NAME THAT CRISIS

MoppAs we currently reside in a winter wonderland, the NHS is naturally on the brink of collapse. This annual event – one that usually dominates the headlines of news outlets less than sympathetic towards the Conservative Party every January without fail – is making its yearly appearance at the moment, counteracted by evidence from the other side of Fleet Street concerning how many millions our most beloved of institutions squanders on the likes of ‘diversity coordinators’ and so on, thus depriving frontline nurses of wage increases they’d otherwise not have to strike for. But the narrative that traditionally opens a New Year tends not to recognise this strand of the storyline; it’s far easier to pin the blame on ‘evil Tories’ because black & white heroes and villains translate the myriad intricacies of the morbidly obese and unmanageable behemoth of bureaucracy the NHS has become into a more digestible bite-sized tabloid snack. Of course, there are always a few dependable Blimp-like Tories who will gladly provide sufficient fodder for the Mirror and the BBC by coming out with a reliably stupid quote to uphold the narrative, though these tend to be detached backbenchers who are all with Bupa anyway.

Unless one’s health takes a dramatic turn for the worst, most of us are mercifully spared from placing our lives in A&E hands; if we find ourselves afflicted by a seasonal sniffle that simply won’t go away, the nearest GP’s surgery tends to be the sole port of call – or at least used to be. Anyone who’s attempted to secure a doctor’s appointment during the past three years will probably have found sweating it out or self-medication is a preferable option. Sob stories from GPs have become commonplace in recent times, though most patients find it difficult to express sympathy after being placed on hold for hours when forced to book an appointment over the phone from the crack of dawn onwards, with an ailment hardly eased by exposure to some tortuous Auto-tune earworm or an ad on a loop demanding the listener purchases an app that will no doubt deliver a diagnosis in a Stephen Hawking accent.

The last time I managed to gain an in-person audience with a GP around a year or so ago, I recall being the sole person in a waiting room about as active as a Nightingale Hospital until a guy walked in and approached the counter to make an appointment; he was informed he needed to do so over the phone and proceeded to produce his mobile and ring the receptionist in front of him; observing this farce, I felt as though I’d walked into a Python sketch. Despite the absence of patient competition, I still had to sit for the best part of fifteen minutes before a doctor deigned to appear; this was one of those multi-GP surgeries where one rarely sees the same doctor two visits running, so I did wonder what the multiple medical men and women employed there were busying themselves with whilst I twiddled my thumbs in the deserted waiting room. Playing a round of poker, perhaps?

Ever since every illness – both life-threatening and merely annoying – was deemed by the likes of SAGE to be secondary to Covid, the majority of hospitals, clinics and GP’s surgeries seem to have obediently followed the Government-recommended lead, albeit without readjusting their priorities now we’re through the worst of it. And what thanks do they receive for their obedience? They get Chris ‘Mekon’ Whitty predicting mass deaths courtesy of all those undiagnosed fatal illnesses that were placed on ice because the medical profession did as it was told. Indeed, how many vital members of NHS staff were faced with the threat of losing their jobs barely a couple of years ago because they were resistant to the vaccine and exercised their rights as citizens of a supposedly-free country to opt out? Remember the smear campaign aimed at discrediting this perfectly democratic decision, one spearheaded by Government propaganda and supported by numerous sections of the MSM? Yes, like any institution of such an unwieldy size, the NHS has its dutiful servants and it has its avaricious freeloaders; I suspect the latter would have remained in place, continuing to draw their sumptuous salaries as middle-management parasites, and wouldn’t have shed a tear over the loss of those further down the food-chain whose presence can actually make more of a difference to a patient than a course in diversity training. But in this infantile narrative, we were made very aware as to who the heroes were and who the villains were.

I think, for a lot of people, some of the more extreme attitudes that the pandemic exposed were quite an eye-opener; it certainly served to show a few true colours that had been previously clad in the colourless brand of sheep’s clothing bearing a ‘tolerance’ label, i.e. the whole #BeKind brigade who anyone with half-a-brain can now belatedly recognise as the charlatans they always were – the allegedly liberal who are actually acutely illiberal, just like the so-called anti-racists or anti-fascists are amongst some of the most bigoted, intolerant, narrow-minded and downright nasty haters out there. And, as undemocratic and draconian as some of the legislation rushed through Parliament by a Conservative Government was, don’t forget it was supported all the way along by Labour and the Lib Dems – and if it was criticised at all, the basis of the criticism was that it wasn’t severe enough in curbing civil liberties. After all, we saw for ourselves just how severe it could’ve been in England via those constituent countries of the UK with administrations supposedly of the Left.

In a way, though, the unpleasant side of human nature that either surfaced through genuine fear or simply exploited the fear of others in the most unseemly manner was a symptom of more than a mere freak occurrence like the pandemic. I recently viewed an archive interview with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Marty Feldman and Dennis Norden – all of whom were sharing a dinner whilst discussing comedy writing; as the get-together was staged at Christmas, the festive subject cropped-up and Feldman made a potent point as to the way strangers react to one another for just a handful of days out of the 365 the year offers us. He noted that people have to be ‘artificially stimulated to behave like human beings’, going on to say that ‘We have to be aware that this is the day when we behave like civilised people’. Whenever some TV telethon in a ‘Children in Need’ vein raises a whopping amount, there’s always tangible surprise expressed at just how selflessly generous people can be towards the less fortunate, yet should it really be a surprise? Sadly, the fact that it is greeted as a surprise speaks volumes. To be wished a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year on the street by a stranger for one week in December isn’t an uncommon event; to be bid good morning on the street by a stranger any other time of the year certainly is.

Every public demonstration of ‘community’ and ‘we’re all in this together’ during the pandemic, such as standing on a street corner to applaud the NHS, came across as staged-managed, like an organised ‘fun’ event for kids at Butlin’s; none of it appeared organic or spontaneous; one almost got the feeling it had been hatched by Dominic Cummings as a means of getting the people on side, a less negative approach than the divide & rule tactic of shaming those who opposed pandemic policies like lockdown or mandatory masks. The pitifully small resistance to so much of what was imposed upon us during this period – and how that resistance was demonised by those who played right into Government hands – is something it’s hard to forgive or forget. Whether or not the NHS is actually in a genuine crisis again or whether this is just another strand of propaganda designed to oust one political party in favour of another cut from the same rancid cloth is something we’ll probably find out in a year or two. Mind you, as Jonathan Meades shrewdly pointed out in his study on jargon, politicians of every colour have more in common with each other than they have with normal people; and the truth we believe is the truth we receive.

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BLINDED BY THE LIGHTWEIGHT

WestminsterI know it feels like 100 years ago now, but if you can possibly cast your mind back to the eve of the 2019 General Election, you might recall there was an unprecedented rash of preemptive exits as a wipe-out of the Westminster Remoaners beckoned following months of undemocratic chaos when they tried their damndest to reverse the 2016 mandate delivered by the people. The fragile majority Boris Johnson had inherited from Theresa May was whittled down to a minority as numerous Tory Members crossed the floor of the House and the PM removed the whip from 21 rebels; some even formed their own Party in conjunction with Labour MPs dismayed at the Momentum dominance within Corbyn’s Labour – anyone recall Change UK? – and some relocated to the Lib Dems; but all were desperate to prevent the General Election Boris was eager to call in order to sort out the problem once and for all, preferring the red herring of a Second Referendum. When it became clear this wasn’t feasible, there were even characteristically bonkers suggestions such as the one proposed by the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, which suggested an unelected emergency administration should be formed with her (naturally) at the centre of it. All of these moves served as a blatant indication as to just how much the Remainer elite within Parliament mistrusted the British public to do the right thing.

When those parties with the loudest Remoaner voices were summarily rejected at the ballot-box in the May 2019 European elections – obliterated by Nigel Farage’s newly-formed Brexit Party – many of them belatedly realised the electorate were not going to look warmly upon them come the next national vote. No wonder they were against it. However, when Boris finally managed to call his General Election in the wake of the proroguing of Parliament, and Brits found themselves confronted by a welcome democratic disruption to the annual assault of Christmas, the most blinkered and diehard still imagined the British people would come round to their way of thinking; Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson was unashamedly candid in her promise that her party would do its utmost to scrap Brexit if it found itself holding the balance of power. In the end, Swinson lost her seat. But there were others who never even got to that stage; eager to avoid a ‘Portillo Moment’, these were the ones who bottled it before their constituents had the opportunity to have their say.

