Do they really think God deflected that bullet? Heaven help us…

SOME Trump supporters claim God deflected the assassin’s bullet to save their chosen one. This puts a lot on God’s shoulders and reminds us how politics and religion align in the US.

The idea that the Almighty had his all-seeing eye out for Trump seems bizarre. Why would God wish to save such a godless man? I feel I can ask this as a fellow godless man – not in the vilely misbehaving ways of Trump, just as a man without religion.

Anyway, if God put a swerve on that bullet, letting Trump escape with a wound to his right ear, did he therefore sacrifice the rally-goer who was killed? Seems unlikely.

I have it on no authority whatsoever that what God actually said was: “Isn’t there anybody in America other than Trump and Biden who can stand for president? If you like old guys, I’ll throw in Methuselah. He’s 969 – just that bit older than Joe Biden.”

Viewed from these shores, it is tempting to see politics in the US as an aggressive game show that demeans democracy.

Trump exemplifies this with his bellowing insistence that the last US election was stolen from him. He introduced this false idea long before he lost, sowing a bitter seed that grew into the violent attack on the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Having swallowed Trump whole – or having all been swallowed by him – many Republicans now spout his great lie about being cheated at the last election.

Conspiracy theories about the assassination attempt popped up online immediately. Conspiracists sceptical about Trump suggested the shooting had been staged somehow to boost his campaign; conspiracists cleaving to Trump maintained it had been staged by Biden.

Such fevered theories carried no credence but that didn’t stop them being shared widely.

Trumpian Republicans are still trying to blame Biden and the Democrats for the shooting, saying it happened because they’ve been ‘demonising’ Trump for years. The ‘mainstream media’ is blamed too – even though Trump is a creation of the media, having risen on the back of endless publicity, only to turn against the very people who elevated him.

Whenever you hear complaints about the ‘mainstream media’, it’s worth remembering that Trump started that refrain years ago (this doesn’t excuse all media behaviour, but it should sound a klaxon when you hear such complaints).

As for the ‘demonisation’ of Trump, this has mostly consisted of reporting the lies and ridiculous things he has said.

Nigel Farage, the new but already part-time MP for Clacton, uses similar tactics: blaming the media, especially the BBC, when he has endlessly exploited the BBC, and been endlessly promoted by the corporation (see many past moans on this ledge).

Along with the conspiracy theories and the lies, Trump supporters also blame a sinister but non-specific enemy, usually known only as “they” – as in “they” don’t want Trump to win, muttered until the last marble has rolled away.

While not wishing to join sides over the shooting conspiracy theories, there was something striking about Trump’s reaction to being shot. Or there was in the photograph by Associated Press photojournalist Evan Vucci. This shows the former President with his fist raised, blood streaked on his face, amid a huddles scrum of security people.

A perfectly composed image, worthy of a Caravaggio painting; a brilliant photograph indeed, but one that will be forever used to glorify Trump.

As the photograph was taken, Trump shouted: “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Fight who, exactly? Who knows, but the crowds as the Republican National Convention were soon shouting that line, fists raised in a cosplay fascist sort of a way.

Some were also wearing over-sized ear-muff bandages on their right lughole like their wounded hero. Where Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye and declared that he saw no ships, Trump’s supporters cover up their ear and say they will hear no word against him.

Not sure where this will all end. Nowhere good if the Putin-praising pursuer of intolerant politics wins the US election.

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Good luck to Starmer: someone had to boot that lot out…

How some of the front pages reported Labour’s victory

GRUMPS from left and right started scratching the paintwork on Sir Keir Starmer’s shiny new majority as soon as he parked it in Downing Street. It’s wide but shallow; it touches the sky but has no foundation, they carped.

I’ll tell you what it is.

It’s 412 seats as opposed to 121 for the Conservatives, whom we can now detain in a darkened room for the internecine pursuit of bellowing and biting.

Combined with 72 seats for the Lib-Dems, with a special sitting place reserved for frolicsome leader Sir Ed Davey on a unicycle or in a bumper car or something suitably wacky, that leaves around 500 of the 650 or so seats in this parliament held by politicians on the centre or centre-left.

Talk about getting your country back! We shall return to the usual owners of that phrase in a lowlier paragraph.

Starmer isn’t exciting and thank heavens for that. We’ve had it with Tory prime ministers bursting in one door only to slink out the other. We’ve had it with the rambunctious, wayward vanity of Boris Johnson; the weird glassy-eyed detachment of Liz Truss and her amazing economy-destroying work experience premiership.

Johnson now lectures from the sidelines on how to save the party he helped to destroy; while Truss wrote a book on how to save the west but couldn’t even save her own seat.

Now that was a moment to savour, along with the departure of Jacob Rees-Mogg and others too gloriously numerous to mention.

Rishi Sunak led a disastrous campaign, but at least he accepted defeat with a degree of dignity, something he perhaps should have tried out earlier.

