COCK OF THE JUNGLE

Jungle CockAnyone looking for proof of Peter Capaldi’s gifts as an actor need not only recall the fact he continued to exude the necessary charisma and gravitas as Doctor Who despite the diminishing quality of the scripts and the Doctor’s impending exile on Planet Woke, but that he also gave us the memorably visceral Whitehall spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker in ‘The Thick of It’. There were dozens of scenes from the series in which Tucker’s hyperactive potty mouth scaled heights of genius linguistic obscenity, but Capaldi’s character was much more than just a viciously funny caricature of Alastair Campbell at his worst. I remember one episode in which Tucker had been toppled from his position of power and, suddenly deprived of his raison d’être, cut a lost, pathetic figure, realising he had little else to occupy his time; contacted by the producers of a reality TV show of the kind that seeks out has-beens and down-at-heel celebrities, Tucker swallows his pride and meets the producers. As the format of the programme is explained to him, Tucker’s despair at how low he’s sunk is writ large on his despondent countenance, and sympathy for a character who had previously elicited anything but is brilliantly coaxed out of the viewer. In the end, Malcolm Tucker walks out of the interview and shows his true grit by staging a successful comeback without recourse to reality television; perhaps Matt Hancock should have been taking notes.

The former Health Secretary, who presided over one of the most disastrous policy decisions in the history of the post, was fortunate to escape the post-Covid fallout with just the loss of his job; but at least the public received some consolation via the humiliating nature of his exit – caught on camera breaking social distancing rules in the most toe-curling manner by snogging and groping a female aide in a corridor like some geeky adolescent indulging in his first kiss at the High School Prom. Once exposed as a ‘love rat’ (as the tabloids used to say), Hancock left his wife and family for said aide and then embarked upon a fittingly embarrassing online ‘comeback’, responsible for soaring sales of sick buckets as he declared his love for his former bit on the side. Perhaps it’s therefore no surprise that Hancock has now succumbed to the lure of reality TV, recently announced as a contestant in the upcoming series of the show that seems destined to run until the bomb drops, ‘Help! I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’. The reported fee of £400,000 probably helped too – that’s if he could read the cheque on account of his ‘dyslexia’, the convenient cause he claims his appearance on the programme will highlight.

When the subject of Hancock’s participation in the annual kangaroo-knackers banquet cropped-up on this weekend’s ‘The Week in Westminster’, columnist and broadcaster Matthew Parris attempted to defend Hancock, deflecting criticism of Hancock’s decision by dismissing it as snobbishness, citing past appearances by the likes of Nadine Dorries on reality TV whilst a serving MP. However, Parris eventually declared an interest by admitting ‘Cockers’ was a friend of his. Lest we forget, Matthew Parris first sprang to national prominence when, as a Conservative MP himself, he took part in a 1984 edition of ‘World in Action’. This famous experiment, which Mrs Thatcher advised him not to do, was a test to see if the promising young MP could live on the weekly social security benefit his Government said was perfectly adequate. Dispatched to a neighbourhood of Newcastle with a high rate of unemployment, Parris struggled to make it through the week on the dole and ended up running out of money for the meter before the seven days was over.

Parris stood down as an MP a couple of years after his first foray into television and took over from Brian Walden as host of ITV’s Sunday lunchtime institution, ‘Weekend World’; but he has often hinted his experience on ‘World in Action’ opened his eyes to not simply the world of broadcasting – he also received first-hand knowledge of how the other half live. Parris returned to Newcastle twenty years after his sobering education on the dole for a follow-up programme and discovered little improvement in the lives of the residents there; he found the legacy of the early 80s economic decimation of the city was that many in the community were now dependent on antidepressants. Both programmes validated Parris’s appearance in them, but particularly the first one; it was a serious, worthy attempt to test an advocate of Government policy by inviting him to try living under it himself – something that should actually be a compulsory course for anyone attempting to stand for Parliament. There’s a huge difference between the motivation behind ‘World in Action’ and the Ant & Dec circus, so I don’t really think Matt Hancock signing-up for that is any way comparable to Matthew Parris’s 80s venture into the North East.

Regardless of Hancock’s unconvincing attempts to justify his participation in the programme, the now-backbencher has had the whip suspended as a result, and though still a member of the Conservative Party, he now sits as an independent in the Commons. The fact Hancock chose to take part in the show with Parliament in session understandably didn’t go down well with his West Suffolk constituents either; I often think gaining an audience with a member of the Cabinet at their constituency surgery must be considerably harder than it would be with any ‘normal’ MP, but when that MP is no longer running a department there should be no excuses for their non-appearance. Not that the loss of power seems to make much difference to their accessibility within their constituencies, mind; after all, imagine if your local MP was Boris Johnson, needing to discuss a pressing problem with him in that capacity, yet being told he’s sunning his considerable bulk on some distant exotic shore. And now there’s the disgraced ex-Health Secretary to be found Down Under, hanging out with the usual leftovers from all the other reality shows when his constituents might actually require his assistance for the job he’s being paid to do on their behalf.

Ah, but he’s got estranged children to support as well as financing his love-nest with Gina Coladangelo, and the wages of a backbencher don’t quite match up to the ministerial salary. Overly-optimistic rumours of a return to Government under Rishi Sunak came to nothing, so Hancock has clearly chosen an option he seems to imagine will somehow rehabilitate his trashed reputation amongst the general public. And a man referred to as a ‘showbiz guru’ by the name of Jonathan Shalit reckons Hancock has a profitable celebrity career ahead of him, claiming ‘Cockers’ could earn up to £1 million a year if he plays his cards right. ‘I’m A Celebrity provides an opportunity to go on a new journey,’ says Shalit, foreseeing an increase in Hancock’s income if he performs well on the programme. ‘Someone like Matt can probably make about £1 million a year, quite often on weekends. For example, he could probably do three or four appearances for £10-15,000 each, minimum, if not up to £60-70,000.’ Yes, these guys do like to talk in numbers, but showbiz types share that with greedy Honourable Members, and someone did once say that politics is showbiz for ugly people, so there you go.

