Identity crisis? That should be easy for Labour to solve.

There was once a fabricated story doing the rounds that Peter Mandelson had pointed to some mushy peas in a northern chip shop and asked for a serving of guacamole. Untrue, but indicative of a strong feeling that one of Tony Blair’s chief henchmen cut an alienated figure when plonked into everyday surroundings. Well, whatever Lord Mandelson piles onto his refined breakfast platter, he’ll be tucking into it with relish today.

In the wake of Labour’s catastrophic showing in Thursday’s elections, his lordship furnished his prompt, incisive analysis – it was all down to Corbyn and Covid. Now, lest we forget, in February 2017, Mandelson proudly and publicly proclaimed that he was working every day to undermine the leader of the party of which he was a member. This didn’t work out so well for him. Three months later, the Labour candidate for Hartlepool, under the reviled Corbyn’s leadership, polled just under 22 thousand votes – easily the highest number since the Tories took office in 2005. The hapless good doctor Williams scratched together eight and half thousand on Thursday and m’lord’s ambition – along with that of plenty of his own ennobled chums – had reached full fruition: the Labour Party had managed to drill below rock bottom.

That it could have performed with such astonishing ineptitude is testament to a party whose current, dull leadership has no idea what it’s supposed to stand for. This goes some way to explaining how it is possible that a government which has displayed such monumental incompetence and dishonesty has succeeded, it seems, in fooling plenty of people for a lot of the time.

The highest number of deaths from Covid in Europe; an exams’ fiasco that would be laughable if children’s welfare hadn’t been shredded as a consequence; an overpriced test-and-trace system that has frizzled off into the atmosphere; PPE contracts handed to drinking chums – all presided over by a man whose dishonesty has never been called into question. How have the Tories managed to haul themselves out of this mire? Well, that’s an easy one. Through the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers, willingly giving time to a national health service which – and be in no doubt about this – is still up for privatised grabs under the watchful eye of a government of hard-line believers in market forces.

Even accounting for the unmerited approval that the vaccination roll-out has conferred on the Tories, why has Labour, with some honourable local exceptions, not been able to lay a glove on Johnson and his courtiers? From a whole range of reasons which could fill a dozen blog posts, here are two to consider.

First, in local elections that were almost inevitably low-key because of Covid, it was still noticeable that poster-boards, window posters and even instantly-recyclable election leaflets were in short supply for all parties. Reports suggest that many parts of the country mirror my local experience of Labour party material being non-existent. There’s a reason for this.

To state the bleeding obvious, in order to hammer in posts and to deliver leaflets and posters, you need people. The Labour Party, despite a fall of some 50,000 since Starmer took charge, still has half a million members – easily double that of the Tories – making it one of the largest memberships in Europe. Nevertheless, from the moment Corby became party leader, Labour grandees like Mandelson, David Blunkett, Margaret Hodge, Alan Johnson and dozens of others have worked remorselessly to undermine, discredit and discourage such people from being active members. They have roared on those officials who have expelled and suspended activists. They have banned debate in constituency meetings. They have been part of the machinery that has foisted candidates on unwilling areas. They have, just as Mandelson wanted, done a great undermining job.

Just as importantly – and this has filled columns a ‘plenty since Thursday – it is a party that doesn’t seem to stand for anything. Which is extraordinary. The party that was formed to represent the interests of working people needs, now more than ever, to say whose interests it represents: the underpaid, the unfairly paid, those in need of decent council housing, those who serve but don’t profiteer, those who rely on decent public services, those who have fallen by society’s wayside and those who want to arrest, as a matter of urgency, the burning of the planet and its resources. It needs to say that it is actively anti-racist and champion the cause of the oppressed – and that means dissociating itself from murderous regimes and those who preside over them. In short, it needs to be bold and confident in its assertions – not a limp, pale entity tail-ending the dreadful ideas of incompetents and charlatans.

In those places where it has done so, where party activists have been regular workers in food-banks, setting up local libraries, providing local transport, campaigning for affordable housing and, above all, been generally unapologetic in speaking out against unfairness, inequality and dishonesty, it has done well. In short, it has an identity. At present, it has none and, worse still, remains determined to dissociate itself from those who might just supply it with one.

And if the thought of an idle, mendacious, complacent Prime Minister lolling around and grinning at his good fortune in his baroque chambers doesn’t spark Starmer and his chums into doing something – and quickly – about this, then it may soon be time for the obituaries of  their party to be written.

The price of everything and the value of nothing

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Oscar Wilde

At about ten to two last Sunday I did an ungainly dance round my living room while screeching Neanderthal expletives.  This wasn’t some desperate outcome of months of lockdown; it was a wild a reaction to my team scoring a goal. It was a goal that will probably ensure my team continuing to play in the second tier of English football next season.

My team is not one of the big hitters. To borrow from Mark Twain, we are best summed up by the notion that we have great moments, but dreadful half-hours. When those great moments occur, they are indescribably sweet. The half-hours? Well, supporters of my club know, through a combination of history, precedent and osmosis, that they’re exactly what we signed up for.

Some five years ago, venture capitalists from the other side of the world purchased my club. As befits the lack of good fortune that bedevils us, they were, to use football jargon, venture capitalists from the lower reaches of the pyramid. They’re more Keystone Cops than the Wolf of Wall Street. The clue, of course, is in the ‘venture’ part. They took a punt, often, it seems, using money that was ‘notional’. They started their stewardship with all the clumsy naivety of an optimistic gambler and then became steadily more inept, desperate and incoherent as time wore on. Far from elbowing a place at the top table, we repeatedly end up scrabbling to stay with the also-rans.

I don’t want to go all grammatical on you. If you’ve been condemned to home-schooling, you may have become familiar with some of the arcane terminology being foisted on our children. If so, you’ll have noticed the deliberate use of the first-person in what I’ve written: ‘my team’, ‘we’, ‘us’. That’s because I’m describing a central part of my life – one that is bound up with history, traditions, friendships, personal memories and matchday rituals. The chances are that if you don’t recognise any of this in yourself, you will do in someone you know.

The explosion of comment and reaction to the proposed Super League has prompted our senior politicians to come forward. It is an outrage, they splutter, that something so close to the nation’s heart and soul should be sold off in this unfeeling, aggressive way. These people simply can’t be allowed to breeze in, wave their wads of dollar-bills, walk off with our assets and wreck a way of life as they do so. Who do they think they are?

