Strong and stable? Try Prince Philip

Amid the saga of Brexit and scripted monochrome drudgery of this most tedious and apathetic of general election campaigns, the announcement that Prince Philip is to retire from public life after 70 years of unflinching service as the Queen’s consort seems to have been swallowed as a passing footnote.

This is a shame. If you really want to see strength and stability (oh for fuck’s sake, not again) personified, then look no further than the Duke’s endeavours over that period: 22,191 solo engagements, 637 solo overseas visits, 5,493 speeches given and 785 patronages. The 95 year old Duke undertook official public engagements on 110 days of the year in 2016 compared to Prince William’s 80. That’s strength.

Obviously, the positions of Prince Philip and the Prime Minister are not analogous. Politicians are here today and gone tomorrow. But Mrs May would do well to follow some of the Duke’s MO: he leads by example and his virtues and authenticity are demonstrable by his actions. By contrast, regurgitating “strong and stable” on auto loop with no regard to the context does not make you so, even if the antithesis offered by the opposition may give the illusion that you are.

To hear and see Theresa May alone and wooden in front of drooling Tory activists in carefully scripted and choreographed set pieces behind a back drop of blue billboards emblazoned with “Theresa May’s Team” above an almost apologetic “Conservatives” subscript, makes me wonder who exactly is this “team”? Her cabinet are invisible, save for the odd fleeting appearance by two of the Three Brexiteers (hopefully Liam Fox has been politically euthanised by now). It is clearly a strong and stable team of one. Oh dear. There’s no “I” in team, but there’s a “u” in something rather less flattering.

Prince Philip has always been his own man and would also fit into Mrs May’s mould as being “bloody difficult”. But he is also part of a team with the Queen and has embraced his role with an authoritative blend of gregariousness, charisma, forthright views and sometimes devastating wit. He has connected with the British people.

Mrs May, on the other hand, acts as a lone wolf, self-styling herself as a one woman Tory wrecking ball. She is awkward, cagey, suspicious, evasive and weary of anything or anyone who could interrupt her stage-managed script. You only had to watch the excruciating performance of Theresa and her “Bin Man” husband on BBC 1’s One Show on Tuesday night to appreciate how unnaturally engaging interaction comes to her.

Far from being strong and stable therefore, the Prime Minister could come across as insecure (bizarre, considering her party’s lead in the polls). She has refused television leader debates; she eschews pressing the flesh with voters out in the unpredictable streets, preferring the safety of the hand-picked Tory faithful; local news reporters have been locked in a room and banned from filming whilst the PM undertook a factory tour in Cornwall; at a covert Scottish rally held at Clathes village hall in Aberdeenshire, Mrs May hid away from inquisitive voters as the venue had been publicly listed as a “children’s birthday party”; she turned up at a factory in Leeds only after the workers had gone home and spoke to invite-onlys; she allegedly refuses to take questions from journalists that haven’t been pre-approved and that questions are being pre-vetted ahead of campaign events. You get the picture.

This isn’t a demonstration of strong and stable leadership in the Western, liberal tradition. This is authoritarian, paranoid, brittle, control freakery that is more akin to Russia, China and North Korea.

Come on Prime Minister, take a leaf out of Big Phil’s book and get out there amongst your people and show some authenticity and personality. The electorate then might start to agree with your self-styled leadership credentials as credible in their own right, rather than as the least worst option.

Theresa’s 0.7%

0.7%. It doesn’t sound much does it? £13.3 billion sounds a rather bigger number in most contexts. Put them together and £13.3 billion is the amount that the UK spent on delivering overseas aid in 2016, representing 0.7% of the UK’s GDP. Oh. Ouch. Really? Afraid so. Just to add insult to injury, 0.7% of GDP is a statutory commitment enshrined in law, binding the UK to deliver such a sum in overseas aid every year. On the assumption that the economy grows annually, so too does the overseas aid budget, regardless of the country’s ability to pay or overseas demand.

The Prime Minister’s defence of the 0.7% is economically groundless. Whilst austerity continues to bite and constrain the public purse in its highest spending priorities such as the NHS and education, it seems clear enough that the UK cannot afford such a gesture of largesse. As a rich country, the UK of course has a moral obligation to assist the development of the poorest and alleviate suffering, but it more than pulls its economic weight here compared to other members of the G20. To put into context, according to the World Economic Forum and as a percentage of 2015 GDP, the UK is 7th on the list of top donors. Germany is 11th. Japan, France and the US are nowhere to be seen (the US was the largest donor in quantum terms at $30.7 billion, but equating to a measly 0.17% of GDP). It is unsurprising to see the Scandinavian countries (operating under the welfarist and highly globalised Nordic social democratic model) of Sweden, Norway and Denmark occupying 1st, 3rd and 5th spots respectively. Ruddy nice those Scandies.

Politically, the position is plain baffling. Brexit was a straightforward and explicit rejection of outward looking metropolitanism; a message delivered to the government to turn inward and look after its own. Preservation of a costly overseas aid budget disdainfully contradicts this protectionist message. It gives the impression of a government that, whilst strident and resolute in its mission to deliver a successful Brexit, is hearing but not listening on full volume yet.

£13.3 billion buys 38 hospitals at £350m a pop and 332 schools at £40m. And as this blog was at pains to point out in its “Anti-social, don’t care” post on 13 January, there will be a black hole in social care provision of £2.3 billion by 2019/20. These are all politically toxic issues that the government is struggling to deal with fiscally. For the vast majority of “hard working families” that the Tories claim to support, such issues are very real, very present and of very real concern; they transcend the liberal idealism of huge overseas handouts and are indifferent to the politics of Leave/Remain. Apart from a few star gazing leftie liberals, I can’t see too many Remainers kicking up a fuss over the remodelling of the overseas aid budget in its current, outdated guise.

To exacerbate matters, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that he may look to scrap a 2015 manifesto pledge not to put up taxes, citing the need for flexibility in managing the economy. So, let me get this straight. The Tories want to keep channelling billions of taxpayers’ hard earned wedge to faceless causes abroad (some of whom reside in North Korea and received £4m last year by the way), whilst retaining the option to put taxes up? Yup. Good luck selling that to the JAMs (“Just About Managing”) or anybody else who wants more bang for their tax buck. So, just about everybody then.