But away with the lot of them.

After 14 years of putting up with Tory neglect of infrastructure and public services, after the unnecessary and continuing pain of austerity, after all the non-productive and nasty noise about immigration, after favours done for mates, after endless culture war spats about nothing, we no longer have to listen.

Tellingly, Starmer’s cabinet contains the most ever ministers educated in comprehensive schools. So no more one-sided lessons from the privileged majority for the rest of us. And that cabinet also contains “the most female ministers in history, including the first ever female chancellor in Rachel Reeves”, as today’s Observer puts it.

Starmer has said he wishes to prioritise “getting stuff done” over tribal politics. A different approach but quietly reassuring after so much tribal shin-kicking and shit-stirring.

Too many speeches of the past 14 years might have been written by the editors of the right-wing press. As for those newspapers, lately they have outdone Cassandra in prophesising doom and dismay, only to see Labour win handsomely.

Whisper it quietly, and hopefully, but perhaps the loudmouths of the right are losing their voice.

One thing Starmer has already got done is the scrapping of Sunak’s immoral and highly costly Rwanda plan to reduce the number of small boat crossings.

What a cruel waste of time, focus and energy that scheme was. And now it’s gone.

Nigel Farage and Reform UK won’t be happy about that, and there’ll be endless noise from that end of the room now that Farage is an MP at his eighth attempt.

The media, and particularly the BBC, has been obsessed with Farage for years. He’s been indulged and courted endlessly by the Beeb and fawned over by the bully boys of the right-wing press, and all that attention has finally put a far-right politician in Parliament.

The BBC should now pay him as much attention as it does the Greens, winners of four seats to Farage’s five. And it should give far more attention to the Lib-Dems, who were massively more successful.

Farage will cause trouble for the Tories and for Labour. That’s what he does. All he knows.

Both parties need a plan on how to muzzle that man, but stepping further right, trying to out-Nigel Nigel, just won’t work.

Incidentally, the never knowingly less than awful Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson complains about the BBC calling Reform UK ‘far right’. Well, that’s what they are – and Farage’s aim has always been to smudge the difference and to make the far right seem acceptable, and to seduce the mainstream right into accepting his vile views.

Anyway, early days and all that. I’m happy to admire Starmer’s paintwork, scratches and all, and give him time to settle in and get on with a job to which he seems surprisingly well suited.

The rows will come, the disappointments with follow. But that’s only to be expected. For now everything looks brighter than it has for 14 years.

Critics from left and right chunter that Starmer won what was in essence an anti-Tory victory.

Well, good luck to him: someone had to boot that lot out.

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Confusing condoms, Tory limbo dancing and why it’s not a super-majority…

As the general election campaign grinds on, here are some moments.

First up, The Guardian. In a report from Hull, Daniel Boffey spoke to Labour’s Karl Turner, first voted in as the MP for Hull East in 2010 and now standing for re-election…

“We met a guy who said he was going to vote Labour but wouldn’t now because he had just heard that we were taxing condoms. I said, ‘condoms?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said: ‘I just heard on that [pointing to the TV] that you are taxing condoms, and I’m not having it. You’re not getting my vote’.”

After scratching his head, Turner explained: “We’re taxing non-doms, not condoms.” The voter replied: “Like the prime minister’s wife? Ah,” and called out: “Margaret: they’re taxing non-doms, not condoms.”

For all the squabbling TV debates, all the noisy arguments, all the high-flown this and high-flown that, all the endlessly misleading headlines, people cast their vote for the oddest reasons.

Onto even stranger things, in The Spectator – “The mysterious sex appeal of Nigel Farage” by Ann Widdecombe. In this column, the former Tory MP turned Reform loon examines how Farage has an alure for women.

Sadly, no more would I read such a story than one headlined: “The mysterious sex appeal of Ann Widdecombe” by Nigel Farage.

Let’s leave Farage and Widdecombe to their own devices and desires in a darkened corner of the bar, just beyond the people telling racist jokes. But don’t be beastly to Farage, or Ann might come after you, swinging her tiny intolerant fists.

Many of these stories, these snatches of events, these muttered half-conversations, are to be found on X/Twitter.

Should you possess bottomless stamina, seek out Ricard Tice. He’s the interminably dull former leader of Reform. The man pushed out of the way once Farage spotted an opportunity to insert himself into the headlines again.

One such recent posting by Tice simply said: “Remarkable…” above a graph suggesting that Reform UK have “the highest number of social media page interactions (May 22 to June 17)”.

This isn’t as remarkable as Mr Tice supposes, but does illustrate something that has long worried me. The more you engage with your ‘enemies’ on social media, the stronger they become, thanks to the way algorithms work.

Having “the highest number of social media page interactions” doesn’t mean people are supporting you. But it does mean they are talking about you.

Whether they love what you propose or think you’re merely the latest appalling iteration of British fascism, all comments and engagements notch up a ‘hit’.

