Want a picture of hell? Try watching squabbling Tories while the world burns.

The curtains are drawn while wind with the heat of a hairdryer rattles the open doors and windows. The TV news helicopter floats over a darkened, smoking London; reporters stand in cracked and parched reservoirs and southern Europe tries to stem raging forest fires. We interrupt this programme to bring you the latest instalment in the sixth-form popularity pageant that is the Tory leadership contest.

As I write, it looks like Sunak will face off against Liz Truss. The latter, apparently, is more likely to ring the chimes of the only electorate that now counts in this grotesque farce – Tory party members. It is this select, microscopic constituency who will be charged with electing the next Prime Minister.

The most optimistic estimates suggest that there are some 200,000 such members: more realistic assessments put it at around 160,000. So, at best, around 0.02% of the UK’s adult population will decide which of this crew of fidgety wannabees will be charged putting out the fires. One third of this membership lives in the south-east, more than two thirds of them are male and a generous estimate puts the average age at around 60. Unlike the diverse nature of the candidates, they are overwhelmingly white.

There is a lazy and dangerous trope among those millions of people justifiably disillusioned with mainstream politics:  they’re all the same anyway and none of it makes any difference. Whether it’s Truss, Sunak, Morduant or Dylan the dog, they’ll just look after the interests of their own while paying lip-service to half-baked notions of levelling up. Or down. Or levelling something somewhere. Such dismissiveness opens the door to the Johnsons, Trumps, Modis and Bolsonaros: yeah, they’ve got faults, but they get it done and they can even be a bit of a laugh. But while the ice caps melt and the crops fail, we’ve never been in greater need of serious, well informed and selfless leadership.

First, an admission. I’ve only tolerated clips from the ‘debates’. A lifetime of preparing nervous teenagers has left me with no further appetite for watching wooden parroting of pre-prepared, carefully coached podium stumblings. This is acutely so when, apparently, the only game in town seems to be how to convince the 160k that whatever tax they still pay won’t be too burdensome. I won’t insult you by pretending that I’m surprised by the complete absence of any imagination or inspiration in anything else they have to say.

Underpinning the thin nonsense from the shaking candidates is an unchallenged truth: we must have economic growth. Without such growth, the public services on which we all rely will wither even more alarmingly than they do at present. The ‘thinking’ behind this is that we can cut taxes and still have flourishing public services because with a strong economy we can use private investment to make those services work. And work even better than they do under the stewardship of those lazy, flabby public bodies.  

The catalogue of mismanagement from privatised prison security to the flagrant pollution of rivers by profiteering water companies to the child-unfriendly exam factories of multi-academy trusts – and a thousand points in between – is as long as it is dispiriting. The idea that private does it sooo much better – a notion espoused just as enthusiastically by Labour – has now held sway for decades. Propped up by the dogma of delivery – a particular Truss favourite – we are asked to disbelieve our own experience and accept that this is the only workable way of organising the services one might expect from a highly developed economy in the third decade of the twenty-first century.  

As news outlets entered the arms’ race of where the highest temperature had been recorded, only occasional bulletins slipped in any brief discussion of global warming – the phrase now airbrushed from political discourse in favour of the tamer, less aggressive ‘climate change.’  Like I say, I can’t claim to have watched every gruelling syllable, but reports suggest that all candidates expressed commitment to Cop 26 and recycling their own cardboard while, in the case of Truss, looking the scientific evidence square in the face and deciding that fracking was just fine. We need fuel resources. For economic growth.

And there’s the rub. While any half-sensible parent’s or grandparent’s nightmares are haunted by the irreversible mess we’re leaving behind, the best the political class can come up with is more of the same but with another coloured bin. Growth that is dependent on fossil fuels will burn us all; energy supplies buffeted by profiteering corporations will leave us all in the dark; planning and building permission granted through the same old networks will build over every last park and playing field.

Nobody in their right mind would expect a high Tory looking for the approval of middle Englanders to even whisper the heresy of a challenge to the current model of economic growth. The last person on the big political stage to do so was some bumbling old allotment owner and even his own party doesn’t want him and his crazy ideas any more.

Whoever the next comfortable, smug inhabitant of No. 10 turns out to be, s/he probably won’t be there for long. Their period of tenure will be marked by the same old lurch from disaster to catastrophe, punctuated by systemic incompetence. In the meantime, activists and those proposing that we need system change as a necessary prerequisite of climate change are the voices we should be heeding – while adding our own to their chorus. If we’re waiting for Sunak, Truss or Starmer for the big ideas, hell will have become fresher than East Anglia.

jonberrywriter.co.uk

Two new books in September (both very different from each other!)

Brutish Necessity tells the story of the last man hanged in Birmingham in 1962 – a 20-year-old Windrush immigrant

An Armchair Fan’s Guide to the Qatar World Cup deals with everything from corruption, to labour abuses, to the price of a pint and who’s going to win. (I made that last bit up)

To the 211 Tory Cowards – what do you think you stand for?

Imagine, if you can, being the Tory MP for Cosytown in Midshire. Or even one of the new breed from Roughness in Norderland. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt too. It’s possible that you are not seeking self-aggrandisement, and neither are you sucking up the daily comforts of subsidised dining rooms and first-class travel. Let’s just concede that you’ve come into public life to improve the lot of other people. It’s not such an outlandish proposition: I’ve met such dedicated public servants from the Conservative Party at local and, yes, parliamentary level. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re one of the good guys.

The embarrassment must be all consuming. You have made a conscious decision as an independent adult to identify yourself with a political party that proudly stands for individual responsibility and the upholding of traditional values. Chief among these is respect for the law and for the great institutions of the State: parliament, the judiciary and the monarchy.

These must have been a difficult few years for you. One of the first acts of the newly installed Prime Minister was to advise Her Majesty that it was lawful for him to suspend (prorogue) parliament so that he could get Brexit done without the bother of scrutiny or justification. The be-spidered figure of Baroness Hale condemned such illegality, but impatient disregard for the rules is a hallmark of the Prime Minister. As one of his teachers observed of him some 40 years ago, ‘he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.’ I think we’re all aware of that now, aren’t we?

It can’t have been easy for you to have watched as both sovereign and her parliament were traduced in this way. As for the courts, perhaps you were on the side of the Home Secretary who was keen to upbraid ‘lefty lawyers’ who would, peskily, insist on protecting people’s human rights. Maybe you cheered as the Daily Mail branded three high court judges as ‘enemies of the people’ for upholding the law. It’s possible that you applauded the leader of the Commons – famous for his languid lounging on the parliamentary benches – when he proposed to reduce the power and scope of such judges.

