NO SURPRISES

Lib DemIn their former guise as non-Democrats, the Liberals once presided over one of the most celebrated results in by-election history – and it happened exactly 60 years ago, when Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14,760 in Orpington and transformed a safe Conservative seat into a 7,855 majority for the Liberal Party. The Tories had been in government for 11 years at that point, yet had already acquired the weary detachment from the electorate that is often a by-product of a decade in office; the familiar whiff of a sex scandal that can accompany such tired longevity was just round the corner, though in 1962 the name John Profumo had yet to become a household one; ditto Christine Keeler. Last night in Tiverton and Honiton, it would appear history was going through one of its routine habits of repeating itself as the Lib Dems inflicted one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats on the Conservative Party ever seen at a by-election as former Army Major Richard Foord triumphed over the Tory candidate, wiping out a majority of 24,239 in a seat that had never been free from Conservative hands since its creation. And the by-election only happened because the sitting Tory MP Neil Parish was forced to quit after he’d been outed for watching porn on his phone in the Commons.

On the same night a second Tory seat fell, this time to Labour; Wakefield, one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies captured by the Conservatives in 2019, returned to its traditional home. This by-election was also provoked by a resignation connected to a sex scandal; fittingly, the last time a government suffered simultaneous defeat in two by-elections was during the John Major era, which was also the last time such a sleazy collection of reprehensible individuals constituted the ruling Party. Even by past standards of sleaze, however, the case of Imran Ahmad Khan is especially unpleasant; Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, though he didn’t resign his seat until convicted. He’ll be spending the next 18 months being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Considering Wakefield voted Leave in 2016 (as did Tiverton and Honiton in its Mid Devon guise), it was no great surprise its voters spurned Remoaner Labour in 2019; yet a Tory reverting to type is perhaps as predictable an outcome as last night’s results, and Wakefield turned red again whilst Tiverton and Honiton turned orange for the first time.

According to some sources, the Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton is officially the largest majority ever to be overturned at a British by-election, one that even exceeds the Lib Dems’ huge victory in North Shropshire last year. However, only the most gormlessly deluded Tory wouldn’t have seen this coming; most Conservative MPs returning to the Shires during the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday were confronted by angry constituents who’d had enough of the leadership, yet only 148 acted on their constituents’ behalf by registering their dissatisfaction with Boris in the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago. With a majority of Tories deciding to keep the PM in a job, it was left to the Lib Dem’s victorious candidate to say out loud what the 148 who voted against Boris declined to. He declared the voters of Tiverton and Honiton had spoken for the whole country by sending out a clear message. ‘It’s time for Boris Johnson to go – and go now,’ said Major Foord. ‘Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.’

Okay, so there’s a slight element of ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ about that last statement, though in the thick of Lib Dem euphoria, it was probably understandable. This was one hell of a blow inflicted on a sitting administration, with the even-more predictable defeat in Wakefield the icing on the cake. The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Ed Davey have been fortunate that the far-from enthusiastic response to Keir Starmer’s lacklustre Labour Party has enabled them to reinvent themselves yet again, emerging from the disastrous shadows of Jo Swinson’s Remain crusade and capitalising on widespread disillusionment with the two main Parties; it’s precisely what the Lib Dems did so well under Charles Kennedy, and when the alternatives are as uninspiring as Boris and Sir Keir – not to mention the motley crews assembled on the respective front benches of the pair – it’s no wonder the tide has turned for the Lib Dems again. Considering the likes of Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have smaller leads over the Lib Dems than that which the Tories had boasted in Tiverton and Honiton until last night, perhaps the new Lib Dem MP’s melodramatic warning should be heeded after all.

Boris had wisely kept a low profile during the by-election campaigns in the two constituencies; as with the increasingly-unpopular Ted Heath during the October 1974 General Election, the Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the promotional literature delivered by the hapless footsloggers trying in vain to court votes on behalf of their doomed candidate and attempting not to mention the Party leader on the doorstep. A not-dissimilar policy was tried by Labour canvassers in 2019, as I found out when I made my feelings on Corbyn and his cronies clear when confronted by one at the time. Anyway, Boris wasn’t at home to make excuses; at the moment, he’s in Rwanda, officially to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government shindig, but it’s possible he might be checking out the Kigali B&Bs earmarked for those pesky illegal immigrants. In his absence, the Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden became the latest Tory to walk a plank Boris refuses to countenance even exists.

Dowden’s resignation is the most high-profile response to two heavy defeats irrefutably linked to the ongoing fallout from Partygate. ‘We cannot continue with business as usual,’ wrote Dowden in his letter, though the PM is unlikely to receive that statement as advice. On the eve of an anticipated wipe-out at the two by-elections, Boris simply said ‘Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term.’ Not the most encouraging message to the troops, but at least one rooted in realism; the Tories were seemingly prepared for defeat, if not what turned out to be the scale of defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. The Wakefield loss was no more of a surprise than the other seat, though tactical voting at Tiverton and Honiton saw Labour lose its deposit. There was also pre-by-election unrest at Wakefield’s Labour constituency branch when the entire committee resigned in protest at their preferred candidate, trade unionist Kate Dearden, being excluded in favour of a candidate parachuted in by the NEC; not that Keir Starmer will be bringing that up as he attempts to bask in the glow of his winner, Simon Lightwood.

When one considers the Labour and Lib Dem perspectives on Brexit, they’ll no doubt adopt a ‘don’t mention the war’ attitude now that two Leave constituencies are in their hands; even without the Partygate revelations, it’s possible the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ that enabled the Tories to triumph in the two seats in 2019 was regarded by voters in Wakefield and Tiverton as a done deal in 2022 and it was time to move on to other pressing issues, such as the cost of living; maybe they figured the Tories couldn’t deliver on that, considering the Tories’ policies in the pandemic provoked it. But it’s hard to escape the undeniable influence of what Boris and his cohorts got up to during the most testing period for the public in post-war British history when it comes to this pair of results. Let’s face it, though, Boris Johnson is a very lucky Prime Minister; he doesn’t have to call another General Election until 2024.