After writing too many hostile comments on such unpleasant posts, I have disengaged. Being snide about our unloveliest people gets you nowhere and is bad for your mental calm.

Also bad for the equilibrium is listening to all the stupid things Rishi Sunak has said and done.

A recent posting had the words: “I will never stop fighting for this country” above a picture of a family, including a child, seemingly being lined up before a firing squad, beneath the words: “Don’t surrender your family’s future to Labour”.

Every Tory low in this campaign is followed by another, like a grotesque game of limbo… you think we can’t go that low, just hold my beer (or water, in Sunak’s case).

Thanks at this time are due to to Richard Osman, the TV presenter turned disgustingly successful writer of crime fiction (the sour grapes aisle is down there, just past that tottering stack of his best-sellers).

Many Tories have been banging on about the prospect of a huge majority for Labour, calling it a “super-majority”.

On X/Twitter, Osman sensibly pointed out: “A gentle reminder that the phrase ‘super-majority’ is meaningless in U.K. politics. There is nothing you can do with a 350-seat majority that you can’t do with an 80-seat majority.”

His view is backed up by the Electoral Reform Society, which explains on its website: “The phrase ‘super-majority’ is commonly used in the USA to describe what is technically called a qualified majority. Qualified majority provisions are used to entrench important pieces of legislation by setting a higher bar than a simple majority to pass legislation. Commonly, this level might be 2/3rds…”

In other words, it has nothing to do with having a whopping majority – something Tories seem keen enough on when they have one.

As for those endless TV debates, mostly they are to be avoided by sensible people. I’ve watched excerpts through my fingers. Life is too short. Or too long. Or too full of other possibilities.

From what I have seen, Sunak was tetchy and screamingly untruthful, chuntering “tax, tax and more tax”. While Sir Keir Starmer looked like he’d rather vomit than answer a question.

Now I quite like Starmer, and dearly hope all the projections of Tory doom and destruction come good. But being more inspirational wouldn’t hurt the Labour leader.

An on-screen quote from CNN on the presidential debate

Still, at least we’re not in the US, where the first presidential debate resembled a scrap in an old people’s home. Are these two really the only possible candidates in a country of 330 million? A doddering Democrat who looks like he needs to find a comfortable chair. And a marginally less doddery Republican famed for being hugely untrustworthy.

CNN factchecked Trump live on air and nearly every word was a lie.

But in a world where condoms and non-doms can be confused, no one is paying attention.

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Here’s a really stupid way to run a country…

If you wanted a really stupid way to run a country, you’d return the same party to power again and again, never mind how effective they are.

And if that trusty arrangement began to wobble, you’d make sure to complain about how the legs have suddenly become uneven.

Members of that usually incumbent party would whine bitterly about a ‘one-party state’.  While forgetting that they are perfectly happy when they’re the singular party in question.

And if you were a member of an opportunistic gate-crashing party – a racist, xenophobic, shit-stirring outfit, for example – your devotees might suddenly notice the unfairness of first-past-the-post voting. Seemingly unaware that left-wing people have been moaning on about that for years.

And if you were a disgruntled member of the party that always wins, or a dim disciple of the shit-stirring messiah, you’d take to social media to bitch on and on about your seemingly unassailable opponent.

The client newspapers and their obedient columnists would start to work overtime ­– almost certainly for the first time in their cossetted lives – to bash out unhinged columns on the theme of what is about to happen. A handy shorthand to encapsulate these rants would be ‘it’s not fair’, with a side order of ‘we’re all doomed, doomed, I say’.

Should you be the sort of fool who kicks around the fetid alleyways of X/Twitter – or Ex-Twitter, as it’s not what it was – you may well have noticed a preponderance of moaning from ‘the other side’.

In case you don’t know, X/Twitter works by having two feeds, ‘For You’ and ‘Following’. The first is a general news feed, while the second supposedly contains people you follow, or those who follow you.

Since Elon Musk took over, the For You feed should really be renamed ‘For You If You’re A Frothing Right-Wing Nutjob’. Dear Lord, the endless sour quibbles and bitter ranting served up on there by Musk’s algorithms is quite something. And that’s the ‘healthy’ end of the scale: the other end doesn’t bear mentioning.

You might well wonder why a sensible person would look at that feed. And you’d be right. The only defence is, have you seen the arrant, twisted, arse-over-tit nonsense these people spout.

It’s also a way of seeing how ‘the other side’ think – if indeed thinking is what they do.

As you can see from the top of this blog, the Daily Usual Suspect has been clutching its pearls and then scattering them about the room in a fit of vapours.

Apparently we’re heading for a ‘one-party socialist state’ – that’s if the opinion polls consistently giving Labour a clear lead are to be believed.

To which you can only reply, have you seen Sir Keir Starmer, as he doesn’t seem that much of a socialist.