It makes for spectacularly dim politics.

That Mrs May feels she can get away with campaigning on a platform that is distinctly not grassroots Toryism is entirely down to the amoebic challenge posed by Corbyn and Labour. Jezza isn’t going to attack Tezza on the fronts of preserving foreign aid and the spectre of higher taxes, so he gets steamrollered. Again. But why does the PM feel she needs to do it? Some commentators reckon that it is to broaden the Tories’ appeal whilst the going is so good to cement a landslide election victory in June. I think the breadth of such added appeal is skinny and derived from the school of marginal gains.

In my last post, “May calls for June“, I suggested that Mrs May has a job on her hands to woo the 48% that voted Remain if she is to secure the majority landslide she so craves (and needs). 31% of that 48% voted Conservative in 2015; 39% voted Labour. Voters of either political allegiance are unlikely to take kindly to the preservation of the overseas aid budget, nor that they may be taxed more to pay for it. The 2015 Conservative voters will probably do the same again. But why does Mrs May want to score such an unnecessary own goal through such schoolgirl defending? A political clean sheet is what she needs to truly broaden her appeal.

0.7%. Such a tiny number. But for Mrs May, it could and should be a number of profound electoral importance.

May calls for June

Here we go again. The country will probably go to the polls again for the third time in two years. The PM will be criticised in many quarters for her u-turn. She was categorical in September 2016 in saying that she wouldn’t go to the country but has succumbed to the temptation of cynical opportunism to bury a rudderless and increasingly irrelevant Labour Party under our Jezza. But it is the right decision. It’s not without risk of course in this predictably unpredictable global political climate, but the decision has been made with, in this author’s opinion at least, a shrewd and hard-nosed calculus that should see Mrs May prevail on a number of fronts. She is finally showing unequivocal leadership, throwing down gauntlets to the opposition parties and her own ministers and backbenchers (some of whom will be sweating uncomfortably in their staunchly pro Remain seats. Just look at what happened in Richmond.). And, interestingly, to our estranged friends on the continent who will be dissecting the Conservative manifesto position on Brexit with forensic scrutiny.

Unlike Call Me Dave’s arrogant roll of the dice that blithely pre-empted the outcome of his EU referendum announcement as a foregone conclusion to Remain, Mrs May’s bolt from the blue announcement this morning is a carefully considered appraisal of the risks and rewards. Despite the fashion for political volatility, I don’t see this as the gamble that some do. She was elected as leader of the Conservative party, defaulting as an unelected PM off the back of campaigning on the losing Remain ticket and inheriting a second hand Tory manifesto that was clearly not in her mould. She needs to shoot this fox and craft her own manifesto blueprint.

That this has become a political imperative is down to the machinations in both the Commons and the Lords as to how the government have been held to task (albeit with no statutory consequence) over the Bill triggering Article 50. Ironically and shamefully lambasted by hardcore Brexiteers as evidence of Parliamentary sovereignty frustrating the democratic will of the people, such valid and constructive scrutiny has rather soured the milk in Mrs May’s cup of English Breakfast. The Conservatives only have a working majority of 19; given that the nitty-gritty of negotiations hasn’t even started yet and the capriciousness of her backbenchers (on both sides of the Leave/Remain coin), this is uncomfortably wafer. She needs a Brexit manifesto that the party can unite and campaign behind, whilst giving the recalcitrants a large enough box that she can lock the lid on.

Intriguingly, a general election will necessarily flush the government’s hitherto fiercely protected negotiating positions into the open. Only then will we be able to decipher the riddle of “Brexit means Brexit”. That is not to say that the manifesto will not be couched in generalities and a degree of opacity to maximise negotiating wiggle room, but transparency should be much improved. Leaving aside the ultimate deliverability of manifesto commitments when the negotiations are realised, my expectation is that such a move will be welcomed in Brussels, even if the PM is using the British public as the mouthpiece. Furthermore, Mrs May will need to do some serious cozying up to the 48% Remain brigade whose voice will be emboldened once more if she is to deliver that substantially increased majority. Far from pandering to the set of hardcore Brexiteer loons in her party, this could be the dangling carrot that softens the Brexit stick.

And what of the charge of cynical opportunism, magnified by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that should not have delivered another election until 2020 except by Commons vote? Well, that’s politics. Opportunism and capitalising on your enemies’ weakness is the name of the game. In 1983, Margaret Thatcher (also cynically perhaps) called a snap election after the Falklands War to both exploit the popular euphoria of giving the Argies a damn good thrashing and the shambles of Labour under Worzel Gummidge, sorry, Michael Foot. She won a landslide. Thirty four years on and 2017 feels analogous. This election will only be about Brexit, with every other important and thorny government issue (like grammar schools and the NHS) deliberately consigned to the small print unfortunately. Under Worzel Gummidge Jnr, Labour are probably just as electorally unpalatable and ineffective as Her Majesty’s Opposition as they were in 1983. The party is on the precipice of irrelevance (I would expect the Lib Dems to be resurgent, picking up votes from blue and red, although from a base of only nine MPs it will hardly represent 2010’s Second Coming). Jez dare not oppose the Commons vote but his lack of cohesive Brexit policy and his pitifully feeble credentials to be PM give him the air of Dead Man Walking. Political euthanasia beckons. And Theresa is hovering with the syringe.

And The Sturge? Given the Nats almost monopolistic grip over the Scottish seats in Westminster (holding 56 out of the 59), I see the PM’s strike as nothing but an unwanted headache. Not having an outright majority in Holyrood, the SNP has little to gain but potentially a lot to lose. Their policy record in Holyrood is shite, propped up only by the Greens against an increasingly effective and less toxic brand of Conservatism under the impressive and likeable Ruth Davidson. Chuck in yet another trip to the ballot box on top of The Sturge’s demand for IndyRef#2 and hacked off, electorally fatigued voters may wish to deliver the SNP a bloody beak in the good ol’ fashioned sense of not delivering on their day job. And this will inevitably undermine the viability of IndyRef#2. Ruth will exploit this frailty well, ruthlessly.

