceptionally ill-led in 2022. Out in the colonies, Monsieur Trudeau reacted to a grass-roots challenge to his authority by unleashing every verbal weapon in the Woke arsenal to demonise and discredit the protesting truckers and their supporters; he even stooped to freezing their bank accounts, exploiting the vulnerability of a monetary system the public has been bludgeoned into depending on and using lessons learnt during the pandemic, when those doubting the wisdom of lockdowns and untested vaccines were smeared as enemies of the people.

Closer to home, in Soviet Scotland, the even more authoritarian and illiberal SNP pressed ahead with their plans to allow men who simply ‘identify’ as the opposite sex to be legally recognised as women – surgery not included – after a mere three-month trial period. Hot on the heels of wee Nicola’s attempt to push for yet another independence referendum being rendered null and void without Westminster’s say-so, the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill not only faces potential legal challenges in the rest of the UK, but could prove to be an Identitarian step too far, certainly if the uproar amongst women’s and children’s rights campaigners is anything to go by. One hopes it might belatedly alert the more English-phobic Scots that their nasty nationalist darlings don’t necessarily have their best interests at heart. The long-overdue revelations of the crimes committed in the name of ‘diversity’ by the likes of the butchers at the Tavistock Clinic and the pseudo-paedophilic charity Mermaids had at last enabled dissenting voices to finally be heard without censorship, yet the SNP turned a blind eye to all this, displaying greater sympathy towards the ‘human rights’ of male sex offenders than in preserving natural-born women-only spaces.

The ‘empowerment’ of confused adolescents by such a bill is a dangerous development that threatens to set back progress just at the point when it was finally being made; the scandal of Tavistock and its ilk was gaining exposure as endless stories of children brainwashed into believing gender reassignment was the answer to all their teenage problems were being heard, yet the SNP bill fails to acknowledge the damage done just as it fails to recognise Transgenderism in its most superficial form is effectively the latest adolescent cult. Online videos of schoolboys in makeup undergoing ‘period pains’ in their bedrooms is a sick trend that recalls devotees of fanatical religious sects being possessed by the Devil; however, unlike past tribal loyalties with a short sell-by date, any emotionally disturbed teenager buying into this particular cult and paying the ultimate price with life-changing surgery can’t simply bin the clothes and haircut that served as the visual hallmarks of the cult once he or she moves on to the next one – as teenagers are prone to doing; and the SNP bill ignores the evidence to appease its rainbow flag-waving activist friends. Mind you, those activists now have such a deep foothold in so many of our institutions that the 2+2=5 dogma they espouse is in danger of becoming legal fact; even revered dictionaries have capitulated to this fantasy reality, further adding to the sense that the West is rapidly disappearing down the toilet.

No wonder Vladimir Putin doesn’t see the West as an obstacle to his imperial ambitions; in his own way, Vlad is as much a fantasist as the Trans activists or the Net Zero climate zealots vandalising works of art, and he’s getting away with it as much as they are; only a couple of days ago, yet another former ally who had the nerve to question Putin’s Ukraine adventure ‘committed suicide’ via the familiar leap from a skyscraper window; I wonder why Putin’s enemies never just opt for the old gas oven or bottle of pills, eh? Funny, that. But while Vlad disposes of his foes on foreign soil completely unchallenged, he found that his assault on Ukraine received its most devastating setback not from the timid West, but from the courageous Ukrainians themselves. The perfectly natural wave of sympathy for the innocents exposed to the merciless march of the Russian war machine led to Brits who just a few months earlier weren’t even allowed to visit each other being encouraged to open their doors to Ukrainian refugees; less public sympathy was reserved for illegal economic migrants hailing from the war-less environs of Albania as the unscrupulous people-smuggling trade appeared to be one of the year’s few boom industries. Whether Rwanda is the answer is another matter; sadly, the Channel has rarely been kind to opportunists.

If Vladimir Putin was shaken out of his complacency by the unexpected resistance of the Ukrainian people, Iran’s similarly ruthless rulers were equally taken aback by a rebellion on home turf, largely led by incredibly brave young women publicly trashing the symbols of their oppression – something that was again met with notable silence from the gutless West. And when overseas protests did receive tacit support from the West, such as those that occurred as a result of China’s futile attempts to maintain a ‘Zero Covid’ policy, that support came from none other than Justin Trudeau, incapable of discerning the parallels between the inhumane authority of the Chinese Government and his own approach to both the truckers and the coronavirus. Indeed, having been presented with unimagined control over their own people during the pandemic, it was unsurprising that many Western leaders have been reluctant to relinquish the powers they’d acquired, continually extending their over-reach into the private lives of their citizens in an insidious trend that needs to be resisted.