Frankly, I think that’s unlikely. The Law Society estimates that more than one in ten MPs has professional legal experience, so there must be some residual respect among you for the integrity of legal processes. Besides, one can only imagine that your local association is propped up by any number of sage magistrates and worthy Justices of the Peace. All the same, I think we’re all aware that some of your number want to ‘move on’ from what you consider to be excusable misdemeanours for which fulsome and sincere apologies have been issued. I’m not of your number, of course, but for the pursuance of the argument, we’ll leave the fixed penalty notice to one side for the moment.

I’ll be brutally honest with you – and possibly unfairly so. I’m going to guess that the good burghers of Cosytown and Roughness don’t have Northern Ireland at the top of their agendas and, to be candid, might be slightly bored and baffled by it all. What’s that you say? You feel much the same? No need to be embarrassed: addressing such confusion is the precise purpose of the unflinching law. The Prime Minister unequivocally assured you that there would be no border in the Irish sea. That turned out to be an untruth. But never mind. The trade protocols were only advisory, weren’t they? Some European law or other. You can just break that and make up a law of your own. Can’t you? And, what’s more, blame the other chap for insisting on sticking to the terms of the agreement that you’ve already willingly signed. What a wheeze, eh?

Not comfortable with that? I’m afraid there’s even more bothersome small-print stuff. I’m not sure if the name of Sir Alex Allan means anything to you, but he resigned from his position in November 2020. He was your government’s adviser on ethics – I’ll leave aside any jibes about thankless tasks. His was replaced by Lord Geidt who now, like Allan, believes his position to be increasingly untenable. Both men have expressed concern about the non-application of the ministerial code which requires the resignation of those who breach it. This now includes the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Neither has, of course, resigned and both have been happy to endorse changes to the code. These mean that only intentional misdemeanours need to be punished. Unintentional gaffes like lying to colleagues or bullying them or having a party or protecting your hooky mates, can be written off as careless and unfortunate casualties of conduct in high office.

I’m probably not telling you much that you don’t know. I have a visceral dislike of your party and what it stands for but do have a grudging respect for some its members who have shown fortitude, integrity and occasional compassion. Such individuals present a telling contrast to the fawning, mendacious placeholders who belittle themselves by defending the utterly indefensible. ‘There is no alternative,’ your departed goddess once suggested. If that really is the best argument you can come up with, it’s time for 211 of you to take stock of what you stand for and have a very stern word with yourselves.

www.jonberrywriter.co.uk

Patel’s Rwanda scheme -a cheap, nasty, inhumane stunt. No surprise there, then.

Wearing tourist advice on its sleeve. One of Arsenal’s many saleable kits.

There’s always football.

Saturday at the drop-in for refugees in our area. There are people from all round the world here, drinking tea and grabbing what solace they can from some basic social contact. Their collective memory will be more hellish than anything Bosch or Goya could have conjured.

There is now a grotesque hierarchy, framed by the actions of our politicians, whereby we have good refugees, just-about-OK refugees and downright bad refugees. I find myself chatting to one of the latter. He is typical of many at the drop-in.

He’s in the ‘bad’ category for a number of reasons. He hasn’t escaped the terrors of Ukraine, which is where the good refugees have come from. Neither has he managed to beat the pampered pets to a place on a plane from Kabul to be one of the OK ones who will, eventually, be granted leave to remain. Nope. He’s a bad ‘un. Young, Black, male and single.

We stumble along in a hotch-potch of languages until I chance my conversational trump card. Yes, he loves football and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is his favourite player. I nod approvingly and am happy to tell him that today he can watch live football, for free, at his accommodation. The FA Cup Final. He has two questions. Am I sure it’s for free? No subscription channel? I reassure him. And who’s playing? Chelsea and Liverpool. He reels off the names of players on both sides. Elite football is truly an international language.

I’m glad Arsenal aren’t involved. For once, this isn’t about the juvenile footballing prejudices that dog my life and which I should have outgrown decades ago. I’d just spent time with this young man giving him information and resources that I hope he never has to use. As a recent arrival in the UK, he is at risk of being identified as someone vulnerable to the Patel Rwanda pantomime. I didn’t want to encourage him to watch a game with players proudly displaying an encouragement to ‘Visit Rwanda’ on their shirts and to see that message, literally, up in lights around the stadium.

Arsenal’s sponsorship deal with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), initiated in 2018, is said to be worth £10 million a year, which, in footballing terms, is Aldi-level purchasing power. Patel’s initial deal with Rwanda is set at around £120 million for an undisclosed number of refugees, which might, at least, buy a superstar and a half. The RDB also has a similar sponsorship deal with French champions, Paris St Germain. Since Patel’s announcement on 14 April, neither club has made any comment about its connection to the RDB. Football really doesn’t give a monkey’s about where the money comes from.

For further proof, go to Newcastle United, recently acquired by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Not the Saudi government, you understand – the Investment Fund. The Fund Chaired by the Saudi Crown Prince. So it’s not owned by the execution-happy Saudi government at all. And the Fund has promised, promised, honestly promised the Premier League that the Saudi state won’t control the club. All of which seems slightly at odds with its recent decision to adopt the Saudi national team’s colours on its new kit.  

Not, of course, that any of this is directly going to worry my young man for the foreseeable future. Viewing pay-wall football, much less going to see his heroes in the flesh, is way beyond his ambit. What awaits him are weeks, probably months, of boredom, inactivity and occasional brushes with opaque and harassed bureaucracy. He’s young and fit and wants to work and study. If he chooses to walk around the local area, he’ll see sign after sign in local businesses looking for staff. In the drop-in around him there are engineers, IT technicians, musicians, mechanics and even, if you please, a tree-surgeon. And the best that one of the nation’s most senior officers of state can do is to come up with some cheapskate, tawdry – and probably illegal – headline-grabber to pack people off to Rwanda.

I chance a question with my companion. Will people still come on boats? Trains and lorries? Of course, he tells me. In the UK there will be opportunities and they can have hope. Why wouldn’t they try to get to such a wonderful place? You’ve got to love his faith in this idealised vision.

This is a government that will do deals to offload refugees to one of the world’s poorest countries, whose human-rights’ record it has already condemned. It will sell arms to one of the one of the globe’s chief executioners for use on another of the world’s poorest nations. Under the monstrous pretext of attacking people-smugglers, it will prosecute their victims. It will look for cheap stunts at the expense of real people with talent, ability and dreams.

