Ben Stokes versus The Sun (and The Sun versus almost everyone)…

What links the England cricket hero Ben Stokes to a kindly plumber who works for free? Both have been splashed across the front page of The Sun on subsequent days – and a connection seems more than likely.

Yesterday the tabloid dug up a tragedy that happened in Stokes’s family before he was born. As Stokes is 28, this is by any measure an old story. He said the article dealt with “deeply personal and traumatic events” that affected his family in New Zealand more than 30 years ago.

The England cricket hero, whose family moved to Cumbria when he was 12, called The Sun’s article “immoral and heartless”. For its part, The Sun offered a traditional newspaper defence for grubbing about in the past, telling the BBC it had received the co-operation of a family member. It also said the events described were “a matter of public record”.

Was this family member paid by the newspaper? I don’t know the answer to that, but all sorts of people come crawling out of the woodwork when a tabloid waves its chequebook.

In a statement, Stokes said the story contained “serious inaccuracies which has compounded the damage caused”.

He also said: “The decision to publish these details has grave and lifelong consequences for my mum in particular. To use my name as an excuse to shatter the privacy and private lives of ­– in particular – my parents is utterly disgusting.”

The Durham and England all-rounder added: “It is hard to find words that adequately describe such low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism.”

The story and Stokes’s robust response set the skittles falling on Twitter. A typical Tweet came from the actor Stephen McGann: “Has that newspaper got to slander you all *personally* before you stop buying the bleeding thing?”

James Mitchinson, the editor of the Yorkshire Post, tweeted a link to an opinion piece in his newspaper. In this he takes Tony Gallagher, editor-in-chief of The Sun, to task for his decision to “torture and torment the Stokes family in an incomprehensibly inhumane way”.

The Sun’s story received a day-long Twitter lashing. Twitter isn’t the only bubble in town, but the intensity of the anger raises a key question: why did The Sun think it was worth alienating so many people for the sake of one old story?

This, after all, is the newspaper whose circulation in Liverpool was almost wiped out following its shameful reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989. That boycott has stayed strong in the city.

From the outside, the story about the Stokes family tragedy seems to be an example of poor editorial judgement. Why did no one ask that simple question: is this story worth it? Some stories are worth it; some stories are worth every ounce of effort. Other stories are lazy and unkind.

Newspapers are produced in a hurry and morals can be scattered in the rush. But that is be no excuse in this case.

David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun, said in a tweet that his old newspaper had “become pointlessly cruel and callous in recent years. We all make mistakes but the Ben Stokes story is contemptuous”.

As Stephen McGann suggested in his tweet, that contempt isn’t only directed at famous sports people: it can be turned on anyone and everyone.

Google suggests that The Sun now sells around 1.3m copies a day, around one third of the circulation from its glory days, but still a substantial figure.

While many observers despair (this ledge-bound man included), it is still a popular newspaper. But isn’t there a way for a newspaper to be popular and morally engaged in what it does?

If newspapers such as The Sun feel they can only sustain themselves through outbursts of unkindness, the long slide will only continue; won’t it?

Ah, almost forgot that philanthropic plumber. James Anderson is dubbed “the UK’s kindest plumber” by The Sun today. The paper reports that Anderson has been fixing toilets and boilers for thousands of vulnerable customers without charging them.

Doesn’t that just ring of the editor shouting out: “Someone find me a story that doesn’t make me look like such a bastard”?

The headline, by the way, takes a moment to settle – “From flusher with love.”

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Incredible Hulk goes off on a big sulk during day out to Luxembourg…

TO say something original about Brexit becomes harder by the day. Is there anything left? Are all insults spat out? Have the worms yet nibbled the last flesh off the bones?

On Sunday, when Boris Johnson likened himself to the Incredible Hulk, a ludicrous comparison graffitied all over the front of the Mail on Sunday, we reached a new low.

Over in Twitter-land, I pointed out that Incredible Sulk was more like it, only soon to find other great minds and seldom differing fools making the same observation.