Back home, a series of strikes by both rail and postal workers served to gift additional joy to a British public already browbeaten by a surge in fuel costs, though at least the whole ‘cost of living’ narrative has provided the MSM with a boost to the flagging Project Fear plotline. The fact that the one certainty of 70 years’ vintage should breathe her last in the middle of all this chaos seemed almost symptomatic of a year in which nothing and no one could be relied upon or trusted anymore. 2022 was a year bereft of certainties, and after the last twelve months, only a fool would confidently reach for the crystal ball and predict what comes next.

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A BOY NAMED SUNAK

Brian and Rishi III guess I could muse on the least-taxing passage to No.10 for 15 years, ever since Tony Blair passed the poisoned parcel to Gordon Brown. Indeed, I could wax lyrically on the smashing of Labour’s Identitarian narrative of poor little oppressed minorities needing university-educated white folk rushing to their ignorant aid now that a practising Hindu has reached the pinnacle of political power without a contest even being staged. I could also ponder on the fact Sunak’s rise to the top contradicts the Left’s conviction that Britain today is a rampantly racist society on a par with Apartheid-era South Africa, due to the fact that most people couldn’t give a flying f*** about the new Prime Minister’s ethnicity; that’s the last thing that concerns the majority at this moment in time, no more than Disraeli’s Jewish identity bothered Victorian voters. The former Chancellor’s financial affairs – particularly his marriage to a billionaire’s daughter who enjoyed tax-free non-dom status until exposed – appear to be more of a pointer to his detachment from ‘the man in the street’ than his racial background; at the same time, it’s worth recalling the eloquent reply of Sid Vicious when asked if he sang for ‘the man in the street’. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ve met the man in the street, and he’s a c***.’

The controversial rewriting of the rulebook when it comes to selecting a new Tory leader – in order to accommodate the unique circumstances of the moment – has undoubtedly facilitated Rishi Sunak’s speedy relocation from backbench to Downing Street; but disgruntled Conservative Party members cancelling their memberships in protest at being denied a say need to remember they had their say in the summer – and look what they lumbered us with. Sure, none of the process that enabled Sunak to become an overnight Prime Minister smacks of anything remotely democratic; but another drawn-out interregnum of the kind we endured between Boris and Truss just wouldn’t have been appropriate right now. Sunak was fortunate that he acquired the necessary 100 backers in 24 hours and the only other candidate – Penny Mordaunt – came nowhere near; we were informed in advance that if only one candidate had the required 100 nominations come the Monday deadline, he or she would be the winner. Sunak duly achieved this and therefore, he’s straight in at No.10 with a bullet.

Along with Penny Mordaunt’s failure to reach the threshold of 100, Boris Johnson’s decision to pull out – a first for Boris; Boom! Boom! – presented Rishi with a clear path to power, and it’s been hilarious to watch prominent Tory creeps and crawlers chopping and changing their allegiances in the hope of keeping their Cabinet posts. Over the weekend, Nadhim Zahawi – the five-minute Chancellor who publicly called for Boris to quit a couple of days after Johnson had appointed him – was suddenly a born-again Boris groupie, tweeting his support for the ex-PM to return to office; and then, when it became apparent Boris couldn’t secure the numbers – or lost his bottle – Rishi was immediately installed as the man to unite the Party and save the country in the eyes of such desperate, fair-weather careerists. Here was the most blatant example yet of how these self-serving cretins shamelessly put personal interests ahead of Party (let alone country), and gave us official confirmation that all should forevermore be treated with the utter contempt they’ve earned.

It’s worth remembering there was a time – brief, granted – that Rishi Sunak was seen as the golden boy of British politics. Mid-pandemic, there was no escaping the fact that he radiated a confident, healthy glow that made him resemble a male model when stood beside shabby, flabby Boris; I seem to remember comparing them to the before-and-after images in an ad for a slimming aid. And, even though wise men recognised the Government paying the idle workforce what amounted to lockdown benefits meant a costly day of reckoning would strike sooner rather than later, the furlough scheme Rishi acted as salesman for came as a welcome financial injection to millions struggling because earning a living had been put on ice. Yet by last spring, when a damp squib of a budget combined with revelations of his missus’s tax affairs and a fine for lockdown-breaking, Sunak’s star was descending rapidly; swept up in the whole ‘Partygate’ scandal that engulfed Boris’s administration, it seemed Rishi Sunak was destined to join George Osborne as a Chancellor earmarked for an eventual move next-door that never arrived. And then he was portrayed by Boris disciples as the reincarnation of Michael Heseltine in the reboot of the Thatcher drama, masterminding the PM’s downfall to seize the crown for himself. Boris was dragged from No.10 and Rishi battled it out with Liz Truss, the Johnson-ite choice seemingly selected to fail once installed in Downing Street so that the Messiah could stroll back in again. Well, these are bad times for a betting man, for nothing lately has gone according to the form book; Boris is not returning, and Rishi Sunak has grabbed the top job without even breaking sweat beneath the bright lights of a leadership debate.

