Girls & Boys

“Girls who are boys
Who like boys to be girls
Who do boys like they’re girls
Who do girls like they’re boys”

When Damon Albarn and blur penned these lyrics in 1994 the references to androgyny, gender identity and sexual promiscuity were clear enough. The portrait of a liberal and tolerant society as a Heinz 57 melting pot of gender-bendering and indiscriminate shagging between anybody with a pulse. Bum fun for all and nobody gives a shit.

Challenging the traditional social constructs of gender identity is nothing new. The etymology of hermaphrodite can be traced back to the ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis who had their male and female genders bent into one, androgynous form. Ouch. In the 1900s, Coco Chanel set the tuts tutting by pioneering trousers in women’s fashion. Cultural icons like Yves Saint Laurent, Mick Jagger, David Bowie (via Ziggy Stardust) and Grace Jones pushed gender issues on to the mainstream conscience during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. By the time Albarn et al came to write Girls & Boys, unisex clothing was a high street staple and the threads that yarned the modern patter that is “gender fluidity” were entrenched. Cool Britannia (I’m sorry) facilitated a wider cultural framework that empowered gender debate with the confidence and optimism redolent at that time in British society. So far, so good.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the debate on gender identity and its prominence on the social agenda has shifted seismically. Sally-Anne Huang, headmistress (no, no, no, no, no, headteacher please) of James Allen’s Girls’ School in London was reported in an interview with The Sunday Times as having stopped calling her pupils “girls” so as not to offend those questioning their gender. “Girls” has been replaced by “pupils” and “they”. “She” is also off limits, presumably to be replaced by the charmingly neutral “it”. Huang has since said she was misreported, clarifying that neutral nouns and pronouns are only used in the presence of a transgender pupil. That’s ok then.

Quite how society has conspired to spit out a generation of kids who are so confused by their genitals and their place in the outside world that they don’t know whether they’re Arthur or Martha is a ponderable that needs to be grappled with quickly. But whatever was said in that interview, it is illustrative of the full, corrosive force of political correctness that is crowbarred into all aspects of modern society as a default setting. Everybody has a drum with which to bang the rights of some minority cause or another. You used to be plain ol’vanilla straight or gay. Then it was LGBT. But with every new cause championed, perceived “discrimination”, by definition, runs riot. So it is now LGBTTQQIAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual if you please) to reflect a heaving smorgasbord of identity orientation. What next?

An accusatory “Is it ‘cos I is black?” school of quasi discrimination can now be peddled by any handy label just by virtue of the latest lobby group and a mass media that is desperate to be perceived as inclusive and above accusations of prejudice, regardless of whether the “story” has any merit in the wider public interest.

To be clear, diversity in its very essence is a core component of, and positive force for, any society that calls itself liberal. But as a society we have become obsessed by labels, slicing and dicing everything into defined silos from which the virus of political correctness can ensure that every minority “right” can be liberated and rammed down the collective throat. The unintended consequence is that society is now breeding a doctrine that actively facilitates the gender-bendering of kids at the expense of norms and ideals that underpin the origin and ultimate survival of the human species.

Live and let live. It’s the basic tenet of tolerance. Whatever shades of grey exist between the binary gender identities of “girl” and “boy”, I couldn’t give an intersexual’s beard. Let them get on with it. But the micro-aggression of political correctness of this and other “minority rights” issues is starting to feel like oppression of the silent majority. “Normalcy”, and however that may be defined in the modern context of gender fluidity, now has the suggestion of social heresy, ripe for the kind of positive discrimination that now percolates through employment practices.

The majority rights of girls and boys also need to be heard.

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The Day Britain Lost It

Twenty years on from the terminal demise of the “The Peoples’ Princess” Diana, I still don’t get it. I didn’t get in then either. Watching ITV’s indulgently sentimental review this week of those events, toe-curlingly titled “Diana: The Day Britain Cried”, reran the time when “Britain”, as a sweeping and wholly inaccurate generalisation, totally lost it. Britishness was suddenly translated as incontinent, irrational hysteria.

The death of any young mother, and especially when killed in an accident, is a tragic circumstance by most yardsticks. That this particular mother was also the mother of the future King added special piquancy; that she also did a huge amount for good causes around the world raised the poignancy bar and sense of an altruistic life wasted in its prime.

