Handshakes and the washing of those hands…

A handshake, a handshake. As I walk across the university car park, a colleague coming the other way extends his hand for a firm welcome.

This doesn’t bother me as I like a handshake. I don’t rush off afterwards to wash my hands while ‘singing’ Happy Birthday twice, as is being recommended.

That, by the way, is the suggested routine for staying away from the coronavirus, not government advice on what to do after meeting friendly colleagues in the car park.

A handshake, a handshake. Yes, I like a handshake, but they may fall out of fashion for a while. What, you might wonder, will Paul Hollywood do if he’s no longer allowed to bestow the Hollywood handshake on the more promising oven drivers of Bake Off?

Other greetings are available, including a recommended one of bumping elbows that I haven’t got my head around yet; or my elbow. The traditional cheek-kissing greeting in France is being discouraged for now, with France 24 reporting that the ‘bise’ may now be considered a health hazard.

In the US the traditional banging of heads whenever two Trump supporters meet is thought not to have been threatened.

On the BBC Today programme this morning there was a charming little interview with the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer, who has rewritten the infamous birthday dirge to release its musicality. Fischer believes the traditional version puts the emphasis on ‘to’ rather than on ‘you’, and his reboot certainly sounded better on the radio.

This isn’t a new story, as film clips of Fischer playing his version have been available online for four or five years, but it was dusted off because of the coronavirus crisis, panic or whatever it might be. And that advice to sing the birthday tune twice.

As for hands, I’ve never heard so much about washing them, and this can only be for the general good. On the BBC PM programme recently, presenter Evan Davis asked a doctor how we should wash our hands. The recording took place in the gents at the BBC, not the sort of thing you expect at five o’clock, but the advice was sound.

I’m always shocked, as I stand there tunelessly humming Happy Birthday to the mirror, how some men just dash straight off without watering their hands. It’s the same through the women’s door, according to my spy.

I don’t wish to dwell again on Boris Johnson and his second-rate Churchill karaoke act. But the washing of hands is seen as a fitting image for a man who has washed his hands of wives, inconvenient colleagues and others foolish enough to stand too close.

At least the coronavirus has forced the prime minister back into public from wherever he’s been hiding for ten days. When it comes to being prime minister, he seems keener on the hunt than the prize. The hunt, you see, can be framed however you wish (Rule Brexit-annia with Boris the Great) whereas the governing part is deflected by uncontrolled issues, such as coronavirus.

The dad-to-be (again) said today he will be taking two weeks’ paternity leave in the summer. Glad he told us or else we might not have noticed the difference.

As for coronavirus, I can’t decide how worried I should be; and that’s a worry of its own.

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What’s interesting about this story, if it’s interesting at all (discuss without shouting) is the attention it garnered

Work and life have kept me from this little ledge for a week, but Boris Johnson’s baby (mark six, apparently) drags me back.

Yesterday’s headlines were full of the happy news. A cynical person might wonder at the clever management of it all. Less harmonious headlines about coronavirus, floods, Home Secretary Priti Patel and the resignation of top civil servant Sir Philip Rutman were temporarily overshadowed by the Boris baby blimp.

Of course, even such an arch manipulator as Boris Johnson can’t have arranged for his partner Carrie Symonds to fall pregnant at such a convenient moment, although you wouldn’t rule out him having tried.

What’s interesting about this story, if it’s interesting at all (discuss without shouting) is the attention it garnered. The Sunday Telegraph devoted most of its front page to the story under the headline: “No 10 wedding – and a baby too.”

The Mail on Sunday devoted six pages to this ‘news’ – six whole pages on two people having a baby and pity the poor hack who had to come up with that sickly sludge.

Johnson generally has an easy ride from the newspapers, too many of which lavishly support everything he does, seemingly forgetting the difference between a news story and a press release.

