A Crooked House for a Crocked Country… and Small Gloats Week…

Crooked House pub

WHAT a gift the demolished Crooked House pub has been to lovers of a convenient metaphor. To borrow from the tradition of letter writers to Private Eye, let me be the 94th scribbler to point to a perfect image of modern Britain.

You will recall that the infamously wonky pub in the Black Country, built in 1765, succumbed to fire and demolition shortly after being acquired by new owners.

Adam and Carly Taylor appear to have withdrawn from society since the sudden demise of the property.

While not wishing to stray into the legalities of this upsetting matter, a series of unfortunate events does seem to have occurred. A fire and demolition; how unlucky can one couple get.

The pub’s famed instability was down to mining subsidence, common in the area. A marble placed on the bar would appear to roll uphill, while bottles of beer rolled up tables. Drinkers could think themselves drunk before they’d supped a drop, as walking around the bar was said to induce giddiness.

Much as in the less charming way that merely trying to stay upright in modern Britain can be an endless struggle for many.

Of course, that name helps in the metaphor department – a Crooked House pub for a Crocked Country, or a Crooked One, if you prefer. And the undermining of the pub adds to the image: swap this subsidence for the endless privatisation undermining Britain, the never-ending chucking over of public money to richly incompetent private companies.

The present “owners” of the NHS prattle about its importance, while holding back funds and handing more of the health service to private companies who soon set about tunnelling.

There have been calls for the beloved pub to be rebuilt, wonky brick by wonky brick. Such restorations have been ordered before by local councils, as happened with the Carlton Tavern in West London after it was demolished without warning.

Whether a country can be rebuilt, brick by sold-off brick, is another matter.

Time to give Labour a go, is what this sometimes disillusioned old Labour voter thinks.

Labour is often seen as being less electable when it is “too left wing” ­– yet shouldn’t the same theory apply to Tories becoming “too right wing”? Especially now that they’ve morphed into a far-right sect so obsessed with culture wars on woke etc that they’ve more or less given up on governing. Inventing scraps and flinging lies around is so much easier, you see.

These political metaphors abound in the mud of British life. Once you start looking, you can’t stop – as happens to those silt-encased folk who go mud-larking in the Thames.

Take that Bibby Stockholm, a modern spin on a Dickensian prison ship moored off the south coast. What better image could there be for an unkind country than using a floating prison to contain asylum seekers, many fleeing war, terror and torture?

Barely had the first migrants arrived, than they had to be evacuated over fears of legionella bacteria in the water systems.

As with the Rwanda scheme, the modern prison hulk seems to be more about nasty performative politics than thinking of policies that might actually work or show an ounce of humanity.

The legionella scare came in the same dreadful week that more people died while attempting to cross the Channel.

But Rishi Sunak has the answers or thought he did. In case you missed it, last week was “small boats week” in which Rishi and his ministers intended to hail their successes in tackling Channel crossings.

Perhaps I misheard. Maybe it was “small gloats week”. To misappropriate the tile of the Bill Bryson book, Notes From A Small Gloats Island. Small gloats from a small man – and, standing a full inch taller than Sunak, I can say that.

Another handy image – Sunak saying he is going to blow the environment and “max out” on oil. As the country and the wider world begins to think that climate change must be tackled, the prime minister sticks his head in the sand and comes up with oil. Or, more tellingly, the promise of oil.

If the Tories really think that turning oil into election-winning holy water is going to work, they deserve to lose.

All of which has raised fears among some senior Tories that they risk being the “nasty party” again. Or the “even nastier party” if you prefer.

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A fine failure that ended up being a success for one woman… and trees falling in the opinion forest…

I LIKE the story of the actor who posted a tearful tweet about the seeming failure of her one-woman show at the Edinburgh fringe.

“There was one person in my audience today,” Georgie Grier tweeted, alongside a selfie of her wiping away tears.

One woman on the stage; one woman in the audience. “It’s fine, isn’t it? It’s fine…?”, Grier added.

Thanks to the random kindness of social media strangers, her show was sold-out 24 hours later after well-known comedians rallied round, saying they’d all been there.

Dara O Briain said he’d bought drinks for his audience “as a thank you for being the only ones there”, while Jason Manford said it was “absolutely normal… for one person to rock up to your show” in Edinburgh.

Perhaps the best response came from the Tory peer and writer Daniel Finkelstein, who said he once went to Norwich to give a speech and, after four hours of travel, two people turned up.

“One of them was the person who invited me,” he was quoted as saying in the Guardian’s report of August 5. “I asked the other person to join the cause I was there to support. He said he would, but it might interfere with the terms of his parole.”