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LOCAL HEROES

BallotOn one hand, yeah, it looks like carelessness – the Conservative Party has lost two MPs in the last couple of weeks and now stands to definitely lose another whenever the next General Election comes around. On the other hand, there’s something inevitably familiar about the reasons for all three quitting: Sleaze. After being exposed as the Tory Member whose in-House search for tractor websites naturally led him to online porn, Neil Parish was faced with little choice but to voluntarily walk the plank. The MP for Tiverton and Honiton’s grubby escapades in the Chamber have prompted the same old calls for a reform of Parliament and its ‘institutional misogyny’, just as we had five years ago when Michael Fallon’s resignation as Defence Secretary after admitting to touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee prompted the circulation of a clandestine and eye-opening ‘hit list’ of MPs behaving badly that some of us perused at the time. If anything had been done to sort the problem out back then, we maybe wouldn’t be where we are now; but there you go.

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, isn’t on his way straight away – thus sparing his party another by-election; but he’s announced he will be when this current Parliament runs its course either next year or the year after. An MP since 1997, Blunt has been dogged by calls for him to quit ever since he somewhat foolishly defended fellow Tory, Imran Ahmad Khan, who has only just surrendered his seat following his recent conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was part of the new intake of Tories who smashed the ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, turning Wakefield blue for the first time. Questions over his original selection as a candidate have been raised (when rumours about his dubious behaviour were apparently circulating beforehand), but his conviction has led to him being appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, which is a very polite Parliamentary description for the sack. Actually, perhaps this quaintly meaningless title should be bestowed upon anyone being fired from any job. ‘How come you’re home early from work, luv?’ ‘Bloody boss called me into his office and told me I’d been appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. Bastard.’

All of this comes in the wake of Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock and ‘Partygate’ and Rishi’s missus and a pervasive, putrid stench of rotting reputations, not unlike the same odious odour that emanated from the Conservative Party in the early 1960s and – especially – the mid-1990s. All parties that have been in Government for a decade or more slowly see their mortal remains begin to decay and disintegrate after that length of time, but the Tories always seem to do it so much better than anyone else. And now the electorate has the opportunity to make its feelings known towards the governing party at the ballot box, with the local elections taking place tomorrow. The previous occasion in which most of the seats up for grabs on 5 May were contested was way back in 2018, and it’s fair to say a hell of a lot has happened since then. And yes, folks, that’s what they call an understatement.

Last year’s local elections were undertaken at the time of Covid restrictions and left the Tories in a relatively strong state after their first test since the sweeping victory of 2019; at the time, their impressive gains were attributed to a post-vaccine bounce, when the speed and success of the roll-out gave people the impression the end of the pandemic was nigh. By contemporary standards, it was a fairly optimistic moment. This time round, the mood of the nation has altered yet again and it’ll be interesting to see how much of the ire directed towards the party during a cost-of-living crisis will be reflected in the way people vote. Only the most diehard and deluded still see Boris as an electoral asset, yet one could argue the Tories’ (and the PM’s) most effective electoral asset remains the Labour Party. The shadow of Brexit, the toxic legacy of Corbyn, and the scourge of Identity Politics are three factors that continue to drive a deep wedge between Labour and its one-time hardcore support base in the old Northern heartlands. Labour may well score points on campus and amongst the metropolitan middle-classes, but until the party reconnects with the far greater numbers that always stood by it in less affluent locations it’ll never be returned to power. Local elections tend to be an interesting means of gauging how far Labour has come or how far it has continued to fall behind actual public opinion rather than the minority opinions of MSM mouthpieces and broadsheet elites the party seems to use as an ill-advised yardstick.

The one thing in Labour’s favour is the fact that London – which appears to be its new heartland – will see the contesting of every seat in every borough, meaning there are over 1,800 of them to fight for, and the omens are good. However, success for Labour in the capital when it comes to these local elections could present the party with one more superficial impression of its resurrection as a potential party of government, as it doesn’t yet appear to have realised that what happens in London largely stays in London. The rest of the country remains unmoved by what Labour has to offer. A year ago, the party performed badly in the local elections and lost the Hartlepool by-election as a pre-match warm-up, but even if it does better in 2022 than it managed in 2021 – and it would take something special to do worse – the fact that the majority of the seats on offer tomorrow are in Labour-leaning areas will again give the party a distorted picture of its popularity if it does as well as expected; after all, in the 2018 local elections, Labour gave the Tories the best bloody nose it had landed since 2012 and yet was still trounced at the General Election the following year.

Perhaps the Tories needn’t be too concerned about Labour and should instead concentrate more on the Lib Debs, whose post-proroguing ‘detoxification’ and return to their familiar protest vote status could be perceived as more of a threat. That said, the Tories are lucky that few of the locations where their traditional popularity is waning are on offer this time round; the sense of relief in Conservative circles that the Home Counties will only constitute a tiny portion of the battleground on Thursday means worries over a potential Lib Dem challenge will be minimised. Labour’s failure to reconnect with its ex-Red Wall regions has also left Tory support staying fairly strong in the old blue collar ex-industrial towns Labour abandoned, so the party should be safe in those areas.

Regardless of Thursday’s events, the Tories are already looking ahead to the next General Election, devising what they have called an ‘80-20 strategy’, which refers to keeping the 80 marginal constituencies they hold and capturing a further 20 they’ve earmarked as potential gains. With the threat of Rishi Sunak as the most likely contender to stand against Boris now seemingly neutralised, the PM can breathe a sigh of relief that his ninth life has proven to be as jammy as the eight before it. He is the most fortunate of Prime Ministers, a man entirely unsuited for the prestige of his office yet surrounded by mediocrities in his own party and confronted by an Opposition comprising a fair share of its own mediocrities, none more so than the man who leads it.

This week’s local elections may well contain a sizeable amount of protest votes that serve as a comment on the way the Tories have been performing at a national level, but even if Labour and the Lib Dems do well, it’s still a long way from a General Election. That the governing party is led by a serial philanderer and liar who was charged by the police for committing a criminal offence and yet has simply kept calm and carried on without fear of losing his job is something that says everything about where we are and how we get the politicians we deserve. Then again, if you’re concerned about bin collections, cast your vote.

© The Editor

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SNATCH OF THE DAY

Sharon StoneOver the past week, the corridors of power seem to have been transformed into the cheesy plot of an ‘erotic novel’ penned by Edwina Currie; perhaps John Major’s former bit-on-the-side was on to something after all. Then again, it’s not so long since a quick grope beneath a CCTV camera by Matt Hancock was splashed across every front page on Fleet Street, so none of the current wave of ‘revelations’ are especially jaw-dropping. Granted, unnamed MPs watching phone porn in the Chamber is a new one, though why anyone would want to view porn in public when the accompanying physical response to it cannot be entered into without the risk of arrest on the grounds of indecent exposure is beyond me; yet, maybe the brazen thrill of watching it in a public place is part of the appeal for those who indulge in it – like dogging. Added to this grubby incident there’s also the alleged tribute to Sharon Stone on the part of Labour’s Deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner; considering how damaged every VHS copy of ‘Basic Instinct’ being returned to Blockbuster back in the day must have been whenever it came for that notorious scene to be played (and played and played), it’s a relief the camera crew working for BBC Parliament exercise a little more discretion.