The people’s prime minister, another label Johnson has stuck on his own frowning forehead, went to Luxembourg yesterday for a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – a showdown described in advance by the Sun as “the Hulk versus Le Sulk”.

When an outdoor press conference with Luxembourg’s PM, Xavier Bettel, was disrupted by a small but noisy anti-Brexit protest, the Sun’s line was flipped on its head: our hulk turned sulk, refusing to take part.

This left Bettel standing alongside an empty podium; well, at least that provided us with a new metaphor for Boris Johnson, the empty podium on legs.

In the nothing new to say world of Brexit, Bettel’s behaviour receives different reviews in today’s newspapers. The Boris Bugle (more formally known as the Daily Telegraph) has a photograph of Bettel gesturing towards the empty podium beneath the headline: “Luxembourg laughs in Johnson’s face.”

Only they weren’t laughing in his face as his face wasn’t there. You can’t laugh in the face of a man who’s scurried off and refuses to appear. Your laughter instead is directed at the vacuum left by his scuttled-off arse. That’s what Luxembourg’s prime minister did; and who can blame him?

“No wonder Britain voted to quit the EU,” the Daily Express mutters into its morning tea, making a ripple in the tepid, milky brew.

The Financial Times picks up on a social media theme. Some of us in the department of great minds and seldom differing fools had already noted that Johnson had gone from the Incredible Hulk to the Invisible Man. The FT reflects that in its headline: “Invisible Man: Johnson avoids demonstrators.”

He’s always avoiding things (Parliament, mostly) – apart from here in the north, where he persists in visiting Yorkshire, usually to be rebuffed in suitably blunt fashion.

I am sure some people in Yorkshire must like Boris Johnson (please form a queue in the nearest phone box, if you can find one). But his brand of posh stand-up politics isn’t really a good fit round here: he flaps around like a fish out of water while making piffle-waffle sounds with his open mouth.

The next stage in a show that threatens to run longer than the Mousetrap began today with the Supreme Court deliberating whether it was illegal for Boris Johnson to suspend parliament; a ruling is expected later in the week.

A last thought on yesterday’s non-appearance by Boris Johnson goes to the veteran BBC reporter John Simpson, who’s been around long enough to make telling comparisons.

Simpson tweeted: “I once watched Margaret Thatcher land in Zambia, charge down the aircraft steps in the dark into the middle of a hostile crowd & give an impromptu presser even though she’d been told people might throw acid at her.”

While I admired Thatcher not one tiny bit, on that occasion she appears to have had more balls than Johnson.

Incredible Hulk? More like the Honey Monster’s posh cousin…


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Dragging us back to the 1970s? Show me the way to the Tardis…

Were the 1970s so awful? The Daily Mail ran one of its scare splashes the other day under the headline: “Corbyn plot to drag UK back to the 70s.”

On Twitter the writer Brian W Lavery, whose handle is “Scottish author in Hull”, offered this riposte: “Do you mean the 70s when higher education was free, foodbanks unheard of, a person could live on their wages and zero hours contracts did not exist. Oh, and parliament worked! Fire up the Tardis.”

This set me spinning in my own personal Tardis. If you ask this not so wild child, the Seventies were great – apart from the bit at the end when Margaret Thatcher was elected.

Never mind the late Baroness Hacksaw, I’d whirl back there in an instant.

For me it wasn’t about strikes or the Winter of Discontent or departing Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan dismissing the social chaos with a breezy “Crisis? What crisis?” Callaghan never said that, by the way; it was a headline in the Sun, making mischief then as now (although more effectively then than now).

No, for me the 1970s rolls on the rails of boyhood to sort of manhood (still waiting for the full version to arrive).

That decade took me roughly from 12 to 20; grammar school to university; sensible trousers to loons with bum-clinging tops and ballooning bottoms, or to jeans with flowery triangle flares sewn in by my mother; wizard T-shirts that were tight up top and with drooping sleeves; early flings and a bruise or two to the heart; youth hostels in the Lake District and warnings about under-aged drinking; Friday nights in a local pub, where the backroom was more or less the sixth-form common room.

