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.


POTUS 45/03/05?

So despite dodgy dossiers and inferences of Muscovite pussy grabbing (maybe they let you do it over there too), he’s made it. He of the enormous hair, the enormous hands and an enormous weapon, The Donald has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. The Commander-in-Chief. The leader of the free world. The most powerful man in the world. Fucking hell, it doesn’t read any better than saying it out loud.

There have been a huge number of column inches devoted to what a Trump presidency might mean for the US and the world and how the philosophy of Trumpism may be defined. For those of us not paid to speculate the unspeculatable, it is perhaps expedient on day 1 of his presidency to recall Zhou Enlai’s quip: “It is too soon to say”.

According to NBC, Trump oscillated between 141 distinct stances on 23 key issues during his bid for the White House. The standard bearer of global populism bestows The Donald with more faces than Janus and will allow him to pivot towards whatever flavour of policy gelato he fancies. I would therefore expect much of his policies to be formulated on the hoof and to be endlessly chameleon in character: morphing and reinventing themselves according to the changing populist winds, the whooping and hollering of his Rustbelt disciples, personal approval ratings and the behaviour of the despised mainstream (liberal) media.

This lack of a defined political agenda is a deliberate and strategic tilt at the kind of ideological incoherence that befits the anti-Establishment “outsider”. It suits the narrative of conspiracy theory, systemic failure, partisan divide and voter angst that got him elected. In short, he’s been employed to kick the hornets’ nest and smash the status quo. Coherent policy is anathema to Trump’s MO of populist insurgency.

So with Zhou Enlai in mind, here are a few possible thematics of The Donald’s administration:

Defence. Cough up NATO chumps, you’re paying for our boys to stop Vlad from kicking your ass. Unless, of course, NATO really is “obsolete”. Either way, the Balkans will be bricking it.

One hundred and forty brain cells. The intelligence tally of the average Trump voter (see ‘T’ below).

Nativism. Because American society isn’t fractured and fucked up enough already.

America first protectionism. U∙S∙A! U∙S∙A! U∙S∙A! Spare us. Please.

Liberalism in crisis. What if The Donald’s protectionist policies actually work? Shit gets real.

Divisiveness and distrust. Fomenting cynicism will be core to his enduring appeal.

Jolly hockey sticks. Politics on the Hill will be as brutal, thuggish and nuanced as the mass brawl on ice that Americans like to masquerade as sport.

Twitter. Statecraft and statesmanship in 140 characters of mainstream media bypassing, early morning rant. Anti-social media to manipulate America’s new anti-social soul (see ‘O’ above).

Republicanism’s identity crisis. You’ve got your man except that he’s not your man. Awks.

Usama bin Laden, the legacy of. One podgy trigger finger itching to “bomb the shit” out of IS. Our PM convenes COBRA. The Commander-in- Chief tweets “Boooooooom!”.

Mexico. First there was China’s Great Wall. Then there was Hadrian’s. Go on Donald, you know your ego craves a massive erection.

Putin. Bezzie mates apparently. What shit has he got on you mister?

Lock up your trailers; load your rifles; get Domino’s on speed dial; fetch the keg of Bud Lite; prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Welcome to the greatest, ad free reality TV show on earth…

P.S. And the reference to POTUS 45/03/05? Well, Barrack Obama was the 44th President; Bill Clinton was the 2nd President to be impeached (both Andrew Johnson (1868) and Clinton (1998) were technically impeached by the House of Representatives but neither impeachments were ratified by the Senate) and JFK was the 4th President to be assassinated…what are the odds? (Actually, it’s evens to be impeached or being forced to resign before the end of his first term, according to Ladbrokes. There doesn’t seem to be an official market reflecting the likelihood of the “05”. Spoilsports.)

Anti-social, don’t care

So the predictable annual orgy decrying the imminent death knell of the NHS is in full, sweaty hue and cry. Repeatedly broken targets around A&E waiting times, patients dying on trolleys in corridors, over worked doctors and nurses and creaking infrastructure are the usual suspects. But this time it feels different. This time people are dipping their toes into the used bed pan of causation beyond the usual dogma of underfunding. Now the hitherto overlooked human misery manifested by chronically underfunded social care has reared its ugly head as a direct cause of the NHS’s sickly symptoms.