Once the December Election was given the go-ahead, you suddenly couldn’t move for MPs voluntarily walking the plank in anticipation of the public shoving them off it. Sure, it’s not uncommon for veterans to announce their intention to stand down on the eve of an Election, but never before had so many Bright Young Things done likewise; a fair few had been earmarked as ones-to-watch, with some (in the case of the governing Conservatives) rising through the ranks to Cabinet posts with such speed that they were seen as potential future leaders. Amber Rudd, Justin Greening, Rory Stewart and Jo Johnson were some of the younger quitters from the Tories who jumped before the electorate pushed, whilst Jezza’s 15-minute challenger Owen Smith did likewise from Labour ranks. Some, such as the Scottish Conservative saviour Ruth Davidson, had quit upon Boris Johnson gaining the keys to No.10, whereas Tom ‘Bunter’ Watson got out because his embarrassing association with serial paedophile liar Carl Beech had ended his hopes of the Labour leadership; incidentally, both Davidson and Watson now sit in the Lords, having a hand in the passing of legislation without being answerable to the electorate. Nice work if you can get it.

Although some of the most prominent Remoaners did indeed have their Portillo Moments come the General Election – Jo Swinson, Chuck Umunna, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen being the most notable – most had gone before the public had their say. And whilst their decision to stand down at a relatively young age (for an MP) was undeniably influenced by the humiliating drubbing they anticipated, it also highlighted just how much being a people’s representative is little more than another impressive notch on a CV for many of today’s intake into Parliament. It’ll look good when fishing for the directorship of a hedge fund company, I guess. Whatever happened to public service? Dennis Skinner may have lost his seat in 2019, but he’d put in almost half-a-century at Westminster; Tony Benn had surrendered a peerage and gone all the way to changing the law in order for him to continue as an MP, so committed was he to the cause of public service; these guys put the hours in and were there for more than a chance to appear on ‘Strictly’ or join Matt Hancock in the jungle one day. Indeed, as even Russell Brand pointed out on a recent YT video, how low have we sunk that the only place in which the opportunity to confront the former Health Secretary with the consequences of his pandemic actions is not in the Commons or on ‘Question Time’, but on an ITV reality show, where he’s grilled not by Andrew Neil but by Boy George?

Apparently, there was even a recent reality show in which two past political figures who’ve never stood for election in their lives – Alastair Campbell and Baroness Warsi – acted as the expert judges overseeing a bunch of ‘Apprentice’-style wannabes competing to become an imaginary Prime Minister; as far as I’m aware, Liz Truss was not amongst the contenders. Although I didn’t see the programme, I’ve a pretty good idea of the kind of show it was – after all, most TV produced in the name of ‘entertainment’ today follows a formula based on one hit show that is then reproduced endlessly; but maybe a public utterly exhausted with mendacious MPs evading every question put to them on a serious political programme see this route as the way forward for our elected representatives? And maybe our elected representatives are thinking along similar lines. It could perhaps offer one explanation as to why the public respond more to voting a celebrity out of the jungle than they do to voting candidates in or out of office; and it could also explain why those candidates view their political careers as merely another job they do for a bit before looking for something else.

Moreover, this situation could equally explain why so many recent recruits to the Commons Chamber come across as so lightweight and uninspiring compared to most of yesteryear’s big beasts. The intense level of commitment and the hunger to change society for the better is simply not there anymore, nor is the unswerving conviction that they actually have it in them to do so. Last time round, those that abandoned ship before the 2019 iceberg hit did so because they knew nobody would offer them a lifeboat; this time round, with polls pointing towards a similar catastrophe for the Conservative Party as a whole (rather than just its Remainer rebels), some have already revealed their indifference to public service by announcing their intentions to stand down before the date of the next General Election has even been decided.

The most invigorating incident of the 2019 Election from a Tory perspective was the collapse of Labour’s Red Wall and the once-unimaginable capture of eternal Labour strongholds by young Conservative upstarts; yet, the casual approach to commitment so prevalent in careerist politicians who seem to view their Honourable Member status as no different from being on the board of a financial institution or some soulless corporation surfaced again when 29-year-old Dehenna Davison, who won Bishop Auckland for the Tories in 2019, announced she’d be standing down next time round. One could argue Boris blew all the advantages that came with the Red Wall seats and that the chances of Davison’s re-election may have been rendered slim as a result, but it still seems to suggest Parliament is no more than ‘work experience’ for the young MP passing through en route to a more profitable position, as though it were some gap-year assignment in an African village; if that is indeed the case, the electorate will be better off without any of them; but one suspects whoever succeeds them will be cut from the same transient cloth.

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COCK OF THE JUNGLE

Jungle CockAnyone looking for proof of Peter Capaldi’s gifts as an actor need not only recall the fact he continued to exude the necessary charisma and gravitas as Doctor Who despite the diminishing quality of the scripts and the Doctor’s impending exile on Planet Woke, but that he also gave us the memorably visceral Whitehall spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker in ‘The Thick of It’. There were dozens of scenes from the series in which Tucker’s hyperactive potty mouth scaled heights of genius linguistic obscenity, but Capaldi’s character was much more than just a viciously funny caricature of Alastair Campbell at his worst. I remember one episode in which Tucker had been toppled from his position of power and, suddenly deprived of his raison d’être, cut a lost, pathetic figure, realising he had little else to occupy his time; contacted by the producers of a reality TV show of the kind that seeks out has-beens and down-at-heel celebrities, Tucker swallows his pride and meets the producers. As the format of the programme is explained to him, Tucker’s despair at how low he’s sunk is writ large on his despondent countenance, and sympathy for a character who had previously elicited anything but is brilliantly coaxed out of the viewer. In the end, Malcolm Tucker walks out of the interview and shows his true grit by staging a successful comeback without recourse to reality television; perhaps Matt Hancock should have been taking notes.

The former Health Secretary, who presided over one of the most disastrous policy decisions in the history of the post, was fortunate to escape the post-Covid fallout with just the loss of his job; but at least the public received some consolation via the humiliating nature of his exit – caught on camera breaking social distancing rules in the most toe-curling manner by snogging and groping a female aide in a corridor like some geeky adolescent indulging in his first kiss at the High School Prom. Once exposed as a ‘love rat’ (as the tabloids used to say), Hancock left his wife and family for said aide and then embarked upon a fittingly embarrassing online ‘comeback’, responsible for soaring sales of sick buckets as he declared his love for his former bit on the side. Perhaps it’s therefore no surprise that Hancock has now succumbed to the lure of reality TV, recently announced as a contestant in the upcoming series of the show that seems destined to run until the bomb drops, ‘Help! I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’. The reported fee of £400,000 probably helped too – that’s if he could read the cheque on account of his ‘dyslexia’, the convenient cause he claims his appearance on the programme will highlight.

When the subject of Hancock’s participation in the annual kangaroo-knackers banquet cropped-up on this weekend’s ‘The Week in Westminster’, columnist and broadcaster Matthew Parris attempted to defend Hancock, deflecting criticism of Hancock’s decision by dismissing it as snobbishness, citing past appearances by the likes of Nadine Dorries on reality TV whilst a serving MP. However, Parris eventually declared an interest by admitting ‘Cockers’ was a friend of his. Lest we forget, Matthew Parris first sprang to national prominence when, as a Conservative MP himself, he took part in a 1984 edition of ‘World in Action’. This famous experiment, which Mrs Thatcher advised him not to do, was a test to see if the promising young MP could live on the weekly social security benefit his Government said was perfectly adequate. Dispatched to a neighbourhood of Newcastle with a high rate of unemployment, Parris struggled to make it through the week on the dole and ended up running out of money for the meter before the seven days was over.

