Are Theresa May and the Queen really united in faith and frugality?

Should we feel sorry for Mrs Maybe as her premiership dribbles to an inglorious end? No thanks, I’d say, although the Queen is reported to be sympathetic.

According to the Daily Mail writer Sebastian Shakespeare, the Queen said goodbye to Theresa May, her 13th prime minister, this week with “a poignant tete-a-tete at Buckingham Palace”. Shakespeare was tipped off by a courier, which is more than most of us can say.

His report observes: “Insiders say the Queen has bonded with vicar’s daughter Mrs May over their shared Christian faith and frugal values. ‘The Queen really warmed to Mrs May’s quiet understatedness,’ an insider tells me. ‘It will be fascinating to see how she reacts to the next PM’.”

Were those the same frugal values that prompted Mrs Maybe to splash out a reported £995 on a pair of brown leather trousers? She wore the trousers when being interviewed by the Sunday Times in 2016.

Asked to comment on such extravagance, former education secretary Nicky Morgan told the Times she had never spent so much on anything other than her wedding dress. Morgan promptly found herself “disinvited” to a meeting to Downing Street to discuss Brexit (every cloud and all that).

The Queen’s liking for Tupperware was reported long ago, but it is possible to overdo the frugality of a wealthy woman who lives in palaces. As it is possible to exaggerate the frugality of a prime minister with a millionaire husband and a liking for expensive, if somewhat eccentric, clothes.

I don’t know much about women’s clothes, but Theresa May always looks to me like a nerd trying too hard to show she’s got style. Or a vicar’s daughter trying too hard not to be a vicar’s daughter.

As for their shared Christianity, that is a bond for sure, but again it is hard to see much evidence of faith in the way Mrs May conducted herself. In an almost-there speech last Wednesday, she condemned the “absolutism” of politicians such as Boris Johnson (whom she didn’t name) and had another go at the folly of fellow Conservatives who pursued ideological purity at any price.

In short, she regurgitated her old arguments about Brexit, saying that she was right all along. And she may well be proved right, but for now we are in fantasy interregnum land, where anything goes – and Boris Johnson can appear at a rally waving an Isle of Man kipper wrapped in plastic. His aim was to disparage the EU, yet he’d muddled his facts as always, forgetting that the Isle of Man isn’t in the EU and it was a UK rule anyway.

Anyway, there will be no tears on this ledge when Theresa May leaves. The best to be said of her is that she hasn’t been as truly dreadful as David Cameron, who landed us in this Brexit mess, then departed whistling.

But she is gilding the lily here, rather than wearing it for a change, when she says this absolutism is a belief that “if you simply assert your view loud enough and long enough you will get your way in the end”. Exactly how she conducted herself all the way along, consulting no one over her Brexit deal, then flogging a deal no one wanted until it died at her feet (spoiler alert: Johnson may end up having to kiss that dead horse back into life).

But Mrs May’s biggest sin of absolutism was the hostile environment over immigration, a policy that brought the Windrush scandal to a head, a policy that saw fully integrated migrants who have lived here for decades suddenly treated as unwanted guests who were shown the door (or the airport immigration holding area).

That was Theresa May’s truest disgrace, and she should be reminded of that every time she tries to spit-polish her legacy.

Bye-bye, Theresa, you were truly terrible and hopeless, but history – and all of us in the cheap seats – may look back more fondly once we’ve suffered endless self-serving machinations from the kipper-waver in chief.


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Vinyl Frontier, Steely Dan, Aja

This frontier is out of bounds in the winter, as the record deck is in the conservatory. That’s why the old vinyl borderland hasn’t been been visited in a while.

Thanks to Katy Puckrik and her two-part BBC4 documentary I Can Go For That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock for taking me back to this classic from 1977 (also available in cassette, as it says on the back cover).

First, let’s prod that suspect phrase with a sharp stick, or possibly a stylus needle. Yacht rock – what’s that? Turns out to be a retrospective label slapped impertinently onto the sophisticated melancholy of blue-eyed Seventies R&B. A dismissive tag for Steely Dan, surely, although Puckrik counts herself as a huge fan.