As the grandson of Indian immigrants from the pre-partition Punjab, Rishi Sunak’s effortless entrance into 10 Downing Street has naturally been received well in ‘the old country’. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered congratulations and tweeted ‘As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues…special Diwali wishes to the living bridge of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.’ Back home, whilst reluctantly paying tribute to Sunak’s achievement through gritted teeth, uniformly white opposition politicians have instead focused on the new PM’s immense wealth as the stick with which to beat him; the usual social media suspects may already be implying Sunak is ‘the wrong kind of brown person’ due to the fact he doesn’t adhere to the rule that all non-whites have to be left-leaning, but in the rush to counteract the characteristic racism of ‘anti-racism’, ignorance still abounds on the other side. Wee Nicola Sturgeon deleted a tweet describing Sunak as the UK’s first ‘ethnic minority PM’ when the origins of Benjamin Disraeli were pointed out to her.

Mind you, a lack of research is hardly restricted to Sunak’s ethnic background; claims he could be the first Prime Minister not to live ‘above the shop’ are contradicted by the fact Harold Wilson neglected to move back into No.10 during his second stint as PM from 1974 to 1976. But why let facts get in the way of a headline? Anyway, whether or not Sunak decides to call upon Pickfords, there was still the matter of the current tenant moving out. Before her farewell audience with Brian, Liz Truss indulged in a brief final lectern speech; as she struggled to think of her administration’s ‘achievements’, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an early exit from a reality TV show as a contestant’s ‘best bits’ montage set to a dreary Dad Rock dirge take up all of a minute’s screen-time. The speed of the handover from Truss to Sunak was necessary given the circumstances, yet it also seemed to emphasise the staggering failure of Rishi’s immediate predecessor; even the embarrassingly small removal van parked outside Downing Street suggested Truss’s chattels could’ve been packed into an overnight bag, so brief was her tenancy of No.10.

However, the fact the country’s youngest Prime Minister in 200 years is the first since Clement Attlee not to have served under Queen Elizabeth II in a way says more about where we are now than Sunak’s ethnicity. His rise to power is not so much a comment on how things have changed over the past half-century, but how they’ve changed over the past couple of months. This has been a remarkable period to live through in terms of history happening before one’s eyes, and even the breathing space of two years before the next General Election – and it will be two years – doesn’t mean the fat lady has started singing yet.

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I AM THE RESURRECTION

BorisComebacks are the last refuge of the desperate and deluded. Bands who were great 20 or 30 years ago reunite and the old fans, as terrified by the encroaching spectre of middle-age as the band members themselves, rejoice while they cling to the nostalgia of recapturing their youth; long-suffering supporters of a once-dominant football club celebrate the return of the manager who masterminded that dominance, convincing themselves a resurrection of the glory days is just around the corner. It rarely works out. Time has moved on, the world has changed, and the Messiah is no longer younger than yesterday. Lightning rarely strikes more than the once. Not that the narcissism, ego and vanity of someone as in love with the sound of his own voice and the prestige of power as Boris Johnson would acknowledge these truisms, nor would those in denial of the man’s multiple faults, the very same faults that contributed to his downfall. No! It was a coup, they claim, a coup led by Rishi Sunak; Boris was blameless, stitched-up by the very backstabbing ingrate now poised to launch a fresh bid for the suddenly-vacant No.10. Only one man can stop him – our hero, our saviour, our Boris!

When the original King Charles was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649, many believed it was his obstinacy and hubris that had plunged the country into a devastating Civil War spanning the best part of a decade; he was seen as more responsible than any other individual for ripping the country apart and causing untold damage and misery; the blood of the nation was on his hands and his death sentence was utterly justified. Yet, a man who had apparently struggled to convey regal majesty throughout his reign saved the best till last, giving a brilliant performance as he approached the block. The King wore two shirts to combat the January chill and therefore avoided shivering – something which could have been interpreted as fear. The calm composure and dignity with which he confronted his fate altered opinion of Charles amongst the crowd, and his beheading was greeted with shocked silence. Swiftly thereafter, Charles I achieved instant martyr status and a cult grew around him that spread to the point whereby 10 years on from his execution, Charles’s exiled son could be welcomed home as Charles II, the merry monarch who would vanquish the grim Puritan austerity of Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

