Friday, September 25, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Of Pigs and Men

Monday 21st September
David Cameron awakes to discover his mobile phone is melting.
The Daily Mail is serialising a new unauthorised biography of the PM, written by his former donor, now nemesis, Lord Ashcroft. In horror, Dave reads of the allegation that, whilst at university, he "inserted a private part of his anatomy into a dead pig's mouth".
He goes into the kitchen for breakfast, praying that Samantha hasn't heard yet.
Before he can say anything, she abruptly hands him a sausage and bacon sandwich.
They eat in silence.
Political journalists basically have the day off.

Tuesday 22nd September
“It’s just not fair!” screams Tim Farron.
“Here we are trying to relaunch the Lib Dems and no-one’s listening to us because everyone’s concerned with whether David Cameron put his curly in a pig!”
You can understand his pain. The Lib Dems are struggling to get any airtime at all. It seems to be the case that Lord Ashcroft is taking vengeance on all those who kept him out of government. After all, he could have released this at another time.
Though no time would have been good for David Cameron, who today is visited by Fran├žois Hollande.
“Don’t worry David,” says the French President. “These things blow over. I know. Just ask my mistress.”
“I’m just dreading the next few weeks,” replies a browbeaten PM. “All the sly jokes and innuendoes. It’s already wearing me down.”
“Courage mon brave! Come, let us act like statesmen.”
They head towards the PM’s study and begin talking EU renegotiation.
“So, mon ami,” says the President, “shall we begin with the Common Agricultural Policy? I’m sure you have some passionate views on that.”

Wednesday 23rd September
Finally, the Lib Dems get some limelight as Tim Farron gives his first speech as party leader.
But enough of that. David Cameron and Lord Ashcroft are having a ding-dong, if you’ll pardon the expression.
According to the BBC’s James Landale, on Monday night the PM spoke to a friendly audience at the Conservative Carlton Club. He revealed that that morning he had been at the doctors suffering from back pain, brought on by some “over-energetic wood-chopping”, presumably because he was trying to get in touch with his inner Putin.
The doctor said he needed to administer an injection, remarking “This will be just a little prick, just a stab in the back.”
“Which rather summed up my day,” said the Prime Minister.
Lord Ashcroft responded on Twitter.
Ashcroft had said his book was not about “settling scores”. Which makes his little Twitter outburst not so much a Freudian Slip as a Freudian Klaxon.

Thursday 24th September
Amidst all of this, Jeremy Corbyn has barely featured thisweek, but now he has done an interview with TheNew Statesman. So, can the man who doesn’t involve himself in personal attacks resist the temptation to remark on #piggate?
His response: “I am concerned about the alleged knowledge, or not, of the non-dom status of some of his friends in the House of Lords.”
Oh yes, because whilst everyone – everyone (including this diarist) – has been revelling in the most macabre pig’s head story since Lord of the Flies, we have been ignoring more substantive allegations that Cameron knew Lord Ashcroft was a Non Dom long before the story broke, as well as allegations that Cameron was at loggerheads with top brass over Libya strategy. Corbyn, meanwhile, has focussed on the real issues. Who does he think he is? A frontbench politician?
Then he spoils it by saying that a United Ireland is “an aspiration that I have always gone along with”, which should settle down his new leadership’s already fraught relationship with Unionists in Northern Ireland.
At least he said this during such a settled period. It’s not like the government there has all but collapsed and we are, to borrow a phrase from John McDonnell, “in danger of losing the peace process”. Clearly he’s been taking his Shadow Chancellor’s advice on temperate language.