And then there was the music. The first Knebworth Festival; seeing John Martyn at Salford University; all those gigs at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (John Mayall, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, John McLaughlin…); the Buxton Festival, reduced in misted memory to watching Steppenwolf under plastic in the rain.

The Goldsmiths years, studying English literature, were the making or the unmaking of me, with more friends than ever. They’ve died or drifted now, some of those friends, but one keeps in touch. My great friend died 20 odd years after university, only in his early 40s: a continuing loss, but we did get to drive across America together.

That was in the 1980s, but the one before was great. Decades, you see, are personal and political, comprised of broad history and personal history. And no one can take the 1970s away from me. And, as Brian Lavery points out, the university education I had was free, supported by local authority grants. I didn’t receive a full amount and my dad declined to fully make up the difference, but I was fine, self-supported by summer jobs, including working nights in a crisp factory (main memory, apart from smelling of that night’s flavour, was eating whole potatoes dropped into the boiling fat; they emerged like a cross between a crisp and a baked potato).

Yes, whizz me back now; back to that fully crazy afro worn away by the years to shiny nothing; back to hope and dreams; back to all the great things waiting to happen; some did happen, some are still waiting, others were written in disappearing ink.

Life now is wrapped in digital complications, everything in an instant, every distraction you could want, and a few you never knew you wanted. Even a Twitter twerp like me can see that the pre-digital world had a lot going for it, especially for what became my line of work. At the end of the decade, the News of the World sold more than four million copies every Sunday, while even the Observer managed nearly a million.

Those inky days are dust, the new world has its benefits, the world in the palm of your hand and all that. But like Brian, I’d step in that Tardis right now to escape the splendid present.

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Icarus Farage and a wraparound Daily Express…

Oh, look I was going to stay away from this ledge, and then the Daily Telegraph went and compared Nigel Farage to Icarus.

An opinion piece today carries the tagline: “Nigel Farage is the Brexit Icarus. Here’s how he can see us fly out of the EU to freedom…”

You might have thought a classical education would be required at the Telegraph. Even those of us without one can recall that the myth has Icarus flying too close to the sun. The wax that joins his wings melts, and Icarus takes a tumble.

The author of the opinion piece is one Hunter DuBose, who appears to be the same Hunter DuBose behind a company called Spitfire Capital that reportedly stumped up £50,000 for the crowdfunded film Brexit: The Movie (Evening Standard, March 11, 2019).

No melty wings, no precipitous plunge, just Farage flying us out of the EU on a self-serving whim. No thanks. I’d rather stick to the traditional version, in which Farage has a big a fall. Here’s hoping and praying.

Oh, look I was going to stay away from this ledge today, and then the Daily Express went and wrapped itself in an advert from the Brexit Party. I don’t know how much these adverts cost, but they won’t come cheap.

This one has a picture of Farage facing the prime minister, with the words: “Farage. My election offer to Boris.”

At the top it says: “Your favourite daily newspaper is inside.” That seems unlikely, unless there was a mix-up at the printers.

As the Express is a daily advert for the Brexit Party, this shouldn’t be a surprise. But, still – dear ratty old racist Aunty Express, have you no shame?

These things are common enough at a time when money is tight in the newspaper industry. But political wraparounds still seem dodgy.

Oh, look I was going to stay away from this ledge today, but then Andrea Leadsom… oh, just, you know, Andrea Leadsom. She popped up on the BBC to say that the Government wouldn’t be publishing any documents relating To Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit, despite losing a vote on this last week.

Nope, we won’t be doing that, Leadsom told the Beeb, as it would just “concern people”. Knowing the truth would panic people, so we’ll just keep quiet, spin a few pretty lies, and keep hoping for the best, even if the evidence suggests we’ll soon be wearing a bucket of shit for a hat.

Closing scrapbook scribble …

The EU has new anti-tax avoidance rules lined up that could boost public spending – but he bad for wealthy Brexit supporters such as Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Is that why they’re so keen on a speedy Brexit, so that we leave before the new rules apply?