It is interesting to imagine how similar news would have been reported under different circumstances. Imagine if a twice-divorced Labour prime minister was having his sixth child with a much younger woman. Those “and a baby too” proclamations would have been replaced with headlines about how the prime minister’s conduct undermined the morals of society, or some such swill.

Imagine if a woman prime minister was having her sixth baby to different fathers. Imagine if a Labour woman prime minister (unlikely at present, it is true) was having her sixth baby to different fathers. It is easy to see the barely disguised slut-shaming that would have unleashed.

But Boris Johnson having his sixth child? Oh, shake those happy clappers and don’t worry about anything else. Ring out the embarrassing headlines and forget about the journalism.

It’s all oddly depressing but of the grubby moment. We’re stuck with Johnson and Dominic Cummings pulling the strings that make his arms jerk around.

And we’re stuck with a government that refuses to be interviewed by leading BBC or Channel 4 news journalists. A government that threatens to tear the BBC apart (having forgotten to mention that before the election). A government that stamps its foot with the EU, still playing by bully-boy Eton rules instead of finding a sensible way forward.

And soon there will be two babies in No 10. With luck looking after the smallest one will keep the bigger one busy for a while.

As the Guardian feature writer Simon Hattenstone tweeted…

“How to cope with bringing a baby into Number 10. Burp him, change his nappies every few hours, and do your best to stop the little f***er destroying the country.”

Can’t see that one making headlines…

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Blowing mad in all this wind…

Never mind that lovely old Jimi Hendrix song The Wind Cries Mary, I just walked round to the shop and felt like shouting into the wind.

Shouting doesn’t make you feel any better, for the wind is stronger. But there has been so much weather lately, and so much wind, it was good to toss a futile howl of despair into the gale; or a sweary moan at least.

Wind wears you down and frays your nerves; it haunts in the inside of your head and batters the outside of your bedroom, especially up in the attic with a roof designed to flex in the wind, and to slap down afterwards, a sound so conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Wind batters the garden and takes down trees, only the one at this house so far, a hawthorn tree weakened by standing too long in sodden soil. Wind wears you down and keeps you awake at night and sends you on a cautious wobble when it is time to cycle anywhere.

This spot on the west side of York often takes the full force of the westerly wind, and here there are all those trees too, a blessing until they threaten to fall and become a worry or worse.

I thought the wind had gone, blown itself off, blown away someplace else and good riddance. Instead the wind has returned to harry and howl, to bother trees and tiles, to redistribute the recycling, and to make us all feel a little bit madder (please say that isn’t only me).

This morning there was a touch of real winter, a dusting of snow, enough to slow the cars on the road outside, enough to make me nervous about Horsforth. The lecture was in the afternoon and by then the snow had gone, introducing rain as a support act for the returning wind.

The twisting road along the bottom of the valley beyond Harewood was flooded in three or four places, once quite deep and all the way across, the adjacent fields turned to muddy tarns. I came back on the Leeds ring road, and the other road must have been bad to make that a good choice.

If you must drive some distance to work, and I don’t recommend it, a snowy winter is a worry, and we have escaped that so far. It its cold favour, a snowy winter is a proper old-fashioned winter, sharp and crisp and slushy and, well, yes, horrible and inconvenient.

This February has had nothing much in its favour so far, especially not for anyone who has been flooded.

As for shouting at the wind, sometimes that is taken to be a metaphor for life. This quote is from the science-fiction writer Pierce Brown, not a writer I know, but the words are fitting…

“I will die. You will die. We will all die and the universe will carry on without care. All that we have is that shout into the wind – how we live. How we go. And how we stand before we fall.”

OK, not the cheeriest, but I like that notion of shouting into the wind.

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Blue cheese thinking from Johnson, praise for Nick Ferrari, and a classic Private Eye cover…

This morning there is a vile tweet doing the rounds as ill-advisedly put out by the BBC. It’s another of those Question Time moments when a member of the studio audience spouts inflammatory nonsense.