Yes, I like that story, but it did make me wonder.

You know that old philosophical saw about how if a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, yes and no is the answer to that, but that’s philosophy for you, I guess.

A blog is just a blog, but does it make a sound in the opinion forest if no-one hears it land? While the world rallies round a young woman actor who cried about the apparent flop of her show on the Fringe, would anyone rally round an ageing blogger who complained about not being noticed as much as would be nice?

Well, I hope not. No-one asks this blogger to blog; no-one insists on hearing what a mostly liberal-minded oldish guy thinks about the way of the world. But I blog all the same, liking the process, enjoying the shepherding of words, savouring the way some black sheep opinions occasionally run up to readers, while others get stuck in a hedge somewhere.

This blog is read by a hardy few. I get monthly statistics, you see. People in the low hundreds favour these meanderings each month, but some of those lovely people will be the same ones.

Some occasionally will be my mother.

Any form of creativity may be done to please the creator, or to appease a nagging need, a making sense of things, or because a day or a week doesn’t feel complete unless you’ve tapped the laptop or picked up pencil or paintbrush. Or done a little of whatever it is that you like or need to do.

For me it’s writing. Blogs and features that are read; novels that were read once and may be read again as you’ve got to have a grain of hope in your bookish soul.

So, yes, do what you do; act what you act; stand-up where you wish to stand; keep writing what you wish. Sometimes you will be noticed and sometimes you will not. It’s all part of  everything. And sometimes the ‘doing’ is enough in a way, even if occasionally it is encouraging to be seen doing whatever it is you do.


No politics today, but have you seen the state of that hulking prison ship moored off the coast of Dorset, all part of the dreadful culture war over migrants, with the government perpetually swearing it will solve a crisis of its own making, and not solving it anyway as it’s more “useful” to use disadvantage people as political pawns in a grubby game.

No politics today, but we are better than that.





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Air miles Rishi chases car exhaust fumes in electoral ruse…

I have just been out in my car and worry this may have made me a bit right-wing. In my defence it’s raining.

I didn’t cycle as my wife complains about having a croggy in the wet. Or she would if I ever dared suggest such a mode of transport. And anyway, the usual helicopter wasn’t available. I did think about hiring a private jet, but the daughter’s house is only two miles away.

Thanks to that narrow Tory by-election win in Uxbridge, said to have been swung by the extension of London’s the ultra-low emission zone, prime minister Rishi Sunak has decided there are votes in exhaust fumes.

“I am on the motorists’ side,” he told the Telegraph.

That’s doubtful coming from air-miles Sunak, who got all prissy-snippy the other day after a Scottish radio host asked why he’d flown to Scotland in a private jet.

Of course, the usual suspect newspapers are launching pro-car campaigns. And you can’t open some newspapers without tripping over a columnist moaning about how their electric cars are useless. It’s almost as if they’ve been told to say that by their fossil-fuelled dinosaur owners.

Plug me in, please. I’d go for an electric car now if I had their money.

Chasing after the motorists’ vote is just the latest desperate ploy after 13 years of nothing getting better. Things could only get worse and all that.

Yet motorists come in all shapes and inclinations. They also come on bicycles if it’s not raining. Lumping us all together as if we’re going to nod along and go, “Oh, yes, Rishi – I drive a car and you are so speaking for me” is as lame as a flat tyre.

Motorists also step out of their cars and walk sometimes. Motorists live by busy roads (this one does).

Motorists have children or grandchildren and worry about clean air. Motorists may themselves suffer from breathing problems. Especially if they are spluttering after hearing another right-wing lecture from the prime minister no one voted for.

What Sunak seems to be saying about cars is, foot to the floor, burn as much petrol as you like, sod the green agenda. It’s only trees and fresh air; no money in that.

Of course, he’ll swear such criticisms of him aren’t fair, but then he does sit on blatant contradictions much as a puppy might on a wee-stained cushion.

On a phone-in for LBC, Sunak was just arguing the toss with a junior doctor, spinning out the soft-soap thanks “for all your hard work”, then responding to her criticisms of the state of the NHS with the usual supreme condescension: “You and I are going to disagree on this.”

True, it’s tricky. Who you gonna believe – a multi-millionaire prime minister who uses private medicine and flies everywhere, or a doctor walking the wards?

If the Tories, and possibly Labour too, see political mileage in rowing back on their commitment to net zero, then we really are in a shameful place. We can’t just keep putting off sensible green measures to placate the oil lobby (big donors, surprise-surprise, to the Conservative Party).

