GRAY DAY

BorisIf gun culture was as prevalent here as it is in the US – yet one more example this week highlighting just how prevalent, of course – I reckon Boris Johnson could probably get away with ‘accidentally’ shooting dead a member of the Cabinet and declaring he didn’t recognise his trigger-happy actions as murder or even manslaughter; he’d no doubt face angry calls for his head at PMQs and still survive as PM, brazenly blustering his way through a denial that those lackeys he hadn’t killed would applaud and support in the face of Opposition outrage. He’d apologise to his dead colleague’s widow and then say it was time to ‘move on’. The incumbent Prime Minister would be able to evade justice because he’s surrounded by deliberately-chosen mediocrities on his own side and confronted by hapless no-hopers on the other, giving him the kind of leeway no other PM in living memory has ever been able to enjoy. I should imagine all of his surviving predecessors are green-eyed when it comes to his good fortune, not to mention envying the apparent apathy of the general public towards his shameless bullshit.

After months of column inches devoted to exposing what Boris did during the pandemic war, Sue Gray’s ‘Partygate’ report – in as un-redacted a version as we could hope to expect – has finally been published, and the forced apologies are in full swing, especially in relation to the way in which some of the menials at No.10 were treated by those present at the restriction-breaking ‘work events’ held during lockdown – though probably no different from how Boris treated his luckless ‘fag’ at Eton. ‘I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded,’ said Boris without a hint of irony in the Commons, ‘and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff. And I’d like to apologise to those members of staff and I expect anyone who behaved that way to apologise to them as well.’ One might almost imagine he hadn’t been there were it not for the photographs that emerged on ITV News in the days leading up to the publication of the report.

Certainly, from some of the descriptions in the Gray report, a Downing Street concept of a party bears more of a relation to the kind of juvenile bash teenagers indulge in when their parents are out for the evening, the kind where some drink alcohol for the first time and the carpet is consequently exposed to the inevitable end results. Once the grownups are back in the room, cue a major league bollocking from dad, followed by a cleanup campaign by the guilty, with threats of being grounded for weeks echoing in their ears. I suppose the main difference here is that there were no parents to come home and restore order; the more junior civil servants present took their lead from the senior attendees, assuming it was okay to be there and to get stuck in because Boris and chums were doing likewise and exercising little in the way of authority; the image is of unsupervised children being allowed to run wild – like ‘Lord of the Flies’ with karaoke.

‘The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture,’ says Gray, laying blame firmly at the door of Downing Street and those who, in theory, are supposed to be the grownups there. The infamous shindig held the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in April last year officially ended at 4.20am, which at least shows the partygoers didn’t merely reserve their contempt for the lower orders whose lives they’d made a misery with regulations they themselves declined to adhere to; the lack of respect towards Her Majesty, which one naturally expects at such a moment, is pretty glaring. However, the first prominent ‘work event’ scrutinised in the report took place on 20 May 2020, a garden party at No.10 attended by around 30-40 people; it was a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering organised by the PM’s-then principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. Mind you, there is at least an awareness that the party wasn’t strictly legit in a later WhatsApp message from Reynolds to a SPAD, in which the former opined ‘we seem to have got away with it’.

Another much-discussed work event, the so-called ‘Abba party’ held in the PM’s flat at No.10 on 13 November 2020 – one at which Carrie Antoinette was allegedly present – isn’t included amongst the 16 separate gatherings examined in Sue Gray’s report; the bash – apparently staged to mark the hasty exits of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain – was being investigated by Gray when the Met’s own investigation began, so she suspended her work for fear of prejudicing the police case. The Met are being a tad cagy about this one, admitting there were breaches of Covid regulations yet refusing to reveal how many attendees were fined; then again, it was hardly a unique occasion. The Met investigated 12 work events altogether, issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for eight of them, with 126 fines dished out to 83 people in total. As well as those gatherings already mentioned, there were also get-togethers on 18 and 19 June, 17 and 18 December (all 2020) and 14 January 2021, each resulting in retrospective fines.

‘Wine Time Fridays’ appear to have been introduced at No.10 as part of Boris’s charm offensive in the workplace, which seems like one more manifestation of his deep desire to be liked; were these placed on hiatus in the same way everyone else’s social life had to be during lockdown, I suspect most couldn’t care less if Downing Street staff enjoyed unwinding with a bottle at the end of the working week. That they carried on regardless when it was suddenly illegal to either hold or attend such gatherings is what irks and hurts those who were forced into isolation and alienation by lockdown. The Prime Minister, of course, continues to plead ignorance of his own emergency legislation that outlawed what he regarded as work events. ‘It’s clear from what Sue Gray had to say that some of these gatherings went on far longer than was necessary,’ he said whilst being repeatedly heckled in the Commons, ‘and they were clearly in breach of the rules and they fell foul of the rules.’ Your rules, mate.

Unfortunately, the photographic evidence so far doesn’t really support some of the more debauched descriptions of events at Downing Street, one of which features Boris and Rishi at the PM’s birthday ‘do’; shockingly, jugs of juice and M&S sandwiches can clearly be seen in this outrageous image! The fact the two were fined for being present at what resembles a coffee morning at a church hall perhaps yet again underlines the ridiculousness of the rules and restrictions we were all expected to abide by at the time – ditto Sir Keir and his beer. That none of our lord and masters chose to practice what they preached is one reason why this story refuses to go away in the face of rather more serious mounting issues since. Yes, they were quick to don their masks and visors when out and about in order to set a shining example to the rest of us; but once they were behind closed doors it was socially (un)distanced party time, something we were all told would probably be responsible for the death of granny – when the old dear was actually more likely to meet her maker after Matt Hancock sent her back to the care home.

Naturally, many broke lockdown rules and many remained free from having a police record; others weren’t so lucky. If, as we are occasionally informed, our politicians are only human too, I guess it’s no surprise some of them also broke the rules. Then again, members of the public who did likewise didn’t devise those rules in the first place and didn’t bombard the populace with a steady stream of propaganda, including threats of the dire consequences facing them if those rules were broken. The unravelling of Project Fear is embodied in the Partygate affair, though best not to get too complacent; who knows what treats they’ve got lined up for us re monkeypox, eh?

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

TV TIMES

Bingewatch30-odd years ago, when satellite dishes were the latest addition to the increasingly-expanding abundance of street furniture, the allure of new television channels beyond the reach of the traditional terrestrial broadcasters prompted the girl I was living with at the time to invest in just such an alternative. We ended up with Cable TV, and despite the accompanying literature boasting about all the new shows we could now access, most of its appeal for me was as a repository for the long-forgotten programmes the old television lords and masters had dispensed with years before. There wasn’t much new material on offer that I myself found capable of piquing my curiosity – bar the novelty exhibitionism of ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ long before Jeremy Kyle encouraged the Great British Underclass to wash their own dirty linen in public; but the archive channels suddenly at my fingertips were a rich source of nostalgic entertainment and also (as it was still the 90s) a strain on my limited finances due to the amount of blank VHS tapes I felt compelled to buy to preserve them on.