Voter fatigue may not just be endemic in Scotland. The rest of the UK may be afflicted too. And this could be Mrs May’s biggest problem, especially if the negative popular perception is that she’s politicking to force her advantage. Perhaps. But the PM’s approval ratings are high and she has thus far delivered on what she promised when she assumed office. Voters should trust her to finish the Brexit job with a fresh and empowered mandate delivered by those same voters.

However Brexit was interpreted by the binary question posed last June, an election supported by party manifestos will sharpen and crystallise the debate. The smoke and mirrors approach of the government thus far should be replaced by a degree of codified clarity. That should be in everybody’s interests.

U-turns are no bad thing if they get you to your destination. Good call.

Benefits Cap: Kids don’t work

Last week’s Panorama presented an enlightening fly-on-the-wall exposé into the lives of various families affected by the government’s lowering of the benefits cap in November last year. Entitled “The Benefits Cap: Is it working?” the programme explored five real life scenarios to assess the impact of this highly controversial Tory policy that has seen housing benefit slashed as part of a total benefits package that can no longer exceed £20,000 per year (£23,000 if you live in Greater London).

  1. Mr & Mrs Malingering-Git: If ever there was a stereotype to fit Daily Mail Man’s common perception of the benefits scrounger, this pair was it. Their benefits have been cut from an eye popping £500 a week to £380 a week. They could get their lost benefits back if they worked a whopping 24 hours a week between Mr Malingering-Git hasn’t worked for nine years since having injured his hand at his previous employ and decided that jobs don’t exist for somebody with a sore paw. He owns a Wii games console, but only to assist in regaining his “manual dexterity” you understand. He spends £40 a week on booze’n’fags but justified this as being “my business” and rebuking the interviewer with “how much do you spend on it?” when challenged. Mrs Malingering-Git also hasn’t worked for nine years (coincidence? Methinks not) and apparently suffers from a long-term condition called ME which makes doing everyday tasks like smoking fags and sofa warming “challenging”. When not suckling her litter of four young kids, Mrs Malingering-Git just suffers from Acute Malingeringitis or Lazy Fat Arse Syndrome. Given the youngsters’ ages, and the Malingering-Gits chronic and enduring state dependence, I was left with the lingering suspicion that their kids were born out of a legacy welfare system that ballooned monstrously under New Labour and which financially incentivised the dropping of more and more offspring. This gravy train is now rightly hitting the buffers, but the righteous indignation and sense of entitlement of the M-Gs was breathtaking. “It’s so unfair” is their justification for the unjustifiable. The relationship between having kids and affordability is anathema. But if the previous system facilitated a comfortable dwelling on Handout Avenue and nurtured a financial and attitudinal dependence on State Street, is it any wonder that the M-Gs now perceive themselves as victims?
  1. The Breeder: Another darling of Daily Mail Man outrage, this single mother is 35 and hasn’t worked for 17 years. In other words, she hasn’t done a single day’s graft in her entire adult life. What she does have to show for 17 years of state sponsored sponging, however, is a horde of seven young kids. Yes, seven. It wouldn’t be hugely controversial to imagine they were the fleeting product of seven, long scarpered fathers. All her rugrats have been in care because she hasn’t got a pot to piss in and, frankly, is unfit to be a mother. She could get her benefits back if she worked 16 hours a week. She chooses not to and falls into her own trap: no job, no benefits, no kids. The Breeder is the true product of the something-for-nothing welfare system: A Breeder’s Charter amounting to the commercialisation of progeny in lieu of working. The Breeder was full of entitlement and invective against her social worker as the choice between sucking up the benefits cap and employed self-sufficiency dawned in her pea-like brain. No more does opening her legs translate to ker-ching in her Giro.
  1. The Single Mum: Only four kids shy of Breeder status and inspired by Mrs Malingering-Git, Single Mum hasn’t got off her arse for ten years. Having been assaulted eight years ago, she can’t work apparently due to back pain, albeit that she has been assessed as fit to work in a limited capacity. Her work shyness is validated by the biological privilege of owning and utilising a uterus. She refuses to work as a mother’s privilege. Affordability is irrelevant. When the interviewer suggests that self-certified, full-time motherhood is perhaps an unaffordable luxury, Single Mum, compulsory fag in hand, dead-eyes the camera and pronounces that “everybody needs to stop having kids then”. Well, yes actually, they do if they share your expectation that the tax payer should cough up to fund your biological right.
  1. The Single Dad: Hasn’t worked for six years and has four kids. Unlike Single Mum, he has been active in looking for a job and acknowledges that work should pay. Unlike Mr Malingering-Git, he has given up the vices. The problem Single Dad has is to balance a would-be working life with the demands of his children. And this is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the system. For if Single Dad does 16-21 hours of work a week, he will keep his salary and his benefits. Barclays duly offered him a job but for 25 hours a week. Single Dad calculated that he would be £200 a week better off. But he couldn’t balance this demand with the additional childcare required, which would leave him worse off if he took the job. The government’s mantra that it must be work that pays is self-evidently correct, but the example of Single Dad shows that there are other socio-economic pressures at play that make it impossible to view the effectiveness of such a policy in splendid isolation.
  1. The Kinship Carer: Thanks to her daughter being incapable of looking after her own four kids, granny has been saddled otherwise they would have to go into care. Officially designated carers (e.g. a parent that cares for a sick child on a full-term basis) are exempt from the cap. Kinship carers (where relatives step in) on the other hand are not exempt, albeit that they receive a guardian’s allowance. Considering the extensive cost to the state if these kids were taken into care (at least £100k per annum), this is counter-intuitive and just bloody unfair. Watching the Kinship Carer’s daily struggle having been forced to give up work to look after four extra mouths “which I didn’t ask for” was crushing. She can escape the benefits cap if she finds a job. How can she do this when her youngest charge is three? The Kinship Carer said she was “ready to shoot” herself. She didn’t look like she was joking.