The budget for NHS England in 2016/17 was a sphincter splitting £107 billion. This budget has, wrongly, been ring-fenced from cuts as some kind of sacred cow, rendering it immune to the kind of grown-up debate that politicians should be having about its future. In a way that only the Brits know how to do with such effortlessly glib aplomb, we like to laud “our NHS” as the envy of the world. As long as the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who my consultant friends assure me has a consonant misplaced from his surname) keeps regurgitating the assurance whilst wearing his NHS badge of honour on his lapel, he may yet believe it. He is fooling nobody. In layman terms, “our NHS” is knackered: a highly complex story of a simple case of under supply in the face of over demand; and a desperate need for original thinking to drive wholesale reform of an institution that is an unsustainable anachronism in its current form. Unfortunately, the NHS has been weaponised politically. Successive governments have equated tipping ever larger sums of money down an ever larger and darker black hole with a de facto better end product. Record spending has poured in, yet the NHS has moved on to life support. The shot in the arm that the NHS needs is a package of reform that extracts maximum value from a sustainable funding model, not the obsessional pre-occupation with absolute monetary values.

The social care budget, however, is a separate and tightly rationed beast. Divvied up on a strictly needs and means tested basis, it is funded by local councils through central government grants. In the seven years of austerity, council funding has been raped and pillaged with social care funding decimated. According to The King’s Fund, the number of people aged 65 or over accessing publicly funded social care has fallen by 26%. Self-evidently this leaves an ever increasing number of people more vulnerable and without the support to carry out basic every day activities. In a remarkably enduring display of austerity addled short sightedness in the face of the rising demand of an ageing population and greater life expectancy, UK public spending on social care is set to fall to less than 1% of GDP by the end of this parliament. Get old; but don’t decay. Good luck defying that physiological inevitability.

It was announced before Christmas that councils would have the power to raise council tax by 3% this year and next to help fund social care, bringing forward already planned increases of 2% per annum for the three years left in this Parliament. Whoopee-do. 6% tax rises over two years, versus 6% over three. Given the parlous state of the problem, such a pathetic gesture is akin to using butterfly stitches to patch up open heart surgery.

So how does the crisis in social care tie back to the travails in the NHS? You don’t have to be an NHS scientist to comprehend that if the oldest and most vulnerable people in society do not get the care they need either at home or in a nursing home, and they cannot access their GP when their ill health demands (not when GPs’ 9 to 5, “make an appointment” attitude to local healthcare dictates), then they are going to use the only other realistic option available to them when they need help: A&E. And what happens? They receive hospital treatment and are declared fit to be discharged. Except they are not discharged because there isn’t the social care available to ensure that the patient can return home safely. In NHS parlance, such a patient becomes a “delayed transfer of care”, or, more succinctly, a bed-blocker. Bed-blocking can go on for weeks whilst social care is arranged, such that patients effectively take up full board and lodging at the NHS’s considerable expense.

According to The King’s Fund, nearly 570,000 bed days were lost in the three months between July and September last year as a result of such “delayed transfers of care”. Problems in arranging the appropriate social care are cited as the main reason given for these delays. 570,000 bed days.

I am loathed to be one of those who lazily shout for the elixir of more cash, but in the case of social care, the correlation and causation between lack of funding and the crises in both social care and the NHS seem compelling: rationing of social care is clogging up the NHS’s arteries.

The health system is a screwed up hybrid whereby the politically weaponised provision of unaffordable free universal healthcare sits on a lofty and idealistic pedestal, some way above the deprioritised problem child of social care provision. Quite why and how the disciplines of “health” care and “social” care have been discriminated, demarcated and separately funded when the link between the two seems inextricable is baffling: invest in social care and relieve the pressure on the NHS. The cost-benefit analysis is that simples.

Agitated statements this week by Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt may indicate that they are going to take their medicine, albeit whilst kicking and screaming. And a carefully timed and choreographed Party Political broadcast by the Conservative Party on 11 January espousing Mrs May’s core values and her vision of a country that “works for everyone” was no coincidence.

