And just like that, the story was gone…

The story that vanished from the Times

The irony is enough to give you a nosebleed. The Times is a ‘newspaper of record’ – and yet stories can seemingly vanish into thin air if they embarrass the prime minister.

The Mystery Of The Story About Carrie has been fully explored on Twitter. OK, hands up ­– I am going on about Twitter again and if you don’t hang out there, you may wonder at the attraction. So do I sometimes, but it is addictive, offers a different slant on the news, and can shine a light into dingy corners.

I have no inside knowledge here, but have read the theories. To upend a Sherlock Holmes reference, the dog did bark but then it was muzzled. And, to splodge another metaphor on the word palette, that story turned out to have been written in disappearing ink.

Early print editions of the Times on Saturday contained the now-vanished political scoop by Simon Walton, a veteran reporter who used to work for the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.

The headline to Walton’s story was: “Johnson tried to give Carrie top Foreign Office job during affair.”

The story reported that in 2018 Johnson wanted to appoint Carrie Symonds (as she then was) to a £100,000-a-year government job but was eventually dissuaded from what seems to have been the usual act of outrageous nepotism.

The report was quickly withdrawn without comment or explanation, gone in an inky puff of what we can assume was cowardice. But a few copies escaped into the wild, as you can see above.

Did Johnson ask for this story to be killed because it showed him in a bad light (most stories do that anyway); did Downing Street pounce while he was away; or did their boss order the ‘hit’ from a distance?

Another possibility was that second thoughts were had, that the story didn’t stand up and… oh, let’s not go there; the story would have been researched, checked, OK’d and ‘legalled’, and Simon Walton was prepared to stand firm by his words.

Safer to assume Johnson wanted it gone. This afternoon Downing Street admitted as much, saying it had asked the Times to withdraw the story.

The official version is this request did not come from Johnson himself, and you can believe that if you wish (other possibilities are flapping in the wind).

If this was an attempt to stop another embarrassing story about Boris Johnson, it failed. For Twitter was flooded with pictures of the now vanished story, and more people were talking about the story than if it had remained in the newspaper.

Why the Times felt it had to cave into pressure from Downing Street says a lot about how things work in this country. The Tories in general, and Johnson in particular, receive endless support from the right-wing newspapers, and this in turn reflects the way the broadcasters cover stories, especially the BBC.

Outside of Twitter, the story of this disappearance was hardly covered at all, with an honourable exception being Tim Walker at the New European. Walker, a former colleague of Johnson’s at the Telegraph, is not a fan.

It took the Guardian 24 hours to follow up the story, and the BBC only covered the story on its website after Downing Street admitted it has asked for the story to be dropped.

And if you think we deserve newspapers that are prepared to probe and question everything any government does, no matter their political persuasion, you won’t hear an argument from me. But it won’t happen soon or probably ever.

As an example of blind-eyed bias, in the US the Murdoch-owned Fox News initially declined to show any coverage of the January 6 hearings into whether Donald Trump should be blamed for the mob that invaded the Capitol. The Trump-friendly news station just looked the other way, not wishing to blemish the man they had supported, at a weary guess. But then they have covered subsequent days. Some stories are too big to ignore.

As for the Times, I don’t buy that newspaper, being a Guardian/Observer type, although as a part-time hypocrite, I will read a copy if someone else has paid for it.

Will this story damage the Times more that it does Boris Johnson? That’s usually the way it works with that man.

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Advising Boris Johnson about ethics – that’s a tough gig

Lord Geidt (Picture: BBC)

DID you know that Boris Johnson has an ethics adviser? That must be the toughest gig since King Herod advertised for someone to offer childcare advice.

It’s a sort of morals prefect and the second one has just jumped ship. Lord Geidt’s job was to advise on the ministerial code, a set of rules governing standards of behaviour. In his parting letter, he said the job had put him in an “impossible and odious position”.

“I can have no part in this,” Geidt wrote. He appears to have been referring to an unspecified request for advice about Johnson “deliberately breaching his own code” and Geidt said it would be “an affront” to suspend the code “to suit a political end”.

But as we know, Boris Johnson never does anything unless it suits his own political ends (his political end is something else altogether).

As far as I can tell, the prime minister’s job seems to be twofold.

One: go about the country looking a proper tit in a high-vis jacket, while watching other people work. This is intended to impress for reasons impossible to explain (“Yes, I’ll vote for Boris Johnson because he is always so busy going around the country looking like a proper tit in a high-vis jacket…”).