As befits our 24/7 news age, the cult of Boris has been condensed into just a few weeks rather than a decade, and his dedicated disciples have conveniently forgotten the facts that led to Boris officially exiting Downing Street at the beginning of last month. There’s no point reciting the breathtaking litany of black marks against his name all over again; you hardly need to scroll back that far to revisit them on the Winegum posts I wrote at the time. Besides, some are so deeply in denial that they receive any reports of Boris behaving badly as fake news – just like the man himself. Indeed, it’s now blatantly obvious that the maniacal members of the Boris cult were to blame for what came next: the absolute bloody chaos of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it premiership that beggars belief in its utter, unprecedented incompetence. So desperate were they for the man they saw as the wielder of the dagger with Boris’s name on it not to grab the crown, they pushed a patsy forward who they knew lacked every quality necessary to become a successful Prime Minister. And they knew Liz Truss, with her gormless lust for power, would be the perfect fall girl for the mission.

Liz Truss should never have got within a million miles of Downing Street. In each and every televised debate of the summer’s leadership contest, she failed to impress. Even Rishi Sunak’s bland, double-glazing salesman shtick came across as appealing when placed against the clueless, vapid jargon of a woman incapable of transmitting any confidence in her credentials as a serious contender; she looked and sounded like precisely what she was – a dim, minor league politician totally out of her depth, and one who wouldn’t submit to an Andrew Neil grilling because she knew it would expose her myriad shortcomings for the job she’d been led to believe she could do. But she had a powerful PR machine behind her, the kind that can polish a turd so expertly that its beholders could see the reflection of Margaret Thatcher in it. The Mail and the Express bombarded the Tory membership with promises of the second coming of Maggie, and the behind-the-scenes shit-spreaders successfully removed Penny Mordaunt from the race by subjecting her to a dirty tricks campaign; all that remained was to convince the grass-roots. They did, and look what happened. Liz Truss crashed and burned in the space of 44 days and the Messiah is now flying back from the Caribbean to save the nation like King Arthur en route from Avalon.

The Daily Telegraph claims Boris has already begun to woo backbenchers with a charm offensive, glossing over the reasons for his forced departure and reminding them of 2019. Ah, yes – the Glorious Landslide, aided and abetted by the undemocratic shenanigans of the Remoaner mafia and a Labour leader whose own mystifying cult didn’t stretch beyond his fanatical fan-base. The collapse of the Red Wall, which could probably be attributed as much to Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum as Boris Johnson, gave rise to the persistent myth that Boris’s charisma was solely responsible, yet stats tell a different story. Boris’s popularity amongst the general public was actually at its highest, 29%, when he was hospitalised with Covid and appeared to be suffering along with the people, something that his subsequent lockdown-breaking behaviour quickly dispelled. By the beginning of this year, Boris’s approval ratings had slumped to -52%, lower than either Theresa May or David Cameron ever managed at their worst. Even if Boris can rightly claim he never plunged as low as the -70% achieved by Liz Truss on the eve of her resignation, that’s still like pointing out Reggie Kray was a vicious, sadistic thug but at least he wasn’t as much of a twisted psychopath as Ronnie.

But it is Boris’s triumph in 2019 that is serving as a misguided comforter for Tories staring into the black hole of electoral oblivion; according to some, if a General Election were held tomorrow the Conservative Party could be reduced to as few as 60-70 seats, which would virtually signal the end of the most successful political party in the history of the Western world. Parties don’t come back from that kind of decimation. It happened to the Liberals in 1924, and they never recovered. Ah, but only Boris can win it! And winning it is the Tory obsession; that’s all they want to do. No matter that winning it is followed by having to actually govern, for they’ve completely forgotten how to do that – and nobody embodies this fact better than Boris. Okay, so one can argue that Boris’s hero Churchill as well as Harold Wilson both returned to Downing Street, though neither had been ousted as party leader between their separate stints as PM. In fact, one has to go all the way back to Gladstone to find a party leader who left the job and then returned to lead his party to government again – even if the gap from resignation to return was five whole years.

Many harbour understandable and legitimate concerns about Keir Starmer and the Labour Party, but the fiscal reputation the Tories have always fallen back on has been comprehensively trashed this month and few now trust them with their finances; the likelihood is the Conservative Party could well be kicked out of office with the same overwhelming thumbs-down as Corbyn’s Labour received in 2019 – unless Boris waves his magic wand, of course. At the time of writing, only Penny Mordaunt has thrown her hat in the ring, though Rishi Sunak is expected to follow suit any day now. As for Boris, his supporters have all-but convinced themselves their hero will be back at No.10 by this time next week. No. No. And thrice no. We have suffered enough, haven’t we?

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DAY AFTER DEJA VU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHO GIVES A S**T?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ANOTHER FINE MESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE SUMMERTIME BLUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THEM’S THE BREAKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TUMBLING DICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

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CARELESS HANDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

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

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