It is estimated that there is funding gap in social care provision of at least £1.9 billion in 2017/18 and £2.3 billion by the end of this parliament. In the context of the NHS budget, such sums are loose change. It’s hardly radical thinking- and may, shock horror, be both populist in flavour and popular by design- but the Department for International Development controls a budget of £11.8 billion, channeling tax payer money to Jonny Foreigner. Whilst our trending national narrative is inward looking and nativist, why doesn’t the government take the pulse of the protectionist mood and divert cash to this most pressing of domestic issues? Given how much money the DfID advances to the Fat Catisation of aid contractors and charity bosses that receive millions of pounds in foreign aid for their charitable causes, I can’t see anything other than the move being universally applauded (as well as being politically adroit). It may also have the handy side effect of serving as a timely reminder that the government’s head is not entirely engulfed up the fat, rancid arse of the Brexit behemoth and that it is still doing what it was elected to do: to run the country and to run it for the benefit of all of its citizens, not just the 52%. Nobody will die from Brexit, chronic as the indigestion may be at times.

The UK is a rich and civilised country by any conceivable measure. This has gone beyond the question of money and strikes at the fabric of the kind of society to which Mrs May aspires to foster. Conservatism with a human face, compassionate conservatism, conservatism that works for everyone; call it whatever philosophy you like. But if protecting Mrs May’s “most vulnerable in society” isn’t going to become another vacuous platitude that has come to characterise this administration over the past six months, it’s time for the PM to take her medicine and cough up.

DisMay: the PM six months in

It’s been six months since the giddy days that saw the country vote for what had meant to be the impossible. David Cameron resigned off the back of a gargantuan political miscalculation that saw the said impossible become his worst nightmare. Following the coronation of a new Prime Minister with no popular mandate, it may be an opportune time to consider Theresa May’s half-term school report.

With the benefit of a hindsight that is always 20/20 in clarity, Mrs May’s unopposed anointment to the top job should always have been a formality. Leaving aside her own credentials of six steady and competent years supping from the poison chalice of politics as the Home Secretary, consider her competitors for the job in ascending order of embarrassing unsuitability: Stephen Crabb, a crackin’ little boyo-done-good Welsh fella, with the kindly demeanour and boyish looks that suggested his slightly mangy beard was sprouted to convince himself and others that two years of ministerial experience  was sufficient to contest the election, let alone win it; Michael Gove, a duplicitous and rather odious character whose knife wielding skills on a comrade’s unsuspecting back would have made Brutus proud and whose statesmanship would lie somewhere between Harry Enfield’s Tory Boy and Charlie McCarthy; Liam Fox, surely one of the standard bearers in the pantheon of heroically underwhelming and competently beige politicians that the UK seems to have specialised in excreting over the past 20 years and; last and by all means least, Andrea…who? Oh yes, Leadsom, lest I forget. Except that I did. Mrs Leadsom displayed all the depth, political credibility and clarity of purpose of a muddy puddle. To see her in action as a potential future First Lord of the Treasury was excruciating, although the feminists who all banged their drum and burnt their bras in unison at the spectacle of an all-woman scrap to the top would no doubt disagree (why let meritocracy get in the way of “a victory for women the world over”?).  Aptly, she is now in charge of silage and vermin culling at Rural Affairs. Mrs May was the consummate safe pair of hands, universally respected.

Six months on from her bloodless coup thanks to Mrs Leadsom putting us all out of our misery by falling on her sword, what more do we know about Mrs May and how has she performed?

Well, there are one or two well-seasoned titbits that may shed some light but without ever getting to the core of what she stands for. She gets very touchy about comments on her sartorial elegance. Miaow. She likes to say “Brexit means Brexit” a lot; a meaningless, yet masterfully malleable, catch-all banality that enables her and  her ministers to hide behind a thick fog of policy inertia, born out of the reality that nobody has a Scooby Doo on how best to execute the unprecedented. She has made ominously interventionist and anti-business remarks. She likes to publicly scold those ministers who utter anything that might be construed as “off message” (Boris has bent over, touched his toes and taken an absolute beating of late). She likes to pick fights with taxpayer funded consultants like Deloitte who have had to withdraw from tendering for lucrative future government work in an attempt to heal a rift with No.10 after a leaked memo deigned to suggest that the cabinet was riven by splits and had no credible Brexit plan. Cabinet splits?! Surely not! Doth the lady protest too much? And after the resignation last week of Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, Mrs May seems to be operating in a vacuum of inconvenient truths after his incendiary resignation letter pointed to “ill-founded arguments” and “muddled thinking” in Whitehall. Challenge Mrs May at your peril.

