IN A SAFE SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

vlcsnap-2022-06-28-01h10m06s215Whilst checking out Paul McCartney’s set on TV over the weekend and simultaneously ignoring predictably disparaging online commentaries (you’ll only be praising the few living legends left once they’re gone, guys), I eventually began to weary a little of the endless cutaways of Sebastian and Jocasta sitting on the shoulders of their uni sweethearts. I suspended my instinctive hostilities towards the gap-year gig-goers until remarking to a friend that the Glastonbury Festival was essentially Glyndebourne in a leather jacket; this followed on from my summary of it a decade ago as the indie scene’s equivalent of the Royal Variety Performance. The latter observation appears irrelevant now considering the said scene has failed to throw up a suitable headliner capable of drawing the punters in like the old guard, whose reliance on backing singers to ‘carry them’ is the best we can hope for when taking their advanced years into account, not to mention the inability of their lamentable heirs to deliver the goods. At the same time, all are within their rights to criticise, regardless of their ignorance.

After all, viewers of any live showbiz event in this day and age have to endure the tiresome parade of pop star and movie star f**kwits giving their ill-informed opinions on complex political situations of which their celebrity status – amazingly – does not necessarily translate as in-depth knowledge, regardless of their misplaced conviction we should sit in reverential silence and listen to their sermons. If these idiots are allowed a platform to air their half-arsed expertise, I see no reason why equally ignorant amateurs shouldn’t be able to do likewise on social media. It’s always those who know the least on the subject under discussion that want to lecture others on it, anyway, so the non-famous are just as qualified as the famous. Ironically, many of these were induced into hysteria at the prospect of bonkers billionaire Elon Musk purchasing Twitter; his stated intent to restore traditional interpretations of free speech to an outlet infamous for curtailing contradictions to the consensus in recent years provoked a memorably OTT reaction, though I do wonder if it was all simply a publicity stunt on the part of Musk to raise his profile even further – or a deliberately mischievous wind-up.

Many of the hilariously foaming-at-the-mouth responses to the Musk bid came from the same people who compared the Union Jacks draped in displays across London thoroughfares during the Jubilee to Swastikas in Nazi Germany – those who mysteriously don’t come to the same conclusions when the flying flag is the bloody rainbow one flapping in everybody’s face. There’s an argument to be made that the flag of a nation has a divine right to be displayed whereas a pretend flag has to earn its status through something other than enforced emotional blackmail; but it’s a point we’re evidently not allowed to make when each and every corporation and institution cynically latches on to the ubiquitous LGBTXYZ agenda as though they really ‘care’ and every terrified pleb is scared of being ostracised on Facebook if they don’t stress their support via profile pics.

I suppose when Boris undergoes a rare moment of truth-telling and states that women are not actually born with a penis, it gives such chickens a chance to criticise an easy target and restore their status as being on ‘the right side of history’, but this is an insecure security that is symptomatic of the age in which we live. Smugly delusional in their denial of reality, such cowards imagine the agents of social justice will somehow cease their crusade once all ‘undesirables’ are cancelled, yet they don’t seem to realise such agents won’t stop once they’ve excised ‘the enemy’, which is a shape-shifting entity with no end in sight. I won’t evoke the French Revolution simply because I make the assumption readers will be aware of how that particular historical event progressed from admirable idealism to ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ in an exceedingly short space of time; yet, the recent case of comedian Joe Lycett – visited by Plod courtesy of a solitary complaint by one offended punter – shows how even the most on-song Woke troubadours are just as vulnerable to cancellation as those who don’t buy into the prevailing trend, something that perhaps underlines just how worthless signing-up to the prevailing trend really is.

Tapping into this climate, the Government’s proposed ‘Online Safety Bill’ has received a mixed response from those who stand to be affected by its proposals – whether conscious or no – and even a one-time Minister has now weighed-in with his size nines. Lord Frost, the former Brexit Minister, has urged his former Cabinet colleagues to think again when proceeding with this lamentable piece of kneejerk legislation. ‘A Conservative Government,’ he said, ‘should not be putting this view into law. The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects and consign the rest to where it belongs – the wastepaper basket.’ He added that the proposed Bill was both ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘un-Conservative’ and that it would be highly damaging to free speech as well as benefiting the ‘perennially offended’ seeking to be permanently protected from anything they happen to disagree with.

Frost makes the point that the Bill threatens to outlaw comments online that would be perfectly legitimate offline, and he’s not alone in his concerns. Other former prominent Tories such as Liam Fox and David Davis have been similarly frank in their assessment of the proposals. ‘The Bill could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times,’ said Davis, though one can’t help but suspect the Woke mole in the heart of Government, Carrie Antoinette, is pushing the PM into giving his support. The Institute of Economic Affairs reckons the intended law has ‘scope, complexity and reach that are breathtaking’, for whilst it puts pressure on tech giants to curb odious online content re child pornography and ‘hate crime offences’, the interpretation of the latter is utterly subjective and down to where one stands. The Labour Party, whose leader can’t bring himself to own up to biological fact for fear of alienating potential metropolitan voters, is keeping quiet about the Bill, though that’s no great surprise.

I noticed Sir Keir was quick to virtue signal re the recent overturning of the Roe Vs Wade judgement of 50 years ago in the US, though – as some troublesome wag on Twitter pointed out – the Labour leader was curiously reluctant to voice women’s rights when it came to denouncing those named and shamed in the report into South Yorkshire grooming gangs belatedly published last week, most of which took place in towns and cities run by Labour councils. Similarly, professional virtue signaller and renowned smarmy creep Justin Trudeau was quick to register his outrage re Roe Vs Wade, yet – as was also highlighted on Twitter – the Canadian PM wasn’t so ‘your body, your choice’-friendly when it came to how those with-child were treated during the pandemic. ‘You tried to mandate I take a vaccine with unknown fetal side-effects while I was PREGNANT,’ said one tweet. ‘You sure as hell don’t care about bodily autonomy’.

Such tweets emphasis how vital online platforms can be as a method of registering dissent, and whilst Boris’s rancid administration has routinely demonstrated its skill in deflecting attention from guilty parties, attempting to sneak this inconsistent and ill-thought out legislation through Parliament is burying bad news on a grand scale. The damage such a Bill stands to do to a nation that established the notion of free speech throughout the Anglosphere is incalculable, though maybe the damage has already been done and this is simply the official seal of approval.

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QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Brenda BarbieAmidst all the silly ceremonies and inexplicable rituals set in stone so old it has a vintage comparable to that lot on Salisbury Plain, there was one glaring absence from the State Opening of Parliament this time round: the bejewelled crown was present, though the head upon which it traditionally sits wasn’t. Naturally, there were no Charles I-type shenanigans responsible, merely a monarch too elderly to undertake a task only pregnancy had previously excused her from – and the last time that happened was almost 60 years ago. Her past understudy in such exceptional circumstances was the Lord Chancellor, but so throwaway is that ancient office these days that the prospect of incumbent idiot Dominic Raab reading the Queen’s Speech prompted Brenda to bring Brian off the sub’s bench he’s occupied for the last seven decades. Indeed, it would appear the Prince of Wales is gradually taking on the role of Regent in all-but name, and notable public events his mother has always been the hostess of, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday, will probably be ones old age will force her to host by proxy from now on.

Obviously, with this year characterised by the unprecedented spectacle of a Platinum Jubilee, Her Majesty’s presence at one or two of the big celebrations to mark the unique occasion seems necessary, so it’s possible she’s conserving her energy by prioritising them over more routine duties. At the age of 96, however, it’s pretty clear that whatever is planned for this summer’s Jubilee schedule will most likely be the final outing for the ageing sovereign at a major public event. The Queen has already announced Buckingham Palace will henceforth be no place like home; Covid prompted the flight from London to the seclusion of Windsor and it would seem the relocation is now permanent. As is commonplace with anyone of such advanced years, she also appears to be quietly settling her affairs now that mortality is close at hand. Not every 96-year-old has such a prestigious roll-call of possessions to bequeath, of course, so she has a little more to attend to than simply deciding which of her kids inherits the dressing table.