The Daily Usual Suspect’s Famously Rubbish Columnist has got in on this act, too.

Boris Johnson tweeted about his never knowingly readable column: ‘If Labour wins big, the Commons will be crammed with Palestinian-flag waving Corbynistas ­– and it won’t just be the rich getting soaked, it’ll be everyone. Voting Tory is the ONLY way to stop Starmergeddon.’

You can just see him sniggering over that immature neologism. A 60-year-old former prime minister reduced to sixth-form sniping. Then again, he’s been doing that his whole life.

And if there is a massive Labour victory, Johnson will have helped bring that about. He secured an 80-seat majority in 2019 ­– an impressive achievement demolished with the swinging balls of his own self-destructive boorishness (this sixth-form sniping can be quite addictive).

So, yes, if you wanted a really stupid way to run a country, you’d return the same party to power again and again.

It would be good if we could avoid that this time. Give the other side a chance. Maybe they’ll do a better job. Maybe we’ll hardly notice the difference.

But all this talk of a ‘one-party socialist state’ is just the self-serving blather of people who think only they should run things.

I have some doubts about Starmer but will happily park those in the hope that he wins. The present lot really don’t deserve another day in power.

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Best to stay away from cheese… and Nigel Farage

Farage doing his usual nasty stuff…

I HAVE no idea what caused my heart attack, although a block of cheddar cheese has been called to the witness stand. It is also possible that Nigel Farage might share the blame.

A friend whose heart misfired long before mine offered an arterial tip. Avoid getting worked up about politics, he said.

Sage words, but not easy to follow when you’ve been agitating about politics for decades. And while it may be silly to waste time despising Farage, it’s an old habit.

Like a nasty virus, that man goes away and comes back just when you are feeling better. Like a bad case of indigestion, he lurks in the British stomach, resistant to all political antacid, throbbing like an ulcer.

Like a buzzing, biting mosquito with pin-striped legs…

This is your heart speaking. That’s enough tasteless metaphors about one unpleasant man… just try to think about something healthy instead…

Yes, but.

As you and my heart both know, Farage this week announced that he is to fight the general election. The one he didn’t have time for five minutes ago as he was planning to be in the US crawling to Donald Trump before that election.

Now he has taken over Reform UK, pushing aside fellow rich posho Richard Tice, and has imposed himself as the candidate for Clacton, a seat he thinks will be a push-over.

Despite worrying for my heart, I feel obliged to point out yet again that Farage is a rich man pretending to know what’s best for the common man or woman, when really he couldn’t care less about anything common.

He heads a political party that isn’t a political party at all, but a company/shit-stirring pressure group. Like his hero Trump, he knows how to tap into people’s dissatisfaction but offers no solutions, just endless, self-serving aggravation (hence this is the “Immigration Election”, according to his party’s objectionable slogan).

In a post on X/Twitter, Reform UK says: “Hard-working people in Clacton and across the UK have been ignored for far too long… They have been betrayed by the political establishment.”

It adds that Nigel Farage “will put them back on the map”.

No, he won’t. He is only interested in putting himself on the map.

Anyway, perhaps his arrogant presumption will be proved wrong.

Today he was on the Essex coast spouting on that young people know nothing about D-Day. In a great clip from Novara Media on X/Twitter, one hard-working voter from Clacton puts him right: “Nigel Farage is just an idiot” – an opinion I am sure we can all get behind.

A hard-working woman whose daughter is studying history at school points out that her girl seems to do nothing but learn about the Second World War.

As is so often the case, the few military men and women who remain from that war speak with quiet regret and reverence, if they speak at all. While right-wing grifters who weren’t even born then never shut up about the war.

In another Novara clip, a lively hard-working woman says: “Nigel Farage is a total snake, he just wants a seat in power, and he has nothing to do with Clacton.”

Good people of Clacton, you know what to do.

Farage has stood for election to the House of Commons seven times and failed on every occasion. Let’s wish him all the best for making it eight.

As for Rishi Sunak’s repeated lies about Labour’s tax plans in that ITV ‘debate’ the other night, Sir Keir Starmer’s reluctance to stick up for himself was puzzling.

Afterwards Labour revealed it had a letter from Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler saying that the Conservative Party had been told not to quote the figures Sunak used. Gotcha (sort of).

From the clips I saw, Sunak was in the wrong, Starmer seemed more empathetic and genuine, but it was all a bit tedious, wasn’t it?

 

STICKING to a heart theme, I have been signed off by the cardiac nurses. And graduated with sweaty honours from the six-week cardiac rehab course in the gym at York Hospital.

I may rattle with more pills than a carrier bag from Boots, but I am playing badminton and squash again, exactly to the low standard achieved before.

And the cardiac physio says running is now OK, so long as I follow the Couch to 5K plan. A step backwards for someone who once ran half-marathons, but sensible advice. Think I’ll give it a go.

