judgeIf the American novelist Paul Auster can observe the unedifying savagery of this year’s US Presidential Election and come to the conclusion that his country is at its most divided since the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, what, I wonder, would his summary be of the disunited kingdom across the Atlantic? Events on June 23 merely confirmed divisions many had long been aware of, but this week’s High Court ruling, caused by a legal challenge to the Government’s right to press ahead with Brexit negotiations without the participation of Parliament, has provoked a fresh wave of vitriolic accusations and counter-accusations from the irreconcilable opposites for whom the decision of a referendum wasn’t the end of a long-running saga. Tony Blair was condemned for his ‘Presidential’ approach to running the country, excluding most of the Cabinet from key decisions, never mind Parliament; yet, the fact that Theresa May has been prevented from doing likewise on this particular issue, that she has been forced to resort to democracy rather than dictatorship, has been received with unprecedented outrage.

The Daily Mail puts a trio of senior judges – including the Lord Chief Justice – on its front cover and the headline screams ‘Enemies of the People’; to hammer home their qualifications, the guilty men are named and shamed as a ‘gay fencer’, a ‘Europhile’, and the most damning of all, ‘Worked with Tony Blair’. Cue requisite readership mouth-frothing. The Telegraph headline declares ‘The judges versus the people’, whilst fellow Brexit cheerleaders the Express and the Sun make the same point in their own distinctive ways. Tied-in nicely with the FIFA poppy row, this latest treasonous act that is no doubt an insult to all our brave boys who laid down their lives for Fleet Street enables the Express to adopt a Churchillian battle cry in its editorial. And, along with the judges, we even have a proper villainess to boo and hiss. Her name is Gina Miller

Gina Miller is a 51-year-old Investment Manager who launched her challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit strategy with the aid of a few friends as rich as her and the crowd-funded ‘People’s Challenge Group’. She denies it was her intention to overturn the will of the British people to leave the EU, but so toxic are relations between the Remainers and the Leavers that she has already received the predictable rash of online death-threats, something that the media plastering her over the front pages and painting her as the Cruella de Ville of the anti-Brexiteers obviously cannot be blamed for. So far, the extent of protests in the wake of Brexit has been petulant foot-stamping on the part of students who couldn’t even be arsed to vote and socially-conscious Luvvies whose infinite wisdom on such matters naturally gifts them with the authority to lecture the poorly-educated masses residing beyond Watford Gap. This is something far more substantial, however, and again makes a mockery of the simplistic manner in which Brexit was sold to the public by its salesmen and women.

It took more than a decade of on/off negotiations before Ted Heath signed on the Common Market dotted line in 1972, so anybody who was expecting an overnight exit from the European Union once the votes in the Referendum were counted clearly wasn’t paying attention. The prolonged process of extricating the UK from almost 45 years of European commitments was destined to be an interminably tedious one, and now the High Court ruling proclaiming the Government cannot get on with it without the approval and say-so of Parliament suggests we’re in for a far longer ride to ‘freedom’ than even those who anticipated a sloth-like departure could have imagined.

The Royal Prerogative cannot be invoked when it comes to legislation relating to Britain’s membership of the EU – that was the decision reached in the High Court by men whose job it is to study the small print of the statute book; Theresa May cannot press on with Brexit negotiations without putting her plans and proposals to Parliament; and Parliament must vote on those plans and proposals before Article 50 can be triggered. When one studies the stated preferences of MPs on the eve of the Referendum, the cries of foul play emanating from the Brexit side are understandable: 185 Tories said they would vote Remain, whereas 138 declared they would vote Leave; with Labour, it was 218 to 10; every Lib Dem and every SNP MP said they would opt for Remain. Even before the Government submits its intentions to a Commons heavily in favour of Remain, it will appeal to the Supreme Court, and the two combined mean more and more months will be sacrificed before any action can be taken.

