A SORT OF BLOG

What follows is a collection of thoughts in response to daily events. Some of the conclusions and ideas might seem counter-intuitive, contrarian or oddly supportive, or critical of, groups and individuals who might naturally fall within, or beyond, my expected “bubble”. This is because the ideas all rest upon my analysis of how our society, culture and economy have developed over the past 60 years. This progression is explained in detail in my book “The Rise of Antisocialism”. It argues that we now live in a state of almost compulsory consumption – which equates to a catastrophic cycle of pollution and destruction. It is achieved through exploitation, with modern slavery and sweatshop labour commonplace – even in the UK – and is fed by maintaining a permanent state of dissatisfaction, self-interest and individualism throughout the population. Globalisation, technology and business principles applied to everything – and the complete capitulation of “socialist” ideas – have enhanced and accelerated this process. The recent lockdown and the focus on what matters, what is essential, and who our key workers are has offered us a small dummy run at what will be needed when we have successfully pillaged more of the Earth's resources than it can withstand. We could and should have learned much about what will be needed. This is the message I am trying to spread with the random thoughts below.

MAY 27 2024

I recently watched snippets of the London Marathon on TV. It was impressive, both the athleticism and the organisation. But then, suddenly, the runners jogged through a section of road bedecked with rainbow flags and heralded as the LGBT+ zone. I didn't know why at the time, but this stung and felt all wrong.

I have also been a life-long fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, with clear memories of Sandie Shaw wining in 1967, watching on my Grandma's great box of a black and white television. But this year I felt alienated, excluded, shut out. I didn't know why at the time, but this wasn't a song contest for me: it had been captured by the LGBT+ campaign, with gay and non-binary participants predominating. I have nothing against LGBT+ people: indeed, I was the first journalist in London to see the value in a newspaper supplement focused on ranking gay and lesbian business executives as a way of eradicating their “otherness”. But Eurovision felt threatening and left me uncomfortable.

Gradually, I began to work out why the sight of a special zone on the marathon route and the extravagant behaviour at Eurovision were so discomfiting, even to a friend and supporter of the rainbow flag. And that was the first step towards understanding: the flags. These were not inclusive flags and symbols – they were meant to be confrontational. That is, indeed, the purpose of a badge, flag, banner, uniform, scarf or emblem – to define, isolate and exclude, to create an “us and them”. And these events, especially the nasty Eurovision Song Contest, were telling me I was part of the “them”.

Within a few more days, I had come to understand fully the message, thanks to reading The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. As soon as I began reading their chapter on “inclusivity circles”, I could see clearly what was happening. The authors explained that members of a group can draw their “circle of inclusivity” to encompass as many, or as few, people as they wish. It depends on their intention. This is because inclusivity circles have two diametrically opposed purposes: to achieve consensus and understanding, or to reinforce the cohesion of the group. Throwing the circle wide to embrace those who disagree with you, or who might not understand your life choices, is the route to consensus, towards making you and your group part of an inclusive “greater normal”. Draw the circle tightly around you and your cause and it becomes isolating, creating the “us-and-them” feelings I detected so strongly when watching the marathon and Eurovision. Thanks to their tightly draw inclusivity circle, the wavers of the rainbow flags no longer appeared part of a greater “us”. They had chosen to be a smaller, more cohesive and more confrontational “us” that sees the rest of the world as “them” – a threatening “them” that can be labelled bigoted and full of all sorts of “phobes”. It doesn't matter that this alienates so many supportive people, creates conflict and leads away from consensus: the primary concern is to reinforce the group, to enforce its rights and wield its power. This all made perfect sense.

The book is primarily concerned with how over-protective parenting that has sought to make life as comfortable and safe for children as possible has actually caused untold damage. The book's subtitle expresses this nicely: “How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”. A telling phrase quoted in the book warns that children need to be prepared for the road, not the road for the child. Everyone should read it. It explains so much. So this would be my fourth manifesto initiative: to enforce a more robust parenting regime that enables children to become hardened and prepared for allergies, arguments and attitudes. Empowering youngsters to cope has to be a vital campaigning pledge.

I ALSO NOW UNDERSTAND WHY THE BBC IS SEEN AS BIASED IN BOTH DIRECTIONS

At 6.30pm on Friday evenings, I would allow the BBC Radio 4 “Now Show” to begin, with the proviso that it would be turned off at the first “joke” that offended, insulted or belittled anyone who voted for Brexit or that called them thick northern working class losers. I usually had to hit the off button two or three minutes into the show. Mock The Week on BBC TV was as bad. I used to love it and watch avidly but then during the Brexit debate, it changed and became nasty and offensive to anyone with whom the group-think panellist comedians disagreed. It quickly became clear that virtually the entire entertainment sector, and most of the media, were of one mind, living in a bubble, and furious at having lost the Brexit referendum. The casual insults were amplified; the seething anger was palpable in Mishal Husein's voice; the viciously snide remarks could appear anywhere without warning – even in the introduction to the Commonwealth Games. Anyone supporting Brexit, from either side of the political spectrum, could therefore clearly see that the BBC was dominated by people seeing themselves as “liberal progressive left”. We might even add “elite”. This overwhelming and scarcely disguised bias was plain for all to see.

It therefore baffled me as to how anyone could accuse the BBC of being biased in favour of the Tories or other right-wing causes. How could an institution so obviously populated by hyper-liberals be accused of having “authoritarian right-wing” leanings. At Lord's cricket ground on Friday I was finally handed the answer: by allowing the entertainment and media industry's group-think to become so dominant, the BBC riled one side, prompting reasonable complaints of bias. It then responded by trying to neuter or remove the worst offenders, thereby provoking a raft of complaints from the “progressives hyper-liberals”, accusing it of censorship. The perfect way to ensure nobody is happy.

SELF-DRIVING CARS – PLEASE...

We rode home from Heathrow last week in a Tesla taxi. It was beautiful, especially the glass roof and the giant display screen that controls everything. Part of that screen showed the whereabouts of every nearby vehicle and pedestrian, and this mass of data and smart technology will form the basis of the self-driving cars we will all be offered very soon. And for me, it can't come soon enough. The standards of driving in Britain are now appalling: motorway lane discipline, never terribly apparent, has vanished completely; queue-jumping is dangerously endemic. A machine could surely do far far better and make life on the roads less miserable for all those happy to abide by the rules.

MAY 26 2024

My manifesto for government is becoming more clear and today I can reveal three central elements.

The first is compulsory community service. Sunak has proposed something along these lines but only for 18-year-olds. This is both a further nail in his electoral coffin and an example of “small think”.

Let me explain what I would do. When writing my book, The Rise of Antisocialism, I came to the depressing conclusion that the forces of consumption and individualism were so deeply ingrained that they could never be overcome, even in the face of a warming global climate that threatens our very existence. I simply couldn't see how the great debate required to achieve a transformation of society from one based on greed and selfishness to one based on community, involvement and localism would ever take place. But then came the pandemic and many people discovered the joy of simple pleasures – crafts, games, creativity – and wished to devote more of their time to them. It was a first chink of light that could lead to a more satisfying lifestyle that did not involve rabid consumption.

Alongside the need for us all to spend less time polluting the planet through valueless and ultimately unsatisfying jobs, I also accepted that certain functions were necessary to maintain an acceptable level of comfort and happiness. Then, again, along came the pandemic and its identification of “essential workers” – those valuable professions, notably health workers and those engaged in keeping the lights on, for example, who we applauded weekly.

But I could still not see how the need for a simpler life and the need to share out society's essential work could move within reach. There seemed to be no mechanism that would allow for a gradual transition to a “de-growth communitarian” society that I held to be necessary – and desirable. But then along came Rishi Sunak and his conscription plan. It is very easy to dismiss, especially if your instant response to any Tory proposal is anger, scorn and negativity. It does, however, if considered objectively, contain much that is good, and would make the UK more closely aligned with countries such as Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. Young people might not like it, but they would learn much and the country would benefit. This led me on to thinking about community service for all. Having visited Rwanda last summer and seen its wonderful communitarian policies in action, with Sunday morning road closures to allow for community activities, and regular compulsory service days – even the president is obliged to take part – and now heard Sunak propose a system of service for Britain, the path to a sustainable society began to emerge.

Community service should be for all, perhaps beginning with two weeks a year assisting charities and public bodies or emergency services. If co-ordinated well, this alone could go a long way towards plugging gaps in the provision of social services. Once the idea of service has become embedded, the time spent each year could be extended. After that, it could be made compulsory to spend a week or two of the annual service period learning crafts and skills – carpentry, painting, pottery, music, knitting, you name it. Through this gradual process, it might just be possible to cure ourselves of our deadly and destructive “work and consume” culture.

In The Rise of Antisocialism, I could see no way of getting from A to B. Now I can. It's not easy and in all probability would not be deemed acceptable by vested interests (which includes most people!) until it was way too late to be of use in saving the planetary ecosystems. However, it will form the basis of my concluding chapter in any revised version of the book. And it would be the primary plank in my election manifesto vision for the future.

The second policy initiative would concern housing. It is one of my specialist subjects, enabling me to see through the housebuilders' constant barrage of complaints regarding planning regulations and the need to build more houses to end what it is happy to keep claiming is a “crisis”. Neither its analysis nor solutions are worthy of any lengthy consideration and so we must look at the real issues in the housing sector. Low interest rates have, of course, caused a dramatic rise in nominal house prices. I say “nominal”, because the actual amount most people pay for their home is entirely different and usually many times greater. As I have said before, the only figure that matters is the monthly mortgage repayment sum. When interest rates fall, monthly payments fall – or would do but for the fact that the market “corrects” itself by increasing the nominal price, so that monthly repayments remain roughly the same. It's a simple see-saw process, but now greatly complicated by fixed rate mortgages of various lengths, which give lenders some temporary protection.

What happens when interest rates rise, as we have seen recently, is that monthly repayments rise, squeezing the market and causing nominal prices to fall. The problem today is that fixed rate lending greatly diffuses the impact: only a proportion of borrowers are exposed to new rates each year and so we see no sudden mass increase in mortgage defaults and negative equity, as would happen with the variable rate mortgage that was standard up to 30 or 40 years ago. House prices therefore now shift so slowly that rates can come down again before much impact is felt.

But this is not to say that we should be building no new housing – just that no matter how many enormous estates or tower blocks are built, it will have virtually no impact on nominal prices. So what should we be building to meet the needs of society – a society that is ageing but has very little suitable housing for the elderly? I would therefore severely limit what the developers want to build – vast housing estates on green fields – and instead focus on building for the elderly. This might look self-serving, given that I am retired, but the main beneficiaries would be those seeking family homes. The elderly need to be enabled to downsize and at present there is nothing for them. It's not their fault that they feel trapped in houses that have become too large after the family has grown up and gone – it's just that they have nowhere else to go. Many are almost forced to rattle around in a too-big house until they need a care home. So let's look at successes in other countries, such as the Netherlands, which has combined student accommodation and elderly housing with big wins on both sides. There are numerous options available to suit all tastes and needs. And enabling the aged to move not only liberates a great supply of family homes, it has knock-on effects along the chain, all the way to the first-time buyer.

My third manifesto pledge would be to fix the roads. Instantly. Whatever the costs. I realise I need more than three policies and so tomorrow I'll set out my thinking on the culture wars.

MAY 25 2024

What is Rishi Sunak thinking? Calling a general election for July 4 is possibly the biggest admission of political defeat for decades. While the horrors associated with the Tories are depressingly familiar, the prospect of a Labour government under Keir Starmer and including the likes of Yvette Cooper, is positively terrifying; the ridiculous LibDems equally so. Bizarrely, it means we could soon be the only country not sending illegal migrants to third countries, now that the Rwanda scheme has, in effect, been abandoned. As the push factors from Europe increase (more failed EU asylum claims, such as the man who placed his daughter in a lethal boat in the Channel having been refused asylum 14 times in various EU countries; more deportations and deals with third countries) the pull factors under Labour will increase dramatically as our threat of deportation evaporates and our asylum system becomes even more of a soft touch and hopelessly gullible.

Similarly, the present government can no longer claim any credit for getting to grips with scandals that have festered for decades. Instead of being able to say: “Look, we have been playing pass the parcel with these issues – infected blood, the Post Office, smoking, landlords and the rental sector, and more – for years and decades, but this government has said enough is enough. We cannot put right past injustices but we must do all we can to compensate, and that is what we are doing for the blood victims and are doing with the Post Office scandal victims. These things must be put right and this is the government that will do it.” All this is now lost.

But I still say that one of the biggest obstacles to a Tory revival is the state of the roads. Potholes and broken, unrepaired surfaces are a daily reminder of failure and incompetence. Rishi stands no chance.

MAY 17 2024

A MORTGAGE THAT'S ISN'T SO PAINFUL AFTER ALL

Younger daughter has decided she wishes to live in Chippenham. Fair enough. Nice place. Good train service, we're told. And she has saved hard, earns a decent wage and can afford to buy a house in the £280,000 range. It's exciting and I joined in the house-hunting online. I found a lovely property, which she liked a lot; sadly, it was just too small. But at £220,000, her mortgage would have cost about £750 a month – a fraction of what she and her flat-mate pay in rent for a small and grubbily modest flat in Streatham. Coincidentally, it is almost exactly what we paid as our monthly mortgage repayment in the early 1990s – more than 30 years ago. Admittedly, it was only for a short time, but it did form the peak of a long trend of high repayments – and it was in the days before fixed-rate mortgages became common, when repaying a mortgage was a precarious, unpredictable and often painful business.

EUROVISION HORROR SHOW

The Eurovision Song Contest 2024 last Saturday night was not, in my view, fit for family viewing. I'm no prude, but I have watched the show head steadily downhill from being a song contest, through its gently camp years to today's full-strength soft-pornography with not even 10 continuous seconds of worthwhile, memorable music. It has suffered from complete capture by LGBTQ+ extremists, the rainbow flag (the only flag allowed apart from those of competing nations) and gender identity campaigners. Throw in a monoculture of Israel-hating pro-Palestinians and you have a show that is not fit for viewing. It has an ugly, narrow, exclusionary feel to it – if you're not one of us then you can eff off. Rude and unpleasant participants abound. So if you balk at watching two half-naked men licking each other's backsides, you are a bigot, a homophobe, a transphobe, and must be cancelled and issued with death threats. How ironic, then, that the majority of the participants would be banned, if not killed, were the contest to be held in a country run by the people for whom they insist on waving their Palestinian-Iran-Hamas flags.

UNWANTED COMEDIANS

Out of work, redundant, useless – what do you do with washed-up comedians? Now that the cheap panel shows they used to infest have largely disappeared from TV screens through over-use and tedium, they are truly surplus to the requirements of our society. But, sadly, they have names that are known, familiar to the public, and so gullible broadcasters are happy to use this flimsy reasoning to allow them to infest more serious corners of the schedules. Rather then nurture real professional talent, it's the easy option: Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett go on holiday; Katherine Ryan becomes a parental guidance expert; Nish Kumar finds a platform for his hate-filled political podcast; the odious Joe Lycett introduces the Commonwealth Games with snide and plainly inaccurate personal opinions. The list goes on. I suppose Michael Palin started it.

And things are just as bad regarding politicians. Times Radio makes a boast of having former minister Ed Vaizey and member of the House of Lords Ayesha Hazarika hosting a lunchtime “political chat” show. It already has the supposed comedian Matt Chorley (who has yet to be remotely funny) writing for The Times newspaper and appearing on its radio station. Is there really no room for professional journalists and broadcasters any more?

NO QUESTIONS ON RADIO FOUR....

Mishal Husain: “This is what I think – I'm right aren't I...” Welcome to the new method of asking questions on Radio Four's Today news programme. The old style way of inquiring while ensuring you keep your own views well hidden is now very old hat. And please – someone needs to calm Emma Barnett down. I am a big fan of hers and she has presented Women's Hour extremely well, being questioning when necessary and gentle and understanding, as appropriate. But her nasty confrontation with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan this week, in her new berth on the Today programme, was painful and embarrassing to listen to. Keegan was giving perfectly coherent and logical answers but Barnett failed – or refused – to understand what she was saying. Resorting to shouting: “I presented Woman's Hour for four years so I know what I'm talking about” is desperate. The interview is not about you. I hope she develops into a high-quality news presenter and interviewer. But this week was a terrible start.

BIG PHARMA

We have just finished watching Dopesick, a powerful dramatisation of the sheer evil that drove the Sackler family to destroy the lives of so many innocent victims through corruption and greed. Astonishingly, its lethal “miracle” drug, OxyContin – in reality a dangerously addictive narcotic – is still in use today, presumably in a safer form and hopefully only prescribed under close supervision. The message of Dopesick was truly enraging: a company squirmed and bribed and corrupted its staff, customers, regulators and the medical profession with lies, pay-offs, non-disclosure agreements, bullying and threats. Purdue Pharma is now, thankfully, in a state of bankruptcy but the instigators of the disgusting behaviour remain rich – Richard, the most vile and slippery, a billionaire, with Kathe Sackler even having the temerity to claim she is proud of OxyContin in spite of the opioid epidemic it caused. I also watched a film in a similar vein – Pain Hustlers, starring Emily Blunt – which depicted a pharma company prioritising marketing and money over medicine and integrity.

The continuing fear is that big pharma has not been tamed. The dangers of OxyContin were clear in the 1990s but it took many years to overcome the Sackler family's mania for money and slimy methods in shutting people up and bypassing regulators and the legal system. We now have a highly worrying trend of medicalising every life event from feeling a little gloomy, to giving birth, to attending university – and there are pills for all of these. Of course there are – because big business wants to sell them. It is in its interests to treat tiny blips in happiness or normal life as an illness and sell pills to cure it – all it needs is to give it a name. And so post-natal depression becomes post traumatic stress disorder; exam fears become a phobia. This is how Purdue operated – we sell a pain drug, so let's find more pain and sell more drugs. Even better when we find the drug stimulates even more pain as well as an addiction that creates an ever-escalating need for more of the pills. It's the perfect drug-dealers' money machine. Big pharma is still at it – creating markets for its drugs. We need to beware.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MEN'S HEALTH

My school friend Ant recently posted a short video on Facebook, saying he had been for a prostate cancer check and had met a young man at the hospital who had confirmed prostate cancer, with a whole heap of medical procedures in front of him. Ant's message was that men should talk about their health more, not to be embarrassed about it and to seek rapid treatment when anything appears to be wrong. And so in that spirit, I will reveal my recent brush with surgery that concerned the repair of a hydrocele. I had planned to tell the world the op was just follow-up treatment for an inguinal hernia operation in 2013 – which in some ways it probably was. But gradually, I am realising there is something to be learned from sharing the full story.

It begins at puberty, when boys' testes descend via a tube into the scrotum inside a membrane that is supposed to close and seal once the journey is complete. Sometimes, however, the membrane does not close. Or it can be damaged. I don't know, but I strongly suspect mine was injured during that hernia operation, because the scrotal swelling that followed it, which I put down to the hernia operation, did not subside. Instead, it slowly increased over the next decade because once the membrane is breached, it slowly fills with fluid. In some cases, I am told, the fluid sack can become unbearably huge. It is not dangerous, just uncomfortable and unpleasant, which I discovered after rapid diagnosis: fearing something sinister, I contacted the GP and saw him on the same day, was offered a scan the next day and given the explanation the day after that. The GP said I could go on a list for repair if it was troubling me enough and I decided it was.

A few weeks – and a couple of hiccups – later, the job was done. All appears to be fine and I should be back on the tennis court very soon. Having stitches in such a sensitive area and having to sit on the wound has been awkward but is improving by the day. So, Ant, that's my story shared, too. Thank you for inspiring me to reveal all.

STARMER'S 'MISS WORLD' WISH LIST

Keir Starmer's “six pledges”, supposedly outlining what a Labour government will do after the next election, is being compared to Tony Blair's five pledges in 1997. I think a far superior comparison is with the speeches made by winners of the Miss World contest in the 1960s and 1970s: “I want to make everything lovely and bring peace to the world.” Good luck with that, Starmer.