As for the State Opening of Parliament, it still seems odd not to see Her Majesty occupying the throne in the Lords with old Philip alongside her, what with the pair of them having been a guaranteed fixture of the event from before most of our mothers met the milkman; but then there are several elements long associated with the ceremony that are gone now – especially the one-time highlight of waiting for whatever witty remark would emanate from the Beast of Bolsover when the moment came for Black Rod to march into the Commons chamber; no Dennis Skinner, no Duke of Edinburgh, and now no Brenda – no, things ain’t what they used to be where this particular occasion is concerned. Apparently, the Queen watched proceedings on the telly at her retirement home of Windsor Castle, though seeing someone else sitting in her seat, and flanked by Camilla and William to boot, was possibly an even more surreal experience for her than the average viewer. As for what followed the somewhat different pomp and circumstance part of the occasion, however, nothing much had changed at all. It was the same old flannel.

Coming in a post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, this Queen’s Speech presented the Opposition with plenty open goals, but the leader of HM Opposition was still busily preoccupied with last year’s crisis. In an effort to sell himself as an honourable man prepared to fall on his sword in a way Boris declined to when he was charged and fined for breaking Covid restrictions, Sir Keir Starmer has dramatically declared he will resign as Labour leader if found guilty of similar misconduct in the so-called (wait for it) ‘Beer-gate’ scandal. Yes, maybe now those who formulated, implemented and supported the restrictions will belatedly realise precisely how ludicrous it was that someone could be fined for the unforgivable crime of having a drink and a bite to eat in company. I don’t doubt Starmer will be exonerated, something he himself probably knows or else he wouldn’t have volunteered to make the Labour Left’s day by promising to quit. Again, a politician assumes the electorate is stupid enough to take a statement at face value and not see through the wafer-thin ulterior motive; but, hey – plenty people fall for it, so why wouldn’t Starmer engineer such a stunt?

A story emerged on the same day of the Speech that a customer in a Brighton branch of Tesco had come across a distinctive tin of budget baked beans on the shelf, described as ‘Boris Beans’. According to the blurb on the packaging, Boris Beans come in a ‘tasty austerity sauce with misery guaranteed’; it sounds like a Banksy product, and being right-on Brighton, chances are it probably is. At the same time, it could be seen as an ingenious riposte to Environment Secretary George ‘Useless’ Eustice, who advised the plebs to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket in order to save money – as though the idea had never occurred to them or that they might actually have no choice but to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket with food prices up 2.7% on 2021. What this episode highlights is the widespread anger at the state of affairs this administration is presiding over whilst seeming both careless and clueless when it comes to solutions – not to mention not giving a f**k.

News that BP recorded a £4.9 billion profit during the first three months of 2022 hardly helps alter the popular perception that the people are being shafted by The Man in all his numerous guises. The Government is particularly perceived as being out of touch, with even a minor Minister like Eustice exhibiting the ignorance that comes with detachment from the reality of life lived beyond Westminster Village. There’s no reason why someone from a privileged or at least materially comfortable background can’t empathise with the less fortunate and try to improve their lot – the majority of the institutions established to help the needy during the Victorian era were founded by the wealthy and powerful, lest we forget; but all too often today it feels as though there isn’t the desire there to do likewise by those in a position to act. It just seems like most couldn’t care less – and that indifference appears at its least empathetic when embodied by a rich Tory MP. It was highly visible in the Con-Dem Coalition of a decade ago, of course, and nothing seems to have altered since.

It goes without saying that there is usually at least an effort on the part of a Government when delivering the promise of a ‘package’ in a Queen’s Speech to give the impression they care. Ordinarily, the Queen’s Speech tends to be loaded with tantalising offerings intended to persuade the people the administration in power isn’t merely a collection of indifferent political freeloaders blind to the sufferings of those they purport to serve. Having said that, there appeared to be very little in this one that offered anything to the vast chunk of the population paying for the disastrous policies of the past couple of years; calls for an emergency budget on the part of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP to help those struggling to survive were brushed aside by Boris. ‘However great our passion and commitment,’ said the PM, ‘we cannot simply spend our way out of problems.’ Considering the state of the economy and the size of the national debt, he has a point; but who’s responsible?

In less than a month, the working week will be put on ice once more, though not so we can all be confined to quarters again; this time we will positively be encouraged to indulge in the kind of social gathering Keir Starmer is threatened with a retrospective fine for indulging in. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ‘long weekend’ will begin on a Thursday and last till Sunday – four whole days in which we can pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile; none of us (nor Brenda) will ever have an opportunity to do so again, so we may as well.

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BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED

BewitchedThink about it for a moment: when the Leader of the Opposition can’t even define what a woman is, we have to accept we’re somewhere we haven’t been before. A war, by contrast, seems disturbingly familiar, something as regular as night following day; an instinctive revulsion towards conflict is as old and deep-rooted as conflict itself, so our collective response to it is a relatively universal one. Yet to have a prominent political figure with ambitions to be Prime Minister incapable of publicly admitting that men don’t have cervixes and don’t menstruate is the kind of development to which we have no prepared reaction on account of few anticipating we would get to this plateau of preposterousness. Even those of us who picked up on the genesis of the unhinged religion that is Identity Politics long before it seized control parodied it in the assumption a spoof would never be out-spoofed by real life. However, numerous satirical shorts of my own, produced back in the distant days of the 2010s – when we hadn’t quite scaled what Rod Liddle has referred to as ‘Peak Wank’ – are routinely discovered by newcomers to my YT channel, shocked and amazed that videos up to four or five years old can seem so relevant to the here and now.

The fact is I was satirising the embryonic Identity Politics of the era, exaggerating them beyond reality and knowing all the time my takes on them were deliberately ridiculous. Fast forward to 2022 and not only do we have the man who wants to rule the country struggling to own up to biological fact, but his increasingly deranged Caledonian comrade north of the border is surpassing satire once again. Anyone who remembers my ’25 Hour News’ series might recall a story in which the Met were poised to charge half-a-dozen dead Vikings with gang-raping a dead Saxon maiden, overlooking the fact all parties had been deceased for several centuries. Another video was a BBC1 trailer informing viewers of various virtue signalling acts in remembrance of events that occurred long before living memory – a minute’s silence for victims of the Black Death, a memorial service to honour the victims of the Battle of Waterloo, a tribute concert to the victims of the Thirty Years’ War, a charity football match raising money for the victims of the Battle of Agincourt and so on. All patently ludicrous, but parodying the contemporary vogue for wallowing in victimhood, misery and suffering, regardless of how irrelevant the pain of the past is to the present day.

Ah, yes – the present day, the day in which satire is rendered redundant (and, knowing the Scottish National Party’s penchant for criminalising humour, probably outlawed). Step forward once more, wee Ms Krankie. Considering the damage done to Scotland by the SNP’s pandemic policies – not to mention all the nation’s problems that were being summarily neglected with spectacular ineptitude even before the coronavirus exposed Nicola Sturgeon’s totalitarian tartan – the latest public announcement from the First Minister exceeds all expectations. Last week, Sturgeon decided now is the right time to issue a public apology on behalf of the Scottish Government for those unfortunate Scots tried and executed as witches. In case you’d forgotten – which is understandable, considering you had yet to be born – the last recorded evidence of a Scottish person being put to death for the crime of witchcraft was in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred and Six; just to clarify the urgency of the apology, that’s 316 years ago.

