WHO GIVES A S**T?

TrussThe title of this post – without the asterisks – used to be the title of a feature on the weekly video series I produced under the title ‘25 Hour News’ between 2014 and 2015 (or thereabouts); this satirical swipe at the banality of rolling news channels sometimes climaxed with said feature, usually consisting of one brief non-story about a vacuous celebrity, thus invoking the phrase ‘Who gives a shit?’ I guess this segment was a comment on the kind of non-stories about vacuous celebrities that still appear amongst the online headlines of Yahoo News, which hasn’t changed in a decade. You know the kind of thing – ‘Amanda Holden wears revealing low-cut dress at film premiere!’ and all that bollocks. However, perhaps the one thing that has changed in the past decade is that politics have gradually sunk to the same level as Amanda Holden’s revealing low-cut dress so that one can just as easily apply the ‘Who gives a shit?’ tag to our elected representatives. A sequence of what one might call Reality Television politicians – ‘characters’ like Boris who have used their loud personalities to capture the public vote much as contestants in the Big Brother House used to do – have dragged the standing of their profession to the lowly status it currently occupies, sharing the spotlight with Amanda Holden’s cleavage.

It goes without saying that spouting facile buzzwords and papering over the absence of ideas with meaningless pseudo-‘Birt-speak’ has been a hallmark of leading politicians since the slick and heavily-spun New Labour period; but the practice has certainly intensified in the 24-hour news and social media era so that what a Cabinet Minister or the Leader of the Opposition has to say about ‘Strictly’ is discussed in a manner that implies it matters as much as the more serious stuff they should actually be talking about. Failing that, just wear a T-shirt bearing the infantile legend, ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ and snigger at the back of the class. I suppose the ultimate triumph of this trend was the election of sitcom toff Boris Johnson as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister in 2019; and now three disastrous years later Bo-Jo has officially (if reluctantly) handed the reins of power to his Foreign Secretary, the frighteningly lightweight Liz Truss, whose lack of an OTT comic persona is compensated for by her undeniably hilarious inability to convey gravitas.

Ms Liz’s elevation to Prime Minister, following an interminably lengthy hustings campaign undertaken when the need for an effective, actual leader of the country has never been quite so urgent, was a thoroughly underwhelming spectacle; and now we have a new PM who few bar the most deluded Tory members expect anything from or even give a flying f**k about. Like the new Doctor Who or the new James Bond, who really cares who the new Prime Minister is anymore? We’ve had so many of them over the past 15 years – and all bloody useless – that it’s hard to summon up anything other than shoulder-shrugging indifference, knowing already that the only change they’ll make to our lives will be to make them worse. Indeed, some of the more cuckoo Boris groupies unimpressed by the two lacklustre contenders that were shortlisted to succeed him seem to imagine if Liz loses the next General Election, the Messiah will return from the wilderness and lead them back to the Promised Land. Interestingly, Boris himself has also hinted at this as a possibility, not quite releasing that a) we don’t have a Presidential system in this country and b) he’s not Donald Trump. Mind you, there are precedents.

Take the former Prime Minister Edward Heath: from the moment of his toppling by Margaret Thatcher in 1975 and right up until the shakiest moments of her first term at No.10 five years later, Heath remained convinced the Conservative Party would eventually crawl to him cap-in-hand and beg him to return to Downing Street. That said, this conviction was largely in Ted’s head and wasn’t shared by any of his fellow backbenchers; the fact that some of today’s more nondescript Tory MPs are so despondent at the prospect of a Truss premiership – not to mention still blinded by Boris’s tarnished charisma – that they are petitioning for their hero to come back shows just how successfully the all-surface/no-substance brand of politician has been sold as the answer. Naturally, with the overbearing nature of his carefully-cultivated character still obscuring for some the gaping moral void behind the facade, Boris is the most extreme example; yet there’s no more substance to either of the final two who battled it out to take his place. Whoever had won it was destined to be greeted by a chorus of ‘whatever’ from the wider electorate; perhaps having no say in the matter also added to this apathy.

Expectations have never been lower for a new Prime Minister and yet the need for a fresh tenant of No.10 to act on the many pressing issues facing the country has rarely been greater. I remember when Barack Obama was sworn-in as US President for the first time in January 2009, with the financial crash of the year just gone hanging over the ceremony like the blackest of black clouds. A lot of hope had been invested in Obama as a new dawn after the divisive Bush years, yet perhaps the scale of the task was too immense even for a man who had galvanised the American electorate into believing again; Liz Truss has no such hope resting on her shoulders, and she also comes into office knowing she has barely two years at the most before she has to call a General Election. If she’s to achieve anything at all, she has to act fast.

All US Presidents have to deal with the gauntlet thrown down by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the one that measures the potential effectiveness of a President by how he performs in his first 100 days; but few had entered the White House since FDR with such economic challenges facing them as Obama was confronted by in 2009. Truss has a similar set of challenges before her today, but she can’t hold the previous administration responsible in the way Obama could, what with her being a prominent member of the previous administration – and she was notably the only contender on the early televised debates to refrain from apportioning any blame to her predecessor (indeed, she even paid tribute to him in her acceptance speech upon winning the contest, greeted by momentary silence until someone was prompted to provoke a muted round of applause).

But this is a recurring problem when a governing party internally elects a Prime Minister, locking the electorate out of the democratic process; it’s something that generates the belief that nothing has really changed despite the change at the top – and the Tories have now done it three times in the last six years. It’s possibly another reason why the foregone conclusion of Truss’s promotion elicits such a lack of enthusiasm. Maybe the electorate is equally underwhelmed in the knowledge that when the next General Election comes in 2024, the choice will be between Liz Truss and Keir Starmer, presenting the people with an even more uninspiring option than we had last time round with Boris and Jezza.