In the intervening decades, the innovation of the DVD box-set and the advent of YouTube have opened some of the more neglected TV vaults to the public and this is a trend that certainly seems ongoing. Spending a weekend away with all the streaming services and vintage channels I’m not able to receive at home can find me enjoying classic ‘Star Trek’ – and I can’t remember the last time that received a terrestrial outing – and Gerry Anderson’s live-action landmark, ‘UFO’ amongst numerous others. I appreciate my own personal tastes aren’t everyone’s, and many sign-up for the kind of packages offered by the likes of Sky, Virgin or BT in order to catch the contemporary US shows that claim column inches and win awards – the sort of programmes ‘everybody’s talking about’ and so on. I’ve watched a few of these, I admit, and some are pretty good, especially when compared to the generally dismal standard of shows airing on the BBC or ITV, though I’m largely looking for an antique gem when I skim through the thousand-and-one channels listed; and I can usually find one.

During lockdown, the unexpected introduction of time on the hands of an overworked population unaccustomed to catching its breath often translated as binge-watching, whereby Netflix in particular saw a surge in subscribers eager to lose themselves in the sort of addictive mini-series it appears to churn out with effortless ease. Not being a subscriber myself, I found the aforementioned vintage shows to be my own personal source of comfort food for the eyes via the physical box-set, though my diversion was merely a manifestation of a common ailment when the world outside had suddenly taken on an unsettlingly alien element that made a retreat into a parallel universe preferable. This pattern for the populace as a whole reached a peak in 2020 and ’21, though the payback for lockdown in terms of industry and the economy grinding to an ill-advised halt has seen 2022 take on a very different tone for the viewer.

According to data released last week, this year has seen a telling reversal of the lockdown trend when it comes to subscribing to streaming services – 1.51 million subscriptions were cancelled during the first three months of 2022 as (what is already – inevitably – being called) the Cost of Living Crisis begins to bite. Despite 58% of UK homes being signed-up to one streaming service or another, 38% of those asked in a survey by market research company Kantar revealed they intended to cancel such subscriptions in order to save a few quid; the same time period also saw a noticeable decline in new subscribers. In the case of market leader Netflix, last year’s intake was approximately half of those who joined the club the year before. Evidence suggests Netflix and Amazon seem to be the last resort cancellations when others, such as Disney + or BritBox, tend to be first in line when it’s time for streaming services to walk the plank. But even the mighty Netflix is seeing its omnipotence challenged not just by competition, but by economic necessity. In 2022 so far, shares in the company have dropped by 35%, with over $50bn wiped off Netflix’s market value.

Still a relatively recent phenomenon in TV-land, streaming has followed a route all innovations on the small screen have followed, whether colour television, the home VCR, satellite, cable or the DVD, in that it had a rapid take-off, marched into the nation’s homes with a seemingly unstoppable pace, and has now levelled out a little, finding its feet and its permanent place as a steady option for the viewer. There was bound to be a slowing down eventually, and the expected incursion of competition for audiences was inevitable; less so the pandemic, which undoubtedly aided the rise of streaming in the first place and has now contributed to the abrupt halt of its speedy ascent. As a lazy leisure pursuit, watching the telly has been with us now for longer than most of us have been alive, yet compared to food or heating our homes it remains something of a luxury, with the additional payment required for streaming services a further indulgence that the current economic crisis has indeed forced some subscribers to confront as a luxury and to prioritise accordingly.

Globally, Netflix’s total subscribers have fallen by 200,000 this year and experts predict a further two million will follow suit by the summer. The post-pandemic economic situation has evidently been a factor in this, whilst many feel the excess of streaming choice is simply too much when the working-from-home aspect that fuelled the astronomical surge in subscription to streaming means there’s less time available to binge than there was a couple of years ago. Analyst Michael Hewson said, ‘Netflix’s wider problem, along with the rest of the sector, is that customers don’t have unlimited funds and that one or two subscriptions is usually enough. Once you move above that, something has to give in a cost-of-living crisis, and while Netflix is still the market leader, it doesn’t have the deeper pockets of Apple, Amazon or Disney, which makes it much more vulnerable to a margin squeeze.’

Even taking into account the unusual circumstances which facilitated Netflix’s rise to its apogee of popularity, it could only realistically go so far before its progress eased up a little. As things stand, it’s still ahead of the game with 220 million subscribers and constant flow of shows that excite TV reviewers, Twitter and audiences alike in its upgraded equivalent of ‘water-cooler television’. The quarterly growth Netflix has experienced ever since 2011 couldn’t be sustained forever, and price increases have also played their part in prompting a partial exodus from the service, costing it 600,000 subscribers across North America; Netflix’s voluntary withdrawal from the profitable Russian market due to Ukraine has clearly done a fair bit of damage, too – with the loss of 700,000 Russian subscribers to date. Mind you, the price increases have probably aided revenue, which has continued to grow despite everything.

For me, streaming services are something friends tend to have, and I don’t say that as a roundabout way of pleading poverty either. It’s a bit like how friends had toys I didn’t as a child, in that it doesn’t unduly bother me; I was content to play with them when in their presence, but I didn’t cry myself to sleep because I didn’t have them as well. I don’t mind watching some of these talked-about shows if I happen to be at the house of someone who does subscribe – or if someone kindly bungs them on a memory stick for me; but I find I simply don’t have the time to invest in binge-watching on a regular basis. Even the DVD box-sets of vintage shows I’ve often written about tend to be viewed in daily instalments – making use of a spare hour I might have before moving on. We each have our own brand of televisual escapism, after all.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

THEY FEEL FINE

Boris and RishiAlas, poor Rishi! Remember that period, not so long ago, when the Chancellor would stand beside the PM and the pair together would look like a ‘before and after’ photo from one of those diet ads you often see on the backside of buses? Shagged-out, shabby, flabby Boris struggling to compete with the glowing picture of slim-line, male-model health that was Mr Sunak in his popular prime – the time when Rishi was dishing out the reddies to the furloughed workforce and soaring up the popularity polls as the heir apparent; seems like an aeon ago now, doesn’t it. Rarely can a contender have been so downgraded in so short a space of time as Rishi Sunak. From his badly-received budget to revelations of his wife’s tax avoidance to his fine for breaking lockdown restrictions, the Chancellor has had a terrible few weeks that appear to have left his alleged leadership ambitions in tatters. Obviously, the PM won’t be complaining; even though he himself is carrying the can for Partygate and has also been fined, the electorate expects nothing less from Boris after two and-a-half years. Rishi, on the other hand, offered hope (for some, at least) and is now fighting for Premier League survival in the relegation zone.