Well, witch-hunting was even more popular in Scotland than England back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with three times as many witchcraft prosecutions taking place there than south of the border; it’s estimated around 1,500 ‘witches’ were put to death by the State in Scotland, helped in no small part by the first sovereign to rule both kingdoms, James I of England (and VI of Scotland). Obsessed with the threat of the occult and the presence of necromancy in the country of his birth, James established royal commissions to hunt down witches, he supervised the torture of them when captured, and he even wrote a melodramatic book on the subject, ‘Daemonologie’; as kings were then viewed as God’s representatives on earth, his rant was taken by many as Gospel. The only positive legacy of the book is that it allegedly served as an inspiration for ‘Macbeth’; its more immediate impact was to further legitimise James’s beliefs and reinforce the barbaric punishments inflicted upon those suspected of supernatural practices that had been enshrined in law since the passing of the Witchcraft Act of 1563 – an Act not finally repealed until 1736.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the fatal punishments inflicted upon those convicted of witchcraft were brutal – though it also has to be remembered that most executions at the time were not necessarily renowned for their humane manner: hanging, drawing and quartering, being burned alive at the stake, beheading – all featured in the executioner’s handbook and offered spectators a wide variety of blood-sports when they turned out in vast numbers come match-day. Torture was deemed a legitimate means of extracting a confession before the accused met his or her maker, usually achieved through employing sleep deprivation or the occasional tools of the torture chamber such as the crushing of feet in an instrument known as ‘the boots’ – a treatment memorably endured by Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’.

The unique Scottish approach to detecting witchcraft included a method known as ‘pricking’, whereby the belief that a witch could feel no physical pain enabled professional pricks – or prickers – to insert needles and pins into the accused’s flesh, although the sadistic fraudulence of this practice eventually played its part in bringing about the end of witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. Yes, it was a horrible and hysterical period of British – and particularly Scottish – history, characterised by waves of superstitious fervour such as the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597, when around 200 people were executed over a period of seven months.

Although some men were tried and put to death as warlocks, most of the victims were women, and modern perception of the whole bloody escapade is to view it through the prism of the historical oppression of women by men. Yes, it is true that these incidents tended to take place during times of economic crises, the times when scapegoats are often sought by authorities as sacrificial lambs in order to deflect attention from their own failings; but the fact women suffered far more than men suggests a pervasive fear of women asserting any form of independence within communities, such as being midwives. The nature of the charges also implied a deep-rooted paranoia surrounding female sexuality, as many of the examples of ‘witchcraft’ cited were connected to sexual spells allegedly cast upon blameless men by the wicked accused.

In recent years historical witch-hunts have become inserted into the feminist narrative, and the religious-like fanaticism of extreme activists dedicated to the Identity Politics faith has been manifested in the targeting of blasphemous heathens, using tactics that are reminiscent of the way witch-finders pursued their victims; at the same time, the cult of victimhood so central to the Identity Politics philosophy has portrayed the pursuers as the victims rather than the pursued. In this respect, a revival of interest in ye olde witch-hunts is certainly timely. So deep were the scars left by this era that the term ‘witch-hunt’ remains one still used whenever the mob is stirred into illogical mania by an irresponsible individual or group of individuals with a vested personal interest in the persecution of innocents, though the continued use of the phrase doesn’t mean the age of the actual witch-hunts has any relevance to, or bearing on, the lives of anybody lived in the last three centuries. One would imagine there are more pressing issues pertinent to 2022, though someone forgot to inform Nicola Sturgeon.

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SHIRE PURCHASE

Lib DemsIf ever a county could be labelled a traditional Tory Shire, surely Shropshire has always ticked the requisite blue boxes. Still unique in that it remains a sizeable landmass in the middle of England without a single city, Shropshire is the largely rural border between the West Midlands and Wales, with its sole concession to post-war redevelopment being the Newtown of Telford. A familiar feature of 19th century novels penned both before and after the 1832 Reform Act, the campaign trail of the landowners’ chosen candidate is so entrenched as part of the archaic fabric of English political life that it’s revealing to discover such a system survived the termination of the old Rotten Boroughs. The Parliamentary constituency of North Shropshire was established the same year as the Reform Act, yet continued the practise of electing two members to Parliament, initially divided between the Tories and the Whigs. Within a couple of years, both victors represented the Conservative Party and the dual members remained that way until further reform in 1885, when the constituency was abolished and split into four separate constituencies electing one member each.

In 1983, the constituency of North Shropshire was revived and upheld the traditions of a century before by remaining a Tory seat. John Biffin was the first MP to represent North Shropshire in the modern era, replaced by Owen Paterson fourteen years later; Paterson’s recent…er…difficulties provoked his resignation at the worst possible time for the Government, and a by-election coming so hot on the heels of revelations of last year’s restrictions-busting Christmas parties left the ancient ownership of this constituency up for grabs for the first time in living memory. Whilst it was still unimaginable to envisage North Shropshire falling into the divided hands of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats clearly fancied their chances as the resurrected protest vote for the disgruntled Tory voter now that UKIP no longer poses the threat it once did. And, despite the constituency voting Leave in 2016, the one-time cheerleaders for a second referendum were deemed the only option to a deeply unpopular administration masquerading as the lifelong leaseholders of the constituency.

At the final count, it was a chartered accountant by the name of Helen Morgan who took the seat from the Tories with an impressive swing of 34 percent. At the last General Election in December 2019, Owen Paterson had retained the seat he’d held since 1997 with 62.7 percent of the vote and a majority of 22,949. North Shropshire is the second safe Tory seat in a row to fall to the Lib Dems in a by-election, following the overturning of the Chesham and Amersham constituency from a 16,000 Conservative majority earlier this year. Whilst nobody would foolishly claim either victory is comparable to the legendary Orpington by-election of 1962 – which served as a devastating blow to Harold Macmillan’s crumbling authority – there’s no escaping the fact that two by-election blows in a row can be read as a humiliating rejection of the current shower running the show.

Perhaps the difference between now and Eric Lubbock’s shock triumph almost sixty years ago is that the Liberal revival of the early 60s proved to Harold Wilson (when he took charge of Labour a few months later) that there was a widespread groundswell of dissatisfaction with the Tory Government which Labour was in a far better position to capitalise on than the ill-prepared Liberal Party. Labour managed it in 1964, yet even though the party finished runner-up this time round in North Shropshire, it’s still difficult to picture Keir Starmer replicating Wilson’s achievement a couple of years from now. The political landscape is far more fragmented in 2021 than it was in 1962 – and it’d take a supreme optimist to see that altering by 2023 or ’24.

Boasting a majority of 5,925, the newest Member of Parliament was understandably overjoyed at evicting the governing party from one of its oldest backyards. She claimed many Labour voters opted for her as the best bet to oust the Tories, and this is a pattern we can probably expect to see regularly in the run-up to the next General Election, when so few Labour candidates inspire enough confidence to seriously threaten the Government outside of the remaining Labour constituencies that didn’t fall to the Tories last time round. ‘Tonight the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people,’ said Ms Morgan. ‘They have said loudly and clearly: “Boris Johnson, the party is over”.’ She went on to add, ‘In rural Shropshire today – just like Buckinghamshire in June – we have won the support of people who have always voted Conservative and people who have always opposed them…thousands of lifelong Conservative voters, dismayed by Boris Johnson’s lack of decency and fed up with being taken for granted – and thousands of lifelong Labour voters, choosing to lend their votes to the candidate who can defeat the Conservatives.’

If tactical voting of this nature proves to be a recurring trend that is extended into the next General Election, such a situation will still not ensure a Labour victory; a narrower Tory triumph will be the only predictable outcome, despite a significant improvement in Lib Dem fortunes since the dark days of Jo Swinson’s disastrous misjudgement of the national mood on the subject of Brexit. A merger between Labour and the Lib Dems – a far more permanent arrangement than a mere coalition for convenience – is the sole way forward if either party expects to oust an immovable party even as sunk in sleaze, corruption and outright dishonesty as the current Conservative crop. The blatant absence of a genuine opposition to Boris’s rancid administration is emphasised by the endless support provided to his pandemic policies by Starmer’s barmy army; rather than flocking around the red flag, voters in seats such as North Shropshire are registering their complaints in the ballot box by ticking the Lib Dem candidate as opposed to the Labour one. This is not a recipe for overturning a sizeable Tory majority across the country.

