Mail on Sunday goes after Keir Starmer’s donkey field… Hockney has another rant about smoking…

Is the Mail on Sunday off its rocker and can smoking offer protection against Covid-19? The connection here lies in newspapers.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried a supposedly damning report about Sir Keir Starmer, headlined: “Man of the people? New Labour leader owns land worth up to £12m”.

The story begins: “He was always been keen to play down his privilege and play up his working class roots…” but Starmer owns “seven acres of land that could be worth up to £12m, The Mail on Sunday can reveal”.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal what it likes, I guess, but that ‘could’ is a giveaway. It provided the hook on which to a hang the story, written by Ian Gallagher and Harry Cole. Incidentally, deputy political editor Cole (no relation to deputy ledge dweller Cole) is said once to have been in a relationship with Carrie Symonds, who is now shacked up in Downing Street with Boris Johnson.

That last fact is mere tittle-tattle, but does suggest movement in certain circles.

The greenbelt land in question lies behind the Surrey house where Starmer grew up. He bought the field in 1996, according to the MoS, when he was working as a human rights lawyer.

It turns out that Starmer acquired it as a home for donkeys his parents rescued and looked after. When his mother became disabled, losing the ability to walk, the donkeys were moved to the field so that she could still see them.

The supposed value of the land is purely notional as it has no planning permission, and Starmer reportedly has no plans to sell, although he is selling the house and a small strip of land.

So the gist of this story – supposed socialist is a hypocrite owner of land worth millions ­– is a malicious little fiction, as without planning permission that land is worth nothing much.

The undercurrent is a real shocker: what a bastard, Sir Keir Starmer buys a field so his disabled mother can look after rescued donkeys.

As an attempted stitch-up, this grubby little effort backfired on that detail. At a socially-distanced glance, Boris Johnson probably contains more scandal in his little finger than Sir Keir Starmer does in his upright body.

Incidentally, according to a Sunday Times report of February 16 this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, married to the daughter of an Indian billionaire, owns at least four houses, including a mansion here in North Yorkshire. Sunak and his wife, Akshata, both 39, “share a property portfolio spanning the UK and America that is collectively worth about £10m”, according to that Sunday Times report.

Surely, plenty of Tory MPs own lots of houses, as do some Labour MPs. Owning lots of houses seems to be an incidental benefit of representing people who own one house or none.

But that MoS story was nothing but a grubby little stitch-up.

David Hockney is almost as famous for smoking as he is for his art. Journalists sent to interview him sometimes come away having learned almost as much about tobacco as painting.

According to my long-ago colleague Geordie Greig, once a trainee on the South East London Mercury and now editor of the Daily Mail, Hockney claims he wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that smoking offered protection against Covid-19, using as an example Greece. Deaths there have been low and this, according to Dr Hockney, is because lots of people smoke in Greece.

He told Greig that the Guardian refused to print his letter, although the Guardian said it never received it.

David Hockney’s art is invariably uplifting; his unfashionable views on smoking less so.

According to the World Health Organisation, smokers are in fact more likely to be at risk from Covid-19 as their lung health may be compromised. Looks like Hockney is wrong on this one, but his pro-smoking rants are almost an art in their own right.

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