Considering some of the plebs who broke the restrictions suffered fines totalling £10,000, the fact Boris, Rishi and the rest of the Downing Street rabble have been punished with a £50 penalty is a bit like me and three receiving a fine of half-a-sixpence if Covid penalties were flexible enough to reflect salaries. Adding to Rishi’s woes (according to some reports, anyway), the Chancellor’s presence at the PM’s No.10 birthday bash in June 2020 was entirely accidental; the unfortunate Sunak was apparently en route to a Covid strategy summit in the Cabinet Room when he stumbled upon the cake being cut – or perhaps Boris deliberately (and craftily) invited him to sample a slice in anticipation of it all eventually coming out, thus ensuring his rival would be beside him on the deck of the sinking ship once the iceberg appeared.

Some say Sunak considered resigning as a result of being fined for breaking rules that a Cabinet he was a prominent member of had formulated without actually following – and there have been the inevitable calls to walk the plank from point-scoring Honourable Members on the Opposition benches. To quit over this might win back a semblance of respect from those outside the Party (the Conservative one, that is), but whether or not it could curtail Rishi’s hopes of one day moving next-door remains debatable. One ‘insider’ has claimed such a move on Sunak’s part would be received as ‘an act of regicide against Johnson’ that wouldn’t go down well with the Party faithful, yet the kind of honour-among-thieves mentality that enables the Tories to project a united front means little behind the scenes; after all, Boris himself was actively building his challenger fan-base when both David Cameron and Theresa May were in peril. Then again, that’s Boris; when it comes to a moral code, he’s perhaps the most shamelessly immoral Prime Minister we’ve had for the best part of 200 years.

The latest apology from the PM walks a familiar path when those caught-out are forced to own up to something they’d have otherwise kept quiet about – unconvincing and trite. It didn’t occur to him at the time that he was breaking the rules the rest of us had no choice but to abide by; well, he was only the head of the Government that introduced them, after all. He also denies lying to the Commons about the Downing Street ‘bring your own booze’ work events, which is a brazen denial in the face of overwhelming evidence; yet this is an age whereby 2+2=5 in so many areas, and we shouldn’t be surprised that a natural born liar should be as adept at contradicting fact as any online male activist who thinks merely self-identifying as the opposite sex means the rest of the world has to regard them as a woman. ‘There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting or less than ten minutes,’ said Boris of his 56th birthday party. According to the PM, ‘people I work with passed on their good wishes. And I have to say in all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that it was.’ Oh, well – job done, then.

Whereas the dependable toadies have sprung to the PM’s defence – Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, to name but two – it’s telling that some of the PM’s biggest internal critics have toed the Party line in the face of the latest crisis. Critics like Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who has previously called for Boris to go. Yes, he even played the Ukraine card. ‘I understand why they (the public) are angry and I share their fury,’ he said. ‘The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister needs to respond to these fines being issued. However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of a war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time. It would destabilise the UK Government at a time when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.’

Of course, it goes without saying that events in Ukraine are a tad more serious; but to evoke them in a statement on this particular subject seems especially reprehensible; it doesn’t excuse one single drop of plonk from No.10’s wine cellar being spilled at the very moment when police drones were encircling innocent dog-walkers or Her Majesty was burying her husband. Boris and his pissed-up posse were mooning the general public at a time when rules devised by them were making the lives of the general public a misery; and it’s only right this needs to be addressed, regardless of whatever is currently happening in Eastern Europe. Over 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued by the Met as a delayed reaction to shindigs in Whitehall at the height of Covid restrictions, and the investigation isn’t over yet. A serving Prime Minister – and his missus – being charged with breaking the law by the police and having to pay a fine is pretty unprecedented territory in recent history, yet the thick skin of the PM remains intact for the moment as the power of his suspected challenger suddenly seems rather diminished.

The Chancellor has been as apologetic as Boris in the light of the fines being issued. ‘I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence,’ he said. ‘I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine. I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the anger and frustration caused and I am sorry.’ Whether the electorate will show any sympathy for Sunak when they clearly have little left for Boris remains to be seen. The findings of a snap YouGov poll asking whether or not the PM should resign revealed 57% of those asked responded in the affirmative, as did the same numbers when asked if the Chancellor should follow suit. 75% also agreed the Prime Minister knowingly lied to Parliament about breaking the restrictions.

The usual suspects have lined-up to exploit the situation, including the ever-reliable Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon. But so entrenched is the public’s cynicism towards the utterance of every politician – a state of affairs the politicians themselves are wholly responsible for – that the predictable calls for Boris to quit from the Labour and SNP leaders just feels like further desperate point-scoring. We don’t need them seeking to boost their popularity by saying out loud something we all already know. We’re not as stupid as they think we are.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

THE NINTH LIFE

BorisI’ve been asked the question several times over the past couple of weeks if I think Boris is toast. I’ve only refrained from replying in the affirmative because of the evident absence of contenders waiting in the wilderness for the call to mount a challenge. There’s no obvious Michael Heseltine figure building up support and no Geoffrey Howe moment giving such a candidate the ammunition to strike when the Prime Minister is at his most vulnerable. Right now, the members of the Cabinet appear too mindful of their own perilous positions to stick the knife in with a devastating resignation speech or risk a career by standing against Boris, and of those exiled to the backbenches, none have the political clout or popular appeal that seemed set to hand the reins of power to Heseltine in 1990. Perhaps the fact Mrs Thatcher’s former Defence Secretary famously failed in his bid is at the back of Ministers’ minds as they shuffle uneasily in their seats and watch on as Boris stands in the firing line following the publication of the Sue Gray report into the ‘alleged breaches of lockdown’ at Downing Street.

Certainly, this is the PM’s most testing time since he blustered his way into Downing Street in 2019, ousting an unpopular and ineffective predecessor, neutralising the Brexit deniers by proroguing Parliament and enjoying a brief bask in the glow of a landslide Election victory. Then…well, we all know as to how events (dear boy) took control of the narrative; always tempting to imagine a non-Covid parallel universe in which the damage done by Boris’s multiple personality flaws was minimal due to them not being unduly tested, maybe even a non-Covid parallel universe in which Dominic Cummings remained the Prime Minister’s Mandelson rather than coming back to haunt him as the ghost of parties past. But it was not to be. Boris Johnson faced an unprecedented crisis and, unlike his great hero and inspiration when confronted by the nation’s darkest hour, he blew it. Whatever comedic charm lingered from his days as a refreshing alternative to the production-line politicians so loathed by the electorate was well and truly exhausted and extinguished by the double standards at play during the coronavirus Project Fear.

Interestingly, the majority of the outrage emanating from the ramifications of Project Fear isn’t so much based around the anti-democratic nature of the restrictions themselves – not to mention the extreme manner of their policing; lest we forget, the Labour Party currently indulging in a socially-distanced foxtrot on the PM’s grave repeatedly wanted those restrictions extended even further into the private sphere. No, what has struck a nerve with the British public more than anything in the wake of all the revelations is that the sacrifices they were asked to make and the misery they were forced to endure throughout the numerous lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were not deemed sufficiently life-saving by those imposing them, those who took to our TV screens night after night to reiterate them in scaremongering, doom-laden language that implied following them was a do-or-die scenario. If the Government didn’t believe in them – and the behaviour of certain Ministers (including the First Lord of the Treasury himself) proves they didn’t – then they took us all for mugs. Well, that’s a bloody great surprise, isn’t it.