I don’t intend to give more details, as the woman going off on one about immigrants deserves no further prominence.

Her ill-informed words chimed with the government announcement about immigration controls. You’ll have spotted how Boris Johnson likes to chunter “Australian points-based system” as if reciting some sort of Harry Potter spell. He campaigned by slogan, and now he governs by slogan.

“We got Brexit done and put on a tea towel” has been replaced by this less catchy catechism. Incidentally, you can play at being Boris Johnson by endlessly repeating meaningless blather, as suggested below…

“Yes, people, our sky will be made of blue cheese. We will turn the sky into blue cheese. We will have a Stilton sunrise, come what may, do or die. Come what may. I believe the people want us to get on with some fantastic blue-cheesy things for this country. Do or die. Our sky will be made of blue cheese. We will fight them at the cheese counter…”

Pardon the distraction, but sometimes it’s tempting to give into distraction altogether.

The required 70 points sounds tough, but such a system is open to being manipulated, as helpfully pointed out by Stephen Bush of the New Statesman the other day, who said that governments tinker and tinker often with the point-scoring requirements.

There are so many displeasing aspects to all this, not least the bullying tone of Home Secretary Priti Patel, who insisted that banning low-paid foreign workers from entering the country was no problem as there are 8.5m economically inactive people in this country.

Turns out this ridiculous figure included students, those lucky enough to have retired before 65 (13%), carers and the sick, among others. That figure is an invention and a nonsense, but Patel clearly missed a trick, as she forgot about all those inconsiderately dead people cluttering up graveyards who could otherwise be put to more productive use.

There is an obvious question for the Home Secretary on this matter, and luckily Nick Ferrari of LBC was on hand to oblige. He asked Patel if such a points-based system would have prevented her parents from coming to this country from Uganda (and prevented his own family from moving here, too).

She initially denied this, blustered and said: “This isn’t about my background or my parents”, but then admitted that may be the case.

As they spoke, Ferrari remarked: “But it’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t think I’d be here and I sense you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be sitting in my studio and you wouldn’t be Home Secretary in one of the biggest offices in the land, under your system.”

The Times has a sobering splash this morning, claiming that an unpublished report on the Home Office’s “hostile environment policy” that led to the Windrush scandal has been toned down after concluding that the department was “institutionally racist”.

The term reportedly appeared in an earlier draft of the Windrush review into the treatment of people from the Caribbean, but then apparently disappeared from later versions.

The Home Office told the Times that it had not yet seen the final report, which you can believe if you wish to.

Setting a salary cap and attempting to stop “low-skilled workers” will certainly create problems for those businesses that rely on such workers. But it’s also horribly restrictive and frankly depressing.

Can we really say that someone’s potential lies in how much they earn at a certain point; can we limit all human possibility and the richness of society to an arbitrary figure set to appease racist women mouthing off on Question Time and designed mostly to give an impression of toughness?

Anyway, here to cheer you up is the cover of the present edition of Private Eye.


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A few thoughts following the death of Caroline Flack…

Twitter was how I first discovered that Caroline Flack had died, apparently by suicide. Twitter was also where a maelstrom of opinion swirled into angry life, mostly directed at the tabloid newspapers.

As a reader of what used to be called the broadsheets, it is easy to share some of this anger. Tabloid newspapers often exploit the famous, especially women.

If you want to know what a tabloid attitude looks like made flesh, just think of Piers Morgan on ITV’s This Morning, where his crowd-baiting, political-correctness-gone-mad guff and diminishment of famous women takes sweaty three-dimensional form (I don’t watch but you can’t escape those clips on social media).

Many of those shocked by Caroline Flack’s death at the age of 40 sought to blame the tabloids. And, certainly, it was difficult to stomach over the weekend the gush of emotion about Flack unleashed from the very newspapers and shameless operators who’d splashed her sometimes troubled life all over their pages.