Labour’s problems are manifold in winning back the confidence of the electorate. With over a decade having passed since Gordon Brown’s brief tenure at No.10, the legacy of New Labour can’t even be blamed anymore as the source of the public’s mistrust in the traditional alternative to the Tories. Through the uninspired Emperor’s New Clothes of Ed Miliband to the asylum-taking revolution of Jezza’s lunatics, the Labour Party has struggled to connect beyond its hardcore fan-base over the past five or six years and still hasn’t flushed out the toxic remnants of the Corbyn era, with the Identity Politics domination of the frontbench remaining a deterrent to the wider electorate. Following a similar flirtation with minority pursuits, the Lib Dems have experienced their own rejection by voters and appear to have addressed the issue of late by switching focus to the genuine concerns of the many rather than the First World obsessions of the few. Labour could learn lessons from that, but they won’t do so by denying only women have cervixes or propping up Boris every time he goes back on his word and introduces ever more draconian curbs on civil liberties.

Yes, the loss of North Shropshire is a blow to the Tories – and an embarrassing one, at that; but a governing party losing a by-election when it has held power for over a decade isn’t necessarily an indication that the governing party’s days in office are numbered. For that to be the case there has to be a mass conviction that the opposition is a government-in-waiting, as was found in 1964, 1979 and 1997. Right now, despite the car crash that is Boris Johnson’s administration, who really believes Keir Starmer has the best pair of hands to take control of the steering wheel? Well, certainly not the Labour voters of North Shropshire.

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PARTY LIKE IT’S 1939

Telegraph CartoonStrange days produce strange heroes. Amongst the unlikely few standing up to be counted today include such left-wing Labour luminaries as Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long Bailey; and even though he’s now technically an independent, even old Jezza himself can be added to the list of those who rejected the latest hysterically authoritarian response to a variant more infectious yet less dangerous than all the other convenient variants that have conspired to extend restrictions till the end of time. Of course, their rebellion alongside the 99 Tories who voted against the Conservative Government’s introduction of draconian measures dismissed as conspiracy theorist hyperbole just a few months ago ultimately counted for nothing in terms of preventing legislation; but their stance marks them out as being in possession of a pair of bodily articles Keir Starmer sorely lacks. The Labour leader’s terminal inability to grow said articles is no great surprise; he’s the Deputy PM in all-but name, having enthusiastically supported every pandemic proposal like an even more supine Nick Clegg.

Last week, Sir Keir declared it was the public’s ‘patriotic duty’ to support ‘Plan B’ and the mandatory booster, so I guess those who weren’t prepared to queue up for hours at the crack of dawn like lemmings are guilty of treason – ditto those in Parliament who refused to sign-up to the strengthening of restrictions. These new rules make it compulsory for the vaccinated to produce papers and passes in order to gain access to specified venues, whilst those without are excluded. Yet, according to far more reliable medical testimony than can be found emanating from the likes of SAGE and their Communist manifesto, any vaccine is effectively ineffective against the Omnishambles Variant – which means the treble or quadruple-vaccinated who can mix and mingle at will are more likely to pass on the virus than the un-vaxxed looking in from the outside. Makes sense dunnit.

A majority of 243 – MPs voting 369 to 126 – was more than enough to give the Government a comfortable margin of victory to go ahead with everything they once swore they’d never introduce; but when one takes into account the sizeable number of backbenchers who chose to go with their conscience rather than opt for party loyalty, the humiliating scale of the rejection of their leader’s policy is telling – as is the fact none of this would have been possible without Boris’s lousy administration being propped-up by the so-called opposition. Other notable non-Tory MPs such as Caroline Lucas, Tim Farron, Layla Moran and Ian Paisley Jr combined to form the most surreal of coalitions, yet it is the party that is supposed to provide the main alternative to this lying, cheating, corrupt and thoroughly immoral Government that has missed every open goal presented to it, open goals that would have earned the electorate’s respect and – more crucially – their vote come the next General Election. But what else can Labour expect when led by such a contemptible cuck as Keir Starmer?

It goes without saying that the traditional way to assert one’s unhappiness with the leadership of one’s party is to register one’s disapproval during a crucial Commons vote, and it’s perhaps true to say the likes of Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Damian Green, David Davis, Esther McVey, Theresa Villiers and Andrea Leadsom were motivated by more than merely a sense of injustice when confronted by the further removal of civil liberties; there were undoubtedly old and long-standing axes hungry for grinding. At the same time, their votes need to be counted and remembered. None of those mentioned would have received an invite to last year’s Christmas non-party at Downing Street, yet their separate stances add up to a greater whole than just sour grapes at being excluded from airing their specialist subject whilst Boris got to play Magnus Magnusson.

As further evidence emerges of the abuse of restrictions the Government imposed on the rest of us in 2020 whilst they carried on regardless, the fact that prominent members of the governing party voted against even more punitive measures when confronted by one more variant while the majority of the main opposition party – bar a mere EIGHT opponents – saved Boris’s skin is a damning indictment of this nation’s political class. As if we needed another reminder. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting – yes, the famous Wes Streeting – crowed at the PM’s loss of face within Conservative circles by claiming Boris’s authority is ‘shattered’ and went on to add, ‘This is an extraordinary, extraordinary rebellion. The Government has lost its majority. I think the size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris Johnson.’ Just in case you were wondering, the Wes Streeting voted with the Government. No alternate agenda there, then.

I saw a headline on the eve of yesterday’s Commons vote in which the ‘official’ Deputy Prime Minister (i.e. not Starmer) Dominic Raab was quoted as saying families could meet up at Christmas; I don’t know precisely when it was decided that the festive arrangements of people were dependent upon the say so of a Government Minister, but I think we all ought to raise a toast to Mr Raab after the Queen’s Speech on Xmas Day to thank him for his graciousness in allowing us all to gather together – even those who’ll be on their own. We are truly ‘umble. Of course, it’s thanks to the likes of the gracious Mr Raab that the quadruple-vaccinated will be spared the privations of last year; lest we forget, last Christmas I gave you my heart (even if the very next day, you gave it away) – not to mention the fact that last Christmas was also a time when most of us were subjected to the tiers of a clown and the instigators of the tiers were partying on behind closed doors; back then there was much talk of ‘social bubbles’.

In case you’ve forgotten, the bubble system was based upon limiting the number of folk one was allowed to come into contact with and mix amongst in one’s home. Conservative Party workers and MPs weren’t included in this system, naturally, even if we weren’t aware of that at the time, but many went along with the bubbles and rarely ventured beyond them. Some were already in them and had been long before any Chinese scientist ‘accidentally’ dropped a test tube, and the increasing unpleasantness of the wider world as this lamentable century progresses will probably see an ongoing reliance on the perceived safety of such bubbles. Speaking personally, mine is the sole source of comfort I can depend upon, and I guess I’m not alone.

The world beyond the bubble appears to be careering towards a very dark place indeed, resembling a runaway train on which the brakes aren’t working, with the pandemic being the oil on the wheels contributing towards its ultimate crash. I can’t look forward five, let alone ten years because all I can see is the once-free world reborn as the Soviet Union or North Korea. The seeds have already been sown in Australia and New Zealand as well as past offenders like Austria and Germany, and it’s creeping closer to England via Wales and Scotland. People are resisting in small doses, but they’re up against the weight of the State, the mainstream media and every imaginable corporation – none more so than big tech and big pharma. Right now, it seems as though we’re living through our very own 1939, and we all know what comes next. I’m just thankful I’ve only got about 25 years left at best. I think the worst thing in 2021 would be to be 18, knowing you’ve got perhaps 75 to go. No wonder I’m forever blowing bubbles.