After the sofa politics of “call me Tony” Blair and the inner sanctum cabal politics of “call me Dave” Cameron, Mrs May is overseeing a marked shift in statecraft which appears to have reasserted the authority of Cabinet through the notion of “on message” collective responsibility. Yet her sometimes brutal public admonishments of her ministers for seemingly going rogue (David Davis her Brexit minister has also been holding Bojo’s sweaty palm on the naughty step), belies an authoritarian control freakery and micro-management that can only neuter ministerial authority. This is dangerous and Mrs May would do well to heed the lessons of the not too distant past. There is more than the whiff of cordite in the air that Mrs May is modelling her leadership style in the mould of Margaret Thatcher and aspires to be the Iron Lady 2. Echoes resonate of the same paranoia and relentless ministerial bashing encapsulated by the infamous “is he one of us?” political castrations that Thatcher routinely meted out to the off-message “wets” in the 1980s. But it was those same political eunuchs that delivered Thatcher’s reckoning after 11 years in charge; May is only six months into the job yet she appears to be employing the same MO that decapitated her predecessor. Intransigence and authoritarianism are not the same as leadership and it is dispiriting to observe such an experienced campaigner confuse the notions.

Machiavelli’s The Prince is probably the most notorious treatise on the dark arts of leadership and wielding and holding on to political power. Machiavelli may well have approved of the lioness ferocity in which Mrs May has savaged her political opponents to date (Jezza is but a poor, wee irrelevant lamb, bless him). Take BoJo. I have no doubt that as just about every UK and European eyebrow arched to the point of cranial cramp upon his appointment as Foreign Secretary (acronymed in PMQs before Christmas as “FFS” or “Fine Foreign Secretary”. Text speak would betray a clearer view of her personal opinion), the new PM was providing her enemy with enough rope to hang himself in the alien arena of international diplomacy. I now get the feeling that, having provided the rope, she is now tying the noose and providing the stool to kick over with a pair of sharpened Rosa Klebb heels.  George Osborne, Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan were all sent to political Coventry as unwanted detritus from the previous regime. But what of her vixen like cunning as the second pillar of Machiavelli’s advice? Here she seems to be profoundly lacking. Whether or not the perceived inertia on the Government’s strategy behind Brexit belies a cunning plan that will deliver the UK to the Promised Land of idealism and unlimited cake eating where the permanent ban of free movement of people to the UK sits happily alongside free and unfettered access to Europe’s Single Market remains to be seen (well, we were promised this by Leavers were we not?). And the government’s stuck record drones on that it has a plan. But as plans go, the current evidence suggests that Baldrick could be the author.

The referendum delivered two unequivocal messages: firstly, that a majority of the population wanted to leave the EU and; secondly, that at 52% v 48% the country is hopelessly divided on the subject as vocalised by the white heat of the debate over what Brexit actually means. “Brexit means Brexit” cannily articulates both messages perfectly. The UK will leave the EU, but whether your chosen form of Brexit is hard or soft, tumescent or flaccid, salty or sweet, Mrs May has to deliver porridge that is just right. But some of the noises coming from Number 10, and the hardened counterpunches coming from Europe, suggest that Mrs May is far removed from the necessity to assert hard realism over fanciful idealism.