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Mickey Mouse ears, a damp start and mudslinging for Sunak… attacking his own side from Starmer…

Photo: Aaron Chown/PA

How’s the general election going for you? As a bleary-eyed observer of these affairs, I’d say this one is wearisome and bumpy.

Nothing much is going right for Rishi Sunak, unless calling the election during a Downing Street downpour, without an umbrella to hand, was a masterstroke. Then again, maybe he wished to show off his breaststroke.

After that soggy beginning, Sunak’s campaign has sparked with all the verve of a damp box of matches. He went to Northern Ireland and visited Titanic Belfast, launching a thousand quips about sinking ships. Whether he rearranged any deckchairs while he was there remains unexplored.

But he did obligingly stand beneath the exit sign on a plane, and then proved his worth as the patron saint of newspaper photographers for a second time.

After announcing he was going to get rid of ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’, he appeared to be wearing Mickey Mouse ears at an event, thanks to smart work by a PA photographer.

On another visit, a worker could be seen looking unimpressed and laughing on camera as Sunak spoke, causing a bullet-headed Tory fixer to emerge from the shadows and step in front of her, which somehow amplified her disdain.

Oh, and Sunak made a common-man fuss about catching a train to Cornwall, only then to fly back, safely away from common people and their common lives. Sunak seems to spend most of his time in the air when he isn’t making a fool of himself on the ground.

The main effort of the Tory campaign so far seems to look no further ahead than the next day’s headlines.

The usual suspect right-wing newspapers regurgitate whatever the Downing Street wonks dream up the day before – the return of national service for the young, the ending of those Mickey Mouse degrees, free pies for everyone (one of these may not be true). Oh, and the tax benefits/bribes supposedly being offered to state pensioners (true, but unimpressive, and merely reversing an earlier Sunak cut).

All burped up on those front pages, and dutifully reported at one remove by the BBC.

As for Labour, Sir Keir Starmer is so intent on winning over people who don’t vote for his party that he is happy to piss off those who usually do.

His control-freakery has paid off in the opinion polls over the past four years, but attacking the left within his party leaves a bad taste for many and looks petty.

If that tactic works, which looks likely, then maybe it’s worth it. Anything to stop another tawdry Tory government.

Of course, plenty of former Labour supporters will tell you that there is no difference between Sunak and Starmer. To which you can only say, let him win and give him a go.

Still, the stain of Thatcherism and neoliberalism on public life will not go away just because we have a Labour government. The Blair government was good at fixing national life, especially the NHS, but did so in a way that lumbers us still with expensive private finance initiatives. More of the same under Starmer seems likely.

Surely we need to move away from encouraging private equity to buy its way into every aspect of our lives, from the railways to care homes and children’s services.

Such fleecing of the public purse may be a natural fit for many Tories. But Labour should seek a better way.

As for the hounding of deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, that was a running disgrace in the build up to the election being declared. A right-wing newspaper and two Tory MPs bullied the police into investigating whether she avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale of a council house years ago.

Now the police have said there is nothing to investigate. You might have thought the Tories, and their pet newspapers, would shut up. Nope, the mudslinging continues, even though they’ve run out of mud.

Then again, the Tory election campaign mainly involves chucking mud. Labour should throw some back. There’s a pile dating back 14 years.

Over on what you might call the fringes, the Lib-Dems seem to be enjoying their campaign, falling off paddleboards or whizzing down hill on a bicycle.

And the horrible people of Reform UK – a right-wing pressure group that pretends to be a political party – grind out the daily hatred and intolerance without a spark of anything much. Just hateful drudgery, and appalling speeches from its leader, the bullying charism vacuum known as Richard Tice who, like his bedfellow Nigel Farage, is a wealthy type pretending to be a common man.

An act no-one should fall for, although sadly some will.

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Is Rishi too rich? Is Sir Keir not Labour enough? Time to kick things off…

How the excellent political cartoonist Morten Morland sees it in The Times

Are you looking forward to the big match?

Sorry, this is not a reference to football. Nothing much is known about that round here. No, we’re addressing (somewhat reluctantly) the general election, due sometime or other.

We will also talk money and politics, and money and money, and the distasteful ledger known as the Sunday Times Rich List.

There is a lot of politics around now, with shin-kicking from both main ‘teams’ designed to lift a supporter’s heart or flood that organ with dismay.

The weirdest side-tackle from Labour has been to accept into the party the right-wing Tory MP Natalie Elphicke. This unfortunate hello fits with Sir Keir Starmer’s wish to show Labour is a broad church – but churches have doors, and Starmer should have shut her out.

I understand the logic: show that your party can attract people from across the political spectrum, and you widen your appeal. But still. There should be limits. Especially for an avid Brexit-head, who has often attacked Labour’s “softness on immigration” and laid into trade unions.