© The Editor

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MISSION OPPOSITION

StarmerIf ‘Make America Great Again’ was the political slogan of the 2010s that not only served but exceeded its purpose, the ones that stick in the head from this side of the pond during the same decade tend to be remembered because they ended up as sticks with which to beat those who spouted them. Sure, ‘MAGA’ was swiftly turned into a term of abuse when in the hands of the anti-Trump opposition, but for the devoted it was a virtual mantra; by contrast, no crowd on the campaign trail greeted Theresa May in 2017 by passionately chanting ‘Strong and stable! Strong and stable!’ In the disastrous Tory aftermath of that year’s General Election, if the uninspiring phrase that had been endlessly repeated up until polling day was uttered again it was done so with a sneer, a snigger and a shake of the head. During the Coalition, George Osborne declaring that we were all in it together was patently untrue, so it was a phrase universally mocked beyond the safe space of the conference hall; and Old Mother Cable’s embryonic Biden-ism of gloriously hilarious incoherence, ‘exotic spresms’, was both punch-line and punch-bag within seconds of tumbling out of the befuddled dodderer’s mouth.

A different phrase from the Con-Dem era has been exhumed this week, though as with Jeremy Corbyn recycling Blair’s old slogan, ‘For the many, not the few’, Keir Starmer has half-inched it in the belief his target audience will be ignorant as to the source of the plagiarism. I only know of it myself due to the pure serendipity of encountering it when revisiting my old ‘25 Hour News’ YT series. Uploading another five-minute spoof of news headlines from 2014 to my Patreon channel, up popped a clip of David Cameron from that year’s Conservative Party Conference in which every sentence I put in his mouth contained the word ‘hard-working’; he spoke mainly of ‘hard-working people from hard-working families’, constantly repeating it so that it was rendered as mind-numbingly meaningless as the actual usage of the phrase by Cameron in the real world. And, lo and behold, merely days after renewing my acquaintance with a soulless sibling of Nick Clegg’s ‘Alarm-clock Britain’, there it was cosying-up to a grateful Sir Keir, so desperate for any ear-catching buzzword on the eve of his first in-person conference as party leader that he had rehashed a Cameron cast-off.

An evident absence of inspiration when it comes to slogans or catch-phrases is something of a minor concern for the Labour leader, however. After the conference season was reduced to a glorified Zoom chat in lockdown-riddled 2020, Starmer now finally has his opportunity to address his party face-to-face and give them the kind of performance his abundance of charisma has been threatening ever since his election as leader. And it is the subject of elections that has presented the anxious Auton with a pre-conference flop that doesn’t exactly generate confidence in his authority. Keen to prevent a future repeat of the leadership coup that put his predecessor in charge, Starmer seeks to change party rules on internal elections and return to the electoral college system that Labour used to elect its leader for a quarter of a century until Ed Miliband introduced the ‘one member, one vote’ method. By putting power back in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Starmer clearly hopes to neutralise the threat of the Left; but his meeting with union leaders to garner support for the proposals has been described as a ‘car crash’.

Keir Starmer appears to have badly misjudged the mood within the unions whose support he depends upon when it comes to the NEC. Arrogantly expecting to receive the green light from them to take his rule change proposals to the NEC for approval (and then onto conference), the Labour leader has instead had to return to the drawing board at the eleventh hour. Unsurprisingly, the proposals were criticised and condemned as an ‘attack on democracy’ by the Labour Left – who, after all, stand to lose out the most should they be accepted; but the fact that union leaders publicly panned them as well effectively killed the idea and ensured the so-called Blairite Right will continue having to contend with the Momentum wing. Had Starmer been able to have these proposals approved by the NEC, they would’ve been brought to conference and served as a means of making the Labour leader come across as a man capable of flushing the unelectable elements out of his party. To be fair, though, that would have been an impression restricted to the faithful; there are far more elements to the Labour Party that make it unelectable than merely Momentum or even the far-from inspiring Starmer himself.

Starmer’s deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner, has once again exhibited her immaturity and ultimate disqualification from holding high office by pre-empting the party’s conference with a juvenile rant worthy of a Jezza groupie. Ever since Team Corbyn seized control, Labour seems to have encouraged an adolescent mindset amongst its newer recruits that just looks retarded to outsiders, like the grownups have permanently left the room and the alternative to ‘Tory Scum’ is a foot-stamping brat whose default mode of attack is to hurl childish insults that are toe-curlingly embarrassing to anyone over the age of 14. Every time this kind of behaviour is broadcast to the nation, the amount of potential Labour voters lost must be sizeable, yet someone like Angela Rayner can’t help herself; even Keir Starmer winced over the latest example of his deputy’s infantile attitude. Rayner, like Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, has also long-since soured any credibility beyond the diehards by excessively playing to the minority gallery.

Rayner may as well have the fatuous hashtag of #BeKind attached to her every statement, which is the hypocritical hallmark of what Julie Burchill refers to as the ‘snow-fakes’, those irredeemably unpleasant online Labour activists forever condemning the other side for being guilty of every ‘ism’ and phobia available whilst dishonestly portraying themselves as sensitive paragons of virtuous inclusivity. Their vicious assault on Labour MP Rosie Duffield – a former darling of the victim mindset who then had the outrageous audacity to declare only women have cervixes – has resulted in the Member for Canterbury declining to attend her own party’s conference because of the ongoing abuse; and the silence from the likes of Angela Rayner, who once showered Duffield in praise for her feminist sentiments and Remoaner rhetoric, is deafening.

The Labour Party’s nihilistic embrace of Identity Politics comes at the expense of any wider understanding that such issues only matter to a minority chattering class that carries no clout in old ‘Red Wall’ seats; the Tories were able to steam in and clean up because there was no other alternative to a party that spends most of its time obsessing over first-world trivialities and demonising its former supporters as ill-educated and unenlightened racist bigots. The inadvertently iconic image of Starmer and Rayner rushing to take the knee when last year’s BLM protests had barely even got going just made the pair of them look like trendy parents desperate for their kids to see them as ‘cool’ when the kids themselves were cringing.

That photograph seemed to sum up so much of what the Labour Party and its leadership keeps getting wrong, and it’s hard to see how it can get it right at the moment. When the Labour leader claims it was wrong for Rosie Duffield to state the biological fact that only women have cervixes – ‘It’s something that shouldn’t be said. It’s not right’ – it’s no wonder the nation shakes its head and rolls its eyes in unison. This is the alternative? The party can’t even be regarded as a fragile coalition of competing interests in the way it was under, say, the stewardship of Harold Wilson, when its rival wings could at least sacrifice their individual visions for the greater good of governing the country. Right now, the country needs a strong Opposition more than at any other time in living memory – and it simply hasn’t got one.

© The Editor

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BATLEY VARIETY CLUBBED

GallowayProbably wrong to call it a standard-bearer, but the yardstick by which all subsequent by-elections have been judged on the grounds of unpleasantness is undoubtedly the unedifying little rumpus that took place in South London way back in February 1983. A Labour seat held by the same sitting member since 1946 (whatever name the constituency went under), Bermondsey came to be regarded as a microcosm of the death of the post-war consensus in British politics when it was suddenly up for grabs via the resignation of Bob Mellish, whose disillusionment with the way his Party was going in the wake of the SDP defection and Labour’s capitulation to the hard-left embodied the familiar recurring crisis in Labour ranks when out of office. Labour nominated a leading light in what Fleet Street used to call ‘the Loony Left’ as its candidate, the openly gay Peter Tatchell, a man who had risen to local prominence as a militant member of the left-wing faction that had taken control of the constituency party; his main opponent in the contest was the Liberal Simon Hughes, a barrister parachuted in when the Liberals smelt blood in a seat that was hardly going to fall into Conservative hands.

The Bermondsey by-election may have marked the public debut of Screaming Lord Sutch and the Monster Raving Loony Party as a regular fixture of 80s political events, but it also highlighted prejudices indicative of the time that seem unimaginable in today’s climate. An undeniable strain of blatant homophobia permeated the promotional material of Tatchell’s opponents, including that of Simon Hughes. Leaflets bearing Tatchell’s home address and telephone number, along with graffiti and numerous reported derogatory remarks made by other candidates on the doorstep, all contributed to an unprecedented smear campaign. Whilst Tatchell’s association with Militant Tendency (the hardcore group of activists serving to make Labour unelectable in the eyes of the electorate) certainly worked against him, it’s impossible to avoid his previous connections to the Gay Liberation Front as not exactly endearing him to many of Bermondsey’s socially-conservative constituents. We may now live in a society in which the rainbow flag is more conspicuous than the Union Jack, but even in a period as relatively recent as the early 80s being gay was still largely regarded as subversive and suspect; and this was even before AIDS ramped up the tabloid paranoia.

