The Pyjama Game

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While David Cameron continues to flail around in Brussels, Jeremy Corbyn has set himself up as an unlikely source of sartorial advice…..

Is David Cameron’s European negotiation approaching the end game? This is the question that occupied the commentariat at least for the second half of the week, although this sketch, always tempted to turn down the more rutted and grass-sprouting byways of domestic politics, became distracted rather by Jeremy Corbyn’s entry into the pyjama game. A headmistress in Darlington has written to the parents of her primary school charges asking them to desist from dropping off their children wearing night attire. The children, so far as we can tell, are properly turned out, but it is the mothers and fathers who are arriving in pyjamas, Mickey Mouse slippers and moth-eaten dressing gowns. Most of the parents, it seems, back the headmistress, though a minority have reacted by calling her a whore and a failed fat supermodel, thus providing important insight into the mores of the working class demographic with which Labour must re-engage. Perhaps conscious of this need, Mr Corbyn weighed in, urging parents to be properly dressed when taking their children to school. The Conservative leadership remained silent on the topic though, presumably, one wouldn’t expect nanny to drop off from the four-by-four while wearing her negligee.

Courturial advice from the Islington enclave was a brave tack for Mr Corbyn to take since he has not been universally praised for his own dress sense. Photographs regularly adorn the pages of the Daily Mail and other papers of record of the Labour leader kitted out in either a rumpled, silver shell suit – which makes him look like, at least until you arrive at the head, the late Jimmy Saville – or in shorts, socks and sandals, which makes him look like he cannot find his way into the Liberal Democrat local government conference. Observers, perhaps sensitive to the feminist critique that their sardonic sartorialism is invariably directed towards women politicians, notice that he seems not to have changed his outfit for prime minister’s questions since he first started starring at the gig four months ago. This may be true: he has also not changed his tack and his habit of reading out missives from those concerned members of the public who have written to him is starting to cause the Prime Minister less and less distress.

News of Mr Corbyn’s intervention in the Darlington affair coincided with the revelation that, in his younger days, the leftist firebrand would invite his friends into his bedroom to show off his then lover. That the lover was Diane Abbott and that, apparently, she was following Mr Corbyn’s advice and not wearing pyjamas provided a disturbing insight into the antics of the Islington generation. It is a tribute to the resilience of the Marxist-Leninist enclave that it is still around 30 years later, having survived exposure to Ms Abbott wearing nothing except perhaps a copy of Das Kapital strategically positioned to cover her means of production.

The Prime Minister, though unruffled by Mr Corbyn’s forays into opposition, managed to create trouble for himself by using the term “bunch of migrants” to refer to the Leader of the Opposition’s recent meeting with a group of individuals seeking emergency entry into the United Kingdom. Political correctness is a hot airborne contagion that spreads more rapidly than Legionnaires Disease and it was not previously known until this week that “bunch” is a suspect term (this is bad news for those whose regularly deal with keys, bananas or coconuts). Twitter was predictably outraged, though Britain – thus bearing out Mr Cameron’s observation in his last party conference speech – predictably less so. The matter at least provided a fertile battleground between those who considered that the PM had made an unfelicitious tongue-slip and those who saw the manufacture of a faux controversy a deliberate tactic to divert attention from Google’s tax return.  This latter group talked knowingly about a “dead cat strategy” which is a charming term of use introduced into the bloodstream of British political discourse by Mr Lynton Crosby, an Australian. Anyway, people were still talking about it by the weekend, which showed if nothing else that the dead cat had legs.

On the matter of Google’s tax return itself, this was presented as a triumph for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, albeit only by himself. Mr Osborne has a remarkable record for saying that he has vanquished the deficit, which he hasn’t, or that he has a coherent plan for revitalising the north of England, which he doesn’t, or that he had screwed the ubiquitous search engine to the floor, which he hadn’t. Once again, Mr Osborne’s prospects of replacing David Cameron seemed to dwindle.

Corbynite policy on the matter remains unclear, although presumably this would involve establishing a nationalised internet search facility which, on the rare occasions when the algorithms weren’t on strike would return eight searches for ‘cat’, seven of them being about dogs. Islington would profess itself ideologically satisfied, albeit culturally frustrated, while the rest of the country would tweet its displeasure. The amount of tax paid by Twitter would remain unremarked upon.