On one hand, this judgement could be viewed as the return of the much-discussed ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’ that Brussels had apparently robbed us of, relieving a coterie of Cabinet Ministers of the exclusive rights to decide and giving all our elected representatives a part to play; on the other, it could be viewed as a wealthy and privileged elite with vested interests in the status quo using their clout to prevent an outcome voted for by the people. Whichever viewpoint one adopts, this is a situation that has thrown up some unlikely heroes and villains – with, in many cases, left and right swapping sides as social media updates provide the latest info on who to cheer and who to jeer.

The traditional ‘falling on one’s sword’ gesture has been employed yet again by an attention-starved backbencher in the aftermath of the ruling, the honour this time belonging to Tory MP Stephen Phillips. He apparently already has a career as a barrister, so won’t be spotted at his local food-bank in the near future; but his resignation is the second in a fortnight from a party whose government is in possession of a fairly slender majority, pointing once again to Conservative cracks that haven’t been healed by the Referendum result.

This week’s drama has rekindled talk of an early General Election – possibly next spring; this is something Theresa May has constantly downplayed ever since Dave vacated Downing Street, despite the likelihood of a landslide with such a weak and underwhelming Opposition. The Fixed Term Parliament Act instigated by her predecessor reduces a Prime Minister’s power to call an Election when it suits them, but circumstances are fairly unique right now, and if the Government loses its appeal against the High Court ruling, the PM may have no option but to go to the country in what will be inevitably labelled ‘The Brexit Election’. This won’t be over even if Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott duet on the hustings in 2017.

© The Editor


Howard KirkA plotline running through ‘The History Man’, Malcolm Bradbury’s celebrated satire of 70s campus politics (both social and sexual), involves characteristic mischievousness on the part of the novel’s anti-hero, the promiscuous lecturer Howard Kirk, who spreads a rumour that an infamous eugenicist has been invited to speak at the university; this purely invented grenade that Kirk tosses into the lap of the lefty student activists who view him as being on their side sparks vociferous demonstrations that lead to the oblivious guest speaker receiving an early example of the ‘no platform’ treatment. Bradbury’s 1975 book accurately parodies the hypocrisy of the era in which it is set, both in the character of Kirk and in the advocates of campus free speech who believe the currency of speech only comes free if it mirrors their own opinions. Funny how we appear to have come full circle forty years on.

‘Power to the People’ was not only one of the rare memorable songs produced by John Lennon during his brief political phase in the early 70s, but it was also a buzzword of student activism during the same period. When the People had the opportunity to exercise the one democratic power at their disposal, however, few opted for the Marxist model promoted by the students whose very place at university was thanks to genuine Socialism at work via the post-war Attlee Government. If they had, Ted Heath wouldn’t have been elected PM at the peak of the sit-ins and demos that came to characterise the popular image of student politics at the time.

Four decades later, students possessed by a placard fetish have found a new cause over the past week or so – the result of another democratic exercise on the part of ‘the People’ that hasn’t chimed with their own point of view. They’re extremely angry and they will scream and scream and scream until they get what they want. It worked on their parents when they were children, because those parents caved-in to their every demand – unlike the parent/child relationship endured by the students depicted in ‘The History Man’, who no doubt received a clout round the ear-hole whenever they acted like spoiled brats. Perhaps that’s why that generation decided on a different approach to parenting once they graduated and grew up; and look what that has left us with.

The closing caption in the final scene of the superb 1981 BBC TV adaptation of ‘The History Man’ exposes Howard Kirk’s true colours when it reveals he voted Conservative at the 1979 General Election; I suspect Howard Kirk also voted Leave in the EU Referendum, for he would now belong to the age-group that has been portrayed as the assassins of Yoof in the wake of Brexit. Despite the fact that the baby-boomers, along with tweedy Tories from the Shires and BNP/Britain First white-trash stereotypes, couldn’t have swung the result without the same decision being made by millions who don’t fall into any of the camps carrying the can, they have been singled out as responsible for condemning a generation unaccustomed to not getting their own way to perceived oblivion.