Even if we weren’t being beaten into permanent pessimism on a daily basis by predictions of every crisis laying in wait for us, the future looms on the horizon like a worse version of the present. The understandable allure of the past was highlighted in an excellent ‘Spiked’ post penned in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death last week, in which it referred to the 1990s as ‘a holiday from history’. This brief calm before the unrelenting storm of the 21st century oozed hope, from the release and post-Apartheid presidency of Nelson Mandela to the end of the Soviet Union to the false dawns of Clinton and Blair; even the decade’s crises retrospectively seem minor compared to what we’ve endured since. No wonder those who came of age during the 90s now look back on it with the same feel-good nostalgia as Boomers recall the Swinging 60s. Anyway, back to 2022 – Liz Truss is Prime Minister, and who gives a shit? Well, we all should, I guess, but it’s no surprise so few of us do.

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THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD

TrussShe may have sped ahead of her solitary rival in a leadership race for the most select of audiences – and she is indeed fortunate to be up against a man so adept at shooting himself in the foot; but Liz Truss (whose name always sounds like it belongs in the toolbox of a St John’s Ambulance-man) was today confronted by stats that don’t reflect her 26-point lead over Rishi Sunak amongst Tory voters. A survey carried out by Opinium suggests Truss’s much-trumpeted solution to the cost-of-living crisis – tax cuts – has not gone down well with the wider electorate; 34% of those polled believe taxes, as well as spending on public services, should stay exactly where they are, and a further 26% want them raised. The survey appeared in the Observer, so Conservative Party members – in whose hands the decision rests, like so many clandestine cardinals picking a new Pope – were not included. Nevertheless, the chosen 160,000 seem to be favouring the Foreign Secretary over the former Chancellor.

Some wag on Twitter cleverly redubbed Rishi’s Tunbridge Wells boast about redirecting ‘levelling up’ funds from deprived urban areas to wealthy Tory shires with a soundtrack of Alan Partridge during his disastrous stint hosting an open-air country show. It was an apt manipulation of a mistimed moment. Yes, Sunak was preaching to the converted and telling them precisely what they wanted to hear, but he surely must have known someone in that crowd would be recording his speech on their phone and was highly unlikely to keep it to themselves. Whilst not necessarily in the same league as Gordon Brown’s infamous ‘bigoted woman’ comment, it was still something of a cock-up characteristic of a campaign that has oozed surface and has been short on substance. One could argue Rishi’s prime concern at the moment is to capture the faithful on whose votes he is ultimately dependent for the keys to No.10 – hence such crowd-pleasing claims – yet he should be aware as much as his rival that a General Election in a couple of years means he has to reach beyond them too.

However, even those who don’t have a say in this contest – i.e. around 97% of the electorate – haven’t been convinced by Sunak’s slick spiel; Truss is well ahead of Rishi as preferred PM amongst all voters; and, as was pointed out at the beginning of this post, Truss’s lead over Rishi is even more impressive amongst those who voted Conservative at the last General Election. Perhaps equally encouraging for Truss is the fact that the same poll puts her ahead of Keir Starmer as a potential Prime Minister, albeit only by one point – though Sunak is four points behind the Labour leader; maybe the fact Truss is regarded by those polled as being more in touch with ordinary folk is merely because the ex-Chancellor makes David Cameron look like Dennis Skinner. And it’s also worth noting that a larger proportion of the lucky 2000 punters asked for their opinions went for the ‘none of the above’ option, which seems to say more about the contenders and the opposition when it comes to this uninspiring spectacle than any of the other stats such a survey can throw up.

Needless to say, anything remotely approaching a ‘honeymoon period’ that Liz Truss is anticipating probably won’t last very long; she’ll take the reins of power in September and within a month she’ll be expected to do something about the much-publicised, astronomical soar in energy prices that is – according to the MSM – poised to plunge most of us who aren’t Tory Party members into fuel poverty. Oh, and the Bank of England is adding to the beloved Doomsday narrative by forecasting the mother of all recessions. When it comes to the issue of energy prices, the futile pursuit of ‘Net Zero’ is noticeably absent from so many column inches as one of the reasons why energy bills will rise for those least able to pay them. The war in Ukraine is a far more convenient reason – and one guaranteed to receive the thumbs-up; after all, it’s bloody horrible and everyone hates Vlad, so it’s a preferable excuse than one shining a light on the way in which Western Governments have capitulated to the most fanatical zealots of the Green lobby at the expense of plebs already struggling to make ends meet.

As for the other treat we’ve got to look forward to in the autumn – i.e. the impending recession – well, it’s not as if nobody saw this coming, is it? If you completely close down industry for months and give no clear indication as to when all those mothballed businesses can reopen, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. The tax cuts Liz Truss favours over what she calls ‘handouts’ to help people cope is a clear nod to Rishi’s magic money tree during the furlough episode of lockdown, effective benefits for the employed which anyone with half-a-brain knew were glorified loans from the Government usurer that would eventually have to be paid back. Actual benefits in the shape of Universal Credit were unsurprisingly the first to feel the pinch, losing the £20-a-week uplift, and since then benefits haven’t kept up with inflation either. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey is keen on Parliament to be recalled from its summer hols to look as if something is being done – as is former PM Gordon Brown, who instigated a report into the cost-of-living crisis that has just been published.