 

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The Kettering Uprising

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David Cameron’s enemies are massing in the east…..

MPs, having realised that they are powerless to act against globally plummeting stockmarkets, the threat to the future of civilisation posed by the refugee crisis, or even Idris Elba’s failure to land an Oscar nomination, voted to ban poppers. Since this sketch channels unworldliness marble-veined with a streak of deafness, it was assumed that the Commons may have turned against the late scientific philosopher Karl Popper, and therefore rushed to look him up in Wikipedia. Popper, it says, “is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favour of empirical falsification”. Yes, that sounded about right: MPs often vote to ban things they don’t understand and “empirical falsification” could well be taken as a sly dig at their habits with expenses claims. Why then, when one checked out the debate, did everyone seem to be talking about anal sex, unless it was the application of the scientific method to this particular form of recreational activity that was at issue?

Mr Crispin Blunt, the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, told an astonished House that he himself was a user of poppers, a revelation falling firmly into the category of too much information. Unless, of course, Mr Blunt was himself confused and was still talking about Karl, whose work on the falsifiability of numbers must undoubtedly be of assistance to him in assessing David Cameron’s claims about the ground forces fighting ISIS. Alas, it seems that Mr Blunt was talking about anal sex too: perhaps since his Conservative colleague David Mundell revealed himself as a homosexual two weeks ago, Mr Blunt has felt the compulsion to come out just that little bit further.

With these thoughts in mind, it was with a degree of trepidation that one turned to contemplate the Grassroots Out campaign, a new arrival on the political scene that announced itself with a rally in Kettering at the weekend. One had vaguely thought that the era was behind us when it was fashionable to bully private homosexuals into revealing their orientation, but who knows. Kettering might well be behind the rest of the country in this regard, and then where would it stop? Would Grassroots Out not be satisfied until every MP had revealed him or herself to be gay, or possibly a user of poppers?

The appearance on the Kettering stage of the egregiously heterosexual Dr Liam Fox was enough to puncture this concern and it was some relief, relatively speaking, to discover that Grassroots Out, or “GO”, is yet another group dedicated to the cause of Britain’s exit from the European Union. The area set aside in our public space for such organisations is rapidly becoming more crowded than Queen Victoria’s womb. GO presents itself as a cross-party effort and seems to have the rather touching aim of enabling ordinary shy Eurosceptics to out themselves to each other, with a view to sharing the mutual pleasures of canvassing and perhaps much else besides.

The group is on speaking terms with Nigel Farage – not a given in Leaveworld – and also attracted the support of Labour’s Kate Hoey and the Conservative MP Tom Pursglove. Mr Pursglove is deeply obscure even for a Tory backbencher although, sitting for Corby and East Northamptonshire, comes from that fecund strain of regional Eurospceptics that includes Wellingborough’s Peter Bone and Kettering’s very own Phillip Hollobone. Mr Hollobone arrived at the rally on his patch wearing a jacket fashioned to imitate a Union Jack. This put one in mind of an earlier member of the middle east anti-Europe mafia, Tony Marlow. Those with long memories will recall Mr Marlow all but scuppering John Redwood’s leadership putsch against John Major by arriving at his launch conference in a blazer that appeared to have been rejected from an amateur production of Toad of Toad Hall. Perhaps unfairly, this helped to cement the impression that Mr Redwood’s supporters were, collectively, some truffles short of a full Thornton’s presentation set.

Dr Fox’s presence, however, undoubtedly added lustre to GO’s launch and helped partially to explain why he had been having lunch with the Home Secretary. For, indeed, the pair of them had been spotted in the week a deux in Quirinale, a Westminster eating-hole where long flowing Italian descriptions of food come with thirty quid price tags. This had led to much fevered speculation about leadership bids and the Home Sec’s continued flirtation with outing herself for Leave (or, perhaps, leaving herself for Out). It turns out that the doctor was asking her to go to Kettering, which is probably the most improper thing anyone has said to Theresa May since 1973.