I’m not sure he’ll be there next week to discuss the game. A blunt system often shifts people around at very short notice. If he’s there, we’ll try to find something to chat about and keep hoping he won’t turn out to be a poster-boy for Patel’s wretched, vile scheme.

www.jonberrywriter.co.uk

Football really doesn’t give a monkey’s about where the money comes from………

My new book, An Armchair Fan’s Guide to the Qatar World Cup, available for pre-order, will be out in September.

If your tastes are more overtly political, you may prefer Brutish Necessity, out at the same time. You can look inside on Amazon here.

Want to send a message to the world? Defend democracy at home.

The map’s a birthday present. It now has pride of place in the hallway and I’m still enjoying the novelty of pausing as I pass to test my knowledge – and to experience the unwelcome reminder of my ignorance and growing lack of recall.

Scale and size are always a surprise, even given the vagaries of cartographic convention. One of these dictates that maps such as mine, produced in Europe, always put that continent at the centre of the world, meaning that our gaze is initially drawn to that territory. It’s small when looked at globally.

Without being picky, it’s fair to say that most countries in the corner that is Europe are functioning democracies – but only just. Gerrymandering, state control of media and, alarmingly, a growing tendency for populations to shun electoral processes that neither speak to them nor provide the sort of political choices they want, have combined to make such democracy a shaky business. From Hungary to Italy, from France to Poland and beyond, elections only just scrape above the line when it comes to providing free, unfettered, genuine choice.

Casting about the rest of the map looking for secure democracies is a challenge. When you find them, crowding in on those enclaves are the dominions of the tough guys; the Xi Jinpings, Putins, Modis, Bolsonaros and now, waiting in the wings, horror of horrors, the Trumps. Jowly, right-wing populism isn’t short of global ambassadors.

All of which brings us, inevitably, to partygate.

From the risible Rees-Mogg to whichever drivelling time-server is sent to face today’s cameras, we hear the same mantra: time to move on, bigger fish to fry, now’s not the time. We have a war-hero in our midst, don’t you know? This is no time to distract him from fulfilling the great office of state. Putin wants nothing more than having us squabble over our own entrails.

Of all these frail arguments, the notion that the exercising of democratic processes, even at times of great strife, is something that should be abandoned because it diminishes our ability to oppose a monstrous dictator, is the most absurd. Here, from a whole raft of arguments, are just three to challenge such claptrap.

First, the replacement of key figures during times of war and conflict is a regular occurrence. The Prime Minister, who clumsily attempts to impress with his scattered learning, purports to look to Churchill as a role model. So he should know that his hero replaced Chamberlain in 1940 when this country was under real and direct threat. When Thatcher tearfully left office in 1990, British troops were in action in Kuwait.

Second, much as he’d like to be, Boris Johnson is not a president. When he offers aid and succour to Ukraine, its leaders and its people, he is doing so as the representative of the government. He may be that government’s mouthpiece and envoy, but he is its servant, not its master. The very idea that such support is reliant on his diktat or force of personality is a preposterous myth – albeit one that he is happy to perpetuate.

Finally, when it comes to what Putin may be thinking – something that has been exercising the pop psychologists (to no good effect) for some time – how on earth can that be a sensible consideration? As far as we can tell, he considers the west and its ways decadent and feeble. If a strong leader can’t play fast and loose with his own laws, if he can’t pull the wool over the eyes of his own parliament, police and judiciary, if he can’t discredit a limp-wristed free media then, really, what sort of leader is he anyway? If we’re talking about sending messages, then one which explains that a mature democracy is untiring in its pursuit of malfeasance, whatever the consequences, seems to be one that we need to get behind now more than ever.

Naively or not, many of us have lived our entire lives unthinkingly accepting that democracy, particularly in our little corner of the globe, was the unchallenged and unchallengeable way of conducting affairs. We awake today to the news that the world’s richest man will now be in control of the world’s largest social media platform. Preening himself behind homilies about free speech, what Musk has really bought is his own freedom to exercise enormous power, devoid of responsibility to anything other than his personal advancement. Somewhere on a Florida golf course, one plump old boy will be looking on with greedy interest. As might be another in a bizarrely decorated flat in SW1A.

However long the cake was in the box, whoever poured the drinks and for whom, whoever couldn’t distinguish between a party and a meeting, it looks like the lawbreakers broke their own rules. In doing so they took the public for fools and that same public now looks to the institutions of a democratic state to address wrongdoing and punish the culprits. Doing so may not send a shiver down Putin’s spine, but it keeps the democratic lights on in one small part on my wall map.  

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jonberrywriter.co.uk

An Armchair Fan’s Guide to the Qatar World Cup – out in August

Brutish Necessity – the social history behind the execution of a Windrush immigrant – out in September

There are monsters abroad – and some of our own to fight at home.

Picture by Li-An Lim

What to do about all this misery?

The utter barbarity of Russia’s invasion. Rape and hunger as weapons of war in Europe once again. Dictators and brutes cementing their rule across continents from Orban to Mohdi. Le Pen still looking to make fascism respectable. Poland welcoming white refugees while leaving those with darker skins to freeze on the Belorussian border. In the third decade of the 21st century, in one of the world’s largest economies, working people choosing between heating and eating. And the planet. The planet where, reliable sources inform us, we have now have months, not years, to put things right.

Easy to shrug, however reluctantly, and hope that somehow, just somehow things will take a turn for the better. Look to our loved ones, exercise, nature, music and Netflix for succour. It’s an understandable but fatal strategy. It’s also what our own political leaders want us to do.

 They’ll take silence for consent. And while we’re being quiet, villains will ride roughshod over our lives, our rights and our planet. And, for the avoidance of doubt, we’re talking about our own backyard here – not the darkening badlands across the Channel.

When Peter Hebblethwaite brazenly explained to MPs that he knew he was acting illegally by summarily sacking 800 P&O workers, he provided a perfectly reasonable explanation. I didn’t consult with these workers as demanded by the law, because I knew they wouldn’t agree with me. So, you see, that seemed an entirely good reason for breaking a law I didn’t care for.

I won’t insult your intelligence by joining every last dot. When Jacob Rees-Mogg tries to dismiss enduring concerns about governmental law-flouting as ‘fluff’, that tells us enough. Law- breaking is the new rock and roll as far as Johnson’s government is concerned. From wallpaper to Brexit to the-bypassing of parliament to fixing contracts for his shag-buddy to sticking two-fingers up at the British public and all points in between. It’s what he does. And it’s Johnson’s gang which sets the tone for the likes of Hebblethwaite.