Well, the answer to that is quite simple. ‘They’ are JPMorgan and they have made an initial pledge of £3 billion to promote their new football toy. Oh…..and one of their vice-chairmen, David Mayhew, has invested some £600,000 in the Conservative Party – so ‘they’ are not exactly an unknown entity as far as our new champions of the peoples’ game are concerned. But, as we all know in the age of back-handing contracts to your mates or texting your old buddy, the Chancellor, to get a leg-up introduction, when it comes to making a few quid for yourself, old habits die hard.

And here’s a stark truth about the likes of JPMorgan. They really don’t give a monkeys that millions of people like me enjoy a couple of pints before a match. They neither know nor care that I can remember with bright clarity the first time I saw the towering stands (they were dilapidated and unsafe, as it happens) and the gleaming grass of my team’s ground. The fact that my grandchildren proudly sport Granddad’s team’s shirt is entirely inconsequential. They would consider my poring over the league table as the season ends as deluded actions in a man of my age (and, yes – of course I know they are). The fact that I don’t want to watch football on TV is immaterial, just as long as they’ll be doing so in their billions across the globe.

Regrettably, none of this comes as any surprise. Football at the elite level has become monetized, sanitized and commodified as distant owners crave the glitzy, franchise model that prevails across the cash-rich set-ups of American Football and cricket’s Indian Premier League.  All the same, one can only marvel at the nerve of a political class performing its pantomime of concern over it all.

Lest we lose sight of it, of all the tricks that capitalism has up its sleeve, the most breath-taking is the show-stopper of selling stuff back to us that we already own. If it can convince us that allowing private companies to purloin everything from gas to wind to water and then to flog it at a profit, then it’s little wonder that the shiny jewel of football has caught its restlessly greedy eye.

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In 2020 I wrote two books about football. Hugging Strangers captures what it’s like to be a hopelessly committed fan of a mediocre team. The other, Project Restart, is particularly apt at present, as it shows how football can hold a centrally important place in people’s lives and communities.

A burning reminder of Johnson’s Irish amnesia

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Finally, we’re allowed to speak to each other in person, cautious and distant as we have to be. In different circumstances, we’d have plenty of catching up to do – places we’ve been, things we’ve done, funny or frustrating stories about that bloke from work. But that well of conversation is parched and so it’s not long before the inevitable question pops out: ‘You watched anything good at all?’

In the past, this query would have been an admission that your social and cultural life was in the throes of terminal decline. Not so now when reliance on the telly box is a universal experience. The decline of FOMO (the fear of missing out) means that we can be happily relaxed about swapping our box-set recommendations.  I’m grateful to the friend who prompted me to look again at a blast from the past.

Peter Flannery’s brilliant Our Friends in the North was first broadcast in 1996. It tells the compelling story of four friends from Newcastle and how they navigate their entwined personal and political lives between 1964 and 1995. A scene from an episode set in the mid-1980s has extraordinary contemporary resonance.

On the back of Margaret Thatcher’s burgeoning popularity, along with the floundering incompetence of the Labour Party, a former northern stronghold has turned to the Conservatives. During the scene in question, a local criminal has eventually been brought to heel – more through luck than judgement – by an increasingly beleaguered constabulary. The new Tory MP is quick to be interviewed on TV to proclaim the populist commitment to being tough on crime. Off camera, she is confronted by the indefatigable local councillor who tries to explain that the culprit is a victim of unemployment, lack of opportunity and the closure of community amenities.

The newly installed MP can scarcely contain her mirth and contempt. ‘Are you seriously trying to tell me,’ she sneers, ‘that this sort of criminality takes place because the local library has had to cut its Joanna Trollope section?’   

Fictitious it may be, but we’ve been treated to that crowing, tone-deaf voice too often in the last few days. The firebombed Belfast bus had barely slid to its uncontrolled demise before outrage poured from the commentariat and social media. As some attempted a sober analysis that might link the riots to decisions around Brexit, borders and – most tellingly – a sense of  being abandoned by the political classes, others met this suggestion with withering scorn.

Are we seriously proposing that bored, wild kids revelling in urban mayhem are doing so because of the fine print of the Withdrawal Bill or the minutiae of the Good Friday Agreement? ‘Recreational rioting’ is what’s at the root of it according to local politician, Doug Beattie. It’s ‘grossly irresponsible’ to blame the riots on the political process, proclaims Tory Peer, Lord Caine. Boris Johnson, emulating his fallen hero’s penchant for declaring policy via Twitter, calls for dialogue to resolve differences, ‘not violence or criminality.’

Which, coming from the man who, to all intents and purposes, had completely forgotten about Ireland in his juvenile haste to get Brexit done, is a bit rich. When the inconvenient realities of how, in an exact and detailed way, the issue of border controls on the island were to be addressed, we became witness to episodes of jaw-dropping incompetence, back-tracking and bare-faced lying on the part of the Prime Minister and his unlamented sidekicks. His breezy assertion that ‘there will be no checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ in October 2019 was as stupid as it was mendacious. In this, as in all things, his unruly willingness to skate over truths is the hallmark of his actions and character.

But then I would say that wouldn’t I? So when it come to a lifelong Tory advocate, a stalwart of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, doing the same, that probably has a bit more heft. Peter Oborne’s book The Assault on the Truth is a grim catalogue of the Prime Minister’s passing acquaintance with truth and morality, going way back to his early days as a jobbing (and lying) journalist. Oborne reviews the career of someone he views as supremely talented, yet incapable of allowing facts and propriety to obstruct the road to personal ambition and self-aggrandisement. It’s an authoritative and astonishing read.  

Just as astonishing is the response to it from Johnson’s cheerleaders. The Conservative Home website has to admit that their hero may have been a bit of a rogue in the past, but who doesn’t want a ‘certain impudent lightness of touch’ from their leader? (Don’t bother checking: I promise you that’s a direct quotation.) What’s more, it’s simply not good form to call someone a liar, is it? People who do so, the homeboys insist, are in ‘possession of an untrammelled but intolerant self-righteousness which makes them sound like so many ranting, holier-than-thou hypocrites.’ I’ll just leave that there.

Johnson’s approach to Ireland has veered between ITV’s It’ll be Alright on the Night to Mr Micawber’s ‘something will turn up’ to the magical emergence of the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. Nobody in their right mind could think there’s no connection between lary kids chucking petrol bombs and various self-styled, urban Lords of Misrule, but to pretend that nobody saw this coming  is an abdication of responsibility of unforgivable proportions. And when it comes to swerving responsibility, the one thing we do know is that we’ve got an expert at the wheel.