Matt Hancock’s deserved political downfall was a consequence of the double standards at play in Boris’s administration during the pandemic; this is the man who threatened to outlaw outdoor exercise if the plebs didn’t adhere to the social distancing rules he himself evidently regarded as unnecessary when indulging in a spot of buttock-clutching, who was photographed sans-mask when he told the rest of us to wear them at all times, and who handed out PPE contracts to his buddies – typical corruption of the kind we expect from our MPs, I guess. But the buck stopped with him when Covid-infected pensioners were returned from hospital to care home; if anyone killed granny, it was Matt Hancock. And no amount of Barrymore-esque efforts to court forgiveness via light entertainment will change that.

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WAKING FROM HOME

DroneA lockdown legacy one suspects those spellbound by the Chinese model didn’t anticipate was the fact many workers whose school-university-workplace conveyor belt hadn’t prepared them for an unscheduled interlude became converted to the unexpected absence of orders. After a lifetime of being told what to do and what to think by parents, teachers, lecturers and bosses, the drones were abruptly left to their own devices and abandoned by the authority figures they’d been meticulously taught to be subservient to from day one; they were initially as dazed and confused as North Koreans would be if deprived of the image of their glorious leader beaming down at them from every skyscraper. Big Brother was dead – or at the very least had been reincarnated as a scaremongering presence on TV and online informing us that any deviation from lockdown regulations would mean the blood of a thousand dying grannies would be on everyone’s hands. We now took our orders from medical experts on the Government payroll. Yet, at the same time, there were still all those scarily empty hours stretching ahead without edicts from Boris, Chris Whitty or…ahem…Neil Ferguson.

Bewildered wonderment at the familiar soundtrack of traffic congestion being replaced by birdsong overnight was routinely remarked upon, though this was swiftly usurped by a discernible panic on social media. Endless Facebook groups sprang up as those who had never experienced a sustained break from the norm were confronted by the sudden shock of having time on their hands that didn’t involve a foreign holiday or airport delays; they’d been taught a break from the 9-to-5 grind was restricted to the well-trodden path of the annual migration to overseas destinations for a fortnight; actual unlimited time in the home environment wasn’t in the script, so what to do? The wake-up call this imposed exile from the traditional workplace routine provoked was longer-lasting than that anticipated by those who masterminded it; when they gradually got a grip on the pandemic and the powers-that-be encouraged everyone to resume commuting, the reluctant embrace of this return to the previous pattern left the overlords in a state of panic, resorting to threatening fines and promises of an economic apocalypse if advice were spurned.

Of course, transferring responsibility from employers to employees was a good buck-passing tactic that was endorsed by our incumbent PM when in his role as Chancellor, but the arrogant assumption that the workforce would simply revert to type following an unplanned taster of an alternative to the preordained programme was naive and short-sighted. Sure, the plebs on the bottom rung of the social ladder were expected to carry on regardless – those who had kept the economy functioning as ‘key workers’; but Amazon delivery-men and NHS staff dependent upon weekly rounds of applause as recognition of their service were not necessarily guaranteed to switch to default mode once the official tributes had been paid by those whose virtue had been signalled. The expectation that such a cataclysmic interruption to working lives upon which so much of society’s structure and functioning is reliant would prove to be a mere blip and all would magically resume once it was safe to step back outdoors was as short-sighted as expressing surprise that the cost of food – especially dairy produce and pasta – has risen astronomically post-lockdown. The disruption to the social ecosystem was bound to leave ruptures in the foundations, and they’re everywhere.

It’s noticeable at the moment there are numerous employers bemoaning the lack of a ready workforce to fill gaping vacancies in the hospitality industry; if they happen to be in possession of a particular political viewpoint – and many are – the blame is invariably apportioned to Brexit. A fair few of those in media circles promoting and supporting this theory were amongst the most vocally rabid advocates of constant lockdowns whenever infections rose above a certain level in the wake of restriction easing. Such figures whose jobs were easily adapted to the Zoom model didn’t give a flying f*** about the destruction of the hospitality industry or the effect of lockdown on the workforce back then; and now the wider ramifications of cafés, restaurants and hotels being mothballed for months on end are becoming evident, they’re bleating on about bloody Brexit again. Yes, the reason why there are 200,000 jobs waiting to be filled in hospitality is all because we can no longer depend on cheap migrant labour due to our departure from the EU. Simple. However, the hospitality industries of Spain, France and Germany are curiously experiencing similar staffing shortages at the moment, yet as far as I’m aware all three remain signed-up to the great European project; even the US is facing the same problems, and Brexit as a cause has even less relevance there than here.

Coincidentally, the one thing all four nations mentioned shared with the UK was the enforced closure of industry during lockdown – especially hospitality. In Blightly, the furlough scheme covered some (albeit not all) of the wages hospitality workers were earning pre-lockdown, and the time on their hands the workforce received courtesy of the Covid master-plan enabled many members of it to wonder whether the pittances they were working long, exhausting hours for were worth returning to once it was all over. Unsurprisingly, a huge number of them came to the conclusion that they weren’t. But they came to that conclusion when they had time to catch their breaths for the first time since beginning their working lives, the moment their bosses closed the doors of their workplace; and that was a factor of lockdown, not Brexit. Whilst Brexit remains the ultimate blame-game bogeyman for all of Britain’s ills, lockdown is almost given a royal pardon, particularly by those who were its loyalist cheerleaders. Indeed, some are even belatedly admitting it went too far – even Rishi Sunak.

The stigmatising of anyone who questioned or queried the wisdom of lockdown regulations as a pariah-cum-traitor during the bleakest periods of the pandemic has now been quietly glossed over by many of those who were doing the stigmatising. There has even been talk of a ‘pandemic amnesty’ by some, and that naturally means we skip over the necessary public inquiry into the damage done and everyone with genuine blood on their hands is first in the queue for the hand sanitizer, the brand known as ‘whitewash’. The over-zealous enforcement of social distancing we all saw at the time, which was a gift to society’s plentiful supply of Jobsworths and straightforward sadistic bastards, was nothing short of a disgrace at its most extreme and unnecessary – from police dispatching drones to name and shame dog-walkers in the wide open spaces of the Peak District to the insensitive officiousness of preventing distressed mourners embracing at funerals to the ‘Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition’ gate-crashing of religious services to the utterly unforgivable barring of family members from the deathbeds of loved ones. None of these outrages should be swept under the collective carpet as the guilty seek to cover their backs with the get-out-of-jail card of an amnesty, anymore than the seismic impact of lockdown on both industry and the workforce can be seamlessly transferred to Brexit.