Parris stood down as an MP a couple of years after his first foray into television and took over from Brian Walden as host of ITV’s Sunday lunchtime institution, ‘Weekend World’; but he has often hinted his experience on ‘World in Action’ opened his eyes to not simply the world of broadcasting – he also received first-hand knowledge of how the other half live. Parris returned to Newcastle twenty years after his sobering education on the dole for a follow-up programme and discovered little improvement in the lives of the residents there; he found the legacy of the early 80s economic decimation of the city was that many in the community were now dependent on antidepressants. Both programmes validated Parris’s appearance in them, but particularly the first one; it was a serious, worthy attempt to test an advocate of Government policy by inviting him to try living under it himself – something that should actually be a compulsory course for anyone attempting to stand for Parliament. There’s a huge difference between the motivation behind ‘World in Action’ and the Ant & Dec circus, so I don’t really think Matt Hancock signing-up for that is any way comparable to Matthew Parris’s 80s venture into the North East.

Regardless of Hancock’s unconvincing attempts to justify his participation in the programme, the now-backbencher has had the whip suspended as a result, and though still a member of the Conservative Party, he now sits as an independent in the Commons. The fact Hancock chose to take part in the show with Parliament in session understandably didn’t go down well with his West Suffolk constituents either; I often think gaining an audience with a member of the Cabinet at their constituency surgery must be considerably harder than it would be with any ‘normal’ MP, but when that MP is no longer running a department there should be no excuses for their non-appearance. Not that the loss of power seems to make much difference to their accessibility within their constituencies, mind; after all, imagine if your local MP was Boris Johnson, needing to discuss a pressing problem with him in that capacity, yet being told he’s sunning his considerable bulk on some distant exotic shore. And now there’s the disgraced ex-Health Secretary to be found Down Under, hanging out with the usual leftovers from all the other reality shows when his constituents might actually require his assistance for the job he’s being paid to do on their behalf.

Ah, but he’s got estranged children to support as well as financing his love-nest with Gina Coladangelo, and the wages of a backbencher don’t quite match up to the ministerial salary. Overly-optimistic rumours of a return to Government under Rishi Sunak came to nothing, so Hancock has clearly chosen an option he seems to imagine will somehow rehabilitate his trashed reputation amongst the general public. And a man referred to as a ‘showbiz guru’ by the name of Jonathan Shalit reckons Hancock has a profitable celebrity career ahead of him, claiming ‘Cockers’ could earn up to £1 million a year if he plays his cards right. ‘I’m A Celebrity provides an opportunity to go on a new journey,’ says Shalit, foreseeing an increase in Hancock’s income if he performs well on the programme. ‘Someone like Matt can probably make about £1 million a year, quite often on weekends. For example, he could probably do three or four appearances for £10-15,000 each, minimum, if not up to £60-70,000.’ Yes, these guys do like to talk in numbers, but showbiz types share that with greedy Honourable Members, and someone did once say that politics is showbiz for ugly people, so there you go.

Matt Hancock’s deserved political downfall was a consequence of the double standards at play in Boris’s administration during the pandemic; this is the man who threatened to outlaw outdoor exercise if the plebs didn’t adhere to the social distancing rules he himself evidently regarded as unnecessary when indulging in a spot of buttock-clutching, who was photographed sans-mask when he told the rest of us to wear them at all times, and who handed out PPE contracts to his buddies – typical corruption of the kind we expect from our MPs, I guess. But the buck stopped with him when Covid-infected pensioners were returned from hospital to care home; if anyone killed granny, it was Matt Hancock. And no amount of Barrymore-esque efforts to court forgiveness via light entertainment will change that.

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A BOY NAMED SUNAK

Brian and Rishi III guess I could muse on the least-taxing passage to No.10 for 15 years, ever since Tony Blair passed the poisoned parcel to Gordon Brown. Indeed, I could wax lyrically on the smashing of Labour’s Identitarian narrative of poor little oppressed minorities needing university-educated white folk rushing to their ignorant aid now that a practising Hindu has reached the pinnacle of political power without a contest even being staged. I could also ponder on the fact Sunak’s rise to the top contradicts the Left’s conviction that Britain today is a rampantly racist society on a par with Apartheid-era South Africa, due to the fact that most people couldn’t give a flying f*** about the new Prime Minister’s ethnicity; that’s the last thing that concerns the majority at this moment in time, no more than Disraeli’s Jewish identity bothered Victorian voters. The former Chancellor’s financial affairs – particularly his marriage to a billionaire’s daughter who enjoyed tax-free non-dom status until exposed – appear to be more of a pointer to his detachment from ‘the man in the street’ than his racial background; at the same time, it’s worth recalling the eloquent reply of Sid Vicious when asked if he sang for ‘the man in the street’. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ve met the man in the street, and he’s a c***.’

The controversial rewriting of the rulebook when it comes to selecting a new Tory leader – in order to accommodate the unique circumstances of the moment – has undoubtedly facilitated Rishi Sunak’s speedy relocation from backbench to Downing Street; but disgruntled Conservative Party members cancelling their memberships in protest at being denied a say need to remember they had their say in the summer – and look what they lumbered us with. Sure, none of the process that enabled Sunak to become an overnight Prime Minister smacks of anything remotely democratic; but another drawn-out interregnum of the kind we endured between Boris and Truss just wouldn’t have been appropriate right now. Sunak was fortunate that he acquired the necessary 100 backers in 24 hours and the only other candidate – Penny Mordaunt – came nowhere near; we were informed in advance that if only one candidate had the required 100 nominations come the Monday deadline, he or she would be the winner. Sunak duly achieved this and therefore, he’s straight in at No.10 with a bullet.

Along with Penny Mordaunt’s failure to reach the threshold of 100, Boris Johnson’s decision to pull out – a first for Boris; Boom! Boom! – presented Rishi with a clear path to power, and it’s been hilarious to watch prominent Tory creeps and crawlers chopping and changing their allegiances in the hope of keeping their Cabinet posts. Over the weekend, Nadhim Zahawi – the five-minute Chancellor who publicly called for Boris to quit a couple of days after Johnson had appointed him – was suddenly a born-again Boris groupie, tweeting his support for the ex-PM to return to office; and then, when it became apparent Boris couldn’t secure the numbers – or lost his bottle – Rishi was immediately installed as the man to unite the Party and save the country in the eyes of such desperate, fair-weather careerists. Here was the most blatant example yet of how these self-serving cretins shamelessly put personal interests ahead of Party (let alone country), and gave us official confirmation that all should forevermore be treated with the utter contempt they’ve earned.

It’s worth remembering there was a time – brief, granted – that Rishi Sunak was seen as the golden boy of British politics. Mid-pandemic, there was no escaping the fact that he radiated a confident, healthy glow that made him resemble a male model when stood beside shabby, flabby Boris; I seem to remember comparing them to the before-and-after images in an ad for a slimming aid. And, even though wise men recognised the Government paying the idle workforce what amounted to lockdown benefits meant a costly day of reckoning would strike sooner rather than later, the furlough scheme Rishi acted as salesman for came as a welcome financial injection to millions struggling because earning a living had been put on ice. Yet by last spring, when a damp squib of a budget combined with revelations of his missus’s tax affairs and a fine for lockdown-breaking, Sunak’s star was descending rapidly; swept up in the whole ‘Partygate’ scandal that engulfed Boris’s administration, it seemed Rishi Sunak was destined to join George Osborne as a Chancellor earmarked for an eventual move next-door that never arrived. And then he was portrayed by Boris disciples as the reincarnation of Michael Heseltine in the reboot of the Thatcher drama, masterminding the PM’s downfall to seize the crown for himself. Boris was dragged from No.10 and Rishi battled it out with Liz Truss, the Johnson-ite choice seemingly selected to fail once installed in Downing Street so that the Messiah could stroll back in again. Well, these are bad times for a betting man, for nothing lately has gone according to the form book; Boris is not returning, and Rishi Sunak has grabbed the top job without even breaking sweat beneath the bright lights of a leadership debate.