For the reality and realism of the situation seems quite clear: leaving aside the hard core axis of Leavers-Remainers who are likely to be always disappointed, the PM is likely to deliver a Brexit package that will leave c.50% of the country happyish and the other c.50% unhappyish. Whether her December proclamations of a Brexit that is “red, white and blue” signals a softening of a hitherto antagonistic approach to her European counterparts, Mrs May needs to start displaying some pragmatism. Whatever sense of the UK’s inflated importance, propagandist and, frankly, delusional bollocks we have been pedalled by various figures about trade deficits and German car manufacturers pulling Angela Merkel’s strings, the political primacy of the European project and its future integrity will hold sway over trade and economics. Michel Barnier, chief divorce negotiator for the EU, and any number of EU leaders have made this crystal clear. The vested and enmeshed interests of the remaining 27 countries to hold the bloc together will always trump the self-serving interests of the recalcitrant 1. And the requirement for any Brexit deal to be ratified unanimously by all 27 sovereign member parliaments, as well as the European Parliament, ensures that Europe is calling the shots. Do the math Theresa. It is surely self-evident that the UK will not be given a better deal for leaving the EU and we will be punished “pour encourager les autres”. The UK is not in the position of strength that the post-truth methodology has crystallised in many peoples’ minds. Fight the UK’s corner Mrs May, but please get real.

“It is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” The PM may be feared (for now) in her own party and she may yet be loved (by the centre right at least) if she can deliver a landslide victory for the Tories at the 2020 election, but in Europe I doubt that 27 v 1 inspires much fear and she certainly isn’t loved. When Thatcher’s fear factor cultivated and emboldened her enemies, she quickly realised that rapidly shifting political sands had left her with insufficient love. The sooner Mrs May recognises this and starts displaying the kind of pragmatic leadership that the political reality demands, the better.

The half-term grade? C+. Theresa is a promising student but her prickly and awkward demeanour and evasiveness in class let her down. She seems to have high approval ratings in the wider populace, but does not seem to command any close friendships amongst her immediate peers. If she could eschew delusions of grandeur and engage in a less confrontational and more constructive manner, then she has the potential to fulfil her undeniable talent. Could do better.

Vinyl Revival

Hoorah, vinyl is back! Call me a sentimentally nostalgic old git (I’ve been called far worse, so knock yourselves out), but the announcement yesterday (3 January) that the sales of vinyl records are at a 25 year high has left me imbued with a gently throbbing warmth. In this world of instant and mass digital consumption of intellectual property where little regard is given to the ownership and creative process that has nurtured the genesis of the end product, it is heartening to hear that this physical format of digital reproduction is still relevant. True, in the grand scheme of the music industry, vinyl records barely register a footnote: 3.2 million vinyl records were sold in 2016, compared to a total of 123 million albums that were streamed, downloaded or bought in physical format in the same year. And streaming services like Spotify accounted for an incredible 45 billion audio streams in 2016. So hardly a deluge but definitely a gratifying renaissance as it marks the ninth consecutive year that vinyl sales have grown, eclipsing the paltry 200,000 vinyls sold in 2007.

“That’s like a pizza!” exclaimed one genuinely befuddled millennial girl when shown a vinyl by a reporter on the news last night, supported by “oh, it goes in the thing that goes round, the circle, the spinning thing!” by one of her sisters with a certain tone of proud triumphalism as the true gravity of her powers of deduction dawned on her. Leaving aside the braindead absurdity of the reference to a staple Italian foodstuff (it was hard to tell whether she was joking as it seemed clear that all three of the girls being interviewed were agitating use of the same communal brain cell), it is a depressing indictment of today’s yoof that they are so far removed from some of the cultural leitmotivs that earlier generations took for granted and with so much pleasure. That’s called progress apparently. Remember the simple joy of a teenage or student pilgrimage to Our Price or HMV with your hard earned wedge burning a hole in your Levi 501s and carefully thumbing through rack after rack of CDs and tangible music? I do, rapturously. And the contemporary experience of a soulless and instantaneous download from Apple or the subscription based right to effectively lease music from Spotify is emotionally thin gruel by comparison. Regardless of the fact that 48% of vinyl record purchases are never played, but gathered as collectors’ items, music just sounds better on a 12” disc. The yoof don’t know what they’re missing.

It will probably not come as much of a surprise to learn that leading the charge of vinyl sales were the posthumous likes of David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Prince and Nirvana, in addition to the old school and timeless classicism (and iconic sleeve artwork) of Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis. I don’t see the manufactured misery of too many reality TV “talent” contestants standing this tangible test of time.

