Amess MurderI’ve only ever encountered my local MP in his surgery the once; it was around six or seven years ago and I made the appointment whilst working on my book, ‘Looking for Alison’. I needed help accessing London crown court records from the early 1990s and I’d hit so many brick walls with the courts themselves that I turned to my elected representative as a last resort. I should’ve approached him earlier, for his Parliamentary clout opened doors I hadn’t been able to and enabled me to bring the curtain down on an especially difficult chapter in the research. The location of his surgery was a community centre I’d visited several years before due to it hosting a pre-school playgroup that came in handy when I was babysitting my then-girlfriend’s infant daughter. Never having had cause to meet my elected representative before, I’d imagined MPs had special, purpose-built surgeries like GPs up until that point; but temporarily renting somewhere for a fortnightly or monthly meeting with constituents made sense. The fact that the chosen venues tend to be places where members of the public congregate – rather than, say, official constituency party premises – also helps cement a connection between elected and electorate that Honourable Member status often negates.

The estrangement of MPs from the people can give the appearance of being an unbridgeable chasm. If, say, the MP has a pro-Remain stance and the majority of his or her constituents are Brexiteers, there is an instant schism; moreover, too much time spent in the Westminster bubble and mistaking Twitter for a barometer of public opinion can falsely inflate issues that are minority concerns into major causes – something the Labour Party’s suicidal pandering to Trans activists who only represent a tiny section of the ‘Trans community’ has shown in recent years. I’ve never had a local MP who happens to be a Cabinet Minister, but such figures must seem even more remote should that be the case; yet the tradition of every MP – even those whose most publicised encounters are with VIPs – submitting to less newsworthy encounters with their humble constituents probably serves as the sole means of keeping the more high-flying Parliamentarians a little grounded. This was brilliantly portrayed in ‘In The Loop’, the movie version of ‘The Thick of It’, when Tom Hollander’s Minister for International Development is preoccupied by transatlantic affairs yet has to endure a Northampton constituent (played by Steve Coogan) moaning on and on about a ‘bloody wall’.

Perhaps the unique tradition of the MP’s constituency surgery is maybe the only opportunity we the voters have to approach our representatives and see the men or women behind the hype; it certainly offers us a more human vision than the less genuine performance that comes when they’re electioneering or avoiding answering questions on ‘Newsnight’ or the ‘Today’ programme. I can only speak of my own personal experience in that the solitary surgery meeting I had paid off and the MP in question earned my vote at the following General Election; the fact he ended up losing his seat is beside the point, for I appreciated the chance to communicate my particular problem to him – something it’s surprising how many people out there are unaware they have the right to.

From all accounts, it would seem a backbencher of almost 40 years’ vintage like Sir David Amess was the kind of MP his constituents felt they could approach in such a manner and he would make the effort to help them if they needed it. The essential importance of such a role for an MP cannot be underestimated, especially in times like these, when politicians can so often give the impression of being utterly detached from the everyday concerns of their constituents. MPs shouldn’t be bracketed alongside movie stars or pop stars, surrounded by minders and only glimpsed by the public for a few seconds as they disembark from chauffeur-driven cars and evade the crowds to dash indoors; all that does is reinforce the opinion of them as a cosseted elite a breed apart from the man and woman in the street. Following yesterday’s events, some of David Amess’s fellow MPs have called for an end to the face-to-face surgery; another veteran MP, Sir Bernard Jenkin, has claimed the tradition is increasingly irrelevant now that Zoom conferences have become the norm in so many businesses and the in-person constituency is something he regards as ‘frankly not really necessary’. The reaction of Jenkin could be seen as an understandable knee-jerk response in the wake of a shocking incident, but I think to abandon such a vital form of communication between elected and electorate would be a mistake.

When I attended my one and only surgery, it was before the murder of Jo Cox by a constituent – which, of course, took place in the street and not at her actual surgery; I recall there was just the MP and his PA present, no minder or armed police officer, and I wasn’t searched before entering the room just in case I happened to be carrying a concealed weapon. I was surprised, in a way; I thought I might at least have to pass through the kind of security check one gets when entering a magistrates’ court, i.e. having to empty one’s pockets and so on. There had been serious physical attacks on MPs prior to Jo Cox, most notably Labour MP Stephen Timms, who survived an attempted murder by an Islamic extremist stabbing him with a kitchen knife at his surgery in 2010. A decade before, Lib Dem MP Nigel Jones had been attacked at his surgery by a constituent wielding a Samurai sword; Jones survived the attack, but his assistant was killed. Post-Jo Cox, I suspect security was probably tightened-up at surgeries, but balancing the need for personal safety and the rare opportunity to confront constituents remains a tricky one for MPs.

Sir David Amess held a fortnightly surgery in his Southend constituency and on the fatal day the surgery was taking place in a Methodist church; his assailant was apparently stood in a queue to see the MP inside the church and emerged from the line when his name was called armed with a knife. The unnamed 25-year-old man stabbed Amess several times, and though the MP was rushed to hospital it would appear he died at the scene. The killer is believed to be a British national of Somali heritage and after several hours of speculation, the murder of David Amess has been labelled a ‘terror incident’, suggesting there was some political or ideological motivation on the part of the murderer. This in itself is nothing new; the 2010 attack on Stephen Timms was carried out by a Muslim woman incensed by the fact Timms had voted for the invasion of Iraq, whilst we all recall the far-right/white supremacist leanings of the man who murdered Jo Cox.