Friday 25th September
As if to rub salt into the wound of the Lib Dems, #piggate finally abates just in time for the Green and UKIP conferences to bask in the now available political coverage.
First, it's Nigel Farage, who is now all about the upcoming EU referendum, and is beginning the fight with stirring rhetoric.
"The campaign to leave is a united force. That's why we have two different campaigns currently competing to be the official campaign, and that's also why I'm backing one of them and my only MP is connected to the other one. Unity in action!"
Then it's Natalie Bennett, who is to public speaking what Iain Duncan Smith was to public speaking. She confidently declares that the "world is embracing Green Party politics".
You can see where she's coming from. At the last election, universal embracement of Green politics was demonstrated by just under 4% of the population.
So, less of an embrace, more of a nod to acknowledge it's in the room, but that's progress.
Meanwhile, David Cameron - who spent the day in a cocoon of solitude - emerges and asks: "Is it over yet?"
"No," replies an aide. "Farage called you Piggy in the Middle, and Liz Truss rang up to ask if she could go back to Beijing to open more pork markets. Though I think she was genuinely asking. Difficult to say with her."
"Thank you! That'll do!" says Dave before an awkward silence descends, broken by the impish aide giving into temptation…
"That’ll do pig. That'll do."

Events depicted may differ from actual events. In fact, this is a work of fiction, with some facts. But mostly, it's nonsense. 

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Friday, September 18, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: The First Days of the Jezziah - Part Two

Part One available here.

Thursday 17th September
You might have thought that with things getting really nasty on the Hungarian border, terrorism threats at the highest level since 9/11 and an earthquake in Chile that the sections of the media which are furiously digging for the silver bullet to defeat Corbyn might have given it a break for a day.
Well, no such luck because the revelation has emerged that Jeremy Corbyn once had a fling with none other than Diane Abbott. It was the late 1970s and the pair were wild, free young radicals. Not like now, when they are wild, free old radicals. Mr Corbyn was separated from his first wife, and his tryst with Ms Abbott was the final nail in the coffin of his marriage, as the amorous pair (dubbed the “dreadful duo”) went on a motorbike holiday in exotic East Germany. So, basically all you need to do is imagine The Motorcycle Diaries made by Granada TV.
Whilst this is all passingly interesting, it really is a fluff story. Unless you’re the right wing press, who are saying that this information has come to light after Corbyn failed to intervene in a spat after Monday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Party between Abbott and Jess Phillips MP; the implicit accusation being that Corbyn didn’t stop Abbott because she’s his girlfriend.
Ooooo! Jeremy and Diane, sitting in a tree, planning the overthrow of neoliberalist economics.
The Times has taken it one stage further by publishing a concise history of extra-marital bonking in the Labour party. The paper no doubt published this for your better information: if you’re unsure about the new Labour direction, just be aware that they’re all too over-sexed to know what they’re doing.
Turns out, Labour has been the working-class answer to Made in Chelsea. Everyone flits from one affair to another. Even Michael Foot, who stood up for the ability to love two women at the same time. Maybe this is what Cameron and co. meant when they said that Labour’s a threat to your family’s security. Even now, Jeremy’s planning on popping round to your house, making a delicious Quorn bolognaise, before dimming the lights and asking your wife if she wants to see his unprecedented mandate.
(Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

Friday 18th September
Focus has finally shifted from Jeremy Corbyn, but only by one person to the left.
Last night, Shadow Chancellor McDonnell appeared on Question Time, which was entertaining just for watching Alex Salmond looking visibly upset that he was no longer the most left-wing person on the panel.
McDonnell has attracted a lot of controversy this week. He has a reputation for being a bit of a bruiser, which on first impressions seems odd because he seems mild-mannered and speaks softly, which is the way with the Corbyn front bench.
However, he is on record as saying that if he could travel back in time he would assassinate Margaret Thatcher, which he later apologised for saying it was a joke, and he is on record as saying that IRA militants should be “honoured”.
It was the latter comment which came under the microscope last night, when McDonnell apologised for it and explained why he used it. He said that he was trying to give Republicans a way of laying down arms “with some form of dignity”, and though he regretted his choice of words, he was arguing for the peace process, but if it was worth it if those words saved one life, and because the peace process was saved.
The direct causal link between the demonstrably controversial words of a then Labour bankbencher (who was on the outside looking in) and the continuation of the peace process is about as clear as the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Furthermore, this apologetic mood for a twelve year-old comment seems to have suddenly descended in the last week, for reasons that I am sure are coincidental.
Nevertheless, apologise he did, and whatever one makes of the man and his motivations, it was a compelling human moment on television. Unless you’re The Daily Mail, who described it as “half-hearted”.
For more examples of half-hearted apologies, may I suggest you Google “Daily Mail” and “apologises”.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: First Days of the Jezziah - Part One