The first programme was great, a breezy reel of a show, with explorations of Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald era – What A Fool Believes), and Hall & Oates (She’s Gone). The second part less so, as the whole concept seemed stretched by then.

Still, those two guys from Toto were a hoot. And that prompts a confession: I had no idea Toto played on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

In that first film, Katy Puckrik listed Aja (pronounced Asia) as one of the soundtracks of her youth, marvelling at how pristine and perfect the album seemed.

Finding the old vinyl copy was a treat: this album from 42 years ago (count them and irrigate the eyes) is still thrillingly new and exciting, a mix of melodic rock and jazz that lifts out of those old grooves.

Steely Dan, basically Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, quit being a band in the full sense in 1974. After that they concentrated on LA studio work, calling on the best rock and jazz session musicians around to perfect their immaculate music.

Not everyone liked that distinctive sound, then or now, some dismissing it as cold and hard. If that’s what you think, take your ears back to this marvel of an album, a thrilling mix of be-bop, swing and rock – truly soulful, even if detractors, then and now again, see this as soulless music.

Fantastic brass playing, crisp and brittle guitar riffs to leave your mouth gaping, surging synths, lush yet edgy arrangements, cool singing, mystifying lyrics (“downer surrealism”, according to Frank Zappa) – oh, Aja has the lot.

All the tracks survive the journey from 1977 (second-year student days at Goldsmiths College for this listener), although two stand out: Peg and Josie. As Rolling Stone wrote at the time, these are “tight, modal tunes with good hooks in the choruses, solid beats with intricate counter-rhythms and brilliantly concise guitar solos”.

Two of the jazz players are Miles Davis alumni, Wayne Shorter and Victor Feldman. Session guitarists include Larry Carlton, with Becker wearing out the fretboards, too.

The full running list is (side 1) Black Crow, Aja, Deacon Blues; (side 2): Peg, Home At Last, I Got The News, Josie.

There isn’t a wasted note, a misplaced breath on any of them. This music may be cool and seriously studied, unmistakably Californian (even though the main men were from New York) – yet even layered with such cleverness, it’s uplifting, immediate and a decade-hopping gem.

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Trump telling congresswomen to ‘go home’ does matter to us too…

Fifty years after Apollo 11 blasted off for the Moon, President Trump uses racist tropes that deserve to be tied to a rocket and shot deep into space.

Reportedly it took 400,000 people to guide Apollo 11 to the Moon; today it takes one President Potty Mouth to drag the USA back 50 years.

Half a century ago, the language used by Trump about four black Democratic US congresswomen would have been less surprising, although no less regrettable.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are all US citizens. Three were born in the USA, while Ms Omar was born in Somalia and moved to the US as a child.

After the quartet criticised the inhumane conditions of migrants being detained at the border with Mexico, Trump Twitter-spat that if they didn’t like America, they “can leave”.

He said the women had come from terrible countries that should take them back, adding: “If you are not happy here, you can leave! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America.”

Nope, it’s about a president who hopes enough backwoods white racists will vote for him in 2020. In twisted Trump logic, racist rhetoric is his best hope of a second term. His campaign last time around was riddled with nasty nonsense, not least insisting that Barack Obama wasn’t American.

As Ben Rhodes, a former national security adviser to Obama, tweeted: “Trump launched his political brand 8 years ago saying the first African American President was born in Africa. It has always been about racism, and the fact that this has ever been a controversial thing to say is part of the problem.”

The four congresswomen dismissed his insulting remarks as a distraction, saying people should “not take the bait”. Wise advice, as Trump always creates noise and distraction, kicking up so much dust no one sees what’s going on.

Does this matter to us? It does when our likely next prime minister Boris Johnson (oh, God, did I just write those terrible words?) is eager to pally up to the President. All the pro-Brexit hooligans on the right, from Johnson to Nigel Farage and his chum Piers Morgan, love Trump, and wish to align our interests with the US.

A stronger relationship with the flaky president is a clincher for such Brexiters, and seemingly the only argument up their sleeve.

At yesterday’s final Tory leadership debate, organised by the Sun, Johnson and Jeremy Hunt did criticise Trump, although stepped back from calling his words racist.