What’s so bad about clean air? Sir Keir Starmer should proclaim that he supports climate action, that he supports a safer, cleaner future for our children.

But I wouldn’t bet your pocket money on it. Nervously trudging after the Tories seems to be his way, more’s the pity.

As for slippery Sunak, he says we should be drilling for more oil and gas to make it “more affordable” for British customers. As Ciaran Jenkins pointed out in an excellent analysis for Channel 4 News, we export 80% of our oil and only 4% of our gas comes from Russia. And as the price is set internationally, producing more gas will not make it cheaper.

But the green story should also be a positive one. Costs of solar and wind energy are falling and are now cheaper than fossil fuels. Who but a fossil fool wouldn’t want to take advantage of green technology?


OF COURSE, Rishi Sunak is disconnected from normality by his wealth, a point well made by David Olusoga.

Writing in the Observer last weekend, the historian detailed how the leisure centre in Gateshead he grew up using is threatened with closure. He made the comparison with Winchester college, where the prime minister was head boy, which has been building itself a spanking new sports centre.

“The place will include a swimming pool, squash courts and a rifle range,” Olusoga writes.

“It is beyond what even many local authorities at the top of the deprivation indices could afford. Other private schools have comparable facilities and 65% of the current cabinet attended such schools, more than nine times the number among the general population.”

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Embracing the old guy stuff while worrying about the political environment…

Meet the granddaughter, a giggle-pot marvel of inquisitiveness and determination. She may pull my newspapers on the floor and tear them up, but she is unquestionably the best child ever to pop out into this planet.

She is taking small steps already, three or four at a time, although they are not so small when you are still a month away from turning one. They are giant steps for baby-kind.

These are not merely the observations of a fond grandparent, although that too. What a reward it is to reach this stage of life, even if you once thought, oh, I am too young for all that malarkey.

Wise up Pops – for that is what I am now called – you are 66, for heaven’s sake. Time to embrace the old guy stuff.

The reason for mentioning all this is not just grandfatherly pride. One day, that little girl will take an interest in the world she inherits from her parents and grandparents.

While I don’t wish to sully her with politics, you can’t help worrying when the planet she will grow up on is being used as a political football.

Last week’s three by-elections were mostly bad for the Tories, who suffered two defeats. But the fly in the electoral ointment came in Uxbridge, Boris Johnson’s old seat, where the Tories clung on, although with a majority of less than 500.

Not much of a victory, although you wouldn’t have known it from espying cocky little Rishi Sunak parked up in the constituency and spewing out polluting guff about how it shows you can’t trust Labour, and anyway no-one likes the environment, or something.

The Tories scraped home by exaggerating the likely effects of extending Sadiq Khan’s air-cleansing policy, the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez). Their candidate used this as a wedge and stood not so much for the Conservatives as against Ulez.

Reportedly, Labour canvassers came across local drivers of electric cars complaining about how much the scheme would cost them, when the scheme penalises only the oldest and most polluting petrol or diesel cars.

What a cock up it was for Keir Starmer’s party not to come out with some good lines beforehand. Why didn’t they just say, “We believe people deserve to breathe clear air”. Or they could have suggested paying higher scrappage compensation to drivers of polluting cars so they could buy something less stinky.

Instead, Labour nervously stayed away from a hot local topic, and suffered as a result (although their surprise victory in Selby, usually a Tory stronghold, offered better news).

The danger in this and other matters is that Labour ends up with the advertising slogan: Like the Tories but not quite so shit. It’s hardly encouraging.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have made noises about possibly having to row back on their commitment to environmentally friendly policies. For Labour, this seems to be a matter of nerves, and not wishing to give hostages to fortune to the Tories.

For the Tories, it a wish to weaponize absolutely everything, from the climate to alleged wokeness; from the evils of the left-wing blob (whatever that might be) to Nigel Farage’s unimportant banking troubles. Nothing is too small or irrelevant or blatantly ridiculous not to be flourished as a distraction.

According to New Scientist magazine earlier this week, climate change made the heatwaves in North American and Europe “at least 1,000 times more likely and the heatwave in China around 50 times more likely”.

The threat is real, and our politicians need to take notice and grasp the potentials of green energy and industries, not indulge in petty squabbles. Or, as right-wingers do, insist there isn’t a problem at all, and we should just carry on, cut taxes and forget about being green.

Or for the usual suspect newspaper to get all hot about the gills over the red areas on the BBC’s ‘misleading’ weather maps. When you’re that dim, even the weather is woke.