Good riddance 2016

As I sit here gloomily contemplating another Dry January and wondering what lexicon of joys 2017 will foist upon the world, it is impossible not to reflect on 2016. It really was the Devil’s arsehole of a year: angry, grizzly, unsightly and with an extraordinarily proficient propensity to evacuate its bowel over so many citizens of the world (or citizens of nowhere if you’re Theresa May). My gloom however is punctuated by the optimistic truth that 2016 has now been consigned to the macerator of history, never to return. It is perhaps likely to be referenced (depending on one’s perspective) as a wretched historical marker of some consequence. And it may always haunt and shape future events with its acrid stench of regression and uncertainty, but it’s over and we should all be grateful for that. 2017 has to be better, surely? It’s a low base of expectation from which to start.

In such a traumatic year of tectonic socio-political upheaval and human misery, it is impossible to summarise a podium of 2016’s lowlights but below is my roll call of events (in no particular order of gravitas) that have contributed so wholeheartedly to this year of angst.

  1. Bloody Brexit. Ah yes, the cockroach that won’t die; the fart that lingers in the lift and stings the nostrils; the UK’s answer to social haemorrhagic fever on a pandemic scale. The biggest and unprecedented clusterfuck of matters constitutional, parliamentary, judicial and of national identity that anybody has seen in most of our lifetimes. And it’s so noisy. The UK hasn’t stopped shouting for about 18 months if you include Scotland’s IndyRef1. Leavers shouted a carefully choreographed and sustained assault of lies and half-truths, relentlessly pedalling the phenomenon of “post truth” politics where the veracity of what is said has no relevance to the intellectual debate. As long as it preys on the prejudices, fears and resentment of the populist masses, the “truth” then emerges as an incontrovertible and self-evident Medusan construct of anything that the seething, hard done by horde want to believe. It’s intoxicatingly powerful as a political dictum in the modern world. Just ask The Donald- he absolutely nailed it. And Remainers shouted back over the fence with a shambolic and incoherent concoction of lies and half-truths, strategised as Project Fear but executed with the aplomb of pissing in the proverbial wind in the face of the chameleon-like adaptability of the post-truth world. The result? A profoundly polarised country, fractured across all the social divides of sex, age, geography, ethnicity and class and discombobulated by uncertainty. United, it seems, only by noise and discord. Whilst 2016 proved that predictions are entirely futile and that the unexpected is now part of the predictable mainstream, it seems reasonable to surmise that 2017 will see the UK endure the slow and painful torture of the medieval rack as Brexit negotiations are ground out and the pain of the ultimate endgame is gradually drawn and snapped towards its conclusion. A clinical, clean break it will not be. But I doubt if anybody is going to suffer in silence.

One other thought. As the alpha figurehead turkey who voted for Christmas, Nigel Farage should have been gutted, plucked, stuffed with a pleasingly uncomfortable amount of sage and onion thrust up his jacksie and roasted in the oven of political obscurity long before Christmas and yet his nauseatingly jolly-pleased-with-myself demeanour still pollutes our airtime. The British government is never going to outsource its foreign policy to an unelected outsider, self-styled chum of US president-elect or not. So please Nige, do us all a favour and take your noise, chalk stripes and smug self-satisfaction elsewhere. I hear Washington DC’s swamp is nice this time of year, not that anybody there knows who you are.