Like a lot of government policy, especially a reformative and politically incendiary one like the benefits cap, initial results are a mix of the good, the bad, the ugly and of unintended consequences. The Malingering-Gits, Breeder and Single Mum are precisely the types that this policy is zeroing in on, I suspect to much popular approval. These people are the long term idle; the users and abusers of an absurdly inequitable legacy system, designed more as a cynical New Labour ploy to buy votes than as a welfare safety net of last resort. It’s now time for them to reap what they have sown and take responsibility. Good-o. Single Dad is the victim of an inherent contradiction in the policy’s theory- that it pays to work, but not too much beyond a 21 hours-a-week cliff edge when other pressures and practicalities come into play. If the government is consistent in its mission, then Single Dad should never have to turn down the opportunity to work. Perhaps childcare vouchers could square the practical contradiction between work and childcare demands and ensure that a job is always economically viable. The situation of the Kinship Carer is unintended collateral damage and must be reviewed.

What all these five exemplars have in common, of course, is young children. And, as always when it comes to chronically deficient parents (be it by design or default), it is the children that suffer the most. 250,000 are estimated to be effected by the cap. Somehow the government needs to unspring this trap. Whilst it is morally wrong for the Malingering-Gits and Breeder to use their kids as welfare pawns and a smokescreen for their own murky ethics of state dependency, kids’ basic health and well-being cannot be compromised to prove some kind of Malthusian political point.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the lowering of the benefits cap is only saving the government £150 million of loose change per year in the context of the working age benefits budget of £100 billion. The policy must be more of an exercise in breaking and recalibrating the cultural mindset of the underclass than it is to save a few quid. Taking the government’s force-fed medicine around notions of responsibility, autonomy, self-sufficiency and affordability as they relate to the constructs of family and welfarism is a sustainable treatment to save far more money- and build a healthier society- for the long term.

Having kids and out-of-work benefits are as symbiotic as a shell suit around a Bunsen burner. Kids don’t work. It’s about time the Malingering-Gits, Breeders and Single Mums of this country took their medicine.

The Daddy of Divorces: Heads I lose, tails you lose

Thankfully I’ve never been through a divorce, either as a kid or a sometime aspiring adult. Divorces invariably fall into two categories: those whose protagonists hate each other’s guts and can’t wait to be shot of each other and those where one deluded half laments “we can work this out” ad nauseam, whilst the other is already riding off into the sunset (probably already astride another horse). Very few are amicable. And the kids are always the collateral damage, developing into the next generation of emotional fucktards, crazies and psychos.

The UK’s now triggered divorce proceedings from the awkwardly happyish and dysfunctionally functional family that was the EU28 has already taken on characteristics of all three divorce flavours. Deluded Remainers had harboured faint hopes of scuppering the democratic will and engineering some kind of flaccid Brexit in the spirit of “we can work this out”, a spirit reciprocated in some quarters in Brussels. And if the calculating intervention of Tony Blair is anything to go by, I suspect that the Remain voice will pipe up again if/when it becomes clear that the UK’s pissed off ex hasn’t even turned up to the match, let alone played the UK’s ball game.

Hardcore Brexiteers have been giving the two-fingered salute over the Channel for months and have been desperately trying to jilt the ex further by whoring IndyUK out to any and every potential suitor who may open their legs and give Ol’ Blighty the kind of easy (trade) access that will succour the country’s insatiable appetite for free trade. Never mind the slight technical hitch that the UK’s membership of the Customs Union makes the consummation of such brazen international flirting (for now) impossible. Fake news, I’m sure.

Some on the continent hate us as much as some of us hate them. I can only imagine the number of shrugging shoulders in the Élysée Palace, accompanied by a Gallic “bof” of disdain. There is no love lost and hasn’t been for centuries. Plus ça change. But the London-Brussels party line is that both sides want to keep it amicable (for the sake of the kids?). Of course they do. Theresa May’s relentless rose-tinted positivity in wanting a one-size-suits-all deal is betrayed by an approach that has thus far been antagonistic, abrasive and, as Sir John Major referenced, charmless. Donald Tusk’s misty eyed sadness at being served formal divorce proceedings was swiftly tempered by a promise to “protect the interests of the 27” and a pragmatic observation that there would be no winners in this divorce.

Few people give too much of an EU Commissioner’s ass for the views of yesterday’s political chip wrappers. If anything, such interventions entrench the counter argument. But Blair is right <dry retch>: the UK will not be driving this bus. And once the game of negotiation poker starts, the gloves will be off. The PM will encounter pothole, after roadblock, after brick wall as the vested interests of 27 independent sovereign states (and don’t forget our friend the European Parliament) clash in the pursuit of a pound of the UK’s flesh and a deal that must be ratified unanimously. And Mrs May doesn’t have a Full House to play, let alone a knockout Royal Flush, even if Prince William has got off his useless arse and gone Euro schmoozing. The ex-lovers will overtly hate each other very soon.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. John Lydgate’s 15th century statement of the blindingly obvious is tailor made for the Gordian Knot that is Brexit. But many Brexiteers aren’t listening. One of the many shortcomings of referenda and plebiscites is that the result gives a veneer of authoritative utilitarianism- the greatest good for the greatest number of people, delivered by the will of those people. Unfortunately, as single issue, closed question balloting masks and distorts a maelstrom of unfathomable complexity, the opposite becomes true. The diversity of issues and the breadth, depth and inter-connectedness of modern world vested interests means there will be very few outright winners. There will probably be very few outright losers either. For the most part, there will probably be a groundswell of zero sum stasis, at least in the short term: winning here, losing there; giving here, taking there. There is nothing utilitarian in this insipid risk/reward profile of Brexit. But perhaps this is the best or least worst manifestation of what Donald Tusk meant when he said that divorce negotiations would be an exercise in “damage control”? As Lord Hill, the UK’s former EU Commissioner, observed on Newsnight on Wednesday, “protect the downside”. He has a point.

In truth, and in another (contemporary) statement of the obvious, nobody has a Scooby-doo what the impact of this divorce will be politically, constitutionally, economically or socially. Time and the economists (those pesky experts at it again) will tell us in several years. The blanket media coverage of speculation, conjecture and scenario painting since 12.30pm on Wednesday 29 March is nothing more than a twitchy feeding frenzy to fill the void of Brexit’s own Phoney War. The trench warfare will be slugged out inch by painful inch over the next two years.