Got a problem? Let’s invent something else to attack

I know this will disappoint people out there determined to pursue a culture war, so if you’re of that persuasion, take a deep breath.

 There is no woke brigade, there’s no such thing as a liberal elite, campuses (even when populated) are not awash with students cancelling people with whom they disagree and – wait for it – the notion of snowflakes is entirely in your head.

It’s worth a look at these imagined threats.

Wokeness is the cardinal sin in the eyes of the right wing commentariat – think about a continuum of odiousness running from Melanie Phillips to Laurence Fox to Piers Morgan and coming to a juddering halt with Julie Burchill. What irks this snarling herd most is a poisonous objection to people taking care about the language they use. This applies particularly when they talk about others or publicly espouse causes which address social injustice, which is something for which they have another label – ‘virtue signalling’.

For your committed culture warrior, it goes without saying that those who express such misplaced concern for the feelings and welfare of others, particularly if they hail from anywhere other than council houses (younger readers can google what they were) are part of a liberal elite. Those of their number who are actors, musicians or athletes obviously deserve to be singled out for special opprobrium. Stick to your greasepaint, shut up and sing, score your goals and pick up your fat wage packet. Can’t you see how privileged you are?

I think I might be a member too. I’ve got plenty of qualifications, I live near London in a private house and, for the most part, I prefer BBC to ITV. Oh, and I find all sorts of discrimination entirely unacceptable, I upbraid people for the use of bigoted language and I think the world’s in a bit of a mess and we ought to do something about it very quickly. Give me the membership form and I’ll sign up immediately.

When it comes to snowflakes, nobody has been more damning of their limpness than sturdy yeoman Piers Morgan, and so his own dainty flounce last week looks more hilariously precious with every re-run. His accusation against this generation of flimsy dependants is that they just don’t understand that they’ve never had it so good. What with the prospect of living with your parents or flatmates until you’re nearly 40, a lifetime of precarious employment, inheriting a planet that your elders are burning up by the day and  the likelihood of having to pay, literally, for the pandemic, it’s impossible to know what could possibly be feeding their fretful anxieties.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse their banning people they don’t want to hear from university campuses. It’s a damning attitude, justifying the insistence of the ever-alert Gavin Williamson in appointing a free-speech champion. Except that it’s not true. The government’s Office for Students has identified 53 such cases in over 62,000 invitations – less than 0.1%. Sledgehammers and nuts don’t even cover it.

The plain fact is that those who rail against the wokes, the elite and the snowflakes are tilting at windmills and squabbling with straw men. It’s a worthwhile trick if you can pull it off. The problem is not systemic, corrosive racism – it’s the people who constantly bang on and on about it. The issue is not the clear link between poverty, poor academic performance and ill health – it’s the bleeding hearts who excuse people for not taking responsibility for themselves. It’s not a question of politicians exposing themselves to ridicule and contempt through their irredeemable incompetence – it’s the biased, lefty comedians for satirising their failures.

If this false battle was just being conducted by a few jowly, wizened malcontents in the media it might even be mildly entertaining. Regrettably, culture wars are all too eagerly embraced by members of Boris Johnson’s floundering, lickspittle cabinet. Priti Patel labels the Black Lives Matter movement ‘dreadful’; culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, urges scholars not to ‘reinvent history’; housing minister, Robert Jenrick warns against removing statues or renaming streets. Because in a massively unequal society with the arts under threat and crippling housing shortages, these concerns really go to the heart of the matter, don’t they?

The last resort of culture warriors is to invoke the notion of good, old-fashioned common sense. They do so as if this concept was inscribed on pillars of stone, immoveable by either time or circumstance. Boys will be boys; know your place; let nature take its course; don’t go out dressed like that. It’s bilge like this that we’ve had to wade through for too long, so let’s carry on upsetting the applecart – and keeping our eye on the non-imaginary problems that really do need solving.

Get the tech firms to do the banning? Let’s go for education instead.

You taught me language and my profit on’t is I know how to curse.’ Caliban: The Tempest

‘What the great ones do, the less will prattle of,’ says the sea captain at the start of Twelfth Night. Written four hundred years before celebrity mags and reality TV came to fill us with jollity and with us still waiting for Twitter to improve the quality of our lives, it’s some foresight on the part of the boy from small-time Strafford.

It has always been the inalienable right of onlookers to pass judgement on those who are in the public eye. Or to chatter aimlessly with their acquaintances about the conduct of the great and the good. When the opportunity arises, we can shout opinions into the wind at public events, sporting occasions or when chance meetings occur. Social media, however, takes this one -way conversation to an entirely different level.

As diverting as it could be, I have no genuine Twitter presence. For one thing, life has taught me that my immediate reaction to events, particularly those that alarm or disturb, is not always as reliable and coherent as it might be. What’s more, like many people, I’ve become acutely aware that I’d like to spend less time perusing vacuous trash on my phone. It’s true that the quick-witted and the pithy can use it to entertain and provoke and that it is a form of swift riposte that can spark a superficial sort of shadow debate. But it also offers short-lived empowerment and, for a tiny number of those who so avidly pursue it, a few moments during which they have been noticed – however anonymously.

The last couple of weeks have revealed tales of breath-taking, sickening bile directed at footballers and athletes or, to be exact, black footballers and athletes. Women in any sort of public sphere have long needed to steel themselves as open targets and, scarcely believably, the victims of crime and tragedy are often singled out by the deranged, vile or dangerously bored.  Politicians of any stripe are fair game, it seems, and obviously deserve anything that’s spewed at them.

There’s an obvious solution, isn’t there? The social media giants must act, mustn’t they?  Users must be registered and, if found culpable, banned. Because it’s a universal truth that the peddlers of such vitriol are incapable of establishing a variety of online identities. We’re told that the companies themselves must create and deploy protocols which enable them to both censure and censor. Because multi-national corporations are precisely who we need to be the guardians of public morality requiring precise and delicate judgements. And, of course, they operate so independently of any vested interests.