Unless we’re simply talking about a mentally disturbed individual whose internal demons will be manifested as a violent act without the need for a ‘cause’, it was perhaps inevitable such an association would rear its ugly head. Naturally, there have been some on social media who have blamed the increasingly incendiary atmosphere in British politics ever since Brexit; and while I personally don’t think some politicians help by disengaging their mouths from their brains when opportunistically scoring points, I don’t really believe one can hold, say, the gormless ‘Tory Scum’ rant of Angela Rayner any more responsible for the death of David Amess than some of Nigel Farage’s more inflammatory comments on the eve of the 2016 Referendum somehow provoked the murder of Jo Cox. Yes, the atmosphere in and around Westminster – and the way in which the public receives edited highlights deliberately edited to feature the most ‘dramatic’ moments – can generate disgust and apathy, but for most that would simply be translated at the ballot box via a protest vote or an abstention; the less balanced mind can take a different route, though the chances of MPs encountering a mind travelling that route at their surgeries is mercifully rare, and this horrific incident shouldn’t curtail what remains one of our democracy’s more levelling traditions.

© The Editor




According to what passes for ‘the Left’ today, cancel culture is merely a figment of the right-wing imagination, a collective conspiracy theory with no grounding in reality. The guardians of the new cultural order – keeping the peace on campus, in the workplace and online – are kind, compassionate, tolerant sorts, preaching love and understanding whilst denouncing hate, whether written down, spoken or simply thought of. And that’s evident in the way they respond to anyone they perceive to be questioning their Utopia. They spread their message through cyberspace like a benign virus that smells of fresh flowers and newborn babies. This makes the wrong see the error of their ways via gentle, sympathetic persuasion; and if the wrong continue to be resistant, they convince the wrong it’s more effective in the long run if they step forward and admit they’re wrong before conversion to the right side of history can begin. After all, the first step to admitting one is an alcoholic is to stand up at an AA meeting and say it out loud.

Mumford & Sons – perhaps the dullest band since sliced Dire Straits – have effectively dispensed with the services of their banjo player Winston Marshall this week, though it helped that he conveniently fell on his sword after some of that gentle online persuasion. His crime was to publicly state how much he admired a recent critical exposé of that cuddly anarchist collective Antifa in a book by journalist Andy Ngo. ‘Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy’ is evidently not deemed to be suitable reading material – I mean, was ‘White Fragility’ out on loan at Marshall’s local library or something? Anyhow, sounding suspiciously like he might harbour the wrong opinions, Marshall did his best to appease the outraged masses (i.e. a few pink-heads on Twitter) by issuing the kind of grovelling public apology that used to be written on a board slung around the neck during the Cultural Revolution. He announced he was taking a break from the band to ‘examine his blind-spots’. I hear the CCP has a decent re-education camp in Xinjiang if you’re interested in some intellectual cleansing, Winston.

Hot on the heels of such a shocking revelation that the outlaw spirit of rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and kicking, another dramatic act of voluntary cancellation also took place this week. Piers Morgan, the sweaty tomato of breakfast television, stormed off-set during a live broadcast of ‘Good Morning Britain’ and will not be returning. No great loss to yours truly, as I’ve never seen the programme in question beyond snippets that routinely appear on social media; but a man who has turned hypocritical double standards into an art-form by spouting some of the worst lecturing and hectoring pro-lockdown fanaticism whilst simultaneously jetting off to Antigua for a pre-Christmas break is not one it’s easy to warm to. Even his hissy fit had all the appearance of a classic self-important prima donna gesture when replayed endlessly across Twitter in the hours after it happened.

Moron was seemingly incensed by a supine defence of the Duchess of Woke’s latest sob story from one of those endless slimy ‘royal experts’ who pepper television that airs when most people are either at work or still in bed. The co-host of the show wouldn’t back down on his own personal (and less favourable) opinion of Harry’s missus when before the cameras; and, as it turns out, he wouldn’t back down off-camera either – especially when ITV bosses told him to publicly refute everything he’d previously said about the new queen of our hearts. Apparently, in the wake of that exiled actress having played the mental health as well as the race card, one is not allowed to call out her bullshit and one must praise her stunning bravery. Morgan refused to budge, and according to reports, he walked rather than take the Winston Marshall route of apologising when you’ve nothing to apologise for. Lest we forget, an opinion is subjective; it’s both right and wrong, depending where you stand. Airing an opinion is not a crime; neither is refusing to fawn at the feet of a privileged professional victim – yet.

I guess it is quite amusing that a sanctimonious American millionairess has become the current darling of the Guardianistas, perhaps telling you everything you need to know about where the priorities of the so-called Left are situated in 2021. Most of the Grauniad’s journos were probably at school with Prince Harry, anyway. Up the workers and all that. Mind you, it’s no great surprise that the kind of frivolous fodder that excites the chattering classes means jack shit to the wider population; after all, the wider population has more pressing concerns right now. A year of being subjected to the kind of repressive restrictions on civil liberties that would’ve left Erich Honecker thinking ‘Bloody hell, that’s a bit much’ means the majority of the British people are hardly going to be sympathetic to luxury whingeing from the resident of a Californian mansion. But, of course, every Identitarian utterance of Her Royal Wokeness is politicised. Everything from Mr Potato Head to Dr Seuss is politicised now – as is a tragic event that anyone seeking to politicise should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for doing so; but, naturally a) they do and b) they’re not.