Of course, there are far wider representatives of this generation, ones who can’t afford higher education anymore than their parents can afford to fund it, and their voices have been conveniently silenced by the gap-year backpackers who shout louder than anyone else. To assume everyone under the age of 30 is out on the streets demanding the Referendum result be reversed is to ignore those twenty-somethings denied the luxury of sponging off the savings of their parents, the ones struggling to make ends meet in minimum-wage dead-end jobs without the safety net of mummy and daddy to fall back on when debts need honouring.

It is amusing how the EU has been embraced so passionately by this particular social demographic, adopting the flag as their Facebook profile picture and painting their faces in it for the obligatory demo. Yet, when questioned in vox pops on the street, their actual knowledge of the institution is embarrassingly limited, bordering on nonexistent. The EU has suddenly become a ‘cause’, and like every T-shirt subject to the vagaries of fashion, it’s only a matter of time before it’s replaced by some other hash-tag fad. Declaring the older generation have robbed them of a future or swearing to never again give up their seat on the bus to a pensioner are the reactions of political virgins and/or the ignorant. They have been raised in a blame culture as well as one in which victimhood is chic, so now they can kill two old birds with one young stone rather than questioning why so many of them decided not to exercise their democratic right by actually voting.

Ironically, voting Leave was a far more dangerous and radical move than preserving the status quo, yet it’s perhaps apt that the genuine anarchy the decision could unleash is the consequence not of the faux-radicals waving their silly placards and stamping their feet, those conservatives with a small ‘c’ who believe the communal uniform of piercings, tattoos and unnaturally coloured hair somehow signifies radicalism, but their parents, grandparents and less-privileged contemporaries. Not that they would ever accept this from the womb-like safe space of their cosy echo chamber; they simply respond to being caught out as all children do, by name-calling, finger-pointing and crying. If, as has been reported, some Leave-voters now regret their decision, there must be just as many Remain-voters watching this pitiful festival of sour grapes and wishing they’d gone Brexit after all.

© The Editor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor


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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor


EuropaWriting on the subject of his homeland in a 1941 essay titled ‘England, Your England’, George Orwell observed ‘we call our islands by no less than six different names – England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom, and, in very exalted moments, Albion.’ He went on to discuss regional and national differences between the numerous branches of Brits and then tellingly remarked ‘But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two Britons are confronted by a European.’

This sense of separation from the Continent has been theoretically in place ever since the land border that joined us to mainland Europe was flooded around 6,500-6,200 BC; and despite the fact that successive waves of immigrants from modern-day Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and France laid the foundations for virtually everything we now regard as quintessentially British, it is the Sceptered Isle image that lingers, the precious stone set in the silver sea; John of Gaunt’s words in ‘Richard II’ are evoked whenever we feel the need to stress our physical isolation from the land beyond the Channel and express both political and emotional detachment from it. But it’s worth remembering Britain – or England (incorporating large chunks of Ireland and Wales) – once regarded the Continent as its backyard when it had its very own European Empire.

What has been retrospectively labelled ‘The Angevin Empire’ stretched from the border with Scotland all the way down to the Pyrenees. The marriage of England’s King Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, former Queen of France, in 1152 was a union that took place in the shadow of a family feud known to history as ‘The Anarchy’. The death of Henry I (fourth son of William the Conqueror) without a direct heir in 1135 had instigated a crisis over the royal succession that morphed into a bloody civil war in England and Normandy – one provoked by rival claimants to the English throne, brother and sister, Stephen and Matilda. Stephen won that battle, but it was Matilda’s son Henry, already Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, who succeeded King Stephen upon his death; and Henry’s ambitions for expanding English influence across Europe could only be achieved via the capture of territories, something he was so successful at that his descendents struggled to hold onto them.