Last July, Elphicke wrote an article for that reliably potty government press release known as the Daily Express under the headline: “Lefties aren’t defending migrants, they’re defending a multi-billion pound criminal empire.”

And now she’s joined those ‘lefties’, some of whom are less than impressed.

Ms Elphicke followed her husband Charlie into being the MP for Dover after he was jailed for two years in 2020 for sexually assaulting two women.

Last weekend, Ms Elphicke was accused by Sir Robert Buckland, the then justice secretary, of “asking him to help move the date of the case, apparently to avoid publicity” (BBC website, May 12).

Hilariously, Buckland only remembered this after she became a Labour MP, having seemingly sat on the story for four years.

Plenty of Labour supporters see the arrival of Elphicke as a last-straw moment. I can see their point but will still vote Labour. We need shot of this tawdry Tory government, and voting Labour is the best route to that hopeful end.

And sulking because Starmer isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, as some disaffected Labour voters do, gets you nowhere.

On to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, that privileged princeling none of us can remember ordering. He becomes increasingly ridiculous by the minute, using all those clips featuring primary school graphics and marker pens to illustrate how fortunate we are to have him.

And then there was his “the end is nigh” speech from May 13. Sunak delivered this tinpot party-political tirade at the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange. Short version: we live in dangerous times and only Rishi can save us.

As the author Edwin Hayward pointed out on Twitter/X, two versions of this speech were released afterwards. One contained all the words as spoken at the politically biased think tank. The second, put out on the government website, had all the party political bits redacted. There was also a photo of Sunak outside Downing Street – not where he gave his speech.

Dodgier than a dodgy person in a dodgem.

Now money and the Sunday Times Rich List. One finding this year is that Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty, have climbed 30 places (from 275th to 245th) and increased their worth by £120m in just 12 months.

The Conservative commentator Henry Hill says people don’t care how rich politicians are. Well, they should. And being that rich divorces politicians from the ordinary lives they control. Also, they should care that the Sunaks are £120m better off after a year of him being prime minister – especially as Murty’s wealth is tied to her father’s digital services company Infosys, which has been winning government contracts.

According to the government’s official teller of possible porkies, everything here is above board.

There is, though, a more telling entry in the Rich List.

This is the Essex businessman Graham King who won government contracts worth £3.5m a day for transporting and accommodating asylum seekers.

Dirty work that no-one should do – and it’s made him one of the 350 richest people in the UK.

King, who is 56, is reckoned to have piled up a £750m fortune partly from housing asylum seekers for the government. In the neoliberal world Thatcher and Reagan lumbered us with, there are fortunes to be made off the backs of the least fortune people in the world.

How disgraceful.

Incidentally, the reliably mad business secretary Kemi Badenoch has taken to the pages of the Daily Mail to tout the latest Brexit benefit. This is to bring ‘pavement dining’ to the British high street – thanks to the removal of EU red tape.

As, yes, Europe – where cafes and bars never spill onto the street (some mistake here, as they say in Private Eye). There is even a continental expression for open air eating – ‘alfresco’. More appealing than ‘pavement dining’, which sounds rather unhygienic to me.

Another mysterious Brexit benefit.

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Soul Music, Morrison’s Sweet Thing, and memories of a long-lost friend…

Soul Music on BBC Radio 4 is a simple idea that works so well. Take one song, explore its history, talk to people who have an emotional connection to the music.

One of the songs in the new series is Sweet Thing by Van Morrison, from his 1968 folk-jazz album Astral Weeks, above.

Morrison was 23, barely known, shy and awkward when he created something as timeless as it is ethereal, fresh at every listen.

Warner Bros were keen to avoid expensive long hours in the New York recording studio and teamed him up with accomplished jazz musicians who helped create the fluid, organic feel of an album that still sounds as if it is being played for the first time. More or less the case as Astral Weeks was cut in 48 hours.

Sweet Thing is perhaps a slight song, certainly next to Cyprus Avenue and Madame George, yet its floating, wistful charm endures.

For the writer Caroline Mellor, who features in Soul Music, the song reminds her of her friend Dennis, who died aged 29. She was unable to cry at the time of his death, in private or at his funeral, and began to worry there might be something wrong with her.

Then one day, while on holiday in the Spanish mountains, she heard Van Morrison singing.

“Someone put Sweet Thing on a record player in another room and the sound just kind of drifted through the window and mingled with the sunlight.”

This triggered memories of their times together, taking a sound system out on to the South Downs, and Caroline couldn’t stop crying.

“After Dennis died I was still young, but a part of my youth died with him. And I think that’s probably the thing when people die, we’re also grieving the part of our lives that vanishes when they do. And the part of my life that ended when Dennis died was full of youthful energy, magic and gold.”

 

Julian’s friend John during their long drive across the US

I have written before about my university friend John, who died aged 42. And, yes, a part of my life vanished then.

Not the knotted weave of life since 1999. Not the John experiences shared with other people, including those misted university days or our wedding, where he was best man.