Two: to seek ways to stir up cultural divisions and dividing lines, causing chaos and a distracting racket.

Two stories illustrate this second job.

First up is that shameful and immoral scheme to pick desperate migrants up from the shores of Kent and send them straight to Rwanda. A policy cruelly inept enough to have united in condemnation Prince Charles and all the bishops in the Church of England.

Political rumour has it that the government would like to expel the bishops from the House of Lords in revenge.

According to a story by Harry Lambert in the New Statesman, a source close to government thinking revealed: “They never expected the flight to take off. The point of the exercise was to create dividing lines ahead of the next election, which is going to be fought, in part, on a manifesto pledge to leave the European court of human rights and repeal the Human Rights Act.”

A BBC report calculated that chartering the Boeing 767 cost an estimated £500,000. Half a million taxpayers’ pounds blown on a political stunt exploiting extremely vulnerable people.

But then, Johnson doesn’t care about migrants or anyone else, unless they are useful in saving his own sweaty skin.

It was heartening to see that Rwanda flight cancelled, although other flights will be along soon enough. And the last-minute intervention of the European Court of Human Rights probably pleased Johnson no end. It certainly allowed the usual Brexit-addled suspects to attack Europe yet again, even though the court has no direct link to the EU – and Britain was instrumental in setting it up to protect human rights.

And here is the other zombie story: Brexit revisited as Johnson tries to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol bill, while rewriting history too by pretending poor, defenceless Britain was tricked into signing the agreement. You know, the one he boasted about as his oven-ready magic recipe for getting Brexit done (still not cooked yet).

So, whenever the next election comes, it’s likely to be fought on Brexit: The Return, and demonising traumatised migrants. Lovely.

Two final thoughts. Why don’t we set up a processing centre in France, as the French have suggested, rather than trying to ship people to Rwanda? Answer: it’s a sensible, humane solution that wouldn’t garner the right sort of outraged headlines.

Thought two: while it’s not good to see certain Labour supporters constantly laying into Sir Keir Starmer, it is depressing that Starmer has not spoken out against the Rwanda deal. Whatever you think of Tony Blair, his lawyerly wit could sting and provoke; Starmer’s merely seems to conjure an air of being mildly put-out.

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Top Gun: Maverick vs Big Dog: Maverick…

“I don’t like that look, man.” “It’s the only one I got.”

This scrap of dialogue is either from the new Top Gun film or it’s my expression whenever Boris Johnson cooks up another plan to save his goose (or Goose, if you want to stick with the parallel).

Yes, we’ve been to see Top Gun: Maverick, the totally absurd and yet absurdly enjoyable sequel. There aren’t many connections between this film, arriving 36 years after the original, and our present government. But I was struck by the nicknames, with Tom Cruise’s character, Pete Mitchell, bearing the obvious macho moniker, Maverick, while other pilots have call signs such as Rooster, Hangman, Phoenix and Payback.

Meanwhile, in Downing Street…

“We have to formulate a plan to save Big Dog.”

“Who’s that?”

“Donnez-moi un break – it’s me, Bozzer, AKA Big Dog, everybody’s favourite misbehaved puppy and pretend clown.”

“Favourite? 148 of your MPs just voted that they have no confidence in you.”

“Nonsense, that was an outstanding result for Big Dog as 211 of my MPs said they did have confidence in me. Now it’s time to move on and…”

“Save your arse again, Prime Minister?”

“That’s the thing and I have a cunning plan.”

“Is it even more far-fetched that Tom Cruise swooping in low to blow up a nuclear plant, bailing out in the snow and then stealing an enemy plane?”

“Well, I am swooping in low and pinching an idea from good old Maggie ­– sell off the council houses to win people over and turn them Conservative.”

“Haven’t all the council houses already been flogged off, and about 40% are now owned by private landlords – some of them your mates.”

“Ah, good point and those mates will like me even more, or at least a little bit. Anyway, I want to sell off housing association houses, plenty of them to go around.”

“But didn’t Thatcher’s policy help create the very housing crisis you now claim you want to solve – while also leading to our over-heating housing market?”

“Who the hell are you to question me? Not sure I even recognise you. Did you hang around after one of those parties that never happened?”

“No, I just wandered here off a ledge somewhere.”

“Go back now. I don’t like that look you’re giving me.”

“It’s the only one I got.”