After dragging their heels in a fashion contrary to the way in which they vigorously policed the plebs during the lockdowns, the men from the Met have finally got their finger out and are apparently ‘investigating a gathering’ held in Boris’s Downing Street apartment, one that might possibly have breached the laws at the time. As has now become common knowledge, this gathering was no isolated incident within the ivory towers of the PM’s abode and the Met aren’t simply investigating this one non-party; they’re looking into all the others as well. According to the MSM, the Met investigations are responsible for the eagerly-anticipated Sue Gray report being published in an edited format, a bit like a trailer for the movie that remains frustratingly unreleased in its director’s cut. ‘As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigation process,’ writes Gray, ‘they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating. Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.’

A huge sigh of relief coming from the direction of Downing Street, no doubt; but the PM hasn’t been entirely let off even with the slim-line, 12-page version of the report that appeared today. The paragraphs highlighting the ‘failures of leadership and judgement’ that are ‘difficult to justify’ may not name names, but it hardly even seems necessary. Of the 16 ‘events’ Gray has studied, booze looms large as the drinking culture that seems to be endemic at No.10 falls under the spotlight. ‘The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,’ writes Gray. History tells us past PMs such as Churchill and Harold Wilson often found solace in a decanter to relieve the stress of the difficult times they governed in, but a quiet after-hours soak in spirits at the end of the working day is a far cry from a pissed-up Downing Street bearing more of a resemblance to a Bullingdon Club pub crawl than the heart of Government. And this at a time when the country beyond No.10’s hedonistic bubble was experiencing extreme personal privations imposed upon it by the same people gleefully ignoring them.

Last month, Boris denied during PMQ’s that a party had been held in Downing Street on 13 November 2020; if the Gray report seems set to contradict this denial, the PM could be accused of misleading Parliament, an offence that might be expected to be accompanied with a resignation. But don’t hold your breath just yet. The Commons having its first opportunity to react to this ‘sample’ version of the Gray report was bound to produce a hostile environment for Boris, with the predictable calls for him to quit emanating from opposition parties. Tory backbenchers have not refrained from joining in, however. Noted anti-Project Fear Conservative MP Steve Baker spoke of the propaganda campaign’s effect on the public, ‘to bully, to shame and to terrify them into compliance’, and there’s also a fair bit of head shaking when it comes to the decision to hold a couple of parties at No.10 the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh; regardless of one’s opinion of old Philip, the staggering lack of sensitivity as the sovereign prepared to bury her husband is breathtaking.

As ever where shaky ground stood on by Tory Prime Ministers is concerned, a good deal rests with the response of the 1922 Committee and the 54 complaints against the occupant of No.10 that are required to trigger a leadership contest. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and the convenient intervention of the Met with regards to the full, unexpurgated incarnation of the Sue Gray report means Boris can momentarily deflect questions by announcing there will be no complete Government response to questions on the subject until the police investigation is itself complete – and that’ll hardly be this week. In the Commons today, the PM was able to quote from the current version of the report to support his stance: ‘No conclusions should be drawn or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.’ Boris added that ‘it isn’t enough to say sorry’. No, it isn’t; yet, what might be deemed enough by those locked out of the Downing Street shindigs doesn’t appear likely at the moment – though we shall see.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

WHEN IS A PARTY NOT A PARTY?

BorisThe first ‘Christmas song’ hovered into my hearing range before we’d even reached December this year; November had yet to enter its dying days when my ears detected the familiar seasonal strains of a festive dirge in my local branch of Wilkos – though who can blame folk for wishing it into existence earlier than usual? To be honest, people are that desperate to have something to look forward to after the last eighteen months that it’s a wonder ‘Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Stop the Cavalry’ weren’t providing shoppers with a supermarket soundtrack when the initial restrictions were lifted back in the summer. Mind you, one of those tweeted online headlines did catch my eye the other day, one about Boris consulting with the Cabinet over whether or not to cancel Christmas 2021. Who does the fat f**k think he is – God? Or at least Oliver Cromwell? Our PM is evidently so drunk on unlimited powers that he seems to believe he has the authority or right to make such a decision. The ramifications of it would only affect me and thee, mind – lest we forget, it has recently emerged that the one place last Christmas wasn’t actually cancelled was 10 Downing Street. Fancy that!

The official Government line when the Daily Mirror revealed an illegal party was held at No.10 on 18 December last year was that there was no party; yes, people were gathered in the same way people would gather for a party, but it wasn’t a party – oh, and all guidance was carefully followed at the party that most definitely wasn’t a party. In case you’ve forgotten, this was the time of tiers; last Christmas, London was in Tier 3, and the guidance in December 2020 read as follows – ‘No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in any indoor space’. Those were the Health Protection Regulations we were all supposed to abide by at the time, the rules we were constantly being reminded of and were advised not to break because to do so would result in police raids, extortionate fines and the wholesale collapse of the NHS. Government guidance made it even clearer – ‘You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity.’ These edicts were issued from on-high and those who delivered them were insistent that we were all in it together.

An anonymous source has told the BBC that at this non-party ‘food and drink was laid on for staff including those from the press office and the Number 10 events team and party games were played.’ Sounds a bit like a party, doesn’t it – even though it wasn’t, of course. The non-party allegedly took place two days after the capital entered Tier 3; earlier that day, the PM had tweeted further warning advice to the general public in reference to a ‘Christmas bubble’, reminding everyone that the day in question marked the start of minimising contact with people from outside one’s own household. And if one happened to live alone, it basically meant no contact with anybody else at all – with any sort of party most certainly verboten. But, as we must constantly emphasise, what took place in Downing Street on 18 December 2020 wasn’t a party, and Boris keeps insisting that no restrictions were contravened despite the fact that restrictions were contravened.

The impression given is that No.10 was this country’s very own Versailles during the depths of the most oppressive lockdowns, with life carrying on along the lines of the old normal rather than the new one. Whilst less fortunate individuals beyond the hedonistic enclave of the PM’s residence were forcibly isolated and many breathed their last without the privilege of family and friends gathered around their deathbed, Downing Street was Studio Fifty-f***ing Four by comparison. Nobody has been reported as recommending the peasants eat cake whilst the political aristocrats partied on, though perhaps Michael Gove might have said ‘Let them snort coke’. The day after the non-party, Boris delivered – with a ‘heavy heart’ (his own words) – the announcement that we couldn’t continue with ‘Christmas as planned’; he was castigated for leaving such a speech till the eleventh hour, throwing the best-laid plans of millions into disarray and provoking a flight from London that resembled the evacuation of Saigon – yet he apparently didn’t consider the rules applied to him and his team. Granted, like most, it’s hard to think of anything less appealing than a party for Tory MPs and their staff; but that’s not really the point.