As the grandson of Indian immigrants from the pre-partition Punjab, Rishi Sunak’s effortless entrance into 10 Downing Street has naturally been received well in ‘the old country’. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered congratulations and tweeted ‘As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues…special Diwali wishes to the living bridge of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.’ Back home, whilst reluctantly paying tribute to Sunak’s achievement through gritted teeth, uniformly white opposition politicians have instead focused on the new PM’s immense wealth as the stick with which to beat him; the usual social media suspects may already be implying Sunak is ‘the wrong kind of brown person’ due to the fact he doesn’t adhere to the rule that all non-whites have to be left-leaning, but in the rush to counteract the characteristic racism of ‘anti-racism’, ignorance still abounds on the other side. Wee Nicola Sturgeon deleted a tweet describing Sunak as the UK’s first ‘ethnic minority PM’ when the origins of Benjamin Disraeli were pointed out to her.

Mind you, a lack of research is hardly restricted to Sunak’s ethnic background; claims he could be the first Prime Minister not to live ‘above the shop’ are contradicted by the fact Harold Wilson neglected to move back into No.10 during his second stint as PM from 1974 to 1976. But why let facts get in the way of a headline? Anyway, whether or not Sunak decides to call upon Pickfords, there was still the matter of the current tenant moving out. Before her farewell audience with Brian, Liz Truss indulged in a brief final lectern speech; as she struggled to think of her administration’s ‘achievements’, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an early exit from a reality TV show as a contestant’s ‘best bits’ montage set to a dreary Dad Rock dirge take up all of a minute’s screen-time. The speed of the handover from Truss to Sunak was necessary given the circumstances, yet it also seemed to emphasise the staggering failure of Rishi’s immediate predecessor; even the embarrassingly small removal van parked outside Downing Street suggested Truss’s chattels could’ve been packed into an overnight bag, so brief was her tenancy of No.10.

However, the fact the country’s youngest Prime Minister in 200 years is the first since Clement Attlee not to have served under Queen Elizabeth II in a way says more about where we are now than Sunak’s ethnicity. His rise to power is not so much a comment on how things have changed over the past half-century, but how they’ve changed over the past couple of months. This has been a remarkable period to live through in terms of history happening before one’s eyes, and even the breathing space of two years before the next General Election – and it will be two years – doesn’t mean the fat lady has started singing yet.

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I AM THE RESURRECTION

BorisComebacks are the last refuge of the desperate and deluded. Bands who were great 20 or 30 years ago reunite and the old fans, as terrified by the encroaching spectre of middle-age as the band members themselves, rejoice while they cling to the nostalgia of recapturing their youth; long-suffering supporters of a once-dominant football club celebrate the return of the manager who masterminded that dominance, convincing themselves a resurrection of the glory days is just around the corner. It rarely works out. Time has moved on, the world has changed, and the Messiah is no longer younger than yesterday. Lightning rarely strikes more than the once. Not that the narcissism, ego and vanity of someone as in love with the sound of his own voice and the prestige of power as Boris Johnson would acknowledge these truisms, nor would those in denial of the man’s multiple faults, the very same faults that contributed to his downfall. No! It was a coup, they claim, a coup led by Rishi Sunak; Boris was blameless, stitched-up by the very backstabbing ingrate now poised to launch a fresh bid for the suddenly-vacant No.10. Only one man can stop him – our hero, our saviour, our Boris!

When the original King Charles was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649, many believed it was his obstinacy and hubris that had plunged the country into a devastating Civil War spanning the best part of a decade; he was seen as more responsible than any other individual for ripping the country apart and causing untold damage and misery; the blood of the nation was on his hands and his death sentence was utterly justified. Yet, a man who had apparently struggled to convey regal majesty throughout his reign saved the best till last, giving a brilliant performance as he approached the block. The King wore two shirts to combat the January chill and therefore avoided shivering – something which could have been interpreted as fear. The calm composure and dignity with which he confronted his fate altered opinion of Charles amongst the crowd, and his beheading was greeted with shocked silence. Swiftly thereafter, Charles I achieved instant martyr status and a cult grew around him that spread to the point whereby 10 years on from his execution, Charles’s exiled son could be welcomed home as Charles II, the merry monarch who would vanquish the grim Puritan austerity of Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

As befits our 24/7 news age, the cult of Boris has been condensed into just a few weeks rather than a decade, and his dedicated disciples have conveniently forgotten the facts that led to Boris officially exiting Downing Street at the beginning of last month. There’s no point reciting the breathtaking litany of black marks against his name all over again; you hardly need to scroll back that far to revisit them on the Winegum posts I wrote at the time. Besides, some are so deeply in denial that they receive any reports of Boris behaving badly as fake news – just like the man himself. Indeed, it’s now blatantly obvious that the maniacal members of the Boris cult were to blame for what came next: the absolute bloody chaos of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it premiership that beggars belief in its utter, unprecedented incompetence. So desperate were they for the man they saw as the wielder of the dagger with Boris’s name on it not to grab the crown, they pushed a patsy forward who they knew lacked every quality necessary to become a successful Prime Minister. And they knew Liz Truss, with her gormless lust for power, would be the perfect fall girl for the mission.

Liz Truss should never have got within a million miles of Downing Street. In each and every televised debate of the summer’s leadership contest, she failed to impress. Even Rishi Sunak’s bland, double-glazing salesman shtick came across as appealing when placed against the clueless, vapid jargon of a woman incapable of transmitting any confidence in her credentials as a serious contender; she looked and sounded like precisely what she was – a dim, minor league politician totally out of her depth, and one who wouldn’t submit to an Andrew Neil grilling because she knew it would expose her myriad shortcomings for the job she’d been led to believe she could do. But she had a powerful PR machine behind her, the kind that can polish a turd so expertly that its beholders could see the reflection of Margaret Thatcher in it. The Mail and the Express bombarded the Tory membership with promises of the second coming of Maggie, and the behind-the-scenes shit-spreaders successfully removed Penny Mordaunt from the race by subjecting her to a dirty tricks campaign; all that remained was to convince the grass-roots. They did, and look what happened. Liz Truss crashed and burned in the space of 44 days and the Messiah is now flying back from the Caribbean to save the nation like King Arthur en route from Avalon.

The Daily Telegraph claims Boris has already begun to woo backbenchers with a charm offensive, glossing over the reasons for his forced departure and reminding them of 2019. Ah, yes – the Glorious Landslide, aided and abetted by the undemocratic shenanigans of the Remoaner mafia and a Labour leader whose own mystifying cult didn’t stretch beyond his fanatical fan-base. The collapse of the Red Wall, which could probably be attributed as much to Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum as Boris Johnson, gave rise to the persistent myth that Boris’s charisma was solely responsible, yet stats tell a different story. Boris’s popularity amongst the general public was actually at its highest, 29%, when he was hospitalised with Covid and appeared to be suffering along with the people, something that his subsequent lockdown-breaking behaviour quickly dispelled. By the beginning of this year, Boris’s approval ratings had slumped to -52%, lower than either Theresa May or David Cameron ever managed at their worst. Even if Boris can rightly claim he never plunged as low as the -70% achieved by Liz Truss on the eve of her resignation, that’s still like pointing out Reggie Kray was a vicious, sadistic thug but at least he wasn’t as much of a twisted psychopath as Ronnie.

But it is Boris’s triumph in 2019 that is serving as a misguided comforter for Tories staring into the black hole of electoral oblivion; according to some, if a General Election were held tomorrow the Conservative Party could be reduced to as few as 60-70 seats, which would virtually signal the end of the most successful political party in the history of the Western world. Parties don’t come back from that kind of decimation. It happened to the Liberals in 1924, and they never recovered. Ah, but only Boris can win it! And winning it is the Tory obsession; that’s all they want to do. No matter that winning it is followed by having to actually govern, for they’ve completely forgotten how to do that – and nobody embodies this fact better than Boris. Okay, so one can argue that Boris’s hero Churchill as well as Harold Wilson both returned to Downing Street, though neither had been ousted as party leader between their separate stints as PM. In fact, one has to go all the way back to Gladstone to find a party leader who left the job and then returned to lead his party to government again – even if the gap from resignation to return was five whole years.

Many harbour understandable and legitimate concerns about Keir Starmer and the Labour Party, but the fiscal reputation the Tories have always fallen back on has been comprehensively trashed this month and few now trust them with their finances; the likelihood is the Conservative Party could well be kicked out of office with the same overwhelming thumbs-down as Corbyn’s Labour received in 2019 – unless Boris waves his magic wand, of course. At the time of writing, only Penny Mordaunt has thrown her hat in the ring, though Rishi Sunak is expected to follow suit any day now. As for Boris, his supporters have all-but convinced themselves their hero will be back at No.10 by this time next week. No. No. And thrice no. We have suffered enough, haven’t we?