As today’s Daily Mirror puts it, Johnson sides with Trump the “loathsome oaf” at every opportunity.

Over in the Guardian, former Republican aide Kurt Bardella wonders if the reason the Tories say nothing is because they “agree with Mr Trump and his racism”.

Let’s end by turning from racist Trump to misogynist Trump. Megan Rapino, co-captain of the US women’s national football side, is a purple-haired lesbian riposte to Trump, a proudly perfect image of everything he hates.

When her side played France, Rapino was recorded saying that if her team won and Trump extended an invitation, she would not visit “the f***ing White House”. Her outspoken remarks after the US victory infuriated her conservative critics even further. She has also annoyed our own Piers Morgan – a nice little bonus.

Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka blew his right-wing topper saying Rapinoe was out “to destroy everything that is wholesome in our country and in our Judea-Christian civilisation”.

In an interview with CNN, Rapinoe sidestepped such personal assaults and addressed Trump directly. She turned to the camera and accused him of excluding people of different sexuality or race. “You have an incredible responsibility as the chief of this country to take care of every single person and you need to do better for everyone”.

Between them, those four US congresswomen and this female sporting hero show a more positive side to the US. Rapinoe’s victory pose, arms flung out in exultation, was magnificent – and marginally more uplifting than all those shots of tubby Trump cheating at golf.


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Convicted of journalism? Oh, come off it…

The far-right activist Tommy Robinson likes to wear a T-shirt bearing the slogan: “Convicted of journalism.”  No, mate, you were convicted of contempt of court – not the same at all.

Robinson has been jailed for nine months today, but may appeal, and will anyway serve less than that.

Plenty of people hold journalism in contempt; Robinson instead misuses journalism to his own contemptible ends.

It is fashionable now to disparage journalists and their once-inky trade. Everyone from the media-hating Donald Trump to the more ardent fans of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismiss journalists as purveyors of fake news or stooges of the establishment.

Most journalists aren’t establishment lackeys or thugs with laptops intent on societal sabotage. They are just reporters looking for stories; or editors knocking poor copy into shape; or behind-the-scenes writers of the TV or radio news.

Most journalist are good company and decent people. And no journalist wants to be associated with a right-wing troublemaker such as Tommy Robinson. That name, as everyone should know by now, is a cynical construct adopted by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

Contempt of court laws exist to ensure defendants have a fair trial. The rules are there to prevent juries being influenced by anything other than the evidence presented in court.

The man who pretends to be called Robinson was found guilty last week of interfering with the trial of a sexual grooming gang at Leeds Crown Court in May 2018.

Reporting restrictions at the trail prevented the publication of any details until the end of a series of linked trials.

A real reporter would have respected such rules; Robinson flagrantly ignored them by broadcasting live on Facebook footage from outside the court while the jury was considering its verdict.

Convicted of journalism? No, again. Convicted for ignoring the rules professional journalists abide by. Ignoring those rules for his own self-serving purposes. And in doing so, potentially making life much worse for the victims who could have seen the case collapse.

We should not be fooled by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and his supposed man-of-the-people alter ego. He is only out to cause trouble in our society by spreading unfounded fears, attacking modern Britain and fomenting hatred.

What he does has nothing to do with journalism; but everything to do with pushing his vile ‘brand’. Anyone who thinks that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is any sort of a hero or man of the people has been severely duped.

Last Sunday’s Observer reported that extreme right-wing ideology has entered mainstream political discourse. This is in part thanks to a conspiracy known as the “great replacement” theory – a paranoia that white people are being wiped out by migration and violence.

The gunman who killed 51 people in New Zealand in March featured this theory in his manifesto.

Donald Trump, in tweeting about his border wall, has made comments that some see as supporting a white nationalist case.

Sadly, the internet made a fake folk hero out of Tommy Robinson – and it’s helped to spread such far-right race theories. We need to be on the outlook.

But Tommy Robinson a journalist? No thanks, journalism has enough problems of its own without being hijacked by far-right opportunists.

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Gentleman Jack, in drama and song…

Lesbian period dramas with a romping heroine don’t come along that often, so we should be thankful to Gentleman Jack, which ended its first run on BBC1 last Sunday. A second series is promised.