December 2020 was also the moment at which the police were in their most Jobsworth killjoy mode, actively on the hunt for outlawed social gatherings and relishing breaking up wedding parties or gate-crashing religious services. That very month, Leicestershire Police circulated a video of a raid on a party containing more than 60 people at a house in Leicester and proudly announced the two organisers of it were fined £10,000 each. Meanwhile, the Met had specified that ‘holding large gatherings could be the difference between life and death for someone else’, going on to say that ‘you must not mix inside with anyone who is not in your household or support bubble’. Pretty clear-cut statement from an organisation that now declares it does not ‘routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations’ whilst simultaneously prosecuting an alleged illegal gathering that took place on 18 December last year…at a house in Ilford.

The quartermaster’s stores of American air bases during WWII were notoriously crammed with goods the rationed natives had no access to – with the exception of spivs who did a healthy black market trade through having contacts on the inside. Although US forces were invited guests as opposed to an elite group of British citizens living in luxury, knowledge of how GIs were being spared the privations that the public were suffering must have stoked a degree of resentment at the time. But can that be anything like the resentment so many feel today towards our elected representatives and their shameless hypocrisy? Only a few weeks ago Comrade Mark Drakeford, the Labour leader of the People’s Republic of Wales and one of the most rigid advocates of the toughest pandemic restrictions, was caught on camera doing his bit for diversity by dancing around at a packed Diwali gathering sans mask. Another Labour MP, Zarah Sultana recently declared ‘I feel incredibly unsafe in the chamber…I see most of the Tories not wearing masks’, and then tweeted images of herself having a good time at the MOBO awards, surrounded by people and – you guessed it – sans mask.

It goes without saying that most of these cretins are incredibly stupid people, and were their stupidity restricted to themselves we could all have a good laugh at their expense. But when powers reside in the hands of such idiots, powers that can affect the lives of millions, the joke isn’t quite so funny anymore. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ rhetoric of preaching without practising is especially grating to those who suffered the most during lockdowns and who are dreading the reintroduction of measures that were responsible for that suffering – measures promoted and policed by political figures not prepared to abide by rules the rest of us were no more keen to abide by but had no say in the matter. Yes, we’re so accustomed to double standards on the part of the political class of all colours that we expect nothing less now, though the whole story of the Downing Street Christmas party-that-never-was is particularly poignant considering just how hard it was for so many in this country when Boris and chums were playing pass-the-parcel. If the PM is seriously contemplating cancelling Christmas again (thanks to the latest convenient variant), I suspect few will – or indeed should – practise what Boris preaches.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

WHAT’S ANOTHER YEAR?

Bleep and BoosterThe awful, inescapable sensation that we’ve been trapped in one long, drawn-out year since around March 2020 was something I expressed to a friend the other week when trying to recall a recent event, unable to remember if it occurred this year or last. As someone whose memory can be uncannily precise where childhood is concerned – to the point whereby I often catch a snatch of a melody and within seconds can accurately locate not just which childhood year the song was a hit in, but the month it charted – it’s not unusual to reach a certain age and find years much closer to the here and now have a habit of blurring into each other. It’s probably due to the fewer ‘first time’ experiences one receives as more miles are accumulated on the clock, invariably sticking to recognisable routes rather than veering off into uncharted territory. Childhood, by contrast, is nothing but first time experiences, with each one making a deep impression that naturally stays with us; I suppose having them all happen in quick succession means the clarity of the period as a whole remains strong in recollection, whilst the wider gaps between such occurrences as one gets older means there’s less for memory to hang on to.

However, as my opening sentence testifies, the ability to distinguish one year from another has been uniquely exacerbated by the events we’ve been living through ever since Boris made his initial address to the nation from his Covid bunker. I certainly can’t recall the distinction being this difficult before, though I did wonder if it was like this during the War – not for the troops fighting overseas, but for those on the home front. I would imagine the day of Chamberlain’s broadcast to the nation on the wireless in 1939 right up until VE Day almost six years later could easily have felt like one long, drawn-out year to those who lived through it, mainly on account of all the usual signposts being plunged into suspended animation for the duration. After all, how do we usually measure a calendar year? Sure, we have the seasons laid out before us, but unless one is agriculturally-minded, the changing of the seasons amounts to little more than an aesthetic backdrop to events of greater significance or (when it comes to winter) an impediment in getting from the urban A to B.

The creeping dread that we’re careering backwards towards another f***ing lockdown and/or the reintroduction of restrictions won’t enable that sensation to be dispelled. Whilst many rushed back into socialising with all the ravenous desperation of a besieged population suddenly liberated from their isolation when the original restrictions were belatedly lifted, I myself didn’t properly venture out for the first time until a couple of weeks ago. On the eve of Lockdown Mark I, I’d attended an open mic poetry night at a local arts centre, which I wrote about at the time; then the drawbridge came down and that was that. Tentatively inquiring if the open mic night had resumed after a year and-a-half of seclusion, the printed literature confirmed it had. I turned up on the scheduled evening in question, only to be greeted by a bemused response; a few frantic phone-calls from helpful staff eventually informed me said literature was in error and said open mic night was merely a Zoom event, something that didn’t exactly entice me.

After 30 years of loyal service, I’d finally abandoned ‘Have I Got News For You’ following the inaugural (and abysmal) Zoom edition during the first lockdown; the prospect of an open mic night resembling either that or one of those shambolic council meetings with everyone talking over one another or constantly breaking up didn’t fill me with joy, so I left it at that. At least I was back home in time for that evening’s episode of ‘The Archers’. Anyway, that was something of a damp squib after eighteen months away from any form of socialising, but yesterday I sat in a car for the first time since the first lockdown, rejoining my dog-walking friend on her rounds. For more than a decade, this was a weekly institution and its sudden removal from my routine when we were ordered not to leave our homes left a sizeable social gap in my week and took some getting used to. I still haven’t set foot in anyone else’s house yet, but I suppose that’s the next thing to tick off the list.

Mind you, am I looking at a brief window in which to tick this off the list before we revert to where we were and the moment has gone? Is the clock poised to be reset as we re-enter Covid Groundhog Day and the never-ending year that began in the spring of 2020 is extended into infinity? In his new role as Health Secretary, the man with the perfectly spherical head Sajid Javid can’t really do any worse than his predecessor, but he’s fallen back on the same tactic of issuing threats masquerading as advice that evidently worked so well for Matt Hancock. He reckons MPs in the Commons chamber should ‘set an example’ by donning their masks; he seems to think that would send out a message, which it would – albeit not the message one imagines Javid is thinking of. The disappearance of mandatory masks has been one of the few positive signs of recent months; those who choose to keep them on are perfectly entitled to, whilst those who choose not to are no longer regarded as contaminated scum – not by anyone with half-a-brain, anyway. Having compulsory mask-wearing normalised anew by MPs wouldn’t help reinforce this welcome perception.