In the end, Bermondsey experienced a staggering swing of 44.2% to the Liberals (who had yet to become Democrats) – a result that still stands as the largest swing in a British by-election…ever. Moreover, Simon Hughes also bucked the usual trend by remaining an MP for a seat won in a contentious by-election for the best part of three decades. Many years later, he and Tatchell were reunited on ‘Newsnight’ and, to his credit, Hughes personally apologised to his one-time Labour opponent for some of the dirty tricks used during that notorious campaign; and to his own credit Tatchell accepted the apology without a trace of rancour or bitterness. Both had come a long way since 1983. One would like to think society as a whole has also advanced in the intervening decades, though the Batley & Spen by-election of 2021 has perhaps shown we may well have gone backwards. Being gay is rightly no longer an impediment to being elected an MP, but other prejudices and fresh strains of bigotry have simply superseded the old ones.

With its large Muslim community, there has been considerable pandering by all interested parties to a demographic the Labour Party has long assumed with a degree of complacent arrogance will always lean to the left. Turning a shameful blind eye to the plight of the local teacher still in hiding from hardline Islamist bigots, everyone competing for the constituency instead sought to court the Muslim vote without once challenging the prevalent prejudices within it; what Labour MP Navendu Mishra called ‘dog-whistle racism’ was in full flow during the campaign as routine and deliberately divisive anti-Hindu and anti-Semitic sentiments reflected the Identity Politics agenda all political parties with a stake in the constituency decided to go with. Labour didn’t bank on one of its former sons exploiting dissatisfaction with the current leadership by storming into town and capitalising on the ugly climate with hackneyed pro-Palestine sloganeering, but George Galloway has a track record of this. His performance as Workers Party candidate resulted in him slashing the Labour vote, but also probably did as much damage to the Tories, who undoubtedly fancied their chances with national Labour support in freefall.

The far-right were also present on the hustings by all accounts; stories of Labour workers being pelted with eggs and physically assaulted were abundant throughout a campaign that has seemed as nasty as any since Bermondsey in 1983. Labour’s insistence on sticking to the Identitarian approach – patronising ethnic ‘victims’ and demonising ethnic groups to have transcended such limiting labels through no-nonsense hard work – appeared to pay off in the end, though it’s difficult to see how one can celebrate such a narrow victory when one’s main opponents enjoyed a record swing (for a governing party) of 2.9 and the winning party experienced its lowest-ever majority and lowest-ever percentage of the vote. Labour’s victor was Kim Leadbeater, a political novice whose connection to a tragedy that put the constituency on the map five years ago (she’s Jo Cox’s sister) must have figured as a selling point; but it still didn’t produce anything other than a stay of execution for both Keir Starmer and the Labour Party itself.

A majority of 323 was the slimmest of margins for Labour in Batley & Spen last night; Leadbeater’s tally of 13,296 votes gave her a hair’s breadth lead over the Tories at 12,973; Galloway was third with 8,264. Leadbeater could lay claim to 35% of the vote, which is the smallest share of the vote any victorious candidate in the constituency could boast since its creation in the somewhat, ah, ‘memorable’ year of 1983 – down from the 42.7 % Tracy Brabin won it by in 2019. In terms of votes cast, the new Mayor of West Yorkshire & Neverland managed 22,594 at the last General Election, and it’s due to Brabin’s appetite for superficial power that this by-election had to be fought in the first place – and at the worst possible time for Labour. Yes, Galloway’s intervention undeniably enabled Labour to scrape through by the skin of its teeth, but if the Tories hadn’t sat back in the hope the bolshie maverick’s efforts would do all the work for them in the wake of negative publicity courtesy of Matt Hancock, perhaps this ‘Red Wall’ seat would now be added to the long list in blue hands. But the truth is none of them would have been worthy winners, all having played their part in what has been yet one more nadir in recent British political history.

If Batley & Spen had fallen to the Conservative Party – or even the Workers Party – the accusations that could legitimately be levelled at Labour during the by-election campaign would be equally valid. Just as the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 exploited contemporary paranoia over gay issues and militancy on the far-left fringes of the Labour party, this by-election in oh-so sophisticated 2021 has seen similarly bigoted and divisive tactics applied. All played the Identitarian card in one way or another; all deserve condemnation for sinking to lowest common denominator politics. Rather than seeking to genuinely unite – too much like hard work? – all sought to capitalise on divisions already present by widening them just that little bit further. The only unifying element of this ghastly exercise in democracy was the communal pot all the participants pissed in.

© The Editor

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AS YOU WERE

LabourAs they used to say back in the day on ‘Big Brother’ eviction nights, the votes have been counted; and what do the votes tell us about the electoral map of the UK following last week’s local, mayoral and devolved elections? Well, it’s essentially as you were. One can talk about a vaccine roll-out effect, I guess; but it seems the negative publicity metered out to the Tories and SNP in recent months had little impact on the voters – or perhaps they saw the excuse for an alternative and figured it was yet another case of ‘better the Devil you know’. It didn’t affect the London Mayor either; Sadiq Khan’s indisputably useless record on combating crime in the capital and his infatuation with Woke virtue signalling didn’t count against him when he was confronted by numerous vanity projects on the part of actors and other self-publicists with no political experience. Similarly, north of the border it appears the far-from flattering revelations to emerge from the prolonged Alex Salmond farrago – not to mention the SNP’s unnervingly authoritarian approach to governance – didn’t persuade the Scottish electorate to invest in something else. The only real losers on Thursday and Friday would seem to have been the beleaguered Labour Party.

Amazingly, Keir Starmer sweeping into Hartlepool and scoffing fish & chips with a pint – just like all northern working-class folk do in between being darn t’pit and walking t’whippet – didn’t convince the voters in the North-East, and they handed a traditionally safe Labour seat to the Tories for the first time. Fancy that. One could argue that Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election was the only result that really mattered last week, though Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford would probably disagree. Wee Ms Krankie needed another mandate from the Scottish electorate to legitimise her tedious second referendum obsession and hope it would paper over the corrupt cracks in her appalling administration. It’s not as though anyone other than the most blinkered, anti-English redneck is under any illusion now that the party is somehow morally superior to any of its rivals; enough dirt was exposed beneath the manicured Caledonian fingernails by the recent investigation into the Salmond affair to open the eyes of voters, yet Sturgeon’s clan still retained power. With opinion polls suggesting a second independence referendum will probably result in the same kind of split as the last ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ plebiscite, Sturgeon will wait for the right moment to strike, but she’ll keep harping on about it until that moment arrives, for she’s got nothing else to harp on about in the meantime.

Mirroring the pyrrhic victory of Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford received the thumbs-up from voters following months in which he’s revelled in his role as the puritanical lockdown overlord for the Valleys. He no doubt imagines the backing of the Welsh electorate vindicates his stance over the past year, just as Sturgeon views her re-election as a resounding endorsement of her equally totalitarian idea of rule. In the afterglow of the final count, however, perhaps both should consider the quality of competition on offer and the fact that ancient prejudices and bigotries towards parties other than the one yer ‘da’ always voted for continue to count for something in the constituent countries of the UK other than England. That Mark Draper’s party beyond Wales was up against a similar piss-poor alternative and still had a disastrous showing maybe paints a more accurate picture of where we are outside of the enclosed tunnel vision that devolution invariably engenders.