But amidst the absurd and contagious hysteria of twenty years ago, vented by a blubbing horde of me-tooers (the vast majority of whose lives had most definitely never been “touched” by the Second Coming), it was conveniently forgotten that here was someone who was divorced from the Royal Family, stripped of her HRH title and who displayed a keenly honed and ostentatious talent for bedding various bounders, cads and Establishment-unpalatables. Her brother, Earl Spencer, described her as “insecure” and “complex” in his controversial eulogy; given the circumstances, these were appropriate euphemisms for an individual who underneath all that compassion was profoundly screwed up. “Brand Diana” was a wrecking ball for the monarchy at the time and the mischief making was evident. Her press rebukes sat alongside a Janus-like expediency to court them when it suited her purposes to do so. She was no saint, yet the British public set about polishing her halo as if a canonisation was in order.

The popular hypocrisy of the time remains breathtaking. When Earl Spencer’s eulogy referenced her treatment by the newspapers and her relentless hounding by the press and paparazzi, it was met with applause by the assembled throng outside Westminster Abbey: the same throng whose only aspect of Diana’s life that they had come in to contact with was the well-thumbed tabloid newspapers and glossies that had fed their insatiable appetite for salacious gossip at Diana’s expense and had kept those same paparazzi in that Paris death tunnel in lucrative business. I wonder if the perspective of hindsight now leaves any of those hand-wringing disciples red with embarrassment rather than angst. Some even branded the press “killers” at the time.

The delicious irony of course is that despite all the damage that Diana did to the monarchy in her later years, the legacy of her death is that she recalibrated the public’s relationship with it such that the monarchy has never been so popular. I doubt very much if that would have been in the script if she was still gracing us with her tabloid presence and carefully positioned television interviews.

The day that Britain cried? Nope, still don’t get it.

The Queenmakers

Thank Corbyn’s beard that’s over. History will judge this election to be of seismic consequence in its spectacular break from the UK’s 40-year-old neoliberal consensus. Enduring the campaign as a lowly voter though was an experience akin to death by a thousand cuts. Every time “strong and stable” was lobbed into the airwaves with its complacency and acrid stench of the-lady-doth-protest-too-much, I twitched with Tourettic compulsion.

Except it’s not over. Far from it. Having denigrated Corbyn’s potential “Coalition of Chaos”, May is now presiding over her own, self-made maelstrom of misery. The country is, at the time of writing, stuck with her and engulfed by a paralysing vacuum of uncertainty nine days ahead of Brexit negotiations formally kicking off.

She is still in government but she is not in power.

Power, and the real power brokers in this election, lie elsewhere and in corners of the UK that sit outside of the male dominated Westminster bubble: the cataclysmic fallout has been first shaped, and is now being decided by, women leaders. The number of women MPs has increased to over 200 for the first time in the new Parliament.

We have the unprecedented outcome of a female PM (mortally wounded admittedly) being first delivered and now propped up by queenmakers, both accidental and intentional. The chief protagonists have had profoundly different experiences of this election.

Theresa May: If the PM’s head isn’t quite yet served up on a platter, it’s on the block with the executioner’s axe being sharpened and readying for deployment at some soon. The political post mortems to explain her gargantuan screwing of the election pooch are already extensive, much of which have zeroed in on the failings of her leadership style and credentials, echoing what this blog has been saying since January after six months in the job (“DisMay: the PM six months in”, 9 January 2017). Policy U-turns, abject advice, a fundamental miscalculation in the pursuit of a hard Brexit and complacency over the likely behaviour of erstwhile UKIP voters complete a grisly tale of woe. But for now, she is still queen of her crumbling castle at Number 10.

Ruth Davidson: During ITV’s coverage of election night, George “Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Deliciously Cold” Osborne made the gloriously obvious comment that if it hadn’t been for Ruth Davidson’s leadership in Scotland, the country would be facing a Labour-SNP led coalition. Ms Davidson and her leadership style is the antithesis of Theresa May- warm, engaging, plain speaking and human, underpinned by a simplicity of message that resonated with Scots who “have had their fill” of being kicked around as a political football. If Mrs May owed amber Rudd a stiff G&T after going into bat for her at the leaders’ debate, she should leave the bottle for Ms Davidson.

Nicola Sturgeon: As own goals go, and for such an historically savvy operator, this one wasn’t quite the blooper delivered by the PM, but she too was found surprisingly wanting when it came to the orientation of her political radar. Whilst not mortally wounding The Sturge, the prevailing indigestion of Indy Ref2 has delivered her a well-directed slap in the pus. Whilst the SNP remain the largest party in Scotland by a solid caber’s length, The Sturge was outmanoeuvred by Davidson. Sturgeon’s obsession with independence has unwittingly handed Mrs May the unlikeliest of lifelines.