What about the kids in all of this? As the eldest, and by far the stroppiest, Kevin the Teenageresque child, Scotland- or at least The Sturge- is screaming “I hate you” in even less dulcet tones than usual towards Westminster. The Sturge wants Scotland to pack its bags and leave home as soon as possible, in search of the bright lights and wealth of an independent Big Smoke. The problem for The Sturge is that, like so many angry teenagers, she might have just scored a massive own goal in demanding IndyRef#2 to appease her fellow, but far less canny, SNP militants. Her parental nemesis at home in No.10 was always going to say “do one” in the short term. In the longer term, The Sturge will get her referendum but at a time to be decided by Westminster. By that time the shape of the divorce and trade deal will be clear and Scotland will have to stick or twist. And this is the rock and hard place that The Sturge finds herself wedged between: a good Brexit deal will pose the usual questions, risks and uncertainties about flying the coup; a bad Brexit deal may give Scotland the shot of junk the Nats crave to head for the bright lights. Except those bright lights are, judged by The Sturge’s fervent Europhilia, shining from the continent not Britain. But whilst Spain is still on that continent and a paid-up member of the EU club it will veto any Scottish accession application whilst it has its own troublesome separatist teenagers in Catalonia and the Basque. Scotland hasn’t got a leaping sturgeon’s chance of joining the EU as an independent state, even before it fails the various economic tests of accession eligibility. Och nooooo.

Wales has typical middle child syndrome: subordinated by the eldest for respect and usurped by the youngest for affection, it is largely ignored and bristling with chippy indignation. Some boyo called Carwyn Jones (Wales’ First Minister apparently) is puce with the “lack of respect” that the PM showed Wales by not asking Jones to contribute to the drafting of the Article 50 trigger letter. Er, sorry bud, it’s a UK thing you see. But who really cares? Wales is the turkey that voted for Christmas and in Brexit it has got what it voted for. As a beneficiary of EU subsidies to the tune of over £4 billion since 2000 for “structural funding” (Euro speak for clearing up some of the EU’s grimiest shitholes like Merthyr Tydfil), this cash is going to dry up faster than a Cardiff nun’s chuff. Sorry Wales, but your pocket money is suspended for the foreseeable future. Well you did ask.

As the youngest sibling, poor Northern Ireland has the most to lose from the divorce. Tortured by its violent past and haunted by the most troublesome of upbringings, it seems that adolescent angst will continue to test both its soul and territorial integrity. As it shares an open and fluid border with another EU state, the prospect of a physical border and customs and tariffs checks is a very real prospect. Leaving aside the commercial costs to businesses on both sides of the border, the sight and presence of a physical border is anathema to everybody on the island of Ireland. Republicans are once again rattling the cage for a united Ireland on just the border issue alone. If ever there was a case for another notorious European fudge to get to the “right” answer, this is it. Northern Ireland’s emotional and physical well-being depends on it, lest it becomes tomorrow’s enfant terrible once again.

We are but two days in to the divorce and it is already getting exhausting. The first salvos are being fired by both sides and the intractability of a legion of issues are now floating, turd like, to the murky surface. As I currently see it, I’m with Tusk- there are no winners here. Apart from the bloody lawyers of course.

Protect the downside in the first instance Mrs May. Whilst unfashionable, it would be a prudent (and patriotic) place to start.

Failing that, get yourself a nice fat slice of cake, eat it, polish the rest off and wash it all down with a nice pot of Earl Grey splosh. We are British after all. And then be thankful we’re not America.

Diversity: Dangerous dogma

Diversity. The buzz word of the anti-elite, anti-establishment world. I’ve been bombarded with it over the past couple of weeks. Whether it’s been oblique references on the news (my favourite being the highly newsworthy plug for the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup taking place on a municipal, dog turd ridden patch of grass somewhere in Surrey in July), or sneaky little columns tucked away apologetically in the bowels of the Torygraph, the notion is percolating through the populist conscience. It is making my eyes and ears bleed.

Let me say from the outset that I am not against diversity per se. Studies show that society and commercial enterprise benefit hugely when talent is drawn from the widest pool possible, free from prejudice and indifferent to gender, race, class, creed or sexuality. But propagating diversity must, in its very essence, be enabling, constructive and neutral in its application. It must framework a level playing field of opportunity through which a real, non-discriminatory meritocracy can flourish. But the hopelessly regressive box ticking of organisations that view it as a PR opportunity to be seen to be “doing the right thing” is the scourge of meritocracy, belittling and potentially inflammatory.

In its worst pc guise, the veneer of diversity that is so agitating the likes of the BBC, the FA, FTSE 100 companies and other corporations such as Lego is nothing more than a politically correct sop born out of insurgent populism. It ensures that the interests of every single Jack (sorry, and Jill) who isn’t part of the “elite” (which now seemingly engulfs anybody who is a) male and b) white) are somehow crowbarred into the fabric of public representation. In other words, it’s political correctness, repackaged and rebranded through the prism of “progression”.

Take the BBC. Tony Hall, the director general, has announced that the BBC will hire more women, disabled people and ethnic minorities to hit “increased diversity targets”. Apparently, giving Mary Berry her own cooking show demonstrates that the BBC is “tackling its problem with diversity”. Well Mary must be well chuffed. Here is a highly successful professional and business woman in her own right who has been wheeled out to be the BBC’s “face of diversity”. How patronising and demeaning is this towards the very groups of people whose interests the BBC purportedly seeks to promote?

There isn’t an utterance of “equality of opportunity” or “meritocracy” or any other notion that really would be progressive. Mary Berry is the best person for the job, so why doesn’t the BBC just say that? Why does Hall have to undermine the appointment by effectively suggesting that it is the product of positive discrimination against a white, male elite and has more than a rancid whiff of quota politics? Post-apartheid South Africa would be proud.