Brown calls on the two leadership contenders as well as Boris to get their fingers out by delivering a special budget ASAP, and has aired his thoughts on the emergency, which are fittingly bleak for a man not renowned for being the life and soul of the party. But, let’s face it – we’re all now becoming as accustomed to emergencies as Brits back in the 1970s were, so the findings of this report make for the expected gloomy reading. Even before energy regulator Ofgem announces details of the rising price cap on fuel, the report claims many families and individuals in Britain appear to exist solely to pay bills at the moment; and having been in that position in the past, I know how demoralising it is. A grassroots movement encouraging those most terrified of what’s to come to essentially go on strike and refuse to pay their bills is a nice, collectivist concept in the tradition of what happened when the Poll Tax was introduced in 1990, but – like the fruits of Sunak’s magic money tree – it’ll still all have to be paid back in the end, anyway, so it’d only just be kicking the can further into the long grass, alas.

‘We are facing a humanitarian crisis that Britain hasn’t seen in decades,’ says Gordon Brown. ‘As living costs continue to skyrocket, families on the brink of making ends meet cannot bridge the gap. (The next Prime Minister) must ensure that families have enough to live, through this crisis and beyond.’ The author of the report, Professor Donald Hirsch, says even those receiving financial assistance from the Government stand to see their standard of living decline rapidly; Prof. Hirsch’s report states an unemployed couple with two kids will be as much as £1,300 worse off a year. Gordon Brown urges action immediately, and if that fails to happen soon, that failure will be responsible for ‘condemning millions of vulnerable and blameless children and pensioners to a winter of dire poverty’.

I guess many MPs will currently be sunning themselves on some beach that the majority of their constituents will never sun themselves on, and the recent publication of the latest expenses claims by Honourable Members suggests their world remains a parallel universe of privilege to ours. And, smack bang in the middle of this uneasy calm before a dreaded storm, we’re lumbered with a lame duck Prime Minister counting down the days till his eviction and a couple of potential replacements travelling up and down the country, selling themselves to people who are amongst the least threatened by what awaits the rest of us. Doesn’t fill you with much confidence, does it.

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MASS DEBATING

Dumb and DumberAlthough he remains television’s premier political inquisitor, Andrew Neil – the one-time heir to Day and Paxman – has seen his stock fall somewhat in the last couple of years. He quit the BBC in a flurry of publicity in order to be the frontman for GB News when it was launched as the ‘anti-Woke’ current affairs channel, yet backstage clashes saw him vanish from the station in a matter of weeks as GB News experienced its own off-screen, TV-am-style melodrama. After a period of silence, Neil re-emerged to tell his side of the story in the press and seemed to be begging for forgiveness from the MSM; slipping seamlessly into reverse gear, he resurfaced in the very newsroom GB News was supposed to be the antidote to, that of Channel 4. Perhaps it says a great deal about the quality of younger news presenters and interviewers that even after his recent about-turn and inconsistent opinions, Neil is still ‘The Man’, and nobody has impressed as the inheritor of the mantle he’s worn for over a decade. He’s fortunate this is the case, but he didn’t take as much time out as Jeremy Paxman had when he briefly returned to the fray for one last time during the 2017 General Election; alas, an extended holiday hosting ‘University Challenge’ and leisurely Sunday evening docs had utterly blunted his precision and Paxo came across as a parody of his old self. Andrew Neil, it seems, has still got what it takes.

On Monday it was announced Neil would be presenting an exclusive one-on-one interview with Prime Ministerial hopeful Rishi Sunak on C4 this Friday; and it looks as though the ex-Chancellor will be facing a grilling from Brillo alone. Sunak tweeted the announcement with a knowing ‘Just me then?’ comment, as Liz Truss appears to have turned down the offer. Mind you, if she’s seen as the continuity candidate, she’s sticking to the same script Boris penned during the last General Election, when he repeatedly refused to be drawn into an interrogation by Neil. Whilst supporters of the PM continue to wind-up the Boris-haters with talk of 10,000 members signing a petition for him to remain in the job or at least be considered a candidate in the leadership contest, the actual battle to seize the tenancy of No.10 is between his former Chancellor and his incumbent Foreign Secretary, whether or not the latter can’t handle Andrew Neil. Mind you, Liz Truss must imagine she doesn’t need to put herself in such a vulnerable position.

With the loss of two contenders who might have made a difference – Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt – the beneficiary of the whittling down has been Truss, whose lead over Rishi Sunak at the moment leaves the one-time golden boy with a lot of work to do, maybe explaining why he agreed to be grilled by Andrew Neil; Liz Truss’s abysmal showing on the first two TV debates perhaps points to another reason why she’s chickened out. She couldn’t really bottle it when it came to the BBC debate between just her and her rival, but I suspect confronted by Neil at his best (which one hopes we get), Truss’s evident limitations would be exposed even further. Having said that, her dullness and Rishi’s blandness are such a striking contrast with the sub-Berlusconi persona of Boris that neither could illuminate the small screen nor convince anyone outside of the tiny percentage of the electorate with a vote that either was worth investing in. Indeed, watching this spectacle as it unfolds almost makes me feel like a peasant witnessing the hustings at an 18th century Rotten Borough, with the two nominees in the pocket of the local landowner making their pitches to the gentry.

A candidate who fell at an earlier hurdle – Tom ‘I used to be in the Army, you know’ Tugendhat – has pledged he will gladly work in the Cabinet of either Sunak or Truss, exhuming the ‘serving the nation’ spiel he utilised during the first TV debate. ‘I would serve any Conservative leader who asked me to,’ he said on ‘The World at One’, ‘because it’s about serving the country and serving the British people. It would be a privilege to do so.’ Having recently re-watched the ‘Yes Minister’ episode in which Jim Hacker is promoted to PM at the end, I can’t help but imagine the furtive promises of posts which must have been whispered in corridors or made in dimly-lit rooms by both remaining candidates once everyone else had been eliminated. The booby prize back then – at least according to ‘Yes Minister’ – was the Northern Ireland job, though I guess some other Ministry is probably used as a similar threat today should a member of the Cabinet not vote a particular way. I suppose Scotland would be a pretty thankless task for a Tory Minister in 2022, though Ulster is still a far-from dream posting, if for different reasons now. However, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Treasury remain the biggest bargaining chips available to Sunak and Truss as they seek to court the favour of colleagues.