Banning, blanking and cancelling are simply not the way to go. Never mind crude algorithms that quash saucy place names or even left-wing groups, once we start leaving social media firms to self-police, we’re asking for trouble. Fortunately, alternative methods are possible – and there’s never been a better time to instigate them while we reassess what schools need to do as, chastened, we start to think about what’s worth knowing in the world.  How about making social media literacy as important a part of a child’s education as being able to pluck Shakespearean quotations just in order to show off?

To be literate is to equip ourselves – and, crucially, our children – to be able to navigate the world in which we live. An overwhelmingly prominent feature of that world is social media – and it’s  toothpaste that is never going back into the tube. If we leave our young people (or anyone else, come to that) ignorant about how it works, who controls it, how its content is generated and how it can be manipulated by the unscrupulous to degrade, delude and diminish, then we’re selling them dangerously short.

And who would be against the development of such knowledge? Well, Nick Gibb, that’s who. No? You can be forgiven because, by and large, he keeps a low profile. He’s the minister charged with school standards and he’s seen off Michael Gove and all his successors at the Department for Education, which is where he’s been since 2010. He’s a bit of a traditionalist is Nick and he’s not a fan of any fancy modern ideas. ‘The romantic notion that teachers need not focus on knowledge and instead turn their attention to developing creativity or communication skills has gripped many countries around the world,’ he griped in a speech in 2017. That’s right, Nick. While our children are bombarded with image after meme after insult after disturbing video, why on earth would we want to teach them about communication skills?

When, at last, we get our children back into schools and when we’ve given them the chance to talk, play and make sense of what has happened to them, maybe we’ll turn our minds to a new subject on the curriculum. One that could shape their lives and, if left unmediated, distort it and cause destructive confusion. Maybe if Nick Gibb and government ministers can’t grasp this, we’ll need to call on a young, black footballer who’s been on the receiving end of those hilariously named anonymous posters. That often seems to do the trick………over to you, Marcus. Get tweeting!

Free connectivity? What? For everyone? Don’t be ridiculous.

A hundred years ago in December 2019, we had a general election. The principal issue was Brexit – which seems to be going swimmingly, by the way – and the Labour party’s complete confusion on the issue cost it dear.

Depending on which narrative you choose to believe, a pressurised Jeremy Corbyn, spotting the writing on the wall, either formulated an imaginative plan for a vital social provision, or desperately plucked an idea from the line of optics in the last chance saloon. It did him no good. It was so obviously stupid, impractical and, above all, ridiculously expensive.

Every home, he suggested, should have high-speed, full fibre broadband and…..wait for it….it should be free. Oh, how his detractors hugged themselves with unbridled delight: he’d clearly fallen off the edge of reason. The Daily Express gleefully shrieked that ‘reckless Corbyn’ fully deserved the universal derision coming from Tory MPs who were asking whether the woolly old veg-digger had ever considered the cost of this. Nicky Morgan, who has gone on to enhance her political career by leaps and bounds  – oh, no, wait a minute –  sneered about his blinkered disregard for how this would ‘cost hard working tax payers billions of pounds’. The estimated bill would be in the region of some £20.3 billion. Madness.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, in his sober and measured way, calmly recognised the importance of the issue and pledged to bring forward a full commercial roll out from 2033 to 2025. How he must have chortled contentedly to himself. Free broadband! As if.

It’s just over a year since the last of the scoffing died down. If anyone thought that broadband access wasn’t a priority before the election, they’ll have been disabused of that notion by now.  As one of the indices of inequality, it’s up there near the top – and nowhere is this more acutely obvious than in terms of education.

Steve Chalke is the founder of the Oasis Academy chain of schools and, to be honest, I wouldn’t  imagine that we could ever be chums, despite the fact that both of us have spent decades trying to improve the life chances of children through education. But I cheered his radio interview to the rafters this morning when he suggested that having a child living in a home without good broadband access is akin to living in one without electricity or water. For the avoidance of doubt, should you harbour the notion that Steve Chalke is some bohemian sprite, riding the waves of liberal free-thinking, just give him a quick google.

Inequality is now the hallmark of the pandemic, markedly so in a highly developed economy like ours. Education should be able to act as a leveller. We can leave aside the nonsensical discourse about children having to ‘catch up’; learning is neither a race nor a competitive sport. However, we are now certain of one thing: even in these straitened circumstances, a child has a better chance of learning something if s/he has space, some support from people with the time to provide it and – not just in times of pandemic – access to a decent digital device with an affordable broadband service to make it work.

Johnson and his party made a commitment to levelling up those parts of society that had been left behind and who were angry and resentful as a consequence. Let’s suspend our disbelief for long enough to accommodate the idea that the party of self-help and blame was ever committed to such a pledge. If it’s still on the to-do list, then this week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will have given them a further, shocking jolt. Put simply, if you work in poor conditions for low wages in jobs that that can’t be done from home, you’re five times more likely to become infected with the virus than if you work from your house.  And you’re more likely to be able to work from your house if your digital connection is strong, reliable and affordable so that you can work while your children get access to some lessons at the same time.

And if, just if, that astronomical £20 billion had been shelled out for this apparently barmy scheme, how much of a dent would that have made in the national budget? According to figures from the ONS and the National Audit Office, projected government borrowing for the financial year from April 2020 should have been around £55 billion. Covid has made those figures look ridiculous and the current projection is now nearer £350 billion. The cost to the economy has been massive; the cost to our general health and welfare, especially that of our children, may yet be inestimable unless the drifting and u-turning comes to a halt.

So, why would we decide to pay £20 billion for a national asset that could help to educate our children, enable greener working practices, keep people safer and also end up with a significant piece of digital infrastructure? Of all the hare-brained schemes, that one’s right up there, isn’t it? Yep. Completely reckless.   

If the world spins differently, a few exam passes are sort of irrelevant – aren’t they?

Put aside for one moment the ridiculous reality that someone put Gavin Williamson in charge of education. We are, as the modern cliché goes, where we are. And let’s be gracious: his job is not an easy one. He’s also not helped by the fact that he is saddled with a set of ideas about the purpose of school that become more demonstrably useless with every passing day.

Now that he’s been allowed out to speak to us – having been given the simplest of briefs to avoid saying something stupid – there’s one idea he trots  out as a ‘common sense’ life-saver at every opportunity: young people who are preparing for exams must return to school as soon as possible. And he’s not alone. Headteachers appear on news bulletins to reiterate this incontrovertible truth. Parents call in to talk shows to tell of their heart-breaking concern about their children’s miserable anxiety. Because, we are told with shrieking certainty, these exams are important and will determine their life chances.

