Part of the point of this fortnightly (or so) summary is to capture the follies of those who rule over us or who would like to do so. The tales of idiocy come so thick and fast that half of what I write early on gets dumped as fresh waves of stupidity crash in on us. Another purpose is to capture some of the inspired merriment in the cartoons and tweets which I come across in passing.
Something cheerful to begin wth (just to mislead you into thinking I am going all soft and optimistic). A bookshop owner in Hawes has been getting stick for being rude to customers. The parish council says he is “a discredit to the otherwise excellent reputation of the town” and nearly everyone seems to agree. One shop-keeper, however, had a different view:
“We are lucky living in Hawes. We don’t have to worry about the things most people worry about and perhaps it means that people are worrying about something that’s trivial instead”.
Applause for that, I say.
Chris Grayling and HS2
I’d like to spare you Chris Grayling and Liz Truss, but they simply won’t go away, bobbing back to the surface however often we try to flush them away. Let’s get Grayling out of the way first (we can at least laugh at Truss with her catalogue of inept actions and crass observations; Grayling is less of a laughing matter).
Grayling’s move to Transport puts him in charge of HS2, the very expensive train set designed to allow Northern businessmen to have a lie-in before setting off for London meetings. This project already stank of failure before Grayling came along, its projected costs rising even as its purpose became more limited. Its CEO jumped ship before Grayling came along and has yet to be replaced; two more senior executives resigned last week, like rats eyeing up a new captain and deciding to make for the port holes.
Separately, the Commons Treasury Select Committee wanted some projected passenger numbers to help assess HS2’s value for money. The “right” answer was about 300,000 passengers a day and Grayling obliged with an estimate showing – guess what? Yes, 300,000 per day which according to the Times is…
about twice the entire daily passenger numbers of both east and west coast main lines put together. To carry 300,000 passengers a day, HS2 would need to run trains every three to four minutes from 5am to midnight with an average of 95% of seats filled on every journey.
He’s a great man for the numbers isn’t he, Chris Grayling? You wanted savings at Justice? Grayling slashed blindly at costs without regard to consequences to deliver the right numbers. You need a big number to justify HS2? How big a number? 300,000? OK – just give my chaps a few days with a spreadsheet and we will come up with that. I can only claim how much in second home expenses per year? Oh look, here’s a decorator’s invoice which, by happy chance, came to hand just too late to go into last year’s claim, so it can go into the next year’s allowance.
The chairman of the select Committee has written to Grayling questioning the “credibility” of the HS2 forecasts and asking what has changed to produce this “large increase”. I am sure Grayling will be able to come up with the right answer, whatever the required answer is. Grayling was an early adopter of the idea that truth is just a social construct, just annoying grit in the engine of progress and profit; he was the John the Baptist for our post-truth times – prepare ye the way of the fraud.
Grayling and Stonehenge
Next Grayling authorised a plan to tunnel the A303 under Stonehenge.
Every Transport Minister since Ernest Marples has considered such a plan for Stonehenge and put it in a drawer marked “Hot Potato”. Not our Grayling, who fancies himself as boldly willing to take tough decisions which others baulk at. Protesters say “it would cause irreparable damage to the landscape” but Grayling is used to that sort of comment – si monument requieris, have a look at the smouldering ruins of the justice system, also irreparably damaged after a short but intense period in Grayling’s care.
[I just checked. The tunnel plan does not go back to the days of Ernest Marples. There must be some other reason why Grayling makes me think of Marples. There is no obvious link: Marples did a moonlight flit to France to avoid investigations into fraud relating to both stamp duty and capital gains tax, and ended his days in exile in France; so far as we know, however, there was never any complaint about his Parliamentary expenses].
Grayling hits cyclists – again
Chris Grayling attacked cyclists who, he said, don’t count as road users. At least he didn’t actually try and kill any of them this time, as he recently did by opening the door of his official limousine into the path of a bike. People in limousines – now there are real road users. Grayling would probably like cycle lanes to be replaced by some rezervniye polosy, the Moscow “Zil lanes” reserved for important people on government business. He could perhaps file his expenses claims on time if he wasn’t always being held up by cyclists.
The NHS – Hunt hides and May blames everyone else
The NHS entered one of those regular periods of “crisis” which blow up twice a year or so, when it is said that we have “x days to save the NHS”. Routine operations were cancelled, people queued for hours at A&E departments around the country, and photographs circulated of people who had been waiting on trolleys in corridors. The Secretary of State for Health, the ineffectual Jeremy Hunt, went to ground, issuing a statement which asserted that 30% of attendances at A&E were unnecessary. Predictable howls of protest ensued, many of them from people who would howl at anything – so much easier than actually thinking about the very real systemic problems which no government has had the guts to tackle.
This 30% figure seems to have a respectable pedigree. Why doesn’t Hunt come out and say so, giving us the benefit of the research thus far? Why, indeed, don’t we ask him instead of just shouting at him?
But everyone shouted and the government played the same game in return, replying to the shouting with some unwarranted abuse at doctors, surgeons, hospitals and pretty well everyone involved in the NHS, including the patients. As with those aggressive radio interviews, the shouters let the government off the hook. There is plenty for Hunt to be defensive about; just throwing abuse loses focus on the things which a) matter and b) are actually capable of resolution.