And if Brexit is an undercover tax avoidance scheme for the wealthy, how will Boris Johnson raise the money to pay for all those promises he keeps making?

Just a thought. Bye.

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A cross historian, a departing Speaker and Boris Johnson’s arms…

As Parliament is suspended for five weeks amid shouting and rowdy singing, here are a few passing thoughts. Boris Johnson’s arm movements will feature towards the end.

On the radio this morning, historian David Starkey and Baroness Helena Kennedy squabbled over the proroguing of Parliament.

Well, I say squabbled, but really Kennedy just stressed the importance of Parliament in a representative democracy. While Starkey went off on one, referred to himself a great historian, shouted ‘rubbish!” and said the will of the people mattered more than Parliament.

Like everything else, it depended on your settled view; I sided with Kennedy for her calm good sense.

The doorbell just rang. I popped downstairs but it was only David Starkey shouting “rubbish!” at me through the letterbox. I left him out there in the street.

How divided we all are nowadays. Opinions certainly split over Speaker John Bercow: a Tory often loved by Labour for his eccentric interference in government business and hated equally by his own side.

I’d say he’s a pompous little man when a pompous little man is just what’s been required; a pompous little man with big Parliamentary principles who likes the sound of his own voice and uses that voice well.

Iain Duncan Smith, Brexiteer and nose-picker general, was also on the radio this morning, lambasting Bercow as a national disgrace or something. It’s a rule in politics that anything Duncan Smith says is wrong. For a man who was such a calamitous leader of his party, he appears to think highly of himself.

Not on the radio this morning was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

After rightly slamming the government in the Commons last night before the shutdown, he should have followed this up with a robust media appearance this morning. Instead as usual we got Barry Sheerman being annoying; this man is wheeled out every time to put the Labour position with a whine with a sneer. I’d like to have heard Corbyn, but he avoids the big interview slots – a reluctance shared with Johnson.

Corbyn did, however, speak to the TUC this morning, saying Johnson’s claim to be representing the people against Parliament was absurd. So it is, but so too is local Labour parties voting to deselect MPs in the run-up to an election. Yet this has just happened to Hull North MP Diana Johnson.

Booting out MPs who aren’t pro-JC enough is a great way to give Labour broad appeal, say me and my can of irony spray paint.

Before closing time last night, the prime minister suffered another setback – “Six votes, six defeats…” as the Guardian’s headline puts it. The latest defeat being his bid for a snap election.

Somehow, the Daily Express manages to talk up Johnson’s performance in the Commons, bellowing: “Boris blasts Brexit ‘yellow bellies’”.

The paper calls his speech ‘barnstorming’; well, it was a small barn in truth, more of a shed, and not so much a storm as a bit of a blow. Then again, the Express is famous for getting the weather wrong.

Now to those movements. Johnson gave a press conference yesterday with the Irish Taoiseach. Leo Varadkar told home truths about the reality of a hard Brexit while Johnson was forced to listen at an adjacent podium, looking uncomfortable.

Then he made exaggerated movements with his arms, flinging them out to the side, alternated with fidgeting and hair ruffling.

What was all that about? Oh, at a guess Johnson doesn’t like it when the spotlight is shining elsewhere; not happy having to stay silent when someone else speaks. He wants all the attention, all the love in the room. And there’s not much love for him right now.

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A ginger look behind that horsey insult to Jacob Rees-Mogg

Despite promises to the contrary, I still haven’t dragged myself out of the politics pit, as the sides are just too slippery.

You don’t learn much at the bottom of the Brexit pool, but I did pick up something new thanks an insult involving a piece of ginger.

After last week’s many plot twists, part of the fallout saw 21 ‘moderate Tory MPs’ (it’s a relative term) ejected from their party. One of the defenestrated was Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill. As Boris Johnson venerates Churchill, there was a clanging irony to this expulsion.

