How much longer can the greased piglet run…?

Boris Johnson, long known as the greased piglet of British politics thanks to his ability to escape difficulties, is more of a slippery old hog nowadays, not so quick but still in his fattened state able to wriggle free.

His latest piglet-squeak swerve comes with the Met Police announcement that the partygate inquiries are finished, and he will not face another fine.

Downing Street, where it is said that Johnson works, has been handed 126 fines for law breaches on eight occasions, with 53 fixed-penalty notices for men and 73 to women.

Civil servants and special advisers who attended the same events as Johnson have been fined, but once again he has slipped through hands that would hold him to account. They were fined for being there and he was not (although he has an existing fine).

How did the Met plod their way to this decision? Was Johnson given one fine just to avoid accusations of favouritism but no more because he is Boris Johnson? All those parties, all those fines; and the lathered culprit slips away again.

The usual exceptionalism; rules for everyone else, a greased exit for the man in charge. Those civil servants and advisers are reported be pissed off and puzzled, especially the younger ones who did what they thought was right in owning up, only to find they’d been dumped in the Downing Street cesspit, while the higher-ups shut the door and walked away.

The Met’s late decision to investigate the partygate claims scuppered the report from the senior civil servant Sue Gray, which should have been out in January. She’d been about to deliver her findings, but the Met asked her to hold back, so she was confined to a hasty summary.

This suited Johnson’s game-plan of hoping everyone forgives and forgets or at least forgets; forgiveness will be too much for anyone who obeyed the rules at great personal cost, only to find that the man in charge had little intention of sticking by his own rules.

He wanted us to be bored with all of this, and perhaps we are. But if Sue’s Gray report had come out when it was meant to, its impact would have been greater.

Any why should the prime minister get away with things just because we become bored? The same way we weary of the details of all the terrible things this government does because details are trying and concentration takes effort, and we cannot be bothered to pay attention. What other explanation can there be?

Is Johnson now free from the partygate scandal? The Gray report should reveal a fuller picture of those law-breaking parties at Number 10, and a cross-party investigation is yet to decide if he knowingly misled parliament when he denied any rules were broken in Downing Street.

What if, say, more photographs were to emerge, perhaps showing Johnson at one of the parties with a bottle in hand? Such pictures surely exist, and maybe one of the fined minions or aides will let one slip out.

Perhaps Johnson will squeal away one more time, but people are tiring of his fake-bumbler bluster, they are turned off by his sense of entitlement. As times get tough, a self-entitled greased piglet grown large will look even more out of place; won’t he? I do hope so.

 

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The real Got Brexit Done slogan… and working from home…

“Got Brexit done” was quite the slogan from Boris Johnson, although here is a longer version…

“Got a half-arsed Brexit half done and it’s all Europe’s fault folks and who cares about Northern Ireland anyway and what if I did lend my squiggle to that deal without reading a word (have you seen how long those agreements are?) and don’t go listening to that reporter on Channel 4 News who asked me about the Northern Ireland Protocol and said “You must be furious with whoever signed up to a deal that bad” as I’ll be sure to get Channel 4 done in now along with the lefty BBC and yes I conned Northern Ireland about not putting a border in the Irish Sea and now there is one but don’t blame me and the only reason you don’t know what a rank idea Brexit was is that most of the newspapers are in my pocket and are happy to go on blaming Europe for my every wrong and what did you expect when you voted for a jobbing right-wing columnist to run the country?”

Not so snappy, but what’s so great about three-word slogans anyway?

We got done in, there a four-word one.

If you have spotted a single benefit of Brexit, do let me know. I have emptied my pockets and my wallet and still cannot find a thing.

Still, at least Boris Johnson Got Brexit Done, apart from all those loose ends leaping about like live wires hanging from the ceiling where a light used to be. Don’t touch that switch…

 


Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Minister for Bigging Up All That Brexit Bollocks or something, but he can’t be that busy as mostly he is going around preaching about how no-one should be working from home, especially not his civil serfs.