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DELIVERANCE

Truss Yet AgainOh, you bastard! Does Liz Truss think I’ve got nothing better to do? Barely has the imaginary ink dried on the post I published yesterday, and now I’m back to document a fall from (dis)grace that we all knew was inevitable, yet one I could’ve done with 24 hours’ breathing space to prepare for. Minus the partridge in a pear tree Harvey Proctor wryly referenced on Twitter yesterday, we’ve had four Chancellors, three Home Secretaries, two Prime Ministers and two monarchs since July. No, doesn’t sound very ‘strong and stable’, does it? Just as well the country is so united and in such a healthy state at the moment, else all this could be cause for concern. Yes, the Daily Star’s live-stream on YT, which positioned a lettuce alongside a photograph of the Prime Minister to see which of the two would enjoy the longest lifespan, has proven to be a more accurate barometer of our turbulent times than any boring old political TV show you’d care to mention. Take that, Peston! I mean, as Mudplugger himself pointed out in a comment less than 24 hours ago, this Whitehall farce would be side-splitting were the ramifications of it not so worrying for the British people.

So, Liz Truss has fallen on her Prime Ministerial sword after a mere 44 days at No.10. What a remarkable administration she’s presided over: The shortest-serving Home Secretary since 1783; the shortest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer whose career wasn’t curtailed by the Grim Reaper; and now the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history. The previous holder of this record was our old friend George Canning, whose 119 days in office were prematurely ended by his death; but his immediate successor, the Viscount Goderich, had the shortest run as PM of anyone who walked away from the job alive until Liz Truss. He lasted 144 days, which now sounds like quite an impressive term of office compared to the current crop of Ministers. What’s interesting looking at the bottom of the pops, though, is that, of the ten shortest-serving PMs only one – Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 – was actually forced to leave the job courtesy of a people’s vote, i.e. a General Election. The rest resigned, were replaced, or died. And those stats aren’t about to alter with this latest change of leader; for the fourth occasion in a row, a tiny elite of Tory MPs and Party members will choose our next PM. This is just becoming ridiculous.

Even the 1922 Committee recognises nobody will tolerate yet another lengthy leadership contest so soon after the last one, so it seems a swift coronation is in order that promises to install Truss’s replacement by 28 October. The mechanics of this appear to be being made up on the spot, so no one really knows yet if those who received the silver and bronze medals in the summer will automatically qualify for some sort of instant playoff final. Either way, it looks as though it’ll probably be Rishi Sunak or Penny Mordaunt standing at the battered Downing Street lectern by this time next week, for the Chancellor of less than a week has apparently ruled himself out of the contest. But it is interesting just how easily a party leader and PM can be forced out by the combination of an internal rebellion and a mainstream media sympathetic to the rebels’ cause. The powers invested in the Prime Minister must be very limited indeed if all this can happen so quickly after it last happened, rendering he or she little more than a constitutional sovereign as opposed to an Absolute Monarch; the idea that the Conservative Party can do to Liz Truss what it did to her two immediate predecessors – and do it in the space of just 44 bloody days – begs the question, what is the point of having a Prime Minister at all?

The system for electing a Tory leader must be at fault too, for the Tories appear to have been lumbered with a leader none of them really wanted – or at least a vast proportion of them didn’t. Naturally, none of this would make much difference beyond Tory circles if they weren’t in government, of course; we all remember how Iain Duncan Smith was unceremoniously ousted once it dawned on the Party that it had made a mistake, but the damage done by both electing and then axing him was only felt by the Party; Labour were still in power, Blair was still PM, and the Tories were a joke, a feeble shadow of the once-dominant force in British politics and utterly unelectable. It’s a totally different picture when the kind of shambolic chopping and changing we’ve seen over the past five or six years is made by the actual Government; when this is the case, it doesn’t just impact on Tory MPs or Tory Party members; it impacts on everybody. If there’s constant instability at the centre of British political life, it spreads out from Westminster like the ricocheting ripples on the surface of a lake as a pebble skims across it. People are already in a state of acute anxiety over so many issues that government is supposed to be there to deal with on our behalf; and these issues are not being dealt with because there’s no bloody stability at the centre of British political life.

An early General Election would undoubtedly give the impression that here is the one opportunity the people have to get involved in a process that currently seems to be the exclusive property of the Conservative Party. But a ‘Crisis Election’ doesn’t necessarily work as a cure-all, overnight panacea. The great gamble of February 1974 that cost Ted Heath the premiership when he still had over a year before he had to call an Election was Heath’s ill-advised attempt to assert his authority over a particular trade union – the NUM – that had already humiliated him; the gamble backfired for Ted, as we all know, but what followed was five years of Labour administrations that struggled to improve the lives of the British people, and ended crashing and burning in the Winter of Discontent, ultimately giving us Mrs Thatcher and everything good and bad that reign entailed. Fast-forward to the ‘Crisis Election’ of December 2019; it may have seen an overwhelming rejection of the Remoaner elite and delivered the Tories a landslide; but look where we are now, less than three years later. What a waste.

There’s absolutely no guarantee a snap Election will make Britain Great Again; a Labour Government will simply inherit the shit the Tories have spent the last 12 years depositing on all our doorsteps; and few outside of the Labour Party have much faith that Starmer and his cronies are capable of clearing up the mess without adding to it. Yes, it will unquestionably be a relief to see the back of this shower, and who indeed would mourn their loss? But the notion that kicking out the Tories will somehow lead to an instant replay of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ is pure fantasy. But then, all of this speculation is based on the slim chance that whoever the Tories push forward next week will have the balls to put choice back in the hands of the electorate – and it’s hard to see that happening right now. Mind you, who could’ve predicted the events of the past month or so when that famous photo was published of the two Elizabeths, the one that captured the moment when Boris’s replacement shook hands with the ailing Queen? Seems like so much longer ago than 44 days, doesn’t it.

As has been pointed out before, the dearth of great men and women in politics today is indisputable, and it’s certainly evident on the Tory frontbench; the fact Liz Truss had to recall a pair of lightweight has-beens like Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps in a desperate attempt to reverse her dwindling authority showed how little talent was available to her. In that sense, it’s no wonder a dud so lacking in gravitas, intelligence and political nous as Liz Truss ended up as PM; it’s no wonder she ended up making such a mess of everything from the off; and it’s no wonder she ended up walking the plank a mere 44 days into the job.

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FALLING APART AT THE SEAMS

Truss Again‘The Girl is Mine’, unarguably the weakest track on the biggest-selling album of all-time, was a duet between Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson that enforced suspicions as to the occasionally sappy tendencies of the former and the treacly shortcomings of the latter. Perhaps the key moment in this gooey ballad came towards the end with a toe-curling spoken passage in which Jacko claimed ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter’. Bizarrely, the track was issued as a single ahead of ‘Billie Jean’, a worldwide chart-topper which gave a clearer picture of the jukebox smashes ‘Thriller’ actually contained. But that sick-bucket line, ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter’, returned to my head today when I heard Liz Truss had claimed ‘I’m a fighter, not a quitter’ with an absence of convincing conviction. Yeah, I guess most might think more of Richard Nixon declaring ‘I have never been a quitter’ just before he announced his resignation from the White House – or maybe even his similarly hollow ‘I am not a crook’ declaration the year before; but I thought of Michael Jackson.

Not that the Prime Minister can look forward to her own equivalent of the pop cultural domination Michael Jackson enjoyed in the wake of his 1982 album’s global success; if anything, her career seems set to be as short as La Toya Jackson or one of those other minor members of the Jackson clan that embarked upon ill-advised solo outings. This week has seen Liz Truss’s dwindling power diminished even further by what effectively amounts to a Downing Street coup; the relocation of Remoaner technocrat Jeremy Hunt from the backbenches to Downing Street, who then proceeded to bin the majority of the promises made by his predecessor at No.11 in his ‘courageous’ mini-budget, has reduced the hapless Truss to little more than a redundant figurehead living on borrowed time. A piece in ‘Spiked’ compared Hunt’s inaugural statement as Chancellor to a broadcast by a general who had just installed himself as President of a banana republic, and Truss’s immediate absence from the Commons following Hunt’s takeover, leaving Penny Mordaunt to do a far better job as an eleventh-hour substitute, prompted further questions as to the PM’s ability to govern.