As for those he’s chosen to steer the ship of state, how to do full justice to their dishonourable ineptitude? Patel and her spiteful Nationality and Borders Bill which erects barrier after unnecessary barrier against those wishing to do no more than come to fill the thousands of jobs, where vacancies currently stifle public service and private industry. Or her Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill, designed to quell protest and public opposition. Orban, maybe even Putin, would be nodding along approvingly at that one.

Then there’s Sunak. The man charged with resetting the economy as people spend fevered nights with crazy numbers churning through their half-sleep. With energy companies pocketing billions, his best shot is a measly cut – as yet imperceptible in its implementation – for those people who have a car. Wages plummet, prices rise and services wither, so let’s hit the people who can really solve the problem. That’s them. The poor ones. This Chancellor business is money for old rope.

Liz Truss sitting on a tank; Nadine Dorries selling off Channel 4 and getting an old mate to oversee it; Nadhim Zadawi forcing more schools into private hands; a Prime Minister who supports conversion therapy one minute and changes his mind the next; Alok Sharma telling us that we’ve got this when it comes to saving the earth. We are presided over by an absolute confederacy of incompetent dunces.

A few days after the Russian invasion, a friend who has only a passing interest in the news told me of his dismay and incomprehension. What he really wanted to know was why would the Russian people put up with what was being done in their name. Would there be protests in the street? Would Putin’s advisers take him to one side and ask him what the bloody hell he was playing at?

There followed a conversation about the early, systematic and sometimes brutal quashing of dissent. About how parts of the population probably knew only too well that they were being lied to but had become either too apathetic or scared to do anything about it. About how ideas about national pride and exceptionalism could be made to sound very attractive in hard times.  About how the energy-sapping business of getting through life left people with little time or inclination to take notice of events in the public and political sphere.

Which is why, with war on our doorstep and villains preening themselves around the world, our job is protect every civil liberty, call out every injustice and identify every dishonest public act here at home. When young people walk out of school because they don’t want a future of burning or drowning, we need to support them, not punish them. That same unstinting support needs to be given to those striking for their jobs and to those who will be refusing to pay unpayable bills. When heads of state tell us lies, they shouldn’t be tolerated. That’s what we’d like to see over in foreigner-land, so let’s not settle for less here.

Cliché or not, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The moment we allow lies, deception and inequality to become normalised, we become lazily complicit in what monsters do in our name. Most of us can’t take up arms or provide meaningful protest against the world’s Putins, but we can certainly make sure our homegrown rogues aren’t allowed to get away with murder.  

www.jonberrywriter.co.uk

Two new books in 2022

June: The Armchair Fan’s Guide to the Qatar World Cup tells the story of how football sold its soul and ended up in the desert

September: Brutish Necessity tells the forgotten story of Oswald Grey. A Windrush immigrant and the last man hanged in Birmingham in 1962

War is hell – but it’s no free pass for Johnson’s Cabinet

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is despicable and abhorrent. This isn’t news, but it’s become necessary to say so before criticising western governments in order to deflect accusations of being apologists for Russia’s unconscionable actions. But this appalling war mustn’t be used as cover for the flannel, bluster and hypocrisy of Johnson’s cabinet – and, in particular, of three women in his inner circle.

When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, there was a short-lived argument among some left-leaning people that the election of a woman to high office represented social advance. By the time she had sold off council houses, shredded public services and manufactured a senseless war, this position had lost all credibility. Gender was certainly not a determinant of compassion or empathy. Her successors in the Cabinet room are current living proof.

 It is highly likely that they revere Thatcher, although, goodness knows, in terms of intellect they’re not in the same circus. In place of political intelligence, we have over-confident, bragging trash-talk. Style (of a sort) over substance doesn’t even begin to cover it. Tough chat, threats and sneers are the order of the day – along with the hope that the memories of those they’re meant to represent are as hazy as their own. Chief cheerleader of this vile band is the Home Secretary.

We are faced with a refugee crisis. People who, just a short time ago, were packing the kids off to school, going to work and coming back to lounge on the sofa to watch telly, are now homeless, frightened and dispossessed. Fortunately, we know how to deal with such people. Our tried and tested method is to keep them waiting in miserable conditions in Calais for as long as possible before criminalising them and forcing them into the hands of unscrupulous people-traffickers. We’re not reminded that what they’d really like is to go home. Back to school, work and tea and telly. They’re being pushed, not pulled.

Could this be the time for Patel and her cronies to put away the talk of hostile environments? Might it be the point at which we admit workers, potential taxpayers and contributors to pension funds to a country undergoing a labour shortage? Time to reassess our attitudes now that the refugees aren’t all brownish looking? No. I’m not holding my breath either.

At the same top table as Patel sits Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary. Regular readers of this blog will know that its usual style is an attempt to deflate the great and the good with humour and pointed mockery. We’re way past any such gentleness with someone charged with one of the great offices of state who jabbers first and retracts later and whose appearances in the international arena are enactments of fever dreams of being thrust unrehearsed onto the stage of the school play.

 In recent days, a quotation from US Civil War soldier, William Tecumseh Sherman, has been doing the social media rounds: ‘it is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.’ The bellicose posturing of a UK no longer part of an official united Europe looks more embarrassingly out of place with every passing day. And, yes, before you point it out, Putin hasn’t been in the horror of the fog of hellish war either.

The final member of this unholy trinity is culture secretary, Nadine Dorries. If the penny might just drop into Patel’s consciousness when it comes to refugees, it seems it could already have done so when it comes to Dorries and the BBC. Her distrust for this organisation is well documented and her determination to diminish its part on the public stage is obvious.  But while announcing her determination to send Russia to a cultural Siberia (did she employ a speechwriter for that?) she praised the corporation for its unbiased and brave reporting of the war. We can only hope that even she was capable of understanding that Disney or, heaven help us, GB News, wouldn’t quite be up to the job. Her track record on consistency or self-awareness doesn’t prompt great optimism.

It is entirely proper that our main focus should be on supporting those affected by this disaster and, as ever, millions of British people, miserable in our impotence to do anything else, have donated with great generosity. But this doesn’t give a free pass to the tried-and-tested incompetents whose inability to deal with crisis has been so chillingly demonstrated in the past two years. This isn’t whataboutery. This is taking the opportunity to point out the dangerous folly of allowing this government’s rhetoric about policy  – domestic or international – to go unchallenged. Careless talk, as we were told during another war, costs lives. A healthy democracy challenges those responsible for it.