This is quite something from the man who is literally working from the 18th century.

A photograph in a newspaper, the Telegraph probably but don’t hold my feet to the wood-burning stove, showed his desk and there wasn’t a computer in sight, just piles of quill pens or something.

My inner editor observes that I have just written “or something” twice (er, three times now, inner ed) but what do you expect when trying to understand the point of man like Rees-Mogg who to me always looks like a pall bearer with us in the coffin.

Boris Johnson gave a ridiculous interview to the Daily Mail the other day that touched on working from home. In this he blathered about how his experience is that “you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing”.

I never agree with a word that man says, but I’ll give him the cheese. And the coffee. Although after more than two years at home, I have padlocked the cheese box.

The pandemic changed plenty about work, and for many people it showed that working from home was achievable, pleasant, and efficient. The idea that people at home only put in half the effort, as assorted government ministers like to suggest, is not my experience.

Still, it’s not for everyone – and not an option for many. If I was young and starting out, rather than walking that last mile, I would rather be in an office. I used to enjoy office life but now I am a home office bird (too much home, too much cheese until I told myself off).

Perhaps WFH is just another convenient bogeyman. There is always someone to blame. Or something (that’s four times now…).

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Starmer’s honesty ploy and the Mail’s malicious amnesia…

DO you think the editor of the Daily Mail suffers from malicious amnesia? I only ask because to believe one day’s headlines, you must first forget what you read the day before.

The Mail has been running a demented ‘campaign’ about Sir Keir Starmer allegedly having a bottle of beer with a takeaway curry in Durham while working at a local meeting. All known about and the police weren’t interested, until the paper resurrected this zombie story in the run-up to last week’s local elections and flogged its sorry corpse back to life.

Day after day, the Mail went after Starmer, following pressure from one Tory MP. The aim was clear: to muddy the waters before the local elections, and to foster a sense that all politicians were as bad as each other, and thus to let Boris Johnson off the hook over Partygate.

This endless ranting ­ended with Durham police re-opening their inquiry into Labour’s curry night, an announcement made on the evening of the poll results, seemingly timed to deflect from the party’s decent, if not brilliant, showing at the polls.

As the Met Police had earlier suspended news of more Partygate fines to go alongside those already imposed on Johnson and Rishi Sunak until after the elections, you can’t help feeling the police are being awfully helpful to the Conservatives.

Yesterday, Starmer, who denies breaking Covid-19 restrictions, said he would resign if he was fined. And that’s when the Mail’s malicious amnesia struck again.

On the twelfth day of Beergate (oh, god, can’t we get away from shoving ‘gate’ on every scandal ­­– Watergate happened 50 years ago), the Mail frothed that Starmer was “under intense pressure to say whether he would resign if he was fined for breaking Covid rules”.

He declined to comment that night, but yesterday, on the 13th day of Mail ranting, Starmer answered the question he was told to answer the day before by saying that he would resign if fined. And the Mail accused him “of putting deeply inappropriate pressure on the police”.

He answered the very question they demanded he answer, and then they were cross about his answer to the question they said he had to answer.

Guys, make your minds up.

There is a long and ignoble tradition of certain newspapers attacking Labour relentlessly. This is far from being something that only Jeremy Corbyn had to endure, although that’s an old story now.

What seems different here is that the Mail has gone on and on about so-called Beergate purely to distract from Boris Johnson’s sins over Partygate. This is not loyalty to the Conservatives but blind fidelity to Johnson, whatever he does and however he carries on.

The Downing Street parties, of which we will eventually learn more, occurred various times and 100s seem to have been invited – and they happened when Johnson was ordering everyone else to stick to the rules. They are not the same as a working curry night when such gatherings were allowed.

Yet the BBC has been happy to let the Mail set the political agenda by cravenly reporting every twist and turn of Beergate. That’s why the Mail pursued this story, to chuck mud until some stuck. Still, it’s not only the Mail as these cut-out-keep examples of hypocrisy from the Sun show…

That malicious amnesia is catching.