At this point, I am obliged to wheel out a pre-emptive disclaimer that regular readers will have heard before. Children should be assessed from time to time so that we can find out what they know, understand and can do. It is then our job as educators to push them on to the next thing of which they could be capable. It is also up to educators to acknowledge that not all young people are good at the same things and that the golden key to is to find those areas where individuals can flourish and encourage them to pursue these further. What our knowledge of pedagogy and human development tells us is that people are more likely to develop ways of learning – and discover further interests – on the back of these successes. (I appreciate that Gavin might already be struggling with some of this).

This is a very different model from the one that stamps itself on schools, teachers and students. From a narrow range of subjects which have not changed significantly for a century, an even narrower range of topics and ideas are centrally chosen. This meagre selection is then formulated and packaged in a way that makes assessment of them relatively uniform and straightforward and, hey presto, a child comes out of the other end stamped, categorised and ready for the next part of the process. Whether or not anyone has ever actually, genuinely learned anything is a luxurious irrelevance. It’s the data that counts.

An increasingly narrow curriculum and an absurd hierarchy of subject importance – maths good, drama bad – is disappointing enough. What makes matters worse is the way in which schools have been forced to define themselves and their success by this sole criterion. Slice it however you like, how well children and their teachers do in this narrow band of inflexible, often outdated set of formulaic tests and exams is the toxic fuel that drives what happens in our schools. If you convince yourself that this is a tolerable state of affairs, you end up howling into the wind that a 16-year-old sitting a test is important while the world around that child is changing, irrevocably, with every passing hour.

And before you jump to any daft conclusions – no, I’m not advocating free-spirited yoghurt weaving as an alternative. Unlike Gavin, I’ve been at this education lark for well over forty years and these things I know as incontrovertible truths:  young people like their adults to be knowledgeable, firm, consistent and reliable. They want their teachers to exude purposefulness in everything they do. With some dishonourable exceptions, this characterises pretty well all the teachers I have known. Which leads us to the crunch question. If, grudgingly, Gavin and his chums have had to acknowledge the central importance of teachers and what they do, why not trust them to assess what their pupils know, understand and can do?

The answer is because in this aspect of their professional behaviour, as far as politicians are concerned, teachers are not to be trusted. They’d inflate the grades; they’d be soft on their own pupils; they’d over-coach them and let them see questions beforehand. Let’s leave aside the inconvenient truth that during a fleeting period in the 1980s and 90s teachers had brief, overall control of some GCSE exams and none of this happened and look at the question from a different angle. If we stripped away the notion of competition between schools in terms of results, and if we removed a regulatory regime that inspected and categorised schools on the basis of these results, what incentive would there be to engage in any such malpractice? In whose interests would any skulduggery be? 

For Gavin, his Tory chums and their New Labour predecessors, there would be an even more disturbing problem. Dismantle the high-stakes, punitive scrutiny that rests on notions of delivery and production and we are left with only one alternative. Schools run by headteachers, teachers and professionally informed bodies that decide what’s good for particular children at particular times and in particular circumstances. Who devise a range of ways of assessing where children are at present, what they need to address next -and who can be trusted to report on this to parents and outside bodies in a professional and dispassionate way.

Or we can carry on behaving in the same way, pretending that all around us has not changed. When introducing new teachers to the profession, I use a brief clip from the original 1930 film, All Quiet on the Western Front. In it, a young soldier, just a few months out of school, complains to his grizzled senior officer that nothing he learned there has prepared him for what he now faces. ‘They didn’t even teach us how to light a cigarette in the wind,’ he grumbles. From there, we discuss the choices we make about the purpose of education and, in particular how it might, theoretically, prepare young people for an unknown world. It’s a discussion we should all be having right now – and  there’s nothing remotely theoretical about it.

Need to deliver the vaccine? I’ve got a mate who can help you with that.

Just when you think that Gavin Williamson must have reached the outer limits of his own dimwittery, he manages to confound us all. The reason Britain is at the forefront of rolling out a vaccine before France, Belgium or the US is because, according to Gav, ‘we are a much better country than every single one of them’.

Was he joking? Was it one of those chilling moments at a social gathering when the jest falls horribly flat? It’s difficult to know. Williamson, lest we forget, does have something of a runaway tongue. He was, remember, sacked by Theresa May because she was pretty certain that he’d let slip the odd state secret or two as defence secretary. It’s a measure of how we’ve become accustomed to a discourse of catastrophe that we’re no longer entirely appalled that this clownish figure was once entrusted with the defence of the realm, potentially controlling military deployment and lethal weaponry. You might argue that we should take solace in the fact that fouling up the country’s examination system couldn’t have accidentally triggered mass slaughter. So, determining whether this was Gav’s idea a jolly quip is a tricky business.

His buddy, Matt Hancock, had paved the way for his crass stupidity a day earlier, telling us that the rest of the continent just wasn’t quite up to speed. The UK, according to Matt, had a definite edge which was down to ‘the pace of the Europeans who are moving a little bit more slowly’.  The dullards. Thank goodness we won’t be having anything to do with them in four weeks’ time as we wave them goodbye and make our own way in the world.

Talking of buddies, Matt’s been able to send a little business the way of one of his own. His mate, Alex Bourne, used to run the Cock Inn at Thurlow in Matt’s constituency and although Alex now denies they were anything like chums – despite being pictured cheerily pulling a pint together –  he knew him well enough to send him a WhatsApp message in March offering his services to the NHS. Not to volunteer, you understand, or anything so public spirited. Alex had moved on from his boozer and now ran a firm making plastic cups and takeaway boxes. Maybe there was an opening for him in this time of crisis?

And, hey presto, so there was. After a bit of toing and froing and one rejected application, Alex’s Hinpack firm was awarded a contract to supply test tubes and vials, even though this his firm had never produced such items. Now, I’ll be clear. I’m all for repurposing of industrial production and it’s one of the things that will be vital in the post-Covid economy if we’re not going to incinerate the planet. But you’ll just have to forgive me if I’m a touch sceptical about whose number actually gets called when it comes to handing out the work. As it also happens, Alex’s relationship with the whole truth is occasionally a touch fragile. Although his lawyers vehemently denied any contact between their client and Hancock, poor old Alex was then forced to admit that he’d exchanged plenty of texts and mails with the minister. Nice to do business with you, boys.