As for Lego. Well. In “one giant leap for womankind”, Lego is set to make a set of figurines to celebrate female astronauts, engineers and scientists at NASA. So far, so good. According to Maia Weinstock, architect of the idea, it is a “way to improve the visibility of women”. Ok, better gender awareness of brilliant women. Excellent. Looking at the figurines themselves, however, the notion of promoting diversity degenerates excruciatingly. There’s one black figurine: gender diversity, allied with racial diversity. Big tick. There’s one brown figurine: ditto. Double big tick. And then there’s, er, three…yellow ones. As a giant leap for womankind, Lego’s visibility of their heroines clearly isn’t up to much. Or is it somehow now acceptable that Caucasian women are painted in Lego yellow, lest somebody takes offence at the perceived advancement of a white elite? It’s pathetic; the flip side of the same discrimination coin that society is seeking to eradicate.

Superficially, the driving forces behind the promotion of diverse interests are laudable; but the angle is wonky and the execution is dreadfully ham fisted.

Left unchecked, how long will it be before some militant, politically correct leftie in charge of ticketing for sporting and music events decides that tickets should be allocated on a strict quota basis reflecting, say, gender and ethnic diversities? It sounds extreme, but the current direction of travel makes such a consequence entirely plausible.

Gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, creed, able-bodiedness, I couldn’t care less. As a society we must surely strive towards the truly progressive goal of nurturing and advancing all talent, however this is distributed across society’s multi-representations. Constructs like diversity when artificially imposed are patronising, self-defeating and unsustainable. We surely want to see the right people in the right jobs and the best people in the best jobs: the best teachers and doctors for our kids, not accepting second raters and de facto under performance in the pursuit of a socialist ideal. A lowest common denominator, race to the bottom approach to social advancement is called Communism. And that’s dead. Sorry Jezza.

When it is manipulated by institutional cynicism, diversity is nothing more than the malignant cancer of political correctness. It undermines everything.

10 Expert Portions

As we are being told on an almost nightly basis that the strains on the NHS and pensions are as a direct result of people living longer, the latest “expert” (we do love an expert) advice to scoff 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to lead a healthier and longer life is perplexing.

It was not long ago that this same expert advice had concluded that 5 was the magic number. But the boffins have now put two and two together and concluded that eating twice as much of something that had already been scientifically proven as being good for us is, wait for it, going to be even better for our health. According to Dr Dagfinn Aune, “our findings are quite clear in that they…support five a day, but there are even further benefits for higher intakes”. Thanks Dr Aune, you’re a fucking geeeeeenyus.

This is hot on the heels of other absurdities made in the name of life preservation, including the quite preposterous directives that over roasted spuds and over toasted, well, toast are bad news. And we’re all au fait with the endless oscillations around red wine. Pass me the fucking bottle.

Unless you are a vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian or any other member of the nutritional occult, stuffing 10 portions (whatever they are) into your cake, sorry, aubergine hole (cake makes you fat and increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes) on a daily basis is a practical impossibility when 5 is already beyond the reach of most with a life and average means.

What’s next? That 20 portions will give us something approaching immortality? As an exercise in meaningful scientific endeavour, such research is evidentially banal. It is also irresponsible.

Society does not need people to be living longer off the back of such ill-conceived “advice”. The NHS, social care and pension funding are all on their knees because of ever increasing life expectancy. So wouldn’t society and how it is funded be much better off if this trend started to reverse and we all stopped coffin dodging? Call it a new Social Contract: live life with the freedom of self-determination and shuffle off before you run into negative life equity with the government.

So many aspects of our lives are influenced by the diktats and meddling of faceless scientists in the name of “government research”: how we eat, drink, smoke, exercise, sleep, shag are all driven by quotas as an expression of a 1984 dystopia. I don’t want to live my life by quotas. And I don’t want to be brainwashed by unsolicited advice that is aspiring me to live a longer life. Society does not need this meddlesome strain.

So please, Mr Expert, let me assume my prerogative of personal responsibility in peace and without fear or guilt. Let me eat my veggie free bistecca alla Fiorentina; let me wash it down with a nice Chianti, a caffeine spiked double espresso and a tar heavy rollie; let me marvel at my ever expanding waistline and eschew the gym; let me stay up late and shag until dawn. Let me shuffle off this mortal coil at a once traditional threescore years and ten (ok, another ten wouldn’t go amiss!) with regretless and dignified abandon.

Let me do the world a favour.

Ode to VD

Lucy was a girl who knew not what she’d got;
Dave was a boy who just wanted to improve his lot.
As VD dawned he sought his best bib and tucker
And with a nod to self thought, “I’ll show you, you fucker!”

Clintons in yawning red sent both on their way,
Platitudes ringing hollow as Lucy looked skyward, grey.
“He’s trying too hard; I’m really not worth it”,
“I hope she likes the flowers, the ungrateful wee shit”.

The roses clichéd, delivered to the office aghast,
This relationship is a thing of the soon to be recent past.
“Oh for fuck’s sake not chocolates too, they’re not even dark!”
“I hope those Hotel Chocolats have gone and left their mark.”

The restaurant’s welcome fizz was cheap and rank,
With an idling, insipid strawberry to break the bank.
The rest of the fayre was uninspired and naff
And all Lucy could think was “God, what a faff”.

As the night wore on, Lucy couldn’t look more bored,
Dave thought he might as well have gone out and whored.
They molested their phones and Lucy swiped right,
Dave’s eyes wandered left and leered “sweet Jesus you’re tight”.

So back to the flat for a VD tumble,
You’re shit out of luck Davey-boy, not a sniff of a fumble.
A prod and a poke but Lucy could not simper,
Dave was just left with a hangdog like whimper.

“You really are pathetic with nothing to entice”,
“Give a shit you bitch, my head’s in a vice”.
“It’s not me it’s you, I can’t take any more”,
“Suits me you slag, you’re an insufferable bore”.

So Valentine’s Day came and Valentine’s Day went,
Another happy couple are over and spent.
Venereal disease would have offered more fun,
Or maybe some bants with a loaded shotgun?

 

Happy fucking Valentine’s Day good people. I hope it’s worth it.