As for Starmer’s honesty ploy, it’s the noble thing to do on one level, but will that blubbery lack of moral fibre known as Boris Johnson pay any heed to such an upright ploy? Nope, not a chance.

Then again, perhaps we should be paying more attention to this headline from the Guardian yesterday: “More than 2m adults in UK cannot afford to eat every day, survey finds.”

That truly is shocking, and yet here we all are prattling on about beer and parties.

So long as Starmer stays, and mostly I hope he does, he needs to create good and positive reasons for people to vote Labour.

Just opposing this awful government – I’ve seen a few and this one is easily the worst – is not enough. He needs to provide attractive reasons to vote, to get people talking about Labour’s ideas. To show some ideological vim, rather than tutting from the touchline. And don’t tell me he needs to be more  like Jeremy Corbyn. That man is one of the reasons we are stuck with the horror show that is Boris Johnson.

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The world as glimpsed through two headlines…

HERE are headlines from two of our national newspapers. Don’t read them while holding anything precious, as they may make you want to throw things.

First up is The Times with its splash yesterday about the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Stephen Toope, saying private schools must accept they will get fewer pupils into Oxbridge.

“Privately educated to lose places at Oxbridge” runs the headline, the implication being that the privileged darlings are being cheated out of their ancient right to attend the top universities, get all the best jobs, and run/ruin the country. A right granted by being born to parents who are wealthy enough to foot the bill.

This is, on one level, how private education works: the school asks for lots of money on the implicit understanding that your child will be put in the fast lane to everything. It’s also how money works, with the better-off state-educated pupils more likely to end up at Oxford and Cambridge than their less wealthy classmates.

Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but only a bit more complicated. After all, the editor of The Times could have chosen this as a headline: “State educated to win more places at Oxbridge.”

Perhaps everyone is waiting for the results of that great national social experiment that only men who have been to Eton (£45,000 a year, plus an acceptance fee of £3,200 ­– that’s if this old grammar schoolboy understands the school’s website) are allowed to be prime minister.

I think you’ll agree that this experiment is going splendidly.

Here is the next headline, from today’s Daily Mail.

“PM: RWANDA PLAN AT RISK FROM LEFT-WING LAWYERS.”

Ah, isn’t that just what they always wanted – headlines about ‘lefty-lawyers’ stopping ‘what the people want’. It’s almost as if this wasn’t so much a serious policy as an invitation to a scrap.

Still, it makes a change from four days of headlines – count them, four whole days – of non-stories about Sir Keir Starmer having a takeaway curry and a beer with colleagues in Durham.

The only reason there isn’t a fifth such story today, at a guess, is because of the ‘purdah’ rules that apply during elections. There are no local elections where I live, but they are taking place widely.

For the media, these rules generally prevent political reporting on the day of an election, and sometimes for the pre-election period too, although the Mail story quoted above is surely political in a wider sense.

Interestingly, this expression is falling out of favour due to its colonial ring. Originally, according to the Cambridge dictionary, purdah refers to “the custom, found in some Muslim and Hindu cultures, of keeping women from being seen by men they are not related to…”

Government departments are now asked to use the rather vague “a period of sensitivity”. Such careful language fits with a general need for consideration, and that’s good, but tellingly it takes four words to replace one.

We are all woke nowadays, and you won’t hear a complaint from me about that. According to a poll mentioned by last Sunday’s Observer, I am not alone in this. Conducted for the Global Future thinktank, this poll found that four in five people are happy to be considered as woke. That is, they are happily alive to issues of race and social justice.

Yup, wake me up and call me woke.

Woke me up before you go-go.

It seems there are more of us woke types than the Daily Mail realises.

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A few thoughts on that Mail on Sunday story…

“Boris Johnson condemns misogyny” is quite the story and one to send the irony needle crazy.

It took the Johnson-supporting Mail on Sunday to bring about this feat. The paper’s political editor Glen Owen reported that unnamed Tory MPs believe deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner distracts Boris Johnson in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs like a character in the film Basic Instinct.