As for “carry on and forget”, that’s been the way for most Conservative governments. Margaret Thatcher far-sightedly acknowledged in the late 1980s that mankind was damaging the environment, only for her enthusiasm to do anything about it to evaporate under a privatised sun.

David Cameron rode in on a husky proclaiming he would front “the greenest government ever”, only reportedly later to proclaim that it was time to “get rid of all the green crap”.

And Boris Johnson, oh I suppose we must mention that man. He seemed genuinely to care about the environment for about five minutes, until his in-and-out mind wandered elsewhere.

As for Starmer, well, his party have made encouraging noises about a “fairer, greener future”. Let’s hope they don’t get snarled up in a congested cul-de-sac in Uxbridge.

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Much in life is more important than Nigel Farage’s bank account… plus degrees of stupidity from Rishi Sunak

HERE are things I’d rather hear about than Nigel Farage’s bank account.

Almost anything you might care to mention, as it happens. From something nasty on the bottom of my shoe to, well, something nasty on the bottom of my shoe.

The attention given to Farage’s grievance with Coutts seems way over the top. As you may recall, Farage had his account at the posh people’s bank closed, although he was offered another by NatWest, owners of Coutts.

The account was suspended either because Farage had insufficient funds; or because Coutts didn’t fancy having him as a customer any more.

The first of those reasons was reported by the BBC, which later issued a clarification on the matter; the second was indicated by a secret 40-page dossier compiled about Farage, which, among other observations, said he was a “disingenuous grifter” who promoted “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views”.

While these remarks about Farage’s character might have been surprising coming from his bank, they chime with how some people may see him. Whatever the case, Farage went into poor-little-me meltdown, causing Coutts to apologise.

But what a full-on furore about this small matter there has been, with dark rumblings about free speech, and the Treasury stepping in, and little Rishi Sunak coming out with another of his prissy quotes, saying it “wouldn’t be right if financial services were being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech”.

Well, knock me down with a Just Stop Oil placard!

The way this Farage f-rumpus has been turned into a cause celebre by the usual suspect right-wing newspapers is quite something.

It’s almost as if they’ve not noticed that this is one of the most intolerant governments in decades – determined to suppress almost any form of protest, and even to block experts talking to Civil Servants if they are found previously to have been even mildly unflattering about the Tories on social media.

The widescreen exposure given to Farage playing the victim seems designed to drown out matters we might actually want to hear about.

Like Boris Johnson apparently refusing to give his WhatsApp messages to the Covid inquiry (does he have something to hide?).

Or all those millions lost to dubious PPE procurement deals given to friends of the Tories (anyone seen Baroness Michelle Mone lately – it seems ages since we last heard how she’s coping). According to Commons public accounts committee the government spent “£14.9bn of public money over-paying and over-ordering” on Covid-19 medicines and vaccines”. That’s a hell of an amount to blow.

Pull the focus wider, and you may rather wish to hear how decades of free-market capitalism post Thatcher and Reagan has produced a deregulated nightmare in which almost everyone is worse off than they were before.

Or than they would still be if society had remained a little kinder, and less prone to handing over taxpayers’ billions to privatising middlemen who flourish and fatten while delivering poor services on our behalf.

An unfair housing market, rotten pensions and social security, rising poverty, the stumbling NHS – the roots of all these problems can be traced back to the blind neoliberal dogma espoused by Margaret Thatcher (yes, it was a long time ago, but these social cancers bide their time).

Oh, and there’s nothing I’d less like to hear about than Rishi Sunak’s opinions on students being sold “a false dream about going to university”.

Plans to crackdown on so-called Mickey Mouse degrees arise quite often, and usually they are floated to appeal to older Tory voters, while having little to say to young people, especially those who may benefit from enrolling on such a course.

The crude calculus used by Sunak is how much graduates are earning 15 months after leaving university. That’s a random and meaningless measure. Besides, the value of education goes much deeper than what you are earning shortly after university. Isn’t a degree about much more than money?

The so-called poor quality degrees often turn out to be humanities and social sciences, and sometimes at universities than cater to the less privileged.

As the owner of a tatty and not very splendid BA Hons degree in English Literature, what I want to know is why no-one ever mentions philosophy, politics and economics – the politicians’ favourite degree, or subjects such as Business Administration, both of which Sunak himself studied.

It seems to me that humanities graduates do a lot less harm to society than money-grabbing people who rise to the lofty peaks of obscure high finance.

As for Farage, he’s laughing all the way to the bank, as usual, sadly. But at least not all the way to Coutts.