Anyway, an amnesty won’t return us to where we were before; we’re already well on the road to the next fun-packed episode, currently being bombarded with promises of a new Age of Austerity, one that will make the Austerity ushered in by the Con-Dem Coalition a decade ago resemble the Bacchanalian excess of a Freddie Mercury birthday party from the 80s. The kamikaze rush for ‘growth’ attempted by Liz Truss, the woman Private Eye has referred to as ‘the Lady Jane Grey of Prime Ministers’, perhaps demonstrated just how devoid of solutions those who created this absolute bloody mess in the first place truly are. And even if we spurn the industries they destroyed, our lives are still in their hands.

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BLAME IT ON UKRAINE

LamplighterIt could be worse, I guess – we could be Germany; no, this isn’t anything to do with the War, not the 1939-’45 one, anyway. Events in Ukraine that have been in full swing for six months now have undoubtedly impacted on life in Western Europe, especially when it comes to the import & export trade, though Tsar Vlad’s invasion does provide politicians with a convenient get-out-of-jail card, one that serves to obscure their own failings over the past two or three years. Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times – blame it on Ukraine. Don’t blame it on the lockdown, don’t blame it on Covid, don’t blame it on Net Zero – blame it on Ukraine. Considering Germany’s somewhat…er…problematic history with Russia, perhaps Frau Merkel reckoned it was a nice reconciliatory gesture to entrust the old enemy with providing the majority of Germany’s gas imports. She obviously (not to say inexplicably) didn’t foresee a time when Comrade Putin might use this to his advantage; after all, it’s not as if he hasn’t sought to extend his nation’s current borders via military means in the past, is it?

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Mrs Merkel eagerly embraced the ‘renewable energy’ agenda and announced all of Germany’s nuclear power plants would be gone by…well…this year. Eight of the country’s 17 were permanently closed in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s very own Chernobyl, yet the alternative to the system being phased-out overnight wasn’t necessarily very ‘Green’, reliant as it is on coal-fired electricity production; since 2011, this has led to an increase in deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution. Is the idea to save the planet by killing its inhabitants? Like many a political leader, Merkel seized upon renewable energy as a move to boost her short-term popularity, yet the swift winding-down of the nuclear power industry in Germany continued apace throughout her lengthy tenure in office; as things stand, there are a mere three remaining plants still operational today. Reliance on Russia for natural gas was underlined by the controversial Nord 2 pipeline project, which has yet to open for business; largely financed by Russian-owned energy giant Gazprom, final construction on the pipeline was suspended when Russia invaded Ukraine; Russia responded by slashing supplies of gas to Germany down to 20% of its capacity.

Despite pleas by the German nuclear power industry to extend the life of the three plants left when confronted by the prospect of an energy emergency following Russia’s response to sanctions, the German Government is refusing to budge and waver from its rigid Green commitments. Instead, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration has announced severe restrictions on the use of electricity that will come into effect this winter. Anyone who either lived through – or has experienced second-hand via numerous TV documentaries – the power-cuts imposed upon the UK during the 1972 Miners’ Strike and the 1974 Three-Day Week will recognise some of the measures. To the no-doubt relief of muggers and cat burglars, street lighting will be one of the first casualties; this blackout will also be extended to the illumination of monuments, buildings and shop-fronts; moreover, heating of public buildings will be reduced with the exception of hospitals. Anyone wondering what these measures will make the German capital look like at night need only track down the footage of Piccadilly Circus deprived of its gaudy light-show 50 years ago. But it’s hoped the restrictions will save upwards of €10.8bn, so that’s alright.

Prior to the closure of three further plants at the end of last year, nuclear power was responsible for 13.3% of Germany’s electricity, whilst up until the fallout from the Ukraine situation, Russia was providing Germany with as much as 55% of its gas supplies; yes, it doesn’t exactly sound like economic sense to be dependent on such a notoriously untrustworthy foreign power for your fuel, but that’s the position Germany finds itself in. And it’s not alone. Russia was supplying the best part of 40% of gas across the EU before sanctions provoked a hasty reduction, and despite Monsieur Macron’s much-publicised freezing of gas prices and a cap on energy increases, neither measure will see out the winter, when gas and electricity will naturally be far more in demand that they are at the moment. The French are already switching off street lighting every night for around three-and-a-half hours in parts of Paris, but most are more concerned with the impact of restrictions in the workplace, and especially the home. Mind you, the Germans are way ahead in their Project Fear preparations, for the country is also looking forward to a fresh wave of Covid infections come the autumn, giving the population something else to look forward to before the fun-packed winter arrives.

According to the German Government, lockdowns will not constitute their strategy this time round. They’ve left such a damaging legacy in every country that imposed them that even Rishi Sunak, desperately seeking an 89th minute winner against ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ Thatcher Ms Liz, has publicly declared he thought they were a mistake. Any further school closures have also been frowned upon by German Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach; let’s be honest, the disastrous interrupting of children’s education all over again would hardly be a vote-winner. Instead, Germany has opted for the safe option of reintroducing and reinforcing mask-wearing on public transport as well as Covid tests being a requisite for entering any institution housing the vulnerable, such as hospitals or care homes. The World Health Organisation has also got its scaremongering hat on once more re the coronavirus; perhaps disappointed that Monkey-pox has been such an anticlimactic sequel to 2020’s blockbuster, the WHO has this week been issuing melodramatic predictions all over again.

‘It is now abundantly clear we’re in a similar situation to last summer,’ read the WHO statement, ‘only, this time the ongoing Covid-19 wave is being propelled by sub-lineages of the omicron variant…with rising cases, we’re also seeing a rise in hospitalisations, which are only set to increase further in the autumn and winter months as schools reopen, people return from holidays and social mixing moves indoors with the onset of colder weather.’ Yeah, move indoors to escape that colder weather, only to find it’s colder in than out due to power-cuts. At least the persistent lobbying of the pharmaceutical industry will be rewarded with the announcement that a new booster jab for the over-50s will be available in Blighty as of September, though cases here have fallen anyway, without the aid of yet another booster; stats show infections have declined nationwide across all age groups, with children unsurprisingly boasting the lowest levels – just as they always have done.