You can almost imagine Johnson giving his stupid thumbs-up sign to that one, until he realised that the newspaper was being attacked from all sides. Instead, he burbled that the report was “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe”.

Johnson also threatened to unleash “the terrors of the earth” if the source of the comments were identified. I never knew those were his to command, although the errors of the earth are another matter.

Never mind quoting King Lear, you can’t help wondering if Johnson has himself played the role of King Leer more than a few times. As suggested by when he was campaigning in 2005 and said: “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.”

Hatred and hostility directed at women is something many people from all parties know is rife in our politics. And the Mail on Sunday’s snooty, nasty, and frankly pathetic story backs up this sorry thesis.

Angela Rayner told ITV this morning that she was “crestfallen” by the story. She also said the attack on her was “steeped in classism” and implied she was thick.

A round of sarcastic applause, please, for the anonymous Tory MP who was quoted as saying: “She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training.”

And there was me thinking that Boris Johnson has all the oratorical debating skills of dustbin (while often sounding as if he is shouting from inside one).

Politics is still too often a boys’ game, and a posh boys’ game at that. And being allowed to make sneery, common-room remarks about female politicians while keeping your own name out of the papers is all part of that game.

There are many shades to this story. Let’s sketch a few with a blunt old pencil.

Boris Johnson may have condemned the Mail on Sunday report, but what he doesn’t point out is that the Mail, as it always does nowadays, was just doing his dirty work. Johnson did not ask for that story to be printed, but he seems untroubled by the existence of such ridiculously partisan reporting.

These days the Mail seems to have moved from supporting the Conservatives to blindly backing Boris Johnson, whatever damn fool thing he says or does.

The use of anonymous sources is often a curse in political reporting. It allows any story to be floated without calling on a single provable fact or named person. This is wrong on at least two counts.

One, people will say anything if there is no chance of comeback, which is why those anonymous Tories seem happy to blather about Angela Rayner’s legs. I am guessing here, but surely not one Tory MP would have put their name to that misogynist memo to the Mail.

Two, how do we know a word of it is true? We don’t. If a quote is anonymous, it could easily have been composed to fit the chosen agenda.

Sources in political reports – and this is something I bored on about when lecturing in journalism ­ – should have to be named unless there is a sound reason for not doing so. And the only good reason is that anonymity protects a source from potential harm.

It shouldn’t be there to protect them from people pointing and saying, “Oh, so you’re that twit who told the Mail on Sunday about Angela Rayner’s legs…”

And double congrats to Boris Johnson and culture secretary Nadine Dorries for composing the same tweet about this (spooky or what?).

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Another sorry-not-sorry turn from Johnson… and the cruelties of the Rwanda plan…

The Daily Mail has sneaked into my consciousness again. I only ever see the front page, but maybe that’s enough to leave a stain.

Today’s edition has a blurb asking where readers stand on the great debate dividing Britain.

This is not the morally knotty one about whether the prime minister is a flagrant liar and a scoundrel who broke his own Covid rules, got fined by the Met over partygate, and had yesterday to drag his sorry arse to the Commons to say sorry-not-sorry yet again.

No, this is the ‘shoes off indoors’ debate, one that seems to have passed me by.

Johnson is nowhere to be seen on the Mail’s front page, although his muddy footprints are all over the other papers. The Mail’s loyalty to Johnson knows no bounds. A bit like those ministers who are sent to clean up after their boss while carrying a big shovel and telling lies to cover up his lies, while heading ever deeper into a fabricator’s maze with nothing at its centre.

Johnson says sorry all the time these days without ever appearing to be sorry at all. What’s telling is what came next.

Once he was out of the Commons, Johnson met his MPs, and immediately went into typically combative mode, laying into the BBC and two archbishops for ‘misconstruing’ his plans to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, preached at the weekend that the policy was “the opposite of the nature of God”. His counterpart in York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, said he was “appalled” by the plan, adding: “I think we can do better than this.”