  1. Top Trump. If Brexit was the amuse bouche on the menu of political pyrotechnics, then the election of The Donald has to be the Old ‘96er from The Great Outdoors, but with rather more sweating if you’re anybody other than a fully paid up member of the Rustbelt-Midwestern white male ignorati. Writing in The Baltimore Evening Sun on 26 July 1920, H.L Mencken, journalist, satirist and literary anti-hero extraordinaire, wrote that:As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron”. Hmmm, how prescient. Or is this unfair to The Donald? A penchant for pussy grabbing, sex pestery, megalomania, bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia and any other milk curdling quality you care to name may or may not be fair, but what does this say about a sizeable chunk of the American electorate? Even if he lost the popular vote in the election by a greater margin than any other US president-elect (polling almost 2.9 million fewer votes than Clinton), and however much he is reviled the world over, it does not sit comfortably to criticise the political intelligence of a man who located, massaged and ultimately called-to-arms the inner soul of 46.1% of the “plain folks” that voted for him. To write him off as a moron is, perhaps, to make the same mistake as Clinton when she fatally described half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” In Electoral College terms, the Disunited States of Dumbfuckistan is a sea of seething, fist pumping red, stretching from Idaho in the North West to Florida in the South East, flanked only by corridors of equally irate enlightenment on the Western Seaboard and the North East. Whatever the vagaries of an Electoral College system that has spat out only the fifth US president in history to have been elected despite losing the popular vote, suck it up ‘Merica because that’s the imperfection of a democracy that your hailed forefathers perfected. Democracy is after all, as that insightful chap Mencken also remarked, only the “pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance”. So for anybody in America who laments that the interview for the highest and most important office in the world has been won by someone whose barnet is a cross between a Peruvian Long Haired guinea pig and Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, do not despair. Democracy and the collective wisdom can take its revenge at the ballot box in 2020. Bon chance cousins.
  1. Aleppo, the shame of the West. After four brutal years of indescribable human suffering and geopolitical chess playing, the battle for Aleppo is finally over. The weeping sore of the Western conscience and total failure of its diplomacy and theory of liberal intervention, now quietly drips its pus over the razed rubble. Haunted by the spectres of the legacies left by the clumsy interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the West stood by like one o’clock half struck and turned their backs: the UK voted against any form of military action and Europe erected barbed wire barriers to keep out the swell of Syrian refugees. Obama fiddled and Aleppo burned, drawing a political line over the use of chemical weapons that was supposed to be the inviolable point of no return. Assad then pissed all over that line with a liberal sprinkling of chlorine gas and Obama retreated to the shadows, contemplating a failed foreign policy that has abandoned the US’s status as the global guardian of once fiercely protected Western values in favour of international collective responsibility. History should judge him poorly for this abject abrogation of responsibility to assert moral and political leadership. Meanwhile Vlad did what a rapidly deteriorating domestic and economic picture demanded: he poked the bear’s cage and picked a fight outside his borders, rapidly filling the vacuum left by US retrenchment and the West’s impotence in the region. Values matter. Without values and the gumption to defend them, Western words are merely empty platitudes; opening the door for the likes of Russia and Iran to step into the void and exert influence where it is not wanted. Putin has won. With Aleppo abandoned with such consummate ease by the West, what odds on Putin rattling his sabre at the trio of tasty treats that are the Balkans as a direct challenge to Trump’s antithesis of liberal intervention?
  1. Dearly Departed. If the socio-political cataclysms and mass human suffering wasn’t enough, the number of deaths, often tragically early, of titans of acting, music, sport, media and popular culture is the cherry on the most rotten of cakes.And with the commercial cynicism of manufactured music “artists” with their vote-winning life stories and their inability to even spell guitar let alone play one, the moronic grinning and cretinous inanity of ITV’s poster children Ant & Dec and the vomit-in-mouth inducing spectacle of Gregg “all I want is more of my pawk [sic.] to dip in to your luuuuvely sauss [sic.]” Wallace trespassing into our living rooms on a seemingly nightly basis, such human losses are felt all the more keenly.

David Bowie; Sir Terry Wogan; Victoria Wood; Alan Rickman; Paul Daniels; Denise Robertson, David Gest; Tony Warren; Ronnie Corbett; Frank Kelly; Prince; Carla Lane; Muhammad Ali; Caroline Aherne; Ron Glass; Kenny Baker; Gene Wilder; Sir George Martin; Jean Alexander; Florence Henderson; Robert Vaughn; Andrew Sachs; Peter Vaughan; Greg Lake; Leonard Cohen; A.A Gill; Ian McCaskill; Zsa Zsa Gabor; Rick Parfitt; George Michael; Carrie Fisher; Debbie Reynolds; Carlos Alberto; Anthony Foley; Tony Mottram; Dicky Jeeps; Arnold Palmer; Hanif Mohammad; Christy O’Connor Snr; Christy O’Connor Jnr; Tony Cozier; Johan Cruyff; Jack Bannister; Walter Swinburn, to name but a few.

Many will stand the test of time as icons of their trade; all were characters to inspire and enrich our cultural fabric. The world is darker and emptier for their passing. R.I.P.

Happy new year folks.