As was shrewdly pointed out on this very blog by a certain Mr Mudplugger at the time, the unexpected second placing of the UK at this year’s Eurovision now appears to have been a premeditated effort by European nations to ensure the Contest would be hosted once again by the Brits when the foregone conclusion of a Ukraine win would preclude that troubled nation as a venue next year. It’s coming home; it’s coming home etc. Anyway, the BBC’s choice of Stoke-on-Trent to be the location for the third TV debate on Monday was motivated by similarly canny planning. Of the city’s three Parliamentary Constituencies, two – North and Central – were Red Wall seats that fell to the Tories in 2019 after almost 70 years in Labour hands, whereas the other – Stoke-on-Trent South – has been blue since 2017. So, a Conservative city that has spent the majority of its life as a Labour one – where better to host the first head-to-head between the last two contenders standing?

And those two contenders looked like their future representations at Madame Tussaud’s in the bizarre intro to the BBC debate, staring into the camera side-by-side as Sophie Raworth introduced them; in fact, I had to make sure they were indeed the real thing and not waxworks by checking their blinking – not that it’s easy to tell, to be honest. Anyway, Sunak responded to the first question from an audience member – all Tory voters last time round, apparently – by paying tribute to the former Northern Ireland First Minister and Good Friday Agreement player David Trimble, whose death had just been announced; he then launched into a defence of his economic policies as well as a simultaneous assault on his opponent’s plans for the economy. Rishi reckons his record as Chancellor gives him a grounding in economics that Truss lacks and one that will provide him with an advantage as PM; he also constantly played the pandemic card whenever his record came into question, as though that freak event was to blame for any shortcomings in the office. He played the Brexit card too, eliciting applause from a studio audience in a city that voted overwhelmingly Leave. Smart move.

China came up as an issue, with both contenders accusing the other of sucking up to the Chinese; but this was a pattern throughout the debate, each hurling allegations between their respective lecterns based on quotes they’d made in the past. The descent down to playground level has been exacerbated by tit-for-tat comments emanating from supporters of both camps on the subject of suits, shoes and earrings; Truss dismissed such trivialities by harping on about the locality in which the debate was staged as well as her upbringing on the middle-class mean streets of Roundhay in Leeds, whilst Sunak counteracted accusations of his expensive fashion tastes by constantly referring to his immigrant parents and how hard they worked to provide for him. Sunak’s near-catchphrase ‘You know what?’ had a small handful of outings again, whilst Truss’s right arm was as active as before; but the fact that Sunak felt the need to distance himself from Boris whenever the PM was mentioned seemed to suggest he was reaching out beyond the Tory faithful that Truss appears content to solely appeal to. Maybe Andrew Neil will hone in on that come Friday. We shall see.

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ANOTHER FINE MESS

Tory LeadershipAs has been said several times since the Tory leadership race was pared down to a pair yesterday, if Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are the best the Conservative Party can come up with to replace Boris Johnson, maybe they’d have been better off leaving Boris in the job. Well, blame the Tory MPs if you want to blame anybody. If online polls are any kind of guide, the actual membership out in the Shires seemed to favour the eliminated outsiders Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt – both of whom would have provided the break with the recent past that the two remaining contenders cannot by virtue of being tainted by their Boris associations, regardless of how Sunak has been recast overnight by the Right of the Party as the Conservative antichrist. Now those same Tory Party members who largely preferred the other candidates have to decide between the lacklustre couple their elected representatives selected, and what a choice for 0.3% of the electorate to be presented with.

Although not all of them stood up to applaud Boris’s PMQs finale in typically sycophantic fashion, those Tory MPs that clearly didn’t want the PM to go must be wondering if the erratic old frying pan was preferable to the unfamiliar fire they now find themselves in. Usually, a Prime Minister is forced from office when there’s an outstanding successor waiting in the wings; this time round, there was nobody. Rishi may have been in the lead from day one (or long before considering how instant his campaign was), but it still feels as though most are making do with the ex-Chancellor as a potential PM because the dearth of talent on the Tory frontbench means there’s no one else to get excited about; maybe the Party should have considered this before ousting the man who won it one of the biggest majorities in its history less than three years ago.

Theresa May was notable in keeping her hands to herself during the applause that accompanied Boris’s theatrical exit from the Commons yesterday; in fact, there’s almost a fascinatingly Heath/Thatcher vibe to their increasingly frosty relationship now, with the sulky old Maybot no doubt basking in the same euphoric sense of karma at Boris’s toppling as Ted did when Maggie was forced out in 1990. Her blatant visual statement was not wholly unique amongst her colleagues, though it had more of an outing on the other side of the House, where both the SNP and the Labour Party came across as scoring petty political points with what could be viewed as rather childish petulance. Or maybe they were merely in mourning as the man who they probably regarded as their greatest electoral asset left the stage. For voters allergic to the louder-than-life Boris, Sir Keir presented them with the perfect colourless antidote, whereas the Labour leader will now be going head-to-head with either a Tory PM who mirrors his blandness (Sunak) or one who reflects his dullness back at him (Truss). Both candidates could make the chalk & cheese contrasts Starmer was dependent upon with Boris at the next Election a suddenly redundant weapon.