I am not sure what the BBC did wrong, other than reporting what the archbishops had said.

A man without religion approaches archbishops with caution, and sometimes a sharp stick. But the churchmen are right on this terrible, inhumane, duplicitous plan.

Nothing was being misconstrued here.

What the government wants to do, in a shoddy deal stitched up by home secretary Priti Patel against the advice of her most senior civil servant, is to fly some asylum seekers to Rwanda. From where, reportedly, they will not be allowed to return.

The argument for this bizarre idea is that it will cut dangerous Channel crossings, although how that might work is anybody’s guess.

Incidentally, to tap into the warped logic used to excuse this policy, the home secretary insists that if you can afford to pay for a crossing, then you have money and don’t need to come to Britain.

What a disgrace. One of the richest countries in the world is passing the buck to one of the poorest, sending desperate people to Rwanda on a one-way ticket.

Would such an idea even work? Here is the view of that noted complaining lefty, Theresa May ­– “I do not support the removal to Rwanda policy on the grounds of legality, practicality and efficacy.”

And that from the architect of the hostile environment policy that spawned the Windrush scandal.

Of course, the Rwanda plan may never happen, and it may be just the latest diversionary tactic in the endless culture wars, another nasty squabble in the basement. It’s quite possible that what Johnson wants is for this scheme to be dragged through the courts, allowing him to rant and puff about “lefty lawyers” and “the people’s priorities”.

Ah, the people.

Many people volunteered to take in Ukrainian refugees, only to find that the system was bogged down with cruel bureaucracy. The enthusiasm to help suggests a country that is more open to migrants and asylum seekers than our own government likes to believe. As that man of York said, we are better than this.

Boris Johnson wants to appeal to our lesser nature, and the way to stop that is to be better than him. Not that it’s much of a moral yardstick.

As for those shoes, downstairs wear is allowed as we have hard floors, but shoes are removed before ascending the stairs.

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The prime minister wriggles but his repentance doesn’t go deep… and the greedy joys of Stanley (Tucci, not Johnson)

I see the Daily Mail has got on its old rocking horse to defend Boris Johnson after he was fined for attending a lockdown birthday party in Downing Street. They may have to clamber up there again as 12 such parties are being investigated by the Met, quite a few said to have been attended by their disreputable hero.

“Don’t they know there’s a war on?” grumbles the Mail’s headline, like something found in a dusty drawer last opened in 1940.

The subheading above contains the words as “the Left howls for resignations…”

Oh, get off that rocking horse you picked up at the culture wars jumble sale. This has nothing to do with left and right, and everything to do with a prime minister and his cabinet making very strict rules for everyone else during a pandemic, then being caught out having parties while ignoring the strictures everyone else stuck to, sometimes at great personal anguish, with people left unable to visiting dying loved ones.

As for the war in Ukraine, that represents an appalling afront to life and liberty, but a smaller affront is to be found in the way Johnson has grasped this conflict as a something to hide behind, another distraction in a political career littered with convenient diversions and colleagues too willing to provide alibies.

The only reason we don’t talk about the disastrous Brexit he lumbered us with is that the pandemic came along and got in the way. The only reason we don’t talk about the pandemic mistakes he made is that people grew tired, and then the war came along.

Some praised Johnson for visiting Kyiv last weekend to meet Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Zelensky. And it was good to see him there, but you can’t escape the suspicion that however grave the occasion, Johnson will be making personal calculations.

And lo and behold, as the news emerges that he and the Chancellor, Fishy Sunak, had been fined for attending Downing Street parties, members of the cabinet tweet with one voice, praising Johnson’s stance on the war and the pandemic efforts he and Sunak made.

Just like one of those Russian bots, only with a human face. Sorry, strike that – human might be pushing it a bit. But there they all were, arse-licking posts at the ready, with culture wars secretary Nadine Dorries first in line.