I’m not quite sure if the suffix ‘gate’ has been attached to the saga of Angela Rayner’s crossed/uncrossed legs yet, but to do so would elevate it to a significance it doesn’t deserve at a time when one might say there are a few more important issues for our elected representatives to deal with. Perhaps it’s just a deliberately distracting story after an endless slew of relentlessly depressing heavyweight ones, and a convenient chance for Labour to play the sexist card when they appear incapable of chiming with public opinion in any other way. However, as it naturally slots into a certain feminist narrative, it’s being held up by some as emblematic of ‘institutionalised sexism’, which is as prevalent a presence as ‘institutionalised racism’ when it comes to our institutions in the popular imagination. The fact that Ms Rayner has been accused of joking about flashing her pins in the PM’s eye-line – supposedly overheard on the terrace of the Commons – suggests if the alleged flash actually happened it could well have been intentional.

Anyone who doubts that some women are not beyond occasionally weaponising their sexuality by deliberately exploiting men who are vulnerable to such cheap tricks evidently doesn’t get out much. If Angela Rayner did intentionally give Boris a peek in order to put him off his stride, she at least did so in the knowledge she couldn’t have picked a better target. After all, the PM has had his Benny Hill moments, as his numerous wives and mistresses will testify. Mind you, as a speech bubble in the current Private Eye points out in a photo of Rayner addressing the Government benches, she’s the one who has to look across at a twat every day, not Boris. At the same time, the sense of this story being used as a point-scoring exercise by Labour is kind-of ironic considering the Party can’t even define what a woman is; laughable Labour logic implies that the PM could just as well have been confronted by a dick should his gaze have wandered over to a lady on the Opposition benches – and, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of dicks on either side of the House.

But if Angela Rayner gave Boris an accidental flash, it would support the notion that the Commons is not really the right environment to wear a skirt that leaves little to the imagination; it’s only a couple of years or so ago that the now-‘Mayor of West Yorkshire’ Tracy Brabin made a speech in the Chamber dressed in an off-the-shoulder number that one wag said made her look as though she’d just been done over the dustbins round the back of her local KFC at the end of a hen night; and if Parliament didn’t have some sort of dress code, then male MPs could theoretically turn up for a debate dressed in T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps. Nobody is accusing any female MP of dressing ‘provocatively’ and therefore ‘asking for it’, but an awareness that they are in a workplace and should at least make the effort to dress accordingly is probably required. They’re not on a pissed-up day-trip to bloody Aintree, when all’s said and done.

It goes without saying that accusations claiming Angela Rayner was overheard bragging about putting Boris off by doing a Sharon Stone have been sidestepped by Labour, which has instead chosen to adopt the familiar victim line, with the Mail on Sunday – the paper that broke the story – singled out as a peddler of archaic misogynistic muck-raking. The article contained comments from the usual anonymous sources stating that Ms Rayner ‘knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks’. In a way, the most offensive thing about that line is the implication that, by virtue of his privileged background, the PM is somehow in possession of a verbal dexterity that the low-born Rayner can’t match and therefore has to resort to the tactics of a back-street slapper to outwit him rather than employing a highbrow luxury like intelligence.

Whatever one’s opinion of Angela Rayner, it cannot be disputed that making it all the way to Deputy Leader of a major political party has been a considerable personal achievement on her part; but she is her own worst enemy. Her infamous ‘Tory Scum’ rant merely handed ammunition to opponents who had a far smoother ride to the top, and by playing the sexist card she is once again confirming her enemy’s view of her intellectual limitations. Of course some male MPs, particularly those schooled in the gladiatorial arena of a single-sex environment like Eton, are insensitive towards their female colleagues in the Commons – largely due to their lop-sided impression of what women want – and a fair amount of genuine, old-fashioned sexism can be endemic in such characters; yet, at the same time, there are some female MPs who play upon this misogynistic ignorance and manipulate it to their own political advantage in a manner that is just as shameless and serves to render them no better than their opponents.

Responding to the story Angela Rayner said ‘As women, we sometimes try to brush aside the sexism we face, but that doesn’t make it okay…it can’t be women’s responsibility to call it out every time. I don’t need anyone to explain sexism to me – I experience it every day. Every time I do a PMQs somebody has an opinion on what I wear.’ Probably true, but many similarly critical column inches are also devoted to the appearance of an MP such as Michael Fabricant and his hairpiece, just as they once were to the gargantuan bulk of Cyril Smith, long before less apparent aspects of his personality were made public. Yes, women are confronted by forms of sexism on a daily basis, and they don’t have to be Members of Parliament; just ask any woman who’s ever driven her car into a garage or has had to suffer a handyman in the house recruited to fix repairs; female MPs are in a unique position to rise above this, and playing the sexism card is a cop-out when they could do so much more.

The most worrying element of this sublimely frivolous story is the fact that the Speaker of the House considerably exceeded his authority by demanding that David Dillon, the Mail on Sunday editor, be summoned to appear before him. Mr Dillon rightly refused the summons, as did his political editor Glen Owen; even Boris Johnson – a former journalist himself, lest we forget – supported the stance of the Mail on Sunday, stating that journos should ‘not take instructions from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be.’ This statement was added to by a Downing Street spokesperson, who said ‘The Prime Minister is uncomfortable at the idea of our free press being summoned by politicians.’ He went on to say that the PM wouldn’t want ‘any perception of politicians seeking to in any way curb or control what a free press seeks to report.’ Indeed. In these troubled times, both politicians and political journalists should be focused on issues of far greater importance than the height of a hemline.

© The Editor

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MADHOUSE OF CARDS

AlexMost of us are now familiar with the shameless tactic of ‘playing the race card’, which is usually employed by those who’ve painted themselves into a corner and lack both the intelligence and the decency to formulate a coherent argument that will stand up and warrant examination. I suppose the first time the race card was played to great effect was during the trial of OJ Simpson back in the 90s, when an odds-on guilty verdict was masterfully reversed by Simpson’s legal team as they tapped into the ongoing racial tensions in the US and made the whole spectacle about race. It worked, and ever since then the race card has been produced routinely by some non-white public figures as a means of silencing any questioning of their actions as well offering a sense of security that prevents opposing points of view when making public statements. Just the other day a black actress in the Netflix bodice-ripper, ‘Bridgerton’, made a ludicrous claim in a magazine interview which came across as a desperate attempt to place the multicultural Regency fantasy of the series within an authentic historical context.