Interviewed by The Times after his removal from the party, Soames turned on Johnson, saying that his life story amounted to…

“Telling a lot of porkies about the European Union in Brussels and then becoming prime minister”.

Soames then attacked the leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, calling him an “absolute fraud”. Rather splendidly, Soames said JRM was…

“A living example of what a moderately cut double-breasted suit and a decent tie can do with an ultra-posh voice and a bit of ginger struck up his arse”.

I understood this insult until the rectally inserted spicy root. My befuddlement was shared by others on Twitter – and then someone came up with the answer. This happens often and suggests there is more to Twitter than passing on insults and being smart; although, to be fair, the rudeness is the main attraction.

“Ginger stuck up his arse” is an insult linked to the equine world; Soames was being horsey rude, if you like. When raw ginger or other irritants are inserted in this unkind way, a horse will carry its tail high, making it appear livelier or younger than is the case.

Once you know this, you can appreciate the insult. As, yes, Rees-Mogg does carry on as if his arse has been super-charged with a stick of ginger – also as if someone made a bonfire in his mouth with an 18th century dictionary.

The phrase to “ginger up” comes from the same misuse of the root on a horse’s arse; also linked indirectly is “ginger group”, defined by Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as: “A small group of people whose object is to stir the more passive majority into activity, especially in politics. The allusion is to the spice…”

There is a theme here, if you wish to follow, as we were all gingered up with assorted Euro-myths and wilful misunderstandings (aka blatant lies) before the EU referendum.

By the way, Nigel Farage – a lead member of the Spice Churls – carries on as if he has two sticks of ginger and a whole packet of Ginger Nuts shoved up his behind; but I digress and will almost certainly do so again, for what else is there?

Incidentally, saying someone has a “poker up their arse” generally means they are being inflexible or perhaps humourless.

Rather more sombrely, another inappropriate use of a poker, red hot in this instance, is said to have seen off King Edward II in 1327. That is certainly how the king dies in Marlowe’s play of the same name; a gruesome departure that stays in my mind from a production years ago at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Historians do not in fact agree over whether Edward II was murdered with a red-hot poker; some maintain he died later in Italy.

With regards to Brexit, Leave or Remain, that has shoved a red-hot poker up all our arses.

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Are referendums bad for democracy and is Jeremy Corbyn chicken?

I will drag myself out of this politics pit someday soon, but there is just so much going on down here.

Two trains of thought this morning…

ONE: Are referendums bad for democracy (Jacob Rees-Mogg probably insists on referenda as the plural form, but we not having any of that around here)?

TWO: Is Jeremy Corbyn really ‘chicken’ for voting against an election?

Anyone in a hurry can take it that the answers are, in order, yes and no.

On the BBC Today programme just now, a member of the public was asked how he would vote in a general election. His answer was that he wouldn’t be voting as he voted in the EU referendum and Brexit hadn’t happened yet – so there was no point in voting in an election.

A snapshot view, but others will doubtless feel the same. If holding referendums puts people off voting in general elections, then it could be said that such one-off opinion polls are bad for democracy.

At present we are up to our knees in a post-referendum shit swamp. The trouble with referendums is that they address a complex question with a simple binary question: is this good or bad, right or wrong? Yes/no and that’s that, we’re done. Except of course we’re not. We’ve only started down a long road into the quagmire.

Governments often hold referendums for tactical reasons, as David Cameron did when he promised an advisory referendum on our membership of the EU. His plan was to settle the Europe issue for once and all, see off the ‘fruitcake’ politics of Nigel Farage, and stop the Tories arguing about Europe.

What a marvellous calculation that turned out to be.

Now democracy is a battered football, kicked from one end of the room to the other. The Brexiteers see one referendum as the only democracy that matters, while anyone pining for the boring old parliamentary democracy of debates and votes is shouted down.

So, yes, referendums are basically bad for the fuller version of democracy.

And another problem with referendums such as the one we held is that the vote was too close to count – and that created all the problems we now see. A small majority voted on a turnout of 72.2%; a swirling shitstorm blew up, and it’s blowing still.