Like many of the English kings descended from the Normans, Henry II spent more time on the Continent than he did in England, something that could be viewed as either an early example of an English Europhile or simply an English monarch who regarded his ancestral homeland (and indeed, the land of his birth and eventual death) as more relevant to his identity than the country whose throne he had inherited. His youngest son King John quickly realised the immensity of trying to keep his father’s hard-fought lands together when the Angevin Empire began to disintegrate as soon as Henry II died in 1189. Following the end of the twelve-year Anglo-French War in 1214, all that remained in English hands was the Duchy of Gascony.

The battle for control of former English lands in France didn’t end there, however. It reached its violent apex with the Hundred Years’ War between England and France from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, and though England was the ultimate loser in a series of conflicts that saw power – and land – change hands regularly, including Henry V’s triumph at Agincourt in 1415 (leading to the greatest recapture of former English territories since the collapse of the Angevin Empire), the legacy of what England had won and lost on the Continent lingered. Indeed, English sovereigns retained their claim to the French throne until as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By then, of course, England had been reborn through unions with its nearest neighbours as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and maritime trade way beyond the borders of Europe had put down roots in the wider world that gradually grew into the largest Empire the world has ever seen, utterly overshadowing the English’s medieval ownership of European soil. Despite ruling over a quarter of the world’s population at the peak of the British Empire, however, the international British still played a part in Europe’s future fortunes, none more so than in its defeat of Napoleonic France at Waterloo and participation in the Crimean War a generation later.

The two World Wars that followed in the twentieth century again underlined that ancient British ties to Europe were still intact, regardless of the fact that our Empire-cum-Commonwealth had a greater claim on our national identity up until the middle of that century. And we are a country, lest we forget, still headed by a monarch whose roots are European – roots that are, of course, German, descended as Elizabeth II is from the House of Hanover.

The oft-quoted 1962 comment by President Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson – ‘Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role’ – was uttered when the nation felt itself trapped in an irreversible decline, though renewing marital vows with our Continental cousins was entered into as means of arresting that decline. The success or failure of this intervention depends entirely on one’s opinion of its necessity; but the idea that we’ve only been European since January 1 1973 is a fallacy.

Today you have the rare opportunity to play your own little part in our long and extremely complicated relationship with the land mass we were once physically attached to. By the time you read this, you may have already played it. If not, make sure you do so before the polls close; and may the best man, woman and non-binary individual win.

© The Editor


EUWhen recalling his first meeting with Yoko Ono, John Lennon often remarked that the avant-garde artist’s exhibition he received a sneak preview of contained a tiny message at the top of a stepladder that could only be viewed with a magnifying glass. The message read simply ‘Yes’, something that sold Yoko to Lennon because he claimed it was the first positive statement he’d seen at an art show in years. Had that message read ‘No’, pop cultural history could possibly have been quite different. In a very roundabout way, this seems to me one of the problems the Leave campaigners have had in the Referendum wars that have resumed following a moment’s pause for Jo Cox.

No, Out or Leave as Brexit buzzwords can’t help but come across as negatives, the linguistic equivalents of the pub bore bemoaning everything new or innovative, forever giving the thumbs down and dragging the drinkers down with him. True, one could also attach positive attributes to No, Out or Leave; they could represent the teenager preparing to fly the family nest, stand on his own two feet and take control of his own destiny despite a smothering mother wanting him to stay; but the overall feeling I’m getting from the message of Brexit is not one that inspires positivity.

A great deal of the pro-Leave propaganda, certainly online, appears to emanate from very angry people, some of whom are old enough to have voted No in 1975, and who have had a bee in their bonnet about Europe ever since the vote went against them 41 years ago. By comparison, the most passionate advocates of Remain within social media outlets would appear to be mostly those who weren’t even a twinkle in the milkman’s son’s eye at the time of the EEC Referendum, and they don’t exhibit quite the same frothing-at-the-mouth fanaticism emanating from the most vociferous of the Brexit brigade.

