DAY AFTER DEJA VU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHO GIVES A S**T?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MASS DEBATING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ANOTHER FINE MESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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CREAM OF THE CRAP

I can’t quite decide if this reboot of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ is funnier than the original or if I’m laughing in all the wrong places, what with it having adopted the pseudo-documentary style of ‘The Thick of It’, a tactic which can throw the viewer. This week’s was a classic episode, however; in case you missed it, that rather implausible comic character called Boris had a blazing row with his girlfriend – though unbeknownst to him it was being recorded by a Remainer neighbour, who then flogged it to the Guardian! All kinds of hilarity ensued, with Boris, under pressure from his weedy workplace colleague Jeremy (the) Cunt, refusing to answer questions on the matter via the rib-tickling route of talking over whoever asked the question. Well worth a watch if you can locate it on the iPlayer.

I would say ‘but seriously’ if that didn’t seem out of kilter with the comedy narrative – but seriously, this would be a highly entertaining shit-show if there wasn’t so much at stake. With Michael Gove suspiciously edged out of the race, the sole obstacle between Boris Johnson and No.10 would appear to be Boris Johnson – and whilst Boris’s team are doing their best to present him as a responsible politician with a vision as they prepare for his coronation, there’s only so much they can control once the man himself is under the spotlight they’ve tried to keep him out of. At the same time, there are some unsurprisingly dirty tricks at play on both sides right now; the tactical voting that eliminated the man who destroyed Boris’s bid three years ago belatedly brought a touch of Westminster Dark Arts to proceedings.

Smarmy little troll he may well be, but Gove was the one contender who could have really gone for the jugular – and Boris’s team knew it. However, the convenient timing of last weekend’s developments has shown the Hunt camp is taking a sneakier approach. Knowing all-too well that Bo-Jo’s chaotic private life is as prone to gaffes as his public life, his enemies have probably been on stand-by ever since the race gathered pace, anticipating an incident that can then be weaponised as further evidence of Boris’s unsuitability for high office. They didn’t have long to wait. They received it thanks to the unique Neighbourhood Watch scheme in operation on Carrie Symonds’ street; and the added bonus of a ‘domestic abuse’ angle also gave the green light to opportunistic Opposition gobshites like Jess Phillips to accelerate the anti-Boris campaign.

However, simplifying the contest to a one-sided battle between the school swot and the school bully tends to obscure the ammunition that could be used by the favourite against the outsider. As a relatively loyal member of Mrs May’s far-from devoted Cabinet, Jeremy Hunt offers a similar ‘safe pair of hands’ option that the outgoing PM presented in 2016. But it says a lot about where we are now that Hunt’s shameful role in News Corporation’s attempted takeover of BSkyB back in 2011 – not to mention his far-from illustrious record as Health Secretary – has been barely mentioned by his opponent’s team, so confident of success that they haven’t even thought it necessary to hurl a few stones from their glass house. The irony is that Hunt has more than enough skeletons in his closet to keep them busy, and they may have to resort to them if the headlines continue to bring Boris’s numerous failings into focus.

Tony Benn’s wife Caroline once said that Prime Ministers generally fall into one of three categories: Pedestrians, Fixers or Madmen. What we know of both the former Foreign Secretary and the incumbent one suggests neither fits the middle description, so the choice would appear to be Pedestrian or Madman. A strong Opposition would have rendered the Tories’ squabbles irrelevant, mind; they’d be so far behind in the polls that a successful vote of no confidence in a no-deal Brexit Boris would trigger a General Election and throw the party out of office – giving Boris the shortest premiership in history, breaking the unenviable 119 days of George Canning in 1827 (though the duelling PM did have the excuse of his tenure being curtailed by death). But, of course, this isn’t a Labour Party led by Harold Wilson that can boast heavyweights of the calibre of Jenkins, Callaghan, Castle, Crosland, Healey, Benn and Foot; it’s Jezza’s frontbench of Watson, Starmer, Abbott and Thornberry. This is the team the Tories are so terrified of that they will back Boris at all costs. This is what it has come to.

Under normal circumstances, Bo-Jo presents any opponent with such an embarrassment of riches to use against him that the mere thought of him running for PM would be a non-starter from the off; under normal circumstances, he would never have got this far. But these are not normal circumstances. Lest we forget, three years ago a majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU; three years later, we still haven’t left. The ramifications of Brexit have now claimed two Prime Ministers and judging by Boris’s performance on the hustings, a third scalp is on the cards. After one disastrous dullard, the Conservative fear of a Corbyn Government will most likely avoid another and instead opt for a rogue – even if there’s more to it than a straightforward scrap with Mr Nice Guy on one side and Mr ‘I wouldn’t trust him with my wallet or my wife’ on the other.