They’d had their fun with the Love Island presenter while she was alive; and now that she was dead, they weren’t about to stop, only now they were operating in the convenient shadow of public distress.

But is it fair to blame the tabloids alone for her death? When someone commits suicide there can be many reasons for their awful decision. Part of what we learn here should perhaps be about the unknowability of other people.

Caroline Flack appears, like many people, to have been complicated: successful, glamorous, confident on screen, living the sort of life others might envy, and yet she was deeply troubled too.

The harsh spotlight cannot have helped; the prying, uncaring headlines cannot have helped; but her decision raises other questions, not least the relentless amplification of her plight on social media.

It also raises questions about how some journalists behave in pursuit of a story. Journalism does require toughness; sometimes the job can only be done with a degree of perhaps uncomfortable persistence.

Yet is is also a job that requires humanity – most stories are about people, and you can only hope to understand other people if you respect them as sometimes flawed and troubled human beings, not merely as the latest salacious plot twist in the story you wish to print or share.

Many people have observed since Saturday’s news, not least Flack’s friend Laura Whitmore, that we should all be kinder. That seems the wisest lesson to draw from this tragedy.

If people don’t wish to buy or support tabloid newspapers that print unsympathetic and sometimes vile stories, that is fine and may be for the general social good.

If there was no market for these stories, perhaps the papers would stop printing them, although their unkind habit cuts deep (as apparently does our desire to read stories of which we say we disapprove).

One aspect less commented on is that social media has made some newspapers lazy.

Why bother to ask important questions about business, politics or the people running the country, if you can scrabble through the social media bins and come up with a story?

Why spend time, effort and money investigating something of genuine importance when someone famous, usually a woman, is falling apart in the public eye?

With Caroline Flack we are dealing with the loss of someone who was widely known, yes, but who was also loved and cherished by those who held her dear. Their loss is far greater than ours, although the death of a famous person does remind us that loss is all around.

As for Twitter, well I love spending/wasting time on there. It’s often a fun and occasionally enlightening place, but it can be nasty sewer, too. We should listen to Laura and try to be kinder.

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My wife has left a Valentine’s card in the kitchen. ‘I thought we didn’t do that anymore,’ I say…

“You say that every year,” she says with a pout.

Ah, my slow brain drags itself from the soup of male forgetfulness.

It’s a tasteful little card with a mug and the words: “You’re my cup of tea.”

Last year when faced with the same scenario, I dashed out from work on a late card mission. And that’s what I do again later, diverting myself from the coffee shop (“Cappuccino man is here”) and scouring the gift shops in this tiny town.

Nothing catches my eye in the first shop, as the cards are too sickly or vaguely smutty. There is a better choice in the next shop where I am not the only panic buyer. I spot a card around the back of another late man. The card that is fine but something in the bargain basket catches my eye.

This is not meanness, honestly, just that I like the look of this card. It is a bright and colourful painting of two people in a garden. One is shyly giving the other a plant. My wife likes gardens, that could be me and her, so bingo. The Valentine’s rescue mission is a winner.

The shop owner is pleased with my choice and tells me that the artist who drew the card lives in Brighton. He does mugs too, the man says, spinning out back to retrieve one to show me. It’s a lovely mug.

The friendly man sees me off with my bargain card and we both seem happy with the purchase. And he seems very pleased that I picked that card.

In the office, I glance at the picture and think, oh, I see. I sign a few words inside, something about it being from her fond forgetful friend, adding that there is a story about this card.

Back home after work, I hand over the late card. My wife opens the envelope and admires the well-chosen card with the colourful painting. Then she says something about there being two men on the front. Ah, the nicest card in the shop was a gay card. One of the men is naked and his manhood is on show.

My wife photographs the card and sends the picture to our daughter, who is with her man for Valentine’s Night. “You can see his willy,” she messages back, adding that she is crying with laughter at her father’s misunderstanding.

“This is the best Valentine’s card ever,” my wife says.