As a footnote, it’s an accepted fact that if you write into the public domain, you’re sticking your chin out. On this occasion, I’m conscious that I have made women the principal focus of my opprobrium. Lest this leave me open to accusations of sexism, I’ll balance it by finishing with the following observation.

Last week, Boris Johnson’s government conferred a knighthood on Gavin Williamson. The spirit of the Bullingdon, the freemasons, good old boys and the golf club live on in public life.  These are the  sort of people who are in charge. It’s not treachery to call them out in times of war – it’s duty.   

jonberrywriter.co.uk

International crisis? Thank goodness we have the best people at the helm

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is snow-soldiers.jpg

In one respect, Ben Wallace can count himself an honourable exception to many of his colleagues and predecessors. As Secretary of State for Defence he does, at least, have some knowledge about armed service. He may not have been in the thick of firestorms and the fog of war, but he served a term in Northern Ireland where, from time to time, people were definitely attempting to kill him and his colleagues. This marks him out from some of the windbags around him, who loll in the mother of parliaments and for whom the term ‘armchair general’ is a perfect fit.

None of this is an excuse for his rather odd outburst this weekend. One of the unwritten rules of vigorous political disagreement is that the moment you invoke Hitler and the Nazis, your argument is pretty well done for. Such trite comparisons are almost always wildly inaccurate, entirely inappropriate and, usually, hurtfully insulting to genuine victims of oppression and tyranny. So when ex-soldier Ben told The Times today that there was ‘a whiff of Munich in the air’ as various governments persisted with diplomatic attempts to stem Russian aggression in Ukraine, alarm bells should start ringing.

Yes, I know. I’m a commie appeaser or a Soviet apologist or white-feathered coward – take your pick. Just for the record, none of these statements is true, but don’t let that get in the way of any unfounded prejudice. Putin is a vicious, vindictive piece of work, beset by complete political dysfunction in his own country, desperate to deflect attention away from his failing state. None of which makes military intervention on the part of NATO, inevitably involving UK troops, the proper response. Recent history tells a shocking story about such ‘defensive’ interventions, most recently in the living hells that are Afghanistan and Libya. Diplomacy and negotiation might not make for vainglorious headlines, but disastrous invasions – about which Putin and his advisors must be all too painfully aware – have a vile track record of leaving failed states along with dead soldiers and civilians aplenty behind them.

And, yes, there is a deep-seated flaw in putting our faith in diplomacy. It comes in the form of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a woman who presents an air of permanent surprise mixed with preening self-satisfaction at having found herself holding one the great offices of State. She could never have looked more uncomfortable than during her excruciating press conference with grizzled veteran Sergei Lavrov last week. Nervous Liz delivered her statement with all the uncertainty of a gawky sixth-former, dragged into the debating competition at the last minute, but only on the condition that someone else would write down exactly what she had to say.

Truss has developed a decent line in absurd tweets and daft throwaway lines from everything to cheese, to hedgehogs to microwaves, all of which make for great clips on current-affairs satire shows – although she needn’t worry too much about too many more of these hitting the airwaves once her fellow intellectual heavyweight, Nadine Dorries, has her way. There is, of course, plenty of precedent for this reliance on a jolly soundbite from one of her recent predecessors at the Foreign Office. When Boris Johnson held that esteemed office, Downing Street officials were briefed to withhold information from him on the grounds of his being a potential security risk. Leopards and spots and all that.

Current reports suggest that the citizens of Kyiv are going about their business in the full understanding that invasion is a possibility. They think such an incursion unlikely but understand it is a possibility. Their recent history bears the scars of repression and violence: they know what war does. So do the Tories. It can make them popular. In 1982, Thatcher, along with Galtieri in Argentina, was prepared to send hundreds of working-class boys to horrible deaths in water and fire for her own political gain. Flag waving and the invoking of wartime spirit and bravery that existed on the fringes of their childhood or, more likely, in their enflamed imagination, proved a perfect diversion from the inequality, lack of opportunity and rampant inflation that was afflicting those who had voted for her. It won’t have gone unnoticed by the partygoers.

These are troubled and anxious times when we should look to people of strength, principle and clarity of mind to set things right. With every fawning, lickspittle placeholder who appears on our screens, refusing to answer straight questions and treating us like idiots, our collective faith in them dwindles. Trust such people to navigate between war and peace? No answer required.

jonberrywriter.co.uk

There’s a party going on – the guests are villains and they’re out to pull the wool over your eyes.

Here is the bald truth – none of which is news. During the various lockdowns, people working in Downing Street broke the rules and no sensible person believes that the Prime Minister didn’t see what was going on. He really should have done something about it, but, in actual fact, he just rolled up his sleeves and joined in the fun. The question is ……who gives a monkey’s? Or an animal sanctuary cat’s or dog’s? Hasn’t this now just become so much gas and air? A distraction from the bigger issues of the day?

In a strange kind of way, it’s fair to say that distraction is, indeed, taking place. These outrageous tales of inexcusable, insensitive misconduct, taking place in the offices of state that made the rules, have hoovered up airtime to the exclusion of swathes of important business. Our collective disgust has travelled through stages of shock and indignation; maybe it’s time for weary acceptance.  Perhaps this storm of allegations will eventually make us dull and anaesthetised when it comes to this flagrant, arrogant disregard of the rules made for the little people.

The blank-eyed Tory loyalists who are having 50p each-way on whether Johnson stays or goes, are hoping this will be the case. They take to the airwaves to recite the playlist: vaccinations, furlough, employment figures – with the background muzak of migrants and the BBC to add some atmospherics. Don’t be distracted, they tell us. The barbarians are at the gates of Europe, we’ve got inflation to tackle and you’ve got a gas bill to pay. All this talk of cake and cheese and wine is distracting us – and you – from the job in hand.

On the one hand, we can only take delight in the stubbornness of public opinion. All polls show Johnson’s approval ratings bumping along the bottom, with the memes and gifs proliferating on even the most apolitical of WhatsApp groups – ‘I thought it was a work do’ enjoys particular popularity. On the other, for all the jeopardy that the Prime Minister and his party are enduring, there remains the possibility that they could be picking the positives out of a grim situation. Distraction need not all be about booze-runs to Tescos or a knees-up before a royal funeral.