It’s always like this in Johnson-land, make a noise, confuse people, bluster and blow, and hope no-one remembers, hope they overlook the unnecessary deaths and the Covid-19 deals done with friends of the Tories; hope they overlook, too, that Sunak wrote off £4.3 billion in furlough fraud – just as he was cutting social benefits and staying shtum about his wife’s tax arrangements.

As Johnson becomes the first UK prime minister to be convicted of breaking the law, do we accept his apology or dismiss this latest bit of sorry-not-sorry as just another dollop of fake contrition.

Perhaps enough people will believe that there are more important matters to worry about right now. And perhaps there are, but none of this should be allowed to go away. Just imagine if a Labour government was in this mess. The hostility from the newspapers would be relentless.

I’d love to see Johnson go as his continued presence is a stain on our national life, but if people are credulous enough to swallow his endless lies and evasions, we are stuck with the dreadful man until his own MPs turn against him.

The US actor Stanley Tucci is the world’s least likely glutton, staying as slim as a whisper while he eats everything in sight, declaring somewhat theatrically “Oh my god!” as he takes another mouthful of Italian grub.

Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy is on the BBC iPlayer and I am doubtless late to the party, but it’s a great programme, a foodie travelogue like those Rick Stein Cornwall programmes or the Hairy Bikers chomping their way through the north.

The scenery is lovely, the food looks amazing, and Tucci charms everyone he meets while tucking into everything in sight. My wife is a big fan. She likes Stanley as he reminds her a little of the man she is married to, being small, bald, and devilishly attractive (well, two out of three isn’t bad).

 

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Without knowing a thing, no-nothing Nadine sets about selling off Channel 4…

YOU won’t find much praise round here for Margaret Thatcher, but one exception is the way she shaped Channel 4.

In 1982, Thatcher’s Conservative government, never my favourite, did one good thing in establishing Channel 4 to create an independent television production sector in the UK. Now her descendants want to rip up what their heroine once helped to create.

As former channel boss Dorothy Byrne reminds us…

“Unlike the BBC or ITV, it was not to make any of its own programmes, not even its flagship Channel 4 News. All over the UK, independent companies sprang up to make its content. In the 40 years since, they have made billions of pounds – not just for themselves but also for Britain, selling their wares around the world. And, unlike the BBC, they have spoken with many voices, bringing diverse and radical ideas to the fore which had barely been heard before in mainstream broadcasting…” (The Guardian, April 5, 2022).

Having floated the idea of this sell-off, the government sought wider opinion and 90% of those who responded were against the idea. But Boris Johnson’s know-nothing government still wants to go ahead with this destructive act, more red meat for the baying right-wingers in his party.

The latest announcement fell to the never knowingly over-prepared culture secretary Nadine Dorries.

You may recall that Dorries polished her know-nothing credentials last November when she appeared before a select committee of MPs and claimed that Channel 4 is “in receipt of public money”.

No, No Nadine. Channel 4 is funded from advertising, taking no money from the public coffers, and ploughing all its income into making more programmes. A sound and sensible arrangement.

You might have thought the culture secretary should know that, but Dorries blundered across the rutted acres of her own ignorance with barely a blush.

Much like that time she stumbled into a meeting with Microsoft and reportedly asked the company when it was going to “get rid of its algorithms”.

One theory behind the reason for this sale is that Johnson took against Channel 4 when he was replaced by a melting ice sculpture after he declined to attend an election debate about climate change.

Day after grubby day, that discredited man pulls us down.  Never overlook his pettiness; never forget the bite beneath the bluster.

As for Dorries, she believes that “government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.

Back again to Dorothy Byrne…

“Channel 4 is not there to compete with Netflix and Amazon. It is there to provide public service programming which promotes discussion and debate.”

Dorries also says that the profits from any sale could be ploughed back into “creative training” and into independent production companies. Er, the very companies who already make all the programmes for Channel 4 and whose existence is threatened by this utterly pointless sell-off.