Then again, it’s not as if we haven’t had rogues at No.10 before; the gallery of past Prime Ministers lining the wall beside the Downing Street staircase contains its fair share of reprobates even Boris Johnson would struggle to compete with. The Duke of Grafton (PM 1768-70) paraded his courtesan mistress around society whilst his wife the Duchess had a baby with her paramour; Lord Melbourne (PM 1834-41) had been married to Byron’s insane lover Lady Caroline Lamb and had himself been blackmailed in a sex scandal; and Lord Palmerston (PM 1855-65) was known to have fathered his own ‘love children’ as well as being cited in divorce proceedings. So, it’s fair to say we have been here before. But, certainly in the case of Palmerston, there was substantial substance beneath the superficial surface; can that honestly be said of a self-serving, ideological vacuum like Boris, whose track record in office is laughable?

By disregarding its traditional support systems and courting the favour of minority metropolitan causes, the political class on both sides has created the monster that is Boris, just as American Democrats created Trump. Whether Tories abandoning the small-c conservative shires or Labour doing likewise with the deindustrialised working-classes, this abandonment has had its ultimate expression in Brexit; the fact that, three bloody years on, we still haven’t moved proves the political class has learnt nothing. The impasse that is entirely of the political class’s making has given the kiss of life to Nigel Farage and is poised to make Boris f***ing Johnson Prime Minister. You reap what you sow, Westminster. It’s just a shame the rest of us will again have to pay for your wretched incompetence.

© The Editor

THE INFERIOR FIVE

I wonder if, when the ex-Iron Chancellor eventually ascends to that great No.11 in the sky, his headstone will read: ‘Gordon Brown – he agreed with Nick’? Ever since the inaugural 2010 Leaders’ Debate, it’s become obligatory for contenders in a party political contest to set out their respective stalls against each other for the electorate via the goggle-box, and there’s usually a specific moment that catches the electorate’s ear during a debate – even if, in the case of the Tory leadership pitches televised by BBC1 and Channel 4, most of us have no say in what happens next; these guys really are preaching exclusively to the converted. Yes, there was a Labour precedent three years ago when Owen Smith was pitted against Jeremy Corbyn in a ‘Question Time’ special as the former staged a hapless challenge to the latter’s leadership; but the number of participants in the Tories’ current competition has inevitably upped the ‘Apprentice’ ante, speaking a visual language familiar to the viewing public.

The first debate on Sunday served as a belated reminder of just how threadbare the Tory talent pool really is – and the contentious individual whose coronation seems a foregone conclusion didn’t even make an appearance. As entertainment, it was a bit like watching the political equivalent of one of those NME Poll Winners’ concerts from the mid-60s, albeit one in which The Beatles, Stones and Kinks had all pulled-out at the last minute, leaving the punters to make do with Freddie and the Dreamers, The Honeycombs and The Four Pennies (ask Paul Gambaccini). Deliberately leaving an empty lectern to emphasise the favourite’s no-show could have been even funnier had the director opted for a ‘HIGNFY’ Hattersley moment and placed a tub of lard on top of it; but the viewers probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference, anyway.

Of the inferior five who were helplessly hoping to chip away at Boris’s unassailable lead last Sunday, Dominic Raab reminds me of a wooden hunk from a daytime TV soap – the sort-of wife-cheating character who says things like ‘Ruth, I didn’t set out to hurt you’; whereas Jeremy Hunt resembles a smooth regional news magazine presenter, the kind the grannies always think is ‘lovely’. The strangely simian Rory Stewart looks like he’d be at his happiest playing in war games tournaments with his model soldiers, whilst I keep imagining Sajid Javid as a member of staff stationed on the aisles in Wilkos, the slightly gormless one a little over-eager to help when you can’t find where the loo rolls have been moved to. And then there’s the new pseudo-macho Michael Gove, who nevertheless never looks like anyone other than Michael Gove. God didn’t make two.

Jeremy Hunt’s ‘Where’s Boris?’ question halfway through the first debate was the first time any of the five mentioned the missing member, and the question almost sounded like a euphemism for an ill-timed fart, as though Hunt had accidentally released a Tommy Squeaker and used a Tory codeword to own-up; anyone whose father used to ask ‘Who’s let Polly out of prison?’ whenever a silent-but-deadly odour infected a car journey will get what I mean. Actually, maybe if the whole nation got into the habit of shouting ‘Where’s Boris?’ whenever a fart slipped out in company, the nation might become more of a One Nation in the process. But I think we’ve already passed that point now; we probably passed it when Harold Macmillan resigned in 1963.