An unsourced memo about the NHS
A memo circulated which purported to be a report of a meeting at a hospital. It included the assertion that Theresa May had ordered the suppression of discussion on the “crisis”. So far as I am aware, we still have no idea a) who wrote the memo b) which hospital was involved and c) what proof there is that Mrs May said any such thing. It is all credible, and it was blasted round Twitter as if it were gospel, but it becomes increasingly important to question one’s sources.
Jeremy Corbyn mixes some meaningless platitudes with a whole new tax policy
An opposition leader thrives in conditions like these, with open goals all over the place. We heard nothing of substance from Labour, however, and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, went AWOL as bad news (real or manufactured) mounted on the government’s every front.
I recall a Muppets episode in which the show descends into chaos of a kind which Mrs May would recognise. A panic-struck Kermit thrusts Rowlf (or it may have been Fozzy) onto the stage to play something to pacify the audience.
What shall I play?
Here’s a little piece I made up myself. It’s called “Anything”.
We saw the equivalent of that “Anything” when Corbyn was belatedly pushed into a breakfast radio studio to speak for Labour. “Anything” apparently included a whole new tax policy by which people above a certain level of income would suffer 100% tax. What level? Corbyn didn’t seem to know, nor indeed did his colleagues, to whom this “policy” was as much news to them as it was to us. After a quick bit of cognitive therapy, Corbyn was back on the ward with a different version “before the porridge bowls were in the dishwasher” as this ITV News story put it;
Labour as a training ground
Labour MP Tristram Hunt resigned his seat to become Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, shortly after Jamie Reed quit to join Sellafield. With one going off to manage old relics and one to clear up toxic waste, it is clear that experience gained as a Labour MP under Corbyn is proving good training for the real world.
Theresa May’s big speech
Theresa May made a big speech listing everything she wanted from the EU, and from our trade agreements with a world which was apparently gagging for it. The speech generated all the expected reactions – furious rejection from most quarters of the EU, exultation from the Brexiteers, and dumb resignation on the part of the rest of us. The Germans dropped a bomb near Waterloo Bridge.
[Ed: That was more than 70 years ago.
Me: So? My statement is factually correct]
Two old favourites of children’s reading came to mind:
[Thanks to Jonathan Maas for pointing me to the Brexit Children’s Book Covers from which this came]
Tact and diplomacy from Boris Johnson
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson brought his usual measured tact and diplomacy to the party, likening French President Hollande to a World War II prison camp guard.
Theresa May has been in the dressing-up box again
Theresa May’s attire attracted yet more attention. I generally disapprove of commentary on the clothing of public figures, thinking it their own business what they spend, and positively approving of their willingness to wear the same expensive outfit twice (the Times had a silly column criticising May for this). On the other hand, Mrs May is most definitely making a statement with some of her clothes and would, I suspect, be disappointed if we failed to comment. After all, as she had said, the focus on her shoes justifies her going out to buy some more. I doubt, however, that this is what she had in mind this time:
Mrs May’s apparent indifference to the issues in Scotland (and Ireland, and Northern Ireland, and the City, and, and, and…) crossed over with the clown suit meme.
The clown suit produced another cross-over too, with Boris Johnson’s prison guard gaffe:
Get lost Liz Truss, we said, and she did
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Liz Truss, hitherto famous only for her pronouncements on cheese, has been much derided for knowing nothing of the courts for which she is responsible. She went off to see if things really were as bad in the courts as she had been told. She had been told of chaos, of courts filled with litigants in person, of unhelpful staff, and of facilities stretched beyond bearing.
Silly critics! The Court of Appeal was nothing like that at all. All was calm, barristers moved silkily, and the staff were incredibly helpful when she got lost:
There. Research done. Ms Truss can be satisfied that all is well everywhere from Maidstone Mags to Cardiff County Court.
There’s more, but…
I could go on, but time and space are running out.
Jeremy Corbyn brought much-needed clarity to Labour’s position on Article 50 – it is now clear that he hasn’t a clue. Labour MPs would be required to vote for Article 50. Or asked to. Or not. It is said that about 80 of them would vote against, whatever Corbyn said.
Michael Gove polarised opinion between those who loathe him and those who despise him.
An MP called Bernard Jenkin, famous only as the reason why all Richard Curtis films have a hapless, hopeless loser called Bernard, sneered at Malta as a “tiny little island”, just as Malta assumed the EU presidency with power to veto trade agreements.
An Oxford professor (a once-exclusive rank which has been much diluted in recent years) reported Home Secretary Amber Rudd to the West Midlands Police for making a speech about immigration; Plod took time off from investigating the conduct of dead people to log this as a “hate incident”.
A Cambridge professor said we should all be doing our bit for integration by learning Polish, Punjabi, Urdu and Sanskrit.
[Ed: are you sure about the Sanskrit bit?
Me: It doesn’t make any less sense than the rest].
I need a break from all this. I need some grown-up politics to restore my faith in leadership so I am off to America for a week.