I’m not sure if she is pleased with the card, which truly is tasteful, or with the attached story showing what unobservant twit she married all those years ago. A man who buys cards in a dash without full textural analysis.

“She says we should buy a frame,” my wife says, looking at the latest message from our daughter.

I open the wine and congratulate myself on an accidental success.

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I’ve checked and there’s no such thing as a free holiday…

This isn’t about Boris Johnson, or not really. You see people hear that name and think, good man, doing well; or they shake their aching heads and mutter, dear God, how did that happen?

Anyway, I fall into one of those categories, and if you guess correctly perhaps you will win a holiday. Or perhaps you won’t.

Boris Johnson won an election, as my aching head cannot deny. Then he appears to have ‘won’ a holiday, too. He didn’t enter a competition or anything, or not so far as we know. He wasn’t scouring the internet looking for ‘win a holiday’. One seems to have just rolled into his lap.

He probably wasn’t surprised, as if you come from his background, free stuff and holidays in the Caribbean with your girlfriend are just what you expect. Ah, thank you, waffle-waffle, could do with a break, been prime minister for all of five minutes, jolly decent of you.

At this point, we should come clean and admit that it is not known whether Boris Johnson had a free holiday reportedly worth £15,000. But that not knowing leaves a few questions blowing in the air like prime ministerial swimming trunks hanging on a line.

Labour suspects that the holiday was paid for by the Tory donor David Ross, one of the founders of Carphone Warehouse. It was said that Ross had allowed Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, to use luxury accommodation for a private holiday in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The businessman reportedly denied this to the Daily Mail, saying he didn’t own the villa on the island of Mustique where Johnson had stayed and that he hadn’t paid for the holiday. Instead he had “facilitated accommodation” (whatever that means).

We facilitated a short family trip to Poland last year, or my wife did, and two-and-half years ago we facilitated a trip to Australia. Earlier today I facilitated a return trip into York on my bike.

Being from the middling orders, I have no idea how these things work, but it seems probable that someone paid for the holiday, unless I’ve been misunderstanding how holidays work for all these years. Seeing as holidays are thin on the ground this year, I’ll happily soil my principles for a bit of sunshine in exotic surroundings.

Labour is chuntering about benefit in kind and so on, quite rightly, but you do wonder if they couldn’t find someone to send Jeremy Corbyn on holiday. Seeing him still knocking around is like having the Ghost of Elections Past hanging about the place, reminding everyone why they went off him.

Anyway, this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn. It isn’t really about Boris Johnson either, other than to wonder why the prime minister needed a free holiday. According to the Full Fact website, his job comes with a generous salary of £152,532 a year (plus free accommodation), or that’s what Theresa May picked up, and Johnson will be paid something similar. He also earned a fortune writing the same column for the Daily Telegraph every week, until he got demoted from that job and became prime minister.

Johnson comes from wealth, he has earned plenty, and he still earns a decent whack. So why doesn’t he pay for his own holidays? Answers on a postcard to 10 Downing Street.

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Allison Pearson and Priti Patel behind their walls…

Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph sticking up for Priti Patel of the Home Office hardly counts as surprising.

Pearson wrote a column yesterday under the headline, “I’m on Priti Patel’s side in the deportation row – because she’s on our side.”

The article sits behind a paywall, where it can stay as far as I’m concerned. But here is the intro: “Seventeen rapists, killers and drug dealers were deported in the small hours of yesterday morning.”

That’s one way of looking at the latest post-Windrush disgrace dished up by the government. Another might be to say that 15 black Britons who served time for the crimes they committed have been expelled to countries to which they have few, if any, connection.

Another way again might be to wonder at the double standards that apply to black people in these circumstances. Rarely do you read of white people who’ve served prison sentences being “sent back” to the USA or Australia or even Canada (although royal ‘offenders’ do sometimes take refuge in that last location).