And then, having lost her Chancellor in record time, Truss loses her Home Secretary, with Suella Braverman quitting after 43 days, apparently in disagreement with Truss over that old Tory chestnut, immigration. Kwasi Kwarteng became the shortest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer whose term in office wasn’t curtailed by death, and Braverman’s brief run at the Home Office is only outdone in the record books by George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, who held the post for four days in December 1783 – and I looked through the list to confirm this; plenty only did the job for a few months, but nobody else in the past 239 years who wasn’t a caretaker has had so short a stint at Braverman. Yes, it’s sadly inevitable: I’m going to have to paraphrase Lady Bracknell, for to lose one Minister may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. Just over a month in the job and ‘Team Truss’ has already seen two holders of the Four Great Offices of State gone. With each passing day it seems Liz Truss’s position is weakened even further, and one cannot but wonder how much longer she can cling on to what now is merely the illusion of power.

So, the parcel is passed yet again as one unelected PM essentially makes way for another in all-but name; considering the amount of options flying around social media – Sunak installed as PM, Hunt installed as PM, Boris reinstated as PM etc. – it certainly appears the Conservative Party imagines it can simply keep chopping and changing leaders at will without any recourse to the electorate. Six interminable weeks that felt more like six interminable months of a private leadership contest and they’re not happy with the lame duck they selected; well, tough shit. Most of us who aren’t members of the Conservative Party aren’t happy either, but we didn’t have a say. You chose her; you grin and bear it with her. The way things are going, even the drawn-out tedium of a leadership contest seems poised to be sidestepped if the feverish Westminster gossip is to be believed, which makes the current political system feel even more like that of China; should Truss be ousted and replaced by one more PM the country had no say in the choosing of, why don’t the opposition parties get together and table a motion of No Confidence in His Majesty’s Government? Chances are they’d win with a far bigger majority than the solitary vote that swung it for Thatcher’s Tories in 1979. Or maybe they’re just revelling in the chaos and are anticipating things getting worse – all the better for them, of course.

The last time I can recall a Prime Minister being under such pressure from her own Party to walk the plank wasn’t so much Boris barely a few months ago, but Theresa May in 2019; the difference here is that May had been PM for almost three years at that point, whereas Truss has been in the job for little more than a month. Even if one were to go easy on her and regard this phase as ‘teething troubles’, the absolute unmitigated f***-up of a country she’s spectacularly failing to lead makes the desperate need for someone to act decisively even more urgent. Everywhere one turns at the moment, it’s impossible not to conclude we’re trapped in an irreversible decline. From empty supermarket shelves to soaring prices to public sector strikes to the impossibility of securing a GPs appointment to the police standing by and applauding their ideologically-compatible activist pals disrupting daily life to the prospect of a revival of the Three-Day Week’s candlelit suppers – and then look at the utter shower of shit allegedly running the show. People’s spirits may have been broken by lockdown, but how much more can we take of this?

Naturally, these are great days for Sir Keir Starmer. Because we’re lumbered with a depressing choice between two parties to lead us, the abysmal Labour alternative would probably achieve a landslide were a General Election to be called tomorrow. The man who thinks it’s wrong to state the biological fact that only women have cervixes, who took the knee before George Floyd was cold, and who nominated his despicable old sidekick Tom Watson for a peerage – thus rendering the House of Lords an even more disreputable retirement home for crooked freeloaders than it is already – looks set to be Prime Minister as things stand. Chances are we’ll probably have two or three more Tories in No.10 before we actually get to 2024, but the fact Starmer is closing in on Downing Street and it’s less than three years since the Conservative Party won an outstanding majority that gifted them one hell of a platform just shows how impressively the Tories have squandered their gains of 2019. Boris was given a mandate by the electorate; but Boris is gone now, and that mandate has gone with him.

It goes without saying that it’s not easy attempting to write a post on this subject and get it to you before more shit hits the fan and everything I’ve written is already out of date. News of Suella Braverman’s resignation broke when I was about four paragraphs in, forcing me to backtrack and insert a fresh paragraph including the news. As I write this final paragraph, I see a vote is to be taken this evening on the Government’s energy policy, with a specific reference to reintroducing fracking; from what I can gather, many Tory MPs face losing the whip if they carry out their intentions to vote against the PM’s wishes; and if they lose the whip, their letters to the 1922 Committee demanding the PM’s removal will be rendered null and void, thus giving Truss breathing space. But it’ll still only be a brief pause before what looks like an inevitable exit. Who knows? Maybe by the time you read this, she’ll be gone anyway. A General Election won’t solve all our problems, if any; but if there’s to be another change at the top, the electorate have to decide, not the Tory backbenches.

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PANIC STATIONS

Truss and KwasiIt’s fair to say the Commons chamber hasn’t been quite the same since the departure of Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover lost his seat in the Red Wall wipe-out of 2019, just a few months short of completing a remarkable half-century as an MP. His comical quips – particularly at the State Opening of Parliament – became, for many, the main reason to sit through the interminable ritual of the occasion, providing some much-needed light relief from the ceremonial pantomime. Perhaps one of his most memorable digs at the Tories came during the Con-Dem Coalition years, when he referenced a Cabinet reshuffle brought on by some cock-up characteristic of appointing mediocrities to positions of power. Skinner aimed his barb at David Cameron and George Osborne, accusing them of being true to character by doing what toffs always do – they ‘blame it on the servants’. The political partnerships, of which the Cameron/Osborne double act was an example in the Blair/Brown mould, no longer seem to be the currency in Westminster. Power appears to be increasingly centralised in the person of an isolated individual like Theresa May or Boris…or Liz Truss. And has our incumbent PM blamed it on a servant by abruptly dismissing her Chancellor?

At least Kwasi Kwarteng has secured himself a place in history by being sacked after just 38 days – the shortest-ever run as Chancellor of the Exchequer that wasn’t caused by the holder of the office dropping dead, as happened to the unfortunate Ian Macleod within 30 days of Ted Heath’s General Election victory of 1970. Truss’s brainwave of handing posts to close friends, allies and those who publicly backed her during the leadership contest – regardless of their competency for the job at hand – spectacularly backfired with Kwarteng, who has become the patsy for the disastrous mini-budget earmarked as the PM’s first major act once the post-Brenda dust had settled. News broke of the swift sacking just before Truss held an emergency press conference at which she was expected to prove the lady’s for turning after all. The press conference spanned a mere eight minutes, during which she avoided questions over her own perilous position and speedily exited without responding to a request to ‘apologise for trashing the Tories’ reputation’. To be fair, that reputation was trashed long before Liz Truss grabbed the poisoned chalice, but she’s seemingly done her best to keep up the good work begun by her predecessor.

There’s no doubt the MSM is having fun speculating on who will replace Truss – surely a record time-span for such speculation to begin appearing? – and pressure on the Prime Minister to go when she’s barely had the chance to start work is akin to the new manager of a football club finding the fans on his back by opening his account with three defeats in a row. But Truss still being in the top job means she can fire the assistant manager, essentially ‘blaming it on the servant’ and lumbering him with carrying a can that nonetheless has her name on it by virtue of her own poor judgement in appointing Kwarteng in the first place. Rumour has it a divergence of opinion between the PM and her Chancellor on how to reverse the economic master-plan that provoked such panic in the markets and sent ripples through the Tory backbenches has been brewing for days, but Truss being in the senior position enabled her – in the legendary words of Jeremy Thorpe – to lay down her friends for her life. Whatever the dubious right of the far-from saintly City to intervene in the democratic process and reject Government policy, the PM evidently had to do something to calm the situation, and sacking Kwarteng was deemed the best option.

