Watch out, we’re mad!

 

© Yahoo News

 

Watch Out, We’re Mad! was the title of a 1974 Italian-Spanish slapstick comedy movie starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, whose films during the 1970s were the sort of thing kids – kids in the UK, anyway – would graduate to when they grew too old to enjoy the slapstick comedy movies of Norman Wisdom.  Its plot had something to do with bearded, burly Bud and slim, handsome Terence having an escalating battle of wits, and fists, with some property-developing gangsters after the gangsters wrecked the duo’s beloved dune buggy.  No shit.  I saw it as a kid at my local cinema as part of a double bill with the re-released The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958).  When you were ten years old, that was a double bill made in heaven.

 

However, Watch Out, We’re Mad! could also be the title given to the Daily Telegraph during the period leading up to and since Boris Johnson becoming British Prime Minister.  As soon as a Johnson premiership looked likely, the venerable newspaper decided to be that premiership’s number one cheerleader in the British media.  The November 6th edition of the Telegraph, for example, headed its front page with a quotation by Johnson saying of the opposition Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn: “…they point their fingers at individuals with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the kulaks.”

 

In my youth, the British tabloids were as idiotic and mean-spirited as they are today.  On the other hand, there seemed to be some constancy and balance at the upmarket end of the nation’s press.  You had three newspapers that were commonly, and for the most part deservedly, referred to as the ‘qualities’: the Guardian, catering for those people whose political sympathies lay on the left; the Times, catering for those who were in the middle; and the Telegraph, catering for those who tended towards the right.

 

Unfortunately, these days, ‘quality’ is the last word you’d apply to the Telegraph.  It has untethered itself from reality and sanity.  It has transformed itself into a printed pantomime of pro-Johnson loopiness.  And since the announcement that Britain will have a general election on December 12th, that loopiness has increased by the power of ten.

 

Before I continue, I should explain that I don’t live in Britain at the moment and my only access to the Telegraph is via its website; and as its articles exist behind a paywall, and as I’m not going to shell out cash to an organ so dementedly devoted to Johnson, and to Brexit, and to all causes championed by right-wingers, I can only gawp at its headlines.  It’s often said that newspaper journalists and columnists aren’t responsible for the sensational headlines topping their work, which are the creations of sub-editors.  But as the names I’m about to mention seem very comfortably ensconced at the modern-day Telegraph, I doubt if the headlines over their articles disturb them greatly and I assume those headlines are fair summations of their opinions.

 

Firstly, there’s the Telegraph’s coverage of Johnson himself, which brown-noses the man with an intensity reminiscent of the state-controlled North Korean media reporting the mightiness and infallibility of Kim Jong Un.  On October 20th, columnist Tim Stanley likened him to a certain bulldog-spirited British wartime leader: “It’s time critics saw Boris for the Churchillian figure he is.”  Ex-Telegraph editor Charles Moore attributed miracles on August 25th:  “Boris has brought a miraculous change to the political weather, as the remainer world falls apart.”  Johnson’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in early October was widely derided for being brief and perfunctory, but the Telegraph’s American columnist Janet Daley heard qualities in it that nobody else did: “Good-humoured Boris just gave the best speech of his career.”  And while stories have circulated about Johnson getting over-familiar with ‘the ladies’, Telegraph hack Alison Pearson dismissed these on October 1st.  Apparently with a direct telepathic link to the minds of the entire British public, she declared: “Normal people don’t give a monkey’s about ‘Gropegate’ – they’re still backing Boris.”

 

To the Telegraph’s current editor Allister Heath, Johnson is practically an Arthurian warrior-king, taking arms against a sea of Corbynites, anyone who still likes Tony Blair, EU remainers and general evildoers: on November 6th, “Wake up, Middle England.  A Corbyn victory would be a genuine catastrophe… This election is a binary battle between Boris and a Labour Party bent on the destruction of our freedom”; on October 30th,  “Boris Johnson’s historic mission is to save Britain from Corbyn and the Blairites”; and on August 28th – insinuating Johnson is Maggie Thatcher with a sex change – “This is Boris Johnson’s Falklands War, and he will do everything to win it.”