According to Adjoa Andoh (the actress), 50% of Nelson’s navy was African and 20,000 black people were living in the centre of London in the early 19th century. She states this as fact, yet offers no evidence of her claims. Most of us fortunate to have learnt our British history before it was warped by Woke revisionism know this is simply untrue, yet nobody would dare dispute the actress’s imaginative fallacy, for to do so would immediately result in one being labelled racist; therefore, she is free to spout such guff knowing she is immune to criticism or questioning. The increasing misuse and abuse of the word ‘racist’ outside of its correct context and using it as a casual insult to put the brakes on debate does nobody any favours other than perhaps actual racists. It serves to bracket any genuine racism alongside a ridiculous list of imaginary racist crimes, diminishing the effectiveness of the word in outing the real guilty parties and breeding cynicism towards the word itself and towards accusations of racism rooted in fact. When everything is racist, nothing is racist.

Having seen the deplorable playing of the race card and how successful it can enable some to get away with murder (well, it certainly did OJ Simpson), those unable to pull it out of the hat on account of being white have found another one they can play – the mental health card. Again, when the amoral use the phrase ‘mental health’ as an excuse they imagine will elicit sympathy and deflect closer scrutiny of whatever crime they have committed, they do so at the expense of those who are genuine sufferers of mental health conditions. It’s almost reached the stage when we anticipate ‘mental health’ being pushed forward as a get-out-of-jail card whenever anyone is exposed as a crook, and we begin to suspect everyone with mental health issues of being a charlatan, employing the phrase in the same way a drafted soldier in a time of war might pretend to be mad in order to be relocated from the frontline. However, none of this would be remotely effective without the support of the more disreputable members of the psychiatric profession, those Gods among men whose unimpeachable wisdom in the court of Law ranks even higher than the authority of the Judge.

In a recent and typically thought-provoking ‘Triggernometry’ interview, the former prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple summarily rubbished some of the oft-quoted ‘facts’ when it comes to the mental health of many currently being detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and exposed them for what they are. ‘You read…that seventy percent of prisoners have some sort of psychological problem,’ he said. ‘I believe that’s a whole load of hokum. That is an excuse for the failure to deal with the relatively few raving lunatics in prison, which the NHS is incapable of dealing with because it’s so incompetent.’ He cited the decimation of the state psychiatric hospital network as leaving no option but to put those with serious mental conditions behind bars, and if a stat claiming 70% of 80,000 people is to be believed, it’s no wonder the task of adequately caring for them seems an impossible one that nobody would expect any government capable of resolving.

Theodore Dalrymple also criticised the methods of diagnosing mental health in the context of it providing a reason for criminal behaviour. ‘Their whole process of diagnosis is so lax,’ he said of his fellow professionals; when confronted by further stats claiming a high proportion of convicted criminals have educational needs such as dyslexia and so on, he recalled his own experience of dealing with prisoners and said that ‘(most) were not deficient in intelligence; they could understand everything perfectly well.’ Playing the mental health card is the default position of many unscrupulous psychiatrists hired as experts by defence teams to secure a violent villain a cushier sentence than his crime otherwise warrants; and blaming mental health for a crime suggests it was the condition that committed the crime rather than the criminal; it implies he or she can be cured, thus winning far earlier parole than the recognition of an incurably evil nature ever would.

Deprived of the Ludovico Technique to guarantee a model citizen upon release, the role of the prison psychiatrist can be pivotal in swinging it, and the do-gooder naivety of many parole boards confronted by a well-behaved criminal with the psychiatric stamp of approval is testament to how mental health can be abused. Most are unaware of the way in which the mental health card is a useful tool for the canny crook to cut short his sentence because they’re not paying attention until the predictable headline when said wrong ‘un inevitably reoffends once released. The public figure playing it when caught out, however, we know of from the moment his or her illicit activities are revealed via Fleet Street. Only this week we’ve seen backbench Tory MP David Warburton react to being exposed as an alleged coke-snorting, serial sexual harasser by playing the mental health card, checking-in to a private psychiatric hospital, apparently suffering from ‘severe shock and stress’.

Warburton has had the Conservative whip withdrawn as an investigation into the allegations levelled against him is pending; misconduct complaints stem from three separate women and, according to the Sunday Times, these include two former aides. The fact that Warburton employed his wife in Parliament in a ‘human resources’ role didn’t exactly fill the complainants with confidence that their allegations would be investigated or taken seriously; Mrs Warburton is still able to work as her husband’s Communications Officer and Parliamentary Assistant, despite the change in the rules forbidding MPs elected from 2017 onwards to employ family members, because he himself was elected in 2015. As some of Mr Warburton’s colleagues blame his behaviour on a ‘mid-life crisis’, the MP is safely cocooned from the publicity at his mental health retreat and the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the Parliamentary watchdog set up to deal with allegations of harassment, is looking into the story.

We’ve already witnessed how several athletes have recently been showered in nauseating praise for their ‘bravery’ at failing in their chosen field and then invariably playing the mental health card in the knowledge that failure attributed to mental health issues will be celebrated more than sporting success in some quarters. As with the other examples referenced, falling back on mental health as a catch-all term to excuse deficiencies that bear little relation to authentic mental health conditions that millions of people are genuinely afflicted by devalues the term; it also risks provoking scepticism whenever anyone suffers for real rather than cynically playing the card. Celebrities wearing mental health as a fashion accessory doesn’t help much either, but this is the society we find ourselves in, a society in which selective ring-fencing can neutralise a multitude of sins.

© The Editor

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REGIONAL NEWS

FletcherI suppose Rishi Sunak’s first post-pandemic budget last week could’ve been a contender for an old New Labour innovation, that of appearing at a time conducive for burying bad news. Delivering a far-from optimistic message to the non-wealthy residents of the nation – i.e. nobody belonging to the Chancellor’s circle of family, friends and acquaintances – when so much attention is focused on a war taking place on the other side of Europe was a handy way of getting the bad news out there, though the reactions from those who have been struggling ever since Lockdown Mk. I have dragged some traditional Tory perspectives on the less well-off back into the spotlight. The gains made when the red wall came tumbling down in 2019 are only just still intact at the moment courtesy of the Opposition’s suicidal commitment to the Identity Politics agenda; were Labour more clued-up on the widespread dissatisfaction with the Conservative’s contemptuous approach to their newfound voters, they’d have reclaimed their natural territory and would be in a healthy position to fight the next Election.