Javid’s threat is that spurning face coverings could lead to a return to restrictions – see what he’s doing there? Yup, he’s laying the ground for their reintroduction by placing the blame at the feet of me and thee; restrictions return and it’s all our fault for not wearing masks (which we no longer have to) – get it? Presumably, most Honourable Members have been double-jabbed, which was supposed to insulate the recipients from dying of the coronavirus should they contract it; indeed, it was supposed to negate the need to hibernate from society and to not have to wear a face nappy when venturing into that society. Ah, but it’s boosters we need now! Triple-jabbed, if you like. That’s what Sajid is urging; otherwise it’s Plan B – no, not the noughties rapper but the resurrection of restrictions. ‘It’s going to hit us all!’ declared Javid at a press conference this week when referencing rising cases as winter hovers on the horizon – along with the annual NHS crisis, of course.

As with the run-up to Lockdown Mark I, the decision is in the hands of the people as to how many precautions they take. And presumably, when the restrictions are reintroduced, the people rather than the Government will be to blame for not wearing masks 24/7. It goes without saying their reintroduction would otherwise never have happened. ‘We need to be ready for what lies around the corner,’ said Javid in relation to the latest Covid variant remixes laying in wait for the mask-less masses. ‘Our ongoing programme of booster jabs is so important,’ he said. ‘We’ll do what it takes to make sure this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed. This pandemic is not over. Thanks to the vaccination programme, yes, the link between hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened, but it’s not broken.’

Few dispute this nightmarish scenario is far-from over, though the largely successful vaccine rollout and the minor miracle of it being achieved without armed Covid marshals marching reluctant recipients to the nearest needle has helped put society a step closer to the former even keel than at any point since this shit started. Retreating back into the dead-end of lockdowns would not be the fault of a fatigued population struggling to put the pandemic behind them and rebuild their lives, but a government that has run out of ideas. A new vision is needed for this problem, not repeating the mistakes of the recent past – whether we’re talking 2020 or 2021; and that’s even if we can spot the difference between the two.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

FIRST REPORT

Shops 2As Boris takes a break, the crumb of comfort that Carrie might have packed a portable vice for his balls in her luggage doesn’t really compensate for the ongoing fall-out from the past eighteen months. Beyond the bubble the PM and the other residents of Westminster Village inhabit, the ramifications of their actions on the rest of us since the spring of 2020 continue to affect the way in which lives are led. Angry motorists physically manhandling the same middle-class sit-down protestors with too much time on their hands that the police provided tea and biscuits for are not so much manifestations of climate change denial – more an act of desperation on the part of those whose businesses were brought to their knees by the obliteration of the economy during lockdown; clinging on for dear life, the last thing they need is further disruption from activists fighting for the luxury of loft insulation. The schism between those who had a ‘good pandemic’ because their lifestyles weren’t dependent upon everything lockdown took away and those who couldn’t survive without setting foot outdoors is perhaps more glaring now than ever before. Yet, how much of this is being addressed by MPs entrusted to report on the Government handling of the pandemic in its initial stages?

Probably a tad too early and not exactly ‘independent’ (we’ll have to wait one more year for that), the kind of thing the press is fond of labelling ‘a damning report’ appears to have reserved its most severe condemnation for the timing of Lockdown Mk I (far too late) and the NHS Test and Trace disaster (a badly-executed waste of money). The latter criticism seems pretty justified, for the entire operation felt like a microcosm of this particular administration’s reliance on the old boy network. Regardless of its canny theft of the NHS brand name at a time when the institution was approaching the status of a state religion, the Test and Trace scheme was, of course, in the hands of a private company headed by a Tory Peer hardly in possession of a glowing CV. An estimated £37bn was squandered on this project, belatedly set up in haste when infection rates had already soared to a daily 2,000. The urgent need for results and the failure to bring on board those with superior expertise in favour of people who happened to have been at school with Matt Hancock’s brother-in-law amounted to little more than dispatching a locksmith to attend to the stable door when its equine occupants had already bolted.

Local test and trace schemes run by regional public health directors were relative successes compared to the centralised operation overseen by Serco, and the fact the ‘official’ NHS Test and Trace outfit chose not to involve those who had seen action on the frontline during the outbreak of the coronavirus – i.e. from the public sector – and relied upon the less hands-on experience of those from the detached private sector it was more familiar with jeopardised the kind of quick fix the taxpayer inadvertently paid for. As the report concluded, ‘Vast sums of taxpayers’ money were directed to Test and Trace, justified by the benefits of avoiding further lockdowns. But ultimately those lockdowns happened.’ Yet even if one acknowledges the king-size cock-up that was NHS Test and Trace as one of the shabbiest episodes of the whole affair, it still doesn’t match what was undoubtedly the single biggest tragedy of this whole period – the return of infected pensioners from hospital straight back into the nation’s care homes.

The way in which an already-marginalised section of society was treated with such cavalier contempt by the authorities was really brought home once more in a recent, rather harrowing ‘single play’ drama on Channel 4 called ‘Help’, which brilliantly documented the writing-off of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens as collateral damage in the overall pandemic picture. I delayed watching this for a couple of weeks, sensing it’d be heavy going; it naturally was, but I’m glad I watched in the same way I’m glad I watched the equally hard-hitting episode of ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ dealing with the decline and fall of Yosser Hughes. This all-too real fictitious account of the way in which the elderly were abandoned even made me think of Harold bloody Shipman. Watching a documentary on the deranged doctor last year, the ‘how did he get away with it for so long?’ question was easily answered by the fact his victims were essentially invisible and not regarded as particularly important; Shipman targeted old ladies, just as Dennis Nilsen targeted promiscuous gay men, Peter Sutcliffe targeted prostitutes and Fred West targeted unwanted teenage runaways – all inhabitants of the fringes; by contrast, the killing spree of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley was mercifully brief because their victims were instantly missed – young children from happy families. When it comes to ‘soft targets’, however, it seems some remain the same as they had been when nobody was taking note of the high body count in Hyde.

On the subject of lockdown, the consensus in this report follows the MSM one that it came too late. The belief in herd immunity and the reluctance to sacrifice the intended reputation of Johnson’s Government as a libertarian administration could probably explain leaving such a heavyweight extension of state power as lockdown till the eleventh hour, but the response of many in media circles to this critical aspect of the report is telling. After all, they hysterically clamoured for lockdown in the first place, heaping pressure on politicians too easily swayed by media of both mainstream and social persuasion and susceptible to the loudest voices; that the majority of those advocating the complete hibernation of society would be amongst the least badly affected by such a move didn’t eventually prevent a Government eager to please the electorate capitulating to the demands of a cosseted elite. Yet even when lockdown came, the Government still viewed it as a move to minimise the spread of the virus rather than taking a nihilistic, Australia-style ‘Zero Covid’ approach; it evidently seemed the better option was to stagger its effects across the year, thus avoiding a ‘lump-sum’ surge threatening to overwhelm the NHS. The second wave experiences of countries that locked down hard and fast in the first wave were far worse than the UK’s in terms of death tolls.