Dr Fox is said to be popular with Tory MPs – an accusation rarely levelled against Mrs May – though he has dark eyes that twinkle with malice and a demeanour that, in a bedside manner competition with Harold Shipman, suggests that one would opt to have the erstwhile mass murderer stick a thermometer underneath your tongue. His increased stage presence is a signal that, for all the supposed good behaviour of the Conservative parliamentary party, Mr Cameron’s enemies are massing.

Commentators bored with the ongoing shambles of Corbynism worry that the PM is experiencing insufficient opposition, allowing him to govern the country with a lazy and supercilious indifference. The Labour Party published a report into why it lost the last election, which came ponderously to the same conclusions that others had done about six months ago. It turns out that the Party does not require the assistance of alkyl nitrites to be well and truly buggered.

Having previously decided that Jeremy Corbyn is the answer to its problems, Labour might be considered to be beyond the help of rational analysis. This is a state of affairs likely to allow Mr Cameron’s Laodicean reign to continue for a while yet, unless and until it is upended by the outcome of his EU referendum.

 

Sweet Toothless

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The low level skirmishes in the battle of Brexit have begun…..

News arrived on Tuesday that the Prime Minister was being a bit testy at the Liaison Committee. Ever anxious to monitor the PM’s state of mind, this sketch checked out the evidence only to discover that, yes indeed, Mr Cameron was displaying some petulance under questioning by the serried heads of Parliament’s select committees. The jacket was off though at least the sleeves were not rolled up. This suggested that he had arrived seeking to convey towards the Committee the appropriate admixture of insouciance and torso, but had not yet reached the stage of wanting to punch their lights out.

How long the peace might have been preserved had the questioning remained with Andrew Tyrie, the Commttee’s Chairman, is an interesting question. Mr Tyrie picked an early fight with the PM over his attendance rate before the Committee, before moving on to question him about progress against ISIS. To develop his questioning style, Mr Tyrie has dipped deep into the treasury of condescension and possesses a languid manner of interrogation suggesting that in the movie version he would have had to be played by the late Alan Rickman. Mr Cameron, doubtlessly fancying a portrayal by a young, but now alas equally late David Bowie, answered as politely as he could, which was not very.

You could see him straining equally when the questioning was taken up by Harriet Harman (Emma Thompson, natch) who was anxious to burnish her credentials as a Labour moderate by asking him about UK drone strikes. Corbynite policy is to oppose the killing of the country’s enemies – a position borne of convictions that are part pacifist and part swayed by the belief that the enemies are right and we are wrong – while Ms Harman conveyed the impression that she was not entirely opposed to this, especially if the enemies were men. Nevertheless, her conscience, not to mention her lawyerly training, told her that the killing needed to be wrapped in sufficient layers of ex ante legal process and post hoc investigation so as to satisfy the demands of armchair pacificsts such as herself. Mr Cameron seemed to think that the current system would do. Who knows? The fact that UK drones do not routinely rain down on council tax evaders, benefit cheats or toffee-nosed committee chairs may speak to admirable self-restraint, adequate regulation or the lack of defence budget, or a combination of all three.

Equally testing Mr Cameron’s patience this week was Chris Grayling, his Cabinet colleague, who declared in a column in the Daily Telegraph that Britain’s membership of the European Union is “disastrous”. Readers of the Daily Telegraph do not need to be told this: the purpose of Mr Grayling’s article was to signal that the low-level tactical deployments of the referendum campaign have begun. The “remain” side of the argument reacted proportionately with an article in the Observer by Nicky Morgan, aka NiMo, the Education Secretary and ‘minister for women’. The EU is good for women, Ms Morgan argued in some unspecified way, raising the intriguing possibility that if women vote stay and men to leave in Mr Cameron’s referendum, the UK may have to fracture along gender lines. At some point, politicians people have actually heard of may have to get involved in this debate, though the precedents are not helpful: everyone has undoubtedly heard of Nigel Farage but the problem with his involvement is that it is better at bolstering support for the other side than for his own.