‘Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror’ were amongst Boris’s final telling words to the Commons as PM, something that could be perceived as another dig in the direction of the man who set the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago. Rishi Sunak is viewed by some Tories as being as guilty of treachery as Michael Heseltine once was, which might explain the otherwise unfathomable reason why Boris loyalist Liz Truss has managed to make it all the way to the final two, regardless of her dismal performances in the TV debates. And, of course, there’s the old saying concerning the wielder of the dagger failing to wear the crown; Rishi is seen as the assassin by Boris disciples, and perhaps the only option open to them that might soothe the pain is to see Sunak denied Downing Street by Liz Truss. Don’t rule it out as an outcome, though they should be careful what they wish for.

Last night, ‘Newsnight’ excavated some typically embarrassing early TV footage of both contenders, with 2001-vintage Sunak resembling one of those interchangeable adolescent archetypes routinely upgraded every couple of years on the likes of ‘Neighbours’. Meanwhile, the clip of Liz Truss in her former political life, speaking at the Lib Dem Conference in 1994, was pretty much up there in the toe-curling stakes with the infamous schoolboy incarnation of William Hague in 1977. Truss looked and sounded like the sort of annoying middle-class student who can’t help herself from lecturing anyone within range on a subject she’s just read about for the first time the day before, acting the expert in the most condescending way imaginable. True, most of us would find footage of ourselves as teenagers something of an endurance test, but it was possible to see in the 19-year-old Liz Truss the unmistakable genesis of everything about her that remains irritating three decades later.

The last man to relocate from No.11 to No.10 was Gordon Brown, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for Rishi Sunak. However, one of the reasons the dour Scotsman failed to connect with the electorate was his cringe-inducing attempts to echo the overconfident slickness of the man he replaced as soon as he moved next-door. A personality transplant carried out in public painfully highlighted the fact Gordon Brown was not Tony Blair, and all the forced Colgate-ad smiles and head-shaking efforts at cracking jokes during speeches failed miserably. What Gordon Brown should have offered was an alternative to Blair, not a supermarket own-brand version of him, and when it comes to following Boris the one thing we can at least be certain of is that neither Sunak nor Truss will take the Brown route; they’re playing upon the fact they can’t be anything but an alternative. The Boris character, seemingly the unholy offspring of PG Wodehouse and Jilly Cooper, is an utterly impossible act to follow in terms of imitation; Boris has inhabited that character for so many years now that he became a parody of himself a long time ago, and any attempt to ‘do a Boris’ by his successor would be like Mike Yarwood succeeding Harold Wilson in 1976.

So, what we are left with is the bland and the boring. Sunak has the ‘Cameron factor’ that both May and Boris lacked, even if it’s a one-time winner that the electorate had already become weary of by the time of the EU Referendum. On the other hand, one of the few things Truss has in common with Boris is her knack of saying something stupid in public, as well as a stint as Foreign Secretary almost as memorable as that of Johnson, if only for her embarrassing grasp of geography giving the game away. Sunak is too polished and too smooth, whereas Truss is a poor communicator prone to gaffes – no wonder the latter is regarded as ‘the continuity candidate’ by Boris groupies like Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Neither of them, however, is offering a clear vision for the country other than promising the usual goodie-bag of incentives to win over voters. Truss says she will reverse the National Insurance rise and suspend the green levy; Sunak says he will cut income tax and increase corporation tax. And that’s about it.

According to the latest listings, Sunak and Truss will engage in a debate on the BBC next Monday, and the cancelled Sky debate is scheduled to belatedly take place in a couple of weeks. Whether or not any further sparks will be ignited when the two are deprived of the other candidates whose interjections and accusations at least made the programme worth watching is something we don’t yet know. Whatever happens, neither can look forward to the lucrative book deals and after-dinner speaking their departing predecessor is probably pencilling into his diary before handing the chalice he poisoned to the lucky winner in September.

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TUMBLING DICE

TwatzThis is one of those stories that writing about without the breathing space necessary to avoid irrelevance makes all the more harder. The Winegum not being a rolling news channel means I’m often hoping some major development fails to occur before publication; never have the delayed limitations of ye olde Fleet Street printing press seemed more applicable to penning a post on a blog like this than when the main headline of the day keeps shifting shape before one has the chance to complete a paragraph. Michael bloody Gove has f**ked-up what I’d already written by abruptly advising the PM to step down, though I should’ve known by now that what Gove says one day is not necessarily what Gove says the next. At the time I began writing this, the Secretary of State for Buggering Up, Housing and Communities was backing Boris; by the time I was careering towards the arse-end of the post, he’d adopted the opposite stance. Actually, the intended opening line of this post still makes sense, if only due to the fact it highlights the untrustworthy unreliability of Michael Gove.

Before I was rudely interrupted, I was poised to say that when you’ve got Michael Gove watching your back, you know you’re in trouble (which at least remains a potent observation). Boris’s back still bears the scars of the moment six years ago when the poisoned dwarf switched from supporting the leadership campaign of David Cameron’s wannabe successor to launching his own failed bid for No.10. And yet, in the turbulent hours following yesterday’s cataclysmic events, Gove was lining up alongside the likes of Patel, Truss, Raab and Dorries to back Boris. By contrast, a nondescript Minister, a Parliamentary Private Secretary, a trade envoy, and the Conservative Party Vice-Chairman have all quit in the last 24 hours, following on from two rather more high profile resignations and succeeded by the best part of 25 other minor walkouts as the rats belatedly gain the confidence to jump the sinking ship. All are now united in their demand that the PM goes, and one imagines a vote of no confidence might well give them the opportunity to marshal the troops and oust Johnson.

