ANOTHER FINE MESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE SUMMERTIME BLUES

SummerNo, I haven’t melted away like a budget supermarket ice-pop, though a 7-day absence might lead to that assumption when one takes into account the latest extension of Project Fear. Monkey Pox clearly wasn’t enough to stoke a revival of the Pandemic panic favoured by the MSM, so an especially roasting heat-wave appears to justify the compulsory fear-mongering tactics; in fact, I’ve been waiting for that ever-dependable soothsayer of hysteria Neil Ferguson to pop up and tell us how many thousands are going to die. We’ve certainly had enough heat-waves every occasional summer this century to be accustomed to the routine and we’re not as dumb as our lords and masters imagine. Those out there – not me, I hasten to add – who enjoy baking in sunshine are more than likely to apply the requisite amount of sun-cream to their flesh, and schools that remain open probably won’t have children dispatched at the gates by parents who’ve knitted them woolly pullovers to keep out the chill. Care-home staff members have been advised to spray their dehydrating elderly inmates with cold water as they would their window-box flowers – and what is the recommended sword & shield protection against summer Armageddon? A bottle of water, sun-cream and…er…a hat.

Whilst 1976 – yes, it was inevitable that would be mentioned – is still the most continuously hottest summer ever recorded, the single hottest days in UK history that made the record books took place in 2003 and 2019 respectively; not that you’d know this when the Met Office now measures heat-waves using a system that has only been in place since last year; no wonder this summer is receiving the ‘hottest ever’ accolade, along with a suitably apocalyptic ‘red heat warning’ element. Even a Met Office meteorologist who designed the new map and its inferno-insinuating colour scheme claims his baby has been doctored by the media to fit the current narrative, saying the map was ‘just the latest example of a vocal minority trying to spread misinformation in response to the Met Office’s science-based weather and climate forecasts’. His explanation for the change of colour from muddy green to scarlet on the said map was that it enabled the colour blind to appreciate an increase in heat when the shading alters more severely; he also claimed the colours don’t correspond with the temperatures provided, with the former intended to depict the far higher temperatures commonplace in Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent.

So, yes, be careful out there; but don’t be scared to be out there; you might be mistaken for a chicken – like Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss. Both bottled out of a third TV debate of No.10 hopefuls for fear that their entertaining bickering might paint a poor picture of the Party for viewers at home. They clearly don’t realise that most reckon the brand has been irreparably damaged enough by their predecessor, so a couple of Boris’s former team exchanging a few terse words is hardly going to make the electorate rush to the nearest Labour Party offices in disgust. Besides, only a tiny percentage of those witnesses to a minor spat in public will have a say in who wins the Downing Street keys, anyway, and the contenders have already been depleted further in the absence of a third debate. The mild-mannered Tom Tugendhat will have to reserve his references to having been on the frontline in Afghanistan and Iraq for the backbenches in future, as he and his war stories were eliminated in the latest round of voting yesterday. That leaves Sunak, Truss, Penny Mordaunt and rank outsider Kemi Badenoch as the last four before the numbers are whittled down to two.

Sunak, peddling the casual ‘call me Dave’ tie-free look, almost established a new catchphrase in the second televised debate, considering how many times he prefaced a speech with ‘You know what?’, though it has yet to ascend the cultural apex of ‘I agree with Nick’. Liz Truss’s evident ineptitude meant she failed to even try to come up with a catchphrase, though her right arm hovering in the ex-Chancellor’s direction every time she made what she regarded as a valid statement would serve as a visual pointer for any budding Janet Brown, I guess. I wasn’t surprised by Rishi’s slickness or his Blair-like insincerity; he came across as a kind of Bob Monkhouse without the late comic’s famous joke book to fall back on. But Liz Truss was even worse than I imagined beforehand, reminding me more of Theresa May than Margaret Thatcher, with a weak speaking voice and an unconvincing way of selling herself that was uncomfortably reminiscent of Mavis from ‘Coronation Street’. I can only think that her inexplicable popularity amongst some members of the Conservative Party is down to her being seen as a ‘continuity candidate’ for those who lament the forced exit of Boris. It’s certainly nothing to do with her woeful sales pitch, and it’s entirely feasible that one more pitiful performance on TV would have exposed her limitations even further. No wonder she pulled out at the eleventh hour.