When MP Jo Cox was murdered on the eve of the 2016 EU Referendum, the ramifications of the horrible killing continued to ricochet through parliamentary discourse in the worst possible way for several years afterwards, and it was often a way that was hardly respectful to the murdered woman’s memory. Labour MP and long-time opportunistic offender Jess Phillips invoked Jo Cox’s name and the fate that befell her during one of the heated debates leading up the Great Prorogue of 2019, implying that Boris Johnson’s clumsy attempts to shut up the opposition benches in order that he might speak without being drowned out by screams of ‘Tory Scum’ somehow equated with the ‘silencing’ of Jo Cox. And now that her felicitous flirtation with running for her party’s leadership seems extremely distant, Phillips has finally resurfaced to air her much-needed words and wisdom on another murder that has only just resulted in the discovery of a body.

But Phillips is not alone. Baroness Jones, the…er…world famous Green Party Peer has suggested the introduction of a 6pm curfew for men in the light of human remains – apparently those of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, missing for over a week – being found in woodland in Kent. The fact a serving Met officer has been arrested on suspicion of murder has presented some with a gruesome gift; we all know the organisation is institutionally racist, so I guess the appalling (alleged) actions of one employee must mean it’s institutionally sexist as well. What about institutionally f***ing useless? I guess putting police on the streets at night might help generate a greater sense of safety, but it’s surely more important to invest in daytime patrols looking out for pensioners on park benches that need a damn good fining.

Social media has been full of the usual suspects rushing to hijack the murder of someone none of them knew and claiming it for their cause; Sarah Everard is now representative of all violence towards women, something that is as inherent in the male of the species as racism is in anyone with white skin. All those exploiting this tragedy to fit an existing agenda are beneath contempt. Are any of them considering the feelings of Sarah Everard’s loved ones in all this, those who might actually want to grieve in private as the shock sinks in – something that would be greatly helped without her name being used in a game of political pass-the-parcel by despicable parasites who should (but rarely do) know better? Clearly not. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to draw any positives from this one.

© The Editor


There’s a familiar thread running through social media at the moment that dismisses and demonises anyone uncomfortable with the canonisation of a certain 16-year-old; it’s one of many examples designed to deter any critique of this specific consensus, accusing anyone with the nerve to compose one as being entirely motivated by hatred of the girl’s gender as well as her cause. Personally, I’ve nothing against either, but I reserve the right to ask questions. However, to challenge the accepted narrative immediately brands the challenger a climate change-denying misogynist – or something along those lines, anyway. Of course, this is a weapon utilised on a depressingly regular basis today, a means of closing down debate with a simplistic insult. Dispute the perceived collective wisdom of anything and the instant retort is the kind of shaming that places one alongside the likes of Piers Morgan and Katy Hopkins – and who would relish a threesome with them?

Anyone querying the deification of Greta Thunberg is immediately attacked as picking on a little girl, yet surely expressing concern at the unhealthy overexposure this teenager is receiving – both from the politicians fawning at her feet in the same opportunistic fashion they once reserved for Mother Theresa, and the absent parents whose care of an apparently autistic adolescent seems to be severely lacking – shows more humanity than encouraging the ongoing and irresponsible adoration of someone occupying such a dangerous spotlight. The elevation of Greta Thunberg to messiah-like status seems to be confirmation that, for some, the climate change issue has morphed into a religious movement. I also find the promotion of Thunberg to her current omnipotence disturbingly reminiscent of an old-school child-star – and we all know what became of many of them.

Like so much of what constitutes contemporary discourse, however, we have been here before. During the similarly-confused early 70s Age of Aquarius, the rejection of orthodox faith by hippies resulted in a multitude of alternatives, one of which was the Divine Light Mission. This organisation had its roots in India, but found a receptive audience in the West when its leader, Prem Rawat – under the hereditary title of Guru Maharaji – was hailed by his disciples as ‘the second Christ’ at the tender age of 15 and made publicised tours of the UK and US, including the overhyped ‘Millennium ‘73’ festival at the Houston Aerodrome. Rawat was essentially Billy Graham in a kaftan, a post-Maharishi beneficiary of the hunger of western youth disillusioned with western panaceas for spiritual guidance, and he briefly managed to attract the patronage of several prominent counter-cultural personalities who carried clout among his target audience.

It certainly is a recurring trend that when a society experiences a destabilising and traumatic sequence of shake-ups to the established order that groups emerge to embrace and promote a cause with zealous fanaticism. It happened after the English Civil War, when numerous Puritan cults took possession of a people suddenly robbed of God in human form (i.e. the beheaded King); and it was no great surprise there was a resurgence of this fad following the cultural upheaval of the late 60s, when the materialistic trappings of the consumerist society were found to be spiritually unsatisfying. Traditional Christianity had been sold as the answer in the same way as soap powder to children of the 50s, so that couldn’t be relied upon. Heads turned to the East, and the East exploited the craving. The presence of sects-cum-corporations such as the Divine Light Mission confirmed the deep desire for something approximating the false security of religion in a secular society; and it would seem the climate change bandwagon fulfils that inherent longing today.