A belated reaction to the way in which Covid was handled by an administration that evidently didn’t regard the coronavirus as dangerous as the advertising campaign it pumped into the paranoid minds of the public has fired the aforementioned dissatisfaction, along with the governing party’s manner of resuscitating an economy it summarily destroyed during the pandemic – and who will pay for the almighty mess? Yes, me and thee once again, just as we did in the austerity era of the Coalition a decade ago. When the anger of the public is articulated so that it pierces the thick Tory skin, the default Tory response is to fall back on antiquated opinions that are even present in the thought-processes of new recruits one might imagine would be more in-tune with the needs of their constituents than some of their party’s grandees.

Sunak’s refusal to restore Universal Credit’s £20 uplift at a time of rising inflation and soaring energy bills – factors that will hit those on the lowest incomes as usual – has tapped in to the disgust with the Tories that the whole ‘Partygate’ saga fuelled. Independent think-tank the Resolution Foundation has estimated around 1.3 million members of the public (500,000 of them children) will plunge into absolute poverty this year; it predicts the incomes of those lucky enough to be in work will plummet 4% by 2023, despite the Chancellor’s trumpeted cuts to fuel duty and National Insurance. One might almost cynically wonder if Sunak is more concerned with putting on a good show for the party faithful in the event of a leadership contest rather than aiding the hardest hit by the policies instigated by his Government in 2020 and 2021. Not that the greenest Tory evangelists have passed on the concerns of their angry constituents to Central Office, however; some have endorsed the party line with sycophantic stupidity.

The revival of a Tory attitude towards those teetering on the brink of poverty, an attitude reminiscent of George Osborne in his cuddly prime, surfaced on one of those Sunday lunchtime regional politics shows on the BBC this weekend. It came from the MP for South Ribble, a certain Katherine Fletcher, only elected in December 2019, and someone who has risen without a trace ever since. Active on social media, Ms Fletcher’s Facebook page is full of tokenistic nods to whatever this week’s good cause happens to be – the NHS, cancer awareness, Holocaust Memorial Day, Ukraine etc. etc. – and photographic evidence of her ‘constituency duties’ appears to portray her as akin to an old-school Lord Mayor whose hand-shaking and ribbon-snipping photo-ops seemed guaranteed to make the front page of the local rag. The irate comments left on Fletcher’s facile FB posts by people who are clearly not on her payroll tend to elicit the response of somebody incapable of engaging with those she is supposed to represent at Westminster: she doesn’t reply and then she removes the comments whilst blocking the commenter. And according to reliable sources, it’d be easier to get straight through to a human employee of yer average utility company on the telephone than it would be to arrange an in-person audience with the Honourable Member for South Ribble in order to express any grievances that are verboten on Facebook.

On camera, Katherine Fletcher comes across as a detached receptionist at a GP’s surgery, the kind who looks down her nose at the patients as though she’s on a level playing field with the doctors working there. Her response to the Queen’s Speech in 2021 was memorably forgettable with the exception of her fatuous reference to Her Majesty as ‘flipping ace’ – a description of Brenda one might have expected from an ill-educated cast member of ‘Grange Hill’ in the early 80s, but not from a grownup Member of Parliament elected in 2019. Her route to Westminster came via the familiar gravy train of the town council and she didn’t necessarily endear herself to her local branch of the party when, upon being elected, she had her name emblazoned on the front of their office in the Lancashire town of Leyland, as though it was a shop and she was the proprietor. The laughably large sign was relocated to the side of the building after complaints were raised, but perhaps the egotistical gesture spoke volumes as to the woman’s opinion of herself – one not exactly shared by her constituents.

When she appeared on BBC1’s ‘Politics North West’, Katherine Fletcher dismissed the predictions of the Resolution Foundation – whose executive chairman is the former Tory MP David Willetts – and sneered that people were ‘sitting on benefits’; when presented with claims that those actually in work were confronted by levels of poverty more commonly associated with the unemployed, Fletcher denied this and said ‘You get any job, you get a better job, you get a career.’ She stopped short of recommending that her less fortunate constituents acquire a bike so that they might be able to cycle to the nearest Job Centre, but the general tone was one of an out-of-touch and arrogant Tory MP that the triumph of 2019 suggested had long since been put out to pasture in the Lords.

The reaction to her TV appearance has provoked the kind of comments on her Facebook wall that will no doubt shortly be erased. ‘My friend works two jobs,’ said one. ‘She’s 60, has health problems, and I have to buy her food and help her with heating costs. How is she sat on benefits? Two jobs and she’s still in poverty. She works 7 days a week. How can you explain this?’ Another comment says ‘How dare you preach to us. Give your head a wobble and enjoy what time you can squander being an MP because after your comments you have lost! APOLOGISE for your actions!’ And then one that no doubt hits home: ‘People are sitting on benefits, are they? It seems like you’ve claimed a lot on your expenses over the past couple of years – £224,791 to be exact. Looks like MPs are sitting/sleeping on some extortionate benefits, as well as on the job. Gross.’ Another – left by the carer of a pensioner with Parkinson’s and dementia – suggested a job swap with the MP, inviting her to ‘come and clean up my uncle’s chronic diarrhoea at 5am.’

The general consensus amongst the constituents who comment on Katherine Fletcher’s Facebook account is that she is reciting from a manual many foolishly imagined MPs representing her party no longer subscribe to. And South Ribble isn’t even a former red wall constituency; yes, like many traditionally Conservative areas, it had a Labour MP during the Blair era, but David Borrow was an anomaly in what has otherwise been a solidly Tory stronghold from its inception in 1983. When even an MP representing such a safe seat can provoke such hostility, the popular perception that the Tories are as out-of-touch in 2022 as they were in 1997 is evidently not limited to the Labour front-bench. But as for that Labour front-bench…

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OPEN DOOR

Old WomanIt wasn’t so long ago – barely a year – that the British people were barred from allowing more than six people into their abodes. They couldn’t visit ailing family members in hospitals or care homes; they could only attend funerals in small, specified numbers – and heavy-handed Jobsworths were on hand to gleefully ensure there was no physical contact between the grievers; they couldn’t gather in the open to mark Remembrance Sunday; they couldn’t celebrate Christmas together; they couldn’t hold a vigil for a murdered woman in an outdoor environment without the police treating them like violent protestors; they couldn’t stage a demonstration unless their cause was one approved by the authorities – climate change or BLM, yes/anti-lockdown or anti-vax, no; they couldn’t even worship in churches whose doors were bolted. Small businesses went to the wall, crippled by both enforced closure and then uneconomic restrictions when tentatively reopening (if they’d managed to survive).