Penny Mordaunt gave what could generously be called a competent showing over the two debates we got, neither making a big impression nor making a fool of herself. The main obstacle between her and Downing Street is the ongoing campaign being waged against her by supporters of the two favourites, particularly her backtracking on the Trans issue. Having gone on record in the past uttering the infamous phrase ‘Trans women are women’, Mordaunt is now in reverse gear, denying statements that have been resurrected in the public arena as a means of demonstrating she’d be another PM saying one thing one day and saying the complete opposite the next. At least Kemi Badenoch challenged her on this subject during the second debate, and when Kemi was given the chance to speak (which didn’t appear to be as often as the other candidates) she impressed. It would be a breath of fresh air were she to overtake the other three and capture the keys to No.10, but despite recognition of her as one to watch, perhaps her bid has come too early in her career to cross the finishing line at this moment in time. If she managed it, it would be the real break with the recent past that Tom Tugendhat repeatedly emphasised as a necessity for winning the next General Election, but the odds seem stacked against it right now; and the Tories may well pay the price at the ballot box in 2024 for not taking a gamble on Kemi Badenoch.

As it is, Boris’s successor won’t be crowned until the autumn, anyway, as the PM won a vote of confidence in the Commons last night by 349 votes to 238, giving the Government a majority of 111. It means he’ll remain Prime Minister for the next seven weeks, serving out his premiership like a lame duck President in the final months of his second term. The five-hour debate in the Commons was fittingly ill-tempered as Boris attempted to big-up his record in office, extending the highlights that were edited during his resignation speech a couple of weeks ago. Still exhibiting the brazen denial of what actually curtailed his residency at No.10 – i.e. himself – Boris even looked to the future with the same gung-ho bullshit. ‘After three dynamic and exhilarating years in the cockpit,’ he waffled, ‘we will find a new leader and we coalesce in loyalty around him or her. And the vast twin Rolls-Royce engines of our Tory message, our Conservative values, will roar on – strong public services on the left, and a dynamic free market enterprise economy on the right, each boosting the other and developing trillions of pounds of thrust.’ It’s a wonder a fleet of Spitfires didn’t soar over the Palace of Westminster at the climax of his speech.

Oh, well; a third televised Tory leadership debate might have provided a brief distraction from the ‘red heat warning’, if only for the likes of me to write about it afterwards; but what we saw in the two debates more or less confirmed everything we suspected about the leading candidates, anyway. And we have no more influence over who’ll be our next PM than we do over how hot it is.

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VEERING OFF-SCRIPT

Kemi BadenochOne of the few plus points when Donald Trump was elected US President in 2016 was at the least the opportunity to watch the ‘Progressive Left’ that controls cultural output in the West embark on a highly entertaining four-year meltdown as it struggled to come to terms with the fact the plebs didn’t do as they were told and vote for their candidate. Since then, of course, most of the Progressive Left’s toxic philosophies have been imported into the UK, so one wonders what entertainment we might be in for should the Conservative Party choose to elect a black woman to succeed Boris Johnson. After all, the Woke wing are as set in their blinkered ways as the mega-computer that malfunctioned in the typically prescient episode of ‘The Prisoner’ warning of the dumbing-down of education titled ‘The General’, when No.6 simply punches the question ‘Why?’ into the machine and it blows a permanent fuse. The patronising expectation is that people of colour are supposed to think the way the Identity Politics police tell them to, so how does that explain Kemi Badenoch?