We hardly reside in the most secure of times, so it’s no wonder this pattern has resurfaced, nor is it a surprise that an unlikely individual has been pushed forward as a figurehead for those susceptible to the power of nightmares. Trump, Bo-Jo and Jezza don’t exactly inspire confidence, so why not a Scandinavian schoolgirl in pigtails? There always seems to be a need for Jesus whenever the world goes through one of its periodical spells of uncertainty, and with the man from Nazareth perennially reluctant to embark upon his much-heralded comeback tour, someone has to fill the void. But there should be room to question the wisdom of devotion without being shouted down in a manner that suggests the devoted aren’t quite as secure in that devotion as they’d like to convince us. Yet their approach in silencing anyone expressing a healthy instinct to ask questions is common currency.

A week in which the ghost of a dead politician was cynically and shamelessly exhumed as a desperate means of injecting some emotional weight into a point-scoring contest was further confirmation of this tactic’s current success. Who is going to continue an argument when the name of Jo Cox is evoked to instantly kill debate? And MPs eager to dispatch a Commons clash as a clip to bolster their Twitter standing need to condense a complex issue into a sound-bite for the social media masses, so deliver their contribution in the best Oscar-winning manner to satisfy the nature of the beast. Any deeper nuances are sacrificed to the quick-fire MTV-edit style of a movie trailer and the drama of the one-liner.

Accepting everything and questioning nothing has never been part of my makeup, though in times such as these, refusing to accept either side as sole owners of the moral high-ground and reluctance to be claimed as the darling of one over the other can leave some people puzzled. I’ve been accused of right-wingery on here, just as I was labelled a lefty when I wrote for another blog; I’m happy to be called both, because to me it means I’m neither. And that says I’m doing something right. This is evident in the content of the collected volumes I shall now plug as though I’m no better than a Hollywood whore on the Graham Norton Show…

Volume One is divided into three chapters: 1) Village Idiots (Westminster, Brexit and beyond the bubble); 2) Those We Have Loved and Those We Have Lost (Pop and the personal); 3) It Was a Very Bad Year (Posts from the edge). Volume Two boasts five chapters: 1) Pop Life and Death (Overtures and obituaries); 2) The Wild West (Once upon a time in America); 3) Listen to the Banned (Censorship, culture wars and the politics of identity); 4) Overseas Development (And now for the rest of the world); 5) It Could Be Yewtree (False allegations, fishing parties, witch-hunts and hysteria). Volume Three has four chapters: 1) Part of the Union (Beasts from the East and European empires); 2) Social Insecurity (The department of ill-health or homeless under the hammer); 3) War in Europe (A multicultural mainland and the Great British Jihad); 4) The Home Front (The Disunited Kingdom of Little Britain and Northern Ireland). And finally, Volume Four is down to a trio: 1) Shit-storm (Referendums, Elections and the weak in Westminster); 2) Apolitical Interludes (Pop culture eats itself – and everything else); 3) (Almost) Everything but the Brexit (The bubble & squeak of all essays).

If you’re concerned as to the potential transience of the digital medium – not to mention intimidated at the prospect of slogging through four years’ worth of posts in search of a favourite essay that can now be accessed via the flick of a page – maybe one of the volumes is for you. But don’t dawdle; we might not have much time left…

© The Editor


The legend of the Lone Wolf in recent history can probably be traced back to Lee Harvey Oswald, though he was more commonly referred to as the Lone Gunman, a label that became so embedded in popular culture that a team of conspiracy theory geeks in ‘The X-Files’ named themselves after it. A Lone Wolf or Gunman has always been a difficult concept for the general public to wrestle with, as though the thought of an attack at the heart of democracy surely requires a complex network of vested interests. After all, John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln, was part of a plot involving a team of individuals intending to revive the fading Confederate cause by killing the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State. Only Wilkes Booth succeeded in his aim and his is the sole name history records from the aborted operation.

Even further back than Lincoln’s assassination, Spencer Perceval – the solitary British PM to have been assassinated – was murdered by a Lone Gunman named John Bellingham in 1812. No doubt at the time newspapers cast doubts over Bellingham’s singular role in the assassination and speculated as to a wider plot being afoot in such unstable times. Just eight years later, the Cato Street Conspiracy was a genuine team effort to murder PM Lord Liverpool and his entire Cabinet, hatched by a group already regarded as a revolutionary organisation; it was foiled courtesy of a police informant, though reinforced the common belief that such audacious schemes couldn’t be attributed to one individual.

The speculative industry that has grown around events on 22 November 1963 largely refuses to countenance the idea that one man could execute a plot to take out the President, even if there has never been concrete evidence of CIA, FBI, KGB, Cuban or Mafia involvement in Oswald’s actions that day. It often feels reminiscent of the theory that an oik from the sticks was incapable of penning the greatest theatrical canon in the English language, as though the genius of Shakespeare or the nerve of Oswald somehow highlights both the mediocrity of the masses and their absence of nihilistic ambition. There had to have been more than one man because we couldn’t do what he did without a team behind us.

The gradual realisation that last week’s 24-hour Public Enemy Number One, Adrian Russell Elms (AKA Khalid Masood), appears to have acted alone and not as part of a group hell-bent on attacking the Mother of All Parliaments has again raised these same issues. But the amateurish and ill-thought-out nature of his attempt strikes me as the classic clueless desperation of a disturbed individual with nothing to live for but the prospect of trashy infamy. Professional terrorists would surely have managed more than this useless member of society, whose random victims were indistinguishable from those yer average knife-wielding maniac might have slaughtered down the road in Hackney, something that probably wouldn’t have been labelled a ‘terror incident’.