 

Johnson and his Conservative Party are generally reckoned to have had a shit start to the election campaign.  Their Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns resigned ‘after being accused of lying over an aide’s sabotaging of a rape trial’.  Tory MP Ross Thomson, Johnson’s most vocal supporter in Scotland, announced he wasn’t running for re-election after allegations of him drunkenly groping people.  And the famously aristocratic, arch-Brexiter Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was condemned for making crass, ignorant remarks about the victims of the Grenfell Fire disaster.  But the Telegraph – surprise! – disagrees.

 

Its parliamentary sketch-writer Michael Deacon insisted on November 7th that the fiasco was actually one big, brilliant Boris plan: “A bumpy start for the Tories?  Actually, it’s a PR masterclass.”  Deacon apparently believes that whatever happens during the campaign has been mapped out in advance and will end in a big win for Johnson, for on October 30th he wrote: “The election campaign hasn’t even begun – but the Tories’ cunning plan is already clear.”  Oh, and let’s not hear any bad words about Jacob Rees-Mogg either.  Back on July 27th, Charles Moore gushed: “Jacob Rees-Mogg makes a fine case for the revival of the archaic.”

 

Boris Johnson might in the eyes of the Telegraph be heroic, noble, wise and infallible, but few adjectives are negative enough to describe his opponents, especially those who also oppose Brexit.  “Remainers have turned parliament into an anti-democratic monstrosity” (Heath on September 25th); “Euphoric Remainer snobbery has become a fanatical religion” (Sherelle Jacobs on October 18th); “Fatuous remain MPs have just become the useful idiots of the Leave cause” (Jacobs on October 24th).  And don’t even mention the unspeakable European Union itself.  “To survive the new global Dark Age, Britain must leave the tyrannical EU” (Jacobs yet again on August 8th); and “Our democracy is being overthrown by the EU’s Hideous Strength” (Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP and Fox News’ go-to guy when they need a British commentator to assure right-wing Americans about the horribleness of the British National Health Service, on September 14th).

 

It says something about how utterly Loony Tunes the Telegraph has become that the editor of its Scottish version almost sounds reasonable in comparison.  This is Alan Cochrane, a man famous for his fulminations against supporters of Scottish independence.  Aware that in more left-leaning Scotland, any success the Scottish Tories have enjoyed in recent years has been due to them being perceived as ‘moderate’ – as epitomised by their former leader, the supposedly moderate Ruth Davison (who promptly resigned when Johnson became Prime Minister) – Cochrane has written pieces warning how badly the Boris Johnson Show plays north of the border.  These include “It’s not just what Boris Johnson says, it’s the way he says it that alienates Scotland” (October 4th) and “Crass Downing Street jibe at judges unites Scottish politicians” (September 12th).  You nearly feel sorry for Cochrane when you read the unhinged, xenophobic, Scotland-bashing comments his articles attract from English Telegraph readers in the threads below them.

 

Although Cochrane’s work appears regularly on the online Telegraph’s opinion page, he isn’t even mentioned on the page listing its columnists (alongside such veteran eye-swivellers as Julie Burchill and Nosferatu himself, Norman Tebbit).  Which shows how much importance the newspaper attaches to Cochrane, its Scottish edition and Scotland generally.

 

Of course, the Daily Telegraph is fixated with Boris Johnson largely because he’s been involved with the newspaper since the late 1980s – when it hired him as a journalist after he’d been sacked from the Times for fabricating a quote.  (Then-Telegraph editor Max Hastings has since said of Johnson that “he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”)  During the 1990s, as the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Johnson made his name publishing widely exaggerated pieces on how the beastly EU was imposing spiteful and stupid regulations on plucky little Britain, helping fuel the Euro-scepticism that birthed the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and eventually won the 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit.  Johnson still writes for the Telegraph and its online opinion page gives pride of place to a set of articles with the oxymoronic title The Best of Boris.