Alas, Covid can’t be blamed on Ukraine, even if the ill-thought-out policies to combat it that we endured in 2020 and ’21 are more responsible for the state we’re in (and the state we’ll be in this winter) than what’s currently going on in Eastern Europe. Still, entrusting Russia with the contract to supply Western Europe with so much of its gas was an arrangement that was hardly guaranteed to progress along a smooth, uneventful course with a man like Vlad at the helm, and the whole Ukraine situation is clearly playing no small part in the gloomy narrative of the moment. But the futile pursuit of the Green dream that has taken possession of so many Western Governments is one that can also take its fair share of the blame; our own Net Zero fantasy threatens to condemn more to fuel poverty than anything Russia can use as a bargaining chip, whereas Germany’s determination to exclude nuclear power as a viable option when its suicidal reliance on Russia for energy was destined to end in tears is an extreme example of what can happen when just the one basket contains all your eggs.

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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.

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IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH

Kid in MaskNostalgia can be a curious beast; after a suitable distance, even the most ghastly fashions or hairstyles or pop groups can be reclaimed following decades of mockery from those who were there and resurrected as ironic, post-modern icons of kitsch hailing from a more ‘innocent’ era that suddenly seems refreshing to a generation too young to remember it. We’ve come to anticipate this trend in the absence of contemporary cultural earthquakes that would render an ongoing fascination with such fluff irrelevant; in a way, it’s perhaps a comment on the creative vacuum of this uninspiring century that the unceasing recycling of the recent past, no matter how awful, shows no sign of slowing down. Ten years is usually the shortest gap between ridicule and reappraisal, though sometimes it can be a little less; two years seems a bit extreme, however – even taking into account the gradual reduction of attention spans that is another present day trend.

I stumbled into what amounted to a lockdown theme-park a few days ago when visiting my local branch of Specsavers. Even after two years, customers can still no longer stroll into the shop at will, forced to stand at the fenced-off entrance and wait for a masked member of staff to attend to them on the doorstep. The queues are a strange throwback to how it once was outside every shop, supermarket and post office in 2020; but maybe the fact it already seems like a surreal lifetime ago that shopping was akin to lining-up to enter an exclusive nightclub has generated this reluctance in some to relinquish the restrictions. It’s as though Specsavers is trapped in a lockdown loop, clinging to a pandemic policy when a Government whose Ministers didn’t even adhere to it at the time has deemed it to no longer be a necessity. NHS posters in the windows of the shop seem like an attempt to forge a tenuous link between the business and the state religion, as though the presence of healthcare literature somehow justifies nostalgia for the days when Boris told us to stay at home. Mind you, I have noticed Specsavers isn’t an isolated example of this overcautious continuation of something that many now regard as a disastrous experiment that had little bearing on the diminishing of Covid as a universally lethal virus.

During the time when the pandemic restrictions were being enforced with ruthless efficiency – at least outside of 10 Downing Street, anyway – mandatory mask-wearing was one of the most visually notable elements of the day-to-day Covid experience when venturing outdoors. It was normalised with remarkable rapidity and has remained the hallmark of the paranoid and terrified even though government guidelines have stated the wearing of them is now optional again. Whilst those members of the public who didn’t buy into Project Fear were being held hostage by the neuroses of those who did, spreading that fear into a generation unable to oppose it has been one of the most disturbing aftershocks of the whole pandemic.

A report published over the weekend stated that some babies and toddlers are showing signs of difficulties when it comes to the kind of social interacting so crucial to their development – a direct consequence of being sealed in the parental panic room for the duration; a demographic no more likely to be afflicted by Covid than by Alzheimer’s are apparently also struggling with facial recognition of their nearest and dearest now that the masks have been removed, so great has their embryonic view of the world been warped by the fanatical submission to the restrictions by their parents. It’s an appalling situation that will probably spawn a lifetime of repercussions for the unfortunate infants, one that could and should have been avoided.

The other week I watched an episode of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ where the man himself was plagued by a cold he milked to extremes of melodramatic hypochondria; nevertheless, his sidekick Sid James was wary enough to join Anthony Aloysius at the dining table wearing a surgical mask and attempted to slip morsels of his meal into his mouth without removing the cloth. The studio audience laughed at this ludicrous spectacle, safely shielded by sixty years from an unimaginable scenario when such behaviour would be regarded as perfectly acceptable and unworthy of laughter – by some, anyway. A sitcom from as far away as the turn-of-the-60s is inevitably peppered with antiquated cultural references, yet many of the situations that form the basis of the comedy remain commonplace, and it now appears even something that wouldn’t have been the norm at the time has given this particular episode a poignant relevance. Indeed, it’s impossible to hear the laughter without experiencing that knowing, after-the-event feeling and thinking ‘Ah, if only they knew…’

When shoppers had no choice but to hinder their ability to breathe during their retail expeditions, I don’t recall seeing any signs in shop doorways that informed customers it was okay to not wear a mask if they felt like it. Everyone from shopkeeper to shopper did as they were told. And many shops or businesses that did approach the restrictions with a more casual attitude were often vulnerable to punitive fines brought upon them by the widespread encouragement of restriction-watchers to grass them up. Nobody dared go against Government rules and regulations. However, now that mask-wearing is no longer mandatory, I’ve noticed some shops have signs in the doorways informing customers they must still wear a mask, even though the Government has once more placed the right to choose in the hands of the individual. If we had to do as we were told when restrictions were in place, why are some businesses now imposing them when Boris says it’s okay to go mask-free? It’s as if they’ve been so affected by the past couple of years that they’re scared to return to where we were before.

Even Scotland – yes, even Scotland – is now tentatively lifting restrictions. From the 18th of this month, face coverings indoors and on public transport will no longer be mandatory; the rules regarding the compulsory wearing of masks at weddings and funerals, as well as any places of worship, are also being lifted; as of May, those with symptoms won’t be required to test anymore and physical test sites will be closed along with the end of contact tracing. The People’s Republic of Wales will continue with contact tracing and free lateral flow tests until the end of June, whilst Northern Ireland now only recommends the wearing of masks in certain enclosed public spaces rather than demanding it everywhere. In England, you now don’t have to legally self-isolate if testing positive and lateral flow tests are only free for the over-75s. Amidst all this, nine further symptoms of Covid have just been added to the official list of three, most of which are ones anybody would associate with an especially unpleasant cold or bout of flu.