Sir Keir hasn’t pissed about, mind; his immediate reaction to the results in England was to instigate a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle – an action akin to a wife of 30-plus years changing her hairstyle in the vain hope her disinterested husband will suddenly find her attractive again. The few that noticed Starmer’s response took note of the fact that Angela Rayner lost her job as party chair as well as carrying the can for the disastrous campaign as national campaigns coordinator; a minor storm in a neglected teacup followed Rayner’s removal, but the former ‘thingle mother’ has actually been promoted, now shadowing Michael Gove; it may sound like the least appealing promotion imaginable, but Rayner can at least be consoled by the fact that nobody outside of Westminster Village really gives a shit. Talk of the Party relocating from its London base in order to reconnect with its lost heartlands is merely another PR stunt as meaningless as the BBC shifting its operations from Shepherd’s Bush to Salford. The Labour Party could set up shop in the Outer Hebrides and it would still venture no further than the boundaries of the metropolitan bubble it took with it should its hands be soiled by contact with uncouth locals whose vote it nevertheless craves.

Something that will be looked upon by few other than the Labour hierarchy as one of last week’s few ‘success stories’ was the election of Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire Mayor – arguably one of the more vacuous exercises in self-indulgent bureaucratic pointlessness local government has yet to dream up. Beyond the euphoric electorate of dynamic Northern Powerhouses Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, Brabin’s election to the latest vapid office of no interest to anyone who cares about life that stretches further than the end of their street wouldn’t register at all if her ‘promotion’ didn’t necessitate a further nightmarish by-election prospect for her party. The former constituency of Jo Cox will now be vacated and fought over sometime in the summer, as the police and crime responsibilities that come with Brabin’s shiny new status disqualify her from remaining an MP under electoral commission rules. The Batley and Spen seat is a marginal one, with Brabin’s majority at the last General Election slashed to 3,525, so I should imagine the Tories are looking forward to that particular by-election more than Labour.

The Conservative Party shouldn’t become complacent, however; just because the Tories trounced a terminally weak opposition doesn’t necessarily mean the electorate were giving their full endorsement to Boris’s mob. It’s unarguable that they enjoyed a remarkably impressive showing for a party in office for over a decade – and in the wake of a unique situation in which they haven’t always acquitted themselves admirably; but the supposed success of the vaccine, which the MSM never tires of telling us about, is being credited with building on the gains made in 2019 and suggests no amount of ‘sleaze’ headlines make the slightest bit of difference once the voter enters the polling booth. That said, the triumph of the party definitely owes something to the nature of the pandemic narrative; that the public have to receive the permission of Michael Gove that it’s now okay to embrace again says a great deal as to how the Tories have moulded public opinion through their relentless campaign of fear and intimidation over the past year or so; convincing the electorate that the Tories know best when voting comes around is merely a natural by-product of this tactic, and it has paid off.

These elections weren’t really the ‘giving the powers-that-be a bloody nose’ type that the EU Referendum offered us five years ago; they weren’t even comparable to the shock experienced by the wannabe powers-that-be in 2019. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that the end results changed little with the exception of a bit more ground being gained by the Tories; after all, people have had other distractions from party politics during this last twelve months, and maybe figured this wasn’t the time for a seismic shift. The apple cart has been upset enough of late.

© The Editor

NORTH-EAST OF EDEN

MonkeyOn those rare occasions when the football season is a two-horse race, it’s often a case of who’ll blink first; one of the two teams chasing the title bottles it at the eleventh hour and the other ends up being crowned champions. Is this because the winner is the better side or because the loser blew it on the last lap? The record books simply record who won and who didn’t, though it may be said at the moment of the final whistle that the champions didn’t win the title so much as the runners-up lost it. Should the SNP remain in power north of the border or Sadiq Khan retain his regime south of Watford this week, would it be fair to say neither won but the competition lost? The Conservative Party under Boris Johnson seems capable of every cock-up imaginable without fear of being thrown out of office, for a weak alternative to a weak Government will inevitably result in the continuation of the incumbent party, however much of a mess it has presided over. Similarly, the first real post-pandemic test of the electorate across the country tomorrow will see local, mayoral and devolved administration elections take place that may well end with parties and individuals worthy of being booted out simply staying where they are because the alternative was even worse.

Amidst the regional nature of the so-called (permission granted to cringe) ‘Super Thursday’, there will also be an election affecting the national picture courtesy of a by-election in a Red Wall seat. It’s in Hartlepool. Yes, Hartlepool, where the people infamously strung-up a monkey during the Napoleonic Wars because they were convinced the poor primate was a French spy. As is so often the case with small towns struggling for claims to fame, this bizarre legend has to a degree put Hartlepool on the map and its local football and rugby teams have adopted the monkey as mascot and logo respectively. Even stranger is the fact that a man dressed in simian costume going by the name of H’angus the Monkey stood in the town’s mayoral elections in 2002, with free bananas for Hartlepudlian school-kids key to his manifesto; against all odds, he won – and was re-elected by a landslide three years later. By the time he was in office, H’angus had reverted to his real name of Stuart Drummond, though Hartlepool is now nationally known as somewhere that once executed and then later elected a monkey.

As far as I know, no monkey is standing in 2021, but the town that was home to Brian Clough’s first faltering steps into football management could well provide the match of the day tomorrow. Hartlepool was a classic northern Labour stronghold for decades, supplying the town’s MP in every General Election since 1964, yet like so many Red Wall areas in England the 2016 EU Referendum proved to be a watershed for this unchallenged dominance. The North-East was broken down into 12 voting areas in 2016, and of the 12 only the region’s one big metropolitan city – Newcastle – followed all the other big metropolitan cities in the country by voting Remain; the rest of the North-East more accurately reflected the indigenous mood by voting Leave. Hartlepool did so with a margin of 69.6%, the highest margin in the entire North-East area. We may be five years removed from that resounding finger gesticulating in the direction of the political class of Westminster, but it’s fair to say subsequent events have not turned the electorate back towards the Remain-friendly Labour Party.

A Parliamentary constituency that was once in the hands of Peter Mandelson just about remained Labour-held at the 2019 General Election, though with a dramatically reduced majority from 2017 (3,595) as the Brexit Party grabbed 25% of the vote; and Mike Hill, the man who retained it stood down in March this year, prompting tomorrow’s by-election. Hill resigned his seat in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation, something that caused his temporary suspension from the Party in 2019 and something for which he will face an employment tribunal later in the year. It has not been an auspicious exit, yet perhaps reflects the low standing in which Labour is now held in the region. Paul Williams, the Party’s man hoping to succeed Hill, is faced with pre-election polling claiming less than 40% of those who voted for Labour in 2019 will do so again this time round. Neighbouring traditional Labour councils in Durham and Sunderland also appear under threat at a time when the Tories at a national level have hardly endeared themselves to the public; that Labour is struggling to regain ground lost in 2019 even after the bungled handling of the pandemic by the opposition demonstrates just how much the Party has summarily failed to address its dwindling working-class support in areas it could once win with its eyes closed.

Hartlepool is the kind of dyed-in-the-wool Labour seat that might have once fallen to the Lib Dems if it was ever going to fall to anyone – though the one-time ‘protest vote’ party has paid the price for throwing its lot in with metropolitan minority interest Identity Politics even more than Labour, so we now have the once-unthinkable situation where the Tories are the credible alternative to North-East traditions. Keir Starmer may have tried to address the anti-Semitic legacy of the Corbyn/Momentum era of the Party, but the leader’s rush to take the knee for BLM, his perceived dithering over Covid, and his support for endless lockdowns hasn’t exactly won back the working-class vote that has been deserting Labour for decades as the leadership has taken it for granted; one would think the disastrous example of Scotland would have alerted Labour to what was going on in its northern backyard, but whilst Trans-rights and gender pronouns have been preoccupying those gathered round the dinner-party tables of Islington, those who loyally stuck with Labour until roundabout Blair’s second term have been abandoning the Party as swiftly as the Party itself has abandoned them for first-world problems that don’t mean a jot when you’re forced to claim Universal Credit in Hartlepool.