 

Mindful of the dynamics between President Donald Trump and Fox News in the USA, the Telegraph clearly hopes to enjoy a similar relationship with Prime Minister Johnson – supporting him with a fervour unlike any other media outlet, whilst enjoying a symbiotic relationship where he uses his name to promote it and it has influence over him and his policies.

 

Yet all cannot be well in Telegraph-World because its owners, billionaire twins David and Frederick Barclay, have just decided to put the newspaper up for sale for 200 million pounds – less than a third of what they paid for it in 2004.  Officially, it’s said that the sale is due to the newspaper’s declining profits.  However, I’d like to think that the Barclay brothers are worried that their Boris-worshipping newspaper has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster and they want to get rid of it before their reputations are damaged by association.  That they’re no longer saying, “Watch out, we’re mad!”, but “Hold on, we’re not that mad.”

 

© Columbia Pictures

 

Dave back from the grave

 

© William Collins

 

The events of the past month have hardly been a good advertisement for the education system through which the children of Britain’s rich, privileged few have traditionally passed.  I’m talking about the training offered by England’s fee-paying public schools – ‘public’ being the English term for them, though in Scotland they’re more accurately known as ‘private’ schools – such as Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse and Rugby, followed by a sojourn at Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

 

No, the recipients of such elitist training have definitely not distinguished themselves recently.

 

Firstly, of course, there’s been the less-than-glorious start to the UK premiership of Boris Johnson, former pupil of Eton and graduate of Oxford University, where he played ‘rugger’ for Balliol, served as Union President and was a member of the Bullingdon Club, which Wikipedia pithily describes as an ‘upper-class drinking society known for vandalism’.  In his first few weeks as prime minister, the hapless Johnson has lost half-a-dozen votes in the House of Commons; reduced his party’s majority in the House of Commons from +1 to -43; seen his younger brother Jo Johnson resign as a Conservative Party MP, launching a fleet of jokes about how he was the first politician in history to stand down from politics in order to spend less time with his family; and been judged by the Scottish Court of Session to be unlawful in his prorogation of parliament, which, since Johnson briefed the Queen to get her approval of this prorogation, raises the possibility that he lied to Her Majesty – the bounder.

 

Meanwhile, Johnson hasn’t exactly shown the grit, fibre and fortitude that you’d expect from someone raised amid the cold baths and cold showers and on the wintry, muddy playing fields of Eton.  When he turned up at Nicola Sturgeon’s residence in Edinburgh in July, he was so feart at the presence of a crowd of protestors going “Boo!” outside the front entrance that, later, he ignominiously sneaked away through the back entrance – earning himself in the Scottish press the icky-sounding sobriquet ‘Back-door Boris’.  And just the other day, the presence of another crowd of protestors going “Boo!”, plus the presence of the PM of that big scary country Luxembourg, caused him to chicken out of doing a press conference.  Unfortunately for Johnson, he’d preceded this latter act of cowardice by likening himself to the Incredible Hulk.  The Johnson version of the Hulk, apparently, doesn’t so much roar “Hulk smash!” as whimper “Hulk shit pants.”

 

Johnson’s antics haven’t been the only recent evidence suggesting that a public-school education, plus Oxbridge, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  See too the behaviour of famously monocled, top-hatted retro-toff Jacob Rees-Mogg.  During a key Commons debate about a no-deal Brexit, Rees-Mogg displayed his contempt for the oiks (i.e. all of humanity who aren’t him) by reposing across a Commons bench like a languid, foppish refugee from an Evelyn Waugh novel being punted down the River Cam.  Having jumped the shark with his Commons slouching, Rees Mogg then proceeded to nuke the fridge by comparing an NHS consultant, Dr David Nicholl, who’d raised concerns about patient mortality in the event of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal (and without access to certain medicines), to the disgraced and discredited anti-vaccine campaigner Andrew Wakefield.  Rees-Mogg was later forced to issue a grovelling apology.