But experiences shared only with John now sit in a room with no door. I can’t check facts or measure memories, as there is no one to ask.

We went together on a three-week holiday to the US. An old photo album puts the date as 1981. John was an experienced driver, while I had just passed my test. We had 3,000 miles to cover in a week, as we were delivering a car, 600 miles or so a day.

I had only just got my licence. John drove in the big cities, but we shared the open road. At night, we stayed in cheap motels and in the morning ate breakfast at truck stops along Route 66.

It was a great holiday, a week in New York, a week in that car, sometimes bickering over my driving, and a week in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

One night we were drowned in desert darkness, nothing to see here, until at a bend in the road Las Vegas lit up beneath us, a bowl of neon. We spent one night there, another cheap motel. It was hot and we wandered through the casinos, or maybe just one casino. We didn’t bet on the tables, or not that I recall.

Perhaps John would remember things differently. But whatever the case, that holiday now belongs only to me.

John had a brain tumour, spotted during an eye test. We talked of meeting up. He was in London, I was in York, busy at work and the father of three young children. I let the matter slip, a lasting regret.

Besides his health seemed to improve, we spoke again, there would be time to meet up. Only there wasn’t.

John would be pushing 70. We’d surely still be friends, as we are in a way, although it’s a one-sided affair.

I have written before about John and if he was able, perhaps he’d heckle me here about the choice of words, or the hoeing of old ground, as my lovely friend could be picky.

Of course, I have other old lovely friends, some here in York known for 25 or 30 years, and newer friends met in the past few years. I have a wife, three grown-up-children, a sparky livewire delight of a grand-daughter. Plenty going on, you can’t dwell, we have all lost someone.

But still.

I miss my tall friend, six foot four to my five foot eight. We met at Goldsmiths College. It was his second go at university, London after Leeds; and my first, London after not getting in anywhere else.

I don’t have a song for John Sheridan. We went to gigs sometimes, one of the last was the saxophonist Andy Sheppard at Greenwich Borough Hall, shortly before we moved north.

My wife thinks she was pregnant with our first born at the time. Perhaps he was listening as he has always liked his music.

j j j

How Truss and Rayner are treated so differently in the national media…

IF YOU want to see politics and sections of the national media hand in slippery hand, look no further than the treatment meted out to Liz Truss and Angela Rayner.

The first, as you may recall, is the work experience prime minister who crashed and burned after 49 days, trashing the economy in the process. The second is the often abused deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Incidentally, there is another link here, as shall be explained.

Right now, Truss is being courted and reported for her opinions on everything, mostly how she is right and everyone else is wrong.

Rayner, meanwhile, is the subject of a vicious smear campaign by the Daily Mail. This has led to a police investigation concerning a possible lapse over a small amount of capital gains tax on a house sale years ago, alongside possible confusion over the electoral register.

Truss is given endless exposure for her frankly ridiculous sounding book, 10 Years To Save The West: Lessons From The Only Conservative In The Room. Full but hardly surprising disclosure, I’ve not read that book and have no intention of doing so.

From the excerpts I have read, and from the interview clips on TV, Truss remains fully detached from reality or empathy. Endlessly reciting her own innocence with that weird air of blank-eyed self-absorption she has made her own.

Perhaps it goes with being a right-wing loon.

Like Boris Johnson before her, like the former US President Donald Trump (and let’s keep that ‘former’, please), Liz Truss blames everyone else for her failings.

I don’t wish to recite her wing-nut theories, but basically it’s because there are lefties everywhere, under the carpet, behind the fridge, down the back of the sofa – and even in the Conservative Party (OK, only the last of those is ‘true’).

I’d like to know how to sign up to this mysterious left-wing establishment Truss says is out to get her, but dare not ask her, for she does go on so.

As for the Mail-inspired campaign against Rayner, I don’t fully understand her alleged sins, and also fail to understand why the police are investigating on the insistence of one Tory MP. Is that how things work nowadays?

In a sense such a hit job shouldn’t matter, except that the BBC endlessly reports these claims – which is exactly what the Mail hoped for.

There are, of course, endless Tory scandals to catch up on.

Here are a few:

The Government’s operation of a fast-track VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts to its political pals during the pandemic.

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi being embarrassed into settling a tax bill worth billions.

Former Conservative MP William Wragg saying he was “manipulated” into giving the personal phone numbers of colleagues to a man he’d met on a gay dating app.

None of these, naturally enough, are of interest. Instead, the Mail and its friends turn journalism into political thuggery, endlessly flinging mud in the knowledge some will stuck.

Maybe journalism has always been like that. Some of my non-journalist friends certainly think so. Part of me still always wants to stick up for the good facets of journalism, even if these can be hard to find some days.

Interestingly, this hit job on Rayner might not even be working. Plenty of commentators, away from those slipped the Mail or Telegraph shilling, are pointing out that the attacks seem misogynistic, class based and also, if you ask me, obsessive and boring.