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Have I got not so much news for you…

When Will There Be Good News is a novel by Kate Atkinson, published in 2008 and the third in her highly enjoyable series featuring Jackson Brodie.

By chance, that title chimes with a growing public alienation with news, judging by the unscientific observations of friends and the steadier calculus provided last month by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute.

These thoughts about news also percolate through the mind of someone who spent a lifetime in an around journalism until last December.

Since retiring from my last regular gig with PA Media, I have confined my journalism to occasional feature writing for the Yorkshire Post, a fine diversion for a good newspaper, and twittering about life in this blog.

As for that last job, working for a news agency certainly plunges you into the undammable flow of what we call news, while reinforcing the idea that there is some sort of media agenda.

Not the agenda exemplified by the malignant bias of newspapers such as the Mail, Telegraph and Express, but the way news organisations report on the same things at the same time, all in a headless rush to whatever next.

And never more so that with all that churning tedium of ‘news’ about royalty. Imagine what could be covered if all the lazy obsequiousness was stripped out of the headlines. It’ll never happen, but it should.

By chance, I was working on the PA newswire on the day the late Queen died. That experience left me awed by the skill and dedication involved in producing so much news at such speed; yet it was hard not to wonder who would read all those words.

After a working life mostly spent in features, that newswire job was exacting and interesting, although it coincided with my own creeping doubts about news.

Once upon an ink-smudged finger, I was an all-round news addict, reading, watching and listening to almost anything and everything. Nowadays I take more of a semi-detached squint at what’s going on, wanting to know while admitting you can’t keep up with everything.

Partly this drift was down to that shameless trio of Brexit, Trump and Johnson. All the news everyday was shaped by that gruesome threesome for what seemed like ever, until even my news-alert mind began to stutter, and my mouth began to cry: “Oh do shut the flip up!” (polite version).

Then there are the endless stupid culture war stories, promoted by the right in the US and echoed by their shabby cousins over here.

You know the stuff, stories that aren’t about anything other than being a way to stir the grievance pot.

You know the guff, everything shit about life being blamed on unspecified liberal forces, such as the woke/Remainer elite, but never on those who are in power.

You know the cast-iron cobblers, invented non-stories about children at a school in Sussex identifying as cats, when no such thing ever happened, and yet just about everyone reports on this thing that never happened. Social media rattles its empty tin, and then politicians join in the dumb chorus, happy for the distraction from all those rotten things that are actually happening.

Well, you know the routine.

Now to that anecdotal evidence. Friends often say, unprompted, that they rarely watch the news. Too depressing, too distressing or just too much to absorb without damaging their mental health – that seems to be the consensus.

And it’s a knotty one. Does knowing about all the bad things than happen to good people make you better informed about the world; or is it just what you might term ‘misery porn’, watching suffering from the comfort of home?

My friends are not alone.

According to the latest study by the Reuters Institute, the number of people taking a strong interest in the news globally has dropped by around a quarter in the past six years.

It found that 48% of people around the world “are very or extremely interested in the news – down from 63% in 2017”, according to the BBC website.

In the UK, the proportion of news followers is lower than the global average at 43%. Worldwide, 36% of people say they “sometimes or often actively avoid the news”.

Perhaps there is just too much news to absorb without coming to harm. Or maybe news is just another product and people aren’t buying like they used to.

A depressing thought for journalists, many of whom work flat out to deliver news for papers, TV, the internet and so forth. Most journalists are good people just doing a job. Sadly, some of them work for newspapers owned by billionaires who set their agenda.

Sadder still, many work for the Daily Mail, a news empire seemingly intent on backing every stupid thing Boris Johnson does, from trumpeting his appalling stint as prime minister, to paying him a fortune to write a poor column after his ejection from Number 10.

According to that Reuters report, most people now access news on TikTok, a mystery to me. I still buy two print newspapers a week, and also dip in and out on social media and on my phone.

Social media has made everything worse, heightening our differences, and given platforms to haters everywhere. Yet it has also allowed those who grumble about the mainstream media to have a public grumble, as they so often do.

When Will There Be Good News? Oh, probably never – or perhaps ‘good news’ isn’t really news at all, even though it should be.

Some habits are hard to break. I won’t turn my back on the headlines entirely, but I have stepped back a foot or two, tuning in more often to BBC Radio 3 for some classical destressing.



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Bailing out Thames Water and why we’re all getting poorer…

It’s a long time since I studied The Ancient Mariner at school, but one line sticks in my mind: “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink after paying billions in dividends to shareholders…”

Or perhaps it was “Boy have you seen all those floaters in the sea, like a painted shit upon a painted ocean…”

It’s possible time has fuzzed some of Coleridge’s poetic words, but then time has also shown the free-market zealotry of Margaret Thatcher to be a big fat con.