 

***This is possibly a work of fiction. Names, characters, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s rotten imagination or used in an empathetically fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living, dead or stupefied by barbarous propinquity, is purely and uncannily coincidental. The author accepts no responsibility for the decaying worthlessness of peoples’ love lives and refutes any insinuation that the above is in any way autobiographical.***

Justice? My arse

Trying to write a blog at the moment that does not involve Donald Trump is like trying to go cold turkey. An orgy of executive orders, immigration bans, unsavoury political appointments and sackings of those who dare to say boo to The Donald’s goose have all offered a smorgasbord of political skag to those inclined to comment.

Whilst not quite adopting the lengths of Trainspotting’s Renton to escape Trump’s junk by barricading myself into my hovel of a bedroom with various life affirming provisions, my anxiety is palpable. It’s huuuuuuge. It really is. Believe me folks. It is. I’m telling you. Huuuuuuge. Aaaahhhhhhhh, Trump’s junk, Trump’s junk…

My methadone has come in the form of a story about a lawyer (I’ll call him City Bloke as an ex rower, public school boy and owner of a £900,000 detached house according to Mail Online, as if such details have any relevance whatsoever) who has just been convicted of “racially aggravated assault” and “sexual assault”.  City Bloke’s crimes include pouring beer over an Australian girl, calling her a slut and slapping her bum at a Christmas party in 2015. So basically some bell-end in a chalk stripe has got shitfaced, made a twat of himself and sex pested a girl who was already known to him. I can only imagine the utter misery of his ongoing psychological hangover.

Mail Online reports, in a familiar pique of self-righteous indignation, that City Bloke was “spared jail” but given a 12 month community order and had to sign the sex offenders register. He was also sacked by his erstwhile employer and may be prevented from practising law again. Various comments from Mail Online Man include such gems as: “Ponsey rich boy can’t take no for an answer”, “It seems amazing what people who went to the right school can get away with when you know someone who went to a comprehensive would have received much worse punishment”, and, my personal fave, “Henry has stopped saying hooray”. In the Mail’s court of public opinion, very few have focused on facts or contextual objectivity, preferring instead to mete out prescriptive justice through inverse snobbery. He’s “rich” so he deserves everything that’s coming to him. Pathetic.

(At this point, I would just like to flag that I in no way condone pouring beer over a girl, especially an Australian girl. It would be a terrible waste of ale and an Australian just wouldn’t appreciate the irony of being doused in hoppy throat charmer at room temperature.)

Beer wastage does not concern me. What does, amongst many aspects of this case, is when exactly did “Australian” constitute a race? The lawyers amongst you will no doubt split this hair and point out that under UK law, the term “racially” constitutes any term of ethnicity or nationality. Smart-arses. Ok, fine. I’ll put it another way. Why exactly did the guardians and arbiters of our law choose to invoke such a loaded and pejorative verdict to describe some vernacular that is no more than somewhere between bloody rude and rank offensive? Isn’t living in a world that is perpetually at the mercy of genuine “racial aggravation” sufficient, without exacerbating it by perverting the line between what is indisputable and the politically correct agenda of judicial interpretations like this?

As to the count of sexual assault, the water gets a little choppier. Pulling up the girl’s skirt and slapping her rump “about five times” (intriguing imprecision) is not good form on any level of understatement. And following her into the girls’ loo (to apologise apparently) is an action of the alcoholically misjudged, verging on the creepy-creepy-rape-rape. But “sexual assault”? Is it? Really? It’s inappropriate, demeaning, humiliating and wrong for sure. Punching somebody in the face is assault. Rape or attempted rape is sexual assault. Are we now saying that the slapping of a girl’s bum (once the original cliché of relatively harmless impropriety as popularised by the Carry On slapstick) is now labelled in the same breath as universally abhorrent and unequivocally criminal sex crimes?

Alumni of the sex offenders register include some of society’s worst scumbags. They are all rightly tarred with the same brush of deviancy and pariah. Their crimes would render a smacked arse as welcome as a greeting from Bridget Jones’s favourite Uncle Geoffrey. City Bloke is now smeared with that brush. Whatever happened to the principle of proportionality?

In the good old days of common sense and vigilante social justice, the barometer of acceptable social behaviour would have taken the temperature of the situation and meted out appropriate and efficient remedy: City Bloke might have got a kicking from the girl’s male mates; he might have got a verbal kicking from the girl’s female mates; he might have got a verbal kicking from his own mates. Christmas may have come early for City Bloke and he might have got all three stocking fillers to avoid criminal escalation. Profuse apology would have flowed and drinks bought in appeasement before the perpetrator would have skulked off into the shadows and beaten a sheepish retreat. Instead, the police get dragged in and suddenly a booze fueled fracas of the utmost unpleasantness and inappropriateness morphs into racially aggravated and sexual assault. WTF.

Further concern is the impact on wider gender relations that this case may have in the future when roles are reversed. Picture the scene in a Croydon Wetherspoon’s. An Aussie girl with ten bottles of blue WKD down her gullet repeatedly squeezes a chap’s bum before chucking a drink over him and screaming “Pommie wanker” when he rejects her “sexual advances” (City Bloke’s prosecution’s label for his request for a hug). Could you blame Pommie wanker for scuttling off to find a uniform on this evidence, notwithstanding that most men would probably think he was a wanker for doing so?

In practice, could you ever see Pommie wanker’s case even getting to court, let alone his testimony being upheld as the victim of racially aggravated and sexual assault? Absolutely not, thankfully. But inverse sexism (like the inverse snobbery of Mail Online Man) is no more acceptable than the traditionally defined sexism of prejudice against women by men.

Doctrines like feminism that espouse sexual equality must, must infer that Pommie wanker’s case is treated with the same impartiality, non-gender bias and outcome as the Australian slut’s case. But some feminists routinely and expediently miss the point about what feminism actually means, promoting instead the militant, corrosive and socially regressive crusade that is, at its core, anti-male. They undermine their cause as the carte blanche that City Bloke’s case gives the militants to pursue their lazy, “all men are bastards” stereotype may empower men like Pommie wanker to defend his position as a reactive expression of “maleism” (not chauvinism). And our increasingly litigious society (thanks America) and “I know my rights” victim culture only adds fuel to the fire.