While pausing on the subject of non-entities, there was also a brief cameo from Nick Clegg on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. He seemed keen to support the Prime Minister’s new line on Europe that Britain should remain in the Union for the sake of our security. “There is safety in numbers”, Mr Clegg argued, which, if true, would suggest that Liberal Democrat members of Parliament should be among the most terrified people in the country. Over in the Lords, where there are dozens of unelected Lib Dems, one caught one of these, Lord Rennard, arguing vigorously in favour of imposing a tax on sugar-laden drinks. Not a man who looks as if he has supped overly long at carrot juice, Lord Rennard deployed the ingenious argument that either the tax would work – in which case people would become thin and Coca Cola go out of business – or it would not, in which case the Treasury would harvest vast sums to give to the NHS to treat fat people. It was good to see Lord Rennard remaining loyal to the essential barminess of Liberal Democrat policy positions. Lechery not treachery has always been his problem, though, of course, he denies both accusations.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is in favour of an impost on sugary drinks, having introduced such a policy in City Hall, while the Tory minister grappling with Rennard, a cadaverous cove called Prior, seemed disposed against. One did not really get a sense of Labour policy on the matter, though one presumes that it would be to endorse such beverages so long as they don’t have any sugar in them. This would put the matter at one with Mr Corbyn’s new defence policy which is to support our fleet of nuclear submarines so long as they are not actually armed with nuclear weapons.  The subs, rather like Islington in the good old days, would proudly bear signs declaring themselves to be nuclear-free zones.

This represents a subtle, but important, evolution of Mr Corbyn’s defence policy. Previously he was clear that he wouldn’t use the nuclear weapons that we have. Now he is not going to use the weapons that we don’t have, though for some reason keeping hold of the vessels where we wouldn’t have them.  Presumably the general idea is that our enemies would get so lost in the thicket of double negatives that they would retreat in confusion anyway.  Either that or they would fall over laughing. This is a small idea lost within a bigger idea: the bigger idea is not to upset the trade unions upon whose financial support the Labour Party depends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodwill Hunting

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Not for the first time, David Cameron’s only compensation is that Jeremy Corbyn is in an even bigger mess than he is….

In a baffling week for our party leaders, Jeremy Corbyn apparently strengthened his position after executing one of the most cack-handed reshuffles in British political history, David Cameron apparently weakened his by advancing to the next stage of his European strategy and Nigel Farage frightened everybody by raising the prospect that someone is trying to kill him. Only Tim Farron had a quiet time of it. Following the extensive flooding in Cumbria, it may well be that he is under water physically as well as politically.

It is a good thing that Maigret is soon to return to our screens in the guise of Rowan Atkinson. We can therefore leave it to him to untangle whether somebody did in fact tamper with the wheels of Mr Farage’s Volvo and enough has been said about the UKIP leader’s loose nuts to avoid the need to repeat such a dreadful calumny here. Douglas Carswell seems like a mild as well as an honourable man and surely even the revelation that his nemesis has a Swedish car to go with his German wife wouldn’t be enough to cause him to set off from Clacton with a wrench. Mr Farage for his part claims to have regretted speaking to a journalist about his mishap on the motorway from which fateful conversation the idea of a failed assassination attempt arose. The UKIP leader is simply accident prone: the memory is still relatively fresh of him being drawn gibbering from the wreckage of a light aircraft after one of his party’s sloganizing banners got caught in the plane’s tail fins. Not even such misfortune though was enough to persuade the people of Buckingham to vote for him. There seems to be no force on earth capable of achieving that.

It is one of the failings of the polling companies that they neglect to ask people which of the party leaders they would most like to do away with. One assumes that Mr Corbyn would score relatively well on this measure since the British public have a profound sense of fair play when it comes to dealing with men with beards, believing them to have suffered enough. They are also instinctively sympathetic towards lefties as compensation towards their consciences for the moment when they know they are not going to vote for them.

Among Labour MPs, however, the desire to bump off a fellow politician is probably higher than at any time since, at the height of the health reforms fiasco, Downing Street let it be known that, were a professional hit man to put forward a proposal in respect of Andrew Lansley, its door would not necessarily be closed. This urge for termination reaches its apogee in the shadow cabinet. Indeed, after Hilary Benn left his meeting with the leader smiling on Monday morning, it would have been a wary aide who went back into the room, wondering whether he would find Mr Corbyn sitting at his desk, or lying in a puddle behind it.