The advice now dispensed to those who imagine they might have contracted Covid or have tested positive encompasses what one would like to think of as basic common sense. After all, who wouldn’t stay at home and isolate if full of cold when going out and socialising is the last thing you feel like doing? The latest stats for the UK state that around one in every 13 people in the country has the coronavirus, though the Government’s ‘living with Covid’ policy, which sounds like the original plan for herd immunity in all-but name, seems to be working, as the number of those hospitalised for the more severe Covid infections in intensive care are low. It looks like we’re finally learning to live with a virus that we couldn’t kill, which many suspected we’d have to end up doing all along. Vaccines have undoubtedly played their part, but lockdown as a tool of containing the uncontainable was something to which we must never be submitted again – and that includes extending some of its elements way beyond the time when it was still imagined they’d be effective.

© The Editor

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OPEN DOOR

Old WomanIt wasn’t so long ago – barely a year – that the British people were barred from allowing more than six people into their abodes. They couldn’t visit ailing family members in hospitals or care homes; they could only attend funerals in small, specified numbers – and heavy-handed Jobsworths were on hand to gleefully ensure there was no physical contact between the grievers; they couldn’t gather in the open to mark Remembrance Sunday; they couldn’t celebrate Christmas together; they couldn’t hold a vigil for a murdered woman in an outdoor environment without the police treating them like violent protestors; they couldn’t stage a demonstration unless their cause was one approved by the authorities – climate change or BLM, yes/anti-lockdown or anti-vax, no; they couldn’t even worship in churches whose doors were bolted. Small businesses went to the wall, crippled by both enforced closure and then uneconomic restrictions when tentatively reopening (if they’d managed to survive).

The damaging legacy of the past couple of years remains blatantly evident in the rising unemployment figures and the breathtaking level of national debt, not to mention the amount of folk continuing to wear masks in safe environments such as on the street or in the privacy of their own bloody cars, their brains fried by the pandemic propaganda of Project Fear. One wonders if they mask-up on the loo, in the bath or in bed. Probably. Yet, while it would be natural to imagine the unsurprising and hypocritical revelations of what those lying bastards who imposed such rules on the populace were getting up to behind closed doors at the height of the pandemic had served as a wake-up call on how conned the people were, so deep is the psychological damage done by lockdown and its affiliated curbs on civil liberties that the illogical neurosis of millions remains something that will probably take years to heal.

So, how strange that the same people who had to conduct conversations with family and friends from ridiculous distances – and out of doors, at that – are now being battered anew with fresh emotional blackmail that encourages them to open their previously hermetically-sealed homes to complete strangers, as though 2020 and ’21 never happened. Memories of the Syrian ‘children’ with their remarkably advanced examples of male grooming have been smoothly erased as the request for impromptu landlords goes out again. Of course, the awful humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine naturally stirs deep feelings in anyone who has a heart; for some, this provokes a desire to tackle the forces of oppression head-on by signing-up for an International Brigades-like foreign legion of fighters to repel the Russian invasion; for others, it’s marked via a boycott of Russian goods or cultural exports; and for others again, it manifests itself as a craving to offer a safe roof over the heads of those faced with no option but to flee their own homes thousands of miles away. Yesterday, the British Government announced it would offer UK homeowners £350 a month to take in Ukrainian refugees, with Housing Secretary Michael Gove unveiling the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

After so many recent exposés of precisely how untrustworthy and slippery our elected leaders are, people can be forgiven for greeting this announcement with cynicism and discerning something more than motives emanating from the goodness of politicians’ hearts; one now finds it difficult to take any such move at face value and not detect an ulterior motive. In the case of the current administration – and, it has to be said, its predecessors over the last couple of decades – this kind of response to an appalling situation cannot entirely eradicate the lax attitude towards the dirty money fuelling the Russian war machine which has been a hallmark of British governments for a long time. The amount of desirable British properties in the hands of offshore shell companies engaged in money laundering both in the UK and its more luxurious overseas territories has been mirrored in the close ties forged between British politicians and institutions and those Russians who have taken advantage of the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme. Perish the thought, but could certain members of the Government and the Conservative Party be covering their own corrupt backs by utilising the same emotional blackmail tactics employed during Covid to persuade the people to open hearts and doors to Ukrainian refugees as they themselves gloss over their cosiness with representatives of the regime responsible for the crisis?

Just how deeply governing bodies with pound signs for pupils have allowed countries with dubious reputations to become embedded in the fabric of British life was highlighted when Chelsea played Newcastle Utd at Stamford Bridge on Sunday; the home fans chanted the name of the now-toxic Putin bitch Roman Abramovich, whereas the away fans cheered their own suddenly-wealthy club’s Saudi owners, emanating as they do from a regime that executed a staggering 81 individuals the day before the match in a ruthless display of despotic inhumanity. What a glorious advert for the beautiful game, one that no token knee-taking will ease the grubby stain of. Football fans desperate for success will seemingly overlook the source of the financial fuel filling their trophy cabinets, though they’ve hardly been set a good example by their social ‘betters’. The filthy lucre floating around the national sport at the highest level is one more noticeable consequence of the golden visa rule introduced by a Labour Government in the wake of Peter Mandelson quaffing champers on the yacht of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one that has allowed Russia to get its feet under the establishment table with very little in the way of opposition.

According to stats in the most recent issue of Private Eye, since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, 406 wealthy Russians have bought their way into Britain via the required £2 million, with a mere 20 refusals; following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, 92 golden visas have been issued, with just six refusals; eight were even issued at the back end of last year, a time when Vlad’s intentions re Ukraine were well-known. At times, the Russian infiltration of British politics and all its interconnected entrails are reminiscent of the way in which Nigel Kneale’s 1950s TV series ‘Quatermass’ featured collaborators with the alien invaders in the upper echelons of British society as a knowing nod to the pre-war ruling class’s flirtation with fascism. The abrupt about-turn on oligarchs by this government as everyone with Russian skeletons in their closet seeks to distance themselves from Uncle Vlad’s activities is something that understandably provokes cynicism, though being offered cash incentives to house those who have suffered most from these activities seems another cynical move by an administration that inspires little else but cynicism.

Local councils who have spent the past two years pleading poverty, cutting public services to the bone and yet simultaneously feathering their own personal nests are also having a tempting carrot dangled in their direction re refugees. One cannot help but wonder if they will spend the money wisely. Considering how well GPs’ surgeries have managed to avoid doing their jobs and yet have continued to bleat about being overwhelmed during the coronavirus, how will a sudden influx of immigrants with obvious ailments affect the dereliction of duties the medical profession has achieved since Lockdown Mk I? It goes without saying that those whose needs are attended to on Harley Street won’t be affected, though the calamitous disappearance of the cheap household labour that Brexit brought about may at least be solved.