I once heard it said that Britain was more or less offered governance of the embryonic Common Market in the 1950s, but spurned the opportunity to sit at the head of the European table because it was still too attached to the remnants of the Empire and was more concerned with gracefully bowing out of its colonial commitments than focusing its attention closer to home. That may or may not be true – and I would imagine French historians would probably dispute it; but it does perhaps reflect the half-hearted nature of our relationship with our Continental cousins. Not belonging to the Eurozone and not adopting the Euro is something that underlines a consistency running throughout our 44-year European adventure. We have always had one foot in and one foot out. But it’s possible this has been to our overall advantage since 1972.

Nigel Farage’s determination in constantly reducing the debate to the solitary subject of immigration, and proudly standing beside that dubious poster, has only reinforced his one-trick pony reputation and seems to have put the brakes on the progress of the Brexit horse that was racing ahead of Remain this time last week. With big business and big names on the Remain side lining-up to sing the praises of EU membership, Leave has been painted as the true voice of ‘the little people’, the choice of the brave and the bold outsider; but if Leave is presented as the ‘radical’ option, this could well prove to be its undoing, as the British are by nature a conservative people who are more likely to stick with the status quo than venture into the unknown.

Yes, we have a proud record of radicals and rebels throughout our history, but these tend to be isolated individuals rather than representative of the masses. A maverick such as Farage is in many respects a liability to the Leave campaign; but so skilled is he at generating headlines that it’s been hard for the less incendiary members of the Brexit persuasion to overshadow his rapacious capacity for publicity. Farage is the first pupil in the class that the new teacher gets to know the name of because he’s incapable of shutting up.

Initially, it was the Remain camp that appeared to be alienating public opinion with their pathetic insistence on horror stories, something that had relented a little until Gideon’s own-goal last week; but whether or not the tasteless threat of an emergency austerity budget will do for them what Farage’s billboard could do for the opposition remains to be seen – for the next couple of days, anyway. Farage’s accusation that Remain have exploited the death of Jo Cox for political gain may have a grain of truth to it, but evoking her name so soon after re-boarding a campaign express momentarily derailed by her shocking murder might prove to be another mistimed comment in a campaign that has had its fair share of them on both sides.

Tonight we have the grand finale of what has been a largely ineffective series of TV debates, and one that promises to be the most ludicrously showbizzy of the lot, staged at Wembley Arena. I envisage a cross between a rock concert and a Billy Graham rally and I doubt a single viewer still undecided will probably be persuaded either way. As things stand, just 48 hours from polling day, I’ve a distinct feeling the public are slowly edging away from Brexit. But don’t quote me on that. I’m not a betting man.

© The Editor


ScumSomebody somewhere is probably running a sweepstake as we speak, taking bets on which household name will be next to kick the bucket in 2016. Were I a betting man, I’d wager Bruce Forsyth is a good candidate. He’s 88, after all; and recent reports suggest his health isn’t exactly blooming. Should, God forbid, Brucie bite the bullet before the year is out, one doesn’t exactly require a degree in rocket science to predict the media response when he goes.

News bulletins will make the announcement of his passing the lead story. We’ll be served up a montage of his best bits stitched together by a television obituary editor four or five years ago, encompassing ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, ‘The Generation Game’, ‘Play Your Cards Right’, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and – if we’re lucky – a rare glimpse of the legendary car-crash that was ‘Bruce’s Big Night’, the show that persuaded viewers going out was preferable to an evening in front of the TV set. After this, we’ll be treated to a couple of special tribute programmes on both BBC1 and ITV, featuring talking heads rhapsodising about how great Brucie was, even though he was still alive and kicking when they were asked to discuss him in the past tense.

To be honest, this has been the pattern when famous faces snuff it for decades, and the whole coverage will be rounded off by footage of a service in honour of Brucie’s memory on the news, one where spotting decrepit old entertainers arriving at the church will at some point be accompanied by a ‘I thought they were dead’ comment. However, there’s a new element to the passing of national treasures now. Barely will the soil have settled beneath the headstone before a previously silent voice from the past will emerge onto the same front pages that praised Brucie a couple of months before, declaring Brucie groped/raped/molested/murdered them in the 70s.