The damaging legacy of the past couple of years remains blatantly evident in the rising unemployment figures and the breathtaking level of national debt, not to mention the amount of folk continuing to wear masks in safe environments such as on the street or in the privacy of their own bloody cars, their brains fried by the pandemic propaganda of Project Fear. One wonders if they mask-up on the loo, in the bath or in bed. Probably. Yet, while it would be natural to imagine the unsurprising and hypocritical revelations of what those lying bastards who imposed such rules on the populace were getting up to behind closed doors at the height of the pandemic had served as a wake-up call on how conned the people were, so deep is the psychological damage done by lockdown and its affiliated curbs on civil liberties that the illogical neurosis of millions remains something that will probably take years to heal.

So, how strange that the same people who had to conduct conversations with family and friends from ridiculous distances – and out of doors, at that – are now being battered anew with fresh emotional blackmail that encourages them to open their previously hermetically-sealed homes to complete strangers, as though 2020 and ’21 never happened. Memories of the Syrian ‘children’ with their remarkably advanced examples of male grooming have been smoothly erased as the request for impromptu landlords goes out again. Of course, the awful humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine naturally stirs deep feelings in anyone who has a heart; for some, this provokes a desire to tackle the forces of oppression head-on by signing-up for an International Brigades-like foreign legion of fighters to repel the Russian invasion; for others, it’s marked via a boycott of Russian goods or cultural exports; and for others again, it manifests itself as a craving to offer a safe roof over the heads of those faced with no option but to flee their own homes thousands of miles away. Yesterday, the British Government announced it would offer UK homeowners £350 a month to take in Ukrainian refugees, with Housing Secretary Michael Gove unveiling the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

After so many recent exposés of precisely how untrustworthy and slippery our elected leaders are, people can be forgiven for greeting this announcement with cynicism and discerning something more than motives emanating from the goodness of politicians’ hearts; one now finds it difficult to take any such move at face value and not detect an ulterior motive. In the case of the current administration – and, it has to be said, its predecessors over the last couple of decades – this kind of response to an appalling situation cannot entirely eradicate the lax attitude towards the dirty money fuelling the Russian war machine which has been a hallmark of British governments for a long time. The amount of desirable British properties in the hands of offshore shell companies engaged in money laundering both in the UK and its more luxurious overseas territories has been mirrored in the close ties forged between British politicians and institutions and those Russians who have taken advantage of the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme. Perish the thought, but could certain members of the Government and the Conservative Party be covering their own corrupt backs by utilising the same emotional blackmail tactics employed during Covid to persuade the people to open hearts and doors to Ukrainian refugees as they themselves gloss over their cosiness with representatives of the regime responsible for the crisis?

Just how deeply governing bodies with pound signs for pupils have allowed countries with dubious reputations to become embedded in the fabric of British life was highlighted when Chelsea played Newcastle Utd at Stamford Bridge on Sunday; the home fans chanted the name of the now-toxic Putin bitch Roman Abramovich, whereas the away fans cheered their own suddenly-wealthy club’s Saudi owners, emanating as they do from a regime that executed a staggering 81 individuals the day before the match in a ruthless display of despotic inhumanity. What a glorious advert for the beautiful game, one that no token knee-taking will ease the grubby stain of. Football fans desperate for success will seemingly overlook the source of the financial fuel filling their trophy cabinets, though they’ve hardly been set a good example by their social ‘betters’. The filthy lucre floating around the national sport at the highest level is one more noticeable consequence of the golden visa rule introduced by a Labour Government in the wake of Peter Mandelson quaffing champers on the yacht of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one that has allowed Russia to get its feet under the establishment table with very little in the way of opposition.

According to stats in the most recent issue of Private Eye, since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, 406 wealthy Russians have bought their way into Britain via the required £2 million, with a mere 20 refusals; following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, 92 golden visas have been issued, with just six refusals; eight were even issued at the back end of last year, a time when Vlad’s intentions re Ukraine were well-known. At times, the Russian infiltration of British politics and all its interconnected entrails are reminiscent of the way in which Nigel Kneale’s 1950s TV series ‘Quatermass’ featured collaborators with the alien invaders in the upper echelons of British society as a knowing nod to the pre-war ruling class’s flirtation with fascism. The abrupt about-turn on oligarchs by this government as everyone with Russian skeletons in their closet seeks to distance themselves from Uncle Vlad’s activities is something that understandably provokes cynicism, though being offered cash incentives to house those who have suffered most from these activities seems another cynical move by an administration that inspires little else but cynicism.

Local councils who have spent the past two years pleading poverty, cutting public services to the bone and yet simultaneously feathering their own personal nests are also having a tempting carrot dangled in their direction re refugees. One cannot help but wonder if they will spend the money wisely. Considering how well GPs’ surgeries have managed to avoid doing their jobs and yet have continued to bleat about being overwhelmed during the coronavirus, how will a sudden influx of immigrants with obvious ailments affect the dereliction of duties the medical profession has achieved since Lockdown Mk I? It goes without saying that those whose needs are attended to on Harley Street won’t be affected, though the calamitous disappearance of the cheap household labour that Brexit brought about may at least be solved.

Materially comfortable individuals with the spare rooms to welcome refugees should be in a position to carry out their intentions without their kindness necessitating a financial reward, and those whose sadness with the situation in Ukraine doesn’t stretch that far shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for choosing not to do so, despite the lure of being paid in a scheme that will undoubtedly be open to abuse. One can’t blame many for being reluctant to invite strangers into their homes when they were faced with heavy fines and possible prison sentences for extending a similar invitation to people they actually know not so long ago. Funny old world innit.