While we’re all spluttering and fuming – and, for the avoidance of any doubt, quite rightly so, in my opinion – we are, indeed, getting distracted from important stuff. The organisation, Transparency International, found that between February and November 2020, there were at least 73 contracts for the provision of PPE, worth over £3.7 billion, that merited further investigation. Of these, at least 24, worth £1.6 billion, went to ‘known political connections of the party in government in Westminster.’  It’d be a shame if we allowed ourselves to be distracted from that. Or Dido Harding’s eye-watering incompetence; or Matt Handscock (yes, I know, cheap but funny) sorting a contract for his mate in the pub; or Michael Gove sending a £50 million deal to his old mate and purveyor of beauty products, David Meller.

With 2,260 deaths per million people, the UK’s record is worse than all neighbouring countries with the exception of Italy and Belgium, where numbers are similar. In terms of economic recovery, it fares considerably worse than the US, France and Germany at 2.1% below its pre-Covid level. The ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ strategy for dealing with issues around the Irish border have, astonishingly, not gone away and the number of children living below the poverty line has now reached a staggering 31%. We’ve been asked to protect the NHS as an article of faith by all and sundry since March 2020, but you’ll have to excuse me if I point out that I was under the impression that it was the job of government to do so. As I write, the one plan, as clumsy as it was, to address the screaming need in social care, looks like being ditched by Tories, who have suddenly remembered that they are, after all, the party of low taxation. I reckon they’re only too happy for us to be distracted from all of this.

And we ought to just get one thing straight. None of this, from ‘work meetings’ to sleaze to a flagrant disregard for the weakest and most vulnerable, is aberrant behaviour from the Tories. It’s not a glitch; it’s not excusable misjudgement prompted by an unprecedented pandemic; it’s not even the odd moment of weakness. It’s what they do: it’s who they are. What’s more, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of it – they’ve been in office for nearly twelve years.   

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve checked periodically to see if the almost mythical Sue Gray Report has been released. I’m tempted to say that, whatever the outcome, it might be best not to be distracted. Whether cake was consumed, canapes scoffed or prosecco swilled, there are still questions aplenty to be addressed. Let’s not lose sight of them.

There’s nothing sensible about excusing brutes and villains

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. (Picure:BBC)

The reformer and writer, Thomas Paine, penned the words below this image in 1775. The title of the work was Common Sense and Paine was challenging the notion that there was any such thing.

On a daily basis, most of us would have trouble agreeing with him. Parents and teachers frequently bemoan the lack of it when berating the wayward looniness of daft teenagers. We invoke it tuttingly with strangers when witnessing eccentric or disturbing behaviour in public. We are asked to use it to control the pandemic by politicians, who flatter us by assuring us of their confidence in our ability to recognise and employ it. Plain old common sense.   

Or maybe lazy old common sense? Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about stuff, considered the notion to be nothing more than ‘the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.’ The twentieth century French philosopher, Michel Foucault, judged the triumph of ruling elites to be the way in which they convinced populations that their power was part of the natural order of things – ‘common sense’. Goodness knows what either of these two towering intellects would make of something called …..and I promise I’m not making this up….the relatively newly formed clique of MPs who dub themselves The Common Sense Group. Get yourself a cup of tea, google them and cheer yourself up.

The group’s chairman (no gender neutrality here, thank you very much) is the Right Honourable Sir John Hayes CBE MP. He’s had a busy old week. The acquittal of the four people accused of criminal damage for destroying and dunking the statue of the Bristol slaver, Edward Colston, is precisely the sort of episode he and his buddies live for. He had two objections. First, the trial should never have been held in Bristol (er, where the statue was?) because of ‘the rhetoric surrounding the trial.’ Second, the jury was just too dim to understand what was going on. They were, according to Sir John, ‘certainly devoid of the understanding of the definition of criminal damage.’ Who could he be talking about? Ordinary members of the British public who ingest common sense with their mothers’ milk?

The guiding principles of The Common Sense Group, set out on the title page of their website (and adorned by a photograph of good Sir John that can’t possibly have been the best from the photo-shoot) boldly claim to address the problems created by ‘subversives fuelled by ignorance and an arrogant determination to erase the past and dictate the future.’ It’s worth re-reading that comment and thinking carefully about erasing pasts and dictating futures.  The topplers of Colston the human-trafficker weren’t erasing the past – they were doing the exact opposite. They were exposing it in all the vile, gory detail that has been dressed up and excused for centuries as acts of benevolence and public enterprise.

For brave Sir John and his stout band of British yeomen, the Colston Four and all those who joined with them on that joyful day, represent a world turned inside out. ‘What society have we become when wanton vandalism is excused under an umbrella of ‘woke’ as the right thing to do?’ squeaked the Daily Express, next to a picture of Miley Cyrus’s bottom, just to add extra gravitas to its concerns. Well, that’s a pretty easy one.

It’s the sort of world where people going about their daily business do not have to be affronted by a reverential tribute to someone whose wealth was acquired from the infliction of unthinkable brutality on his fellow human beings. It’s the sort of world where people feel able to challenge feeble moral equivalence that asks us to balance such despicable behaviour against some compensatory acts of charity. It’s the sort of world where the actions of those who are prepared to speak out about injustice will force those in authority to think twice about who they choose to publicly venerate   – that is until the proposed Police Bill rips to pieces the right to such protest.

And it’s the sort of world where the twelve Bristolians whose turn it was to do their civic duty, listened to the arguments, weighed the evidence, pondered the advice and decided that throwing an effigy of a villain into a river was not a criminal act. By doing so, they demonstrated, as juries composed of ordinary people so often do, that their values and principles allow them to see through the bluster and bunkum of those who persist with feebly excusing the inexcusable in the name of tradition.

And if common sense does exist, I’d call that as good an example as any.


My new book, Brutish Necessity, which tells the forgotten story of the last man hanged in Birmingham, 20-year-old Jamaican Oswald Grey, will be out later this year (and this one isn’t about football at all)

Laying down your friend for your life – it’s the Johnson way

We know that Johnson loves a bus – the perfect vehicle under which to throw his colleagues.

Well, if you touch pitch, you’ll be defiled. And Allegra Stratton is no babe in the political woods. A Cambridge graduate renowned for her fierce intellect, she has built a career as an accomplished and, until recently, respected journalist. As such, she would have been aware of the Prime Minister’s dubious record when it came to truth-telling in that same profession. Maybe it was the allure of going where no man or woman had gone before that clouded her judgement and led her into the liar’s lair.