AND IF I WAS RUNNING THE TORIES' PR CAMPAIGN

The Tories stand no chance of mounting a sufficient recovery in the opinion polls to have any hopes in the next election. But they might narrow the gap considerably and make life uncomfortable for Labour (otherwise known as Tory Party No.2) if they follow my advice. Dig out that note left in 2010 by the departing Liam Byrne, the Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury telling his successor “I'm afraid there is no money”. It has been played down as a joke – but it was certainly not funny and, following Gordon Brown's crashing of the economy just two years earlier, not far from the truth. It made necessary the austerity years and, thanks to Covid and the effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it is still having an impact today. So my message to the voting public would be: “Labour left us penniless in 2010. It's taken 14 years to get back on track, despite Covid and the invasion of Ukraine. And repairing the damage is far from finished. If you think Labour can do better, then fine. But rest assured that when we are once again penniless, we will be here for you in 2029, ready to start putting things right again.” So that's the economic argument sorted.

APRIL 15 2024

I LOVED MY JOB – AND RETIREMENT JUST MADE IT EVEN BETTER

I realised last week, as I published a book (a play) and prepared to publish two others (this blog and a collection of LSE students' memoirs), that that's what I do. I write, I edit, I design, I commission, I organise, I publish. That's what I did at the FT for nearly 30 years and that's what I do now. That's why retiring was so easy for me – my life didn't change too much. I lost the misery of the daily train commute and lost the joy and laughter of comradeship in the office; I lost the stress of extreme responsibility, deadlines and working to benefit an organisation. But I replaced those with the freedom to do what I choose, needing to please only myself; a vista of endless choice, freedom and variety.

YOU HAVE TO FEEL SORRY FOR MISTREATED GENERATIONS

As the race to medicalise the trials and tribulations of everyday life continues apace, we must be grateful for voices of sanity and reason, such as that of Dr Meg Jay. The American clinical psychologist is, of course, not alone in arguing that the alleged mental health epidemic among so-called Generation Z youngsters has been foisted on them. Their parents – and society – is mainly to blame. But she is among the more eloquent at spelling out the problems – and the solutions.

She believes adulthood is now experienced much later than half a century ago: between 20 and 25 was the normal age for settling down with a partner, a job and a somewhere to live. Now, it is more like 30-35, which leaves most youngsters dangling in uncertainty over their place in the world and what their future might be for most of their 20s. She says this doesn't mean things are better or worse – just different and she is sceptical of the doctor-prescription route for dealing with these anxieties. She is an advocate of “skills not pills” and looking at the youngster's whole life, helping them to overcome the negative thinking that can fog the developing brain. Their symptoms might tick boxes that suggest a mental health disorder but it's just as likely to be “situational”, she says. A doctor helped her at that age by reassuring her: “You're not crazy, you don't need hospital, you're just having a hard time.” It all makes perfect sense, Dr Jay.

KIKI DEE – CAN A CONCERT ACTUALLY BE BETTER THAN IT SEEMED AT THE TIME?

Kiki Dee, a pop star from the 1970s, has been performing for 60 years – so you would have thought that at the age of 77 she might be relaxed and chatty and able to put an audience at its ease. But no. We walked to Esher Theatre on Saturday night to see her and guitarist Carmelo Luggeri in concert and were left cold by the atmosphere. The auditorium was barely half full and Kiki's awkwardness in her movements and communication with the crowd made her appear nervous – and a seemingly nervous performer rapidly transmits their fear back to the fans. Everyone was willing her to relax and loosen up, which she did a little in the second half. And it was all such a pity, because the music was mostly excellent. We had done no homework, having only made a last-minute decision to attend, and so had no idea what to expect – and if we had prepared a little we might have been more ready to embrace the songs' jazzier, stripped-down arrangements at the time. As it is, I am only now beginning to appreciate the craft and thought that went into the show. And it is getting better all the time.

EVEREST: A TALE OF DEATHS – AND THEN WE HEAR THE DREADED 'C' WORD

There have been several radio programmes commemorating tragedies on Everest recently. One on Sunday morning reunited the survivors of a disaster in 1996 which cost the lives of several climbers. During the re-telling it became apparent that the guiltiest party and most to blame for the killings could be summed up in a word: commercialisation. Climbing Everest became a business, admittedly providing work and income for the local sherpas, but bringing with it statistics, targets, finance, profit. And with all those came, inevitably, risk and a big increase in numbers on the mountain. And, of course, more bodies.

AND SO TO AN UNHAPPY ENDING

My heart is thrice broken. First, by the atrial fibrillation that causes it to beat unevenly; second, by the near destruction of my treasured journalism profession; and third, by my two daughters' admission that they consume and value the mutant rump of what used to be called journalism. This is not some theatrical, histrionic heartbreak written about for effect: it is real and painful.

Never mind about the AF: the NHS is on to it and might – or perhaps not – cure it one day. It seems a tricky condition to treat. The real agony comes from something I wrote about last month: a podcast that bills itself as “your weekly fix of political news”. I have dedicated my entire career, and indeed a huge part of my life to objective, accurate and fair journalism, delivered with respect for all views and, most important of all, integrity. But last night and this morning I listened, for the first time, to a podcast fronted by Nish Kumar (there are other people involved but the third-rate comic turned “influencer” is the loudest, rudest and most obnoxious). I listened to as much as I could stomach.

“Political news” it absolutely is not. I have now endured well over two hours of hatred, filthy banter, desperate attempts at “humour”, ignorance, skewed assumptions and worse. The word that constantly leaps to mind is “snide”; I have never heard anything so ugly and nasty, so lacking in respect, so devoid of decency, so casual in its vicious attacks on people and personality. The level of debate is summarised in these random descriptions of Nigel Farage who, like him or loathe him, is a figure at least deserving of being taken seriously: “deeply, deeply unpleasant vile man”; “I'd rather he got strung from a palm tree”; he is dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. All Tories are, of course, “smug and arrogant”; it is a one non-stop character assassination. The perfectly valid opinions of others are dismissed as “completely farcical” or a “nonsensical feedback loop of stupidity” with no substance, evidence or explanation offered: it's a simple case of good versus evil – we're right, you're wrong.

For balance, I listened to half an hour of Farage's podcast on GB News. It was extraordinarily professional by comparison – not that that is saying much. But otherwise, these podcasts are identical in their form and intent – presenting one side of a debate and misrepresenting, mocking and trashing any alternative viewpoints. It begs the question as to why anyone would listen to them – there is nothing to be learned: their views can be heard extensively elsewhere in objective and balanced contexts and every claimed “fact” quoted needs taking with a giant pinch of salt. This is basic tribalism at its crudest: foul name-calling across an unbridgeable political divide; no debate, no discussion, no understanding. Its coarseness explains the enormous rift that has silenced intelligent discourse in the UK since any embittered soul with a laptop was able to set themselves up as a “journalist” and present “their news”.

For indeed, identity politics is part of all this: the “daily me” that I warned about 15 years ago, when commenting in the Financial Times Digital Business section on the ability of individuals to tailor their intake of news to suit themselves, has come into being. And the resulting narrowness of thinking and ghastly echo-chamber effect of hearing only what you want to hear is far worse than anything I could have imagined and far more chilling. Reasoned debate simply isn't possible when terms of reference are so eroded and dwindling areas of common ground are so riddled with mines and hatred.

Media organisations have always nurtured their tribes but it might still just be possible for “Guardian readers” and “Daily Mail readers” to argue with decorum and civility, even though neither publication offers anything like a balanced view of the world. It is, however, completely impossible for listeners of the Kumar podcast to conduct any meaningful communication with those of the Farage podcast, for example. Their world views are irreconcilable and no Kumar listener would ever countenance listening to Farage and vice versa. Which drags us back to the question as to why listen to either – or indeed to any of the other countless campaigners and “influencers” banging their own drum? I choose to minimise the levels of bias in my news and current affairs consumption by sticking with the last remaining trickle of professional news coming from the FT, The Times and the BBC, plus the odd credible online debating site, such as UnHerd. None is perfect but I still hear all of the the rancid views from every extreme in any debate, but in context and (mostly) in a reasoned and balanced forum. From the BBC, with its (highly flawed) Today programme, the World at One, PM, From Our Own Correspondent, Today in Parliament, and more, plus reading The Times and scanning the FT I consume hours of current affairs every day – all professional, all respectful.

What I cannot forgive the likes of Kumar and Farage and all the other podcast “influencers” is their near destruction of my beloved profession. It breaks my heart to think that anyone listens to the worthless Kumar when there is so much better to be had – and to think that it could be a long long time before they understand what's been done to them. We desperately need a reasoned debate, not narrow bubble-speak, before terrible global events take over.

Because I strongly suspect the world to be sliding into a conflagration that will affect us all: the lessons of the second world war have been forgotten, allowing today's global leaders to give free rein to their worst psychopathic tendencies. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and many more, are all run by small, insignificant men hoisted to power by corruption, death cults, religions and violence. Israel, showing all the diplomatic sophistication of a pummel-brained heavyweight boxer, is today's powder keg. The fragile status quo cannot hold. And a media infested with hatred and ignorance tragically amplifies the rage. With the defilement of all shared values, how can there be reconciliation?

APRIL 12 2024

IDIOT BUYS HOUSE ON TOP OF CRUMBING CLIFF; CLIFF FALLS; IDIOT SUES GOVERNMENT

It took just a couple of days for the idiotic European Court of Human Rights judgment demanding the Swiss government ends climate change to have real-world effects. In the UK, a fool bought a house on a cliff-top – beautiful views, nice house, rapidly crumbling cliff. He was on the radio yesterday lunchtime explaining how his friends (with marine qualifications) had promised him it would last for 100 years. It lasted 14 and the council recently had to evacuate him and demolish the house before it fell on to the beach below. He said it happened sooner because climate change had not been tackled quickly enough – and so it was the government's fault and he expects to sue it at the ECHR, presumably citing his human rights to live in a house on top of a flaky cliff. There are so many absurdities to this ridiculous claim they cannot be listed in the time available. I felt sorry for him when I first read of his plight last week – but not now that he has shown himself to be a complete idiot. I am sure the ECHR will find in his favour and the government will have to cease funding the NHS and the army in order to stop climate change allegedly hastening natural coastal erosion.

APRIL 11 2024

Bernard Donoghue became the questioner at the end of his interview with Nick Robinson on this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Lord Donoghue, an old Northampton Grammar School boy and London School of Economics academic, was an adviser to Harold Wilson when he was prime minister in the 1970s. He became head of the policy research unit in 1974, a body that Wilson made official as a part of the civil service. The debate today was over an affair Wilson is said to have had while in office, one that Donoghue and his press secretary Joe Haines kept secret until yesterday – 50 years on. Donoghue had already mentioned that the prime motivation of advisers in those days was to act for the benefit of the country and in the national interest, which involved supporting and protecting the prime minister. He then asked whether a prime minister has ever had a close adviser who would have kept such a secret to protect them – and others – for 50 years. Or had something changed? I'm not sure whether he was mourning the death of loyalty and the rise of the political civil servant, or telling us that today's politicians do not deserve such devotion. Either way, he was right in saying everything has changed.

NOT THE “BUS LIES” AGAIN...

Another day, another columnist decides that the Vote Leave campaign claimed on the side of a bus that Britain would spend £350m more a week on the NHS. It did not. This is a simple, demonstrable fact. Just look at the side of the bus. The picture accompanying the column did not extend this luxury, showing only the back of the bus, with it's “Take Back Control” message. The side of the bus – once again – said that we send £350m a week to the EU, so “let's spend more on the NHS”. No figure was attached. It's clear for all to see. So why do commentators keep lying about it? (Individual politicians might have said different things – but the truth is that the side of the bus did not lie.)

ESTATE AGENTS' RELIEF AS SLUMP IN DEMAND EASES

“Build more houses,” cry the developers and those who naively believe that constructing hundreds of thousands of homes will bring down prices. Yet today, we read that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is relieved that the lack of demand for properties appears to be coming to an end. Hang on... Sorry... Lack of demand?

THE CASS REPORT AND THE SHAME OF THE NHS GENDER CLINICS

Shame on all those who sought to block, confuse or otherwise scupper the independent investigation by Dr Hilary Cass into the scandal of Britain's gender identity services. Astonishingly, this includes most of the NHS's gender identity service units who, it is said, have a legal duty to co-operate, assist and provide essential information to the inquiry so that future generations of youngsters can be protected from the zealots, who view gender transition as the answer to every child's worry, confusion or mental health concern and who behave little better than equally deluded female genital mutilators.

It does seem, though, that Cass's excellent report, produced in the face of vile abuse and threats, is part of a turning of the tide back towards common sense. Even Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, now admits he was misguided when making such bald statements as “a trans woman is a woman”. The Labour man now admits that this simplistic view ignores a multitude of complexities and that he was wrong. Fair enough. But we must also acknowledge the damage that his hefty support for something so plainly wrong has left in his wake.

THE ECHR IS NOT WORTH KEEPING IF IT CAN'T BE PUT RIGHT

The insanity of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, which demanded the Swiss government alter its policies in order to preserve the right to life and health of its citizens, has taken a while to sink in. But commentators are now beginning to see that the ecological campaigners' case marks the most outrageous overreach on the part of a judiciary. It is not for judges to order sovereign governments to make fighting climate change their top priority, no matter how sensible that might be. Governments have to balance endless competing interests and are answerable to their electorates, not a group of appointed and out-of-control judges.

That the judges are uncontrollable and are overstepping their remit is now beyond dispute. What also seems depressingly true – and familiar – is that the court is beyond reform. Iain Martin points this out in his excellent column in today's Times. He says this is all horribly reminiscent of the debate in Europe as the EU's gathered unto itself ever more functions, treading on the toes of individual nations, some of whom, such as the UK, objected. When reforms that would have made the EU acceptable were flung back in the faces of the proposers, Brexit became inevitable. Reform of the increasingly ludicrous ECHR has been on the agenda for years but, just as with any multinational body, securing unanimity is impossible and the power of the veto ensures a continual free-fall into absurdity. It happened with the EU and it's been happening for years with the ECHR. As Martin says, most people voting for Brexit never set out with that intention but could see that vital fundamental reforms would never ever happen – and were forced by common sense to vote “leave”. The ECHR is surely on precisely the same track.

SPREAD THEM MORE THINLY – IS THAT REALLY THE ANSWER?

The EU heralds its “historic” accord on dealing with the flood of illegal migration across its borders. It is jubilant, triumphant! It has thrown away the Dublin Agreement! Brilliant! This agreement imposed on illegal migrants a requirement to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reached. Scrapping it will make no difference in practice as it's been ignored and migrants have wandered across European borders unhindered and unchallenged for years. The new aim seems to be simply to spread migrants more thinly across the EU, easing pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy, the gateway countries for the people smugglers, their willing victims and this deadly and disgusting criminality. Poland and Hungary are less than impressed at this move to allow illegal migrants to choose their destination and vowed not to accept the EU-imposed quotas. They do have a get-out – an expensive one: they can pay 20,000 euros per migrant they refuse to take. I hope they stick two fingers up to those practising such extortion and blackmail and suggest that a more intelligent approach would involve stopping the criminals by various mean, including flights to third countries (being considered by several European states) and detention centres aimed at rendering the journeys pointless, as well as vigorous policing to secure borders. Is simply spreading the migrants more thinly any sort of rational answer? Of course not. But to the EU it is a triumph!

APRIL 8 2024

IT'S NEITHER BETTER NOR WORSE – JUST DIFFERENT

Draw a bell curve of the physical ownership of music (by which I mean records and CDs) over, say, the past 200 years and you see an astonishingly steep – on both sides – line squeezed into the right-hand side of the graph. Until the 1930s, music was consumed only by attending a live performance; from the 1930s until the 1950s, the line of our curve would have risen slightly as small numbers of 78rpm records were sold. Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s the curve would shoot almost vertically as vinyl rapidly created a mass market for recorded music, with compact discs then taking over into the early 2000s. But from about 2015, the line on our graph plummets back down again as streaming becomes the dominant medium; now, the consumption of music in physical form has become a curiosity – no one wants CDs and only a tiny amount of new and second-hand vinyl is purchased by retro lovers.

This dramatic rise and fall took roughly 60 years – a couple of generations, with my baby-boomer cohort at the centre. Buying records and CDs, for us, was a way of defining ourselves. Our collections became part of our identity – something tangible and finite. It became difficult for us to imagine it had ever been different – or ever could be again. So we felt sorry for the following generations, doomed to grasping at an ephemeral cloud of bits and pieces, with no affiliations or real-world markers – a sort of unending, limitless radio station offering single-listen shallowness for eternity. Our world view, our experience, suggested that our enjoyment of music was the ideal, the definitive version and that losing this would prove to be a tragedy.

But reading David Hepworth's history of the Abbey Road studios made me realise that things had not always been as we found them: we were antiquity's outliers – a weird blip. Previous generations felt no more need to own physical music than those following us. I sold my vinyl records, apart from 20 or so special albums, about 10 years ago, having transferred all the music on to my computer using a USB turntable. I now face having to decide whether to do the same with my CDs: I have getting on for 1,000, and not all of them are available on Spotify, the streaming service to which I subscribe. Is Spotify future-proof? Will more artists withdraw their content from streaming platforms? Should I keep the CDs?

On the other hand, getting rid of CDs would be a huge de-cluttering step – and I hardly ever listen to them. Even if I own the CD, I am far more likely to play an album via streaming than taking it out of its case and switching on the player etc, etc. They might have to go.

Of rather greater import, I am coming to see social “progress” as a blip, too. Or a series of blips. I am reading Fintan O'Toole's ambiguously titled “We Don't Know Ourselves”, in which the Irish journalist charts the social history of Ireland from around the time of his birth in 1958. Setting the scene, he recalls how the Irish population had nose-dived during the 20th century, people being driven abroad by poverty and the Stasi-like stranglehold imposed by the fanatical idiocy of the Catholic Church, highly reminiscent of the paranoid and deluded Islamic and other religious extremism making life miserable for entire populations today. Even up to the time of his birth and into the 1960s, Ireland was a backward country in which “being modern” was enjoying running water and electricity. The Catholic barrenness and hardship made Ireland worse than most western countries, but conditions were pretty bleak – by today's standards – elsewhere, too. I grew up in a house in England with no telephone, no central heating, no washing machine or any other of today's “essential” conveniences.

But I learned more. Questioning the conventional wisdom that each generation throughout history has been better off and more comfortable than the last, O'Toole has made me realise that this has never been the case. It is just another blip that has occurred since the second world war. We all tend towards laziness in our thinking: what we have known is how it has always been. But this is obviously not the case. Golden ages have come and gone, as have eras in which people have suffered and starved; climatic changes have had an impact on well-being; volcanoes and earthquakes often leave lasting repercussions that drag regions down. There is no eternal right to being better off than your parents. And even if there was, can we really say that today's youngsters are, in any meaningful way, worse off than we were at their age. The youngsters I know travel, enjoy technology and make choices to an extent undreamt-of when I was a similar age. The only way I can see in which they find life more difficult than we did is in buying a property of their own, a result of economic foolishness in the first decade of this century. But it isn't impossible: two of my nieces – and countless others – can prove that. The biggest gift from one generation to the next is to keep it free from war, and we have achieved that. But in all other respects, as throughout history, today is no better nor any worse than any other period – it's just different. And, in the grand sweep of things, only slightly different at that.

FOOTBALLING POSTSCRIPT

I have to confess that when I heard that West Ham had beaten Wolves on Saturday in controversial circumstances, I felt a frisson of joy. After all the injustices, something had at last gone the way of my team. I hate feeling like this – but that's what mismanagement and cheating in football have done to me. And millions of others. Fairness is for losers! Come On You Irons!

APRIL 7 2024

FOOTBALL MANAGERS AND PLAYERS ARE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES

Gary O'Neil was ranting and raving on the touchline at the Molineux Stadium yesterday, his Wolverhampton Wanderers team having just been beaten at home by West Ham. The Wolves manager was furious that a 98th minute “goal” – a header from a corner – had been disallowed because another forward was in an offside position and impeding the goalkeeper. Even as a West Ham fan, I had some sympathy. I always understood there to be no offside from corners, although whether this provision is cancelled as soon as another player touches the ball is debatable. The forward probably was impeding West Ham's goalkeeper, but lightly. The referee had allowed the goal and then the dreaded VAR – video assistant referee – intervened and suggested the ref check the pitch-side screen, after which he changed his mind and disallowed it. West Ham won 2-1.