When the Irish National Liberation Army murdered MP Airey Neave via a car-bomb as he drove out of the underground car-park at the Palace of Westminster in 1979, it was clearly a meticulously-planned team operation that achieved its extremely precise and specific aim. Thanks to the bullets of an armed policeman, we will probably never know what the aim of Khalid Masood was, though it’s possible he himself didn’t really know either.

When no evidence of group involvement can be uncovered, the search for an answer then hones in on whatever it was that may have influenced the motivation behind something that claimed lives within yards of the very place the Gunpowder Plotters failed to obliterate. The current blame game lays responsibility on the doorstep of the internet, though literature largely escaped censure when Lone Gunman Mark Chapman famously murdered John Lennon after identifying with Holden Caulfield, antihero of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.

Nevertheless, the medium of the moment will always fall under suspicion when so many struggle with the fact that some individuals have the capacity to do – or to attempt to do – what most would shy away from. Just as it’s thankfully incomprehensible to the majority that one could become a serial killer bereft of all empathy or compassion where one’s fellow human beings are concerned, it’s equally hard to comprehend how somebody could callously mow down pedestrians in a car and then stab a policeman to death en route to some muddled destination; there has to be some great answer at the root of the individual’s actions, and it may as well be the internet.

What so many cannot accept is the alien idea that some individuals have gradually grown so far apart from the consensus of a society rooted in fair play, mutual respect and shared democratic aims that they can commit a crime so opposed to the foundations that society is built upon; that such a crime can easily only require the planning and participation of one person merely adds to the conundrum. When MP Jo Cox was murdered on the streets of her constituency last summer, her murderer Thomas Mair was subject to the usual speculation as to his membership of far-right groups from both press and police before it emerged he was acting alone. For some reason, it’s easier to envisage something so horrible emanating from an organisation, whether the IRA or ISIS, than the Lone Wolf, as if it takes a team of individuals egging each other on to even invent a scenario of that nature.

The fact is, however, that an organised conspiracy to destroy western civilisation is effectively in the hands (and mind) of the individual rather than a structured criminal underworld recognisable from a Bond movie; but the governments running western civilisation will continue to propagate the SPECTRE theory as long as it gives them more power to act as a cyber lollipop man intercepting your online traffic. Remember – it’s for your own good.

© The Editor


geriThe news that a tourist souvenir shop in Muswell Hill, the sort that sells the kind of tacky tat that is of little interest to anyone who actually resides in the UK, has been targeted by the Puritan ‘ism’ brigade as some sort of retail outlet for ‘Britain First’ simply because the establishment happens to be called Really British is an interesting measure of how patriotism as manifested by an object bearing the national flag has once again been designated as the province of extremism and rendered a no-go area by the PC branch of the left. The symbolism of the Union Jack seems to swing back and forth every decade or so, and we now appear to have returned to what it represented in the 1980s.

I remember a classmate of mine once being sent home from school for arriving in a Union Jack T-shirt; it probably didn’t help his case that he had the kind of crew-cut then associated with skinheads and the far-right puppets the tribe had become in the early 80s. Today, of course, having a shaved head is no longer a pointer to one’s political stance, though I doubt the kid in question had any political stance other than getting off on the provocative lyrics spouted by the unlistenable ‘Oi’ bands he claimed to like, anyway. He was no doubt simply doing what a lot of teenagers do by selecting a musical style and fashion guaranteed to get up the noses of his elders.

Fifteen years earlier, the Union Jack had been appropriated by Swinging London and its musical foot-soldiers such as The Who as an ironic and characteristically cocky ‘up yours’ at the establishment in the same way that early Mods nicked the cranial crown of the upper classes, the bowler hat. The mock-military outfits available on Carnaby Street, which The Beatles later adapted for their Sgt Pepper alter-egos, were a similar tongue-in-cheek play upon Victorian and Edwardian Imperial costumes; it was all about dipping into Colonel Blimp’s dressing-up box rather than expressing affinity with an outdated and archaic ideology associated with an Empire that was already consigned to the history books. For a while, the Union Jack had become a cool visual insignia with the same kind of potency that the smiley face had for the Acid House generation at the end of the 80s.

Ten years later, the absorption of a youth cult that had once danced the night away to Jamaican Ska and Reggae into the thuggish embrace of the National Front rendered the national flag something to be ashamed of in a way that other nations would find baffling. The rise of the right-on alternative media and its po-faced spokespersons in the 80s further alienated the flag from polite conversation, reduced to the desperate jingoism of the chinless wonders who force their way to the front of the stage during the Last Night of the Proms on one hand and the ugly unapologetic racism of the far-right on the other.

This attitude still lingered as late as 1992, when Morrissey made the front cover of the NME for wrapping himself in the Union Jack on stage and igniting fresh controversy in the process. Within three or four years, however, the pendulum had swung back again.

From Noel Gallagher’s guitar to Geri Halliwell’s dress, the Union Jack was reclaimed by the apolitical in the middle of the 1990s and rebranded as the ensign of Cool Britannia. Britpop may have been manufactured as a movement by a cluster of music journalists too young to have experienced the negative connotations the national flag had possessed for well over a decade, but its return as a symbol of chic frivolity was something few saw coming. Twenty years on, the climate has changed to the point whereby it’s hard to imagine Harry Styles or Jessie J (or whoever it is the Kids are listening to these days) utilising it in a similar fashion without being bombarded by the same accusations that showered down on Morrissey in 1992.