The former Minister for Women and Equalities is undoubtedly the sole intriguing contender in a rather tired and jaded list of runners and riders competing to replace Boris at No.10 – and not just because she’s something of an unknown to the majority of people outside of her Saffron Walden constituency. She launched her campaign early with an impressive piece in the Times a few days ago, and by hitting out at the cancelling culture of Identity Politics and the overreach of the State, she instantly connected with many way beyond the narrow confines of the Tory Shires whose favour she already seems to have won by standing a close second behind Penny Mordaunt in the poll amongst Party members on ConservativeHome. Unlike some of her fellow contenders who see no shame in being a ‘continuity candidate’ (surely the last thing the country needs), Badenoch looks forward whilst shrewdly avoiding alienating those members who still believe in the soon-to-be-ex-PM by describing Boris as ‘a symptom of the problems we face, not the cause of them’. She added that ‘What’s missing is an intellectual grasp of what is required to run the country in an era of increased polarisation, protectionism and populism amplified by social media’.

Badenoch made a key point when she wrote of how her vision of governing Britain ‘can achieve things despite entrenched opposition from a cultural establishment that will not accept the world has moved on from Blairism.’ Rishi Sunak, the bookies’ favourite, launched his own campaign in a slick manner all-too reminiscent of Blair, and the billionaire smoothie exuded an insincerity that wouldn’t make anyone looking to pick up a second-hand motor part with their pennies. He reminds me so much of a slippery estate agent and the argument that he has Cabinet experience due to his largely ineffective spell as Chancellor isn’t a good enough reason to make him PM. Badenoch has Cabinet experience too, and that’s more than either David Cameron or St Tony himself could boast when they took office. Okay, so she might have received the backing of Michael Gove, but we shouldn’t hold that against her. Anyway, a reminder of what she’s up against came via ‘working-class barrister’ and noted fox-killer Jolyon Maugham, who asked in a sneering tweet if the Tories would dare elect a ‘brown person’ as PM. Considering half of the four great offices of state have been occupied by ‘brown people’ during Boris’s tenure and his Cabinet has been the most racially diverse in history, why wouldn’t they?

Three of the contenders in this race – Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Sajid Javid – are in interracial marriages, further disrupting the narrative; and if you push the narrative that anyone non-white is an oppressed victim, then any person of colour who contradicts it by tearing up the rule book and transcending such restrictive boundaries by not acknowledging their place is fair game to be called an Uncle Tom, or – as was the case with the black Supreme Court judge who helped overturn the Roe Vs Wade ruling in the US – an ‘uppity ni****’, as he was labelled by an activist on Twitter. It’s like inserting the word ‘white’ into one’s description of a detested individual – and even the most otherwise seemingly sane people now do it – as though their whiteness is the cause of everything you hate about them, as though without that they’d be OK; therefore, for a person of colour to cross the Rubicon and see beyond colour is asking for it.

How will the Identitarian storm-troopers of the Left react if the next PM is a black woman and one with the ‘wrong opinions’ who has voiced the feelings of millions by saying out loud that people are sick and tired of being told what they can and can’t say? Badenoch already roused the Identitarian ire when she announced the ending of the disastrous ‘gender neutral’ toilet experiment in all new public buildings, so expect a storm.

When any prominent person of colour veers off-script, the Progressive reaction is the point at which virulent ‘antiracism’ merely exposes itself as straightforward racism. Minorities who have the wrong opinions and white people who aren’t prepared to self-flagellate in public as penance for their Original Sin – perfectly fine to apply racism to them, of course. Activists want the races to be educated separately in the US – Jim Crow, anyone? – and their segregationist ‘antiracism’ naturally extends to frowning upon the coming together of races by marriage. Someone calling herself ‘Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu’ tweeted in response to the news that Badenoch was running, ‘Her power grabbing ambition is rooted in discrediting & delegitimizing antiracism efforts, denying systematic racism’ – the bread & butter of race-baiting activism, of course – ‘whitewashing British Empire & enabling White supremacy against black people. She can crawl back into her mother.’