What I find odd is that O'Neil rages over this bad decision, yet is happy to accept two equally appalling refereeing blunders earlier in the game that went his team's way. Wolves scored first from a penalty following a challenge by a West Ham defender that on many other occasions would have been hailed as a perfectly timed tackle – the player took the ball beautifully: it's what defending is all about. O'Neil welcomed this piece of poor judgment. He was equally happy to overlook an even worse injustice that favoured his side when a powerfully headed goal was disallowed for some imagined foul on a defender. Replays showed clearly that no offence had been committed. A grave injustice. No complaint from O'Neil.

These two – or three – refereeing howlers bring the total of result-changing clangers in two recent West Ham games to five. In the other game, two penalties were awarded against the Hammers, one very soft and dubious, the other a clear foul on the West Ham player!

Several of these incidents were accompanied by blatant cheating on the part of players involved. In at least two of them, bodies were seen rolling in agony on the grass in a pathetic – but successful – bid to sway the ref's mind. Fans often see managers and players berating each other for play-acting, simulating injuries, wasting time, slowing the game to relieve pressure. Ironically, they are the only ones with the power to prevent this fraudulent behaviour. Referees and the game's administrators are either too weak or too stupid to stamp it out. But as Gary O'Neil's selective ranting shows, those responsible only see what they want to see. And anyway, who wants to be first to give up this massive, often match-winning, advantage?

SCOTLAND – TWINNED WITH SALEM

As hatred levels rise to stratospheric levels in Scotland – hate crime accusations seem to be piling in at the rate of about 1,000 a day since a new law was implemented there last week – Janice Turner in The Times draws a lovely parallel with what is happening there and the 17th century horror show that took place in Salem, Massachusetts. Everyone in Salem became a potential witch, thanks to the fevered mind of a maniacal religious zealot, and women were hanged on the mere say-so of a neighbour. And so from 1693, we leap forward to Scotland 2024, where police have promised to investigate every claim of “stirring up hatred”, to rid the country of nastiness. Fortunately, the legislation is so poorly drafted and loosely defined it gives the police ample scope to slide free from their pledge. But 6,000 cases in as many days? Where is this hatred coming from?

One answer could be the Hate Crime and Public Order Act itself. This ham-fisted attempt at telling people what they should think and say is bound to provoke anger, rage and yes, hatred. It might not be the first law that falls hideously foul of its own provisions, but it must be one of the most obvious. I would therefore like to report the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act to the police for “stirring up hatred”.

APRIL 4 2024

WHAT'S SO 'LEFTIE' ABOUT BEING 'LIBERAL'?

According to analysis carried out by The Economist, girls are now increasingly “left-wing”, while boys are moving to “the right”. This idea sort of rings vaguely true, based on anecdotal evidence, but would be in danger of collapsing completely should it fail to define carefully and correctly what constitutes “left” and “right”. And collapse it does. Because in the description of the new “leftie girls” cohort, there is not a single mention of socialism, class-based politics, feminism, redistribution of wealth, and so on. The definition of “leftie” merely requires them to show sympathy for “the underdogs” – migrants, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community and the traditionally marginalised. But pressing for more individual “rights” and “freedoms” for these groups, in the full knowledge that this will not degrade their own comfortable existence in the slightest, is not remotely “left-wing”: quite the reverse in some cases, as more impoverished and exploitable migrants mean cheaper coffee and plumbing but damage both local workers and the migrants themselves.

This flawed analysis therefore continues the modern myth that anything to do with liberty and rights is “liberal” and therefore “left”, while anything to do with preserving broader society-wide norms is “conservative”. This is 100 per cent backwards. Liberalism – especially the hyper-liberalism practised today – is concerned with individualism, self-interest, freedom and rights. This makes it the most right-wing of ideologies. In order to disguise this fact, the word “progressive” is often attached, as if this dusts from the 19th century liberal ideology the shame of being self-centred and individualistic. John Stuart Mill (minimalist government, social liberty), should we need reminding, was no “leftie”.

Left-wing politics, on the other hand, concern the collective, the community, contributing to society as a whole, making sacrifices for the greater good, and are as far removed from individualistic liberalism as it is possible to go. In many ways, the right-wing boys are to the left of the so-called “left-wing” girls in that they advocate a more conservative approach to the radical lurch to hyper-liberalism that has caused society's current schism. They wish to swing the pendulum back a small way to a more inclusive and co-operative time. Perhaps one in which they held sway. This is certainly conservative and right-wing – but still well to the left of the radical progressive liberals now making all the noise.


MARCH 28 2024

THE FULL HORROR OF THE BBC STUMBLING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean.” And the BBC has now shuffled shamefully through that nonsensical looking glass, too, deciding that Amol Rajan's disgraceful disrespect, rudeness and prejudice aimed at the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer in a recent “interview” on the “Today” Radio Four programme was “professional” and “courteous”. This absurd ruling stretches the meaning of the words “professional” and “courteous” beyond breaking point and into the realms of Humpty Dumpty land in Lewis Carroll's “Through The Looking Glass”. We know that identity politics allows anyone to define themselves as whatever they wish, and to maintain “their own truth” and their own “lived experience” – that is, make up whatever they like – but we might have expected better from the BBC when answering my serious complaint that Rajan had been discourteous, mocking and shown blatant contempt for Jeremy Hunt.

MARCH 27 2024

THE FULL HORROR OF THE DEMISE OF NEWS

I had no idea just how horrific the demise of trusted, objective, impartial news had become – until yesterday. We now have an entire generation growing into middle age living in an echo chamber of their own views: a generation that fails to rely on journalists and prefers instead to take its information – upon which it will form its beliefs – from opinionated, know-all comedians with an axe to grind. I know this because one of my daughters – possibly both of them – admitted yesterday that she knows what's happening in the world thanks to a podcast thrown together by not-very-good-comic Nish Kumar. Kumar is one of the many hyper-liberal individualists who thought it clever to be offensive and abusive towards the working classes during the Brexit debate – mocking their stupidity in voting for their own self-interests, rather than his. That made him a person for whom I have no time whatsoever.

I dread to think what other sources of narrow, biased opinion my daughter consumes to help form her opinions, but one of them is not, as she admitted yesterday, Radio Four. For all its faults – and, as we know, they are many and serious – Radio Four news remains a trusted (for the most part) journalistic endeavour, sadly let down by most of the Today programme's presenters and dopey correspondents such as Mark Easton and Hugh Pym. But its foreign correspondents, such as Jeremy Bowen, Orla Guerin and others, are unrivalled – and keep their own politics to themselves, as a good professional should. Nish Kumar is none of these things: he is an ungifted amateur with a big mouth, an “influencer” now influencing my daughter.

So she listens to Kumar – but why not listen to a podcast by Nigel Farage? I am certain she would not consider it – and the reason would be that she can't stand his views: she disagrees with him. And so I could rest my case at this point: the echo chamber effect is confirmed. However, I can go one step further and ask how she would feel if another mediocre comic shoved his way into her world and started writing children's books (she is a senior editor for a publisher of children's and young adult books). Again, I know the answer, because she hates David Walliams for trampling all over her home territory. Yet it seems that it's fine for the equally nasty and unfunny Kumar to trample over mine and her mother's? Objective and impartial journalism with integrity might be dying, killed by appalling amateurs and an audience preferring to be fed back its own views, rather than truly understanding the world. Once real journalism is gone, the idiots with the biggest mouths and access to media will truly be free to take over the asylum. And the consequences of that could be truly horrific.

THE CONSERVATVE PARTY – MUST DO BETTER

As if the Tories were not yet in a big enough state of disarray, the forthcoming local elections have identified yet another weakness. A leaflet calling for us to vote for Redmond Walsh was on the door mat when we arrived back from Catalonia last night. It was a good flight, setting off from a shambolic and badly designed Terminal One in Barcelona and arriving at a highly efficient Gatwick, where not a single person was waiting to clear passport control. But my back was hurting and it was raining hard, which sufficiently suppressed my forgiving side to persuade me that Redmond's leaflet deserved a rocket.

So here goes. Nowhere on the leaflet does it mention the body to which Redmond wishes to be elected (I presume it's the borough council); he only seems to have three fairly routine policies (full community centre service; protect the Green Belt; fix roads and paths); and even these are set out in a most ungainly language – “stop overdevelopment...like behind Raleigh Drive”; “paths repaired that have been damaged from the winter weather”. All terribly sketchy and inelegant. And worse, the mention of roads and paths reminds us that they are in a terrible state because the Conservative government has reduced its funding of the responsible body, Surrey County Council – also run by the Conservatives.

THE BALTIMORE BRIDGE WORKFORCE

A bridge collapses as easily as a child's toy after being hit by an out-of-control container ship leaving Baltimore port. At present, there are six assumed fatalities, all men working on road repairs when the accident occurred at about 1.30am. Bizarrely, six workers were also killed when a wall collapsed in the UK a few years ago: I cited it in my book as an example of how a massive influx of migrant workers had reduced pay, working conditions and regard for health and safety. The dead were all migrants. The six dead in Baltimore are also migrants, as far as the news so far indicates – from Mexico, Guatemala and other southerly nations. Perhaps if the organised US workforce had not been undermined by cheap migrant labour, there would not have been workers on the bridge in the middle of the night. It's tragic, but yet another symptom of a very nasty disease. But as it's not one that affects the likes of Nish Kumar, no one will bother to find a cure that works.

MARCH 20 2024

LABOUR TERRIFIED THE TORY PLAN WILL WORK

The Labour Party is clearly terrified. It is gathering its forces to fight at every turn the government's Rwanda legislation, which aims to remove the incentive to cross the Channel in a deadly small boat by sending illegal migrants to the African state. Labour is certain it won't work. In which case, why not stand aside, allow it on to the statute books and watch it fail. A sweet “told you so” would then be the final coup de grace in its battle to take power.

But what if it did work? That would be a disaster for Labour – and so it cannot let it happen. It cannot take that risk. Its own policies are exactly the same as the status quo – policies that are virtually useless in defeating the criminal gangs and stopping their lethal trade. Labour has nothing to offer. And it is too terrified to gamble on allowing a fair trail for this one last-resort policy – in case it might just work.

DESPICABLE 'BLOKES IN PUB' ANALYSIS BY THE BBC

In one of the most baffling – and most comical, it seems – mysteries of our age, the National Audit Office has found that it will cost more to house asylum seekers on barges and military bases than in hotels. The BBC, of course, is completely bemused by this and decided to set two of its dimmest presenters the task of explaining it this morning. Which they disgracefully failed to do. Amol Rajan was involved, obviously, as Radio Four's Today sought to make the NAO findings clear. Unfortunately for the listener, he only had the easily confused dolt, Mark Easton, to talk to. Easton waffled on about how the Home Office had agreed with the NAO that it would cost more but then sent out another message saying it disagreed; he tried to make everything sound as confused and incompetent as he could. And indeed, it seems a large amount of money was wasted during the setting up period of finding cheaper alternative accommodation for asylum seekers.

The problem for these two useless BBC saps, however, is that there is no contradiction, no confusion, no mystery. Anyone who has ever set up anything will know that costs are incurred at the beginning. Indeed, the NAO report itself said the costs of barges and bases would only be higher for the first four years. Once up and running, the expense falls well below the ugly and big-budget contingency measures of using hotels. It was clearly not on these presenters' political agenda to point that out. When Easton had finished his idiotic, prissy pirouetting around this simple subject, Rajan actually laughed, told Easton he had spoken with relish and that his “expertise” was vital “to make sense of some of the things that come out of the Home Office”.

So, the whole simple story discussed between two plainly biased, anti-government presenters and made out to be a case of incompetence, confusion, money-wasting and irreconcilable statements. I cannot believe they are both so stupid as not to know what they were doing – which was behaving like two blokes in a pub having a laugh by making things up – which means, yet again, this was a deliberate act aimed at undermining the government. It was completely lacking in integrity. And that, in my book, is a sackable offence for someone claiming to be a journalist.

HOW FAR CAN THIS GENDER BULLYING GO?

A lawyer is being sued for “her belief” (I quote The Times intro on this story) that only women menstruate. And a teacher is fighting for his job after refusing to call a girl by a boy's name and use male pronouns – in spite of her asking to apply to enter a girls' maths competition! With fellow students reported to be rolling their eyes at these antics and nonsensical distractions, education must surely be suffering. Teachers should be told to revert to using surnames only. Although I guess it wouldn't be long before this, too, became the subject of some psychopathic extremist gang's campaigning. People with common sense and perfectly reasonable views – whether you agree with them or not – are being harassed and losing their jobs while organisations squander a fortune on hiring toxic activists to instruct employees on what to THINK. Welcome to 1984.

THE VIEW FROM ACROSS THE BORDER

It's surprising how different things can look from a few miles away. I've just read Tim Butcher's account of his navigation of the Congo River in 2004 and enjoyed it very much. As someone who loves Africa and spent last summer in Rwanda and Uganda – including a few days in towns bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo – I could picture the geography and the people, and his story is quite extraordinary. Butcher certainly took risks and was lucky to escape alive. And his observations on the region, drawn from his experiences and the people he spoke to, are insightful.

Where I must take issue with him, however, is over his simplistic claims that Rwandan forces entering Congo in the late 1990s did so purely to plunder the natural resources so freely available there. This is to overlook the facts that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was the culmination of several decades of violence inflicted upon the designated “Tutsi” population of Rwanda by the designated “Hutu” majority – a violence that did not stop just because a new government took over in Rwanda to end the genocide. Indeed, France and Belgium provided safe passage into the jungles of the DRC for thousands of “genocidaires” and armed them with the aim of retaining Francophone influence in central Africa through the trouble they could cause. Dealing with this menace is how any insurgencies by Rwandan troops into the DRC would be seem from the Rwandan side of the border.

Butcher wrote his book in 2005 and 2006 and the situation has changed greatly since, as has knowledge of what was happening in that period. By eliminating corruption, Rwanda has created a stable and increasingly prosperous haven; the DRC continues to fail to clean up its act. Butcher puts this down to the sovereignty that colonial powers stole from the African people, along with the region's physical treasures. I am sure he is right. Rwanda is a small country, easily managed by a leader with integrity and genius; the DRC is a giant, sprawling mess of tribes, impenetrable forests and corruption. Butcher has much to say that is important. It's just a pity he couldn't see that there are different explanations just across the border.


MARCH 19 2024

I agree with Melanie Phillips. Now there's something I can't say very often. But the controversial commentator hits the nail on the head in today's Times with her lambasting of the diversity, equity and inclusion zealots who have overshot their brief by several million miles. Exhibit A in her argument was the laughably stupid “Gemini” AI software from Google that could not bear to show any representation of a white face on the grounds that it could “promote harmful stereotypes”. Emerging from the blizzard of Pythonesquely idiotic examples comes a powerful message of hatred for all things white: whites are privileged, only whites can be racist. Is this not, in itself, hideously racist, Phillips asks. Of course it is.

Today, I spent an hour and three quarters at Kingston Hospital. I interacted with (held conversations with) 11 people. All were women, three obviously white British, the rest a mixture of nationalities and ethnicities. It mattered not in the slightest – we all smiled and joked and formed that special momentary bond that accompanies a joint endeavour in a potentially stressful environment. If the white-people-hating lobby has its way, those smiles and bonds will be replaced with miserable scowls and uncaring contempt.

MARCH 17 2024

DEPRESSING EXHIBITION'S MESSAGE IS: 'WOMEN HAVE ACHIEVED NOTHING'

On Mothers' Day, my wife and I visited the Tate Britain exhibition “Women in Revolt” with our two daughters – but the trouble is, that's all the exhibition was. Just revolt. There were no stories, no curated narrative, no outcomes, no mention of achievements or victories, no sense of progress. It was a dull, ragged and depressing collection of bits and bobs, as if thrown together by a disgruntled A-level student. There were copies of Spare Rib and other important feminist publications, mentions of Cosey Fanni Tutti and Poly Styrene – whose LPs I bought in the late 1970s and early 1980s – and videos to watch, though the over-crowded Sunday afternoon session made this difficult. But epitomising the whole spectacle was a giant video screen showing a screaming woman – with sound. Almost non-stop. The whole event felt like a desperate cry for help, a festival of victimhood, rather than a rallying call to build upon the extraordinary progress of the past half century.

Perhaps you needed to have experienced how things were to be able to appreciate how things have changed. But even so, where was the strength, the power of women? Where were their triumphs? To have overcome absolute male domination in the space of just a few decades is surely worth celebrating. So why no mention? Throughout the entire animal kingdom there are clear divisions of labour; through preliterate societies, men hunted and women nurtured; through the ages and right up to the two world wars, women enjoyed only subsidiary roles to men. But since the suffragette movement, and more noticeably since the feminist movement began in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s, changes have been radical. Is there more to do? Certainly. Could everything be better? Of course it could. Will it ever be perfect? Not the slightest chance. But let's have the full story, not just non-stop screaming.

HAVING IT ALL. NICE IF YOU CAN GET IT

When the complaint from singer Lily Allen (privileged daughter of a successful actor, let us not forget) is that she couldn't “have it all” after starting a family, you see that British society has reached the stage of finessing, tweaking and tinkering, compared with the giant leaps that were needed 50 years ago to establish parity for women. (Not yet fully achieved, by the way.) Allen really does her cause no good when she presents having children as a burden that “wrecked her career”: children are a choice; the domestic arrangements of the rich and famous give them almost limitless choice. Fathers have difficult decisions to make, too, and miss out on so much of the wonder that spending time with their young children offers. The poorer sections of society have few or no choices to make. But the option of having absolutely everything does not, and should not, exist. You cannot undertake a 38-date European tour and look after your baby – but you do have a choice.

IS THIS THE BEST THE TRAINS CAN DO?

Engineering works on the line: it's a familiar weekend excuse for poor service from the train companies. But far worse is the dreadful service provided when there are no engineering closures. Our busy and already under-served line through Surrey between Guildford and London Waterloo only enjoys two trains an hour at the best of times; on Sundays this reduces to one an hour and involves changing trains at Surbiton. Miss your connecting train on the way home (which we did, by seconds) and you face wasting an afternoon on freezing platforms. South Western Railway has introduced many welcome improvements and the service is undoubtedly more reliable than when the appalling South West Trains was supposed to be running things. But why inflict this Sunday horror show? It means travellers resort to using cars for all or part of the journey and undermines the good the new regime has done.

TECHNOLOGY RUINING SPORT

England lost a rugby union match in Paris, thanks to the interference of a video official alerting the referee to a minor infringement that no one on the pitch had even noticed. A former top referee wrote in The Times this morning that the result-deciding intervention was “beyond a joke”. West Ham were denied a winner from a crazy goal-line scramble in the last minute against Aston Villa after a video check lasting nearly six minutes – the second goal the team had had ruled out for possible handball in the match. Technically, some of these decisions might have been right – but they have wandered a very long way from the spirit of sport and making games a great spectacle. The excitement of scoring a goal can no longer erupt across the stands, as it is now nearly always accompanied by fear and anxiety over the tiniest and most immaterial of “infringements”, barely visible to the naked eye in real time. I suggest a new rule: video refs have 60 seconds – shown counting down on a large clock – to overturn the on-field decision: if it still isn't 100 per cent clear after one minute, then the real referee's decision stands. It might lead to a slight increase in technically incorrect decisions – but better that than boredom, frustration and distorted results.

MARCH 8 2024

RUDE RAJAN'S ROW WITH CHANCELLOR IS THE FINAL STRAW

Smug, arrogant, opinionated, know-all – it might be what you expect of a politician. But sadly, to the BBC's shame and humiliation, it is its worst news broadcasting appointment in history that embodies and epitomises those hideous characteristics. Amol Rajan's disgraceful assault on Jeremy Hunt yesterday morning – the morning after he had delivered a reasonable, if short-sighted – budget speech hit such a low that I have re-tuned our radios to Times Radio.

What made Rajan's outbursts even more contemptible was that his attempt to belittle the Chancellor followed hard on the heels of a party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party, aided and abetted by the feeble Martha Kearney. Kearney asked Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, how her party's spending plans could be implemented now that the main source of additional revenue – the tax breaks for non-domiciled individuals – had just been announced by the present government. Would she increase taxes, cut spending or borrow more? Reeves could not answer, instead promising that she would “look at the documents”, or something equally banal and forgettable. And yet her answer was good enough for Kearney, who gave her a radio pat on the back and a silent “well done”. No follow up, no repeated demands for an answer, no haranguing, no pub slanging match, no deliberately distorted and incorrect summarising of her words – Reeves was allowed to continue blustering along, burnished, rather than tarnished.