Monday 14th September
48 hours after his astonishingly vast victory in the Labour Leadership, Jeremy Corbyn is fast discovering that you campaign in corduroy, but lead in a suit. There isn’t a donkey-jacket in sight.
Whilst 60% of Labour’s electorate backed the Jezziah, 90% of his MPs wanted anyone but, and he is delicately trying to balance his Shadow Cabinet between his supporters, like new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and his opponents, like new Shadow Minister for Going Where the Wind Blows, Andy Burnham. In the course of this, he scored a minor own-goal.
Although Corbyn – who, as the government has told us is a threat to your family’s security, and possibly your pets as well – has produced the first Shadow Cabinet with more women than men (16 to 15), he has failed to give any woman a position in the top three posts, to go along with the all-male leadership elected on Saturday.
When they realised they were copping a lot of flak for this, Team Jez hastily promoted the already-appointed Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle to the honorific position of Shadow First Secretary of State, whose principal (and indeed only) duty is to stand in for Corbyn when he’s not doing PMQs. So, it’s a bit like being Shadow Supply Teacher.
Corbyn – who, as we know, will personally come round and disable your burglar alarm – responded to the criticism by asking “What is a top job?”
The ones at the top, Jeremy. The ones whose purview largely define the rest of policy.

Tuesday 15th September
As another day dawns, one wonders whether, when Jeremy wakes up, the little voice who just wanted to be on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whispers in his head “Do I have to do this again?”
The man is on a rollercoaster. Today he has to go to St Paul’s for a service (“damn – got to wear a tie”), and then onto the TUC Conference in Brighton (“hurrah – my mate Len will be there”), and then back to London to prepare for PMQs (“bloody hell – I’ve got 40,000 questions from supporters to read”). Furthermore, he’s got to do all of this whilst trying to not express a policy on the European Union whatsoever, because that seems like a key divisive issue in his new Cabinet.
Nevertheless, because he doesn’t really talk to the press, the major event is his TUC speech. Members of the right wing press watch attentively, play the Corbyn Bingo Drinking Game. Editor of The Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, gets “Hezbollah”, “Hamas”, “Regicide”, “The Jews”, and “I’m going to come round to your house and threaten your granny’s security” on his card. Having got such a blockbuster selection of phrases, he cannot understand how he is still completely sober when the speech comes to an end.

Wednesday 16th September
Perhaps this morning, Jeremy Corbyn just awoke to a feeling of sheer disbelief. The papers are awash with the unbelievable and wantonly provocative incident where a lifelong republican didn’t sing “God Save the Queen”.
His refusal at yesterday’s service marking the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Britain to sing the national anthem, but rather to stand in respectful silence, has caused a storm, though many seem to not really care, pointing out the hypocrisy charge had he sung it.
Then it got worse. Kate Green (Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities), who said that she would have sung it and would have advised him to sing it, and was touring the news studios endlessly to say so.
At last, Jez responded, but seemed to say little. He didn’t explain why he hadn’t sung, and didn’t clarify whether or not he would at future such events. Not for the first time this week, the Labour press team had to issue a statement explaining what he meant. He will now sing the national anthem, and thus the teacup was eventually cleared of storms.
So, at last, we reached his first PMQs, where he brought the new politics to the despatch box. Not only was he refusing to engage in histrionics, but all of his questions were inspired by members of the public; Marie, Steven, Paul, Claire, Gail, and Angela to be precise. See: even his question selections have female majorities.
Some thought it was gimmicky, others refreshing. Ed Miliband thought it was astonishing that when Jeremy mentioned real people, it seemed rather genuine, and didn’t sound like he was a maniac pursuing “ordinary” people around parks to see if they had a soundbite he could borrow.
David Cameron embraced the calmer tone for what it was: that is, a platform for him to explain how great the government’s work is without any heckling from the other side. To that end he mentioned the words “economy” and “security” like a parrot that’s owned by a salesman of cheap padlocks.
Shortly after the circus was over, events far away finally began to overtake this bizarre week in British politics, as migrants attempted to rush the Hungarian border gate, meeting an aggressive and resolute police response. Next week, Mr Corbyn will have to find some very well informed members of the public to formulate questions on this.