Yet black people who have offended, and served their time, are being deported so that the government can look tough.

Rishi Sunak, chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News that all due process had been followed. Tellingly, he then said: “We have an established process for ensuring that where we have foreign nationals who have committed crimes here, they should be, where possible, deported.”

Key here is the use of “foreign nationals” to make it sound as if these are foreign criminals being sent back to where they have recently come from. Instead, they are British citizens in the main who committed crimes and were punished. To then expel them suggests black people deserve a higher form of punishment than white people.

Michael McDonald, one of those waiting to be deported, wrote a short article for yesterday’s Guardian under the heading: “I served my time in prison. So why am I being deported?”

McDonald added: “I’ve lived in Britain 20 years, raised children here and paid my taxes. In Jamaica I really will be a ‘foreigner’.”

The sentence was for drug dealing. Boris Johnson, that second-rate Churchill karaoke act with his shouting and arm waving, has admitted to having used cocaine when young. In other words, he was complicit in the sort of crimes committed by drug dealers. But he’s an old Etonian posh boy so it doesn’t matter.

The sentence has also been imposed on McDonald’s family, whose kids keeping asking him on the phone: “Daddy, when are you coming home?”

That home is in Nottingham, “But when the government talks about sending me ‘back’, they mean a place that’s completely foreign to me – Jamaica. I have no family in Jamaica; my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles all live in the UK and have British citizenship.”

That is a cruel way for a country to behave and I only feel shame.

The thought of Allison Pearson behind her paywall summons up a walled garden where the roses have more thorns than petals, as she walks about muttering that the Home Secretary is “on our side”.

Which side is that? Pearson sometimes harps on about her Christianity, but none of this sounds remotely Christian to me; but what does an old agnostic know about anything?

I don’t want to be on Allison’s side or on Priti’s side. All I want, or at least all I try to do, not always successfully, is to be on the side of humanity. Deporting Michael McDonald achieves nothing as he’s been punished already. All it does it unnecessarily punish his loved ones in the name of looking tough.

And should Priti Patel ever slip up and be threatened with expulsion to Uganda, from where her Ugandan-Indian parents arrived in 1972, I would stick up for her right to remain here, too.

And, yes, Priti Patel was born in London, but she seems strangely obsessed with punishing immigrants whose lives turned out less well.

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A trip abandoned thanks to Ciara sees us hiding in the great indoors…

We should be on the train to Manchester about now, but instead I am holed up in the storm-tossed study. Rain is being flung at the window as if from the unfurled fist of a vengeful god.

Storm Ciara quietened a little when I went for the Sunday paper just now. On my return, and while still dressed for the not so great outdoors, I stooped along the gap at the side of the house, a place which might as well have a big sign reading “Wind blow this way”, and picked up the soggy contents of the upended bin, a dismal task.

After that Ciara blew out her skirts again in an elemental hissy fit. It is comforting to be indoors and away from all that, even if we should have been on that train.

The trip to see number two son was abandoned amid warnings of only travelling if necessary. A meal, a chat and a pint or two probably don’t count as vital, although they are being missed inside this storm-tossed hiding place. It is not the tidiest room in the house; strike that, it’s easily the messiest.

Washing hangs in front of the wet window and dries on the radiator. There is a desk for sitting at and tapping out words. A portable radiator for chilly daytime typing. A rarely used futon sofa on which there rests an electric guitar. There is a music stand empty of music, and two bookcases full of books.

At my back there is a large amplifier belonging to the unvisited son. On top of the large amp sits a smaller one, bought so that my bad guitar playing can be amplified throughout the house for the pleasure of all present.

If that sounds antisocial, playing the electric guitar mostly is a lonely sin committed in secret when home alone, although occasionally a blues riff will ring out to general delight.

There are three of us in this house as our youngest has moved back while training to be a teacher. Before that it was two plus whoever happened to be passing the night in the spare room, but we stopped the Airbnb when our more permanent guest rolled up.