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PARTY FEARS ’22

Boris PartySo, it was all ‘technically within the rules’ – I wonder if that would’ve worked as an excuse for two pals sharing a packet of crisps on a park bench when confronted by an over-officious Officer of the Law and told they were engaged in an illegal picnic? Probably not; but then, as we all know, those who invent the rules and regulations don’t live by them while we are expected to. Yes, some of us suspected the pandemic’s Project Fear was little more than a smokescreen for rushing through draconian legislation that would remain on the statute books thereafter as an unprecedented means of a democratically-elected government acting out its totalitarian fantasies, but we were written off as conspiracy theorists, of course. Then again, many shrewd observations of events were received with similarly dismissive contempt as the masses followed the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mantra of the political class. Indeed, we ought not to forget that HM Opposition enthusiastically pushed for – and demanded even more of – the ridiculous restrictions that few could realistically expect to live under, ones Boris was hardly alone in breaking. But as the star salesman for them, he stands to lose more than anyone else – as HM Opposition knows only too well.

Naturally, we shouldn’t expect the Met to pursue this issue; they may have revelled in their role as storm-troopers for the cause – as did all the Jobsworths promoted to positions of ‘power’ when playing at law enforcers outside supermarkets or at family funerals; but their ultimate taskmasters are above the law and won’t be punished or prosecuted for such flagrant abuse of a law they promoted as a ‘do or die’ policy that they were evidently exempt from, a law that only applied to everyone outside their bubble. Hell, this was obvious extremely early on when Dominic Cummings journeyed Oop North for his impromptu eye-test at a time when even motorists were confined to ‘zones’. It was obvious a little later when Matt ‘goose’ Hancock was exposed as a hypocrite courtesy of some convenient CCTV. And now it’s obvious once again following a string of belated revelations that confirm Downing Street as the capital’s ‘bring your own booze’ Party Central.

In May 2020, a time when the plebs practically required a written excuse to leave their homes and were only allowed to meet one other individual out of doors whilst enduring sixty minutes of exercise, Boris and his gang were having a wine and cheese party – sorry, ‘work event’ – in the garden at No.10; that same month, with restrictions for the rest still being firmly enforced by coppers and Covid Marshals, 30-odd invited guests were enjoying some ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the same swinging location alongside Mr and Mrs Johnson; in November 2020, a gathering in the Downing Street flat hosted by Carrie allegedly took place (Lady Macbeth denies it), whilst a leaving do for a No.10 aide was also held there a fortnight later; but it was Christmas 2020 in Tier Two London that was the real party season for our lords, ladies and masters. The Department of Education had a staff shindig on the 10th; the Conservative Party hosted an ‘unauthorised event’ at their London HQ on the 14th; Boris drew on his past experience presenting ‘Have I Got News for You’ when chairing a ‘Christmas Quiz’ for Downing St staff on the 15th; and some sources also claim the infamous Xmas bash the Daily Mirror finally got round to exposing a year late was held on the 18th.

Under normal circumstances, office events in the weeks leading up to Christmas are par for the course, and there’s no reason to think government departments are any different from endless other businesses up and down the country. Let’s face it, who the hell would ordinarily care if Downing St staff and a few pug-ugly Ministers indulged in a festive tipple and the odd under-the-mistletoe grope? It’s not as if anybody feels aggrieved that they weren’t invited to such a gruesome get-together. But it’s all about context, innit. These were not normal circumstances. When the Downing St Xmas party marathon was in full swing, Tier Two rules stated it was illegal for two or more people emanating from different households to meet indoors. It goes without saying that many ignored these rules in the same way that many had little choice but to support the black-market economy during WWII by buying essential items from street-corner spivs; but taking such a risk when heavy fines and possible prison sentences were the trumpeted punishment was something entered into out of desperation after months of social isolation. What really grates is that not only those who aggressively demanded tougher restrictions and penalties via a media platform were caught out disregarding the rules (remember Kay Burley’s birthday conga across the capital?), but the very people responsible for drilling them into the petrified populace weren’t adhering to them either.

If our lawmakers genuinely believed lockdowns, social distancing, social bubbles, tracking, tracing and masks were the absolute difference between life and death – and repeatedly told us so during their doom-laden press conferences – then why didn’t they live by them in the same way they expected the rest of us to? If these extreme measures were the only life-saving solution, surely those who devised them must have figured they ought to abide by them too? But they didn’t – probably because they didn’t believe it; many didn’t believe it, but while the few partied on regardless the many were bombarded and browbeaten by ‘The Science’ and were threatened into submission by the prospect of astronomical fines and/or an agonising demise without family or friends entitled to gather round their deathbeds. Sadly, the latter fate came to pass for thousands, and it’s totally understandable that some of the most incensed responses to the truth of government double standards have come from those denied the right to be with their loved ones as they breathed their last.

In the Commons yesterday, Boris was faced with little choice but to admit he attended at least one of the Downing St shindigs but continued to deny he did anything wrong, still sticking to the ‘work event’ narrative. ‘With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,’ he said. ‘I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way…I regret the way the event I have described was handled. I bitterly regret it and I wish we could have done things differently.’ Amidst the pathetic acceptance of this ‘apology’ by Tory toadies ascending the greasy poll, we need to note the distance between event and apology; had none of this come out over a year later, most of us would remain in the dark and Boris would hardly be likely to volunteer the information anymore than Richard Nixon would have voluntarily spoken about anything to do with Watergate had he not painted himself into a corner. There are few apologies as hollow and disingenuous than that of a politician caught out and forced to say sorry.

The notorious old rake Lord Boothby once said ‘the Tory Party is ruthless’ in relation to how it disposes of its leader, and when one thinks of how IDS was ousted before he’d even fought a General Election or, more infamously, how Mrs T was unceremoniously forced out, it’s hard to dispute Boothby’s claim. One wonders if this really is Boris’s ninth life, but there has always been a vocal section of the Party that has never warmed to him and never wanted him as leader, so a chorus of criticism from his own side isn’t exactly unprecedented. At the moment, the PM’s Ministers are publicly backing him, though the 1922 Committee only requires 54 backbenchers to register their complaints to trigger a challenge. At the same time, the internal machinations of the Conservative Party are secondary to the genuine anger felt way beyond the point-scoring circus of the Commons; millions of people made the sacrifices they were asked to make for the greater good, and Boris Johnson wasn’t one of them.