I was predisposed to like this drama thanks to having interviewed the Huddersfield folk duo whose lively stride of a song ends each episode. O’Hooley & Tidow are great musicians and fantastic women, too. Perhaps I am biased as they liked the interview so much, they had it framed and put on the wall of the home they share.

The singer Kathryn Williams, a friend to Belinda and Heidi, gave them a song as a wedding present. It’s called Small, Big Love and Kathryn sang it on their big day. They later recorded their version on the album Shadows.

Their relationship, on and off stage, seems to be flourishing, and they are expecting a baby in the autumn.

O’Hooley & Tidow’s song Gentleman Jack predates the TV drama by Sally Wainwright, one of our leading TV dramatists, especially of dramas set in West Yorkshire.

They wrote the song after hearing about Anne Lister, an extraordinary 19th century woman who combined many roles. The drama to date mostly celebrates her sexuality and her scraps with men about mines. Lister kept coded diaries detailing her life and affairs, her financial troubles at Shibden Hall, and the unlocking of those diaries inspired the song, and later the drama series.

O’Hooley & Tidow popped up on Woman’s Hour last week, when they explained that Wainwright came to one of their gigs and asked if she could use the song to close her new drama.

That encounter has boosted the duo after ten years of happily doing their own thing. Now they are selling out shows and adding extra dates, all thanks to Anne Lister – and, of course, their own talent. Their songs are striking, different, sometimes unexpected, and always sung beautifully, as if they hit a shared note sometime ago, and have never lost it since.

The other day, Harry Christophers, founder and conductor of The Sixteen – a superstar among choral groups – picked Gentleman Jack as his favourite new song when appearing on BBC Radio 3’s In Concert programme. He said it stopped him in his tracks.

Suranne Jones played the title role in a series that finished with a charming gallop to Denmark and back, complete with swilling seasickness and a last-minute happy ending. The central casting has won praise, and Suranne had distinctive brio, although it would have been interesting to see a more anonymous actor in the role (less baggage).

There was a sort of sombre romcom going on here, amid all the coal mining and meetings about money. Just occasionally, the northern stock drama inched close to Brass, that old Granada TV comedy set in the Lancashire mining town of Utterley. It didn’t help that Timothy West appeared in that as well.

Lister had many facets beside her sexuality and her business prowess. She was a pioneering mountaineer who travelled widely and wildly with her wife, Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle, of Peaky Blinders fame).

Their wedding, if that’s what it was, took place in Holy Trinity Church off Goodramgate. Their route to the church was eccentric, if not impossible. One minute they were in what seemed to be Precentor’s Court by York Minster; the next they turned the corner into Holy Trinity.

That church is one of the small wonders of York. A larger wonder is to be found across the city in the 26 acres of York Cemetery.

There was a choir concert there last Sunday in the restored chapel. A walk around the cemetery, which is gardened just the right side of wild, reminded me what a special place that is.

If only someone had written a novel featuring the cemetery so it could be turned into a TV drama, too. Oh, hang on – I wrote that novel. It’s called Felicity’s Gate and is remembered by at least three people.

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Our man in Washington and the Orange Emperor with No Clothes…

That fondant farrago of a state visit for President Donald Trump sure worked wonders.

Theresa May corralled the country, Queen and all, into putting on a Merry Old England show for Trump and his extended, freeloading family. The shoddy payback for her efforts shows where being ingratiating to Trump gets you. One scrappy, undiplomatic row about diplomacy and some parting insults.

The Orange Emperor with No Clothes (although he does wear exceedingly long ties) has worked himself into a froth about our ambassador to the US.

In cables leaked to the Mail on Sunday, Sir Kim Darroch drew up a character assessment of Trump’s White House, saying it was “faction-riven”, “clumsy and inept” and “dysfunctional”. As any fool passing by a headline with one eye closed may have noticed.

Our ambassador also observed that Trump “radiates insecurity”. As if to prove the point, Trump flounced off into one of his Twitter tantrums: “I do not know the ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US. We will no longer deal with him…”

He then slobbered about the “wonderful United Kingdom”, the Queen and the arrival of a new Prime Minister. Then threw more insults at Mrs Maybe, saying she had made a mess of Brexit and should have listened to his advice.