In March 1989, when questioned by Neil Kinnock about her plans to privatise the water industry, the then Tory prime minister was shrilly dismissive in that way she had.

She lectured that privatisation was a “better deal for the consumer” and would be “better for the environment”. Dialling up the hectoring, she said: “The privatised water supply is very much more efficient than a public organisation.”

Well, it’s certainly been more efficient in acquiring huge amounts of debt in order to stump up for those dividends.

As for those environmental benefits, just consider the raw sewage discharged into our rivers and coastal seas more than 300,000 times last year, according to the Daily Mirror.

Oh, and those benefits to consumers have seen a 40% increase in bills since privatisation, with the Times reporting the likelihood of 40% more as the private companies tackle the sewage crisis, caused by them failing to sort out our ancient sewage systems because they were too busy paying all those dividends.

Interestingly, water companies had no debt when they were privatised, but have since borrowed £53bn, much of which “has been used to help pay £72bn in dividends”, according to the Financial Times.

And now Thames Water is on the verge of collapse and may have to be bailed out by the government. Perhaps they could celebrate this latest privatisation success by taking a ride on one of the privatised railways we are now all paying for again after they failed.

All of which seems to chime with a sense that nothing works properly in this country anymore – and most of us are feeling poorer.

When Ronald Reagan campaigned for the US presidency in 1980 he asked a winning question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

Now it’s a downer to have to remember Margaret Thatcher’s dodgy transatlantic buddy as he was just as bad as her. But it’s a question that could be adapted for Britain today: “Are you better off today than you were 13 years ago?”

That’ll be a resounding no.

The other day, the Guardian’s economics columnist Aditya Chakrabortty wrote a column that was shared by one friend on Facebook, then mentioned in the pub by another friend, suggesting the arrival of a moment.

Chakrabortty based much of his analysis on a new book, When Nothing Works, written by a team of scholars and published by Manchester University Press.

Addressing one strand of their analysis into our stagnant society, Chakrabortty wrote “if the same share of GDP was paid out in wages today as in 1976, the average working-age household would have an extra £9,744 a year”.

That’s ten grand a year we’ve lost, not through being lazy at work but because Thatcherite politics destroyed trade unions and created a low-wage workforce.

All politicians, from Sunak to Starmer, talk about “growing the economy” (horrid phrase, but there you go) – but who benefits from that growth? Not the everyday worker; not the teachers or doctors going on strike because their wages are falling behind thanks to that mean double act of austerity and inflation.

Often you’ll hear Rishi Sunak, the prime minister nobody voted for, complaining that nurses and doctors and teachers can’t have a decent pay rise because it would fuel inflation (mysteriously, the same argument doesn’t seem to run with top City bankers or mega rich unelected prime ministers).

Last Sunday’s Observer reported that in fact pay rises for the top 10% of UK earners have “clearly outstripped” those for the rest of the workforce and had driven recent inflation.

So, it’s not all those nurses, teachers and doctors pumping up inflation with their calls for modest pay rises – it’s the pay rises of top earners, according to figures from the National Office of Statistics.

I dimly recall stories from just the other day about how Sunak was about to make a huge announcement about boosting the NHS and employing more doctors and nurses. At the very same time that he is refusing to pay NHS workers, and teachers, fairly – causing many to leave their important professions.

But, yeah, inflation is all their fault.

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Here are the headlines from fox news…


HUNTING foxes always struck me as a cruel and ridiculous pursuit, but time can make a hypocrite of us.

It’s not that I now support those mounted posh people who want to wear pink, colour-coded to match their porty faces, and blow bugles while their hounds tear foxes apart. It’s just that we are plagued with foxes in our garden.

Next door’s plot is abandoned and has become an accidental nature reserve, an urban Serengeti filled with brambles two-fingers thick and six-foot tall.

The other week, looking down from an upstairs window in our semi, I saw six or seven foxes up close to the neighbour’s conservatory. Three generations, at a guess. They stared back for a defiant vulpine moment, then turned to trot back into the thickets.

At night they enter our garden to dig holes in the veg patch, excavate around the roots of apple trees, upend some plants, and to sit on others, flattening the feathered leaves of delicate grasses, say.

I know all this as my wife the gardener angrily points out these incursions on her territory. Sometimes the morning after rampant and noisy sex. No, not us; the foxes. As a feature in the Observer put it last October, “Many people don’t like foxes because they’re opportunistic scavengers, unclean, and make a lot of noise having sex.”