Then, bring on the chancellor of the exchequer. Rajan called him the “fiscal drag queen” and made an idiotic reference to some abbreviation sounding a bit Soviet. Eventually, even the otherwise mild-mannered Hunt had had enough and pointed out the rudeness of such remarks. Amid the shameful insults, Rajan listed five previous attempts at securing improvements in public sector productivity – labelled “a” to “e” and all delivered with a sneer and a sarcastic “yes, you guessed it – public sector productivity”. He was clearly assuming that all previous initiatives had been failures, with the clear implication that the newly introduced drive would be equally useless. Fortunately, Hunt was able – again – to correct the sloppy Rajan, pointing out that each of the efforts listed had borne fruit.

Several times, Hunt had to interject and correct Rajan's prejudiced assumptions. But Rajan simply does not care. He clearly believes himself to be above all judgment and fearless of any sanction, no matter how appallingly he behaves. Perhaps his BBC bosses even thank him for his vicious attacks on anyone who mentions the BBC. Hunt did just this, fairly pointing out that rudeness and fabrication were not, and should never be, part of the BBC's tradition – only to be shouted down by a raging Rajan, ranting loudly about how the BBC's listeners were so grateful to him for the wonderful way he exposes the truth. In the real world, Rajan was either so ill-prepared for this “interview” and so ignorant of the subject that he revealed himself – yet again – to be the fool he is; or worse, he knew exactly what he was doing in a carefully – if misguided and flawed – planned demolition attempt on the chancellor personally and the government's economic strategy. Whatever you think of either of those, it is the job of a BBC journalist to inform, not to shove their own opinions down the nation's throat and be rude and offensive. And so we see – again – that Rajan is not a journalist. Shame on the BBC for continuing to employ him.

TIMES RADIO AND UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE

Sadly, Times Radio is dull, dull, dull. It sounds heavily under-resourced, slow, ponderous and heavily focused on “news” that is cheap and simple. This morning, for example, someone droned on for ages about Teresa May's record as a politician, she having just announced she is standing down at the next election. It was backward-looking and boring, with no relevance to what is happening today. We'll give it a try – but it really is third rate. And sadly, I am no longer watching University Challenge – presumably soon to be re-named “The Great Amol Rajan University Quiz Show”. His presentation is unbearable: slurry speech and a pretence that he knows all the answers are just too much. He repeatedly greets a correct answer with “of course it is”; or an incorrect answer with “how could you not know that”; or a little aside to indicate his superior knowledge, such as “yes, the great so-and-so”. Sickening.

MARCH 1 2024

This is getting ridiculous: can politicians say nothing without their every word being subjected to forensic textual analysis? Can we no longer debate the importance of what they mean, rather than feigning offence at something they plainly – and sometimes explicitly – did not mean. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, is the latest to fall into this childish bear pit, in a week in which several have been similarly misunderstood – deliberately or otherwise. Sunak was very clear in not including peaceful protests in his accusation of “mob rule” endangering the democratic process. He said intimidation of MPs' and others' families at home and at their places of work and elsewhere was unacceptable, which is utterly reasonable. So why did one interviewee on the radio yesterday morning drone on and on about how lovely and peaceful the pro-Palestinian marchers are, in a blatant attempt to misconstrue what Sunak said. Senior politicians have repeatedly supported the right to peaceful marching: recent criticisms of the organised weekly marches has focused solely on the stress and costs it imposes on the police – for which we all end up paying. Again, perfectly reasonable. Of course politicians need to be careful what they say – but to be hounded for using phrases such as “controlled by his mates”, or “mob rule” is oppression and an outrageous limit on free expression. Focus on the argument, not the words – and I say that as a pedantic editor.

MY FIRST – AND NEARLY LAST – DAY OF RETIREMENT

March 1 2014 – the day after February 28, as there was no February 29 that year – was the first day of my retirement. And nearly my last day on the planet. With the River Thames in lethally dangerous flood mode, I cavalierly stepped into a boat – a smallish open wooden one that could have been propelled by oars but had a small outboard motor on the back – and set off , very slowly, upstream. There were three of us on board, including the “driver”. None of us was wearing a life jacket; yet we were all well wrapped up in thick coats against the biting cold. The river was raging; there were no other boats to be seen. We chugged agonisingly upstream and swept wildly downstream, between terrifying moments of turning side-on to the torrent. If we had gone over and in, we would have been dead. No question.

FEBRUARY 28 2024

Ten years ago today, I took the train to Waterloo and walked to the Financial Times offices at Southwark Bridge. I spent the day at my desk and it would have been like any other day, but for the trolley of refreshments that turned up in the mid-afternoon – and for the fact that it was my last day of work. February 28, 2014, was the day I retired.

WHO WANTS TO BE MANAGED BY AN AMATEUR?

There are many reasons people might wish to give up work – boredom, fatigue, illness, sudden wealth, old age, simply hating it, and many more – but a big factor could well be the sheer hopelessness of managers. Not long ago, managers were appointed because they knew the business and would pick up management skills as they rose up the ladder. Today, managers are only “specialist” in managing: they are often ignorant of the business itself. OK, it enables them to claim they have “transferable skills” – but it can make the life of workers thoroughly miserable: who wants to be managed by someone who has not the foggiest idea what you do or how you should do it? And what is the use of a “transferable” managing skill if it is useless wherever it goes? The huge rise in the number of graduates is partly to blame for this managerial merry-go-round: everyone has to be a manager. And it leaves those actually doing the work at the mercy of “superiors” who are very much their inferior when it comes to knowing the business. No wonder they vote with their feet.

WHEN DID THE TALKING STOP?

Our bedroom window overlooks a stretch of road used by school coaches to pick up pupils each morning. Occasionally, pulling back the curtains, I see a gathering of 10 or a dozen school girls on the far side of the road and four or five boys on our side, going the other way. What I hear is silence: they make no noise; they do not talk to each other; they do not sing; or seem in any way joyful in each other's company. In fact, they hardly seem to notice anyone else is there are at all. They are all staring at their phones. This, to me, is totally unnatural and does not augur well for their future as social human beings. If you can't relate at all to the person standing next to you waiting at the same bus stop, in the same village, for the same bus, to the same school – someone you should know well – then how are you going to cope with real life?

FEBRUARY 26 2024

BREATHTAKINGLY DESPICABLE

I am finding the idea of “Breathtaking”, Jed Mercurio's TV “docu-drama” extremely troubling. I cannot bring myself to watch something so vile as to take real life tragedy (terrible events on hospital wards during the early days of the Covid pandemic) and lace it with clips of politicians battling to contain a pandemic, thereby giving a clear impression that the latter was responsible for former. Forgive me if this is a false interpretation of the programme – but it is in complete accordance with all the reviews I've read. If it does, however, present this despicable – and wrong – “cause and effect” view of history, then that is unforgivable: it's insulting, simplistic and built on blind hatred. As even The Times' TV reviewer kept saying in his column on Saturday: “That's not how I remember it.”

WHAT DO MURDERING PSYCHOPATHIC INADEQUATES GET OUT OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION?

That headline says it all, really. I'm referring, of course, to Putin – the little, pathetic inadequate whose only claim to fame is inflicting death, destruction and misery on everything he touches. Does it make him happy? Does he wish to be remembered by history as running Hitler a close second in the most hated dictator of the past two centuries? Does he think he's popular because Russians are forced, on pain of death and torture, to vote for him? If it dose, it merely makes him more warped than we could have imagined.

LEE ANDERSON: COMPLETELY WRONG, OR JUST PARTIALLY?

Lee Anderson, former Conservative Party deputy chair, is a feisty character: he was appointed to high(ish) office precisely because he favoured a no-nonsense, outspoken approach. Now, he has accused the odious little London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, of allowing his “islamist mates” to take over London. He refuses to apologise and, indeed, has doubled down on his attacks by repeating and widening them today, in the face of accusations that he was being islamophobic. But calling him “islamophobic” only makes sense if you believe islam and islamists are the same thing. To me, they are very different things and being opposed to islamists (violent extremist fascists dedicated to imposing their screwed up Medieval delusions on normal people) is perfectly sensible. Holding a healthy disregard for Islam is, to me, sensible, too – just as a healthy disregard for christianity, judaism, catholicism, hinduism, mormonism or any other crackpot set of beliefs is a sign of a healthy and properly functioning brain.

But it is important to understand the difference between the two: I think it is wrong to be abusive towards people because they believe in something daft – as long as their daftness does not translate into violent fascism. Hence, I would not throw hate at a muslim or a christian, but when it comes to islamists, anything goes. Well, almost anything. Anderson was perfectly entitled to attack islamists, but wrong to accuse Khan of allowing them to take over London. Because this is clearly nonsense. For now, at least. For the time being, it is incorrect to say that islamists run London but it is fair to say that they exert influence over both Khan and the rest of the Labour Party. Pondering how far that influence will be allowed to go is terrifying – and one of the reasons a Labour government is such a terrifying prospect. So Anderson was wrong, but in my view only partially. The fuss being made is, of course, out of all proportion to his clumsy choice of words – that's all down to cheap party political points scoring.

FEBRUARY 21 2024

SHAMEFUL SHENANIGANS IN PARLIAMENT

Today's news is dominated by the meaningless posturing in Parliament of the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party over what sort of ceasefire they would like to see in Gaza. The virtue signalling is of almost Pythonesque proportions – we are almost literally talking “The People's Front of Judea” versus “The Judean People's Front”. But while the two feeble Opposition parties contrive to wreck the other's minutely calibrated “ceasefire/stop fighting/peaceful pause” or whatever, it is obvious that none of this matters one jot to the people of Gaza – or Israel – and none if it will make the slightest scrap of difference to events in the Middle East. UK politicians might blether on about “what we say matters”, but on this, it does not. What DOES matter to these two muddled parties is the domestic audience in small but increasingly vocal and therefore influential pockets of the country. Labour is in the highly dangerous state of being dazzled by its Muslim activist section, yet its leadership still has to try and display a modicum of common sense. An impossible task: hence it is tying itself in knots trying to display its pro-Palestinian credentials without appearing any more anti-Semitic than it already is. But either way, the importance of today's debate, if there is any importance at all, lies thousands of miles away from Gaza in those UK areas most worked up over the latest Middle Eastern skirmish. As this includes quite a lot of London, it is made into news. But not the news it appears at first sight. Make no mistake, this debate is for domestic consumption only.

FEBRUARY 5 2024

The term “duh-brain” us one of those innovations we should all admire: there's something about it that surpasses explanation; it is almost onomatopoeic as a descriptor. We have a family living not far away that fits the term perfectly. And today's Times was so full of stories about duh-brains that they deserve to be listed.

DUH-BRAIN 1

A police force that allows its own firearms officers to be charged with offences and disciplined for doing the incredibly difficult job they have been asked to do has to be on the list. Deciding whether to fire a weapon or refrain under intense pressure, probably in fear of your life, is a dilemma few of us have to face: we are happy and relieved to be able to delegate it to others. And so over the past year or so, whenever officers have been suspended or prosecuted for firing their weapons, the intelligent mind will have asked: “So who will want to be a firearms officer in these circumstances, when your own employer not only fails to defend you, but actively attacks you?” When officers inevitably decide to refuse to bear arms in their droves – which is what is being reported today – then we have to ask – who are the duh-brains here?

DUH-BRAIN 2

In the calamitous Labour years of the early noughties, a vast and colossally expensive attempt was made to build a health IT system that would provide a “patient passport” for all. A brilliant idea – but completely unachievable with the technology of the time – and perhaps of this time. It might be a great idea but when it has been tried and failed once, you might have thought coverage in The Times would have mentioned this fact. But no. And so we will hurtle headlong into another go at what could turn out to be another epic failure. The duh-brains here are those who fail to learn from those past mistakes.

DUH-BRAIN 3

Man sees chance to make easy money. Man buys extremely dangerous dogs and breeds from them. Man invites “close relative” to his house. Dogs kill relative.

DUH-BRAIN 4

The Church of England, in the most disingenuous statement imaginable, says it is not its job to decide on asylum applications, but the Home Office's. In its clinically gullible way, the church then decides islamic asylum seekers have converted to christianity, allowing them to claim they will be persecuted if returned to their backward countries of origin. The Home Office's hands are then tied. Thank you duh-brain Church of England. Shame on you. How many more mutilations and vicious assaults on the streets of Britain will the church facilitate before it removes its duh-brain ingenues from interfering in the political, administrative and security processes?

DUH-BRAIN 5

Mary Harper, the BBC World Service Africa editor. Violent men enter the UK illegally. They rape and sexually violate teenagers and, thankfully, are caught and tried. Who could bring themselves to speak up on behalf of such monsters? Mary Harper, of course. An “expert witness” prepared to confirm how how horrid it would be for these criminals to have to go back to Somalia. Poor things. And so we have another duh-brain facilitating vicious crimes against teenage girls in Britain. Incredibly, she is still in post at the BBC. I am sure she loves Somalia and wants to help – even though, as an objective journalist, that is not her job. But can she not see the difference between a poor country whose people are in desperate need of support and violent, predatory criminals allowed to roam the world in search of their individual prey who should be made to face the consequences of their crimes, whatever that entails?

I could go on – for example, by pointing out two glaring mistakes in the reporting of yesterday's Manchester United versus West Ham match – but that will have to suffice for today. There will be more tomorrow, without doubt.

JANUARY 17 2024

Libby Purves, a sensible Times columnist, could have been writing as book review on Monday – a review of my book. Put my name and the title “The Rise of Antisocialism” at the top and it would serve as an almost perfect precis of a large chunk of my 2019 work on capitalism, business, and society and its demise. I obviously therefore agree with, and applaud, Libby's column. It's so good, I reproduce it here in full – as a tribute to its sagacity, rather than stealing it because I hadn't thought of it already.

The prime minister was baffled. “Do I think our country is three times sicker than it was a decade ago? The answer is no.” But something certainly is happening; one in five people of working age are “economically inactive”: not in work or looking for it.

Some may be new parents, necessary caregivers or homeless youth (another figure on the rise), but more people than ever claim disability benefits. Spending on these is forecast to rise by a third in the next four years.

Why? It isn’t mirrored in equivalent countries. Probably NHS deficiencies in primary care, dentistry and waiting lists have a part to play, but a startling amount of long-term sickness relates to mental conditions.

A third of new claims last year for “personal independence payments” were for anxiety, social phobia, depression, stress or some form of “neurodivergence”. The rise is fastest among under-25s. Nor can you argue that the system makes it easy: there’s a backlog of 250,000 claims.

Some suspect that extreme use of lockdowns and furlough not only shrank the economy but damaged the assumption that working was a norm. Others cite actual medical damage. But we are where we are, and it won’t be affordable for long.

Dreamers say that one day robots and AI will do everything while we all sit back and draw universal income, but even that improbable utopia would clash with a deep human need: to be occupied, constructive and needed. No psychiatrist prescribes inactivity, lonely telly and a sense of personal uselessness as a cure for depression.

The chancellor promises a £2.5 billion “back to work plan”, a new fitness test and a mixture of pastoral support and punitive sanctions. The latter are likely to damage the genuinely disabled most: the charity Scope speaks of “all stick no carrot” and mental health campaigners bewail “pejorative language”.

But the rise in claims of psychological helplessness opens up more revolutionary thoughts: have we built a society inimical, dismissive and scornful towards a huge proportion of its workers? Is our chief product the creation of stress, depression and an impatient medicalisation of even mild neurodiversities?

Consider an individual with a low-wage, low-security and depressing job (cold-calling and being sworn at daily, or working against the clock in a vast warehouse). It may involve three unreliable buses or a trek through dangerous streets, offer no prospects and an insulting, poorly regulated employer who could send you back to the jobcentre tomorrow. Would you bother, if there was no actual risk of starving?

It befits policymakers and commentators to exercise imagination about such lives. Many people live them, gallantly, but it is not surprising when others declare themselves mentally overwhelmed, crippled by their own misery and believing their “struggle” so abnormal that they must become permanent dependents.

I doubt that is ever a good feeling. But when people feel powerless to fix their unsafe environment and precarious housing, or restore public facilities lost to a distant austerity diktat, they might assume it is they who don’t fit the “norm” and need social pity. Declaring yourself helplessly fragile is easier than starting a revolution.

In many ways Britain has improved in humane and liberal values (certainly in theory and law). But in half a century the world of work has become harsher for many despite the prating about rights and human “resources”.

Fifty years ago in local radio, my personal documentary mania was about “ordinary” jobs, blue-collar or boiler suit. I spent time up cranes and down sewers, admired the skills of chimney sweeps, stonemasons, lorry drivers, railway signalmen, seamstresses, bus cleaners and motorway canteen chefs.

I asked naive questions around manholes, machine shops and British Leyland assembly lines (where, interestingly, quite a few disliked not only their white-collar managers banning topless pin-ups but their union leaders for frivolous tool-downings like the great cat-droppings stoppage). Several attitudes stood out. There was an acceptance that going to work was inevitable and a presumption that there were always jobs, however lowly.

But by 1975 there were stories about a novelty called “youth unemployment”, and I was sent to interview shamefaced kids who, shock horror, had been unemployed for a whole year since school. They hated it, vowing they would do factory or shop work or cleaning, and dreamt of apprenticeships (at the time only about 8 per cent went to university). Not working was dead embarrassing.

The second constant in those distant times was the way most interviewees (chiefly male) talked of their public usefulness and personal responsibility, often laughing that “someone’s got to do it”. And the third was the acceptance that when your shift was over, unless you rashly accepted promotion to a supervisory or admin role, your life was your own. Your rent was payable and you could happily devote yourself to pigeon racing, building cathedrals out of matchsticks or running the Morris Motors Athletic and Social Club caged birds society.

That world had many shortcomings (especially for women) but the succeeding decades kicked it to pieces without preserving the good bits. Industrial jobs shrank, cheap foreign labour competed, and proud local government autonomy was eroded year by year by Westminster. Grabber capitalism overwhelmed any remaining postwar social spirit.

It was interesting to see a brief flaring of respect for that spirit during Covid, when suddenly WFH white-collars were forced to notice that as well as the NHS we utterly depended on key workers to keep the lights on and shelves full.

But we don’t display the same respect for “ordinary” work as in those last decades of postwar rebuilding. So maybe it is unsurprising when many potential workers don’t either.

JANUARY 11 2024

WHAT IF IT HAD BEEN ME?

Listening, in an almost permanent state of shock, to the revelations of increasingly disgusting behaviour by all those involved in the Post Office fraud scandal, I frequently wonder what I would have done if accused of stealing money I had not stolen but being assumed guilty despite a complete lack of evidence. One victim recounted how an “investigator” had glibly told her that £50,000 was unaccounted for and despicably asked her how she could explain it. Would I have fared any better in avoiding prosecution, persecution and jail if I had returned the question? “No. I have stolen nothing. You have not a shred of evidence. And will never ever find a shred of evidence, because there isn't any. So how do YOU explain it? Oh, and by the way, everyone knows that your IT system is faulty and makes it appear as though money has gone missing.” I doubt it. It's Kafka-esque.

I cannot bring myself to watch the ITV drama, excellent though I am sure it is: it would make me too angry. Because the glacial pace of the public inquiry is an appalling example of “justice delayed means justice denied”. I believe no public inquiry, investigation or commission should ever be constituted without a deadline. And that deadline should be measured in months, rather than years: journalists are able to gather enormous amounts of information in hours or days, so six months for an inquiry should be ample. Delaying tactics, such as withholding information or refusing to co-operate should be treated as contempt of court and dealt with instantly and severely.

My fury would also extend to the disreputable lawyers involved in the many prosecutions, for their withholding of documents, failure to assess the lack of evidence, failure to call a halt to these trials, and for their general attitude of being an arm of the prosecutors rather than upholders of justice and reason. Many should be barred from practice – at the very least – for their part in assisting the gravest miscarriage of justice in this country in our lifetimes. It goes without saying that the Post Office executives should be prosecuted for fraud, and their bullying, uncaring henchmen prosecuted, too.