This story has dominated the news agenda to a surprising degree. Perhaps that’s because it’s not about Brexit. Except, ahem, it might be. Nigel Farage soon shoved a shoulder into the affair, saying we needed a Brexit-backing businessman as our man in Washington.

To which all we can say is this: what we need is a world where Nigel ‘Big Mouth’ Farage doesn’t feel the need to air his tonsils in bouts of bully barking every two bloody minutes.

Another Brexit aspect to this row about leaked extracts of our ambassador’s private observations is that Dr Liam Fox, the Brexit-backing trade secretary, was being sent to patch things up with the administration.

But get this: he wasn’t meeting Donald Trump, he was crawling to Ivanka Trump, his know-nothing daughter and “adviser”, last seen inserting herself into a line of unimpressed world leaders at the G20 summit.

Trump certainly lays the icing thick on the nepotism cake.

And sending a government minister to grovel to Trump’s daughter really is the pits. Yes, we want decent relations with the US, but the whole world knows that Trump is thin-skinned, prone to tantrums and only likes to do deal with people who flatter and butter him up.

Meanwhile, the Tory leadership contest drags on interminably and seemingly without point. Tonight, Blathering Boris and Boring Jeremy are appearing side-by-side on ITV. Seeing as each of them long ago exhausted the promise bucket with their endless, uncosted pledges to do this or that, I wonder what guff they’ll come up with this evening. I won’t be tuning in.


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Ann Widdecombe is a slave to the nasty nonsense…

Hasn’t the Brexit Party been covering us in glory this week (please feel free to substitute ‘buckets of shameless shit’ if you wish). Carry On films are said to be coming back, and Nigel Farage and his crazy crew are nipping in there with Carry On The EU Don’t Like It Up ’Em.

Heading up the glory list is former Tory Ann Widdecombe, the Brexit Party’s screech owl, who yesterday made a totally not completely barking mad speech, in her Carry On starring role as Hattie Facques.

Coming over as everyone’s least favourite potty aunt after a long afternoon on the sherry, she used her maiden speech in the European Parliament to compare Britain leaving the EU to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

Of course, the parallels are astonishing, especially the way the slaves voted to become slaves, were given a democratic say in how slavery was run and were such a right pain in the arse that the plantation owners were always bending over backwards to accommodate their demands.

Interviewed on Newsnight by Emma Barnett, Widdecombe was unrepentant and shouty, saying people had interpreted her speech in a “melodramatic fashion”.

Emma’s face as she listened was a picture, as if she was working on a local newspaper and had been called down again to reception to listen to the mad woman who comes in each week to say aliens are stealing her cats. She raised her eyebrows so far, they travelled all round her body before settling back in place with a quizzical shake.

Of course, Nigel Farage was at Ann’s side, nodding and grinning like a weird Svengali nephew with eyes on her bank account.

Batty Ann isn’t the only Brexit Party MEP getting high on being offensive. Earlier in the week, they were all at it. The new Brexit Party MEPs turned their backs at a ceremony to open the new European Parliament while talented young musicians played the Ode To Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, a lovely chorus long adopted as the Anthem of Europe.

These people may have narrowly won that referendum seemingly three centuries ago. But they don’t represent all of us. And turning their backs was childish, disrespectful and rude. It also made Britain look petty and stupid.

Coming in at number three is Brexit Party MEP David Bull who complained bitterly on social media that he hadn’t realised just how long it would take him to get to Strasbourg. How splendid – man gets well-paid job he applied for, then moans about having to travel there.

Of course, all these Europe-hating Brexit Party MEPs will be properly principled and give back their salaries and pension rights earned from an institution they mock and despise; won’t they?

Oh, look, I quite forgot to mention Nigel Farage coming on stage at a rally to wartime air-raid sirens. What is it with that man and the war? He’s 55, not 105 (although sometimes you wonder).


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Close shave leads to a few thoughts on men and beards…

My mother-in-law had been biting her tongue until the other day. I’ve not said anything yet, she said as a prelude to saying something, but what are you doing with your face? “Why do men do that?” she asked, squinting her disapproval. “It makes you look old.”