According to Chris Ostwald, proprietor of Really British, one incensed (not to say unhinged) customer entered his shop and proclaimed the word ‘British’ should be banned because of what Jo Cox’s murderer allegedly shouted as he slaughtered her. Social media has also facilitated the tunnel vision intolerance of this mindset, with numerous comments along these ludicrous lines, and how long before a Facebook campaign is launched to boycott and ban the premises? It’s probably already happening as I write this.

The post-Brexit timing of the shop’s arrival on the streets of Muswell Hill is unfortunate in that some are actively seeking emblems of ‘hate crime’ to vindicate their desperate stance, and Mr Ostwald has delivered as far as they’re concerned. He can’t be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ when it’s his own culture, so that culture has to be condemned one way or another.

Of course, London has always pandered to the misplaced sentimentality for Olde England that certain overseas visitors love and Really British is just another extension of that industry. For remoaners incapable of accepting the decision of the people to latch onto a shop as somehow embodying everything they regard as racist and unacceptable about this country will serve to drive any celebration of quaint, old-school Britishness back into the arms of the far-right, which is presumably what they want.

It’s only a matter of time before a delegation of Britain First morons lead a precession to the shop and claim it as their own. But in upholding the divide & rule tactics of the powers-that-be, both parties are playing into their hands and ensuring that fighting amongst each other will keep them from aiming their ire at the common enemy. And what could be more British than that?

© The Editor


Gas MasksThe title of this post is lifted from the 1969 chart-topper by one-hit wonders Thunderclap Newman, a song that seems to encapsulate within its grooves a moment at the end of the 1960s when the tumultuous events of 1968 hadn’t entirely exterminated the optimistic spirit of ’67. Though very much a project sponsored by the same state that was simultaneously slaughtering peasants in Vietnam, the momentous achievement of putting a man on the moon suggested the general cultural zeitgeist remained forward-looking and convinced better days were just around the corner. John Lennon expressed as much when profiled in an ATV mini-series aired in December ’69 called ‘Man of the Decade’; the belief may have been misplaced or naive, but it was genuine and heartfelt. A generation born in a collective air-raid believed a different way of doing things was possible. Imagine no heaven, no countries, no possessions.

It certainly feels as though something is again in the air in 2016, though the odours of that something are not of incense, peppermints or even napalm; I can’t really put my finger on it, but there are a lot of people I know who seem to be wading through a dense, noxious fog as dense and noxious as that which permeated every nook and cranny and rookery of Dickens’ London in the memorable opening of ‘Bleak House’. Granted, many are experiencing personal crises that aren’t necessarily specific to 2016, ones that could have happened at any moment in history, in any turbulent chapter of this planet’s story as much as in any so-called Golden Age forever recalled with nostalgic reverence. They could have taken place in 1916 or 1966, and the world outside their window wouldn’t have played any discernible role. But all of the internal events that are affecting the lives of loved ones right now appear to be synchronised with external events to an unsettling degree. Perhaps that’s the impact of the age of 24/7 social media; perhaps not.

A close friend who is finding life exceedingly heavy going at the moment said to me last week that ‘everything seems to have gone wrong since Bowie died’. I thought of the vinyl label of Bowie’s 1973 LP ‘Aladdin Sane’; the song from which the album took its title is listed as ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’. The information contained within the brackets marks the two years prior to the twentieth century’s twin global conflicts and clearly taps into the paranoia of the time by suggesting a year in the 1970s will serve the same calm-before-the storm purpose. True, it could merely have been Bowie playing with that paranoia for artistic effect or simply reflecting his own nihilistic worldview that he took onto another apocalyptic level with 1974’s ‘Diamond Dogs’. But ‘Aladdin Sane’ was released just a few months before the bleak economic meltdown of the Three Day Week, an era marked by rumours of right-wing military coups instigated by MI5 and/or retired colonial colonels with private armies on one hand and left-wing communist coups instigated by Moscow on the other.

What appears to be in the air today is not so black and white, but a multi-layered mosaic of malodorous uncertainty. It is the murder of Jo Cox as well as the ongoing massacres in the US; it is the litany of unexpected celebrity deaths as well as the terrorist atrocities on the Continent; it is the failed Turkish coup d’état as well as Brexit; it is Donald Trump as well as austerity; it is Syria as well as curbs on free speech; it is incompetence and corruption in public services as well as refugees drowning at sea. Possibly because of the way in which we are able to instantly access news, to quickly switch from one horror story to another or to be bombarded by them on Facebook and Twitter even when we’re not seeking them out, they seem bigger and uglier than they ever would have seemed in the past, when limited television news bulletins and 24 hours-later newspapers exerted breathing space between each horrendous headline. It’s a theory, anyway.

Were that the root cause of events in which we have no direct involvement seeping into our individual neuroses and exacerbating them, fair enough; but I wonder why so many seem to be struggling in the first place? If we compare the comforts we can call upon to the real hardships endured by our grandparents or great-grandparents, we haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to complaints. The dazzling variety of choice, whether in relation to electronic goods, TV channels, food, clothing or virtually every luxury item that constitutes an acquisitive society should suffice, yet endless choice itself can actually be quite overwhelming and incapable of filling the inexplicable inner vacuum that our forefathers seemed capable of filling without any of our fripperies.