If only that could…oh, hang on a minute – hasn’t that already happened and didn’t all bar 148 of them support Boris and keep him in a job? I wonder what they thought Boris would possibly achieve in the month since then to warrant their backing – something he hasn’t managed in the past three years, perhaps, to mend his crooked ways and emerge as a strong and stable leader with integrity and a vision for Britain. Well, there was the gift horse; they strolled over, looked in its mouth, and moved on – oh, and then yesterday happened. Whilst maybe lacking the drama of quitting in the middle of a Cabinet meeting ala Michael Heseltine, the twin resignations of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid nevertheless represented one of those moments when a path is set in motion that history tells us usually only ever ends one way. All those opportunists sticking with the status quo on the surface are publicly echoing the words uttered merely days ago by those just gone, yet it seems pretty clear that all of them are saying one thing both to the media and to each another whilst privately contemplating what doors this shaky state of affairs will open for them.

The voluntary exits of the Chancellor and the Health Secretary have narrowed Boris’s options even further, pushing their replacements into posts many reckon they’ll only occupy for a short space of time, like football coaches who step in as caretaker till the end of the season as the board searches for a permanent manager. I can’t help but think of Lord Carrington, recalling his role as Energy Secretary during the Three Day Week, stating he was in the job ‘for five minutes’ before the watershed General Election of February 1974. Aside from Priti Patel, who seems secure at the Home Office, it’s hard to think of any other Minister who has the room to breathe and implement any policies before they’re reshuffled elsewhere. Had details of Sunak’s tax-dodging family business not emerged a few months back, chances are he’d be odds-on to mount a leadership challenge and gather enough support to succeed; but golden Rishi’s star has become somewhat tarnished in the eyes of the electorate since his glory days as the guarantor of the furlough chequebook, and it’s more of a gamble now to place a bet on him being Boris’s definite successor than it was until relatively recently.

Mind you, both he and Sajid Javid have a history of association with banks and hedge funds that are hardly likely to endear either of them to the man in the street, who still credits the ruthless avarice of financial institutions with the fact he’s struggling to pay his bills. Sunak and Javid – like the Home Secretary – may have successfully contradicted the narrative of the Left by being children of immigrants who spurned the oppressed ethnic victim storyline so beloved by the Labour Party and have risen to high office regardless; but, unlike members of the Labour Party, their racial profile has never defined them and their reputation rests entirely on their deeds, none of which are particularly impressive.

Again, as has been stated on here many times before, Boris Johnson’s saving grace during his shambolic premiership has been the lack of a strong challenger waiting in the wings, the kind that Heseltine became to Thatcher; in some respects, he shares his good fortune with Gordon Brown. By the time the Iron Chancellor had the keys to No.10 handed to him in one of the smoothest transferences of power in British political history, all of the New Labour big guns of the 90s were effectively played out and past it, and the up-and-coming young guns were led by the Miliband brothers.

The fact Brown couldn’t capitalise on this was mainly due to his out-of-his-depth ineptitude, as has been the case with Boris. Both also found themselves confronted by unexpected crises merely months into their Downing Street tenure – Brown the financial crash of 2008 and Boris the pandemic – and whilst both emerged from their respective crises with a degree of credit in the eyes of the international community, their efforts registered less on home soil, where the aftermath was felt most keenly by the general public rather than the corporations that always appear to survive and thrive whatever the crisis.

Boris’s admittedly skilful manner of neutralising the Remoaner mafia within the Commons and the MSM won him plaudits amongst genuine democrats at the time and undoubtedly aided the Tories’ landslide victory of 2019, though the onset of Covid and all the double standards surrounding its numerous issues – many of which were only exposed after the event – have done irreparable damage to the Boris brand this year so far. The no confidence vote of June was intended to be the judgement by the Conservative Party on their leader’s pandemic performance, yet it turned out to be something of a damp squib for the wider public. Despite the endless tabloid revelations of what Boris and his cronies had been getting up to during a period in which the rest of us stood to be fined for indulging in perfectly normal social activities, Boris has clung on with the tacit support of the majority of his Party. Now, however, that support seems to be ebbing away.

I’ve no doubt that by the time I press the publish button on this post, Boris will probably have resigned and Putin will have launched nuclear missiles at the Isle of Wight; but I’ve no option but to try and comment on events as best I can, regardless of how fast-moving those events happen to be. The last time I can recall the speed of events overtaking my ability to chronicle them and comment on them was during the Tory leadership race of 2016, especially that two or three days when the contenders had been narrowed down to Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom and the latter suddenly withdrew her candidacy, leaving the field clear for the former. Stay tuned – I’ve a feeling I’ll probably be back tomorrow at this rate…

© The Editor

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THEY FEEL FINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

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COTTAGE INDUSTRY

ScroogeWhilst trying to put it as politely as possible, it’s still difficult to put it any way other than: ‘What the f**k did they expect?’ If you as the powers-that-be spend the best part of a year and-a-half persuading people that coming into contact with their fellow man in an enclosed space could very well lead to their imminent death, should you be surprised that, after eighteen months of ingesting a relentless stream of Project Fear propaganda that has reduced every Lucy to a Linus, they don’t all rush back to that enclosed space? After all, they’ve foregone bidding farewell to loved ones on their death beds; they’ve foregone funerals, weddings and gatherings of every imaginable nature; and they’ve done all this whilst being exposed to the fact that Matt Hancock and his wandering hands – not to mention St Obama and his birthday bash – have ignored said propaganda and have carried on regardless whilst continuing to preach the mantra of mask-wearing, double-vaccinated social distancing. The powers-that-be seem to have forgotten that trust is earned, not God-given.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s entreaties to Britain’s workforce to return to its traditional workplace now that the pandemic has been jabbed into a mask-free safe space appear to be mysteriously falling on deaf ears – I wonder why? As has been pointed out previously, there are many amongst our cultural commentators and political movers & shakers who have enjoyed a ‘good pandemic’ – those metropolitan, cosmopolitan sages whose regular missives from the North London frontline have been dispatched to the barbaric provinces as a design for life in the wake of their own belated realisations that filing copy from a gated community is preferable to commuting on pleb-polluted public transport.