Comparing Channel 4 to Netflix is meaningless – and conveniently overlooks that the streaming giant has a reported debt of £11.8bn, next to Channel 4’s debt of, ahem, nothing.

And you will be looking for a long time before you spot a Netflix reporter on the ground in Ukraine or anywhere else. Channel 4 News is often the strongest news service around, braver than the BBC and more willing to explore un-furrowed ground.

Smashing up the unique structure of Channel 4 so that it can be flogged off to a private company will threaten rather that secure its future. Just imagine if Murdoch got hold of it.

These are just the thoughts of one man sitting on a ledge. Here are the thoughts of others, including a Tory or two, as aired on Twitter…

 

 

 

 

And a final word from me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fuck it up.

 

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Wokey-wokey with Dominic Raab… and weaponising fed-upness…

I see that Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and part-time deputy prime minister, is out to get ‘wokery’.

It’s all about free speech, he says. Which is funny as that man is never free to speak in my house. Soon as Raab is announced, the radio goes off quicker than Boris Johnson can find a sticky lie in his pocket or down a drink at a party that never happened.

It might help if anyone knew what wokery was. It’s all so handily vague in a sinister, lame conspiracy way, a making of something from nothing much. A good guess might be “liberal-minded stuff right-wing people sitting on barstools won’t let pass without a grumble”.

A while ago in this blog, I was trying to sort this out for my mother, who is 90 but still likes to know things.

“We have been wondering what woke means. Can you tell us!”

The answer I came up with was: “It started in the US as a way of describing liberal people who are sensitive about how others feel. Now it’s been turned around as an insult for liberals. It’s basically become a lazy shorthand used by right-wingers to be rude about anyone who disagrees with them.”

Raab wants to replace Labour’s Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights. He told the Daily Mail that free speech was being “whittled away” by “wokery and political correctness”.

Ah, it’s always a good rule of ink-stained thumb that whenever anyone uses the phrase “political correctness”, they have lost whatever argument they are trying to bundle out of their mouth.

It’s the old blues singers I feel sorry for. “I woke up this morning…” Raab will be on them in an intemperate flash, that vein in his forehead throbbing away – “You can’t say that – it’s political correctness gone mad.”

What Raab seemingly wants to do is encourage free speech by stopping people saying things he doesn’t like. It’s all very confusing. You might almost wonder if he doesn’t want free speech at all ­– just the freedom for people like him to say what they want, and for other people to just shut up.

On one level this is plain silly, yet on another it is sinister as it weaponises grumbling, turning a vague sense of dissatisfaction with life into a hard grudge.

This is what Donald Trump did with all that Make America Great Again nonsense, tapping into people’s fed-upness as a useful source of voting capital, without ever wishing to change anything.

Trump stirred the well of grumbling sourness, that sense that “something isn’t right” or that “they” (that usefully capacious general enemy) don’t want us to know or do certain things and stood back with a nasty smile on his face.

The tyrannical Vladimir Putin has weaponised wanting to Make Russia Great Again in a tragically literal way – by pursuing his needless colonial vendetta against Ukraine, while trying to hide the war he is waging from his own people.

And over here, Make Britain Great Again was the corrupt call behind Brexit, again tapping into dissatisfaction and making grand promises that could not and will not be fulfilled. All so that Boris Johnson could be prime minister.

It’s probably woke to point out that Johnson hiding behind someone else’s war as a way of deflecting his own inadequacies is hardly a fine look. His supporters say he has been leading the western world over Ukraine, which seems to be a stretch. Also, any notion that he is having a “good war” is just too morally shoddy for words.

Johnson wants us all to forget about ‘partygate’, to let slip from our minds the Covid-19 rules broken by those who set them. So, what did he do yesterday as police issued the first fines over partygate? He threw a big party in a hotel for Tory MPs, that’s what.

Oh, and that Human Rights Act Dominic Raab wants to remove. No need to worry about that. It’s only full of woke notions such as the right to life; freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; freedom from slavery and forced labour; the right to a fair trial; the freedom of thought, belief and religion, and of expression, too.