The ex-Chancellor himself will obviously reserve his true feelings for his future memoirs; the bland statement he issued was typically, uncritically sober. ‘You have asked me to stand aside as Chancellor,’ he tweeted. ‘I have accepted…I deeply respect the decision you have taken today. You have put the national interest first.’ Well, she certainly put the interests of Liz Truss first, but Kwarteng went on to try and defend the mini-budget as well as he could by claiming ‘following the status quo was simply not an option’ before adding ‘the economic situation has changed rapidly since we set out the growth plan on 23 September. In response, together with the Bank of England and excellent officials at the Treasury, we have responded to those events and I commend my officials for their dedication.’ On the positive side – for Mr Kwarteng – he’ll probably receive more from being paid-off (i.e. three months’ salary) than he pocketed from his month as Chancellor. Swings and roundabouts, eh? That’s undoubtedly true for the man who has eagerly stepped into Kwarteng’s shoes, none other than the former Foreign Secretary, Health Secretary and serial failed leadership contender, Jeremy Hunt. Stranded on the backbenches since 2019, Hunt is back in business, probably provoking palpitations in political presenters across the MSM as they attempt to stop their tongues slipping. Where’s James Naughtie when you need him?

If one were to count Rishi Sunak’s last few weeks at No.11 and include Nadhim Zahawi in his brief stint as ‘caretaker’, we’ve had four Chancellors in the space of three months. If ever evidence were required as to what a bloody shambles this shower of a governing party has descended into, look no further. I always thought only Italy ever had such unstable government, yet if the media and large swathes of the Conservative Party get their way and oust Truss, she herself will be in competition with George Canning as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history. Canning held the top job for a mere 119 days between April and August 1827, though his term of office was inconveniently curtailed by his death. Canning, who had already been Foreign Secretary and Chancellor, was 57 when he became PM; he’d famously had a duel with fellow Minister Lord Castlereagh several years before, and his selection as Prime Minister by George IV deprived him of the talents of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel (neither of whom would serve under him). If the talent available to Liz Truss seems so threadbare as to warrant the recall of Jeremy Hunt, Canning himself struggled to recruit Tories and resorted to Whigs, so severe was the split in Tory ranks at the time. Yes, we have been here before.

Canning died of consumption on 8 August 1827, four days short of just four months in office. Liz Truss’s physical health appears to be an improvement on that of her distant Tory predecessor; her mental health is another issue altogether – though maybe it’s not the done thing to mock the stupid these days. The same lame and meaningless buzzwords lifted from the politicians’ book of vapid platitudes tumbled out of her mouth during her brief post-Kwarteng press conference as she managed the admirable achievement of saying nothing for eight minutes. The PM ‘answered’ an impressive four questions, declaring she remains determined to deliver on all the pledges she made during the leadership campaign whilst refusing to say sorry for the chaos she’s presided over in the last few weeks. ‘I am absolutely determined to see through what I have promised,’ she said, ‘to deliver a higher growth, more prosperous United Kingdom, to see us through the storm we face.’ And then she was gone, presumably in a determined fashion – for that would seem to be her favourite word.

If one considers that the first fortnight of her tenure at No.10 was placed on ice by the national mourning for the Queen, and was then followed by the holiday that is the Conference season, Liz Truss has probably only been at work for not much more than a couple of weeks. In one respect, she’s achieved a hell of a lot in an extremely short space of time; few imagined anyone could surpass Boris in terms of uselessness, but you can’t argue she’s given it her best shot. Naturally, opposition parties are having a field day over this Tory meltdown, but I couldn’t care less what Keir Starmer or Ed Davey have to say; if Dennis Skinner was still in the Commons, mind…

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MUDDY WATERS

TurdsThe way things are going, yer average member of the electorate probably reckons – and rightly so – that the Conservative Party will this time struggle to come up with one of its legendary last-minute winners to wrench victory from the jaws of defeat. Further behind in the polls than at any time in the past 20 years, the Tories are staring down the barrel of electoral annihilation unless the incumbent lady keeps on turning; and even then, it’s highly unlikely any miracles Liz Truss might attempt to perform will make much difference. There is now such a pungent odour of rottenness surrounding the Tory Party that it just won’t go away; they may have deposed the man viewed as the architect of the contempt for the public that behind-the-scenes events at No.10 during lockdown embodied, but the calamitous mini-budget affair seems to demonstrate that the incompetence so evident in the PM’s predecessor remains as strong as ever despite the change at the top. Even the old ‘Nasty Party’ tag has resurfaced this week with time-honoured kicks at those who are already down via rumours of benefit cuts and the revival of outdated prejudices towards claimants. Unsurprisingly, the general perception is that the blue side of the Commons is absolutely bloody useless, especially since it has had more than enough time to get it right.

Whereas apportioning blame to the last Labour Government was a familiar tactic of the Con-Dem Coalition from 2010 onwards whenever they f***ed something up, we’re now too removed from Blair and Brown for this to be a useful tool. And trying to pre-empt the blame game by predicting the next Labour Government will be even worse doesn’t wash. You should stand or fall by your own record – and you usually don’t have much of a record to be proud of if you keep chopping and changing the person at the top in the hope a fresh face will turn fortunes around. When one considers the Tory leader (and Prime Minister) has changed three times in 12 years of the country being run by a Conservative administration, yet Margaret Thatcher’s entire tenure in Downing Street comprised just one year less than that timespan, it’s like looking at the form book of Manchester United since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson: six coaches in nine years and no Premier League title.

Yet this is the same political party that won a landslide as recently as 2019, famously demolishing Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ in the process; the fact that those voters on loan to the Conservatives are now contemplating returning to Labour – despite their well-founded reservations about Labour’s Identity Politics-infected Metropolitan obsessions that have bugger all to do with its traditional working-class base – speaks volumes as to the level of letdown the Tories have generated. But this is where we are: an utterly appalling governing party and an awful opposition that people will end up voting for because there’s no other choice. And Keir Starmer leading his Shadow Cabinet in a version of ‘God Save the King’ rather than ‘The Red Flag’ to close the Labour Party Conference fooled none of the Queen-loving plebs this Anglophobe Party seeks to reconnect with. No, whereas the 2016 Leave vote can be seen as a bloody nose inflicted upon a worldview that Labour remain the cheerleaders for, I suspect a similar injury will be dished out to the Tories in 2024 simply because it’s their turn.

The prospect of Keir Starmer as Prime Minister is not something that fills my heart with joy, to put it mildly; I’ve never made any secret of my loathing of the man, and this goes back a decade to his time as DPP and head of the CPS. I can’t say the rest of the Labour frontbench fills me with confidence either. The detoxification of the Corbynite influence within the Party has succeeded to a degree, but it retains many of the elements that have long made it such an unattractive proposition to the electorate. Only the other week, Labour MP Rupa Huq echoed Joe Biden’s ‘You ain’t black’ sentiments by labelling Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng ‘superficially black’ – as blatant an example of the racism at the heart of Woke ‘anti-racism’ as any British politician has been stupid enough to spout. The Party that can’t say what a woman is was also recently rumoured to have considered adding dilettante ‘lady’ Eddie Izzard to an all-woman shortlist to be selected as a Labour Parliamentary candidate; the fact all-woman shortlists even exist is patronising enough, but picking a bloke in drag to be included amongst the lucky ladies underlines further the kind of first-world luxury concerns that continue to alienate the Party both from its old supporters and from potential recruits that aren’t middle-class university graduates living in a big city.

Labour’s unrelenting Green fetish is another factor that wouldn’t play well with the wider electorate if implemented as legislation. Saving the planet may well be a noble crusade for those who can afford it, but the bulk of what Labour’s Green policies will cost the taxpayer is destined to hit the proles the hardest. And considering they’re hard hit enough at the moment when it comes to paying for energy, this isn’t a good sign; but it’s all our fault that the planet is f***ed, don’t forget – not a country like China pumping unchecked pollution into the atmosphere at will. Therefore, we have to pay for the privilege of saving it. We may not be able to heat our homes or buy food that’s edible, but at least our children’s children will be able to rent a shed by the end of the century. As with the war in Ukraine, Climate Change can be easily weaponised and blamed for any bad smell, something that pardons the genuine guilty parties who actually let Polly out of prison in the first place. Take the water companies – currently one of the worst examples of privatised industry, with chief executives and shareholders reaping astronomical rewards for running services that are piss-poor to say the least.