Rather uniquely, Brucie was captured on camera having a shifty squeeze of a middle-aged lady’s ample bosom on a 1972-ish edition of ‘The Generation Game’. The original uncut version may well still be on YouTube somewhere, but it’s here in this spoof; if your stomach can’t take the foul-mouthed festival that precedes it, fast forward to 13:42…

Now, of course, I am in no way suggesting the still-living Bruce Forsyth was a child-raping Satanic sexual deviant or that he in any way had a hand in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann when he was at the peak of his popularity; I’ll leave that kind of speculation to the Survivors™, the Victims™, the Mail and the Express, ITV’s documentary department, and the ambulance-chasing law-firms that will all have a vested interest in such flights of fancy once he’s been banished to that great game show studio in the sky. Besides, they’re too busy at the moment unburdening their bladders on other graves down here whilst TV archivists spend yet more exhausting hours hacking their way through old programmes to remove the presence of any newly-classified perverts.

It was interesting that the widow of the late Clement Freud should issue an ‘apology’ to those who were apparently exposed to his alleged sexual perversions, as though to do so was a pre-emptive response to evade Sonia Sutcliffe-style accusations heading in her direction. Of course, what happens next is out of her hands and will never be in them. Her late husband’s long life, career and reputation have been trashed overnight and – until the distant day when the sun can be sighted hovering over our dark horizon – permanently. The fresh-from-therapy accusers are, naturally, telling the truth; the police are, naturally, taking these accusations seriously (probably regarding them as ‘credible and true’); and everyone on social media bar those prepared to be showered in a barrage of bile must accept the consensus that one more dead man whose wit, intelligence and bewildering array of talents are utterly at odds with the comfy mediocrity of the present day was a despicable pervert who got away with murder for decades because his POWER condemned those who suffered at his hands to a silence that was only broken by the secure knowledge that the dead can’t sue and the living will pay handsomely for a good sob story.

Show me the next deceased celeb, and I’ll show you the next retrospective Paedo. Place your bets now.


TwatWith polls giving the Brexit camp a lead over the Remain brigade, a day when Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof exchanged certain highly apt hand gestures at each other from competing battle barges on the Thames has seen Gideon pull out his most laughable threat yet in the ongoing saga of Project Fear. The Chancellor promises an ‘austerity budget’ is being prepared should the electorate go against his wishes, punishing the people if they dare to vote leave. So, the school bully who has joined his fellow scaremongers in promising billions will suddenly shower down on all the public services he’s spent the past six years dismantling and destroying with such ruthless relish and callous disregard is now taking control of the impending apocalypse by planning to bring about a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This is perhaps the clearest indication yet that with barely one week to go to Euro D Day, the Remain team are getting increasingly desperate. Any further despicable gimmicks on this scale and more and more don’t-knows are not going to view staying in the EU as a viable alternative to leaving it. If George Osborne’s gamble backfires, part of me hopes it spells the end for him more than it spells the end for Britain’s membership of a club that couldn’t be more unattractive if it was run by Peter Stringfellow. The way things are going Osborne could well prove to be Brexit’s greatest asset, the nauseating little slimeball.

© The Editor


NeilI used to laugh at the recurrence of the image in ‘Private Eye’ as much as everyone who used to regularly request it – the middle-aged man in a vest and a baseball cap arm-in-arm with a buxom beauty half his age. But the truth is that Andrew Neil, and I refrain from references to Brillo Pads, remains the best political interviewer on television, and an asset to the BBC in an age when they’ve allowed so many of their assets to cross the floor of the broadcasting house, leaving the ever-changing reporting line-up on ‘Newsnight’ often resembling the results of some latter-day YTS scheme.