Materially comfortable individuals with the spare rooms to welcome refugees should be in a position to carry out their intentions without their kindness necessitating a financial reward, and those whose sadness with the situation in Ukraine doesn’t stretch that far shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for choosing not to do so, despite the lure of being paid in a scheme that will undoubtedly be open to abuse. One can’t blame many for being reluctant to invite strangers into their homes when they were faced with heavy fines and possible prison sentences for extending a similar invitation to people they actually know not so long ago. Funny old world innit.

© The Editor

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FOUL LANGUAGE

TrudeauDoctor Johnson may have had a hell of a task on his hands in attempting to chronicle the multitude of words comprising the English language over 200 years ago, but even he would’ve baulked at the task of defining words in the dictionaries of the 21st century. After all, the lexicon has been so twisted and skewered by (amongst others) politicians providing their own unique, upside-down interpretations to cover their corrupt backs that nobody is quite sure what certain words officially mean anymore. The dictionary entry for the word woman may well now provide the 4+4=5 description of a chick with a dick, whereas an actual woman might be found under ‘birthing person’, ‘chest-feeder’, ‘person who bleeds’ and so on. Likewise, the word racist has become obligatory to describe anybody who challenges the consensus, almost ceasing to have anything to do with someone who can’t see beyond the colour of another’s skin – and, of course, the inability to do so has now been reinstated as the legitimate mainstream policy on race, anyway.

Similarly, the old-school trend of nicknames that describe the opposite of a person’s most distinctive characteristics would seem to be in the doldrums today bar one notable exception. In the grand tradition of an outlaw built like a brick shithouse being known as Little John, the word ‘liberal’ has been so subverted over the past decade that it’s now attached to the most illiberal, intolerant and authoritarian people one could ever wish to avoid. Unfortunately, many ‘liberals’ are hard to avoid because the worst of them tend to be in positions of power. Abusing the meaning of a word that used to embody an ideology today’s so-called liberals are sorely lacking, the wolves who wrap themselves in liberal clothing have had their true colours and their true intentions exposed like never before during the pandemic; and what’s been especially interesting is that they’ve not made any attempt to hide their illiberal natures once laid bare before the global glare because they’ve simply shifted the goalposts. Sure, the justification has been that each fresh curb of civil liberties is being done for the public’s own good, yet they’ve overstretched their authority with the kind of enthusiastic relish that would shame the most dictatorial despot whose regime is of the sort Western powers were once fond of changing.

At the height of the coronavirus panic in the UK, it was the ‘liberal’ Labour Party that was screaming for far more draconian laws and restrictions on the public than even the less-than liberal Tory Government was prepared to introduce; and over in the colonies, the incursion of the state into the private sphere via the sham of ‘saving lives’ has highlighted the illiberal reality of two world leaders who were once celebrated in liberal circles for their anti-Trump, touchy-feely brand of politics – New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. The hideous Ardern has been discussed on here many times before, but the smarmy creep who seems to use the American Psycho of Brett Easton Ellis’s controversial 80s novel dealing with a yuppie serial killer as his style model has exceeded his sinister smiling soulmate of late by taking the North Korean form of governance imposed with such glee during the pandemic and extending it into crushing any opposition to his rule – particularly if it emerges from the proles.

The hypocrisy at the heart of the metropolitan political class in its ‘liberal’ guise is never better exposed than when challenged; name-calling via the same old lazy insults is the default response for an elite that have no capacity for debate because they are ideologically bankrupt. They’ll just stick their fingers in their ears and scream ‘racist’. Trudeau himself fell back on precisely that kind of dangerous rhetoric in the Canadian Parliament this week. Confronted by enraged MPs appalled at his state-of-emergency response to the ongoing truckers’ protests, Trudeau had nothing in his arsenal but the usual tired weapons. ‘Conservative Party members can stand with people who wear swastikas,’ he whined. ‘They can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag.’ In other words, if you disagree with the actions of your government and oppose the policies of the Prime Minister in suppressing dissent, you are not entitled to that opinion unless you’re prepared to accept that such an opinion means you’re a fifth columnist.

Like the truckers, Extinction Rebellion can prevent people from getting to their jobs, yet the SJWs masquerading as police will dance with the latter on the pavement rather than batter them; BLM/Antifa can torch a city centre and inflict anarchy and mayhem on the lives of law-abiding citizens, only to have the MSM portray the carnage as a ‘mostly peaceful protest’ as they take the knee in solidarity; and 17 million people can vote in a democratic referendum against the advice of their political overlords and they are denounced as bigoted white supremacists, twisting the actual meaning of those words and making it impossible to distinguish between the genuine article and the simple protestor because the descriptions have been rendered meaningless. Basically, if you have the right opinions you have carte-blanche to do as you please; if you have the wrong ones and – importantly – if you don’t obey the middle-class ruling class, then you’re the scum of the earth and it’s utterly legit to silence you with whatever undemocratic means the ruling class see fit to use.

Justin Trudeau has taken this approach into disturbing new areas this past week by proposing that anyone donating to the fund supporting the protesting truckers will have their bank accounts frozen; yes, you heard right. The kind of sanctions once reserved for Al-Qaeda terrorists – and usually with great reluctance at that – have been applied to those supporting a grass-roots opposition to Trudeau’s increasingly totalitarian attempts to keep pandemic policies going. This is a significant (and worrying) development because – however OTT and inhumane some of the restrictions introduced during the pandemic were – there are no sound grounds to use such powers in order to simply silence opposing voices once out of the Covid woods. This is an almighty abuse of authority entrusted by democratic means.

Any genuine liberal who might have voted for Trudeau because he wasn’t a Conservative should be able to see through this shit, realise what’s being done in their name, and be rightly outraged. But so relentless has the propaganda campaign been in demonising opposition and reinforcing power by smearing said opposition as ‘enemies of the people’ that the gut instinct in the genuine liberal now is to see all opposition as every racist, right-wing ‘phobe’ in the contemporary dictionary. How long before Trudeau’s desperate attempts to cling on are manifested as denying supporters of the protests access to supermarkets or healthcare or education or employment? Even Mrs Thatcher would’ve hesitated at introducing such legislation at the height of the Miners’ Strike, however much she might have fancied it.