And yet, boring old-style democracy has this week seen Boris Johnson face three defeats in his first battle as prime minister, including his call for a snap October election being rebuffed by Labour.

According to the right-wing newspapers this morning, Jeremy Corbyn is ‘chicken’ for turning down the chance to fight an election. The Sun even turns Corbyn into a chicken, while the Telegraph (aka Boris Johnson’s PR campaign) bellows that Corbyn is a ‘hypocrite’ for voting against an election.

An easy accusation to level, as the Labour leader has been chuntering on about an election for ages.

But Corbyn isn’t chicken – that’s just the line being brandished by the Johnson crew. The timing of the election is deeply political and both sides want a date that plays well.

Johnson wants an election before the Brexit deadline of October 31; Corbyn wants to concentrate on Brexit and wait until November. Johnson wants to make an election all about Brexit; Corbyn wants to hold off so that during a campaign he can say that Johnson failed to deliver Brexit.

Not wanting an election when Tantrum Johnson demands one isn’t chicken – it’s just political gamesmanship, as played by both sides.

But there are barbed ironies here. Johnson is fulminating because he can’t have an election he swears he doesn’t want; and Corbyn is adamant he doesn’t want the election he has always demanded (or not right now at least).

Still, Corbyn isn’t chicken, he’s just refusing to play the game under Johnson’s rules.

One final irony: Johnson suspending parliament could stymie his attempts to win a vote to have an election, as time could run out. Would serve him right though, as he set that anti-democratic timebomb ticking.

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Televising of Commons brings us high drama, a lounging slug and a Brexit nosepicker

After yesterday’s high drama, it is easy to forget the House of Commons has only been televised for nearly 20 years.

Jacob Rees-Mogg probably regrets that interference with tradition, as he has been pilloried from all sides for lounging across the green benches like an elongated slug made sleepy by superiority.

His scornful posture has been seen by some as an example of manspreading, whereby males take up more than their allotted space; I think we should instead call this louche disrespect from the Leader of the House of Commons “toff-spreading”.

This is the man who on appointment sent his staff a dust-covered list of grammatical rules they had to obey. This list also contained the order: “CHECK your work.” To which we can now add our own instruction: “CHECK your posture you overentitled, overprivileged relic.”

Popular on social media today is the meme reproduced/swiped above. This shows a graph of the Tories’ falling majority drawn along Rees-Mogg’s legs. It is, I hope you agree, a work of small genius.

Sometimes the benefits of televising the Commons can be seen in the big moments; sometimes it lies in the small things. Yesterday we had both.

The big drama was prime minister Boris Johnson losing a Brexit vote as politicians opposed to a no-deal departure took control of Parliament to prevent this outcome.

Johnson’s performance was surprisingly poor and seemed to support the adage about being careful what you scheme, plot and connive for. Imagine spending so many years lusting after the job of prime minister, then discovering that you’re rubbish at it. So rotten indeed that your opponent rises to the occasion and wipes the floor with you (Jeremy Corbyn was having a good day).

The chaos continues; 21 Tory rebels have been suspended from their party; an election might or might not happen soon; and so bloody on and on.

Rather than dwell on these details, it is interesting to recognise how accustomed we are to the inside of the Commons. Often all we see are the unoccupied green benches, with the valiant few hanging around to listen to speeches addressed to an empty House. But when high drama is due, those MPs come streaming in like theatregoers on a first night.

Yesterday the small details were telling. Incidentally, I will spare the pictorial proof of Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith picking his nose and then eating what he had harvested. It would be nice to think that image would sink the man at last.

Here, instead, are other telling images. If you’ve been wondering what might bring joy to Theresa May, the magic potion lay in watching her successor cock things up. This snap of Mrs Maybe laughing next to former chancellor Ken Clarke (one of the rebels) is a delight.

Clarke appears in another clip, this time from Newsnight, where he was asked by Emily Maitlis if he still recognised his party. He replied: “No. It’s been taken over by a rather knock-about character”, adding that Boris Johnson’s cabinet was the “most right-wing cabinet any Conservative Party’s ever produced”.