This week Andrew Neil grilled Hilary Benn, George Osborne and Nigel Farage in a way that they were spared during the last General Election, when the far less challenging Evan Davis was let loose on the big players. Neil takes no prisoners in a manner that was once the hallmark of Paxman and Robin Day before him; but perhaps because he doesn’t front one of the heavyweight prime-time jewels in the BBC’s political crown, Neil seems to be short of the pompous flamboyance that his predecessors wore with such arrogant pride and is therefore liable to catch the unsuspecting politician by surprise. Somewhat hidden away both on the insomniac’s favourite twilight hours political programme, ‘This Week’, as well as the lunchtime ‘Daily Politics’ and ‘Sunday Politics’, his presence during what used to be referred to in TV parlance as ‘down-time’ means Andrew Neil could in some respects be described as television’s best-kept secret.

Even on ‘This Week’, his chummy ribbing of Michael Portillo and whichever Labour outsider Mr ‘Choo-Choo’ is saddled with can often mask his killer instinct when he sniffs blood or perhaps should that be the stench of hypocrisy. Diane Abbott was Portillo’s regular sidekick for several years on the show, yet that didn’t prevent Neil from memorably putting her on the spot when it emerged that Mrs Socialist of Hackney had sent her children to a private school. Clearly not anticipating an attack from a man she probably imagined would respectfully avoid the sensitive issue, Abbott was literally rendered dumb by Neil’s unexpected inquisition, reduced to staring at her inquisitor as he put the painful question to her, seemingly incapable of answering. I realised then that if Neil could ride roughshod over presumed immunity from interrogation on account of a long-standing association, he could tackle anyone who deserved it.

An early TV outing for Andrew Neil as a reporter for ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in a special 1976 edition looking at Scottish North Sea Oil emerged on YouTube a few years back as part of an off-air ‘Top of the Pops’ recording; but it was primarily as a newspaper man that he made his name. After a long spell at ‘The Economist’, Neil was hired by Rupert Murdoch as surprise editor of the Sunday Times in 1983; the Digger’s well-publicised hatred of the British establishment that had rejected him as an uncouth Aussie meant that Neil fitted in with the anti-Old School Tie approach Murdoch favoured. Neil often courted controversy when at the helm of the paper, none more so than when he was linked with a former beauty queen called Pamella Bordes, a relationship that climaxed with a libel case against the Sunday Telegraph, which Neil won.

A more significant relationship, that with Rupert Murdoch, eventually soured in the mid-1990s, despite Neil being prominent amongst the early figureheads of Sky Television. Rumours suggest Murdoch grew jealous of Neil’s increasing celebrity. He remained active in print media, but it was TV that gave Neil the platform to showcase his talent for asking politicians the kind of questions they’d rather gloss over. By the 2000s, Neil was a permanent fixture of the BBC’s political programming, even if none of the shows he presented were aired at a time of day when a large audience was guaranteed. It could be argued this is one of Andrew Neil’s secret weapons. Westminster wags clad in tie-less, open-necked shirts expecting a cosy chinwag on a lunchtime or late-night sofa are often caught out by the deceptive illusion of a lightweight breakfast TV ambience.

Some of his past endeavours have not been entirely admirable; even during the 2010 General Election the Beeb relegated him to a frivolous spot interviewing famous Tory supporters on a pleasure boat. But Neil’s three one-on-one grillings of key figures from both sides of the EU debate this past week have been, for me, the stand-out programmes so far screened in the recent glut of Referendum-themed shows, certainly a superior contrast with the glitzy, so-called debates starring token (if not specially-chosen) members of the public over on ITV. He might wax lyrically on the benefits of Blue Nun and Annabel’s nightclub, but politicians will receive no harder ride on TV if they’re asking for it. And let’s face it, most are.

© The Editor


2 RonniesLast Sunday, BBC Parliament transmitted one of its occasional themed evenings, when it dips into the well-preserved political archives of the Beeb and offers viewers the opportunity to compare then and now. The theme this time round was, unsurprisingly, the EEC Referendum of 1975. We had snippets from news broadcasts and ‘Nationwide’, campaign ads from both camps, the full two-hour results programme from the day after the vote, and even an edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ reviewing the sights and sounds of the year when the British public last had their say on Europe.