The criticisms in this report are, overall, fairly valid, though it would appear the main conclusion is that the generally successful vaccine rollout and uptake almost wipes the slate clean. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less in a 151-page document emanating from a Commons committee, though. Hannah Brady of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice organisation says the report is ‘laughable’, claiming it to be more interested in ‘political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.’ To be fair, this report is a bit like a comprehensive critique of the Second World War being published in 1946; we’re still not out of it and one cannot help but feel there are still innumerable stories to be told. Even if one personally avoided bereavement, chances are many relationships and friendships have been fractured and damaged by events – in many cases, beyond repair; and it’s hard not to feel resentful towards those who took life-changing decisions that changed the lives of others more than their own.

Naturally, anyone naive enough to expect any rolling heads as a consequence of this report should know better when so few rolled at the time. Even Matt Hancock was only shown the door when caught on camera indulging in a spot of buttock-clutching with his PA; had that disturbing image not made it to the front pages, he’d probably still be Health Secretary today rather than being promoted to the UN’s Special Representative for Financial Innovation & Climate Change. Yes, crime pays.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

MOUNTAINS AND MOLEHILLS

Mole 3Although I’ve never seen it since and have no idea what it was, I remember one childhood Saturday morning catching an archaic comedy movie from the 1940s or 50s – my memory dates it by the fact all the men in it were wearing hats – and a guy was being examined by a doctor for a neck injury. The GP told him to keep looking upwards and the ailment would gradually heal, so he exited the surgery and strolled out onto the street with his head aimed at the sky. As he made his way along, his unusual stance caught the eye of everyone he passed so that they all followed suit, gazing up in the belief the guy had obviously seen something fascinating. I guess it’s an old joke, but it was an old film and the concept still makes me laugh now. I wondered why that scene should infiltrate my head after being absent for several decades, but maybe it’s because such a vaudevillian gag now feels like it was actually making a shrewd point about the way in which a misinterpreted gesture can provoke a chain reaction to ripple through a crowd of people with remarkable ease and breathtaking pace. Perhaps it’s just a classic characteristic of herd mentality, and one ripe for exploitation.

A more scientific explanation came on a 1970s David Dimbleby-hosted programme examining the hysteria at Osmonds concerts. A psychologist spoke of how it would only take one member of the audience when Donny and his brothers hit the stage to set off virtually everyone else at the venue. He’d observed how one girl screaming triggered the girl sat next to her and she in turn triggered the next one and the sound rapidly travelled down the whole row, each girl taking on the pattern of the girls around her so the entire arena could erupt into a cauldron of ear-splitting frenzy within seconds. I suppose a similar thing happens at football matches, though the man who starts the chant does so in the deliberate hope that he will quickly be accompanied by a chorus; the fact he usually is accompanied by a chorus suggests again that herd mentality – whether consciously or unconsciously – instinctively replicates the behaviour of the lone individual so that he or she is soon cocooned by safety in numbers; and at many times over the years, numbers have equated with safety at football matches, where the lone individual would be vulnerable and exposed – especially if he’s playing away.

Just as one member of a crowd can purposely incite the rest of that crowd to accompany him in a singsong if he knows the crowd is primed to respond favourably, the herd mentality can be cynically manipulated by outsiders with an equal minimum of effort. Politicians and their affiliated media outlets have always used this tactic to smear their opponents and nudge the electorate towards ticking the right box in the voting booth; but the past eighteen months have seen the practice used to clinical effect, with the masses becoming more pliable pieces than ever in someone else’s chess game. The way in which the pandemic restrictions were successfully enforced by convincing great swathes of the public that they were barely two-dozen loo rolls away from death was such a resounding triumph for the powers-that-be that it taught them an invaluable lesson. They realised the public were far easier to push in the desired direction than they’d ever dared imagine before.

The media cottoned onto this a long time ago, of course. The press did so far earlier than, say, television (certainly in this country, anyway), for public broadcasting originating in the Reithian ethos clung to the antiquated notion of political impartiality in a way the newspapers and their blatantly partisan approach – which was utterly dependent on the leanings of the paper’s proprietor – never had any moral need to adhere to. Moreover, the populist end of Fleet Street and its unquenchable thirst for sensationalism and scandal stretching all the way back to Victorian penny dreadfuls had accelerated in the Murdoch era, taking the print medium down a dark, grubby alley that television news had yet to visit. Not being a viewer of either Sky or CNN, I personally began to notice news broadcasts on terrestrial TV adopting a more tabloid approach not so much with Brexit, which is usually cited as the moment when journalism as we used to know it doubled down into unashamed propaganda for one side or the other, but when the financial crash of 2007/08 occurred. This was the point at which I really became aware TV news had ceased reporting facts and had instead opted to manufacture drama. Sure, there had been agendas in place before, but a trend appeared to be developing that required a constant flow of drama, possibly because of satellite competition or possibly because there were now rolling news channels with 24 hours to fill.

I recall a news report on either BBC or ITV in late 2007 covering queues outside a branch of Northern Rock when word had got around that the bank was living on borrowed time; as those with accounts quietly waited their turn to withdraw their savings in an orderly fashion, a TV reporter buzzed round them desperately attempting to whip up an atmosphere of panic to support the hysterical tone of his piece for the evening news. It seemed as though he’d come looking for a replay of the scene in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ when George Bailey’s bank collapses; so, when confronted by a line of Brits keeping calm and carrying on, the reporter resorted to a presentation style owing more to ‘The Day Today’ than the kind of straightforward no-bullshit journalism British TV news was once renowned for. To their credit, the members of the crowd that day didn’t panic; but the manner of the response to Covid Project Fear last year proved how effective a constant stream of panic propaganda pumped into the public’s collective psyche via the multiple media tools of the 2020s can now provoke panic without breaking sweat.

It might not be convenient for the current storyline, but one doesn’t have to even ‘go back to the 70s’ to recall the last time we had lengthy queues and panic buying at petrol stations; it was barely 20 years ago, midway through the New Labour era, when Gordon Brown as the Iron Chancellor was portrayed on the front of a national newspaper as a caricature of an 18th century highwayman. But today’s trend of constantly evoking the Winter of Discontent or the Three-Day Week works better because that period has lived on as a potent lesson of what happens when governments lose the plot, even for those who were a long way from being a twinkle in the milkman’s eye at the time. And one can see the appeal. After all, the panic buying that emptied supermarket shelves last year is still fresh, and the current spate of empty shelves at your local Sainsbury’s can be linked to the pandemic, to the pingdemic, to the loss of lorry drivers from a poorly-paid profession with few (if any) provisions for its workers, to the ‘sudden’ depletion of energy supplies, and – of course – Brexit. Join the dots and we have the potential for a good old-fashioned Great British Doomsday Narrative. And the Great British public are responding accordingly.