As long as essential deliveries to their doorsteps continued to be carried out by the great unwashed under the guise of ‘key workers’, this lockdown thing wasn’t such a big deal after all. If anything, it opened their eyes to the possibilities of an economic model in which the old-fashioned workplace could be reserved for the minimum-wage proles and they themselves could issue each fresh proclamation from the comfort of their family-friendly suburban enclaves. The problem now beginning to surface is that they’re not the only ones in the country who’ve had the veil lifted.

Unsurprisingly, the Freedom Day message has failed to connect with the majority of the people whose blood, sweat and toil ordinarily keeps the economy ticking over. The naive anticipation of a rush back to the public workplace post-19 July has not materialised, funnily enough. The furlough scheme probably helped, but there’s a little more to it than what was effectively a newfangled state benefit paid out to those in actual employment. Could it be that those expected to return in their droves after over a year of forced adjustment to a lifestyle in which the work and home environments have become interchangeable have actually realised the futility of their working lives as they existed pre-2020? Or could it be that permanent exposure to a 24/7 tsunami of pandemic propaganda via media of both the mainstream and social variety has left them terrified of their own shadows – a dubious wartime government tactic that is proving difficult to shake-off in this brave new post-war world?

Most sane folk regarded the lifting of lingering lockdown measures in July as an overdue necessity, though we shouldn’t forget that many had been so severely psychologically affected by the experience of the past year and-a-bit that the thought of suddenly setting foot in mask-free, overcrowded environments has been received with abject horror. Visiting the local supermarket is now a scary enough prospect; the thought of returning to an office full of people that requires a journey on a mobile sardine tin is a bridge too far. Government and its irresponsible advisors only have themselves to blame. Yes, some of us view all media outlets with scepticism and thinly-veiled contempt, but the majority accept the broadcast message as Gospel; this Gospel preached the same mantra for well over a year and the mantra was absorbed to the point whereby the unvaccinated are now regarded as unclean or selfish (© Michael Gove) and a threat to the future security of the nation; to therefore expect those who have unquestionably adhered to every edict to drop everything and pick up where they left off at the beginning of 2020 by mixing and mingling in a contaminated social situation is a tall order.

An anonymous Cabinet Minister quoted in the Daily Mail has criticised workers who have shied away from a return to the workplace and has aired his/her opinion that anyone preferring to work from home rather than the office now that it’s no longer mandatory should have their wages deducted and that failing to do so means they’re enjoying ‘a de facto pay rise’. ‘People who have been working from home aren’t paying their commuting costs,’ declared this expenses-claiming voice of reason. ‘If people aren’t going into work, they don’t deserve the terms and conditions they get if they are going into work.’ Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that Ministers are especially affronted by this lacklustre response to Freedom Day because it’s directly affected them on account of civil servants being noticeably reluctant to toe the government line, leaving Whitehall short on Bernard’s if not Sir Humphrey’s. Even old IDS has been prompted to comment, ‘Civil servants need to get off their backsides and into the office, and they need to do it pretty quickly.’

‘Hybrid’ is the current terminology to describe those workers who split their working lives between the office and home. Rishi Sunak is apparently not keen on ‘remote’ workers or ones with a foot in both camps, urging the young to resume their places in city centres as the impact of their absence is beginning to be noted by the Treasury. But why should they? If the past twelve months or so has shown anything it is that a vast swathe of professions that were always deemed to require workplaces can be undertaken from the comfort of home – mid-morning pyjamas and all – and the inbuilt fear of coming into contact with strangers (vaccinated or no) has left many workers reluctant to heed the Chancellor’s call. Again, whose fault is that?

The great working-class moniker of Zachary Gauge belongs to someone whose job title is that of UBS analyst. ‘You can’t operate offices at just 10 percent occupancy,’ Zak observes. ‘From September time, we’ll start to get more of a feel of what that actually looks like. Most people will have had two jabs and that’s the point – the corporate world will start to take more of a hardline approach to people coming back into the office.’ Zak shouldn’t neglect the impact of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ when it comes to his forecast either; the effect of Smartphone commandments ordering workers to abruptly self-isolate at the drop of a hat is playing its part in the economic fortunes of the nation at the moment, of course; any cursory glance at sparse supermarket shelves will tell you that, extending any expected recovery well into the autumn and beyond. But, as I so succinctly put it at the beginning of this post, what the f**k did they expect?

According to the stats, near enough a quarter of the working population worked from home in the month of July, whilst those who made the journey from home to workplace for at least one day in the week dropped from 61% to 57% – and the whole Freedom Day hype probably won’t alter the stats much in the coming weeks. Too much terror has been drilled into the work-age population to expect them to revert to the pre-2020 default position when it comes to earning a living. In order to ensure compliance, their heads have been battered by ‘The Science’, and wiping those heads clean of all that SAGE scaremongering so that they will resume drone-hood like nothing ever happened is pure pie-in-the-sky. Reaping and sowing – it’s a funny old game, innit.

© The Editor

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THE STATE OF EMERGENCY

I was watching a silverfish swim across a wall earlier today. No, things aren’t already so bad in social-distancing, self-isolating Britain that I’m reduced to observing obscure insects because there’s nothing else to do. The silverfish going about his business was exposed to the light due to a board that forms a small section of my living room wall being temporarily removed as part of a lengthy investigation into the dripping of leaks from my flat down into the flat below. It’s a long, boring story connected to a rotting roof, decaying gutters, broken pipes, and the routine papering over of cracks that accompanies the cost (and corner) cutting when residential properties are purchased by landlords and converted into separate dwellings. I’m not certain, but I’d hazard a guess my one-time grand Victorian home underwent that kind of conversion perhaps around thirty-forty years ago; and I reckon this was probably the first time decades of neglect had been examined up close.