I suppose age could play a part as well; most of my friends are over 40; I myself am careering towards 50. But recent surveys suggest the kind of social isolation that appears quite commonplace within my own demographic is as high amongst teenagers. And it’s a vicious circle. Something awful in the news drags us down when we’re already feeling low because we’ve just received some stupid bill that we can’t afford to pay, making us vulnerable sitting targets for the next horrific news event as well as the next dispiriting demand on our limited finances; it can get to the point where the internal and external are practically interchangeable as sources of anxiety and helplessness. I think a sense of helplessness is crucial too: we don’t have the money required to pay the bill and we can’t do anything to alter whatever depressing news story has invaded our private space via the mass media. Both feel as though they are ultimately out of our control.

I don’t know what the solution is. Watch less TV news and don’t regularly buy a paper? I started doing that about a decade ago, but I wasn’t online back then. It’s so much harder to avoid the big stories now. They eventually find your address. And, if you’re feeling lousy to begin with, these big bad wolves will huff and they’ll puff and they’ll blow your house down. But one little pig did survive, of course; so maybe we should simply build with bricks and we’ll get through it.

© 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


SAM_2407 - Copy1812 was one of those years. History has a habit of throwing them up every now and again, when numerous major events are condensed into a twelve month period. Understandably sneaking under the radar was the birth of Charles Dickens, whereas looming large was Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia, the final and fatal extension of French Imperial might in Europe; elsewhere on the Continent, Bonaparte’s armies were taking a beating from the Duke of Wellington’s troops in the Peninsula War. It was also a year in which the USA declared war on its ex-colonial governor, Great Britain – another costly gamble by a delusional leader, in this case President James Madison. In the old Mother Country, there was constant constitutional uncertainty as the recurring illnesses of George III necessitated another Regency Bill, delegating limited powers to the unpopular Prince of Wales, including choosing the nation’s Prime Minister; economic crises caused by the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite opposition to industrialisation provoked civil unrest on the streets, a perennial problem that was usually dealt with by armed forces. Times were tense, to say the least.

Politics in 1812 were considerably more heated than they are today. For all the talk of enmity and rivalry between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, they had nothing on George Canning and Lord Castlereagh, two Government Ministers who were so at odds with each other that they’d fought a duel in 1809. Neither figured in the administration that governed the country in 1812 – partly as a result of this incident – which was headed by ex-Attorney General and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Spencer Perceval.

MP for Northampton, Spencer Perceval was highly-regarded by his peers in Parliament, and the barrister son of an Irish Earl had a rapid rise through the Westminster ranks after a relatively late entry into politics at the age of 33. He was invited to become Prime Minister in 1809, though his premiership wasn’t expected to last long due to warring factions within the Cabinet. However, Perceval represented the kind of steady hand the country required and he largely succeeded in keeping the ship afloat despite the problems piling up in his in-tray.

On 11 May 1812, Perceval entered the history books in the most unenviable manner when a disgruntled Liverpool merchant whose numerous grievances he’d decided were due to the Prime Minister approached Perceval in the lobby at the House of Commons and drew a pistol, shooting the PM in the chest at close range. Perceval died within minutes of the gun being fired and thus became the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. His assassin, the unrepentant John Bellingham, was declared sane at his trial and was hanged just a week after Perceval’s death.

Reaction to the Prime Minister’s murder was one of shock and upset amongst the political classes, though those members of the public who were suffering economic hardship rejoiced at the assassination and treated John Bellingham as a folk hero; some even paid high prices for his clothes following his execution, the equivalent of bidding for them on eBay today. In great swathes of the country, politicians were despised as corrupt and crooked charlatans who were in it to line their own pockets, yet unlike some of his political rivals, Spencer Perceval was not a colossus personality; he was an understated character who still wore the regalia of the previous century, such as knee-breeches and a powdered wig. However, many on the outside associated him with the common perception that MPs were out-of-touch and remote figures who didn’t care about or relate to the experiences of the masses; at the time, this was emphasised by the process of how MPs were elected to Parliament, tainted as it was by the continuation of the Rotten Boroughs and the absence from that process of the common man (and woman).

If one argues that the cynicism and loathing meted out to politicians is a recent development, the public euphoria that greeted the assassination of Spencer Perceval suggests otherwise. It is true that the mistrust of the political class we are currently undergoing has intensified of late. In America, this mistrust can probably be traced back as far as Watergate and has perhaps reached its apex with the emergence of Donald Trump, whereas it’s possible that in this country one could cite the Profumo Affair as its beginnings – although that was as much about social class as the political one.

Whatever the initial source, both the expenses scandal and Hack-gate were watersheds in the tempestuous relationship between electorate and elected representatives, events that have served to push the public standing of politicians to an all-time low, albeit a low that has a habit of bracketing all Westminster residents, from greasy pole-climbing self-aggrandisers to unsung constituency MPs, in the same rotten barrel. The ones caught out deserve to be named and shamed, only having themselves to blame, and the right to name and shame them is essential within a democracy, as is the right to criticise; otherwise, we may as well be living in Turkey.