For those of us who have a strange addictive fascination with beige backdrops, purple ties and black-rimmed specs, these evenings are binge viewing experiences unlike any other. It’s also unmissable when the studio presenter cuts to a man on the street – in this case, two much-missed political reporters, Charles Wheeler and Vincent Hanna. A glimpse of the public crowding around behind them and occasionally being asked their opinion on developments is a curiously unique insight into not only the way Joe Public thought 40-odd years ago, but also how he looked. A cornucopia of Dickensian hairstyles, and not a piercing, tattoo or ‘casual’ outfit in sight; everyone looks like they’re on their way to a night at the theatre.

For me, the two stand-out programmes on Sunday night were the Oxford Union Debate and the ‘Panorama’ clash between Labour Cabinet Ministers Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn.

The former was televised to a huge audience in the absence of cameras at the Commons, and as well as a bizarre mix of students, from the anticipated King Crimson roadies to 20-year-olds who already resembled 50-year-olds, the case for both sides of the argument was put by Barbara Castle and Peter Shore (The ‘No’ camp) and Jeremy Thorpe and Ted Heath (‘Yes’). All four put their case across in a way that was largely devoid of the meaningless Birt-isms that plague political speeches in 2016, speaking plainly and passionately without recourse to a familiar collection of words in a specific, road-tested order that appear to say everything whilst actually saying nothing at all. Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, a year away from the scandal that cost him his job and killed his career, was immensely entertaining. Always a somewhat theatrical orator, he stole the show with a witty, flamboyant performance that nevertheless made the point in a manner that held the audience’s attention. It’s hard to imagine any of the contenders in the upcoming Wembley bash having either the ability or the allotted time to state their case with such panache.

As for the famous ‘Panorama’ heavyweight bout between Jenkins and Benn, it often reminded me of the equally famed showdown between former Leeds Utd boss Don Revie and his just-sacked successor Brian Clough, broadcast the year before. As Austin Mitchell did during that encounter, presenter David Dimbleby gradually sat back and allowed the opposing colleagues to simply get on with it. And they did, delivering a compelling master class in restrained antipathy. Benn had yet to fully develop the more eccentric extremism that contributed towards Jenkins’ eventual exodus from Labour five years later, and both men were true to their core convictions, able to argue the toss free from being consistently interrupted by an egocentric host clearly seeking his own chat show.

It’s a pity the programme makers of today haven’t used this example of televisual political discourse as the template for the now-customary leaders debates instead of the stop-start American Presidential model.

This format was in evidence on ITV this week, when David Cameron and Nigel Farage were invited to persuade the public that their personal vision of Britain either with or without the EU was the right one. Only, they didn’t go head-to-head; both had around 20 minutes to get their point across alone, as well as engaging with the token and obligatory studio audience and a selection of utterly predictable questions to which they gave utterly predictable answers. Farage was accused of racism by a black woman; Cameron responded to every question by falling back on his standard Churchillian script that only required ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in the background to complete the patriotic picture. The whole exercise was flatter than a transsexual’s pre-op chest.

Tomorrow, we’re promised a six-way Remain/Brexit debate, which means even less time for the participants to get their scripted points across as well as the prospect of some truly foul-tasting broth; however, if Tuesday’s idea of a two-hander was anything to go by, it hardly seems worth investing in that as a means of seriously debating the issue. It’s difficult to believe that any don’t-know will have their mind made up by these essentially useless interventions into the argument on the part of an industry too rooted in the fast-cutting MTV school of broadcasting and the need to give every subject a Cowell-esque makeover for fear of audiences switching over. At least in the days of party political broadcasts, those that did switch over were confronted by the same programme on all channels. Viewers had no choice but to listen, and maybe minds were made up that way.

© The Editor