According to the Natural History Museum, “Red foxes are very vocal compared to other fox species. They use barks, whines and throaty noises for a number of communication purposes, from conversations with their young to alarm calls and aggressive ‘gekkering’.”

One of those “communication purposes” seems to be waking up restless people who are trying to sleep in a nearby attic. It’s a fox orgy out there some nights.

Then again, I made a lot of noise that time in the deckchair. It was a hot afternoon and surrendering to that canvas sling of material had seemed like a good idea at the time.

As my doze tipped towards something deeper, there was a terrible clamour. The cat had been napping too but a fox had wriggled under the hedge to where she’d been stretched out. The cat yowled and hissed; the fox made some horrid foxy noise. There was a stand-off, but not engineered by me, as I was still trying to get out of that deckchair.

The fox shot off, and the cat flattened her cross spires of fur, and rearranged her old bones, seeking to find again the comfort she’d just lost.

Quoted in that Observer feature, Professor Dawn Scott, executive dean for Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said cats were far more likely to chase away foxes than the other way around.

“Cats nearly always win,” she said.

Good on cats. Although at 16, our cat is old and outnumbered.

A few years ago, before the foxes decamped to the wilderness next door, they set up home at the end of our garden, tunnelling into the soft sandy soil. We’d dug a pit for a bonfire, in the days when we still lit those, and the foxes carried on digging the hole we’d carelessly left there.

Eventually, we used BBC Radio Four to evict these unwanted tenants. On reading that foxes don’t like hearing human voices at night, I put batteries in an old radio and left it on at night by the mouth of the tunnel.

Some suburbanites love seeing urban foxes, others regard them as a menace. You can put me down under ‘menace’.

We are blocking up their routes into our garden when we spot them, but this may be futile as foxes are resourceful and can climb. In 2011, as the Shard skyscraper was being built in London, a fox was said to have moved in on the seventy-second floor, surviving on food scraps left by workers.

Foxhunting was banned in England and Wales in 2004, and a good thing, too. But nobody seems to have found a way to ban foxes from our garden.


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“He’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker…”

What did we do to deserve Boris Johnson and how will we remove all those scratches and stains?

Mr Sheen will struggle with the crusted blotches and burns bequeathed by the former prime minister’s endless lies, dodges and deceptions. How to clean what oozed from his pretend-clownish exterior, like spillage from a bin-bag?

Let’s not forget the staining potential of his furious narcissism. Or his arrant cowardice, that way he has of rowdily running from responsibility, shouting like a posh Bart Simpson bloated with entitlement, “I Didn’t Do It, Nobody Saw Me Do It, There’s No Way You Can Prove Anything!”

A tough job for Mr Sheen, as I said, so let’s hand the microphone to Mr Shakespeare…

“He’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy your lordship’s entertainment…”

That’s from All’s Well That Ends Well, but it might as well have been written about Boris Johnson (thanks to Shakespeare Replies @TheBardAnswers for reminding me of the quote). This is a different drama, one called Nothing Ends Well When That Charlatan’s Around.

As soon as he learned that the privileges committee report on whether he intentionally misled parliament was not turning his way, Johnson shamelessly resigned as an MP with a bitter 1,000-word parting rant, naturally blaming everyone else, for nothing in Boris Johnson’s world is ever his fault.

He baselessly called the committee a “kangaroo court” and complained of a “witch-hunt”. How pathetic that a man with an ego like a raging boil about to burst should reduce himself to being a Trump tribute act.

Johnson’s departure was as cowardly as you’d expect. He got his sour retaliation in first then stomped off, unwilling to face Parliament or stand in a by-election.

A funny thing, though, that a “kangaroo court” should have allowed him to have legal representation – paid for by us, mugs that we are. As for that “witch-hunt”, oh, come off it. All parliamentary process was followed, and had the committee found in Johnson’s favour, he would have been singing its praises, rather than ranting like a pub bore freshly fallen from his barstool.

Johnson, Trump and Brexit – all arrived more or less in the same fetid political breath. The first two have been exposed as liars and sour losers; the third has turned out to be a gigantic con-trick of benefit to no-one at all, however much Johnson “got it done”.

And yet, in that scrappy piece of resignation graffiti, he claimed he was being got rid of because of Brexit, spinning out his own branded conspiracy theories for his followers to parrot.

As for his supposed world-beating election success, all kudos to Professor Colin Talbot for pointing out on Twitter that Johnson’s popularity is a myth, as he won “just 1.2% or 329,767 extra votes” to Theresa May.