Part Two available to read here.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Labour (And Several Thousand Entryists) Hold Their Breath

Monday 7th September
It’s a case of off the beach and into the fire for David Cameron as Parliament returns from the Summer Recess.
He has to face Parliament and provide a response to the Migrant Crisis which, as everyone in Westminster knows, started last Tuesday 1st September when newspaper photo editors returned from their holidays.
He announces, in line with a recent U-turn, that 20,000 extra Syrian refugees will be settled in Britain before May 2020, whilst talking of the need to use “both head and heart” in this matter. The Government’s heart was taken from the same organ suppliers that the Daily Mail used for its new ticker last week.

Tuesday 8th September
Of course, this week is mainly the hush before the storm that will be Saturday’s result in the Labour Leadership Contest. Those soothsayers in the bookies have Jeremy Corbyn as the odds-on favourite. To that end, last night’s Panorama, was almost exclusively devoted to Red Jez.
There was more dwelling on his worldview and choice of protest companions, leading to more clarion calls from supporters and opponents alike. Chiefly, however, there was a spurious examination of the secret of Corbyn’s apparent success.
The answer might actually lie in the closing part of the film, when he sings Bandiera Rossa and does a little bit of light, avuncular jigging. Now, he doesn’t set the floor alight, nor stir the heart with his soaring baritone, but he looks very… well, genuine.
Let me put it this way: Corbyn does dad-dancing better than Ed Miliband ate a sandwich or Cameron eats a pasty, and he didn’t ask the cameras to watch him do it.

Wednesday 9th September
Today sees the final PMQs before Labour gets a new leader, which means it is Harriet Harman’s last day as Professor McGonagall. This is overshadowed by the Queen, as she becomes the UK’s longest reigning monarch.
This leads to plenty of tributes to HMQ (Gawd bless you ma’am, and all that), which seems a little odd when what they are paying tribute to is her not dying. On this occasion, David Cameron, Harriet Harman and countless others have stood up and said “Well done to Her Majesty on not snuffing it for longer than her great-great grandma could manage”; or describing her as “record-breaking” which, whilst true, makes her sound like some sort of geriatric Usain Bolt.

Thursday 10th September
And the polls are closed. The next Labour leader has been chosen.
But by whom? A very pertinent question in what has been nothing short of a catastrophically mismanaged election. First, there was “entryism”. One mischievous Tory registered four times, once under the name of John Major. Then came attempts to weed out interlopers who “did not share Labour values”, which led to leading trade unionist Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commerical Services Union, being denied a vote.
Yesterday, a helpline designed to assist people in casting their vote was shut 24-hours before the polls were and, last of all, it appears that thousands haven’t received their ballots.
All of this is the last echo of Ed Miliband’s glorious reign. He set the rules for this campaign, and in doing so set the scene for the most compelling farce since Noises Off. It’s hard to imagine even UKIP achieving these levels of incompetence, though to be fair that is partly because they would skip the leadership election and just ask Nigel back.

Friday 11th September
Meanwhile, in the working world, a fresh sexism row is brewing, bringing back memories of the row which engulfed Professor Tim Hunt. You know, the older man who made an inappropriate joke which, it later transpired, might have been taken wildly out of context, but a whole bunch of people on Twitter ruined his life anyway. Such larks.
Well, this time an older male lawyer has made an inappropriate comment to a young female lawyer on LinkedIn, describing her picture as “stunning”, which we can all agree is just irredeemably awful.
Yes, he shouldn’t have made that comment. It is just not professional, but it’s hardly an assault on another human being. It was misjudged, but now his life is being torn apart. This morning, a report in The Times is quoting a comment he made under his daughter’s Facebook photo where he described her as “hot”, which is a little odd but almost certainly harmless in the context. But no: the undeniable suggestion is that he is an incestuous paedophile.
You see, in the digital age, there’s no evidence if there’s no innuendo, and there’s no justice unless it’s Twitter-lynch-mob justice.

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