The fact that such a tiny proportion of the electorate actually gets to vote in this particular contest leaves it a curiously meaningless spectacle for the rest of us – and on both the lectern incarnation and the Beeb’s ‘casual bar-stools’ version, it seemed as if the contestants were equally confused by their target audience. They each performed as they would during a General Election campaign, as though canvassing the entire nation for votes rather than the select few who’ll receive a ballot paper; moreover, the contenders often appeared to forget that in bemoaning the state of the nation they were actually trashing their own party’s record in government, not the opposition (despite Gove’s lone ‘Jezza-phobic’ howl). All emphasised the pitiful state of public services that many of them have been responsible for the pitiful state of, and all promised to wave a magic wand that all have kept well-hidden whilst endorsing the wrecking-ball that has helped make this country what it is over the past decade. Lest we forget, whoever gets the gig will inherit the same shambles that stitched-up their predecessor, so it’s not as if they can deliver any promises without a mandate of their own – and they’ll resist getting one for as long as they can because they’re terrified of calling a General Election they’re convinced they’ll lose.

The second debate dispensed with the first’s studio audience and instead had questions put by members of the public via a video screen; unfortunately, there was no moment comparable to that when a housewife riled Margaret Thatcher with an awkward inquiry about the Belgrano back on ‘Nationwide’ in 1983, though with one of the questions being put by a bearded chap representing a certain community, it was inevitable Emily Maitlis turned to Boris. Yes, with Raab the plank having been eliminated just a couple of hours before the BBC1 debate, his replacement was the man whose dominance in the first two ballots necessitated his appearance; I almost expected him to wait until the rest were assembled before descending to the stage on the zip-wire he famously hung from when promoting the 2012 London Olympics, but he didn’t, alas. The manner in which Boris’s propensity for putting his foot in it has been reduced by the simple tactic of turning him into Howard Hughes is certainly a bizarre approach for a man who will have nowhere to hide once he enters No.10. But Claudius finally has his chance to show a clown can become Caesar, and the luxury of mediocre competition means he can do so however he wants.

Viewing the BBC2 series on Margaret Thatcher these past few weeks has served as a reminder how politics used to be run by serious grownups; regardless of the still-divisive ideology at the heart of the Thatcher revolution – many elements of which remain open to question – there was at least a vision inherent in the rhetoric, even if its worst aspects are responsible for those vying for the top job in 2019. Had today’s template applied in the 1970s, the Tories would have been led by Sir Gerald Nabarro; Nabarro was the reactionary, racist buffoon with the handlebar moustache who had become a household name on account of the larger-than-life, comic toff he presented to the public. It’s fair to say he lacked certain qualities that were then regarded as essential to become a party leader. However, perhaps telling of the times, Nabarro’s character – midway between Jimmy Edwards and Colonel Blimp – was a complete fabrication, for he was actually the state-educated son of a shopkeeper. And that’s what would disqualify him today.

Acting out its existential crisis in public by presenting pitches to a public that cannot respond to them, the Conservative Party seems to be contradicting the stated aims of the leadership hopefuls to ‘bring the nation together’ by allowing us all to see how dysfunctional the party proposing to do so really is. In publicly attempting to outshine not opponents from other political parties, but fellow Tory MPs and (in most cases) Cabinet colleagues, the contenders underlined just how David Cameron’s suspension of collective responsibility in 2016 has now become the norm. But at least the Tories are an accurate barometer of the disunited kingdom as it currently stands rather than a source of optimism for an imaginary united future.

© The Editor

URBAN MYTHOLOGY

Whilst the majority of last week’s D-Day anniversaries were fitting tributes to those who fought them on the beaches, it was inevitable a degree of nostalgia – even for such dark days – would creep into the commemorations. In the case of the Second World War, we have the comforting hindsight of a happy ending, which participants were denied at the time; but nostalgia – whether for the War via ‘Dad’s Army’ or talking-heads TV celebrating more recent cultural epochs – is a romantic electric blanket that is at its warmest when the chilly present seems to lack certainties. There don’t appear to be any certainties at all right now, and nobody has any idea what comes next other than predicting the worst. By contrast, the past is a benevolent piece of furniture we can curl up in and know where we are.

That said, distance sometimes enables us to discern jewels that were hidden when we were busy living in the past – as Jethro Tull once perhaps pointed out. For example, I’d only have to glance at a handful of posts on here from 2016 to come to the conclusion that 2016 was a terrible year – yet, from my own personal 2019 perspective, I can now see it was one of the happiest times of my life. If anything, this serves as a salient lesson to enjoy what one has whilst one has it instead of waiting for it to be claimed by nostalgia and the belated appreciation that is tinged with wistful regret. But I digress.