Anyway, what – you may say – has any of this got to do with the coronavirus apocalypse? Not a lot, other than I joined a few imaginary dots between that silverfish speedily slithering in and out of the damp patches of newly-exposed plaster and the bewildered-looking pedestrians I spotted dotted about the streets this morning. Like the silverfish, they’d been quietly getting on with their lives until they were rudely interrupted and now the fragile thread by which those lives had long been hanging had laid bare their vulnerability. Unlike the overexposure afforded Global Warming and the trendy Climate Change bandwagon yer average virtue-signaller is all too eager to hitch a ride on, the ever-present threat of pandemics – along with the permanent precariousness of the world’s financial markets – has long been an issue swept under the discourse carpet; yet now both are fixed on a collision course with the potential to do far more long-term damage than even little Greta could conjure up in her worst Doomsday scenario.

For a man barely in the job long enough to boil the kettle for a pot of Yorkshire Tea, Rishi Sunak has made something of an instant impact as Chancellor. Reactions to his inaugural ‘end-of-Austerity’ Budget were still being written when he was suddenly forced to return to the money orchard only accessible via a secret portal in the back garden of 11 Downing Street. He rapidly re-emerged with an emergency financial package that must have caused John McDonnell to hover between laughter and tears; here was a Conservative Chancellor announcing the most comprehensive programme of state interventionism ever seen in peacetime Britain. As if thrashing Labour in last December’s General Election wasn’t humiliating enough; now the Tories had taken the most fiscally-socialist aspects of the Labour manifesto and expanded them to deal with the kind of crisis that separates the government men from the opposition boys. Cameron must be turning in his caravan.

Today we are told all rail franchise agreements have been suspended, with measures implemented for a provisional six month period in order to prevent the rail companies going under in the absence of passengers; operators will transfer revenue and cost risk to the Government and in the process will receive a modest fee to run services as glorified Fat Controllers. It’s not quite nationalisation, but it’s as close as we’ve come since the railways were privatised in the 90s. We are also informed plans are afoot to try and financially assist the self-employed, who were the notable absentees from the Chancellor’s rescue mission offering grants to businesses to cover 80% of employees’ wages alongside increases to both Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits. Of course, all of this will have to be accounted for at some point in the future, but for now it offers the millions who suddenly found themselves without a job to go to a better deal than the pitiful alternative of sick pay.

It is the self-employed and those trapped in a perpetual cycle of what has been called – with a detectable sneer – ‘unskilled work’ who need to be quickly included in the Chancellor’s otherwise laudable attempt to prevent the majority of the country’s workforce being plunged into a black hole. A survey published before events gathered pace last week revealed that 47% of self-employed workers and 51% of those on zero hours contracts would most likely carry on working even if they were diagnosed with Covid-19. They have no choice, which is why they need assistance as much as anyone else, even if providing it is a more complicated proposition.

These measures, if indeed they are extended to everyone, will certainly help balance the more draconian legislation concerning curbs on civil liberties that are proposed as we perch on the cusp of the anticipated full-scale lockdown. The coronavirus bill, which is expected to gallop through every stage in the Commons without being saddled with annoying democratic inconveniences like being put to the vote, is intended to cover a two-year period. Once enshrined in law, it will give the Government legal powers to ban gatherings and forcibly quarantine the infected as well as making the closures of schools and places of entertainment a legal enforcement; but it will be subject to review every six months.

To be fair, imposing too many stringent restrictions wasn’t part of the initial plan; but it quickly became evident that offering the public the chance to retain their autonomy wasn’t working. Too many were carrying on as usual and flagrantly ignoring the advice; and even now, the bulk buying at supermarkets remains one of the most immediate headaches non-arseholes have to deal with in this crisis. The impounding of trolleys and the enforcing of baskets wouldn’t go amiss. Anyway, concerns voiced by opposition MPs and civil rights groups have resulted in the concession to review the measures in the coronavirus bill twice a year. It must have been tempting to resist it, though. One only has to consider how effectively the coronavirus has removed the thorns in the respective sides of the French and Chinese governments; street protests in both Paris and Hong Kong that have severely disrupted the smooth running of life over the past year have been quelled overnight.

Not that a few disgruntled Remoaners have presented Boris Johnson with social unrest comparable to that confronting Macron or Xi Jinping, though some shameless souls are exploiting the current climate to demand Brexit negotiations be suspended – probably indefinitely, I should imagine. The performance of Rishi Sunak has even provoked some to propose the ousting of Boris and a…wait for it…coalition administration run by the incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer alongside the charmless man who’s odds-on favourite to become Labour leader, AKA the charisma vacuum himself, Keir Starmer. Please, I know we’re in weird times, but come on! Most people had probably forgotten Labour were even engaged in a leadership election, what with it being a never-ending experience on a par with listening to ‘MacArthur Park’; but it’s difficult to see the call going out to Starmer or the two other contenders to return to their constituencies and prepare for government.

Anyway, as Alex Salmond strolled away from court a free man, I strolled along the Sunday-esque streets and found no eggs in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, but eggs in Aldi’s! No decent chardonnay in Sainsbury’s, but plenty in Waitrose! These days, more than ever, it pays to shop around – and not knowing what will (or won’t) be available is now part of the daily fun. Maybe life would be so much simpler if I were a silverfish…

© The Editor