What we are seeing now is a long-overdue backlash against this kind of thinking, which has been allowed to run riot across all our institutions for far too long; and the backlash is not some far-right extremist movement; it’s ordinary, apolitical people of all colours and all genders who are sick to the back teeth of this Soviet-style mind control, weary of the constant policing of their speech. Take early noughties one-hit wonder Macy Gray, who aired a ‘controversial’ opinion on the trans issue, received the predictable vomit of online abuse and hatred and then hastily retracted her opinion and begged forgiveness as she claimed to be on ‘a learning curve’ (reminiscent of Keith Lemon a couple of years ago); she should never have apologised and bowed before our cultural Politburo in this way, for forgiveness and redemption are not elements of the religion – you give them the proverbial inch and they take more miles than The Proclaimers have ever walked. But we see this happening time and time again and people have had enough. Whether or not a long shot like Kemi Badenoch can arrest this by becoming PM is in the lap of the Conservative membership; but at the moment she seems like the only fresh apple in a fairly rotten barrel.

MICHAEL BARRATT (1928-2022)

Michael Barratt94 is certainly what used to be referred to as ‘a good innings’, and that’s the age that avuncular pair of safe childhood hands Michael Barratt made it to before exiting the stage a couple of days ago. As the anchor of ‘Nationwide’ for eight years, right from its beginning in 1969, gruff-voiced Barratt was the Harold Wilson lookalike who linked the country at teatime from his desk at Lime Grove, routinely swivelling around on his chair to face one of the monitor screens behind him and conducting a down-the-line interview with BBC studios from Bristol to Birmingham and from Norwich to Newcastle; vicars jumping over eggs, skateboarding ducks and beer-drinking snails were amongst the many regional attractions to receive national coverage and lead to the inevitable parodies on comedy shows such as ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’. Barratt wasn’t beyond sending himself up either, making a couple of memorable cameos in episodes of ‘The Goodies’ at the height of his status as a much-loved fixture of the television furniture in the 1970s. So ubiquitous was he in the middle of the decade that as a child I was even convinced it was him and not Lenny Bruce to be found with all the other famous faces on the cover of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Part of me still wishes it was.

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THEM’S THE BREAKS

Boris AgainGoing, going…not quite gone yet. Okay, so Boris has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party but remains Prime Minister until the Tories decide which of their multiple planks can succeed him. After having appointed a string of Ministers who seemingly only accepted their new jobs in order to tweet their resignation letters a couple of days later, Boris has encountered the same two-faced treachery that he suffered when Michael Gove stabbed him in the back six years ago; Chancellor of the Exchequer for 48 hours, Nadhim Zahawi spent his first day at the Treasury praising the PM and the next recommending that he resign, which is a novel way of expressing gratitude towards the man who promoted you to the post. Mind you, Zahawi is the former Under-Secretary of State for Vaccine Deployment who repeatedly stressed Covid passports were most definitely not on the agenda during the pandemic and then bigged-up their domestic introduction a few months later, so it’s not as though he doesn’t have a track record of this kind of behaviour.

One Twitter-user pointed out that the roll-call of resignations which appear to run on like the credits at the end of a movie highlighted the unwieldy, cumbersome size of Government; indeed, with so many previously-unknown politicians with previously-unknown job titles on the list, I half-expected to see the Minister of Silly Walks somewhere in there. Reminiscent of when his first administration was reduced to a minority courtesy of defections to the Remainer cause, the PM woke up to be confronted by so many members of his Party quitting their positions this morning that he would have struggled to find anyone to fill those posts even if he’d attempted to stay put. As it was, Boris was left with no real option but to go, a decision which he announced to the nation from the familiar Downing Street lectern at 12.30 this afternoon. But, like his immediate predecessor at No.10, Johnson will hang on in the job for a while after falling on his sword; he hopes to stay until the Conservative Conference in October, yet even someone who wanted to be PM as much as Boris surely won’t relish remaining that long when he knows all bar a handful of Ministers he appointed want him out now.

Then again, Boris had a thinly-veiled dig at those who drifted away from him in his resignation announcement. ‘As we’ve seen at Westminster,’ he said, ‘the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.’ After listing what he regarded as his achievements in office – Brexit, the vaccine rollout, support for Ukraine – he then momentarily acknowledged his disappointment at having to step aside. Referring to his failed attempt to persuade his colleagues it would be counterproductive to change leader midterm, he said, ‘I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’ He then added, ‘I know that there will be many people who are relieved, and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world.’