“He is old,” said her daughter, never afraid to point out the obvious truth of the matter. Until then she’d been confining herself to deft diplomatic muttering about how it didn’t look too bad this time.

Always one for a parting cuddle, my mother-in-law shook my hand instead, a one-woman protest about one man and his half-grey beard. That beard had a passing resemblance to better beards as worn by my two sons and, occasionally, by a friend whose facial adornment seems to grow twice as thick twice as fast. Although not as fast and thick as an old colleague on Facebook, who’s gone for the full Moses look.

Maybe it was what the mother-in-law said. Perhaps it was the itchiness of a warm day. Whatever the case, the trimmer and razor came out and that beard went down the plughole. Back now to the fresh-faced look, with stubble adornment on mildly rebellious non-shaving days.

The beard fashion has been around for a while, starting apparently with hipster types in London, who weren’t allowed in coffee shops without one, and spreading as far as non-hipster types in York.

Mine wasn’t the most prominent of beards, although both my brothers noticed the other week, as did my mother a week or two before that.

The first beard sprouted in Australia many years ago, fluffing up under my smooth young face, but only growing under the chin and not up the sides or over my top lip. The resemblance to a garden gnome freshly returned from a long holiday was more than passing. But at least there was no grey in that beard.

After that one went, the beard was only ever a theoretical concept to bore on about as something to be grown, you know, one day. Lately the theory has been put into practice twice, ending each time with the soapy shame of a close shave.

The world is divided into men who can grow a good beard and men who cannot; a sub-category is inhabited by men who cannot but give it a go anyway.

Incidentally, son number two grew a bushy below the chin beard when he was a student. It was the product of a no-shaving stand-off bet with friends. His beard-hating grandmother tried to bribe him to have a shave, but he stood firm and hirsute. Nowadays his beard is neatly trimmed.

I think men grow beards because it’s the only option there is to look different. My father wouldn’t grow one when he was younger, as he thought it would make him look old. Perhaps he still thinks that at the age of 87. As for my father-in-law, he has a smooth shave every day, which is probably a wise move.

My squash partner waited until after thrashing me to make his beard observation: “I see the salty old dog look has gone.”


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Migrant who fell to earth another stark reminder of our world…

A frozen body landing a suburban garden is shocking on many levels and a stark image of world inequality.

The Daily Mail has the story on its front page today with the headline: “STOWAWAY FALLS FROM JET – INTO GARDEN OF SUNBATHER.”

A sub-heading records the “frozen body horror”, adding that the corpse fell into the garden of a £2m house. In Mail-speak, the value of the house seems as important as a life lost in foolhardy pursuit of hope.

According to a neighbour, police were called to an address in Clapham, south London, following the discovery of the body.

Kenyan Airways confirmed the body fell from the landing gear of a flight to Heathrow. The plane had taken off in Nairobi, where we can assume the man smuggled himself on board.

It takes only a little imagination to see this poor man dart across the hot tarmac, scramble into the wheel housing, then hunker down for the long journey, dreaming of a hopeful new life, but soon losing the warmth of his native land and lapsing into frozen, airless sleep.

And don’t forget the shock of that other man sunbathing in his garden. We are inviolable in our gardens, spaces we make secluded and special. A frozen body crashing to the ground is about as shocking an intrusion as you can imagine.

We are often presented with stories, and sometimes images, that encapsulate the plight of asylum seekers. Only last week, the US was appalled by a photograph of an asylum seeker who drowned with his daughter.

The harrowing photo showed Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez, who was 25, and his two-year-old daughter Angie Valeria lying face down in the water.

Oscar had tucked his daughter under his T-shirt, as if in a futile attempt to protect her. That detail made the photo even more upsetting.

The use of such stark images presents moral dilemmas. Yet while the photo was discomforting, better to see it and be reminded of the reality of migration in an unbalanced world, than to keep our eyes shut.

In the US, the photo put new focus on the plight of those fleeing Central America, only to run up against President Trump’s harsh asylum policies.

We might not like Trump and his cheap anti-foreigner rhetoric, but Europe hardly has a good record. Migrants have drowned in our seas too as they try to leave a harsh homeland for somewhere supposedly kinder.