That the man who murdered Jo Cox decided to take the Andres Breivik route during his Magistrates Court appearance gives further ammunition to commentators who see his horrible act in a wider picture of out-and-out hatred of politicians that has certainly permeated the Referendum debate. I’m not entirely convinced of the connection, but as history so often teaches us, we have been here before.

© The Editor


FreudHow is one to know which way to go? The Daily Mail is expressing shock and outrage where some dead celebrity’s past private life is concerned again, but as I share that shock and outrage – as I surely must – its online sidebar of shame is titillating me with words and pictures that contradict this shock and outrage. Apparently famous names I’m supposed to be interested in are being lionised as role models, yet are living lives that would appear to echo ‘the dissolute, libidinous path’ that the Freud family allegedly followed. I don’t know the right way to react. Condemn the past and condone the present when both are presented as morally-dubious, yet one is bad and one is good? Is that what I’m supposed to do? Please, Mr Dacre, tell me!

Sexy mini-dresses – eye-popping, braless and cleavage-baring; thigh-high boots and endless legs; slender frames, low-cut dresses, see-through dresses, gym-toned bodies, busty bodies. What is a man to do when confronted by these words over and over again? Perhaps take the Lucien Freud route? He ‘womanised on an industrial scale’ and it was ‘rumoured he had up to 40 children’; but that was wrong, wasn’t it? Or was it? If one of these sidebar heroes or heroines did so, would that constitute ‘a depraved scene’, which we must now refer to the late Clement Freud’s open marriage as? Mrs Freud supposedly seduced the brother of Will Self, the ‘oh-so opinionated fashionable writer and commentator’ as the Mail describes him without the hint of a sneer. That’s wrong, isn’t it? Or doesn’t that count if, say, the seducer was Kim Kardashian and the seduced was a star of ‘Geordie Shore’? The article about the Freud family is telling me one thing and the sidebar of shame is telling me something else.

Maybe if people who are dead and/or Jewish, who were intelligent, literate, witty and multi-talented and sired a successful (not to say envied) media dynasty enjoyed an unconventional sex life, that’s wrong; but if they’re thick, witless, narcissistic, Synth-faced twenty-first century sluts who measure their worth by the amount of ‘likes’ and re-tweets their selfies attract, it’s permissible. Have I got that right? It’s so hard to know when to unleash the outrage and when to conserve it.

Thanks to the Mail, however, I now know with absolute certainty that a man who was ‘larger than life’ and ‘one of the most popular and enduring figures in broadcasting and public life’ who wasn’t Jimmy Savile (despite Sir Jim receiving two honourable mentions in the hatchet job on Clement Freud, just so we know which ballpark we’re in) was actually someone who ‘groomed and abused’ one particular underage victim of his insatiable sexual appetite and ‘there could be thousands more’. Cooking, writing, gambling, ‘Just a Minute’, dog food commercials and being a Member of Parliament wouldn’t, one imagines, leave much time for sexually abusing thousands. The work-rate of past Paedos astounds me. Even current ones must cram a hell of a lot into a day – Get up, abuse a minor, wash & shave, abuse a minor, breakfast, abuse a minor, go to work, abuse a minor, get home, abuse a minor, dine, abuse a minor, go to bed, abuse a minor. Is that how it works? If one’s abuse list constitutes thousands, I guess so.

Of course, Sir Cliff Richard didn’t do that; thanks to that mighty bastion of financial thrift and cautious custodian of public funds the CPS, we have finally received confirmation he’s most definitely a non-Paedo, so we can’t add him to the list – probably because he’s still alive. Mind you, what with the stress and strain of living under a cloud of suspicion for a year or so, his health has probably suffered to the point whereby we won’t have too long to wait before the bachelor boy snuffs it and all the thousands he didn’t abuse can safely come forward and make appearances on what pass for documentaries on ITV. I’m so grateful the Daily Mail is there to guide me through the bewildering moral maze of the modern world. Without it, making moral judgements would be so much more of a minefield than the sidebar of shame already paints it as. God forbid that I might get mixed-up and inadvertently praise a deceased polymath and accidentally criticise a rash of illiterate hideous whores and freak-show afterbirths I’m meant to be fascinated by.

Jo CoxAnd then there’s the Daily Star; never masquerading as smart, proud to be dumb, and happy with its place as the idiot offspring of Fleet Street. Its headline today included the words ‘Brexit Gunman’ when describing the killer of MP Jo Cox. A bit like the Mail delivering its in-house judge, jury and executioner verdict on Clement Freud, the Star decided an unconfirmed cry in support of the far-right thug collective Britain First on the part of the 41-year-old MP’s murderer was enough to summarise his political stance on the EU Referendum, as though that has any remote relevance.

The precise facts surrounding the events that left two young children without a mother have not yet been compiled, so speculation and rumour currently occupy the void. I suspect the casualty of Care in the Community who shot and stabbed a well-liked Westminster newcomer in her constituency probably didn’t even know who she was. If he did, however, his actions were the most extreme example of the chic hatred of politicians that has recently received TV exposure via the constant emphasis of letting the public have its say on Referendum debates, shouting over the replies to their questions and earning themselves their fifteen minutes of Twittersphere fame.

Let’s be frank – Geldof and Farage’s hi-jinks on the Thames not withstanding, it’s been a pretty bloody grim week all round. We could do with a laugh, whether or not we’re allowed to laugh anymore…

© The Editor