None of which is to deny the relief and optimism that the news of the vaccine brings. But leaving aside the ramblings and rantings of the barmy anti-vaxxers – polio, anyone? TB, perhaps? –  why has this astonishingly good news been met with wary reserve by so many of us? For the avoidance of doubt, it’s important to distinguish between perfectly legitimate concerns about testing, development and long-term effects from the idea that Bill Gates is in cahoots with the mad scientists as they brew up the microchip with which we’re all going to be injected. The reason for the hesitancy is obvious.

Set aside the allowance that even a government at the top of its game would have made mistakes when faced with the pandemic. That’s no excuse for making them habitual. Tardy initial lockdowns, bungled PPE contracts, blasé handshaking, crazily mixed messages and the utter farce of track-and-trace have all contributed to a sense of public mistrust. The fact that there is now a website dedicated to the cronyism that corrodes public life as conducted by Boris Johnson and his band of slapstick clowns, tells us all we need to know.

And the reason we don’t trust them is because we know what we experience every day. Want to know why local authorities are struggling to keep up with the private sector and so are unable to ‘win’ the contracts for the services needed for the public good? Want to know why, despite the humanity and expertise at its human edge, the NHS has to run to keep up? Want to know why science labs that work for knowledge and not for profit are not even on the radar of the Williamsons and Hancocks of this world? Because we’ve entrusted the great offices of state to blank-minded ideologues who wouldn’t understand the notion of not-for-profit public service unless it coughed all over them.

So let’s enjoy the prospect of a brighter future and just trust to the fact that when it comes to distributing and administering the vaccine, neither Matt not Gav gets to enjoy a pint with some bloke who once ran a mini-cab firm. An English bloke, of course.

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As well as writing this blog, I’ve recently written a couple of books about football. One is about the burden of being a lifelong supporter of a club that can only dream of achieving mediocrity, the other about football in a post-pandemic world.

Good news at last, but keep your eye on the dullards – and their chums – still in office.

For a few days at least the news became tolerable. The man-baby was defeated and, just for the moment, the fat boys cuddling their unfeasibly large weaponry haven’t wreaked their revenge. The weeds and nerds in Downing Street, for whom playing with people’s lives and livelihoods was never more than a creepy game – and to whom the results were a matter of detached indifference – have been shown the door. Let’s not worry that it is the latest of the Prime Minister’s paramours who temporarily appears to be the loudest unelected voice in his ear. Just enjoy the moment of Cummings and Cain lugging their meagre cardboard boxes out of Downing Street. Dom was, apparently, very fond of informing people that if they didn’t like how he did things, they knew where the door was. Oh, Dom; you make me shudder when you’re so masterful. (Or maybe you’re doing the trembling to yourself).

Perhaps the loudest sniggering might be coming from Sonia Khan, the aide sacked so unceremoniously because of accusations of leaked information. Rather than have their clumsy misdemeanours aired in public, her employers have elected to avoid an employment tribunal and paid her a sum running, allegedly, into tens of thousands of pounds as compensation. Maybe Cummings and Cain had one of their ‘weirdos and misfits’ lined up to take her place, but I think we could be forgiven for questioning how the boyos splashed taxpayers’ money by sacking an accomplished professional and then paid her thousands of pounds once their macho posturings caught up with them. But then, it won’t be them forking out the compo. They don’t do taking responsibility for your actions – that’s so last century and carries the stench of public service. Ugh.  

As it happens, this is all quite familiar territory for Dom. He enjoyed some destructive time in the Department for Education where he cut his teeth working with the Tories’ favourite runner-up, Michael Gove. Along with his chum, James Frayne, he landed his employer with another five-figure payment when a department employee (yes, female, of course – they like to pick on girls) complained of a ‘macho culture of intimidation, favouritism and laddism’.  That’s not a great look for any workplace, but it’s genuinely alarming when it’s taking place in the government department charged with the education and welfare of the nations’ children.

And all of that after we heard the best news of all. With extraordinary speed, a viable vaccine seems to be on the horizon. What follows is not an attempt to take the shine of this truly wonderful, game-changing achievement, but early doubts have begun to surface. The simplest, if rather unflattering, way to express these is to ask an innocent question. Would you trust Hancock, Raab, Gove, Patel and Sunak, the holders of the great offices of state, under the guidance of the now unfettered Prime Minister, to make suitable arrangements for its manufacture, distribution and application to the general populace? While you’re pondering that, here are a couple of supplementary concerns.

From his newly isolated bedroom, we have to hope that the Prime Minister is putting the final flourishes to the trade deal that he will pull out of the fire in the next few days. No? Me neither. However, unless all the vaccine doses are going to be rolling off 24-hour production lines from the premises of Britain’s pharmaceutical establishments, we’re going to have to import some. We’ve just got to hope that this process won’t be held up by the lorry park that will soon go by the name of Kent. Or that tariff-free stuff becomes taxable.

And to whom will he look to solve the logistical problems that need to be addressed? I’d like to think that before he reaches for Dido on speed-dial, he might have quick look at the efforts of Harvard scholar, Sophie Hill. She has put together her My Little Crony map which reveals, in all its self-satisfied shamelessness, the bare-faced cheek of this government’s chumocracy. Whatever happens, we shouldn’t be surprised. Brazenness is the one thing this lot really do deliver on a world-class level. Robert Jenrick makes a dodgy development proposal to an old buddy at dinner. What to do? Sack him? Nah – make him the minister for housing. Gavin Williamson plays fast and loose with confidential state secrets. Boot him out? Nope. Put him in charge – and I use the term loosely – of education.

So, let’s enjoy a few moments of good news at last. But let’s not lose sight of the woeful ineptitude that has bedevilled us for months and which all of us need to call out at every turn.

When football met the pandemic – and how it coped

Project Restart. Real-time history about football and lockdown

My new book about football – well, football and its place in society – comes out today. The foreword to it is reproduced below. To buy your copy, go to the Pitch Publishing website where there are links to all major booksellers. Some of them pay tax.

With footballers outstripping our elected leaders when it comes to social justice and with fans contributing to food banks instead of paying (again) for pay-per-view TV, the link between football and wider society becomes more marked and important by the day.

This book captures some of that spirit and pays tribute to those at all levels who love the game and all that it can do for people.

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I’ve always known that I lived in a society where there was unfairness, inequality and tragedy. All the same, for a long time, I didn’t think I lived in one where something really, genuinely bad would happen to everyone.