I dunno. Maybe the word liberal and all the admirable aspects it is supposed to encompass was only ever a convenient smokescreen to hide the fact that many elements of the Left have always been as censorious, pious and zealous as the worst of the Right; it’s just when the Right is in the ascendency and has the power to exercise its most extreme tendencies, genuine liberals are in sore need of an opposition and the Left is understandably painted as the humane alternative. However, turn the tables by handing power to the Left and one sees the identical tendencies eventually emerge. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. One only has to look at what an unprecedented worldwide crisis lifted the lid on where liberal leaders are concerned. But perhaps power just does that to everyone who grabs it, whatever archaic label they see fit to claim.

© The Editor

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WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG

Neil YoungYou have to cut Neil Young a little slack; after all, he is 76. I know it’s easy to forget – or to not even want to accept – that those who rode the wave of a counter-cultural revolution fuelled by the uniquely strident spirit of youth half-a-century ago are all either approaching their 80s or are already octogenarians. And, like his contemporary Van Morrison, Young has always been prone to curmudgeonly behaviour, even before he reached middle-age, let alone old age. He once played a gig at the height of his creative powers in the mid-70s whereby he and his legendary backing band Crazy Horse opened the performance by playing their new album in its entirety before the expected crowd-pleasers would be exhumed; however, when the last song from the latest LP was done, rather than leading the band in ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ or ‘Southern Man’, Young then decided to play said album in full all over again; half the audience exited whilst those that remained united in a chorus of boos. One suspects Young both found it funny and didn’t give a f***. That’s the kind of artist he was and, to a degree, has remained.

In a way, it’s a miracle Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ever managed to record as much material together as they did; regardless of the sonic magic their combined voices produced, a band housing that number of combative egos could never maintain harmony beyond their harmonies for long. Even the in-house peacekeeper Graham Nash has recently had his patience exhausted by David Crosby, publicly announcing the friendship between him and his long-term collaborator has finally reached a terminal impasse. And while it’s possible to see many of these bust-ups as common occurrences that old gits who’ve known each other for decades routinely experience, Crosby, Stills and Young have been rubbing each other up the wrong way as far back as bloody Woodstock; however, unlike his three bandmates, Neil Young has always been viewed first and foremost as a solo artist, with his most critically-acclaimed work coming outside of the CSNY unit – and he has revelled in wrong-footing critics throughout. Whenever he’s had a commercially successful album, his next release has tended to be a stubbornly difficult listen that the masses have rejected; he’s only ever occasionally flirted with the mainstream as a consequence, never really being at home in it.

I remember in the mid-80s, when the post-punk dismissal of most pre-punk acts was eroding and certain vintage artists were coming back into critical vogue, Young seemed determined to sabotage his newly-established ‘cool’ credentials by voicing his support for Ronald Reagan. Ever the contrarian, he probably found it amusing that the singer revered for railing against Nixon’s war machine in a blistering protest song like ‘Ohio’ was now voting Republican. The reaction wasn’t unlike when Kate Bush was ‘outed’ as a Tory voter a few years back, though why every artist who isn’t Phil Collins has to lean to the left always seems irrelevant to their art unless they’re Paul Weller.

Covid-19 has given rock stars of Neil Young’s generation another opportunity to air their political preferences, and whilst the likes of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison have been condemned as anti-vax fanatics for their provocative opinions on the vaccine as a pandemic panacea, Young’s response to being in the most vulnerable age category when it comes to the coronavirus has resulted in him taking the opposite route. This past week has seen Neil Young reassert his stubborn streak by demanding his back catalogue be removed from Spotify, having raised his objections to the platform’s Joe Rogan podcast allegedly spreading ‘fake information about vaccines’. I’m not a viewer/listener of Rogan myself, but I know of him and I know that he took his massively successful podcast to Spotify, signing the kind of mind-boggling, multi-million dollar deal that was once the preserve of rock stars (like Neil Young) when they switched record labels.

During the height of the pandemic, it seems Joe Rogan was one of the few online celebrities publicly questioning some of the dubious decisions being made by governments in the name of saving lives, and his opposition to vaccination has become a challenge to those who advocate uncensored free speech yet struggle when someone publicises an opinion they themselves vehemently disagree with. Neil Young issued an ultimatum to Spotify that basically said ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us’, and when Spotify made it clear they weren’t prepared to abandon the star they’d invested a huge amount of money in, Young took his ball back and refused to play with Spotify again. Considering the miserly royalties Spotify pays the artists whose music it streams, Young probably won’t suffer too much in financial terms by leaving the site; but it seems ironic that his renowned obstinacy now appears to be firmly in tune with the very establishment he’s always liked to position himself on the outside of.

James Blunt, a far younger singer-songwriter who has regularly exhibited a likeable self-deprecating sense of humour online that is much more enjoyable than his insipid music, responded to the spat between Spotify and Neil Young by tweeting ‘If Spotify doesn’t immediately remove Joe Rogan, I will release new music on to the platform’. Amusing, yes, but the fact that Young issued his ‘it’s him or me’ ultimatum and was cheered by the cancel culture mob for doing so suggests his decision was a misfire, advocating corporate censorship and standing alongside those whose aim in life is to silence everyone who doesn’t share their opinions. Does that really sound like the same artist who was fond of recycling the word ‘freedom’ in the lyrics and titles of his songs? Even if Young has always possessed a mischievous talent for sabotaging his own critical and commercial success, to throw his lot in with a crowd for whom freedom is the privilege of the few and not the entitlement of the many feels like stretching his contrariness too far.

Neil Young has been accompanied in his Spotify exodus by Joni Mitchell, Canadian contemporary and, to me, an even more gifted and significant songwriter to emerge from the same richly creative era. What’s worth noting, however – and this is a crucial point – is that both Young and Mitchell were afflicted by polio as children during an outbreak in the early 1950s; the intervention of vaccination was something that enabled them to recover and understandably left them favourable towards vaccines as a means of suppressing viruses. The fact that both are within a whisker of their 80s – and this is the age demographic most at risk from Covid – has also undoubtedly formulated their judgement on this particular issue. Their generation, to which Eric Clapton and Van Morrison also belong, is one of the most pro-jab, with Clapton and Morrison being in more of a minority than Neil Young and Joni Mitchell; the stance of the latter two is the majority one. And maybe that’s what seems odd to some when it comes to Neil Young, at least to those who always expect him to take the opposite stance to the prevailing consensus.