Clarke shared the Newsnight sofa with another Tory rebel, Sir Nicholas Soames – grandson of Johnson’s great hero, Winston Churchill.

The still here shows Clarke and Soames giggling like aged schoolboys while a Tory suit tries to put a gloss on the mess made by Johnson.

Incidentally, we already knew that Boris Johnson was bad boyfriend material. This morning Tory rebel Rory Stewart reveals that he was dumped by text, saying that was how he learned he’d had the whip removed.

Incidentally times two, the televising of the Commons began on November 21, 1989 with the State Opening of Parliament. On the Parliament website it is reported that the debate went on for a long time before permission was granted ­– “As far back as 1923 the BBC’s first General Manager, John Reith, sought to broadcast the King’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, but permission was refused.”

It’s fair to say it’s been a good and important opening of previously shut doors. And the snapshot images of lounging toffs and Brexit nosepickers have, in their way, enriched national life.

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Boris Johnson’s stand-up routine falls flat in Downing Street

Standing in Downing Street last night, Boris Johnson was the reverse Jehovah’s Witness. Instead of knocking on your door, he spoilt your peace by stepping outside his door to deliver a new commandment from his Book of Brexit (“Thou shalt just bloody well do what I tell you”).

No one much likes having their bell bothered by the Witnesses, who receive divine credits for knocking on doors (thanks, Google); Boris Johnson deserves no credit for his backwards door-stepping gig.

Prime ministers do like grandstanding moments that are rarely grand. Theresa May was always dragging her weary whinge bones on to that podium to mumble nothing of much account. Now Johnson is at it, too.

Last night’s turn was a poor effort. Normally, Johnson gives the impression of enjoying the political stand-up routine; normally, he knocks out a few ‘jokes’ (other evaluations of their humour content are available), then bumble-bounces off with a cheery mock-Churchillian wave.

Last night the heckles of protesters in Downing Street put him off his stride. The mask slipped, and that character known as Boris slipped a little too, revealing the man behind the chummy waxwork.

We should all know by now that ‘Boris’ is a creation, a stage character, part comedian, part charming chancer – a put-up job to disguise the ruthless creature beneath.

The mask coming untethered should remind us of the unstable character of this man who slipped into Downing Street when no one was paying attention.

Before that speech last night, the political editors and the TV presenters chattered excitedly about how an election was about to be announced. In the event, Johnson said nothing much, piffle-waffling for a few thankfully brief moments.

The meat in this thin sandwich was back me or face a snap election on October 14. “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election,” Johnson waffled-piffled. Oh, how do you know what I want? It’s irksome to be told what you want by Johnson. What I desire is for him to fall headline into a stagnant vat of his own Latin jokes and never be seen again; sadly, we don’t always get what we want.

Although less assured than usual, last night’s stand-up routine was another bout of autocratic bossiness – do what I say or else.

And the way Johnson threatens rebel Tory MPs threatening to join Labour to stop a no-deal is a disgrace ­­– and towering hypocrisy, even for him. He rebelled against his predecessor all the time, joining Jeremy Corbyn to vote down her Brexit bill (and Corbyn is another lifelong rebel who doesn’t tolerate rebellion from others).

Looking back now, you wonder if the rejection of May’s soft Brexit bill was a victory at all. That long-negotiated deal allowed for our gradual and managed exit from the EU. All that Johnson’s no-deal, no-parachute jump over the cliff guarantees is instant and then lasting chaos.

The Tories should not get away with calling an election before the Brexit deadline of October 31 – and Labour should be wary of voting for such a snap election.

No one listens to Tony Blair nowadays, but he is right to warn as he did yesterday that such an election would be an elephant trap for Labour, with the split opposition vote delivering a likely Tory victory.

No one much likes Blair now, but he’s right on this, and he did win three elections in a row.