Also in the dock should be the civil servants and responsible politicians who facilitated the crimes against the Post Office workers, along with the ridiculous judges who utterly failed in their duty to ensure trials are fair. In the UK, anyone can initiate a prosecution, so it is not sensible to argue that removing the Post Office's right to prosecute would ensure such a travesty is repeated. But, clearly, more oversight is needed if those whose job it is to ensure our legal system is fair and honest are so incompetent or corrupt that they let through – and adjudicated upon – so many shameful cases. What were the judges thinking when allowing prosecutions to proceed without evidence and on the basis that the accused were “guilty unless they could prove themselves innocent while being denied access to vital documents that would have killed the process stone dead”. There are so many guilty parties involved, all of whom should be hanging their heads in shame and embarrassment and considering their positions.

The government's proposed quashing of the convictions and handing out of large sums in compensation is a small step in the right direction: it covers a lot, but not all, of the miscarriages of justice; much more needs to be done. But, of course, there are always idiots who would prefer to prolong and obfuscate and deny reconciliation. That intellectual molehill Dominic Grieve has denounced the overturning of the convictions, saying that a few genuine thieves might go free. Well, tough. Better that than the innocent continuing to suffer. He also says it raises dangerous constitutional issues regarding the independence and supremacy of the judiciary, which should not be subject to being overruled by legislation. Again, tough. When the judiciary is so utterly hopeless and wrong, there has to be some mechanism for achieving a correction. And remember, this is the same judiciary that recently declared Rwanda to be an “unsafe” country (admittedly on an extremely narrow and technical point of administration – although that is not how it has been reported, nor the impression of Rwanda it has created). That was an absurd and irresponsible judgment that pushed at the very boundaries of the judiciary's sphere of responsibilities – a clearly political judgment. With a legal system this bad, and one that seems determined to overreach its powers while turning a blind eye to evidence and justice, is it any wonder that outrageous miscarriages are occurring?

WHAT I MISS ABOUT THE OFFICE – AND WHY STAFF NEED TO GET BACK THERE

I was at a lovely drinks party last night: FT editor Roula Khalaf invited the media organisation's alumni (we can't call it a newspaper any more, with 1.5m online subscribers and only a handful of hard copies sold!) to get together and resume a tradition halted by lockdown. It was well attended: Sir Geoffrey Owen, a wise and kindly man who was editor when I joined; Sir Richard Lambert, another wise and kindly man who took over from Sir Geoff; former chief executive David Palmer, famous for a solo sailboat crossing of the Atlantic in 1976; sort-of celebrity Rachel Johnson, Boris's sister and former reporter who went on to giddy – and rather surprising – heights at various magazines; and many other extraordinary intellects and great thinkers. I retired almost 10 years ago and have loved every minute of it. But last night it struck me what I have been missing – the cut and thrust of debate, the banter, the humour and more that comes from sharing a space with brilliant others. There must have been more than 120 people in the room and I knew roughly half of them well and the other half a little – I could have happily spent time talking to virtually any of them about any subject.

There is no substitute for such intellectual challenge and sharing of meaningful experiences. It made me recall the joy of wandering around the office and holding serendipitous conversations with fellow journalists, or commercial staff, or executives, or anyone – every encounter was important and contributed something of great value. I always made it my aim, every day, to enjoy my work, and to ensure that those who worked with me or for me, enjoyed their days, too. I believed – and still believe – that that was how we achieved our best results. The FT offices are exceptional, of course, but it is surely important that human interaction is maximised, not only for the experience and knowledge that can be handed down, or for the ideas and information that can be exchanged, but also for the sheer fun of it. The sheer fun that makes being at work such a positive experience.

JANUARY 8 2024

HOW A BAD INTERVIEWER CAN DESTROY THE MESSAGE

I cannot stand Sir Howard Davies. I believe he is a man of narrow specialisms and a dull and unimaginative outlook. I am particularly aggravated by his tarnishing of the reputation of my beloved London School of Economics, which he led for a while. Having said that, I believe he was horribly wronged by the even more appalling Amol Rajan, the Today programme's trashy presenter on BBC Radio Four. After a morning “interview”, Davies was later harangued by almost everyone for saying that buying a house today is no more difficult than it was decades ago. Rajan rudely sneered and scoffed at him, asking him which country he lived in and whether he had tried to buy a house recently, as if he was involved in a punchy, boozy pub slanging match. Davies could hardly get a word in to explain his reasoning.

I'm sure Rajan spent the rest of the day preening and congratulating himself on having beaten up the hapless and clueless old bloke. But the trouble is that Davies was on his home ground – discussing one of his narrow specialisms; and he was making very good points that hardly anyone else seems to understand while being given no chance to explain, thanks to the witless blabbering of Rajan.

One of those joining the ill-informed anti-Davies pile-on was a hopeless leader writer in The Times, who castigated Davies for his ignorance – the headline even read “Banker Sir Howard Davies is woefully ignorant of housing realities” – while displaying off-the-scale levels of ignorance themselves. That leader used just two statistics to make its case that Davies was wrong – it said that in the 1970s, house prices were, on average, a multiple of four times average earnings and that in late 2022 they were nine times. It claimed that such a gulf left young people excluded from the housing ladder.

But what it – and most other commentators and “experts” fail to gather – is that the level of monthly mortgage repayments were, in real terms, roughly identical in both periods, thanks to the malign magic of interest rates. If house prices had been four times annual income in both periods, then monthly mortgage payments would have been minuscule in 2022. This is because house prices always adjust to match what buyers can afford in terms of monthly repayments – not the headline price of the house. It is a simple “see-saw” rule – as interest rates come down, house prices go up, and vice versa – but the monthly loan repayments are always roughly the same.

Part of the misunderstanding comes because when we talk of someone buying a house, they are actually NOT buying a house. Someone else is buying a house in which they will live. It is a purely financial arrangement, with multiple balancing factors, the crucial one in this case being interest rates. And it has always been the case, as I stated with crystal clarity in my book, “The Rise of Antisocialism”, in which I said that the extremely low interest rates of the 1990s and early 21st century carried huge potential dangers and that anyone arranging their affairs relying on the low-rate era continuing would, sooner or later, find themselves in deep trouble. I called it a dangerous one-way street, and so it has proved.

This is what Davies was trying to explain to the boy Rajan, but was not permitted to. Meeting the monthly repayments is indeed no more difficult today than it was in the 1970s, 80s or 90s; and up until Gordon Brown's crashing of the economy in 2007-08 securing a deposit was no barrier either. In fact, the reckless and profligate lending of the New Labour era, with its 125 per cent mortgages, scant checks on buyers' ability to repay and its enthusiasm for the securitisation of junk loans actually led to Brown's crash in the first place. When rationality returned to management of the economy, the pendulum inevitably swung too far the other way and significant deposits were demanded of home buyers. This is the true barrier to house purchase today – the protections made necessary by the collapse of New Labour's “free money” foolishness. So yes, it is harder to secure a place on the housing ladder today because overly cautious large deposits are needed, and this requires saving – which we have to accept is difficult for youngsters seeking their independence in rented accommodation. Saving large sums also takes a while, which means that by the time younger buyers are perusing Rightmove, they are older and in search of a three bedroomed house, rather than the one-bedroomed flat that earlier generations of twenty-somethings might have settled for to get them started. Young people's expectations today are also beyond the imagination of anyone living in the 1970s, with technology, frequent travel, eating out and so on accounting for a large slice of income. All of these luxuries were either non-existent or at minimal levels at that time. Buyers in those days also had to contend with mortgage rationing – and there can surely be no bigger barrier to buying a home than being told there are no mortgages available. Even then, those that secured them could not seek the security of a fixed rate deal – they were exposed to the doubling and even trebling of mortgage rates that hit 15.5 per cent in the 1980s.

And so in some ways it is more difficult for young people to access the housing ladder – but in other ways less so. It has never been easy or predictable and has always demanded sacrifices. The game is slightly different today but, overall, no more difficult for those prepared to make those sacrifices. And this is what Davies was trying – but not allowed – to explain.

CAN'T PAY THE LIVING WAGE? THEN YOU DON'T HAVE A BUSINESS

More and more bad employers are beginning to squeal about the crippling costs of having to pay their staff the newly enhanced living wage. It has gone up to £11.44 an hour, a rise of almost 10 per cent, or less than £24,000 a year for someone working 40 hours a week. The reality is that many low-paid jobs are irregular, unpredictable, precarious and unpleasant, including all of those in the UK's filthy slave labour markets. But now that the flow of impoverished and desperate eastern Europeans has dried up, businesses are actually having to pay proper wages – and they don't seem to like it. Even the otherwise reputable ones. But frankly, if your business's survival depends on paying rotten wages and zero hours contracts, then you really don't have a business at all.

JANUARY 7 2024

A NEW YEAR RESOLUTION: TO COMPLAIN MORE

Businesses and service providers are getting away with appallingly low levels of customer service, which we can ponder at length as we sit listening to endless repeats of that most obvious of lies: “Your call is important to us”. Or “Everything is closed because we're improving it.” An example: on the Saturday before the turn of the year our house alarm sounded for no reason: it was switched off yet the alarm was blaring with only one person in the house at 7.45am – in a bedroom out of sight of all watchful “eyes”. We pay ADT a small fortune every year to monitor and maintain our system and were told when we called to check and rectify the fault that an engineer would call us back within an hour. This would not have disrupted out planned day too much. Two hours later we inquired again and were told it should be within 20 minutes. But it took nearly five hours and more phone calls before we eventually spoke to an engineer, leaving us embarrassed with the two households whose plans we had disrupted. The repair took just three or four minutes. I shall be complaining. More than that, the next day I bought an entire new alarm system – for less than the price of an annual subscription to ADT, with extra features galore. Every time a business asks me “how they did”, I now plan to tell them.

BUT I HAVE NOTHING BUT PRAISE (AT THE MOMENT) FOR THE NHS

I have been concerned about a lump for a long time, and as it has worsened I finally stirred myself to see if our local Capelfield Surgery in Claygate, Surrey, would check it for me. I emailed on Wednesday morning and was seen that afternoon by a GP. He ordered an ultrasound scan. Two hours later I received a phone call from Kingston Hospital offering me a choice of two ultrasound appointments the next morning at Raynes Park Health Centre. I was scanned by 11am on Thursday and the GP texted me the reassuring results late on Friday afternoon. All that in three days. I know this is not everyone's experience – but how can I complain about a service like that?

DECEMBER 12 2023

AN INQUIRY – OR A MALICIOUS WORK OF FICTION?

I think we can let today's leader in The Times, on the shocking rewriting of history taking place at the Covid Inquiry, speak for itself: “The Covid pandemic was the making of Rishi Sunak. To put it so baldly may now seem crass. But it was in those uncertain weeks of March 2020, now nearly four years ago, that the then novice chancellor showed an anxious Britain that he had the skillset of a statesman: an empathetic approach to public policy, an intuitive grasp of political communication, and a willingness to think the unthinkable for the sake of the national interest. All of this endures in the public consciousness to Mr Sunak’s credit, despite his current political difficulties. Some participants in the Covid inquiry, however, appear determined to make sure the pandemic is the prime minister’s undoing. They must not be allowed to rewrite history.

“Mr Sunak appeared for the first time before Baroness Hallett’s inquiry. He did so after weeks of evidence in which his decisions as chancellor have been criticised and his character impugned. Most damaging have been accusations, luridly phrased and amplified by counsel who seem more interested in political point-scoring than the inquiry’s terms of reference, that he wilfully endangered life...

“It is difficult to conceive of a graver set of charges to level at a politician in high office at a time of national crisis. Mr Sunak is effectively accused of putting economic growth before human life. It would be a devastating indictment of the prime minister were it true, but the evidence the inquiry heard proved otherwise...

“Take Eat Out to Help Out. It is now fashionable to dismiss the hugely popular discount scheme, under which some 64 million meals were served in summer 2020, as a disaster that fuelled a second wave of infections. For that accusation there is no good evidence; were that the case, the scientists who have appeared before the inquiry would have provided it. There are criticisms to be made of the government’s approach to the autumn spike in cases that hit Britain, but Mr Sunak’s lifeline to the hospitality industry is not one of them.

“Yet still the inquiry’s lawyers persist with the fiction that Mr Sunak deliberately and recklessly allowed infections to spread and as such was indifferent to human suffering. It is not borne out by evidence. If they are genuinely interested in their own terms of reference and learning lessons, they should desist. With each passing day, evidence mounts that this inquiry is misbegotten.”

DREARY, DOLTISH, SLOW AND STUTTERING – WE BETTER GET USED TO IT

Anyone still needing to disabuse themselves of the notion that throwing the hated Tories into a skip will produce a Garden of Eden, a land of milk and honey, should take time to listen to Sir Keir Starmer. This doltish, dreary pipsqueak of an intellect was boring us all on the radio this morning, being quizzed over the Labour Party's alternative to deterring illegal migration. The unasked question that should have begun Mishal Husain's gentle interview was, of course: “Do you consider illegal migration to be a priority at all?” Starmer, I suspect, would have waffled but eventually had to agree that, no, Labour doesn't really see it as much of an issue. Instead, his first words stated his “hope” that he could do something about the criminal gangs, the deaths, the flimsy boats, the enormous costs, etc. What followed was basically a party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party: Starmer said when he was a lad he stopped all terrorism by working with Interpol to crush the terror networks – and he'd do the same with people smugglers. And Labour would ensure that 160,000 (his figure) outstanding asylum claims by undocumented illegal arrivals would be dealt with immediately. His third great idea was to send failed claimants back “where they came from”.

This laughable collection of dud and already failing ideas shows just how seriously Labour will treat the issues – ie, not at all. What do these “hopes” amount to? “Smashing the gangs” is a non-starter. First, it is already being tried, to some extent – and failing: the gangs are nimble and much smarter than Starmer and his enforcers. Second, and more importantly, western countries are playing a game of pass the parcel: none of them want economic migrants sitting in their chairs when the music stops, and so it is in their interests to keep them moving. And in achieving this, the smuggling gangs are extremely useful. So how about processing the claims? Does he not think this is being done as swiftly as possible already? Illegal migrants, by definition, will use every trick at their disposal to make the process difficult, if not impossible, with their ack of documents and fake identities. They know that once they land, they are here to stay. Which brings us to “Send them back where they came from”. Well, good luck with that – they came from France. And France is not taking them back, having gone to such trouble to help inflate the boats and launch them into the Channel in the first place. Even if an official does happen to discover a migrant's country of origin there is an industry built on preventing them from ever being returned.

Dusting off these failed and doomed policies might have a minuscule effect – perhaps lowering the illegal migration figures by about 100? Which is the figure Starmer used repeatedly during his interview as being the sum total of migrants that could be accommodated in Rwanda. He claimed this figure was authoritative, definitive – because the Court of Appeal had mentioned it last year. He probably mentioned it enough times that it will now be taken as fact by the gullible and the BBC. This small figure was one of the reasons for Starmer planning to repeal the Rwanda agreement laws and investing the money saved in a new police unit – presumably empowered to operate beyond the UK's jurisdiction, where the people smugglers hide. But what if Rwanda begins working before the next election? Illegal migrants are flown there and the boats dwindle. What then? Still repeal it and go back to playing the deadly “Cross the Channel and claim your prize” game?

RWANDA MUST REGRET MIXING WITH THE UK'S IGNORATI

Poor Rwanda – a beautiful country, full of aspiration and energy, ambition and pride. Spending August there was a revelation and we left feeling just as nearly every other visitor feels – strongly attached to and deeply affected by the enormous progress it has made since the dark days of 1994. President Paul Kagame has proved himself a genius and a role model for all other national leaders; the country itself has so many lessons for rich, lazy, arrogant western nations. And yet a Times columnist decides to take it upon himself to rip Rwanda and its government to shreds. Philip Collins' article was utterly disgraceful (although he was perhaps not responsible for the picture caption ignorantly describing Kagame as “hardly a role model”). If it had stuck to facts it might have retained some credibility. But stating as a fact that the UK Supreme Court had declared that “Rwanda is unsafe” when it said no such thing is unforgivable. One small aspect of its immigration policy – the risk of refoulement – was deemed potentially unsafe. Quite a different thing.

Collins then refers to “extrajudicial killings”, “political disappearances”, “journalists in jail” – with no explanation or evidence, nor understanding that in order to achieve stability today, violent political opponents wishing a return to genocide had to be somehow dealt with. He baldly states that the Rwanda judicial system is “riven with government interference”. Again, this is presented as fact without evidence. The actual fact that Rwanda is insisting on the UK obeying its international obligations – a responsible demand displaying the highest quality of decency and integrity – is ignored. He says “There is more, a lot more”. And still no evidence. This is a disgraceful slur. As is “the mistreatment of refugees in Rwanda would be appalling”. Complete condemnation built upon a an entirely made up “fact”. We know we have to put up with stupid people now being able to display their foolishness online, thanks to social media (see “Lineker”, below), but for a respected newspaper to allow such dirty and ill-informed trash to be committed to print is truly appalling and disgusting.

SACK THE WRETCHED LINEKER – NOW

Ex-footballer Gary Lineker is repeatedly bringing the BBC into disrepute – which takes some doing these days. But his brainless and offensive tweets aimed at politicians he hates are disgraceful. If his latest personal insults don't get him sacked, then nothing will, and we will have to endure more and more of his cosy middle-class, rich-boy virtue signalling.

And while we're at it, could someone please explain to the hopeless Enver Solomon, head of some refugee campaign, the difference between a refugee and an illegal economic migrant. You'd think he should know but he plainly hasn't the first clue.

DECEMBER 11 2023

Wokeism is not left-wing. Liberalism is not left-wing. Individualism is not left wing. Conversely, neither communitarianism, nor a belief in society and responsibility and sharing are right wing. And yet this part of the gibberish being spouted by the woke thought police. Matthew Syed wrote a vitriolic column in yesterday's Sunday Times, pointing out that wokeism is the opposite of a left-wing ideology. It distracts from the real worl problems of the poor. It has no time for the working class. It is a vacuous middle-class virtue signalling exercise. He writes: “Wokeism has nothing to do with left-wing politics or social justice; it is more akin to a kind of religious fundamentalism. I mean, how is the condition of a kid living in a tower block materially improved by performative activism about 'intersectionality' or pedantic quibbles about 'cultural appropriation'?

“This isn’t an agenda for the working classes; indeed, nobody with the slightest contact with the real world has the faintest idea what these kids, indoctrinated into a farrago of unfalsifiable pseudo-ideologies, are babbling on about when they proclaim that 'words are violence' or that 'feelings are facts'. No, this is a luxury belief system, a doctrine of upper-middle-class adolescents whose dawning realisation that their soggy humanities degrees are not going to get them far in life has coalesced into a searing and increasingly unhinged hatred of their own nations and histories.

“And this explains perhaps the most conspicuous political paradox of our age: why has the rise of economic inequality not led to the election of left-leaning governments whose raison d’être is (or should be) to offer redress for social injustice? Why has it benefited populists such as Trump, Farage and Meloni, whose policies often shaft the aspirational poor? The reason, I’d suggest, is that most working-class people are even more repulsed by woke ideologues and their rampant anti-western, antisemitic bias than by their demagogic opponents. And I don’t blame them. In this sense, wokeism hasn’t merely undermined our universities; it has ruinously split the patriotic left – the kind personified by great figures like FDR, Ernest Bevin and Attlee. This should not just make us sad but shudderingly angry in an age where we need a new social contract more than ever. “

He is so right. Politics can no longer be seen in left-right terms. Those claiming to be “progressive” and leftist are predominantly guided by libertarian, liberal, individualistic rights-based thinking. Those in favour of protecting communities and social well-being, of believing in responsibilities and duty, once the preserve of the left, and are now deemed to be right-wing. This obviously renders “left” and “right” meaningless today: you are either a hyper-liberal, believing in freedom, rights, and individualism, or a communitarian believing in society, community, sharing and responsibility. One of these camps is “progressive”, the other most certainly is not.

DECEMBER 10 2023

THIS CHARADE OF AN INQUIRY SHOULD BE HALTED FORTHWITH

Sunday Times columnist Camilla Long has been attending the Covid Inquiry and writes scathingly today about how it is so obviously biased; so obviously in the hands of sharp-suited rich people (what do they all do? she asks); and has so obviously made up its mind already. She points out how just a few minutes consideration was given to how school closures affected the young and only a brief hearing given to the negative aspects of locking down, while hour upon hour was devoted to the concerns of the bereaved and how a lockdown should have been introduced sooner and made harder. She reminds us that she is no fan of Boris Johnson but finds herself having to defend him, just as I do, against blatantly unfair slurs, false interpretations and condemnations based on zero consideration of the counterfactuals – thereby ignoring the fact that any alternative decisions could have been far far worse. She accepts the inquiry has provided evidence that Johnson was dithering, uncertain, frightened, but she points out that it also showed him to have been engaged, sceptical, keen to encourage debate and differing opinions, and to push back against nonsense. Her first-hand account of the conduct of the inquiry and those involved is so damning it really should spark an inquiry into the inquiry. It is plain to see from the daily news coverage that this charade is a disgrace; it should be halted forthwith.