Big Dog likes to bite your ankles or make a mess on the floor for someone else to clean up. Or mess up this country’s housing supply even more than Thatcher did, just so that he can cling on to power for longer.

It’s quite a plot for a thriller: an unscrupulous, egotistical sociopath of a prime minister sees the end is nigh but plans to take his party and his country with him: if I can’t have this country, no-one can, etcetera.

Anyway, back to Top Gun. It’s been a while. Pete Mitchell is called back to train the new generation of pilots for one last deadly mission. And no, he doesn’t play by the rules, dropping the rulebook in the bin before our eyes (take that, rulebook).

After that, the cliches queue up like buses. You wait 36 years, and here they come, one after the other. You can pretty much write the script as it rolls out and can guess exactly what is about to happen. We’re all in this film together.

As a link to the original, Miles Teller plays Rooster, son of Anthony Edward’s Goose who, as Mark Kermode puts it in his Observer review, “got famously cooked in the first film”.

Seeing Rooster playing Great Balls Of Fire on the piano sends Maverick on an emotional flashback, and leaves him with the film’s central dilemma: should he allow Rooster to fly this dangerous mission, or will Goose’s son get cooked too?

There are oddities in the film, notably the ‘enemy’ whose nuclear must be removed before it goes live. This foe is left handily vague, presumably because you don’t want to go putting off potential markets for the film.

And, yes, this is pretty much still a recruitment advert for the US Navy ­– one that arrives just the world has been tipped into more explosive horror in Ukraine.

But the aerial acrobatics are as impressive as the story is cheesy. And however much you might want to, it’s hard to resist Tom Cruise in the end. It is, however, easy to resist the lazy lure of that big dog’s dinner of a prime minister.

 

 

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Being made redundant is devastating. Then you move on…

Seven years have passed since I was shown the door. To mark the occasion, I have just read a book by a journalist who was made redundant by the same newspaper group.

Here is how the first of these blogs began at the end of May 2015…

“Well, that was one of the strangest days in my working life. After 27 years in the one newspaper office, that was it. Time to go, move on. At least I had company. There were ten of us leaving, or was it 11? I forget now. Gave a speech, cried and went to the pub: some of these things are what you expect of a journalist, some perhaps not…”

Roger Lytollis went through it all at the Cumberland News group in Carlisle. This family business was taken over by my old employers. Newspaper people will know this does not necessarily lead to a happy outcome.

Roger’s book is called Panic As Man Burns Crumpets, and it is subtitled The Vanishing World of the Local Journalist.

It is funny, moving and sad, as both me and Melvyn Bragg believe, although only Melvyn’s words appear on the cover.

Roger was inspired, he has said, by This Is Going To Hurt, Adam Kay’s rollercoaster diary about being a junior doctor (as recently televised for BBC1). In a similar vein, although with less blood, he recalls his time as a feature writer, sharing many good anecdotes while also exposing his own frailties: shyness, periods of depression, and a chaotic way of messing up occasionally.

There are many amusing memories, typified by the chapter headed “Nude Reporter Shares His Tip”: Roger strips off to swim with a naturist club at Wigton Baths, has an embarrassing picture taken, and somehow marks the occasion by getting his car stuck in a muddy field at the top of a dead-end country lane.

That never happened to me, but Roger captures perfectly the life of a features writer. And he summons up that disappearing inky work, the companionship, the teasing, the fun, the sparring and the witty moaning, and the endless rush of stories, all those words passing in a blur.

The end when it comes is described with deadening familiarity for those of us who’ve been through it (and what a swelling gang we are). Roger is told more than once that getting rid of journalists is the best way “to invest in quality journalism for years to come”, and we all know how well that’s working out.

I don’t have anything further to say about my old newspaper as it’s no longer my world. I hear things and know those who remain still work hard for lowish pay. Young journalists are taken on, which is good, although as Roger points out, some papers now are only staffed by inexperienced/cheaper reporters.

Being made redundant by Newsquest was a shock to Roger and me, but at least Roger turned his collapsed career into a book. As for me, I was devastated at the time, less so now.

Looking back, I wonder about those 27 years. Was that a sensible amount of time to stay in one place as as an editor, designer, writer, columnist, letters editor and more besides? Nope, but I loved that job until it no longer loved me.

Since leaving, I have lectured in journalism at two universities (rewarding but it dried up), had two spells with the Press Association, including three days a week now on the digital newswire, a non-stop sort of job. Oh, and I worked for the census in my only non-journalism job since forever.