Sure, we’d had those miserable climate warnings. For some, the UK winter of 2020 had already brought unbridled misery as persistent, torrential rain ruined properties and livelihoods. Doomsters had been warning us for some time that ‘freak’ weather could become the norm unless we changed our behaviour. It all seemed a bit distant, though. Stuff like that really wasn’t going to affect our lives in the long term.

Pandemics? Shocking and tragic as they may have been, they happened in other countries whose authorities didn’t have stuff under control like we had. And then it became horribly real.

Like almost every genuine football supporter I know, I frequently ask myself a question to which I don’t know the answer: why do I let the game in general, and my team in particular, matter to me? For all the jokiness, you’ll know what I mean – checking the score when you should be grinning happily at your niece’s wedding; knowing that you’ll be grumpy that evening if you’ve lost; flicking the remote from a major world event because you just need to know some  entirely inconsequential scrap of football-related nonsense. Let’s not even talk about planning holidays, arranging social events and skipping off work early.

In those first few shocking and unsettling weeks in March and April, we had to square up to what we’d always known: football really isn’t that important in the face of real danger and disaster. The impact of Covid 19 was all-consuming and despite the foot-dragging of many of those in charge, it soon became plain that professional football, played in front of crowds of people, was an unthinkable folly.

All of which lasted for about three or four weeks, by which time it became acceptable to start asking what was going to happen to the beautiful game. With plenty of time for idle contemplation during lockdown, I became fascinated by how this whole process of restarting football was going to play out.  In the pages that follow, I’ve tried to put together a living history of what happened, looking at football and its place in the wider world. At the centre of this are case studies of nine clubs operating at a range of levels. The choice was arbitrary other than trying to ensure that I got a spread of clubs from the Premier League to your local sports and social set-up.

Communicating with anyone from any of the fully professional clubs during the height of the pandemic was almost impossible. Attempts to set up online interviews, get a response to emails or find someone to answer the phone became a dispiriting business. In the lower leagues, many non-playing staff had been placed on furlough – a term which I don’t think any of us had ever used in our lives before, but which became quickly installed as part of everyday conversation. Up at the top level, particularly as the restart became a fact of life, over-stretched media teams became entirely inaccessible. 

 But there were – and are – plenty of other sources from which the temperature of the times could be taken. By trawling media – local and national – and loitering on forums and chat rooms, I’ve put together a picture that I hope will be familiar in many aspects to fans of all clubs. Eventually, I got to speak to a quite a few key people: members of supporters’ trusts and supporters’ clubs; stalwarts of non-league football who do everything from maintaining the website to painting the goalposts; managers, chairmen, chief executives, academics and researchers.

At the core of this book are the chosen clubs, from the Premier League to the parks, but there is plenty of mention of other teams and you’ll be able to find where yours features because a handy index is provided. My principal intention has been to paint a picture of what was happening in football but to do so I make no apology for looking at the game in the context of what was happening in society in general. In order to do that, I’ve had to engage in occasional political commentary. I haven’t been so coy as to pretend any neutrality; you’re at complete liberty to disagree with the opinions expressed and I’ve even furnished you with contact details at the end so that you can tell me why I’m such a fool to think as I do. 

Much of this book was written in June and July. At that time, the only two leagues who were able to get back into full action were the Premier League and the Championship. Below that level, barring some play-off action, all we could do was wait and see and hope that somehow, some sort of football would soon take place, not least so that some income could be generated and the employment of hundreds of people could become more secure. In this, especially below the top two levels, those who worked in football, in whatever capacity, were in the same boat as the rest of society.

One of the things we learnt during the pandemic was that the people who emptied our bins, stacked the shelves, drove the buses, worked at the pharmacy or delivered our post and parcels genuinely were those who kept us going. That’s even before we get to those who cared for the elderly, tended the sick, nursed the terminally ill and worked until they were emotionally and physically drained. The pages that follow acknowledge that even though we were all trying to come to terms with a world turned on its head, it was just about permissible to strive for those things we knew were trivial: we’re capable of carrying two ideas in our heads at once. We knew that it was possible to be respectful to those who had suffered while trying to grasp for some of the trifles that make life normal.

Footballers showed themselves as keen as anyone to demonstrate humility and a sense of perspective. Some went a great deal further than that. This book is written out of gratitude to the van driver as well as the star striker. Both remind us of what it is to be human.

We know Trump’s a lost cause – but the clever ones around him really should know better.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany

There’s a useful maxim about making comparisons to the Nazis on social media posts. The moment such a correspondence is drawn, you can be pretty certain that whoever has made it has lost the argument. So, before I even approach such swampy territory, I’ll go back to a schoolboy memory – and one that has stuck with me stubbornly throughout life.

When I first learnt about the horrors of the Holocaust, I could scarcely comprehend the extent of human cruelty I was discovering. There is no hierarchy of horror, but one chilling element of the Nazis’ behaviour still haunts me. Once the notion of a final solution became government policy, the issue of how to arrange killing on an industrialised scale needed to be addressed. To put this into practice, the contribution of a range of experts was required.

The complicity of such people is alarming. Architects designed death camps. Engineers and accomplished administrators drew up unerringly accurate transport plans. Doctors devised means of mass murder and were complicit in unthinkable scientific and medical experimentation. Highly educated people, probably at the peak of their professional and academic powers, used their knowledge, experience and expertise to enable acts of unspeakable inhumanity. How could they have lived with the knowledge of what they were doing?

In some respects, the answer is straightforward. By the time the Nazi regime was fully installed, its apparatus had ensured that even for society’s comfortable professionals, membership of the party or, at the very least, unwavering acquiescence to its diktats, were matters of life and death. The exercising of professional judgement, never mind compliance with ethical or moral codes of practice, were no longer in the hands of individuals or their representative bodies. Whether or not the architect who had just drawn up plans for a gas chamber went home, slumped in his chair and put his head in his hands, or simply shrugged and told himself he was just doing his job, is immaterial. His choices in his newly normalised society had been eradicated.

Intelligent, well-read and highly qualified people, probably with refined and sophisticated tastes – but serving the needs of a monster and a monstrous system. Living with themselves must have been excruciating. Mustn’t it?

The shocking truth was that they were living in a society experiencing the strangulation of democracy. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time it was a fact of life, it was too late to do much about it. In his poem about what fascism looks like, Michael Rosen warns that it won’t come in grotesque Nazi dress, it will ‘restore your honour/make you feel proud…..clean up the neighbourhood/remind you of how great you once were.’ It doesn’t start off by talking about curtailing liberties, generating disinformation and imprisoning people.