When watching the 60s/70s drama ‘Public Eye’ recently, it was telling that, amidst the inevitable presence of so many elements of British life long since gone, a particular plotline caught my eye: Lead character Frank Marker moves from one town to another and has to make an appointment to meet the man who is now his bank manager in order that his account can be transferred from his old branch to his new one. Despite Reg Varney making history with his inaugural withdrawal in 1967, hole-in-the-wall cash machines were hardly a fixture on every street corner through the 1970s, if at all. Alfred Burke’s character couldn’t simply relocate elsewhere and continue to withdraw money from anywhere he happened to be – neither could he manage his financial affairs himself online; all of his payments were physical and if he wanted to invest or withdraw, he needed to go to an actual building and make the exchange over the counter by engaging with a fellow human being.

In a week in which I witnessed the doors of yet another neighbourhood bank branch close for good, this scene from ‘Public Eye’ also reminded me how that mainstay of 70s sitcom jokes, the bank manager, was once an office almost on a par with the local vicar, GP or police constable in terms of ‘civic dignitaries’; they no doubt still count for something in Ambridge, but in urban areas the bank manager is virtually an extinct species. If you, like me, reside in an urban area, you won’t have a bank manager either – nor do you probably know a vicar, a copper or even a GP, at least if your experience of the impersonal surgeries in which a different doctor dispenses medication every time you visit is anything like mine.

In most cases, the clout such professions carried has gone because the environment that elevated them has gone. The absence of belonging that many in an alienating metropolis feel can partly be traced back to the point where the strands of benign authority that helped bind communities together became frayed and then snapped; from village elder to local squire to Sgt Dixon, the people required at least one go-to figure to resolve their disputes. Even if they still do, those figures aren’t around anymore; and, anyway, if authority equates with age, the village elder is most likely now rotting away in a care home. We can’t rely on the police to come running when we dial 999, we can’t get an appointment to see a GP, and our bank no longer has a branch on the high-street. Even if you favour collectivism, you’d be hard pushed to generate it in such a fragmented landscape.

The old concept of community, in which everyone had a part to play and a function to perform, had developed from the village roots of towns and had in turn arisen from ancient tribal divisions of labour; in those parts of the world where the literal meaning of ‘tribe’ still applies, one tends to find these roles remain intact and crucial to the community’s survival. In the west, where communities had grown through being supported and sustained by one specific industry, a sense of place was strong in a way that – following the subsequent black hole of underinvestment since the industry’s collapse – has been rendered utterly redundant. A town’s residents can connect with someone on the other side of the world but might not necessarily know a single person living on their street.

Today, community can be more of abstract concept, often equating with identity; the general trend is for the rejection of shared common ground in favour of individual separateness. Even when people defined by their differences or ‘diversity’ are quick to gather in a facsimile of community, their emphasis on individuality precludes genuine community, hence the endless splitting into endless subdivisions of every community based around identity, underlining how diversity can diversify to the point whereby nobody has anything in common anymore. The 21st century incarnations of the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front are permanently engaged in social media spats that make unity seem like something people only did in the old days. We receive a tantalising taste of it when we pause to commemorate lives lost in conflicts that required unity to succeed; but the fact that WWII will soon cease inhabiting living memory to join the Napoleonic Wars as mere history keeps it firmly in the context of the past.

Politicians being, of course, the cynical old manipulators of the public mood that they instinctively are, sell themselves to the electorate by appealing to the craving for community as it used to be. The pitches of the wretched hopefuls vying to become the new Tory leader (and, unfortunately, Prime Minister) are crammed with fatuous references to ‘bringing the nation together’ as they line-up like a bunch of vacuous suits to be sneered at by Alan Sugar. The fact that they all appear to be falling over each other to see who can produce the best drug-taking anecdote is a bizarre development that could be viewed as either an attempt to appear human (not easy for a Conservative MP) or to pre-empt any dirty digging on the part of their opponents. Personally, my opinion of Michael Gove has not changed one iota now that I know he snorted coke 20 years ago; and to be honest, if I was married to Sarah Vine I’d probably be permanently off my tits on mushrooms, seeing that as the only viable means of achieving domestic bliss.

Understandably, one response to this strange rash of substance abuse confessions from the kind of people you really don’t want to picture snorting or skinning-up has been accusations of hypocrisy. For decades, the Conservative Party has repeatedly opposed any grownup discussions on the antiquated drugs laws and has constantly played the finger-wagging nanny against anyone daring to recreationally indulge. Then again, this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach that the current confessions appear to emphasise is perhaps especially grating because it sounds so parental, albeit emanating from the most uncaring and irresponsible parents imaginable. If we need our village elders today, Westminster is not the village where we’ll find them.

© The Editor