The breaking voice and crocodile tears that characterised the exits of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May weren’t present, yet it was evident to see in the PM’s body language that he was genuinely deflated at being forced to walk the plank. The third consecutive Prime Minister to quit without completing his term of office, Boris may have led the Tories to one of their greatest General Election victories in 2019, but he is undoubtedly the author of his own downfall. And it would appear the Chris Pincher affair was one scandal too far. Although the allegations that the Deputy Chief Whip sexually assaulted a couple of men when pissed out of his head at the Carlton Club dated from just over a week ago, it turned out Pincher had a history of bad behaviour of this nature, something Boris apparently knew of when he appointed the MP to the job. Of course, Boris being Boris he first publicly denied that he knew and was then forced to admit he’d known all along. But this was just another in a long line of lies and denials that have defined so much of his premiership from the pandemic onwards. He may have at least exhibited rare honesty when he said in response to those who wanted him to change his ways that he would not undergo a ‘psychological transformation’, and I suppose it was Boris’s inability to learn from his many mistakes and to imagine that he could bluster his way through every crisis by calling on his raffish charisma that in the end proved to be his undoing.

No doubt all those who abandoned Boris in his hour of need will be sickeningly singing his praises when he makes his final Commons appearance as PM, as they did with Theresa May three years ago; but such is the nature of the backstabbing beast. And one of them will emerge as Boris’s successor. At the time of writing the prospective contenders have yet to launch their respective campaigns, though the next few days will see a slew of hats being thrown into the ring. Out of Cabinet since Theresa May’s day, backbencher Jeremy Hunt would dearly love to succeed where he failed three years ago; and the two men whose resignations set this ball in motion, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, would also be favourites to run; despite being sacked by Boris last night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael bloody Gove having another go, even if he is a man extremely difficult to warm to; and one more Cabinet member who turned on the PM, Nadhim Zahawi, is also a possibility.

When it comes to Boris loyalists, I can imagine Liz Truss fancying her chances, though it’s interesting that the most popular contender amongst Conservative Party members is Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary whose memorably dim gung-ho warning to Putin wouldn’t fill the wider electorate with confidence re his capability for running the country. The YouGov poll that asked Tories to state their preferred candidate also threw up a surprise when it came to second favourite – former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, the Brexiteer Royal Navy reservist best remembered by the general public as a contestant on ITV’s short-lived reality series set in a swimming pool, ‘Splash!’. Mordaunt is sufficiently far enough to the right on some issues to satisfy traditional Tories and leans Woke-ward on others to satisfy the more ‘liberal’ wing; she’s also ahead of Rishi Sunak in the quoted poll. Priti Patel and Dominic Raab rank surprisingly low as contenders, but so far only Attorney General Suella Braverman has confirmed she intends to run, so we shall see how her fellow runners and riders fare over the coming weeks.

One of Boris’s predecessors Sir John Major has joined the chorus demanding it would be in the best interests of the country for him to go immediately rather than hanging on till October. However, the former PM is a long-standing critic of Johnson and re-emerged as the Ghost of Tory Past at the height the Brexit Wars to reaffirm his Europhile credentials; other voices calling for Boris to leave Downing Street as soon as possible do so from a politically beneficial perspective, such as Keir Starmer – though one wonders if Boris was Labour’s key Election asset in the same way Michael Foot was regarded by the Tories in 1983. A new leader who proves competent and potentially popular might present the Labour Party with a far stiffer test in 2024 than Bo-Jo. But today’s events are something for which Starmer has been praying for a long time, so it’s no great surprise he’s putting the boot in.

Let’s face it – Boris as PM was always going to be a gamble; it was highly likely he’d bugger it up once in office, for his main political skill always seems to have been to win every contest he enters; that’s what he’s good at, rather than carrying out the job he’s elected to. Nobody wanted the job more than him, and nobody is sorrier to walk away from it than him.

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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.

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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…

© The Editor

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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.

© The Editor

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