All that and lots more wokery. Look it up. It’s quite a list.

Wokey-wokey footnote: Interviewed on Sky News by Kay Burley, Raab said the Prime Minister had told the truth “to the best of his ability”. Is it just me or does that sound like a perfect euphemism for lying? Or was Raab admitting that Johnson just isn’t very good at telling the truth?

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The unfolding tragedy in Ukraine… Boris Johnson mouths off… listening to Rachmaninov…

WHENEVER Boris Johnson says something regrettable, another minister is sent out to clear up the mess, like a zookeeper trailing after an incontinent baby elephant.

This morning it was Sajid Javid’s turn to carry the slopping bucket.

The health secretary was valiant in his insistence that Johnson had not just made a direct comparison between the fight for freedom in Ukraine and the vote for Brexit.

To which the impatient bystander can only squeal: wash your ears out, mate – that is precisely what he did say at the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool.

Should you have been fortunate enough to have missed the words that tumbled from Johnson’s careless gob, let me spoil your day…

“I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time…When the British people voted for Brexit in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners. It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself…”

As President Putin attempts to bomb and starve the people of Mariupol into submission and surrender; as millions of Ukrainians flee their beloved country, our prime minister feels happy to make a cheap political point comparing their brutal plight to the Brexit referendum.

It seems to have slipped his mind that Ukraine wants to join the EU, applying last month after the Russian invasion began. Only three weeks ago, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal.”

Whereas Putin’s goal is to bomb Ukraine to shit, to murder innocent citizens, and to reduce once-proud cities to rubble.

There seems to be no logical reason for this war, other than Putin’s acrid resentment at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his refusal to accept that post-Soviet Ukraine has a right to exist on its own terms.

There are people who will tell you differently, who will say that this is the fault of NATO or the US or that we are no better. This may be true, but it is beside the point when Putin needs to be defeated. Will he be defeated – is there any way for him to be defeated without a wider war? I am only a man sitting on a ledge, so don’t ask me.

As for Johnson’s insistence that the Brexit vote was nothing to do with being “hostile to foreigners”, that was the undercurrent throughout, from endless tabloid newspaper headlines to Nigel Farage standing in front of his anti-migrant ‘Breaking Point’ billboard showing a queue of mostly non-white migrants.

Johnson and his Brexit-besotted cohorts cashed in on such hostile sentiment while pretending that it didn’t exist.

Rachmaninov

Sergei Rachmaninov

ANYWAY, time for a bit of Rachmaninov.

Much social media hostility recently greeted the decision of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra to pull music by Tchaikovsky from a concert at St David’s Hall.

The 1812 Overture famously celebrates Russia’s defence against the invasion of Napoleon and features a volley of cannon fire. Some members of the leading non-professional orchestra were unhappy about this after the invasion of Ukraine and opted for a different programme.

Assorted commentators ridiculed their decision, with the right-wing comedian Geoff Norcott tweeting: “Cancelling a Tchaikovsky concert is so daft ordinary Russians will write it off as mad Vlad over-doing the propaganda.”

The American political advisor Matt Duss got in on the act too, tweeting: “Doubly absurd because Tchaikovsky spent a lot of time in Ukraine, and incorporated a lot of Ukrainian folk music and stories into his work.”

You know, I think the cannons had something to do with it.

Anyway, Rachmaninov.

Wishing to be reminded of the glories of Russian culture, rather than the barbarity of its present leader, I dug out my CD of Rachmaninov Vespers 1-15 (All-Night Vigil), composed in two weeks in 1914.

This beautiful choral music reminds you of a different Russia, as indeed does the music of Tchaikovsky normally: as do the plays of Chekhov or the novels of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

Incidentally, Rachmaninov and his family left Russia two years later, in 1916, just before the Russian Revolution, moving to New York, and the composer never again set foot in his homeland.

Whether those Ukrainians fleeing their country will ever return to their homeland is anybody’s sad guess.

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