His 80-seat “landslide” was due to our first-past-the-post voting system, helped by having Jeremy Corbyn as an opponent.

He’s the very worst of us, but he’s gone (for now, hopefully for good). But I will take a deep breath now. Perhaps the good that can come from this, apart from the Tories tearing each other to shreds, is that we can stop thinking about bloody Boris Johnson at all. God knows, we’ve wasted more than enough time and energy on that terrible man, the first prime minister to be convicted of breaking the law while in office.

Let Max Hastings have the last word, as he knows Johnson – “He is perhaps the most selfish human being I have ever met, indifferent to the welfare of anyone save himself… He is a stranger to truth, a lifelong liar about big things and small.”

Yup, that wraps it up.


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Dodgy Covid excuses, mad minstrels and the purposes of satire…

The Heege Manuscript (National Library of Scotland)

It’s not often that I wish to convey words from a Cabinet office spokesperson, but here goes.

The wielder of official dodgy excuses says the Covid inquiry does not have the power to request “unambiguously irrelevant information”.

This is because retired judge Heather Hallett, who is leading the inquiry, is demanding to see unredacted WhatsApp messages between former prime minister Boris Johnson and 40 senior government ministers.

There is more in that official quote, but blah-de-blah and all that. Those three highlighted words say a lot about priorities in modern Britain.

‘Unambiguously irrelevant information…’

After all, too many newspapers and broadcasters are happy to spiel off “unambiguously irrelevant information” about Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. We’ve been wading through the stuff for days, with even the BBC tirelessly pushing this story to the top of the attention pile.

If I never have to hear Phil and Holly mentioned again, it will be three days too soon. Are people really interested in every twitch of this tedious story?

Perhaps they are, perhaps it’s just me – and perhaps interminably jabbering on about the squabble between two pampered daytime TV presenters, and the faintly grubby reasons behind their row, is just more compelling than hearing yet more about politics.

Certainly, today’s edition of the Sun hopes so, splashing with the headline: “Defiant Holly Back On Monday.” Is that the most newsworthy story of the day – or just a way to downplay a possible Covid cover-up, as reported by the front pages of the Guardian, the Mirror and, surprisingly, the Telegraph?

The Telegraph suggests the government is withholding messages to protect Rishi Sunak, rather than Johnson.

Ah, slippery Sunak, pretending to be Mr Reasonable when really he’s as prone to dodging the truth as Johnson. He’s a weird sort of squeaky-clean fibber, rather than a flamboyant one – and he’s up to his Thunderbirds eyebrows in dirty Covid water, as he was in Johnson’s cabinet at the time.

Johnson agreed to hold a Covid inquiry, and it’s only now being dragged into life. As Simon Jenkins usefully points out in his Guardian column, Sweden has already published a report into its controversial Covid policy, and it runs to 1,700 pages. Yet still we fumble and fudge our way along.

As the inquiry is tasked with discovering “how decisions were made”, all government messages are relevant, whether or not they embarrass Johnson, Sunak or the pair of ’em.

Another headline in the Guardian refers to ‘Mad and offensive’ texts…

But these are not WhatsApp or phone messages between ministers, but medieval texts, as the full headline makes clear: “‘Mad and offensive’ texts shed light on the role played by minstrels in medieval society”.

Their ‘job’ ran from “mocking kings and priests to encouraging audiences to get drunk”, according to newly discovered texts at the National Library of Scotland. The texts are part of a booklet known as the Heege Manuscript, discovered by Dr James Wade of the University of Cambridge.

Wade believes echoes of minstrel humour can be found “in shows such as Mock The Week, situational comedies and slapstick”.

“The self-irony and making audiences the butt of the joke are still very characteristic of British stand-up comedy,” he said.

Mock The Week (BBC)

This is true, although it is an unfortunate example. Mock The Week was dropped by the BBC, seemingly after pressure from Tory-appointed figures at the corporation who objected to the piss being taken out of the government.

That’s also why, at a guess, Have I Got News For You always contains at least one, er, laboured Keir Starmer joke or jibe, almost as if a new BBC rule demands this in the name of satirical balance.

Wade relishes the evidence of medieval snarking, saying: “Manuscripts often preserve relics of high art. This is something else. It’s mad and offensive, but just as valuable. Stand-up comedy has always involved taking risks and these texts are risky! They poke fun at everyone, high and low.”

Poking fun at everyone, high and low, remains the job of satirists today. No-one should be immune, but poking fun at those in power remains the most important piss-take of all.

Especially when you consider the satire-defeating politics we’ve had to endure in the past few years.

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