Jeremy Corbyn says he wants an election; well, he has to say that, doesn’t he, as he’s been banging on about having one for ages. But it’s hard not to worry that the 2017 campaign might be as good as it gets for Corbyn.


Are any more cute pets being transported into Downing Street today to distract the media, or was that a one-trick puppy? Once that dog gets to know its new owner, chances are it’ll scoot back to the rescue centre.

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Two cathedrals and four Beatles…

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

A hard rain falls as we set off to visit this city’s two cathedrals. As the old Irish Liverpudlian song puts it, “If you want a cathedral, we’ve got one to spare…”

They squat on opposing hills, and the one going spare is probably a matter of taste. We begin with Liverpool Cathedral, sitting square and high on St James’s Mount.

Perhaps it accounts as an odd thing for two atheists to do, but we visited four cathedrals or minsters during our holiday at home (Beverley, Halifax and Liverpool times two). Those without belief can still be lifted by a good church.

Liverpool’s two cathedrals are modern. Liverpool Cathedral, which we enter dripping, took threequarters of a century to build and was completed in 1978. This Church of England cathedral was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who knocked off the red telephone box (there is one inside the cathedral). Other commissions included Battersea Power Station and the Cambridge University Library.

This is, as they will proudly tell you, the largest such building in the UK, and the fifth largest in the world. The size is undeniable, but puzzling: why in the 20th century was such an enormous building deemed to be a good idea?

Liverpool Cathedral is hugely impressive, with its red-brick vaults, yet it is also quite gloomy and has architectural oddities, such as a beautiful stained-glass window blocked by a bridge. A clever modern addition tucks the café on a high shelf beneath another stained-glass window.

That hard rain is still falling as we leave to see how the opposing team compares. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is known by the locals as Paddy’s Wigwam, thanks to its distinctive shape, with a prominent central tower and a surrounding low roof that slopes in a tent-like manner. The truncated conical tower is topped by a crown of thorns rising into the (grey and damp) sky.

This cathedral could have been as massive as its opposite number. In sense it is, but only underground. The original plan in the 1930s had been for a traditional cathedral. The architect was Sir Edwin Lutyens, who died while the crypt was being completed.

After the war, amid shortages and more desperate needs, the work was suspended. Lutyens’ crypt lies beneath the modernist cathedral and the remains are vaulted and vast, hinting at how huge would have been the finished church. Well worth three quid for this surprising visiting below the surface.

The church above ground was commissioned in 1960 in a competition won by the modernist architect Frederick Gibberd, who had earlier been planner for the new town of Harlow in Essex.

Gibberd’s design is simple and beautiful, with circular seating so that all worshippers are close to the central pulpit. Lovely smaller chapels line the outer circle, each lit with different shades of stained glass. The conical tower is filled with stained glass, throwing coloured light into the building, or at night beaming the same light out across the city.

It’s all a matter of taste, but to my impartial eyes, the Catholics kick architectural ass in Liverpool.

It wasn’t all churches…

Don’t get carried away with the idea that we did only churchy things in Liverpool. We visited the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tate (fabulous), went on an open-topped bus tour where the guide picked up a guitar and sang Beatles songs (and sang them well). This tour stopped off at Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields and glimpsed down Paul McCartney’s old street, where tourists thronged outside his old house; an odd sight, but you can’t escape the Beatles in Liverpool.

We also visited the maritime museum with its properly unsettling slavery museum, and the Museum of Liverpool, which had the moving (but temporary) exhibition Double Fantasy, about John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

There are many fine quayside buildings in Liverpool, with the most famous being known as the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. The Liver Bird building was the first major building in Britain to be built using reinforced concrete.

We also slept in an old prison (or tried to, as the church next door tolled all night long) and visited two great pubs in Dale Street to fulfil my need for holiday beer. One was a modern bar, the Dead Crafty Beer Company, the other a perfect beery pub, the Ship & Mitre, where we quietly played Scrabble among the chatting locals.

There was no pen or paper, so we played without scoring, although I’m pretty sure I lost as usual.

We loved Liverpool and will be back.

j j j