 

From rte.ie

 

So has the reputation of Britain’s elitist, establishment education system been damaged enough?  Not yet, apparently.  For on top of the punishment inflicted on it by Johnson and Rees-Mogg, it has still to endure the return of David Cameron, freshly risen from the political grave to remind us of how much havoc a posh-boy with a colossal sense of entitlement can wreak if placed in a position of power.

 

Unlike the bumbling Johnson and the grotesque Rees-Mogg, David Cameron, British PM from 2010 to 2016, exhibited the slickness and charm you’d expect from a product of Britain’s supposedly finest educational institutions.  He was smooth and at ease enough to be able to project himself as a regular, matey (if obviously well-heeled) bloke.  He was like a bank manager who comes across as your personable and supportive friend, even if the moment you step out of his office you realise he’s just turned down your plea for a loan and doomed your firm to going out of business.  Also, he knew how to show some affectations of social and environmental concern – witness his blather about ‘hugging a hoodie’ or his photo op with huskies in the Arctic – although I suspect he was as sincere in this as a chancer who gate-crashes a Friends of the Earth meeting in the hope of getting into some female activists’ knickers.

 

Anyway, underneath the cuddly veneer, Cameron was not a nice piece of work.  He lived up to his nickname of ‘Flashman’ (after the bully in Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays) and no doubt all the ruthless, materialistic, Sunday-Times-reading, Jeremy-Clarkson-type wankers in the land recognised him as one of their own.   As John Harris pointed out in a recent article in the Guardian, Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, once installed in Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street, set about imposing a brutal regime of cuts on the country.  They “commenced the decade of fiscal savagery that has left some of the most fundamental parts of the public realm hanging for dear life” and created a Britain where now “austerity is part of the everyday ambience, all shut-down pools and libraries, broken-down parks, and once-a-day buses.”

 

Having saved the United Kingdom in 2014 by securing a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum, Cameron then breezed into the 2016 vote on Britain remaining in or leaving the European Union assuming it would be a shoo-in for ‘remain’.  It would also, handily, sort out the anti-EU faction in his party, which had bedevilled it for years.  But of course the Brexiteers narrowly won.  And Cameron was immediately toast.

 

The years of austerity he’d presided over had turned around and bitten him on the arse.  Partly led to believe by the likes of Nigel Farage that the EU and EU-related immigration were the source of their woes, and partly just wanting to give the establishment as exemplified by Cameron a kicking, people in worse-off parts of Britain voted ‘leave’.  Yes, by voting for an economically ruinous Brexit they were bringing yet more hardship upon themselves.  Then again, you could probably bear cutting off your nose to spite David Cameron’s oleaginous face when Cameron had spent the previous half-dozen years grinding your own face into the dirt, to  the point where you hardly had a nose left.

 

Now, three years later after the Brexit vote and his political demise, Cameron has shambled zombie-like into the limelight again.  He’s currently trying to flog his autobiography For the Record, which he wrote in a £25,000 designer ‘shepherd’s hut’ with ‘a wood-burning stove, sofa bed and sheep’s wool insulation’ specially purchased for the task and installed in his garden.  That’s right, he managed to turn even the basic process of transcribing words onto a sheet of paper into an epic statement about his posh-ness.

 

Supposedly, For the Record – which recently ranked at a somewhat low 335 in the Amazon pre-order charts – has some uncomplimentary things to say about Boris Johnson, who betrayed Cameron when he threw his weight behind the ‘leave’ campaign in a move calculated to boost his support among the anti-EU brayers and frothers in the Conservative Party.  Yip, I can empathise with Cameron’s sense of betrayal.  I mean, you’d expect Cameron and Johnson, both veterans of that virtuous, upstanding society the Bullingdon Club, to exhibit more loyalty to one another.  You’d expect there to be more honour among posh thugs who smash up restaurants and allegedly stick their dicks into the mouths of dead pigs.