Unemployment was far higher in the 70s and inflation was astronomical in a way that today simply cannot compare with – a staggering 40% in June 1975; and whereas trade unions then had the clout to routinely bring the economy to its knees, lockdown has managed the same feat in record time now. What eventually replaced heavy industry in the big provincial cities that had been built on the back of it was the hospitality industry, yet when the continental cafés, bistros, bars and leisure venues that revitalised such cities from the 1990s onwards were closed overnight in 2020, regional dependence on such businesses meant that the damage done was of a kind we’ll probably be dealing with the ramifications of for years. That’s the real crisis. Never mind – send the cameras to the petrol stations and engage in nonsensical arguments about biology for light relief. Apparently, rats suddenly deprived of the scraps of office workers when the workforce relocated to the home have now followed the money and are loitering in our U-bends. Maybe our perennial rodent shadows reckon we’re all doomed as well.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

I’LL GET ME COAT

GasOne of the benefits of my gradual withdrawal from watching ‘live’ television is the removal of that irritant known as the ad break; on the rare occasions now when something airs on commercial TV that I actually want to watch, I instinctively record it so that any pleasure which might be derived from the viewing experience is not routinely gatecrashed by ads. The ability to skip through ads was a genuinely liberating element of the VCR when it became part of the household furniture in the 1980s, but the advent of ‘catch-up’ has detached me further from the in-yer-face aggression of the ad man pushing his unwanted products on me. Quite a change from back in the days without choice, when we all saw the same ads at the same time and consequently all ended up humming the same jingles and reciting the same catchphrases. ‘Naughty but nice’; ‘The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’; ‘Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face…with mild green Fairy Liquid’ and so on. Rather quaintly, there are occasions today when I’m asked if I’ve seen ‘that ad’, and I have to explain I don’t watch them anymore.

This self-imposed exile from exposure to the ad break means I’ve no idea if energy suppliers advertise their wares on TV in the way they used to. Just as the unlikely likes of the Milk Marketing Board once claimed advertising space between programmes, I recall British Gas hiring Noel Edmonds to promote the brand in the late 70s with a characteristically annoying jingle. Why a publicity campaign was deemed necessary in the days before deregulation, when ‘the gas board’ was an umbrella term that encompassed twelve regional boards as a nationalised British Gas Corporation free from competition, isn’t entirely clear; but all of that was destined to be sacrificed at the free-market altar of privatisation come the Thatcher era, anyway. The plethora of competing energy suppliers may have offered a superficial variety of choice to the consumer since the tedious ‘Tell Sid’ auction of 1986, but anyone who has chopped and changed over the past 35 years is well aware that any initial reduction in price when switching from one supplier to another is short-lived, as there is always a gradual gravitation towards the same extortionate cost, whoever the supplier.

Energy suppliers seem to have been a political hot potato ever since plans to reform the system formed part of Ed Miliband’s manifesto in the run-up to the 2015 General Election campaign; it’s probably the sole policy idea from that era of the Labour Party that struck a chord with the electorate, for it was generally felt customers had been getting a raw deal from suppliers for far too long. Speaking personally, I know I’ve had more problems with gas and electricity bills over the last 20 years than any other; the likes of rent, water, telephone/internet, and even the much-derided TV licence (the cheapest of the lot by far) have all remained at a relatively manageable rate, in line with inflation and the cost of living. By contrast, gas and electricity have fluctuated wildly and rarely fall into the ‘manageable’ category; I tend to be informed of a ridiculous hike in prices via a letter (usually overestimating what I should be paying), which then necessitates a lengthy phone call in which I have to try and negotiate a price I can just about afford. And now it appears that same old troublesome utility is all set to spark one more crisis amidst the mounting of many.

This week, threats to gas supplies have been added to the Doomsday narrative that began with Brexit and has continued with Covid Project Fear. Just in case the prospect of the upcoming winter months doesn’t appear bleak enough with predictions of rising coronavirus cases, further lockdowns, and the reintroduction of restrictions, now the talk is of festive food shortages, possible blackouts reminiscent of the Three Day-Week, and astronomical increases in the cost of energy. Last year, Christmas came within a whisker of being cancelled ala Oliver Cromwell due to the Covid factor; this year, the media’s misery soothsayers are relishing one in which it’s okay to have more than six people in the house, but only so everyone can communally shiver and starve by candlelight. And, of course, by the time we’re on the eve of it it’ll be officially the Worst Winter Since 1963 as well – like every winter; and the NHS will be days away from complete collapse – like every winter. Other than that, though, sounds like it’s gonna be fun.

Seven of the smaller energy suppliers have gone bust in the past year – five of them in just the last few weeks – and the global gas market surge, provoked by a cold northern hemisphere winter that drained gas storage supplies, has sent the market price of gas soaring by over 50%; this is especially concerning in the UK, where the price of electricity has also risen due to gas plants generating just under half of the country’s electricity. The fact this is happening during September’s ‘Indian Summer’, even before the descent of the autumnal chill and the annual ignition of the fireplace, is worrying, for we’re hardly at peak usage time right now. The spectre of fuel poverty haunting households that we may well be confined to come the winter is not helped by scare stories about empty supermarket shelves; the ramifications of the energy crisis merges with food supplies via talk of a threatened shortage of carbon dioxide, which is a vital ingredient in the food and drinks industry. CO₂ can be found in beer and fizzy drinks, but it’s also used to stun animals prior to slaughter in abattoirs, as well as being a pivotal component of the protective packaging that keeps food fresh, meaning a shortage of it affects more than merely pig-farmers or dedicated diehard carnivores.

With so much time and effort devoted to imposing renewable sources of energy upon the public (without much in the way of consultation), the need to be seen doing anything to theoretically combat climate change has served to dismiss dependable and unfashionably traditional sources at a moment when they might actually come in handy. Plentiful supplies of natural gas have been left untapped by the fierce opposition to fracking, and nuclear being a dirty word has caused constant delays in the building of new plants to supersede the old ones; yet with the low-carbon PR campaign hindered by the unreliability of ‘green’ alternatives like solar and wind power, the remaining coal-powered stations in this country are now being bribed to stay open in order to cope with the impending new crisis, putting the usual crisis we are routinely bombarded with to one side. It seems the sudden U-turn mantra is jam today, regardless of the jam we’re constantly told we require for tomorrow.

The price rises are scheduled to kick-in next month, nicely timed to coincide with the end of the £20-a-week ‘uplift’ Universal Credit payment introduced during lockdown and the severest Covid restrictions; it was never going to last forever, though most probably didn’t imagine it would draw to a close the same week as a 12% increase in energy bills. It was inevitable that all the financial incentives required to pacify opposition to lockdown were destined to come to a shuddering halt eventually, though the timing of an energy crisis is unfortunate, to say the least. I guess the problem with news of this nature is differentiating between any genuine threat there may be and the scaremongering hyperbole we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple of years; the danger of governments and ruling elites crying wolf too often is that no one will believe them when the big bad wolf really is at the door.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294