But that’s exactly what we face as we cringe behind our sofas and watch the villains facilitating the slow death of American democracy. There is a famous quotation from the 1930s, often attributed to Sinclair Lewis but actually the words of James Waterman Wise, suggesting that ‘when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.’ With Trump failing to confirm that he will honour the outcome of the forthcoming election, casting doubt on the validity of postal voting and, most disturbingly, failing to condemn the para-military groups already gearing up for election-day vigilantism, the alarm bells should be ringing.

Trump’s conduct during his period of illness has only confirmed that if there were a test for basic human decency, he would be an abject failure. But we knew that anyway. He is demonstrably a man incapable of dealing with anything but the simplest of ideas – and then only doing so one at a time. American immunologist Anthony Fauci recently spoke of the President’s attention span being ‘like a minus number.’  Our expectations of him simply could not be any lower. But around him are intelligent, accomplished individuals who must know better but whose tongues remain resolutely bitten.

There’s Dr Sean Conley. Decorated military veteran educated at the University of Notre Dame and then at a prestigious Philadelphia medical college. He clearly believes the spluttering president is ready to reinfect his adoring public and his increasingly nervous staff. There is New York University graduate Maria Bartiromo rantingly batting for the president when even Fox News wasn’t so sure he was doing the right thing. Of most concern, though, is Kayleigh McEnany, his press adviser. Harvard educated but incapable of admitting that her boss ever downplayed the importance of Covid 19, despite clear video evidence of his words playing in front of her eyes. ‘The President,’ she assures us, ‘has never lied to the American public on Covid.’

At the end of the day, does she kick off her shoes, pour a glass of something and congratulate herself on a job well done? Or does she fret, even for a moment, about her abdication of responsibility to the people her boss is supposed to serve? Another disputed quotation warns us that for evil to triumph, all that is required is for good people to do nothing. Both here in the UK and in the United States, there are people using their talent and ability to allow evil to flourish – to encourage it, even. If we stay silent and fail to call them out – and fail to support those who exercise their right to do so – we will have been complicit in disaster. The buffoons and clowns might hold the highest offices, but it’s those who have put their consciences to bed who need to shoulder the blame.

Debate didn’t ring your chimes? Relax. It could never happen here.

At the end of my last blogpost, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t find anything to lift the gloom cast by the daily news. And then, just as we all thought that we had peered at the floor of the abyss, we had the US Presidential debate.

Like most people, I’ve only seen snippets. That’s been enough, of course. Anyone compelled to endure the whole ninety minutes could be excused if they were still still taking deep breaths in a darkened room. If this had been two flatulent uncles frothing blindly at each other after too much Christmas sherry, it might even have been mildly amusing in its demeaning inevitability. It wasn’t. It was two men vying for one of the most powerful positions on the planet. Well, there were three of them, of course, given the presence of the ineffectual coat-holder flapping about as moderator. I don’t know if he got paid for his efforts; if he did, he should congratulate himself on pulling off the trick of getting wages for doing bugger all.

It’s tempting, of course, to exonerate Biden. Of the three old boys on show, he was the least culpable. That he allowed himself to lapse into occasional tit-for-tat has been blinked at by some as understandable in the face of Trump’s gross intemperance. I’m not so sure. First, he must have known what was coming: second, there are a few shrewd old operators around the world who’ll know how to prick a thin skin when they spot it if the time comes. Nevertheless, nobody could possibly make the case that it was anything other than Trump’s vile conduct and commentary which made this such a genuinely revolting spectacle.

In the days and memes since, I’ve seen a recurring response. The argument is that in the USA, where vulgarity, ignorance and over-consumption seem to so dominate public life, those Americans are getting what they deserve – and that maybe now they’ll come to their senses.  If they don’t, then they’re clearly a lost cause and they’re going to hell in a handcart. Even if we leave aside the inconvenient truth that in an interconnected world, the actions of a world superpower affect us all, another irritant remains. Deal or no Brexit deal, one of our own florid uncles will be sitting across the table from one of these septuagenarians and the outcome might affect the toxicity of your supper. These people are our bestest friends. Apparently.

Another reaction can only be summed up by the German term schadenfreude – the derivation of pleasure from the discomfiture of others. Thank goodness, we tell ourselves, that we have the class and style which prevents us from sliding into such unseemliness. Except that’s not exactly true, is it?

The post-Covid House of Commons has spared us the grim spectacle of grown men (it’s pretty gender specific) braying at each other, exchanging infantile, theatrical gestures as a substitute for measured debate. But for all this unedifying legacy of the prep-school playground, it’s unthinkable that we’d allow ourselves – the inheritors of one of the world’s most refined democracies – to be duped into electing buffoons, charlatans and just plain old dimwits into positions of the highest office. We’re far too vigilant and savvy for that. Possibly.

Because while we’ve all been wrestling with whatever today’s lockdown rulings might be, the sparkling business of the internal market bill is still exercising those members of the mother of parliaments who might still care. I appreciate how the very mention of this piece of legislation will have your blood running to fever point but bear with me – it’s important.

Should parliament decide to approve this bill, it would be doing two things. First, it would be reneging on an agreement about withdrawing from the EU that it passed less than nine months ago. Second, it would be breaking international law – and doing so in an entirely intentional and brazen way.  ‘Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way,’ Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told the Commons, but ‘in a certain very tightly defined circumstance.’ Oh, that’s OK then. We’re just breaking the law a bit.

Of all the outrageous bile spewed from Trump in recent weeks, the most alarming is the increasingly disturbing notion that he won’t accept the result of the election. Of course, we reassure ourselves, that could never happen because the law would sort it all out. Except that the law is not a constant. It reflects the morals, ethics and values of those who make it and in Trump’s America, the replacement of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg with staunchly conservative Amy Coney Barrett could have drastic and lasting outcomes. One of these is that  the law could, indeed, back Trump in the event of a defeat.

But no need for us to worry. If there’s one thing we know about, it’s the sanctity of the law and its role in a democratic society. What’s more, we all make it our duty to keep an eye on the lawmakers, no matter how dull their deliberations seem to be. Don’t we? We can happily sit back and tut to our hearts’ content as Americans have to endure such miserable, degraded politics. It could never happen here.