On an equanimous and just interpretation of City Bloke’s case that is based on sexual equality, we must surely see women being convicted of the same “crimes”. And yet it has recently been reported that a 31 year old female teacher repeatedly had sex with one of her 15 year old male pupils. Her punishment? Sacked and banned from teaching for life. Er, sorry but isn’t that de facto sexual abuse of a minor which should carry a custodial sentence?

City Bloke was a dickhead. He has lost his job, his career, his reputation and, possibly, his home, his wife and his baby. He is a certified sex offender as a matter of public record. Did the punishment really fit the crime and does this verdict serve society’s best longer term interests?

Right, who wants to slap my perfectly formed arse…?

Pointless Pussy Patrol

In the English philosopher John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay entitled “A Few Words on Non-Intervention”, Mill sets out his (qualified) case for why states should not forcibly intervene in the sovereign affairs and domestic struggles of other sovereign states. Mill argued that it was as wrong to subject another sovereign state to the imperialism of the intervening state’s ideas and ideals as it was to, for example, go to war in the pursuit of territorial expansion. The kernel of his argument rested on the proposition that, in the case of the liberation of a people from their native rulers, intervention is not legitimate because if: “they [free men] have not sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent.”

The Women’s March on Washington last weekend was a justifiable exercising of the democratic right to protest against what many women in America view as Mill’s “domestic oppressor” in the form of a president who has hitherto managed to offend and undermine the rights of many of US society’s demographics. In cahoots with Washington, the women-led marches in various cities around the world (including London) also protesting at The Donald’s inauguration, give Mill’s philosophy a highly contemporary relevance.

Apart from a show of solidarity with their trans- Atlantic sisterhood, what exactly were those placard waving “remote interventionists” trying to achieve in London, Sydney, Berlin, Paris and Cape Town etc? Leaving aside the fact that the London march seemed to morph into a free-for-all for any crackpot cause that the populist phenomenon has managed to incubate, at its causal epicentre were women’s rights. The placard “This pussy bites back” will be familiar.

Except that pussies in London and anywhere outside US sovereign territory aren’t biting anything, apart from the freezing cold that marchers’ extremities were greeted with. The bottom (no pun intended) line is that a lot of people outside the US loathe Donald Trump, the democratically elected leader of another sovereign state. Aye, there’s the rub. Unless you have a problem with the principles of the governmental system whose etymology empowers the demos (people) with the kratia (rule), marching because you merely don’t like another country’s leader has no practical, intellectual or democratic basis. Worse than that, it is an irrelevant and distracting sideshow that ultimately undermines the very Western principles that such public demonstrations seek to protect: the Kremlin and Beijing (the increasingly emboldened power brokers in this regressional dawn of zero-sum realpolitik) must have looked on in red tinted glee as the foundations of Western democracy and ideals are rocked by the populist mob and the law of unintended consequences.

What of Trump’s reaction to this indignant and hysterical interventionism from faraway lands? Nothing. Nichts. Nada. Niente. Rien. Not even the merest ruffle in that golden mane. Could he honestly give a Washington rat’s ass for the bleating of foreign malcontents towards whom he has precisely zero accountability? Of course not. Why? Because, very simply, his ensconcement behind the desk in the Oval Office confers upon him a democratic mandate to lead the United States of America in whatever way his voters have entrusted him to choose.

Of course, for the 500,000 odd that marched on Washington, they vehemently oppose this mandate as is their democratic right. Pussies bit back with gusto. You go girls! I hope Trump hears y’all. Unfortunately for your foreign based sisterhood, shouting into thin air is about as far and as flawed as such international solidarity gets.

In the US election, 42% of women voted for Trump versus 54% for Clinton- a convincing, if not landslide, win for the female candidate. But distil the apparently chauvinist-misogynist’s vote further and a different picture emerges: Trump won 53% of white women voters and 61% of white women voters without college degrees. This does rather dispel the myth that females vote according to gender identity and that there were other, more important, female voter considerations at play. As Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s spiky campaign manager, insightfully remarked, the outcome of the election hinged “on things that affect them, not just things that offend them”. Cue big ticket issues like the economy, jobs and homeland security. It was ever thus.

There is therefore no anti-Trump consensus split by gender lines.  So where does this leave the credibility and relevance of the foreign female marching army? Shot to shit. Trump has millions of female supporters that helped propel him to the White House. Foreign marching against Trump is to undermine, to belittle and to question the female authenticity of those women who voted for him.

It’s blue on blue; pink on pink. Pussy is biting pussy.

So fuck marching from the comfort of remote lands; it is pointless, flawed and feeble. The way to hurt Trump is, harsh as it may sound, to hurt the people that put him in office: those plain folks of America of whom Mencken was so disparaging. When Trump rants to put America first (“buy American, hire American”), marchers should play him at his own game as consumers: do not buy American, do not hire American. And when Trump wakes up to the fact that the UK runs a large trade surplus with the US and may want to redress the balance with tariffs, don’t sell to America either. That’s protectionism in microcosm. And it will hurt Trump’s domestic fiefdom.

Trump has only been in the job a week and the portents for his presidency do not look good from the outsider’s point of view. The language is incendiary; the executive orders are nationalist; the direction of travel for global security and prosperity uncertain. We will all suffer if a 1920s style US isolationism allows liberalism to be gangbanged by the forces of economic nationalism and protectionism; a global power vacuum will be filled by Russia and China upon US retrenchment.

The uninspiring orthodoxy and dour competency of “Establishment” politics that populism seeks to smash suddenly won’t look so bad.

First and foremost, this is America’s problem and the American people’s problem. If the US populist experiment fails (and I am confident that it will, given that Trump has promised so much to so many with so much contradiction and so little coherence), the biggest losers will be Americans. It is their right to self-determination that spat out Trump; and it is only that same right to self-determination that will prove Mill’s philosophy of liberation from within by delivering their epiphany if Trump doesn’t, well, come up trumps.

It’s got fuck all to do with us. Let the Americans get on with it and allow them to reap what their democracy has sown.