It seems that in the minds of some leaders, nothing enhances their status and gravitas more than speaking from behind a rostrum – preferably one adorned with a grand patriotic symbol and flanked by national flags. Boris Johnson obviously spent many an evening flicking the pictures in the Trump playbook and took early note of this, along with the press briefings delivered with stone-faced loyalty by a collection of very special people. In July 2020, having made more Covid-related appearances in Downing Street’s briefing room than he could have anticipated, the Prime Minister approved two innovations. The first was refurbishment of the room itself for £2.6 million. The second was the appointment of a spokesperson to front briefings from these lavish surroundings. We’ve never had one of those before.

Although it might not always seem to be so, this country is ruled by parliament, not a president. Johnson has found this to be irritatingly inconvenient right from the start of his tenure. When the Supreme Court told him that he’d acted illegally by ignoring the will of the House – Lady Hale and the spider brooch, remember? – he then took to the frightening road of characterising judges as the people’s enemy. That never ends well anywhere in the world. So, the man whose childhood ambition to be king of the world took note of his American mentor’s approach and decided that he would take control of relaying how and when his weighty decisions would be presented for public scrutiny. Allegra Stratton judged that it was the right time for her to cross the line from the assembled journalists and become the public face for her new master. Like I say, she’s a grown up; she knew she wasn’t accepting a modest stipend from a reputable charity. The reported salary was just upward of £125,000.

The briefings never properly materialised for reasons that somebody, somewhere might know and Stratton ended up being deployed to be the government spokesperson at Cop26. You may have been paying attention and known that but, just in case you didn’t, there was a moment during Johnson’s latest excruciating press conference, when you weren’t allowed to forget it.

Having laid out something called Plan B – and I’m sure you won’t be on your own if you’d thought we were much further down the alphabet by now – Johnson clipped away a couple of tame half-volley questions from the public before facing up to the occasionally formidable, but usually emollient, Laura Kuenssberg. She was in scorching form. How can you stand there, she wanted to know, and expect anybody to take you seriously when you break your own rules and treat the public with contempt? Right. Good. Popcorn out. C’mon. Answer that.

Except, of course, that he didn’t. He decided to choose the moment to praise Allegra Stratton, who had already tearfully resigned because of her part in the vile farce of the giggly exchange in the multi-million-pound room. Maybe Johnson really did think that the viewers and listeners, for whose intelligence he has developed such haughty disdain, would be fooled into thinking this was an act of allegiance and gratitude to a valued colleague. It was, of course, no such thing. It was the politics of the playground: it wasn’t me; it was that girl over there. She’s to blame.

All of which is a case of point-missing of Olympic magnitude. The glib mockery of the events in the briefing room raised hackles of disgust everywhere. It must have been especially wounding for bereaved families and those who endured last year’s lonely, miserable Christmas. And the conduct of Stratton and her thoughtless colleagues must reflect a wider culture that grows in the damp and the dark recesses of Johnson’s Downing Street, notwithstanding its glitzy, tax-funded ornamentation. But the Prime Minister’s deliberate namechecking of Stratton tells a more disturbing tale. Deflect the blame, deny all knowledge, throw your mate under the bus. It wasn’t me.

He is the leader of a government where taking responsibility, behaving ethically, acknowledging the expertise of others and protecting weak, vulnerable outsiders all take second place to the grubby notions of popular appeal and the acquisition of personal advancement. Until now, it seems that for reasons that are often unfathomable, but probably lie in people’s preoccupation in keeping their own lives afloat rather than inspecting the slime of political life, his crimes have not caught up with him. But treating people like complete mugs might just be a game changer. We can only hope.

Cricket’s message of ‘look like us,think like us, be like us’ is the result of the closed shop it has become

Supporters of the West Indian cricket team at The Oval in 1963.
Fewer than 1% of recreational cricketers are now Black British

If you want a dispiriting read, spend half an hour or so with cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to this week’s parliamentary committee. You might have seen some of the TV highlights, which offer a grim sort of anti-appetizer. It’s been strangely uplifting to note that even the Daily Mail can understand how Rafiq’s decision to speak out has revealed the nastiness lurking in cricket’s woodshed – although a glance at some (although not all)  of the ‘best-rated’ comments in that paper’s online version makes for queasy viewing. It does look like being a watershed moment for the game.

Readers new to this blog need to know that I belong to that breed of post middle-aged men who are obsessed by cricket. I won’t categorize the alarming extent of this nerdy affliction, just trust me on it. I completely understand how it baffles non-devotees and I am more than familiar with the jibes about it being an elitist pastime for toffy types.

This latter complaint might have some traction if the only images of the game available to you are shots of the great and good, suited, booted and sipping fizz in the boxes at Lord’s. Or if your sole acquaintance with it is the parodic notion of it being the vehicle used by bumbling imperialists to bring fair play to them what needed it. Such picturesque ideas of the flannelled fools are somewhat at variance with the thousands who crowd onto impromptu games on Mumbai’s maidans, Islamabad’s backstreets and even, until recently, waste ground around Kabul.

Closer to home, fiercely contested league cricket around the big cities is just about as far removed from ‘oh, well played, Sir’ and cucumber sandwiches as it is possible to be – with, incidentally, the notoriously muscular Lancashire leagues having a proud record of welcoming non-English players to their competition.

Time was when the UK’s Caribbean diaspora were among the game’s most committed amateur players and, without a doubt, its noisiest and most life-affirming spectators. The West Indies team they followed was feared and venerated around the world, not least for the production line of venomous fast-bowlers that wrecked all who were brave enough to stand in their way. Those of us who followed the game gleefully agreed that English cricket would soon benefit as home-grown talent flowed into the game. There have been some notable episodes and exceptions – even non-cricket lovers can only gawp with awe at Devon Malcom’s famous ‘you guys are history’ moment – but the appearance of Black cricketers in the England team has always lagged way behind their footballing counterparts.

There are two reasons why cricket has been cut adrift from its position as an attainable and widely understood sport: its place in non-private schools and the imperious market forces that govern TV sports’ broadcasting.

First, schools. Cricket is an expensive game, both in terms of finance and in the number of person hours required to run games. The preparation of playing surfaces, even artificial ones, is a specialised business and in an age where schools sell off their playing fields at a jaw-dropping rate, such finery usually goes to the wall – and not even one with stumps chalked on it. Equipment is expensive and wears out quickly. Physical education fights for its place in an overcrowded curriculum which is geared inflexibly to the generation of exam results.