Had we not abandoned today’s trip, we would have visited the Northern Quarter, as that’s what usually happens. It’s a great shame not to be seeing Boy Number Two, but it does avoid any repeat of it being my round in a craft beer bar where he suggests trying a double IPA or something that costs £13 a pint. He hadn’t noticed the price and we did only order halves.

That train to Manchester struggles on a sunny day, so it was best not to go. According to the BBC website, one problem for the trains is that debris blows onto the rails, sometimes in the form of trampolines sprung by the wind from nearby gardens.

Another problem is that all the money in this country is spent on transport in the south. And if you think Boris Johnson pretending to love the north is going to sort that out, mine’s a pint of that expensive beer.

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Ask Boris Johnson a question, and off he scuttles with his shirt untucked…

With Trump-like disdain, Boris Johnson treats journalists much as he might, for argument’s sake, an outraged husband in hot pursuit. Off he scuttles with his shirt untucked, unwilling even to utter an ahem.

Soft-pat questions from children for a TV stunt, that’s fine. Gentle under-arms tossed by a minion for Facebook, that’ll be lovely.

Annoying questions from Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC? No, thank you. Here instead is a six-year-old to ask what shampoo Johnson uses (Wash and Go for Broke, as it happens).

Ducking and diving, and hiding from reporters in a large fridge, was Johnson’s way during the election campaign. And it worked, although always being on the run from questions is poor form in a prime minister.

Especially one famed for his ‘eloquence’ – although mostly this alleged ability translates into barking and blathering sentences as ornate as they are meaningless.

On Monday, political journalists walked out of a lobby briefing after one of Boris Johnson’s aides banned certain reporters from attending. Lee Cain, a senior communications adviser, wanted to exclude reporters from the Mirror, the i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, the Independent and others, while favouring others.

This was a pleasing display of unity from journalists, who too often tongue-lash each other in public, depending on the whims of their paymasters. Rupert Murdoch hates the BBC, so his editors and columnists tend to as well (there’s a coincidence); the Daily Telegraph disparages the BBC, so its editors and columnists tend to as well (these coincidences are catching).

Journalists should stick together more often, especially when the government is being so high-handed towards the media, refusing to talk to the BBC Today programme, wanting to provide its own footage for broadcasters – a sort of political vanity publishing.

Noises off today about abolishing the TV licence fee fall into that category, too. The knuckledusters are out, partly because the Tories nearly always dislike the BBC for ideological reasons; and partly because the BBC has an annoying habit of wanting to ask questions, and Johnson isn’t good with answers.

Above the Daily Mail leader column, of all the unlikely places, you will find the headline: “Show you believe in the free Press, Boris.” With a flourish of optimism, the Mail writes, “As a career journalist himself, Boris Johnson knows the essential value of an independent media to our democracy.”

Well, the mistake made there by my long-distant ex-colleague Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail, is to call Johnson a “career journalist”. Nope, he’s a career Boris Johnson; a task to which he has devoted every trick in the book, and a few that weren’t in any book.

Yes, there has been journalism, including making up scare stories about the EU for the Telegraph 30 years ago; and the editorship of The Spectator.

Yet mostly he has been a celebrity columnist, which is easier than being a real journalist engaged in research and checking all those bothersome facts. Nice work if you can get it; and much of Johnson’s journalism was breezy top-of-the-head stuff (as is this blog in a minor league way).

Incidentally, and I do like a good incidental, Boris Johnson stood at the despatch box in the Commons earlier today and shouted: “I am a journalist.” Perhaps he’d forgotten about his new job, or maybe he was looking for an excuse for an early drink, not that journalists have time for that anymore.

There are complicated arguments to be had about the future of the BBC, and about whether not paying the licence fee should be a criminal offence. But they shouldn’t be made by a government wanting to slip the dagger in for self-serving reasons in under cover of what will hopefully be a short honeymoon.

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