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SHIRE PURCHASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PARTY LIKE IT’S 1939

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

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

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POT, KETTLE, BLACK

Boris MajorThe televising of Parliament is something it’s so easy to take for granted now that it’s hard to remember a day when it wasn’t the norm. Yet, in terms of the centuries-old timeline of the British Parliamentary system, it is a remarkably recent innovation; the Palace of Westminster was very much a closed shop to the electorate for most of its existence, with debates in the chamber only accessible through written accounts in newspapers 24 hours after the event; for generations, every Commons utterance accessed by the public was relayed via the Parliamentary reporter, a post once famously held by Charles Dickens in his early working life as a journalist. No doubt some of his uniquely rich characterisations in fiction received an inspirational boost as he observed some of those rotten borough rogues in action.

After a trial broadcast on BBC radio in the mid-70s – one that was met with strong opposition from many quarters keen to retain the ‘mystique’ of the process – the go-ahead was finally given for regular sound-only transmissions from Parliament in 1978. For the first time, the people could actually hear their elected representatives squaring up to one another on a daily basis. Previously, televised debates at locations such as the Oxford Union were the only opportunity to experience political jousting outside of the conference season or campaign trail, and even just hearing the debating chamber of the Commons was an ear-opening revelation. If anything, many listeners quickly realised why politicians were so eager to keep Parliament hidden behind closed doors; the behaviour of MPs was far from gentlemanly and the lid being lifted on their rowdy gatherings didn’t exactly raise their esteem amongst voters.

When television cameras finally made it inside Parliament in the mid-80s, caution over actually seeing MPs carrying on this way, and how it might negatively affect the public’s perception of them even further, led to the safer option of the Lords serving as the guinea pig. What MPs didn’t anticipate was that the retirement home for yesterday’s men would provide a platform for canny old campaigners to stage one last defiant dig at their successors. Harold Macmillan had stepped down as Prime Minister as far back as 1963, yet in 1984 the then-90 year-old elder statesman made his maiden speech in the House of Lords by delivering a damning critique of the Thatcher Government’s handling of the Miners’ Strike. Supermac had previously enjoyed relatively good relations with Mrs T, but as someone who had represented a North-East mining constituency in the Commons – and had indeed taken his title, Earl of Stockton, from the region – Macmillan seized his chance and let rip.

‘It breaks my heart to see…what is happening in our country today,’ he said. ‘This terrible strike, by the best men in the world, who beat the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s armies and never gave in…there is the growing division of comparative prosperity in the south and an ailing north and Midlands. We used to have battles and rows but they were quarrels. Now there is a new kind of wicked hatred that has been brought in by different types of people.’ Greeted with a standing ovation (no mean feat in the Lords) and widely reported, Macmillan’s missive came hot on the heels of the long-standing digs at Mrs Thatcher by her immediate predecessor Ted Heath; it was a timely reminder for all Prime Ministers that previous tenants of No.10 (especially those from their own party) are always lurking somewhere in the background, keeping a keen eye on the progress of those who superseded them and forever ready to pass withering judgement. So, should it come as a great surprise that the most damning criticism of Boris Johnson this past week has come from Sir John Major?

As far as I’m aware, the word ‘sleaze’ didn’t constitute part of Major’s criticism of Bo-Jo’s administration in the wake of the Owen Paterson affair, though perhaps that’s just as well. His own government was so mired in sleaze by its dying days that for a man who himself had been giving Edwina Currie one on the side to target Johnson’s infamous philandering would have been a tad hypocritical. However, the fact that the current controversy surrounding the Government centres around lobbying means that a man who’d led an administration bogged-down by ‘cash for questions’ has to tread carefully if his criticism can avoid the inevitable title of this post being evoked. Boris seeking to move the goalposts in order to prevent the 30 day suspension of the MP for what the Commons Standards Committee called ‘an egregious case of paid advocacy’ has been roundly condemned by opposition parties, though critics at Westminster should be careful what they do with those stones in their palms when hanging around this particular glass house. The practice of which Owen Paterson stands accused is far from exclusive to the Tories and can often appear endemic in Parliament.

The end result of the Conservative Party’s shabby efforts to block the recommendation of the Standards Committee to suspend Paterson – followed by a call for an overhaul of the MPs’ watchdog – is an imminent by-election, with Paterson choosing to quit his North Shropshire seat over the mess. In some respects, Paterson had a fair point when he bemoaned the right of MPs to appeal against judgements arising from the internal investigatory process, but the handling of such criticism seemingly on his behalf was done badly. Boris might have embarked upon yet one more U-turn in the wake of the affair, but further damage has been done to an already fairly damaged brand. John Major weighed into the debate on the ‘Today’ programme, adding another layer to a long-standing enmity that stretches back at least as far as Brexit. As a staunch Europhile and Remainer campaigner five years ago, the former PM (whose vote for Theresa May’s successor went to Jeremy Hunt) called Johnson’s Government ‘politically corrupt’; he went on to say that ‘this government has done a number of things that have concerned me deeply. They have broken the law, the prorogation of Parliament, they have broken treaties…they have broken their word on many occasions.’

When comparisons with the sleaze of his own administration were invariably raised, Major responded by admitting it was ‘immensely damaging’, yet covered his back by reminding the interviewer he’d set up a committee to investigate and prevent any recurrence of the ‘cash for questions’ scandal. He sees a stark difference with the way in which Boris & Co have reacted to their own scandal. ‘Over the last few days,’ he said, ‘we have seen today’s government trying to defend this sort of behaviour…there’s a general whiff of “We are the masters now” about their behaviour. It has to stop, it has to stop soon. I have been a Conservative all my life, and I am concerned at how this government is behaving. I suspect lots of other people are as well. It seems to me, as a lifelong Conservative, that much of what they are doing is un-Conservative in its behaviour.’

Like Boris Johnson, John Major succeeded to the post of Prime Minister following the forced removal of his predecessor – in both cases a woman, oddly enough – and then went on to win a General Election in his own right. It’s fair to say that Major was a largely unknown entity outside Westminster when he became PM, something of a blank slate after a decade of Mrs Thatcher dominating everybody’s lives; Boris, on the other hand, had been around as a household name for a long time when he grabbed the premiership, and the majority of his flaws and failings were already well-established. An attack from a former PM of Boris’ own party probably stings more than if, say, Tony Blair had launched a similar tirade; but at the same time Major hasn’t really said anything about Johnson and his administration that most of us didn’t think anyway. TV cameras had crept into the Commons merely a year before John Major became PM, whereas Boris Johnson has grown up in public before the full glare of the 24-hour media. His career is a political ‘Truman Show’ and just as we have watched his rise live on TV, we will also watch his fall when it happens. Given the state of the opposition, however, I’m not programming a series link into my telly just yet.

© The Editor

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

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