Yet, looking at his track record, there have been many times in his life when he and the orthodoxy have clicked in harmony; ‘Heart of Gold’ topped the US Hot 100 in 1972, after all – quite an achievement for a ‘cult’ artist. Just don’t expect to hear it on Spotify.

© 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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ANYONE FOR TENNIS?

vlcsnap-2022-01-10-17h41m14s299On the surface, it’s difficult to discern what the Australian Government sought to gain from manufacturing a farcical soap opera starring the greatest tennis player of the past decade, a man who has been crowned Aussie Open champion nine times already (more than any other player in history) and has won it on the last three occasions it’s been staged. If the idea was to continue the doomed ‘Zero Covid’ policy by making an example of an international household name just to show no one is exempt from some of the strictest restrictions on the planet, it’s been something of a PR disaster – especially when one considers Novak Djokovic wasn’t exactly alone as an unvaccinated athlete whose entrance to Camp Oz was approved for the tournament. This fact suggests he didn’t receive any of the ‘special treatment’ that has been cited as a reason for the opposition to his participation, though having his visa revoked and all the legal shenanigans that have followed emits the scent of a prized scapegoat.

The un-vaccinated have been portrayed as Public Enemy Number One by Australia as much as any other country with a leader prepared to weaponise the pandemic for political gain. Monsieur Macron is a good example, forever engaged in discriminating against the un-vaxxed, and a man who will don a mask when sat alone for a Zoom conference whilst not considering such precautions necessary when hanging out in-person with other world leaders. And Aussie PM Scott Morrison has seen his popularity plummet over the last few months as the harsh policies of the past couple of years have proven unsuccessful in stemming the tide of each successive variant. As Sydney and Melbourne (the world’s longest locked-down city) tentatively reopen, a change of tack by Aussie politicians has seen a resigned acceptance emerge that everyone will succumb to the Omicron variant at some point, and no amount of lockdowns will alter that inevitability. What does that say about the sacrifices the Australian people have been faced with little choice but to accept?

Whereas the UK lockdowns were intended to slow the spread in order to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, the Australian approach seemed to be a misguided attempt to stop the coronavirus altogether; no matter how long it took, they’d keep everyone behind closed doors until the nasty virus had gone away. Apparently, new kid on the block Omicron has been responsible for a swift upsurge in Aussie cases – more in the past couple of weeks than in the past couple of years – despite all the extreme policies in place since the spring of 2020; yet, Novak Djokovic, a man whose antibodies are presumably strong having already recovered from a bout of Covid in December, has been targeted as embodying everything evil about those portrayed as responsible for the wave of latest cases, the un-vaxxed. Australia’s Northern Territories have responded by locking the scum down whilst simultaneously allowing the merely double-vaxxed (who are more than capable of spreading the latest variant) to go about their business.

With Scott Morrison faced with having to call elections come the spring, it’s evident he requires something to justify the policies he’s pursued with such vigour, regardless of how the evidence implies they’ve ultimately failed. Smearing Novak Djokovic appeared to be the gift he was looking for, what with the current Aussie Open champ being so arrogant as to turn up ready to play jab-free. Battling deportation due to officials concluding he didn’t meet the criteria for vaccine exemption to enter the country, Djokovic has now successfully appealed against the decision to cancel his visa in the Federal Court of Australia. Under guard at a Melbourne hotel since last Thursday, he argued he had done all that was required of him to enter Australia and the judge agreed, ordering that his quarantine end ASAP. Djokovic claimed he had been grilled for six hours by immigration officials, sleep-deprived at his hotel, and placed under persistent pressure to submit to their decision that he pull out of the tournament, which begins in just seven days’ time. Djokovic felt he possessed proof that contradicted the authorities’ conviction he didn’t qualify for exemption, afterwards explaining ‘I had been recently infected with Covid in December 2021 and on this basis I was entitled to medical exemption in accordance with Australian government rules and guidance. I further explained that my medical exemption had been granted by the Independent Medical Review Panel’.

Djokovic added he had received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia which said he had medical exemption on the grounds of his recent recovery from the coronavirus; and medical authorities in Australia have recently ruled that a temporary exemption from vaccination can be issued to anyone who’s been infected within six months, something Djokovic has proved he is eligible for. It seems pretty clear that the Aussie authorities were determined to prevent Djokovic from participating in the Open, yet the Serb refused to play ball. His successful appeal isn’t the end of the story, however, as the Home Affairs Minister still has the powers to overrule the judge, able to cancel his visa all over again. The Government’s lawyer at the appeal hearing said that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs (now, there’s a job title) ‘will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation’.

In theory, Djokovic could be banned from Australia for up to three years, though how much such a decision would boost Scott Morrison’s re-election prospects remains debatable; it’d certainly damage the country’s international reputation even further. With the Ashes having successfully been staged – and benefitted from a piss-poor England performance – does Australia really want to reduce an equally prestigious sporting occasion to a farce by deporting the defending champion on such spurious grounds? In the wake of the Aussie Government response to the appeal hearing, Djokovic’s brother Djordje has argued the authorities will be even more determined to deport the player following their humiliating defeat, quoted as saying ‘they want to capture and lock up Novak again’. Considering the efforts so far made to prevent Djokovic’s participation at the Open, it’s difficult to believe the authorities will simply call it a day following the judge’s decision. To throw the towel in now would surely amount to an admission of failure not only in this particular case, but it tackling the coronavirus altogether.

According to stats, 92% of Aussies over-16 have been double-jabbed, though only 14% have had the booster; that stat has nothing to do with a Serbian tennis player and far more to do with the unsuccessful policies of politicians. Even in the Mother Country, more than half of the patients admitted to hospital here with Covid symptoms are vaccinated, despite the un-vaxxed continuing to carry the can; and when such a respected public figure as ‘Sir’ Tony Blair refers to them as ‘idiots’, queues are at vaccination centres are hardly likely to be boosted as a consequence. Confronted by the failure of lockdowns, social distancing, social bubbles and Covid passports as workable methods to keep an airborne virus at bay, the unvaccinated remain perfect scapegoats for struggling politicians, though one wonders if the Aussies have overreached themselves and sabotaged an event that, like the Ashes, could at least present a positive image to the rest of the world that life down under is finally beginning to recover.

© The Editor

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