HOW TO MAKE LOCAL WORKERS ANGRY, FRUSTRATED, DEPRIVED AND POOR

I forgot to say “well done” to Times columnist Juliet Samuel for her fist class analysis of Tory migration policy way back on November 30. My, so much has changed since then, with new legislation planned, treaties signed and the Immigration Minister resigning. But Samuel's commentary still holds firm. Referring to the “temporary” visa measures allowing migrants from non-EU countries to fill important vacancies, she says: “The main effect is to prevent wages from rising and working conditions from improving. The Migration Advisory Committee has stated for years that we do not have enough care workers because care homes don't pay them enough.”

As I pointed out in my book, this “cheap labour” strategy has been dominant since EU expansion pushed the UK's labour market to the Russian border. Temporary visas for foreign workers are, for now, essential to keep these vital services running – but where is the non-temporary solution? Where are the trainees? Where is the higher pay, the higher prestige, the better conditions? A start could be made by reversing the perverse incentive for employers to hire from abroad: they must pay a migrant less than the going UK rate for the job. What a nonsense! The opposite should be the case: if employers could only recruit from overseas at a large premium, they would quickly seek to train up local people and pay and treat them well. Samuel correctly identifies so many of the issues I raised in my book that drive down wages in so many sectors, leaving local workers angry, frustrated, deprived and poor. The perfect conditions for a leap to the right, as seen in the US, Argentina, Italy, Sweden, Germany and now the Netherlands.

THINGS ARE NOT AS BAD AS CLAIMED – AND CHANGE WILL BRING CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT

When you have seen as many governments come and go as we in our seventh decade have, then you can confidently state that the current – and recent – Tory governments have been nowhere near as bad as those who hate them would have you believe. And we can guarantee that the next government will be nowhere near as good as those seeking a change of regime are hoping. It will be a crushing disappointment to anyone who expects anything to improve. This is partly because our plight is largely beyond the control of any politician. For example, the cost of living crisis is not the consequence of the government's incompetence – it is a global consequence of the war in Ukraine, plus an inevitable hangover from the pandemic. Anyone listening to Radio 4's “From Our Own Correspondent” programme at the weekend would have learned that concerns over the economy, migration, the cost of living, social tensions and so on prevail across Europe. In many ways, the UK is faring so much better than many of our former EU partners.

WISE WORDS

“A fool can throw a stone in a pond that 100 wise men can not get out.” – Saul Bellow.

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” – Einstein. Albert – we are there already...

And in “The Giggle”, last night's episode of Dr Who, a dystopian version of the present formed the backdrop for the plot: everyone was behaving in the streets and in real life as they already do on social media. It was a grotesque sight: everyone believed they were right and had a right to do whatever they wished. A pilot decided to crash his plane; a man decided he had a right to stand in the road. Rational thinking and decency had disappeared. A perfect caricature of the cesspit that is social media.

DECEMBER 7 2023

Once again the BBC's Today news programme prefaced an item about the Covid Inquiry with an interview with a bereaved woman whose mother died in a care home during the pandemic. This, of course, is terribly sad. But it was not the only consideration politicians faced at the time. Maintaining the general health of the nation, avoiding the NHS becoming overwhelmed, protecting the economy, concerns over individual liberty and “lockdown fatigue” – these all carried great weight, too. But the BBC, in its blind hatred of Boris Johnson, who was about to give his evidence, decided to focus on just one aspect, in another clumsy attempt to portray him as a killer, as some of the more dim-witted banners displayed at a protest suggested. It was completely biased and one-sided. It also flies in the face of the British legal system – and indeed the purpose of legal systems everywhere – which is to restrain victims and keep them from exacting their own vengeance. Courts, lawyers, juries, judges, all exist to impose order: no victim is allowed to be judge, jury and executioner in their own case – the system applies impartiality, integrity, distance. But the BBC – and indeed the ludicrous inquiry – seems determined to place some angry “victims” at the centre of the trial (because that is what it has turned into). This is simply wrong on so many levels.

And this morning I had to switch to another radio station. Nick Robinson was so unbelievably rude, obnoxious and disrespectful to an interviewee he so clearly hates it became unbearable. There will be many who also hate the interviewee in question – but that does not excuse rudeness and disrespect on the part of someone who is supposed to be a professional journalist interviewing an important elected political figure.

ROYAL RACISTS?

So who are the royal racists? The family that welcomed a beautiful mixed race woman into their midst, or those who accuse them of racism for merely showing an interest in a forthcoming birth? To argue that it is racist for a family member to wonder about the skin colour of a baby being born to mixed race parents is, in the real world, racist itself. Trevor Phillips made this point in an excellent column in The Times this week, pointing out that his extended family includes people of all skin tones and that speculating over how the next infant will turn out is a sign of love and caring. He rightly says that barring discussion of skin colour is itself racist: people of colour are not feeble snowflakes in need of such silly paternalism. The writer of a hopeless and tawdry recent book (and the couple behind it it) should take note.

MIGRATION IS UNDER CONTROL

The number of migrants entering the UK is at unsustainable levels, placing impossible demands on housing, services and social cohesion. And yet it is under control. It is just that it is not being controlled well. The list of “shortage occupations” has broadened to become a Pythonesque absurdity, to include dancers, “arts officers”, graphic designers, artists, and loads more. Take a look, it's hilarious. If the idea was that the UK would grant work visas only to migrants able to fulfil essential functions where the country is experiencing shortages, then it is failing horribly badly. And long term, the solution to staff shortages in the social care sector, or health, or hospitality, or agriculture and so on, is not migration – it is raising the status of these vital tasks, training the millions of individuals of working age already in the country who are not in work, treating workers in these sectors as heroes, offering them excellent conditions, and paying them accordingly. In a rational, intelligent labour market, nurses' jobs would be so highly paid and prestigious that everyone would want to be a nurse. Using migrant labour is a short-sighted quick fix that in the medium term does far more harm than good. It might be essential for short periods while a nation sees sense and adjusts, but it can become dangerously addictive. The UK should know this better than anyone – it led directly to decades of low productivity and Brexit.

LOCAL POLITICS – SCHEMING AND NASTY

Two LibDem parish councillors in our village in Surrey – Sue Grose, the current chair, and Janet Swift, her sidekick – have been found guilty of bullying the brilliant and wonderful parish clerk so badly that she was forced out of her job. An independent investigator is reported to have said it was the worst case of bullying he's seen in his career; Elmbridge Borough Council held a panel hearing and confirmed the pair were guilty of breaching the code governing behaviour. The sanctions, sadly, are piffling – an invitation to apologise, a public summary of the findings and a training stint. A few people familiar with the case (not many are) will be wishing the guilty parties to resign. I believe they should. I am fairly certain they will not. They have brought shame and embarrassment upon themselves, their party and, to some extent, our village. I think this raises the question as to whether we should continue with a parish council at all.

I raise this subject, because I played a small role in it and a villager who attended the hearing mentioned my part in the story. I had been editing the Claygate Courier, the parish council's newsletter, up to the local elections in May this year, when the guilty pair seized control of the parish council for the LibDems. The villager said that I had resigned from this (voluntary and unpaid) post in support of the clerk. This is not quite right – I certainly supported the clerk very strongly, but I would have been prepared to continue editing the newsletter if I felt confident that editorial integrity would be maintained. But after two meetings with Grose, one of which was also attended, to my surprise, by Swift, I quickly realised the council was becoming politicised (in defiance of the rules governing parish councils) and that they would be impossible to work with. That was my primary reason for walking away. But as a microcosm of how nasty and scheming even local politics has become, it is an interesting case.

NOVEMBER 28 2023

THANK GOODNESS AIRLINES DON'T HOLD INQUIRIES LIKE THIS

A friend of mine enjoyed a successful career as an airline pilot. An entrepreneurial and altruistic sort, towards the end of his flying days he became involved in advising the NHS on how to learn from its clinical mistakes. The airline industry tends to be extremely keen to learn from its blunders – for obvious reasons. Inquiries are therefore conducted without blame: all energy is directed at identifying any faults and rectifying them, leaving witnesses and those involved to speak honestly and openly about the salient points without fear of condemnation.

Exactly the opposite is happening at the dreadful Covid inquiry, as I've pointed out before. And now another professor has written in The Times to join those of us who condemn this travesty of an investigation. James Naismith, professor of structural biology at Oxford and Investigator at the Rosalind Franklin Institute, writes: “Imagine if an aeroplane crashed every day for a week and the big insight was 'pilot X was to blame', 'pilot Y was to blame' and so on. What would we learn from that: don't fly again with pilot X or Y, or ever?” And from conversations with my pilot friend, I can confirm that he is absolutely correct when he writes: “Aircraft accident investigations are conducted by experts who focus on what led to the accident and learning what can be changed to make a safer future.” He then adds that the Covid Inquiry has “degenerated into theatre” (I would say pantomime) and that what might seem like “good clean fun”, hearing about embarrassing emails and WhatsApp messages, is actually corrosive. Indeed, it might be fun for professors of politics to read the tittle-tattle of daily life behind the black doors of Downing Street and lightly entertaining to see serious politicians and scientists with their trousers down. But it is no earthly use in dealing with future pandemics.

THE UK'S HUTU AND TUTSI MOMENT

It took the Belgians several decades to split the Rwandan people into two warring factions – those designated either Hutu or Tutsi. Yet it took the merest blink of an eye for the same to be achieved in the UK, where two rival religious fundamentalist camps dug their trenches in response to the simple question – “Do you wish to remain in the European Union?”.

The population of the UK is generally very good at debating whether an extra halfpenny on income tax is a fair price to pay for slightly better public services – we understand that millions of people contributing a minuscule amount adds up to a lot (although tax-cutting parties seem to fail to grasp that the reverse is also true – reducing the overall tax take by a lot provides only a minuscule amount to each individual). Beyond that, the differences between our two main political parties are tiny: they are virtually indistinguishable. This means that it matters little, in the grand scheme of things, which party wins an election – they both hold basically the same beliefs and differ only in subtle nuances. And this is why democracy works so well in the UK – because there are no serious consequences resulting from a poll. In fact, democracy can ONLY work well where the outcome of elections doesn't really matter because it makes almost no difference.

But the Brexit debate was different: it moved us away from “a wee bit more of this and a smidgeon less of that” to a simple, binary, in or out, division. There were to be winners and losers – and it mattered. And we are not good at that, it seems. Rather than debating the finely balanced issues, which I tried many times to do, the country leapt into two camps and individuals took on the cloak of “Brexiteer” or “Remainer” with a manic religious zeal. It all came down to blind faith with whichever gospel people felt more in tune. I suspect most people chose on the basis of their own self-interest. I, on the other hand, chose to vote against my personal interests in support of a working class so damaged by the enormous influx of cheap east European workers, who had undermined their way of life.

Even worse was the contempt shown towards the “unbelievers” on the other side: anyone adhering to the opposing faith was stupid, or downright evil. And the repercussions continue to this day: public debate has become simplistic, conducted by idiotic and ignorant celebrities on Twitter, where they seek to confirm their virtue to the “followers” they attracted for an entirely different reason. Debate has also become nasty and ill-considered: there is no room for discussion and appreciation of an alternative when dogmatic statements and opinions are presented as final and someone's undeniable “truth”. Dopey comedians, singers, footballers and the rest are abusing their fame by influencing vulnerable minds on matters they know little – or care little – about. But the disease has spread to those providing the news as well: the BBC's Today presenters, almost all newspaper reporters. These were the last bastion of objective reporting on the world. Now, we have an increasingly unintelligent society dragged further and further away from sanity by a combination of social media channelling confirmatory opinions to each user, keeping them in their bubble; a failing fourth estate; and a handing over of influence to “entertainers”.

WOW – WHAT A GREAT HEADLINE

“I don't know plan to cut arrivals, says Badenoch”. That was the headline on a story about the government's plan to seek to limit inward migration. Anyone reading it might think this a dreadful failing on the part of the Business and Trade Secretary. But when they learn that there is, as yet, no plan, they might think again. Many options are being considered, as any reasonable observer would expect. So to accuse Kemi of not knowing what has been decided is therefore a little dumb, to say the least. Or if not dumb then horribly impartial.

BEING FUNNY DOES NOT MAKE YOU RIGHT

Marina Hyde, the Guardian columnist, often manages a witty turn of phrase; and she uses her skills to trumpet her narrow, hyper-liberal, intolerant political views. Unfortunately, she is also now part of an extremely unholy trinity – with Gary Lineker and Richard Osman – responsible for a podcast called “The Rest is Entertainment”, in which Hyde and Osman seek to be humorous while explaining just what entertainment is. The Times' fawning review today calls it “well-informed” and “insidery”. But should we not question this judgment when the first subject mentioned is not showbiz at all, but Nigel Farage. Hyde says he is a “man with no hinterland”. This is deemed “hilarious” by the boy reviewer. Hyde is also rudely offensive about Farage's presumed taste in music. And she has a nasty dig at Boris Johnson. I can only assume that if the podcast is indeed so “well-informed” then Hyde knows Nigel Farage very well and that he does indeed listen to CDs “that came free with Sunday Times in about 2001”. Because if she doesn't, then she is making up this tediously unfunny rubbish. Once upon a time it would have been deemed slanderous, today it's called “comedy”. Don't get me wrong, I carry no flame for Nigel Farage, but my impartiality and integrity as a lifelong journalist demand that I treat his views with respect. He is, after all, talked about as being perhaps the most influential UK political figure of the past two decades. Whereas Hyde is merely displaying the bitterness of a loser.

PLEASE – NO MORE WHINING BOOKS BY IDIOTS ABOUT HARRY AND MEGHAN

What on earth does HarperCollins think it's doing publishing the dreary nonsense spouted by the pathetic little twerp, Omid Scobie? And why is The Times devoting so much space to it while at the same time slating it for its rank stupidity. I won't mention the title, but it's about the UK royal family – one long whine, we're told, about how unfair it's been on Harry and Meghan. Nuff said.

THE REAL IMPACT ON SOCIETY OF THE TRANS LOBBY'S ATTACKS

A lunchtime debate and anyone who supports women's rights in the face of attacks from the trans lobby is deemed right wing. I'm not sure how that works? But my case that trans activists are causing real harm was met with the arch liberal response of “let them be”. I had already said that a decade ago, transitioning was no big deal: those who felt so powerfully moved to change gender were able to do so and the woman I interviewed who had once been a man was treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Her transitioning was not even the story: I wanted to know about her different gender experiences and it produced an extraordinarily powerful and insightful feature.

Things have changed dramatically, however, and an industry has grown up around encouraging all children to question their sexual identity, with a view to facilitating a transition. The repercussions are horrific: youngsters too inexperienced and immature to make such decisions have undergone surgery which they deeply regret – and seek to reverse; primary schools are preyed upon by private “educational” businesses too scared even to allow parents to see what they are telling their children; health bodies removing all references to “women”, “breast feeding”, “mother” from their advice and literature; biological males dominating women's sport – and creating serious danger to women on the rugby field, for example; and self-identifying trans women (men) seeking to invade women's safe and reserved spaces. Intelligent feminists, such as Janice Turner and JK Rowling, are clearly hugely sympathetic to those who feel they are trapped in the wrong gender – but they are also concerned at the damage this can do to women's rights and safety. This is not a simple “right or wrong” argument, no matter how violently the trans lobby might suggest otherwise.

If the trans lobby stopped at supporting those genuinely in need of guidance, instead of seeking to obliterate the idea of gender altogether, then we could all support it and assume a reasoned discussion on how best to protect all interests. But, as usual, the extremists take over the asylum and bring shame and embarrassment to their cause, alienating the well-meaning wider world, and blocking all progress.

NOVEMBER 22 2023

THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO THE NHS STORY

Our National Health Service comes in for the most appalling negativity: waiting lists, under-funding, strikes – they're all we ever hear about. Well, this is what I wrote on Facebook about my experience at Kingston Hospital yesterday. “I have been hugely impressed by the efficiency and caring approach of Kingston Hospital and its staff. The NHS endures so much negativity and abuse, it only seems right to highlight an excellent experience. My relatively minor heart 'readjustment' was actually pleasant – wonderful to have a morning to do nothing but watch other people working quietly and effectively. The 'pit-stop' system means patients are wheeled on their beds into the large day surgery theatre and hooked up to a workstation. It's like an F1 car having its tyres changed. After the procedure, you continue on to recovery and are then pushed back to your bay. Smooth, quick – and lovely people. Thank you to such a superb team.”

THE COVD INQUIRY IS REALLY GETTING TO GRIPS WITH RELATIONSHIPS

I sent this letter to The Times today. I doubt they will use it and so I offer it here: “Dear Letters Editor, I am so grateful to the Covid Inquiry for revealing the dislike the key players held for each other while battling the pandemic. Far better to know this than the outcomes of decision-making and any international comparisons. Because, presumably, the Inquiry is expecting all of these individuals to be put back in their various offices when the next disease strikes, making their relationships the only factor worth considering.”

I sent the letter in response to the staggering stupidity of Monday's session, starring Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's former chief scientific adviser. It's not clear who is to blame for the ineptitude with which this inquiry is proceeding – the lawyers, the “witnesses”, the chair – but it is now clear that it is purely a blame game, a witch hunt, a trial of people no longer relevant to future crises of any type. Vallance's evidence was extraordinary: he claims he was told that Rishi Sunak wanted to let people die – “Ahem, objection. This is hearsay m'lady”. It is also obviously patent nonsense. Vallance also claimed to have said the “eat-out-to-help-out” scheme, aimed at saving the hospitality sector and allowing safe temporary relaxation of the lockdown rules, was “highly likely” to have spread the virus – “Ahem, objection. Speculation, m'lady.” Did it spread the virus or not? This is surely what we are paying a fortune to find out? And did it undermine public caution? Vallance thought so – but provided no evidence. So who knows?

He then joined the mob kicking Boris Johnson, prime minister at the time, saying he couldn't understand the intricacies of exponential curves and other obscure statistical formulae. Thank goodness this was not his job, then. All he needed to know was that things were getting worse and needed action, a state of affairs reached by the weekend of March 14, apparently. Vallance said it was “difficult to conceive” of a lockdown happening before that date. Which is one of the more logical statements he is reported to have made. But to anyone who was paying attention at the time it is pretty old hat: the public, political and prevailing international conditions would have made it impossible to demand a lockdown any sooner. In any case, it seems Johnson was in good company in not being a statistician; when Europe's scientific advisers held one of their support group virtual meetings, Vallance complained about Johnson's bafflement – and said his peers burst into laughter. The rest of Europe's leaders were in the same boat. Luckily, they should have had scientific advisers on hand to make sense of the figures – that is how it works. So what did it matter?

The former chief scientific adviser even appeared to turn on his colleague Sir Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, calling him a lockdown “delayer” because of his concern over the possible wider damaging effects on health caused by such draconian action and any resulting poverty and isolation. Two scientists with very different views, then. Yet Vallance then goes on to accuse the government of ignoring “the science”. What science? There were many many opinions – even among these two leading scientists.

Vallance was also concerned about strategy: we appeared neither to be “letting Covid rip”, nor seeking to eliminate it. Given that neither course was possible, for practical or political reasons, it is surely sensible that the UK followed a middle path – just like every other European nation, bar Sweden. (And Sweden is very much a special case with highly atypical characteristics and culture – yet achieved only a very similar outcome to everywhere else.) In particular, Vallance wanted the UK government to place a figure on what level of mortality would overwhelm the health service. “It would have been helpful to have that,” he said. But he failed to explain HOW or why it would have been helpful. What possible difference would it have made? The NHS quickly built extra capacity – never used – with its specialist Nightingale Hospitals, so how would placing a figure on the number of deaths have changed anything at all? Apart from making the administration a hostage to fortune?