In 2015, photographs showed the drowned migrant toddler Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian, lying face down on a beach in Kos, Greece.

Such an appalling image changes everything; and then turns out to change nothing much, sadly.

Both that photo and the one from last week remind us of the grim human reality of migration. These people aren’t hostiles, invaders, others; they are just people, usually poor people, endangered people. People desperate enough to put all faith in a rubber dinghy or the undercarriage of an aircraft.

A more uplifting story can be found in Abdul Haroun, the Sudanese migrant who was so intent on getting to Britain that he walked through the Channel Tunnel in 2015.

He was arrested close to the tunnel’s Folkstone exit. Bizarrely, he was charged under an 1861 Act shaped to punish those who obstruct railway engines or carriages. Haroun later pleaded guilty but was freed due to time spent on remand.

Anyone who is prepared to put themselves through such an ordeal deserves to stay here. Thankfully, Abdul Haroun was granted asylum. A good outcome, unlike the fate that befell the stowaway on that flight from Nairobi.


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How old is too old?

Is Jeremy Corbyn too old and frail to be prime minister? That was the thrust of a splash in the Times the other day. Unnamed top civil servants claimed the Labour leader was not up to the job “physically or mentally” and that he was “losing his memory”.

This made me wonder not about politics, as my mind is scorched from too much fretting about that, but about age.

To mention politics just the once on this occasion, the headline in Sunday’s Observer suggested age wasn’t the problem, just the man himself: “MPs to Corbyn – get a grip or lose election.”

Deciding what age is too old is always tricky. One of my brothers, who at 60 is two-and-half years younger than me, told our mother Margaret (that 87-year-old girl about town) that I was too old to be playing squash. Yet my Tuesday opponent is five years older than me and only the other day he played a man aged 82. Time yet to continue sports inappropriate to my age.

With squash it’s not age that worries me so much as lack of ability. Perhaps that is what those MPs urging Corbyn to get a grip are concerned about: ability, not age.

The Times is habitually unfriendly to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, so such a story is not surprising. Corbyn himself was affronted, as he had every right to be. He looks fit for a 70-year-old. He cycles, works on his allotment and likes to run. He also doesn’t drink alcohol or eat meat and puts his energy down to porridge for breakfast. It’s possible he has done that for ever. He’s not a man to change his mind or his behaviour in a hurry.

Unlike the Labour leader, I do eat meat sometimes and like a drink at the weekends. But I swear by porridge, do a bit of running and cycling, and occasionally walk down the long garden to pick a vegetable. And just for variety, I play badminton badly once or twice a week, too.

If there is an optimum age to be prime minister, both Boris Johnson (55) and Jeremy Hunt (52) are in the normally acceptable bracket. For age, if nothing else.

A list of prime ministers by the age they were on assuming power reveals the 40s and 50s to be common. Margaret Thatcher was 53 when she annoyed her way into Downing Street in May 1979. John Major was 47, Tony Blair 43, Gordon Brown 56, David Cameron 43 and Theresa May, 59.

Over in the US, Donald Trump is 73 (although his hair may be younger). His would-be opponent, Joe Biden, is 76 and looked and sounded his age during the first Democratic hustings last week.

To say a man looks and sounds his age is unkind. I wouldn’t be happy if someone said that about me. But sometimes we do. If not today then tomorrow, or in a year or two. Trump seems like an old president and Biden is three years older and carries the air of a faded actor who doesn’t remember his lines so well these days.

Robert Walpole, who is generally regarded as Britain’s first prime minister, was 44 when he took office in 1721. William Pitt the Younger was 24 when he became prime minister. And no doubt people went about muttering: “Prime ministers these days just look younger and younger.”

Is Jeremy Corbyn too old to move into Number 10? It’s a tough job and no sensible 70-year-old would want to be prime minister. Then again, no one should be ruled out by age alone. Trying to pin down what age is too old leaves you pin-pricked and bruised.

Incidentally, Jeremy Corbyn is variously now described as being too old and frail to be prime minister – or, according to assorted Tories, a socialist menace bogeyman whose imminent rise to power poses a huge threat to Britain.

Not sure he can be both of those at the same time.


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