Their decayed fresh water supply pipes ‘mislaid’ over a trillion litres of water in 2021/22, and the utterly predictable heavy rain that followed the summer’s heat-wave led to a handful of companies releasing gallons of raw sewage into rivers and the sea, poisoning fishes and swimmers alike. So badly have some of the water companies performed that regulator Ofwat has heavily fined the worst offenders, prompting promises of £150 million reductions in water bills for affected customers. As an aside, I wish the regulator would change the name I keep typing as Oftwat, but I digress. One of the poorest performing and most heavily fined water companies was Thames Water. According to stats in the most recent edition of Private Eye, Thames Water has lost 217 billion litres of water over the past year, not to mention being responsible for a sinkhole that closed the Oxford stretch of the A34 as well as a pipe that burst in Windsor and caused disruption for those visiting the Castle during the mourning for Her Majesty; at the same time, the company’s Chief Executive was the recipient of a salary and bonus amounting to £2m. Well, that should make it a little easier to sleep at night in the absence of a conscience or sense of shame, I guess.

Apart from this seemingly decisive (if long overdue) action by Ofwat, the toothless likes of the Environment Agency has been remarkably ineffective in taking the water companies to task in recent years. And all the bodies entrusted with the state of the nation’s water are complicit in the ultimate buck-passing tactic that is to blame everything on Climate Change. For the water companies in particular, this is their very own ‘get out of jail card’, absolving them of all responsibility; but it works just as well for the failures of the regulatory bodies that are supposed to police them. Alas, such is the nature of the times we reside in. The Tories blame Labour; Labour blames the Tories; and all blame the war in Ukraine. And the pandemic. And Climate Change.

© The Editor

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DAY AFTER DEJA VU

Sigh!The performance of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet over the past couple of seasons didn’t exactly mark them out as potential champions; they played the game with all the flair of a Sunday League squad of pot-bellied bruisers nursing hangovers. True, the old boss splashed out the cash, but the team’s form has dramatically dipped since the title triumph of 2019, with tactical ineptitude leaving them engaged in a permanent relegation battle. Nevertheless, in footballing terms, the electoral success of the Conservative Party over the past decade-and-a-bit still puts them in the Manchester City or Liverpool category, though the recent downward spiral doesn’t appear as though it’ll suddenly be reversed by sacking the manager; a glance at today’s team-sheet suggests most of the major signings made by the new boss are of a Third Division calibre. And they still expect to remain in the Premier League with this team of mediocrities? Okay, so it’s a stretch of the imagination to imagine the likes of Therese Coffey running for 90 seconds, let alone 90 minutes; the footie analogy would maybe stretch to her standing in goal. But appointing such a visibly unhealthy individual as Health Secretary is like hiring a woman with a lazy eye to man the receptionist’s desk at Specsavers.

Still, at least the re-jigged composition of the four Great Offices of State will leave the Identitarian Left struggling to uphold the ‘Racist Tories’ narrative; for the first time in history, not one of those posts is held by an evil white man; that’s one in the eye for the Labour Party, I guess. The fact this even warrants a mention perhaps underlines how difficult it is to salvage any positives from this lame rearranging of the Titanic furniture. Moreover, if Ms Liz wants to persuade the electorate that hers is a true new broom, one thing she needs to refrain from doing is kissing Boris’s arse; lavishing praise upon her predecessor, something she did in both her acceptance speech and her lectern lecture yesterday, will not win her any converts; closely associating herself with Boris is like Ford pardoning Nixon; as an introductory strategy, it simply says to the public that she believes the man she replaced was innocent of all charges and we’re in for more of the same. Mind you, the nauseating fawning of the No.10 staff as Boris and his overdressed missus embarked on a final lap of dishonour yesterday morning demonstrated that in the eyes of some, Boris can do no wrong.

Boris indulged himself one more time in the longest farewell tour since Elton John’s last by addressing assembled groupies in the pissing rain outside No.10 before jetting off to see the Queen (inconveniently seeing out her days north of the Border). He again snuck in a bitter and thinly-veiled reference to being ousted by his party peers and mumbled something about some Ancient Greek again, and then – at last – it was all over; well, they thought it was. I’m not sure at what point this kind of drawn-out hello/goodbye ritual became compulsory for arriving and departing Prime Ministers, but it often feels like having to sit through an Olympic Games opening ceremony these days; one almost expects Beyoncé to dance on, plugging her latest single. Anyway, by the time Boris’s successor nabbed the lectern, fatigue caused both by the interminable wait and by the fact we’ve had to suffer this routine three times in the past six years meant that few were remotely surprised to find Truss’s opening speech crammed with the usual meaningless, superficial clichés that sound positive on the page and say nothing to no one when uttered out loud.

One Twitter wag pointed out that Her Majesty had the worst of both worlds during the changing of the guard; not only did Brenda have to endure one last audience with Boris, but she also had to endure her first with Liz Truss. And she probably thought she’d be spared all that in her retirement home up at Balmoral. Then, courtesy of the private jet lifestyle the two PMs have special licence to live whilst the rest of us are castigated for polluting the atmosphere with multiple carbon footprints, it was back to the capital and on with the show. The new Cabinet was unveiled with little time to spare, put together behind the scenes as the heavens opened and Larry languidly pottered about, exuding the only snippet of wisdom in the vicinity. It seems Ms Liz has chosen not to adhere to the old Lincoln policy of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer; unlike Obama’s shrewd move to make Hillary Clinton Secretary of State, Truss hasn’t offered a post to her fellow leadership contender Rishi. Exiling a rival like Sunak to the backbenches is a risk that previous PMs have come to rue – one thinks of Thatcher and Heseltine or Theresa May and Boris. Time will tell if it costs her.

Other notable big guns from the last few years – especially Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Grant Shapps and Dominic Raab – have also been excluded from this new Cabinet. Whilst it’s probably true to say few (if any) of them will be missed, their replacements don’t necessarily cause the heart to skip a beat. The survivors of the cull include Jacob Rees-Mogg – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary (catchy job title, that); failed leadership candidate Suella Braverman is promoted from Attorney General to Home Secretary; Nadhim Zahawi is demoted from his five minutes as Chancellor of the Exchequer to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; James Cleverly replaces Truss herself at the Foreign Office following his own five minutes at Education; ex-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is promoted to the Treasury; Brandon Lewis is relocated from Northern Ireland to become Lord Chancellor; Ben Wallace stays put as Defence Secretary; and early leadership contenders Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt are back as Trade Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons respectively.

There was some minor uproar with the quiet removal of the Minister for Women job – though it emanated rather predictably from the Labour Party, which is ironic considering its official position is not even being able to define what a woman actually is. In reality, the post always had a patronising ring to it, anyway, reducing half of the population to a special niche minority; and with both a woman as PM and Home Secretary, one may as well have a special Ministry for Men as carry on with such an outdated and irrelevant office. Naturally, the underwhelmed response to Truss’s banal and forgettable ‘inaugural address’ of motivational-speak bullshit has been summarily brushed aside by Party toadies; one unnamed Downing Street crawler puffed, ‘Containing no other than five other candidates from the recent leadership election, this is a Cabinet which will unify the Party, get our economy growing and deliver for the British people.’ Nothing wrong with a bit of misplaced optimism, I suppose; but I’ve no idea which speech said crawler had been listening to on Tuesday – not the one the rest of us heard.

So, as has been pointed out in yet one more wave of hackneyed and endlessly-recycled media phrases, the new PM has quite an in-tray to look forward to when she sits down behind her desk at No.10. The hubris which certainly seems to be a hallmark of every resident to enter Downing Street with promises that things can only get better has been much in evidence, though the ego that convinces each of them that they and they alone have the solution to the nation’s chronic problems can only ever be crushed in the process – even if (like Boris) they eventually exit the job utterly in denial that they were wrong after all. In a weird way, the unprecedentedly low expectations greeting this new arrival may work in her favour; any minor success will feel like a major triumph when nobody anticipates anything other than failure. But the overwhelming air of apathy will take one hell of a miracle to disperse, and who believes in miracles anymore?

© The Editor

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