Best fun of all, I have written more than 60 freelance features for the Yorkshire Post, starting with York panto dame Berwick Kaler talking about the Railway Children (in the event, he didn’t make the show).

After a lifetime in journalism (note to self: don’t do that again), I can say that interviewing people for a decent feature is the best part.

I used to remind students, “It’s not about you ­– it’s about them.”  True up to a point, but it is about you in a quiet way; what you bring, the skills you use to capture a person and their life and honour them with your words. All after a chat for perhaps an hour, with a digital recorder on the table between you, and don’t go embarrassing me by mentioning shorthand.

 

And, yes, I am still writing fiction, two novels on the go. I just need to find a new agent or another willing publisher.

As for being made redundant, every negative brings unexpected positives. I wouldn’t have written all those lovely features if I’d stayed put. Or bashed out hundreds of blogs for my own amusement, and occasionally to please/irritate others.

I plan to semi-retire at Christmas but will keep writing for as long as they’ll have me. And if they won’t, I will keep writing anyway. For there will always be words. As my Twitter profile puts it: “Usually to be found wrestling with words. Mostly the words win.” Heavens, who wrote that rubbish?

Let’s give the last word on redundancy to Roger. Here’s how he ends his book: “I’d been dumped. Get over it. Move on.”

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Does being cross change anything? Probably not…

I’d like to watch that Panorama report on partygate, I say. “So long as you don’t swear like you do at the radio,” my wife says.

This is unfair as I only ever swear at Tory politicians spouting lies on the Today programme while they clean up after the latest mess Boris Johnson just made. Who doesn’t swear at that?

Sometimes it is a minister of relatively lofty awfulness, such as Dominic Raab who earns a curse for whatever sneery thing just slithered out of his mouth; sometimes it is just the latest subservient sap sent out with a mop in the endless job of tidying up.

When it all becomes too much, I switch to BBC Radio Three and the swearing is stoppered by lovely music.

This swearing habit set me thinking about being cross over something you cannot control. Is this healthy or would it be better not to care about that day’s political irritation; better just to listen to music?

Easier said than sworn at after a lifetime of politics. Only ever as a spectator, and perhaps this is my football crowd, a one-man crowd it is true, standing alone in the kitchen and swearing at the radio while my wife sighs in the next room.

I don’t know if I can get out of this habit, or if I even want to, but sometimes it worries me. Does being cross change anything? Not really, but perhaps it is a safety valve, a necessary release of angry steam. Or maybe it is self-indulgent and pointless, an endless round of futile fury with no conclusion in sight. Who knows?

We watch Panorama. The former BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg offers a detailed account of all those parties Johnson said never happened. It’s there on iPlayer if you want to catch up.

Mostly it is a recap of known tawdriness, although there are interviews with three disgruntled Downing Street staffers (in shadow and voiced by actors). Details are filled in, numbers added to the parties, more bottles discovered, more winey fuel to the fire.

The programme was made before ITV yesterday released a photograph of Johnson raising a glass at a leaving do, bottles cluttered all around. It feels a little out of date already, political news being an endless rush to staleness.

Annoyingly, Kuenssberg ropes in the Beergate non-scandal in the name of balance, summoning up that cynical belief that “they’re all the same” the Daily Mail has spent so long cultivating to cover up for their man.

Well, it’s annoying to me. My companion on the viewing sofa wants to know why Labour lied about that curry night in Durham. It wasn’t a big deal, I say. But why did they tell lies, she says.

After that we watch the Chelsea Flower Show.

As for partygate, the long-delayed Sue Gray report is due today, having been completed last night, according to the BBC. It will now be sent to Downing Street. According to the Times, Johnson tried to prevent its publication.

Will his Sue Gray moment be worse for him than he expected? Will his MPs finally decide they cannot keep supporting such a mess of a man? And, closer to home, will I learn to stop swearing at the radio? Years ago, I used to swear in the car but gave that up, so there is hope.

 

Footnote: The Sue Gray report has been published and, among the lovely details, you will find wine on the wall, vomit on the floor, scuffles and rudeness to staff trying to do their job, and much more. Boris Johnson has told the Commons that he takes “full responsibility” for the report’s findings. This may or may not mean a thing. Is “full responsibility” different to “responsibility” (full-fat responsibility as opposed to semi-skimmed responsibility?); or is it just something you say when you take no responsibility at all and wish everyone would get off your back as you are too important for all this?

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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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