 Matches between schools take hours (and here I apologise to all those kids who were victims of egregious LBW decisions as I got grumpy and wanted to get home for my tea) and rely on the goodwill of staff already under pressure and over committed. The same is not true in the private sector which values games as a central part of their offer and is able to spend money on facilities and resources that are beyond the imagination of state schools.

When it comes to TV, the governors of England’s game, for whom this has been a deservedly humiliating week, need to have a very stern word with themselves. In 2005, for the first time in decades, schools, offices and workplaces stopped as England played Australia in what is widely acknowledged as the most exciting series of modern times – and all accessible on free-to-air TV.  The game’s ruling body capitalised on this unique opportunity by selling it to Sky and BT, placing it behind a paywall and thus hiding it from millions of new followers. When England won the World Cup in 2019, again, in one of the most exciting finishes of modern times, the guardians managed to strike a deal to get the game on TV……before selling it straight back again.

It is a game that, for all the efforts of thousands of people to make it widely accessible, has shrunk in terms of recreational participation – an estimated 1% of all recreational players are Black British – and which is disappearing from playing fields both in schools and local recreation grounds – where, again, the upkeep of cricket pitches is way beyond the budget and proficiency of beleaguered councils. Some local clubs may flourish, but participation for young people requires transport, equipment and time-consuming parental support. Cricket’s heroes and, increasingly, heroines, may make fleeting appearances in mainstream media, but can only feed off the crumbs of the glamour bestowed on their footballing counterparts.

It is a matter of regret, but not surprise, to hear about Yorkshire Cricket Club’s insularity, clubability and the regime of self-policing and unchallenged, deep-seated assumptions that were behind its catalogue of mismanagement. When surrounded by those who look like you and who have travelled much the same route through life as you, it is unsurprising that lazy, outdated attitudes and language take root and become impossible to challenge, much less dislodge. In such fertile, untended ground, racist attitudes and language become normalised along with bone-headed desensitivity, something of a perennial hallmark of changing-room behaviour.

As cricket at its higher levels starts to take the look at itself that it can no longer evade, part of that introspection also needs to look beyond its boundaries at why a wonderful game has become inaccessible to so many young people and which is almost impossible to locate on TV. Its top-level teams might just then begin to resemble the society around them.

You’ve got the one job….and you’re paid handsomely for it too

When it comes to work, I’ve always regarded myself as fortunate. Nearly half a century ago, and more by accident than design, I drifted into becoming a schoolteacher and miraculous fate decreed that I’d found something I enjoyed and was good at. I learnt very early on not to get embroiled in arguments with anyone who came out with the five-hour-day, three-month holiday jibes. Like most of my colleagues, I threw (and still gently lob) myself into an exhausting but rewarding job. What I could never have contemplated was trying to do another one at the same time.

I may have stuck at my one job, but there are plenty of others who still need to juggle two or three just to make ends meet. There are others still who do their one job but are so miserably remunerated that the state must supplement their wages – or subsidise their employers, depending on how you choose to view it. But I’m going to hazard a guess here:  I would be aghast if any of those people were on £81,932 a year plus expenses – the basic pay of a Member of Parliament.

Just for the moment, let’s try to glide over these expenses. They are there, according to Parliament’s website, for MPs to ‘cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.’ All of which is perfectly fair and entirely acceptable until, to use some very non-parliamentary language, people start taking the piss.

In 2009, the Daily Telegraph exposed a series of scandalous abuses of the expenses’ system which irreparably damaged public confidence in those MPs whose antics failed a simple test: if their constituents had behaved so dishonestly, they would have been fired from their (one) job. The job that probably doesn’t pay £81,932 a year. Plus expenses.

There is a sensible argument that having connection with real-life work is an asset for an MP, especially in the age of intern-bred apparatchiks spawned from the party machine. Maintaining professional or occupational connections makes perfect sense, but given that you’re already earning £81,932 a year, any such allegiance or commitment can only be peripheral. Can’t it? After all, helping to run the country at the highest level is enough of a job in itself. Isn’t it?

Well, apparently not. The headline-hitters of the past few days clearly have time and energy to burn, helping them to keep the wolf from the door. Owen Paterson with his £96k a year from Randox Health and a nifty £12k from a sausage maker, is a long way behind lawman Geoffrey Cox who has found the time to rattle up a helpful £375k a year in 16 years while performing his MP duties. How he must pity those 32 MPs who could only squeeze out an average of a meagre £44k a year from their extra-mural activities. Neither does it seem that party allegiance is the determining factor in such snout-troughery: there are shameless culprits in all parts of the panelled woodwork.

As with all stinking fish, it’s the head that sets the standard of putrefaction. Back in 2017 Boris Johnson complained that his £141,000 as a cabinet minister was insufficient, especially as he’d been made to forfeit his lucrative post as a fearless journalist, paying £275k a year – or roughly £2,200 per hour. He now finds the increase to £160k so demoralising that he has been reported as saying that he ‘just can’t afford to this job’. What? With your holidays paid for by your mates and your wallpaper paid for by the taxpayer?

Could we be a touch more charitable? Is £81,932, even with substantial expenses, a wage commensurate with such significant responsibility? It’s about on a par with a GP, around the same as a headteacher and less than the CEO of a local authority. There is a compelling argument for ensuring that this one wage should be enough to preclude the possibility of having to moonlight, in however upmarket a way. We certainly don’t want access to private income, dodgy or legit, to be the determinant when it comes to standing for office. It’s only fair that those assuming such a weighty burden should get the rate for the job. But there’s one important consideration, of course.

You have one job, so to earn this decent wage – do it properly. Be careful, well-prepared and thoroughly briefed in everything with which you’re involved. Embrace the responsibility that goes with your job and recognise that trust and respect need to be earned. Understand that problems and difficult episodes, some of which come from left-field and some of which are all-too-predictable, are precisely what you’re there to address. Don’t look for cheap excuses when things go wrong. Don’t instantly look to blame others. Put the hours in. Work hard. Don’t be dishonest.

You’ll have seen the flaw here. There is no doubt that there are MPs who are dedicated and scrupulous in their duties. There are some who are almost total strangers to the claim form – you can find them here. There are plenty who deem their one job to be enough and others who consider it barely enough to keep them from the workhouse – you can get a sense of who they are by looking here.

The genuinely honourable members understand that they represent others who, if you offered them a wage of £81,932 a year, would not chance losing such a salary by even thinking about behaving improperly or fiddling their expenses. You wouldn’t have to look hard to find them because they live in your street, drink in your local, shop in the precinct. One job paying a very good wage: who wouldn’t give it their all?

Don’t bother answering that.