Matthew Parris in the Times has written a column that is unusually supportive, beneath the headline “Angela Rayner’s only ‘crime’ is being an uppity lass.”

His piece begins, “The hounding of Angela Rayner is outrageous: brutal, snobbish and completely out of proportion to any mistake she may (or may not) have made…”

“Brutal, snobbish and completely out of proportion…” Yup, I’ll second that. A column well worth reading, and I don’t always think that about Parris.

One link between the way Truss and Rayner have been reported lies in a prominent Tory donor and right-wing campaigner. Lord Ashcroft wrote and published the biography of Rayner in which the allegations aired by the Mail and others were first made.

And his publishing company, Biteback, is responsible for Truss’s daft book. As the writer and speaker Steve Parks suggested on X/Twitter, “It’s a vanity right-wing propaganda outlet, not a proper publisher.”

Two big stories of the moment – and both can be traced to Lord Ashcroft. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Ashcroft is reported to have used an offshore trust to shelter wealth while he was a Tory peer. How typical.

Would a less partial publisher have touched Truss’s bonkers book? Whatever the case, I have a better title, as borrowed from Bart Simpson – I Didn’t Do It, Nobody Saw Me Do It, There’s No Way You Can Prove Anything!

j j j

Reasons to be glad… plus Easter politics, flags and National Trust scones…

HERE follows a list of what my stuttering heart could have taken me from.

Friends and family, including my wife and our three grown-up children, a short holiday with the granddaughter, that little girl’s smile, my brother and his wife coming to stay from Hong Kong, bringing our 92-year-old mum, who hadn’t seen me since the unexpected event.

Playing my first game of badminton post heart attack, walking all the way into York, driving the car again. Doing a spot of gardening alongside my wife.

Oh, and watching her decorate the hall, landing and bathrooms. The use of paint brushes is banned on medical grounds, or that’s my story. Anyway, my decorating skills are the wrong side of useful, tricky for a man married to a busy perfectionist.

Going to a gig at Bluebird Bakery near us, as suggested by friends who came over from Leeds to see Alison Cotton, an experimental viola player whose music comes in profound and melancholic layers.

And, no, I’d never heard of Cotton or realised you could experiment with the viola, but that’s what she does, to heart-touching effect, singing beautifully when not pushing boundaries with that viola.

That was my first outing to a gig, with another planned next week – John Smith in Leeds, on what will be our 37th wedding anniversary. Where somebody put all those years remains a mystery.

The passing of time ought to have a deeper resonance when you have had a squeak with mortality. But if you frittered the hours on social media beforehand, it is likely you will resume squandering what should now be invaluable.

That’s how I can tell you about events I would not have missed if I’d been permanently detained in the great elsewhere.

Easter, for a start, I wouldn’t have missed Easter at all.

Not the pleasant Easter I had with friends and family, with the granddaughter hunting eggs in her great auntie’s garden, but the online, anti-woke Easter that was so aggressively flourished by assorted right-wing bores on Twitter/X and elsewhere.

Sensible friends who avoid social media spats and twats may be unaware of the great Easter ding-dong. Just so that you and they know, what happened was that assorted right-wing Tories, alongside those even further off the field, shared Easter messages in a way that was frankly weird, trying to out-Christian each other, and goad all the “lefties”.

If you are a Christian, Easter is the most important date in the year, as even an atheist kicking stones along a ledge can acknowledge. But all these Trumpian types wielded their Easter messages like cudgels. How weird. Liz Truss held a lamb hostage outside an abandoned church, but then she is certifiably weird.

Carole Malone even wrote a column in the Express under the headline: “Why are we forever apologising for saying Happy Easter” – a complaint about something which surely just doesn’t ever happen. Weird again.

When these dull culture warriors weren’t doing that they were banging on about supposed perversion of the union flag. Thanks is due, then, to the assorted people posting who showed all the occasions when the Conservative Party has drawn up new versions of the flag during conferences and so on (from that silly flag tree onwards) to suit its own purposes.

And then, at last, we come to the National Trust scones scandal. And if you don’t know about this, you lead a fuller life than I do.

The Daily Mail reported from a small hill in Lower High Dudgeon that the trust had sneakily introduced “woke vegan scones” made with margarine without telling anyone.

GB News also ran over-heated “news” items about this appalling scandal.

But best of all, someone spotted that in 2018 the Mail had run a feature about the vegan scones, including a recipe.

Ha, hoist by their own unbuttered petard!

All praise, incidentally, to the excellent Celia Richardson, (above) director of communications at the National Trust, who fends off these culture war skirmishes with endless wit and apparent good grace.

Mind you, and just to show that life is complicated, scones are definitely better made with butter and topped with jam and clotted cream. Although perhaps not when you are recovering from a heart attack.

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