 

Still, it’s disingenuous to blame all of Britain’s troubles on a privileged, moneyed clique, including the likes of Cameron, Johnson and Rees-Mogg, who finished their education school with a zillion contacts and astronomical levels of self-confidence and self-importance, though not necessarily with corresponding amounts of knowledge and ability.  The 93% of the British population who weren’t privately educated, weren’t endowed with fantastic connections and weren’t trained to superbly bullshit their way through life – to talk the talk even if they hadn’t a clue about how to walk the walk – are complicit in this too.  Myself included, I should say.  I did my share of cringing and wilting in front of cut-glass accents in the past, before I came to know better.  Through a culture of deference, cap-doffing, ‘knowing your place’, crippling inferiority complexes and imposter syndrome, through the kneejerk belief that the important jobs should be left to those who sound like they know what they’re doing (though often they don’t), we’ve allowed ourselves, the majority, to become prisoners of a minority.

 

After all, the British public saw fit to vote Cameron back into power in 2015, believing his smooth, Etonian hands were a safer pair than those of poor old Ed Miliband, a man so gormlessly dorky he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich without making it look like a Norman Wisdom slapstick routine.  And Cameron’s second term as PM ended well, didn’t it?

 

Such is the glamour that the privately educated exert over the rest of us – that’s ‘glamour’ in its old Scottish definition, meaning ‘spell’ or ‘bewitchment’ — that we’ve allowed them to fill ridiculously disproportionate swathes of our top jobs: 65% of senior judges, 52% of diplomats, 44% of newspaper columnists, 44% of ‘top actors’ and 39% of cabinet ministers.  We have, as a nation, surrendered en masse to a class-based version of Stockholm Syndrome.  The unwelcome reappearance of the discredited David Cameron is a small reminder of this.

 

© Redskyshepherdshuts.co.uk

 

Joke nation

 

© The Public Library Ltd / From the Daily Record

 

Tomorrow is April 1st, better known in the United Kingdom as April Fool’s Day.  Traditionally it’s a day when British people play jokes on one another – interior decorators send hapless apprentices off to the shops with instructions to buy ‘a tin of black and white paint’ or ‘straight hooks’, the BBC broadcasts a news report about a drought threatening this year’s spaghetti harvest in Italy, and so on.

 

This is because British people love jokes.  But that’s not to say Britain itself is a joke nation.  No, quite the reverse.  With just one year remaining until the UK Brexits from the European Union and takes on the world on its own again, it stands poised to show what a totally serious, formidable, non-ridiculous, non-joke place it is.

 

I know this because Jacob Rees Mogg, that undertaker-like darling of the Brexiting Conservative Party right, wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph on March 18th stating that Tory Prime Minister Theresa May would soon “lay out the facts to the EU: Britain isn’t a joke nation and Brexit will mean Brexit.”  Right on, Jacob.  I mean, look at what’s happened in the UK this past month of March 2018.  How could anyone conclude that Britain is anything other than a deadly serious nation?

 

Jacob himself proved this on March 21st when he was part of a protest at the UK government’s agreement to stay in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for an additional 21 months after Brexit officially happens next year.  The protest took the form of him and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage heading out onto the Thames in a trawler and bunging some dead haddock into the water as a symbol of their displeasure.  Well, Jacob would have headed out in the trawler and dumped the haddock, but it transpired that said trawler didn’t have a permit from the London transport authority to moor anywhere and was unable to pick him up from the quay.  So after a quick press conference by the river, Jacob had to leg it back to the Houses of Parliament while the trawler, dead haddock and Nigel Farage were left chugging about the Thames looking for a place to dock.

 

That was unfortunate.  But obviously, nothing resembling a joke.

 

Revelations this month about Jacob Rees Mogg’s Conservative colleague and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson weren’t remotely joke-like either.  Boris had condemned Vladimir Putin and the Russian authorities after the poisoning of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th.  Then it became public knowledge that Lubin Chernukhin, a Russian banker and the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, had once paid the Tory party £160,000 for the honour of playing a game of tennis with Boris, supposed Scourge of the Russkies.