As The Times' science editor, Tom Whipple, says, we are dealing with the unknowable, conjecture, opinion. Not usually the sharpest of writers, Whipple does sum it up when he says: “It all feels too much like a parlour game, using perfect hindsight to perfectly tune a perfect response (by whatever ideological criteria you choose) to a virus that will never cause a pandemic again.” In fact, it is far worse than this – because the inquiry is being used by most participants to further their own careers, causes or campaigns.

SO NOT FUNNY – NOR CLEVER

Another day and another pathetic “cartoon” in The Times. A drawing of Rishi Sunak is shown holding a five-point policy plan which includes items such as “Reducing Bad” and “Cutting Annoying”. Apart from being the opposite of how this micro-managing prime minister operates and declares his strategies and policies, it also happens to be the precise approach of Keir Starmer, whose aims consist of “a booming economy” and “loveliness all round”, without a single realistic idea as to how anything good can be achieved. The Times needs cartoonists with wit – not dimwits and half wits.

AND SPEAKING OF IDEOLOGICAL DIMWITS

I found myself agreeing with Jonathan Sumption, former justice of the Supreme Court, not long ago. But I did point out that it was on the basis that absolutely no one can be completely wrong about everything all the time: occasionally, they will accidentally be correct. But in the Sunday Times, he was back to his old ridiculous arch-libertarian ideology, this time make offensive and ignorant comments about Rwanda, a country of which he clearly knows nothing. Perhaps he is giving us an insight into the way Supreme Court judges think when he baldly and glibly states that Rwanda is “a very poor country with a history of political instability and civil war. It has a bad human rights record”. Does he know nothing of the true causes of the nation's suffering last century? Belgian colonial abuse, appalling French interference and almost criminal abandonment by the United Nations. The fact that the country has managed to achieve great stability and a rapidly rising level of wealth for all its people in such a short time is simply remarkable. When examined, its human rights record is not that different from the records of many western nations, who manage to hide their misdeeds while claiming purity. And Rwanda is still wrestling with the effects of French-supported insurrectionists and potentially violent malcontents on a scale that would prompt the same responses from any regime anywhere.

But Sumption does not let his ignorance rest there: Rwanda, he claims, has “a palpable prejudice” against asylum seekers from the Middle East and Asia because all claimants from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria have been rejected in the past three years. We do not know how many people this involved and he offers no evidence to suggest these were poor decisions – just an assertion that those three countries are unpleasant. Sumption says that the UK's migrant deal with Rwanda would result in the same thing – failed asylum claimants being sent to a country in which they have a right to reside – that is, in effect, their country of origin. But where else can they go? No other country will have them; France will not take them back, having successfully got rid of them; they have no right to stay in either the UK or Rwanda. This is the Catch 22 that Sunday Times columnist Matthew Syed pointed out in his column this week: the concept of “refoulement” – the risk that migrants might be returned to their home country – makes it impossible for any recipient country ever to remove those who enter illegally, thus removing all control over their borders in these cases. He suggests the refoulement provision, created after the Second World War to deal with a very different set of circumstances, is now so out of date and out of touch with reality that it should be scrapped. He is right – it is clearly an absurdity. Yet Supreme Court judges and Sumption are happy to base their crucial findings upon it – and that of an out-of-date and nonsensical report by the UNHCR which completely contradicts its close relationship and work with Rwanda.

Perhaps if Sumption had visited Rwanda, read books on the country, or even studied the UNHCR's own assessment of its own operations in Rwanda he might realise how stupid is his statement that Rwanda “has a dismal record of disregarding its obligations under the Refugee Convention”. The UNHCR has little but praise and gratitude towards Rwanda for the hospitality it offers to the refugees it sends there. This does not prevent Sumption from implying that Rwanda would not be a reliable partner in the migrant deal and accusing the country of not having the mindset nor the facilities to “deal fairly” with migrants. Worse, he makes the offensive slur that Rwanda needs to create a “new political and administrative culture with fair-minded officials and independent courts”, clearly not realising that Rwanda already has an administration and officials that put most western countries to shame.

But proving again that a person struggles to be wrong about everything all the time, Sumption does conclude that Australia's system for dealing with illegal entrants has worked – because it offshores the problem (Australia retains responsibility for assessing claims), rather than outsources it (asks another country to take responsibility for the economic migrants). Australia removes most failed illegal entrants to their original countries, a few to third countries, with the remainder staying in detention on the island of Nauru. The result: people no longer drown off the coast of Australia. Overall, what Sumption does, is give us an insight into Supreme Court judges' thinking. They do not have to educate themselves or know the truth and reality, they only need to study documents submitted months or years earlier to lower courts that might be long out of date and politically motivated. It is no wonder the government's perfectly reasonable and respectable plan is doomed to founder on the rocks of ignorance, primitive ideology and prejudice.

NOVEMBER 14 2023

We simply cannot allow Nick Robinson's disgraceful slur of Nadine Dorries on Today a few mornings ago to pass without comment. I know, you thought it impossible to denigrate Dorries, the former Tory minister – but the odious BBC presenter managed it. At the end of a tetchy interview, during which he hurled all sorts of unprofessional low blows in her direction, they were arguing about the alleged “gold wallpaper” that Boris and Carrie Johnson included in their designs for Downing Street. Dorries said the gold wallpaper never existed and the accusation was another part of the undermining campaign aimed at Johnson. In his pay-off at the end of their discussion, Robinson made the mistake of lying. He said the gold wallpaper had been pointed out to him. Dorries had no opportunity to call him out, as Robinson, as he nearly always does with anyone with whom he disagrees, reserved the final word for himself: “Funnily enough, I've had that wallpaper pointed out to me by someone inside 11 Downing Street.” But he hadn't, because it was never there and, according to his own pitiful explanation, the wall he was shown was painted red. Robinson also claimed, completely implausibly, that he had not been aware of the gold wallpaper scandal until Dorries mentioned it.

Seriously?

Having implied that Dorries was lying – by lying himself – Robinson then compounded his felony by making a truly disdainful and flippant “apology” to Dorries. Through his shocking behaviour, Robinson merely made his bias and his stunning disrespect for Dorries more obvious. His crime, being on air to millions of listeners, is heinous: any decent employer would have hauled him over the coals and possibly sacked him for blatant unprofessionalism. I have heard many such highly questionable statements and assertions from Robinson over the past few years, often delivered in semi-hushed asides: it's reached the point where I can hardly believe a word the amateur says. He has shown disrespect, not just to his interviewee, but to the profession of journalism, for which he should be sacked.

NOVEMBER 7 2023

I always try to support and defend the NHS: it is, in principle, a most marvellous thing and has to function in an extraordinarily difficult environment – under-resourced, under-funded, and facing a largely idiotic public. Overall, I think it does a great job and, in my own experience, I have had only occasional little causes for complaint. Until Friday, when I tried to perform what should have been the astoundingly simple task of confirming the date and time of my appointment for minor surgery at Kingston Hospital. The appointment letter demanded, in no uncertain terms, that were I not to confirm, I would lose my slot. But only two means of achieving it were provided: telephone or write a letter. And so at just after 11.45 on Friday morning I rang. More than 40 minutes later, success! FORTY MINUTES. And two phone calls – the first was cut off after going through two operators. The second call bothered the same two operators – there was no extension number given in the letter – and then placed me at number three in the queue.

Not too bad, you might think – except each call ahead of me took an average of eight or nine minutes. And this is the cardiology unit! How many patients peg out while fuming on the end of an unanswered phone? My call took less than a minute. If you wish to cancel an appointment, there is a dedicated email address; if you wish to confirm, it's letter or phone. There is the possibility of using the NHS app to confirm – if your appointment appears on it. My pre-med did, but not the op. Why? I was left with the impression that this hospital is inefficient and incompetent – that is the message it is sending out by its failure to use the multiple technologies available. Phone or letter. Honestly. Next time, I shall write a letter.

ARE WE ALL IN AGREEMENT YET?

Another man in the know confirms what we have already established about the dumb Covid Inquiry – that it is wasting its time (and our money) on meaningless tittle-tattle, name-calling and personality clashes, while any lessons are studiously ignored. This focus on the behaviour of the individuals left to face this global onslaught of disease is irrelevant: they will not be in charge when the next pandemic strikes. As Hugh Pennington FRSE, says in a letter in today's Times: “The Covid Inquiry should not be wasting time faffing on about rude words but should be learning lessons.” And he should know: the emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University has chaired two inquiries into E.coli O157 – one that lasted four months, cost £46,000 and produced useful legislative changes and another that took three years, cost £2m – and, he says, achieved nothing.

TWO WRONGS

I am growing sick of hearing Hamas spokesmen complaining about the death toll in Gaza. These are weasel words: the Hamas attack on Israel was designed and executed to produce exactly this result. This is what they wanted. I am also sick of pro-Palestinian protests and pro-Israeli protests. There is no “pro” to be had in this nasty sordid swamp. Both sides behave abominably. It's not entirely their fault: they were thrown casually thrown together by cynical and stupid western powers, notably Britain. But that was long ago. They each have to recognise the wrongness of their stance, choose peace and life, and find a way to put right the idiocy of those who created this sorry mess.

NOVEMBER 6 2023

Jonathan Sumption in yesterday's Sunday Times encapsulated what I've been saying about this pitiful Covid inquiry. Sumption is a bit of an anti-lockdown libertarian headbanger but his analysis of the failure of this inquiry is spot on – a feast day for the lawyers, a trial-like blame game and with no intention of, or plan to, examine the vital lessons that could guide future decisions. There are six modules. None of them look at actions and outcomes, international comparisons, etc. Instead, the focus is on deliberation, personalities and name-calling – re-running the exact same arguments we heard day in and day out for 18 months. Sir John Bell, an EXTREMELY wise and clever man, said exactly the same on Today this morning. And if Bell condemns it, in my book, it stays condemned. As he said – this is what you get when lawyers take over. So we've learned that Cummings is wily and swears a lot and Helen MacNamara sounds like a drip – but this is as insightful, surprising and significant as knowing that Alastair Campbell was a power-crazed foul-mouthed bully. And even if we don't rate the politicians, there were some very brilliant people involved in the Covid response – often saying opposite things to each other. What on earth is Hallett (the chair) playing at? Other countries have held inquiries and learned lessons. We will spend years listening to rats fighting in a sack. All completely pointless, already known and a huge waste of time and money (unless you're a lawyer). There will need to be an inquiry into this appalling inquiry in due course.

A LITTLE LOCAL DIFFICULTY

There is much kerfuffle going on in our large village/small town, just beyond London's urban sprawl. It concerns a mysterious plan, hatched by our borough council, Elmbridge, and the local LibDems, who also happen to control the council, as well as the village's parish council since May. For some time, Elmbridge has been trying to find a use for a 90-something-space car park near the middle of Claygate: it was once heavily used and a great village asset – until the council imposed charges and the majority of drivers stopped using it. Somehow, the council manages to spend up to £20,000 a year (net!) on looking after this piece of Tarmac; during lockdown it shot up to about £45,000 but has since subsided. Even so, it is hard to see what the money is spent on – other than managing the charging system. If this was removed, the car park would, most years, surely break even, as not a penny would need to be spent on it.

I mention this as an early indication of council competence and financial acumen – which become vital to our story as it unfolds. Because the council has entered (almost) into a contract with a developer and Marks and Spencer to build a large supermarket on the car park, with eight Portakabin-type units on its roof for the borough's homeless, plus 40 retained parking spaces, free to M&S customers but paid for by those just needing to park. The council's own surveys show that roughly between 20 and 25 cars currently use the car park daily; the homeless units will doubtless contain some drivers – all of the other social housing in the area does; and M&S staff will need somewhere to park. That just about accounts for the 40 spaces, leaving the streets nearby to accommodate the rest. The main road has restrictions and so quiet residential streets will bear the brunt of it, as ever. Fourteen or 15 houses back on to the site – in fact, only half of one side does not have residential property bordering it, and a plan to create a new pedestrian access from neighbouring cul-de-sacs means they will be the spill-over car parks.

There has been fierce debate over whether a large M&S supermarket will damage the fragile Parade of mostly family shops a couple of hundred yards away. I believe it will inevitably lead to the closure of the existing small Co-Op supermarket near the entrance to the car park, probably the baker, the grocer, the fishmonger and the butcher. That would rip the guts out of Claygate's shopping experience. However, no one can be sure of the development's impact: some claim it will draw shoppers to Claygate and benefit the local retailers. The fact is, though, that we will not know whether it has been a disaster until too late: it is a gamble and a risk with the future of the village that it simply does not need to take.

Elmbridge has its own motives, of course. It cares little for Claygate and is focused on its own finances – as so many councils across the country are, following the cuts in central government grants following the crash of 2008. The borough council believes that spending £7.5m on building a supermarket and retaining freehold of the land will provide it with rental income into the future, hopefully recouping the investment in a decade or so. Councils everywhere seem to think they can play the commercial property markets and enhance their finances. The results tend to be disastrous: councils do not have the expertise or the single-minded focus and continuity required to keep such investments working and on track. A political change could wreak havoc with the plan; M&S might walk away if it fails to deliver. After nearly 30 years working for the Financial Times, you become very familiar with seemingly “great” ideas that turn sour for a host of foreseen and unforeseen reasons.

Until recently, the plan had seemed to be to use the site for dwellings. But behind the scenes, Elmbridge had been switching tack and late last year revealed, in the vaguest possible terms, that its new idea was for a “food store” and accommodation. It justified its secrecy by citing barely applicable technical criteria and commercial confidentiality. Only after a disguised LibDem slate of parish council candidates was elected by an unsuspecting public in May was the virtually done deal announced – to triumphant fanfares from prominent LibDem supporters in the village: “Great news!”, they all began. The backlash was immediate and the developer was shoved in front of the public to mount a minimalist display – on the eve of the summer school holidays and on two dates that clashed first with a parish council meeting and second with the village's huge annual flower show. This feeble approach at consultation sparked further fury and the backlash grew. The council responded that it still had to seek planning permission. Residents obviously saw that the council would be deciding on its own application and swiped away the council's quoting of the rules in such situations, which basically amount to “don't worry, we promise not to pre-judge”. Eventually, Claygate's LibDem representatives on Elmbridge council were forced to apologise and the council was forced to put the whole sordid mess on hold.

So what now? Few people look at the bigger picture, of course. Some like the idea of an M&S nearby – and it would be convenient, given the parlous state of our hopeless Co-Op; others can see how it would tear the heart out of Claygate. But I have heard no one thinking more broadly and arguing the case for housing. In a sane world, the car park would return to being a free and well-used village facility, enhancing the environment by removing the hordes of parked cars that have cluttered the streets since the day charging began. I remember the first day of charging so clearly – the change was sudden and dramatic: I could not believe my eyes on leaving the house and seeing cars left everywhere – a blight we now have to take for granted, as we do the near-constant illegal parking on the ever-spreading yellow lines painted to alleviate the worst of the nuisance.

But this is not a sane world, and stupid blunder will be piled upon stupid blunder. The Conservative government recently allowed everyone opposed to the concreting over of the country's green spaces to heave a sigh of relief when it abandoned the appalling housing targets that demanded homes be built regardless of appropriateness or impact. But we may soon have a Labour government committed to reinstating these absurd and destructive quotas. And when we do, Claygate will be ordered to build 50, 60, 100 – who knows? – homes. The car park space is the only plot on which housing could reasonably be provided without wrecking green belt land and turning Claygate from a vibrant village into another dreary suburb. Up to 25 units could be built there, making a big contribution to our quota. Once a supermarket is stuck there, all of our new properties will have to be allocated to fields, common land, woods and meadows.

Would this housing solution be such a financial disaster for Elmbridge council, as it now claims? Of course not. Instead of £7.5m of debt to service, it would have £2m-£3m tucked in the bank and be saving itself whatever figure it chooses to attribute to the cost of running the former piece of Tarmac. No future expertise would be needed, no expensive external financial advice, no debt worries. Less income, perhaps – but there would still be council tax from the new properties and interest on the money for the land, which any developer would be desperate to get their hands on. And the council can focus on its statutory duties of serving the community and providing services, rather than playing the markets. Either way, any council in the country would be mad to develop any brownfield potential building plots in its area for the next couple of years: throw them away now and have nothing left when the instruction to build build build is imposed from the uncaring centre.

NOVEMBER 3 2023

NO WONDER THERE ARE NO CHEAP PLACES TO LIVE...

The young demand that houses be built for them on the green belt, as I discussed the other day. Very eco-friendly. Much is made of the alleged shortage of supply of new homes. Yet the truth emerges when those seeking to sell properties are consulted: demand is currently very low, they agree. This was explained in detail in yesterday's Times. In any case, if increasing supply was the solution to what is widely and bizarrely accepted to be a “crisis” then multiple home ownership would be discouraged or even outlawed. Another little-considered factor affecting supply is the explosion in student housing over the past 20 years or so. Tony Blair's ambition of attracting 50 per cent of all school leavers to take a university course was always bound to cause huge accommodation problems. Some cities now have vast tracts devoted to students, who occupy premises for just over half the year. Is this a sensible use of our housing stock? Of course not.

NOW. WHO DO WE CHOOSE TO INTERVIEW?

British citizens are leaving Gaza via the Rafah border crossing and reaching the relative safety of Egypt. BBC Radio 4's World At One news programme mentioned this briefly before choosing to interview a man who had NOT left Gaza, despite being on a list to do so. He claimed no taxi would take him and part of his family to the crossing because “every car” is being shelled and it was too dangerous. He said he had called the UK Foreign Office and was told, perfectly sensibly, that he had to assess the risks for himself. Instead of taking the initiative, he called the BBC. And the BBC interviewed him, failing to challenge a word he said, no matter how far-fetched. Meanwhile, not a word from those who did leave Gaza – how they reached the crossing, what it was like there and what happened when they entered Egypt. No – just a rant from someone blaming the Foreign Office for their woes.

NOW. SHOULD WE FOLLOW UP ON THE MICROSOFT STORY?

Nah. It's good news. Let's leave our BBC listeners with the terrible impression we gave them of the Competition and Markets Authority when it blocked Microsoft's proposed takeover of Activision. Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief executive, criticised the CMA at the time for its decision, saying it was “bad for Britain”. This was reported on at length in negative and derogatory tones, echoing Smith's accusations.

Smith has now changed his tune completely: “I feel that the CMA acted with clarity, with decisiveness.” The takeover has now been cleared by the authority after it was restructured to make it acceptable. Smith said: “I was very impressed by the tough stand the CMA took while coupling that tough position with decisiveness and clarity and good communication. I think that's what those of us in business should ask for – clarity. And I think that the CMA provided that and we acted upon it. I accept the CMA criticism of Microsoft that we should have figured this out sooner.” Smith was also complimentary about the UK as a place to do business: “It is a centre for science. It is a centre technology, for great universities, for an important business community. It is an important market for companies around the world.” This view of Britain, as reported in The Times today, is so different from the one constantly painted by the BBC that they could be in opposite universes. And will the BBC's news programmes give a moment of airtime to Smith's endorsement of the CMA and the UK? Of course not.

NOW. ABOUT MARTHA'S LAW AND THE ECONOMY...

Anyone hearing Nick Robinson's introduction to an item about “Martha's Rule” on this morning's Today news programme will have been left with the impression that nothing has been done by the NHS, government or any other body to improve the involvement of parents in the medical treatment of their children. “Nothing has been done,” he said. This is completely false. In fact, much work has been going on to implement a sensible and delicate structure that aims to avoid the tragic consequences of doctors overriding parental concerns, as happened in young Martha's case. The news is actually very positive – but BBC listeners will not know that.

And was there any mention of UK government borrowing costs falling sharply and the pound rallying sharply against the dollar. No. Too much like positive news.

NOVEMBER 2 2023

THE PLANE THAT DIDN'T CRASH

On and on it goes: the absurd Covid Inquiry, enlightening no none but sparking idiotic headlines, such as the one on the front page of today's Times – “'Nuclear-level' bravado led UK towards Covid disaster”. The false premise behind this statement is colossal. It's the equivalent of an inquiry into an aircraft's flight through a storm that focuses entirely on how nicely the cockpit and cabin crew worked together – completely ignoring the fact that the team navigated the storm successfully and the airliner did not crash! There was no uniquely British “Covid disaster” – it was no worse a disaster than befell everywhere else.