Mr Benn was an early non-casualty of the so-called revenge reshuffle which, rather like the current weather fronts, began to mass ominously at the weekend and had still not really cleared by Friday. It was the Prime Minister’s good fortune that he got to come to Commons twice this week to tease the Labour leader about it. On Tuesday he apologised for interrupting the longest reshuffle in history though by Wednesday, in response to a prompt that this year marks the 400th since the death of Shakespeare, he embarked upon a non-extempore riff involving the names of as many of the Bard’s plays that his assistants could remember. This represented a marginally more high-brow trawl of the Prime Minister’s cultural references: the day before he had pointed out that it would have been possible to watch the entire series of Star Wars films in the time it had taken Mr Corbyn to get round to moving Maria Eagle to the shadow culture portfolio. Mr Cameron is unique among prime ministers in causing us to suppose that this is what he actually was doing while Jeremy Corbyn was exacting his revenge. An earlier class of politician might have said, for example, that, in the time it was taken, he could have listened to the entire Ring Cycle or participated extensively in the Hundred Years War.

Mr Cameron’s appearance on Tuesday was prompted by the need to report back to the House on the European Council summit that he had attended before Christmas. Once the occasion for doing jolly things like eating, launching treaties and riding around in public on bicycles, Council meetings these days are sombre affairs as Europe’s collective leadership gets together to mull over its essential uselessness. It finds Europe assailed by streams of refugees and by fanatics with guns and bombs, and is unable to do much about either. It finds the people fed up with austerity and the economy beset by pessimism, and knows not what to do. It finds Mr Cameron banging on for the umpteenth time about his terms for remaining part of this aggregate ineffectuality and is unable to do much about that either. In the winter at least most of the refugees go away; from the north though, Mr Cameron comes again.

The previous strategy having failed – this was to oblige the British prime minister to confine his lobbying to the slot given over to after-dinner charades (“It’s a letter…four demands….the first demand….”) – time had been found on the Brussels agenda to discuss perfidious Albion’s conditions. The Commons would have liked a bit more detail about what had gone on. The session we learned, had lasted several hours and “almost every” European leader had contributed. Who then had not? Had the Maltese premier sat in sullen silence doodling crosses, or the leader of Poland – reportedly anxious to be obliging to Mr Cameron on the matter of welfare benefits – been sat upon by a coalition of Hungarian and Romanian bottoms? All we were able to discover was that there had been plenty of goodwill and, according to Mr Cameron, a willingness to find an accommodation. This though will have to wait until February, or perhaps March, when Europe’s undertakers must gather again in some Dutch redoubt and do it all over again.

The Prime Minister’s back bench critics were naturally unimpressed. There was evident truth in the observation that these people are never satisfied. They had, after all, heard from Mr Cameron  his significant concession that members of his government, including his Cabinet, will be free to campaign for Britain to leave the EU even if, as expected, the PM himself wants us to stay in. We had been told that the Prime Minister was holding this back so as to hand it over eventually in a manner that made his Eurosceptic opponents feel that they had achieved a great victory. This was to be their Marathon though, in the event, it landed with all the force of a partially masticated wine gum.

Mr Cameron’s problem with respect to his Eurosceptic opponents is that he is Sir Isaac Newton to their John Keats. To them Europe is an exquisite amalgam of duplicity and menace: its very value as an opponent lies in the poetically ubiquitous nature of its threat. The more Mr Cameron tries to pick this apart, and propose particular solutions against particular issues, the more irritated his opponents become, like Keats at Newton’s unweaving of the rainbow. Kenneth Clarke – not only the most venerable but perhaps now the sole surviving Conservative Europhile – picked this up in his question on the statement. Securing an opt-out from the commitment to an ever-closer union was, Mr Clarke observed, until recently the sceptics’ principal demand; now, however, the Prime Minister’s efforts on this front were dismissed as a boring and trivial diversion. Colleagues, the former Chancellor noted, had moved on to display an “unaccustomed interest in benefits”. Later on, another Tory backbencher, Philip Davies, accused the Prime Minister of seeking to fabricate a “bogus negotiating triumph”. Whatever goodwill David Cameron may have detected in Brussels, it clearly has not come back to inhabit the Conservative Parliamentary party.