Arlene Foster: Out of nowhere, the politics of Northern Ireland are suddenly playing out in the corridors of Westminster. It makes a change from the usual ransom demands of the SNP. Foster has played on the primacy of the Union (note May’s latest references to the Conservative & Unionist party to give it its full and proper title) and other common ground. Political bed fellowship makes many understandably uneasy and there will be a shopping list of DUP demands as the price for support but May will have to pay it. She has no choice. Arise the queenmaker-in-chief.

If the general election has ushered in a new era of UK politics that rejects the cosy, centrist, liberal rapprochement of the Establishment in favour of confrontation on a wider divergence of the left-right spectrum, then it is women that will be calling the shots (for better or worse). And at a time when there are more FTSE 100 bosses called John than there are women leading our biggest firms, it is a noteworthy parallel.

Who knows how the next few days, weeks and months will play out, but the contribution of these hard-hitting female players to the theatre of British politics has been pivotal in delivering these historical lines. May has memorably fluffed hers, but, for now, she plays on.

 

P.S. In laughably stark contrast, spare a suitably disdainful thought for Diane L’Abbottomy. The aspiring Home Secretary of such painfully slow speech you can hear the addled cogs in her sloth sized brain grinding for answers; the owner of a fringe that is so stylistically offensive that it can only be masking the frontal lobe surgery that removed all semblance of political and intellectual credibility; the cannon that had become so loose that her ex squeeze and boss was forced to deliver her a sick note during an interview; the champion of the brain fart. Please Diane, do everybody a favour and scuttle back to the fringes from whence you came.  

 

Rudderless

Poor Amber Rudd was a lamb to the slaughter at the leaders’ debate last night. Fronting up to take this hospital pass whilst her supposedly all conquering leader was somehow “too busy talking to voters” at that time of night, was probably not what the Home Secretary had in mind to be doing following the passing of her father on Monday. Clearly “compassionate Conservatism” does not stretch to mourning members of the PM’s front bench when it comes to taking one for the Team (Theresa).

Rudd must have rued that the “personality cult” (in George Osborne’s embittered but accurate words) surrounding the rebranding of the Conservative party to “Theresa May’s Team” does not stretch to the eponymous hero leading by example and taking the fight to her rivals in public forum.

Her public hanging was made all the more excruciating by the fact that her panel of executioners were a rabble of some of the feeblest and hopelessly lightweight leaders you could ever wish to get stuck into. Going into bat without a box is seemingly still a perilous exercise even when faced with projectiles lobbed at powderpuff velocity.

In the election that she supposedly couldn’t lose, this campaign is unravelling rapidly for Theresa May. Ever since the shambles of her manifesto launch on 18 May, she has seen the Tories’ lead in the polls decimated from 20 odd points to single figures. Regardless of one’s views as to the reliability of opinion polls, momentum is running against Mrs May at a rate of knots.

Having made this election a straight fight between her credentials as a leader and Jeremy Corbyn’s, how on earth did her political radar come to the opinion that dodging last night’s debate was a positive act of reinforcing the “strong and stable” mantra? Even Jezza, seemingly invigorated by his time on the stump and notwithstanding his radio balls-up on childcare costs, threw down the mantle last minute and put those leadership credentials on the line. But May didn’t rise to the challenge. A challenge which she says she routinely puts to the sword every week at PMQs. So what was the problem? Voters don’t watch PMQs Theresa. They do watch national television though. Doh.

Gleeful calls of Mrs May’s cowardice, weakness, contempt and arrogance abounded with zero danger of such character assassinations being rebuffed with any authority in absentia. Ruddy toiled doggedly with her defence of her boss’s “record of delivery”, but she was pushing water uphill with a rake. What record of delivery? In nearly 11 months of office, Theresa May has achieved little more than nine policy U-turns (yes, nine) and some provocative sabre rattling at the EU. A model of strength and stability she is not. She just tells us that she is.

When Geoffrey Howe resigned from Margaret Thatcher’s government in November 1990, his Commons resignation speech said: “The truth is that, in many aspects of politics, style and substance complement each other. Very often, they are two sides of the same coin.” That devastating speech precipitated Thatcher’s downfall later that month as the substance of Thatcher’s policies and her style of leadership clashed with irresistible force.

On the evidence of the last 11 months and in particular the last few weeks of this pitiful election campaign, Theresa May is a leader of questionable substance and very little style. Even the hardly inspiring vision of leadership that purports her to be a “safe pair of hands” is now open to challenge.

With one week to go until “the only poll that matters”, Mrs May looks vulnerable and has shot her last bolt. Having made herself the trump card in the Tories’ election hand, it now appears that she has neither the depth of substance nor style of personality to wrestle momentum back.

She will be hoping that the “quiet of the polling booth” focuses wavering voters’ minds and she will probably still win, but her leadership is rudderless. Just ask Amber.

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.