Six of the neighbouring North-East constituencies to Hartlepool fell to the Tories in 2019, and morale amongst the ground-force foot-sloggers entrusted with door-stepping floating voters and trying to persuade them to come home to a party that appears to view them with barely-concealed contempt hasn’t been helped by the realisation that cost-cutting measures will result in around 90 clipboard-carrying party activists being made redundant the day after polling day. Rather than winning voters round with convincing promises of what Labour will do for them if returned to power, the party reeks of desperation unprecedented in one that should be way ahead in the polls after more than a decade of Tory rule in one shape or another. The Batley and Spen Labour MP Tracy Brabin – holder of the constituency once held by Jo Cox – has only just been cleared of allegations accusing her of bribing the electorate with brownies during campaigning for the utterly meaningless post of Mayor of West Yorkshire; regardless of the fact the last thing such a region requires is another layer of bureaucratic local government, the actions of Brabin – whether legal or not – make Labour look cheap, like a budget supermarket laden with BOGOF offers on every aisle.

Keir Starmer is already attempting to pre-empt the expected loss of Hartlepool as well as a sizeable chunk of local government control north of Watford Gap by claiming Labour’s ‘recovery’ will take more time, playing down Party hopes ahead of ‘Super Thursday’; nothing quite like encouragement from the leadership to generate confidence, is there? But at least one could say Starmer is being realistic; if Hartlepool is added to the lengthy list of Labour’s one-time heavy-industry heartlands that now constitute the backbone of Boris Johnson’s 80-strong majority, few will be entirely surprised. Indeed, I suspect those who formulate Labour policy a long way from the land harried by William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago couldn’t give a monkey’s.

© The Editor

BREAKDOWN AND CRY FREEDOM

DonkeySad but true: Cynicism is now so entrenched as the default response to each public utterance by a politician that we naturally expect them to go back on virtually every statement they make. If one week a Minister says ‘We will not be doing this’, we express little surprise when, come the following week, they do precisely what they’d told us they wouldn’t be doing the week before. This acceptance of how language is so casually abused inevitably enables those who abuse it to carry on abusing it as though to do so is perfectly normal and nothing to feel any shame about. Even when confronted by evidence of their current claim contradicting their previous one, the politician will simply abuse the language further by pretending what was said before actually equates with what is being said now. I don’t really want to quote Orwell yet again, because it’s almost become a pointless exercise on a par with highlighting the religious affiliation of the Pope or the toilet habits of bears in their natural habitat. It’s long been a given that politicians lie, but it’s now also a given that it’s perfectly acceptable and nobody gives a flying f**k anymore anyway. We anticipate nothing less from the political class.

It’s like emphasising to a child the wrongness of eating a chocolate biscuit on the eve of a meal, then standing back and watching as the child scoffs a Twix five minutes before dinner is served; we video the incident, play it back to the child, the child denies it ate the Twix and then repeats the action again before mealtime the following day. And we say nothing. We say nothing because we don’t believe saying something makes a difference. How many marched to stop the invasion of Iraq all those years ago? Opposition was recorded, yes; and the invasion went ahead anyway. I’ve a feeling the unprecedented scale of that protest may have galvanised a generation into direct action whilst simultaneously killing the belief that direct action achieves anything. In its own way, the 2003 Iraq march was as historically significant as the Aldermaston walkabout in 1958 – and just as ultimately futile.

We now have a tenant of No.10 who has made a career of contradicting himself, a Prime Minister surrounded by a cabal of contradictors similarly schooled in such linguistic bullshit. If one were to play devil’s advocate, one could attempt to place the unique circumstances confronting them in the context of a pretty freak scenario for which there are few post-war precedents, therefore justifying the shifting sands upon which they stand; however, at the same time, one could equally argue the pandemic has provided them with the excuse to say one thing one day and the contrary thing the next, free from forensic examination. Their inconsistencies can be bracketed alongside the constantly mutating virus itself, never standing still and presenting the public with an ever-changing position that mirrors the unstable nature of our times. That is somewhat letting them off lightly, though, just as it lets off Sir Keir Starmer as he unpicks a fresh set of splinters from his backside after a year of sitting on the fence.

The Leader of the Opposition – and Opposition is up there with the most abused words in the political lexicon of late – has recently stirred from his pusillanimous slumber to indicate there might actually be a Government policy he dares to disagree with. Let’s face it – it must be something bad for the plastic man to show something resembling a human spine; and it is. After months of repeatedly denying so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will play a part in the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the ruling party has obviously gone back on this and is now advocating presenting one’s papers not merely to actual passport officials at airports and seaports, but when seeking to be served in a pub or restaurant or gain access to a sporting or musical event once they resume. It goes without saying that additional instruments of Project Fear propaganda posing as opinion polls have already given a tacit thumbs-up to this latest U-turn, and I’ve no doubt a vast majority of the masses have greeted the news in the same way they greeted the imposition of masks as a mandatory measure – mildly annoying, but we’re all in this together, so let’s sacrifice personal civil liberties for the greater good, eh?

Scare a population half to death by exaggerating the dangers of a virus to which a minority of them are especially vulnerable, then subject them to a year of house arrest, and finally inform them their confinement can end on the condition they submit to the kind of permanent tracking and tracing that the Chinese Communist Party would wholeheartedly endorse. How do you think a weary populace desperate to return to a semblance of normality will respond to the enticing carrot on the end of Boris’s stick? Reports of blood clots as a particularly severe reaction to a vaccine that – lest we forget – didn’t even exist this time last year has now prompted the temporary withdrawal of it and the offer of an alternative to the under-30s; but one can’t help but wonder if under-30s really require a vaccine of any persuasion for actual health reasons or if it’s being administered in order that they’ll be able to function as members of the society that will eventually arise from the post-Covid ashes. Is this to be a two-tier society of ‘the clean’ and ‘the unclean’, a society of the voluntary and the involuntary?

It’s probably just as well that first-hand memories of life under Nazi occupation are rapidly fading, and even the generations raised on the second-hand TV and film reinterpretations are ageing; the old joke German accent demanding to see one’s papers is one largely unfamiliar to those preparing to inherit the Earth, so the prospect of having to show one’s papers in order to procure a pint or simply enter a tavern in the town won’t be accompanied by an impression of Freddie Starr’s impression of Adolph. Those who emigrated to Western democratic societies at a time when the Eastern Bloc was under the Bolshevik boot are also getting on and their offspring have inherited such reminiscences as nothing more than oral heritage for which there is no personal experience. Therefore, any opposition to vaccine passports based upon it being an illiberal, totalitarian abuse of liberties that should be a given in a democracy is, to put it bluntly, the pissing in the wind of a minority with an awareness of a history that is being wilfully erased a little more with every day that passes.

‘Covid status certification’ is the official name for the proposed vaccine passport, and – of course – this will only be a temporary measure, just as social distancing was, just as masks were, just as the lockdown was. Anyway, it’s no big deal, is it? Certainly not if it saves the NHS and keeps granny alive, something ‘Cockers’ would no doubt endorse. I refer there to our beloved Health Secretary. This nickname was reported to me via an old friend whose spouse has spent the past couple of years working in Whitehall; some of her meetings now reduced to Zoom calls have included ‘Cockers’ on the multi-wanker screen. Apparently, one of his chums addressed him as such during a conference, implying a degree of familiarity that reeks of prepubescent hair being spontaneously washed in public school lavatories as an impromptu jape. No doubt the spiffing chap who called Hancock ‘Cockers’ was awarded a million-pound contract to produce packaging for f***ing syringes or something vaguely Covid-related on the strength of this familiarity.

We’re the lucky ones, though. We can remember a time of what now seems increasingly like genuine freedom, not the paper-showing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, tracking-and-tracing, perma-vaccine brand of freedom that ‘Cockers’ proclaimed the Government would cry as soon as the vulnerable had endured their stint as guinea pigs for the jab. As we edge closer to that carrot, formative memories are being forged in nurseries and primary schools, memories deprived of the luxuries we took for granted. And we think we’ve got it bad.

© The Editor