 

Yes, if a lesser politician had been embroiled in an episode like this, it would have looked like a giant, stupid joke.  But since a man of Boris’s stature and dignity was involved, it didn’t.

 

© Sky Sports / From the Daily Mirror

 

March 11th saw Conservative Party participation in another sporting event.  A bruising footballing encounter between bitter rivals Glasgow Celtic and the famously pro-British, famously Union Jack-waving, famously loyal-to-the-throne Glasgow Rangers took place at Rangers’ home ground of Ibrox Stadium.  Acting as one of the linesmen that day was Douglas Ross, the Tory MP for Moray, who’s a football official as well as a politician.  Dougie helped get Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic sent off after he allegedly elbowed Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos.  He was heard screaming “Red card!  Red card!” from the line, even though as a match official he could have communicated in quieter tones with the referee using their mics and earpieces.  Afterwards, many wags remarked on how despite playing at home, and having their opponents reduced to ten men, and having a Tory MP manning the line, Rangers still managed to lose.

 

Note how I said ‘remarked on’ there.  Not ‘joked about’.  Because Britain isn’t a joke nation.

 

What other non-joke things are there to report this month?  Well, there’s the dodgy affair of the British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, who’ve played controversial roles in the Leave EU referendum campaign and Trump election campaign.  Cambridge Analytica were helped in their work by a data breach involving the personal details of about 50 million people, ‘inappropriately’ taken from Facebook.  Then, on March 19th, Channel 4 aired a secretly-filmed clip of the firm’s CEO Alexander Nix bragging to a potential client that during elections his company could compromise certain politicians by setting them up with prostitutes and filming the results with hidden cameras.

 

Nix saying this whilst being filmed with a hidden camera himself was ironic.  But not funny.  Because Cambridge Analytica is a British company and Britain, as we know, isn’t a joke nation.

 

Obviously, anti-Semitism is no joking matter.  So what should we make of the row about it that engulfed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in March?  Corbyn, we learned, had once defended a political mural on a London wall that’d been accused of demonising Jews.  Now Corbyn claims that he hadn’t looked at the mural closely enough at the time to realise it was Jew-bashing.  What’s that, Jeremy – a picture of disgusting rich capitalists playing Monopoly on top of the bodies of the bowed naked proletariat, capitalists with prominent noses, spectacles and bushy Fagin-like beards?  Why, sure.  Anyone could have missed suggestions of anti-Semitism in that.

 

© Mike Kemp via Getty Images / From the Guardian 

 

So no jokes please about Jeremy and his apparent myopia here.  He’s leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition in the not-a-joke nation of Britain.

 

Meanwhile, Britain’s newspapers have done nothing joke-like this month either.  Certainly not the Daily Mail, which reacted with apoplectic rage to the news that Britain’s post-Brexit, just-liberated-from-the-European-Union, patriotically-blue passports would be produced by a FrenchDutch company.  “Why,” it demanded of Britain’s ruling class on its front page, “DO you hate our country, its history, culture and the people’s sense of identity?”  And on March 29th, with precisely one year to go until Brexit, the Mail’s right-wing Siamese twin the Daily Express published on its front page a big picture of the White Cliffs of Dover.  Not to imply that one year from now the UK would be careering over a cliff, but to illustrate a stirring quote by Boris Johnson: “Our national journey out of the EU is almost over and a glorious view awaits.”  The photographer who’d originally taken that picture of the cliffs later pointed out on Twitter that the cliffs weren’t as white as they’d appeared in the Express.  Evidently the newspaper had photoshopped extra whiteness over their mossy green cliff-faces: “If anything sums up #Brexit – it’s the Daily Express making my pic of Britain look whiter than it is.”

 

That almost sounds like a joke, you know.  But it can’t be.  Because this is 2018 Britain: most definitely not a joke nation.

 

© From twitter.com