'WE'RE GOING TO KILL EVERYBODY'

Helen MacNamara, deputy cabinet secretary at the time of Covid, gave her evidence to the Covid Inquiry and claimed that she told Boris Johnson on March 13 2020: “This country is heading for disaster We are going to kill thousands of people.” She was, of course, utterly wrong – the government avoided a disaster and performed as well as all comparable governments. So what else was she factually wrong about? And how much weight should her own opinions carry when she shows such scant regard for facts?

ROBINSON AND RAJAN LOSE THE RIGHT TO CALL THEMSELVES JOURNALISTS

I have long felt that Today, on Radio Four, has become dangerous – insidiously undermining government, almost seditiously inciting its listeners to hate the country's leadership, with the inevitable consequences that UK interests are harmed, its reputation diminished and people left worse off. Its parochial coverage, along with all other BBC news programmes, creates an impression of a Britain in chaos with a collapsing economy, social breakdown, dead bodies piled high on every street corner, you name it. We know it's wrong, but the drip effect weighs heavily and we are all dragged down by it – especially those who believe it. The impact of the Brexit-hating and Tory-hating media during the pandemic has yet to be examined – and perhaps never will be. Perhaps a PhD student will one day seek to calculate the human cost of government skewing its policies, and its presentation of them, in order to survive the insults, assaults and attacks from a Today programme “interviewer”. Did ministers seek to avoid changing policy, when change might have been sensible, to avoid accusations of U-turns? Did they fight to sound more certain than they really felt to dodge being accused of not knowing? Will there be an inquiry into how media antagonism affected policy – and perhaps caused deaths? And indeed, will there be a wider investigation into the fullest effect on society of journalists ceasing to be objective observers and commentators and becoming active participants in the political fray?

Because that is what Nick Robinson and Amol Rajan, to name but two among very many, have become. They are no longer journalists; they have lowered themselves to the depths of becoming would-be “influencers”. A journalist, according to the profession's national union, “strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”. The Indeed jobs website says: “A Journalist, or Reporter, is responsible for researching and writing informational news articles and stories about real events using a fair and unbiased perspective.” This is far from the way Robinson and Rajan behave. I had previously heard snippets of their ghastly Today Podcast – a spin-off from the news programme – and been shocked at how brazenly they had converted to being politicians. Opinionated, narrow-minded, smug (yet ostentatiously claiming to recognise the need for humility!), they have relinquished any claim to being journalists. If the Today programme is bad, the podcast is appalling. Disgusting. And filled with assumptions and false premises. Worse, it is infecting an already diseased news programme, with frequent plugging and cross-contamination.

This week's podcast effort plumbed new depths: “Covidshambles: The human cost of chaos in Number 10”. Setting themselves up as prosecution, judge and jury, Robinson and Rajan have decided that there WAS chaos in Downing Street and that it DID carry a human cost. Neither of those statements is certain: they are both opinions and judgments that are for others to draw – and journalists to seek out. Yet Robinson claims it is “incontrovertible” that there was a Covid shambles, caused by what he said we could “objectively call an indecisive warring government”. Rajan spoke of “huge national trauma”. National? Was no one else affected? There you have the BBC's short-sighted parochialism in a nutshell. (And yet they still refer to the economic collapse of 2008 as a “global crisis”.)

Louise Casey, appointed by Boris Johnson as Chair of the Rough Sleeping Taskforce in February 2020, admitted in the podcast that she was an infrequent visitor to Downing Street – yet could see in Boris's eyes that he couldn't concentrate. She threw excrement at everyone involved, using crude language, and reinforced her call for a Labour government. No surprises there.

More interestingly, her follow guest was Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistics expert and voice of reason and sense. He immediately assessed, very fairly, what the government was facing: “I was both fatalistic and optimistic – I underestimated the impact of the virus...There was huge uncertainty.” He said that judging policy with hindsight was moving into the realm of the hypothetical but accepted that certain decisions could have caused harm. This is almost certainly and inevitably true in such a situation. But other issues were trickier, said the professor – for example, weighing up the benefits of voluntary versus compulsory restrictions; whether schools should have been left open. There were no obvious answers. Robinson then gleefully invited Spiegelhalter to condemn the UK for being top of the world's “excess deaths” league. But the facts were not as Robinson wished: his guest pointed out that, overall, Britain was mid-table in Europe – in the first wave we did badly but in the second “remarkably well”. But we must, continued Robinson, have done worse in England than in Scotland, where the saintly Nicola Sturgeon was in charge, in contrast to the chaotic Boris? Wrong again. Spiegelhalter corrected him by saying that Scotland, overall, fared worse than England. It is not as simple as relating death rates to policies or leadership. No matter what the podcast's title had already concluded.

The statistician gave another example of complexity, when asked whether living conditions could have affected death rates: he said there were two factors – the risk of catching the disease and the risk to those who caught it. This obviously put public-facing workers with a vulnerability at greatest risk and Spiegelhalter admitted that even he had thought the best approach would be to cocoon the vulnerable and let everyone else carry on. But he later realised it was just not feasible.

This is the reality of what we lived through. But this reality has become distorted by the individualisation of experiences – how it affected ME. Far more weight is given to the daughter wishing she could have hugged her dying mother than to the danger that that simple act could have posed to her, her family and the community. Sensible measures at the time are now reinterpreted as cruel, draconian, evil, misguided. But it is another glaring example of what an individualistic, self-obsessed society values.

Had anything been learnt, Spiegelhalter was asked. He said we had discovered that we can do some things very well indeed, such as the huge data sharing operation and communication with the public. He said a lot had been learned – but warned that institutions have horribly short memories. One thing we should all have learned is that written conversations, in the cold light of day, can look awful. What might have been considered perfectly normal and acceptable in a spoken discussion, debate or argument takes on an infinitely greater significance when submitted to WhatsApp for future scrutiny, taken out of context and when being used to mount a destructive campaign.

THE DANGERS OF TECHNOLOGY

I often warned of the dangers of technology when editing the Financial Times' Digital Business section. I didn't get everything exactly right, as noted earlier regarding social media, but I have learned from it and fear artificial intelligence as much now as I did when I made speeches about its threats in 2009. Mark Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, who I met in my editing role, seems to be on the same page. He believes that controls over social media have been a disaster – “everything has been altered by unregulated social media that went awry.” He is afraid AI could do the same if left unchecked. I agree. But I would go further: AI could be a disaster with or without decent regulation.

THE REALITY OF RWANDA

We spent most of August 2023 in Rwanda. We knew just a little about the awful events of the 1990s but travelled with no preconceptions and no idea as to what we would find. And what we found was extraordinary. A beautiful country, full of wonderful people, exhilarating things to do, gorgeous scenery and a recent history that is an education for us all. We now know that this nation, hideously abused most notably by Belgium, France and an uncaring United Nations, has overcome a century of disasters to become the jewel of Equatorial Africa.

It was the Belgian colonialists who sowed the seeds of conflict by driving a wedge between hutu and tutsi classes, creating an ethnic divide where there had previously been a vague and fluid definition based loosely on ownership of cattle and wealth. Identity cards were issued and stamped either 'tutsi' or 'hutu', often based on crude facial measuring.

The Belgians placed the wealthier minority tutsi people in charge, creating a new resentment among the poorer majority hutu population. After the second world war came calls for decolonisation and forms of democracy, leading Belgium to switch tack and place the hutu in power. By the time Belgium granted independence in 1959, angry extremist factions within the hutu leadership had already become strong enough to launch attacks on tutsi communities. Through the 1960s, many tutsi fled from violence to neighbouring countries, among them a two-year-old Paul Kagame, now president, who was taken by his family to Uganda.

As the hutu extremists tightened their grip, they drew up intricate plans for the elimination of all tutsi in Rwanda, while Kagame was quietly building a brigade of tutsi exiles within the Ugandan army, intent on enabling Rwandan refugees to return to their homeland. Tension built until April 6 1994, when hutu President Habyarimana's aircraft was shot down over Kigali, the capital – no one knows who by – signalling the beginning of genocide, following the detailed blueprint drawn up by the hutu extremists and reinforced by daily exhortations to murder from the radio station they controlled. No one could avoid becoming involved in the violence. France, desperate to retain Francophone influence in central Africa, helped arm the 'genocidaires'; the United Nations, unwilling to become involved, pretended it was just African tribal conflict, flatly refusing to define the murders as genocide. And so more than a million tutsi were murdered in 100 days of appalling bloodshed.

By the summer of 1994, Kagame's highly disciplined and well-treated fighters were sweeping across Rwanda and seized Kigali. Millions of hutu fled west to the Congo border, aided by a French operation that created a safe corridor for them. Kagame now led a country which had lost nearly half of its population – 10 per cent dead and more than 30 per cent fled. The hutu administration had left no money, no resources, no structure.

For the rest of the 1990s, Kagame pleaded with Congo, France and the UN to remove the hutu refugees from the Rwandan border: they refused. Instead, they provided them with arms, equipment and other support that ensured fighting and incursions continued to the end of the decade. It was only in the early 2000s that a measure of stability allowed Kagame finally to focus on domestic issues, sack his ineffectual chief ministers and assume the presidency himself.

To westerners, he might have appeared as just another African dictator, but Kagame, a harsh disciplinarian, was also a social reformer almost without parallel and a strategist of great genius. With a philosophy that demanded policies focus “on the future not that past”, he masterminded the most extraordinary reconciliation process in history: murderers faced their victims' surviving relatives, expressing shame and regret and begging forgiveness. Genocidaires who admitted their guilt had their prison sentences cut short. Against all odds, it worked.

Since 2000, this fragile and ruined country has been gradually re-shaped into a single community, with days each month set aside for communal activities. Clinics and schools provide health and education, food and shelter reaches everyone. Corruption is virtually eradicated and public administration is astonishingly fast and efficient; the country is spotlessly clean and sustainability and conservation are taken seriously.

Western leaders and commentators might cluck about the 'human rights record' of President Paul Kagame – partly to disguise their own shame and embarrassment, partly out of ignorance. What cannot be disputed is that Kagame's genius, discipline and determination has achieved what seemed impossible little more than two decades ago.

It is now a vibrant country, full of hope, ambition, aspiration and energy. The people remain quietly spoken and reserved – some conversations can still be difficult – but the young show less caution and are fun and engaging. Kigali has smart hotels, KPMG has a tower block, there is a fantastic new convention centre, a new airport is planned and the main stadium is being vastly expanded. The city is buzzing: traffic jams are frequent.

Outside the capital, economic activity takes place largely along the country's excellent roads: there are few cars, just painfully slow trucks, buses and tourist vans. But the roads are still busy: goods are mostly carried on foot or on massively over-laden bicycles – bananas, sugar cane, water, bricks, furniture and more are hauled up and down Rwanda's thousands of steep hills.

But this economy is finely balanced. Rwanda's wealth is growing – yet many people, while no longer starving or dying of treatable illnesses, remain poor. They deserve more. Foreign aid is welcomed – but only on Rwanda's terms. But the planet cannot withstand development and consumption on a western European scale. Somehow, fabulously rich countries must scale back as more deserving nations, such as Rwanda, grow. Our dirty, self-obsessed, throw-away culture looks disgusting from a pristine Rwandan roadside. We have so much to learn from this small gem in the heart of Africa.

NOVEMBER 1 2023

WHICH MATTERS MOST – OUTCOMES, OR PROCEDURE AND DELIBERATION?

Anyone following the nonsensical, expensive and completely pointless Covid Inquiry would be forgiven for thinking the answer to what matters most is that procedure and deliberation are all that matters and outcomes are an irrelevance. The UK had a fairly average pandemic, by all informed accounts, and an exceptionally good one when it came to finding a vaccine and a return to normal life. But these are outcomes and therefore of no interest. All that matters is that Dominic Cummings used swear words and Boris Johnson challenged his ministers when debating how to deal with Covid by adopting extreme positions. Not that any of this is news, of course – we heard it all three years ago, at the time.

But the picture being painted now by the current crop of “witnesses” – rats in a sack, we might more accurately call them – is of a Downing Street paralysed by chaos, with nothing being done to prevent the spread of Covid before it arrived. Oh, there is much to unpack here (I hate that phrase, but it sounds appropriate in this instance).

First, no country in western Europe was prepared for a Covid pandemic and the UK announced a national lockdown one day before Germany's; measures began to be taken in January and were gradually escalated through February as the scale of the problem became apparent and in the face of constantly changing “science”. Anyone sentient at the time will have been awe-struck by the historic order to stay at home: it would have been inconceivable even just a couple of weeks earlier.

Second, was no one allowed to voice alternative opinions in government? Boris is being castigated for suggested the UK should have let Covid rip – yet Sweden was being lauded at the time for pursuing precisely such a policy. His phrasing might have sounded callous (and again, it was reported at the time) – but this is how powerful points have to be made. I was once asked by a barrister to explain why I had written a memo complaining about the poor state of the chairs in the “Blue Lagoon” newsroom in the Financial Times headquarters, when I had just told him there were good chairs to use. I told him that the night editorial team would only get new chairs – which we wanted – by exaggerating. It's memo-speak, a campaign, a debate – you push a case to its limits. That way, all possibilities are considered.

Third, Covid was not the only concern of government at this time. Perhaps the inquiry will bother to mention it at some point, but until early March 2020, parts of the country were under water. Floods dominated the news agenda, day after day. This was the present and immediate crisis that understandably rose to the top of governmental concerns: this is what ministers were harangued about on Today every morning.

Fourth, the assumption that chaos is a barrier to great decision-making is utterly and plainly wrong. Some might argue it is a prerequisite. I would not go quite that far, but from personal experience I know that brilliance can emerge when minds are stretched and challenged and procedures appear dysfunctional. I was deputy editor at Weekend FT, first under Robert Thomson, a creative genius, and then Julia Cuthbertson, a sparky bundle of energy who ran things in perhaps the sort of way Boris might have run them. Robert shifted Weekend FT into the intellectual forefront of debate and circulation rocketed; Julia, his successor, added her magic ingredient and the section soared even higher. Ideas pinged out of Julia, left, right and centre and, as her deputy, it was my job to stay close, catch the inspired, and quietly sideline the crazy or unworkable. The department worked in a state of continual turmoil, out of which came unimaginable wonders: a less chaotic environment could never have achieved nearly as much. Perhaps it's a journalist thing: we tend to be contrarian, questioning and thriving in chaos – maybe needing chaos. Even an orderly person like me. Either way, I have seen that great things can come from chaos and just because Downing Street is alleged to have operated in that way is no reason to dismiss it as a failure. Quite the opposite.

CHAOS CAN ONLY BE BAD?

Chris Mason, the BBC's political editor, can certainly see no good coming from chaos: it's all bad to him. He was trying to explain why the Covid Inquiry's exclusive focus on process and deliberation, and the incredible discovery of “chaos” in government, actually matters. He said there were two possible explanations for the assumed state of chaos in Downing Street – it could be the result of extraordinary events that would have had the same effect on any government; or it could have been because of Boris. “We'll never know,” he concluded. I would advise him not to lose too much sleep over it: chaos, as I have argued, does not always have to be bad. But if you're running a witch hunt against a particular former prime minister, then it helps to assume that it is.

BAD HEADLINE DAY (WHICH IS MOST DAYS IN THE TIMES!)

“Half-term, hubris and 'slippery Hancock' hit efforts to save lives”. Did it? Really? This headline is from today's Times. It seems there's no need for a Covid Inquiry after all. This headline writer has given us their verdict.

THE UK – ALWAYS THE WORST AT EVERYTHING

The worst for Covid deaths; the worst performing economy; appalling human rights breaches over migration policies – the UK always manages to lie at the foot of every global league table. Or does it? The country's news media would certainly have you believe Britain is always rock bottom, especially the Brexit-hating BBC. But unfortunately for them, the facts don't fit their narrative. The UK suffered a very similar fate during Covid to all comparable countries – and, I would argue, did much better when regions of similar population density are considered. The UK's economy is also not in recession – but other countries' economies are: the UK is actually doing quite well in the circumstances. A large positive revision in the economic figures established this but, sadly, long after the broadcasters had condemned the government for failure and mismanagement. Daniel Finkelstein, Times columnist and political tinkerer, wrote in September about the dangers of jumping to snap conclusions based on incorrect and provisional findings. And if the full facts actually carried any weight and swayed anyone's opinions, he would certainly be wrong, as misinformation and mistakes would be corrected and assessments and assumptions revisited. Disastrously, he is right: attitudes and conclusions do tend to be shaped by the first iteration of news, no matter how erroneous. In fact, it is far worse: facts are not used to form judgments; they are used to support prejudices and hatreds already formed.

MRS MERKEL'S MADNESS FINALLY COMES HOME TO ROOST

When Germany opened its borders to the world's poor in 2015, I argued that Angela Merkel's policy was mad. It quickly proved to be, as it sparked humanitarian crises around the Mediterranean and beyond, as millions of migrants were encouraged to reach western Europe. The UK, long aggravated by the increasing flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel in criminal-provided small boats, has been repeatedly berated and censured for its efforts to stop this deadly madness and process these unauthorised arrivals elsewhere. The idea is to remove the incentive for migrants to pay large sums to traffickers and gangsters to reach the UK by sending some to Rwanda, a beautiful and well-run country (we spent August there). This relatively benign measure has caused outrage among the hyper-liberals who have employed lawyers to search for any and every reason to block the move. As it is the only answer to this disgusting trade in humanity, it does rather place those who claim to be supportive of illegal migration on the side of the criminal gangs.

And that it IS the only effective way to combat this awful misery is confirmed by one of Germany's ruling parties calling for the country to process its “irregular” migrants elsewhere. Australia has long since proved that it works. Denmark enacted a law two years ago allowing asylum seekers to be processed in third countries. Italy, Greece and others are employing desperate measures to stem what The Times leader today called “this human avalanche”, while others are eyeing up the Australian model. As The Times says: “It is an issue that all Europe must now grasp, as Britain has long been saying.” In certain circles, of course, the UK remains evil for even considering any counter-measures. But, as Germany is discovering as its society breaks apart, it was merely ahead of the game.

LOST ALL YOUR LISTENERS, NICK? I WONDER WHY THAT IS...

Oh dear. Radio Four's flagship morning news “show”, Today, has been losing listeners. Could this be to do with its hideous clique of awful presenters? Nick Robinson, Mishal Husain, Amol Rajan, Justin Webb and Martha Kearney bear a heavy burden: they follow in the footsteps of great journalists such as former presenters Brian Redhead and John Timpson. I could not have told you what views either of those two held on any subject: they broadcast with integrity, objectivity and decency. But we know exactly where today's Today rabble stand – Brexit-hating Tory-hating hyper-liberals – because they tell us, constantly. Interviews are not information or opinion gathering exercises, they are rows; political bias is openly displayed as government representatives are insulted, with muttered asides between questions, and Keir Starmer is subjected to a mauling that's about as hurtful as Anton Du Beke's normal critique of the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing: “Oh, when you had that glitter thrown at you, you just smiled and I thought you were MARVELLOUS.” Husain even failed to control her anger when interviewing Defence Secretary Grant Shapps recently – an unforgivable crime for any journalist.

And so the readers fritter away. I would too if there was alternative offering a similar breadth of coverage. Not that that breadth is wide enough: during the pandemic years it was if the rest of the world did not exist (it still doesn't for the wretched Covid Inquiry). But why is the audience fed up? The highly opinionated Robinson knows, of course: “People just want to avoid the news.” He said: “Market research literally calls them 'news avoiders'.” The smug Rajan said much the same. This doesn't account for the fact that other news channels have seen a rise in listeners. I think we all know why Today is faltering and failing – because it is not doing its job; its presenters see themselves as influencers. If you need proof that presenting what used to be the best news programme in the world is not enough for the current gaggle in the Today studio, then The Today Podcast is it: a pathetic vehicle for Robinson and Rajan to air their narrow group-think views with maximum smugness and minimal formality. Our ears deserve far better.

BUILD US HOMES ON THE GREEN BELT, SAY THE YOUNG ECO-WARRIORS

Ah, those trendy right-on, sensitive, “progressive” young eco-warriors (“Oops, sorry about the mess at Glasto”; “Oops, sorry we're not very good at recycling”, “Oops, sorry we left all the lights on and need to shower twice a day”, "Oops, can I charge my phone", etc, etc) now want the green spaces around our big cities Tarmacked over. “Build us homes on the green belt,” they demand. “Sod the environment, we want a house,” they imply. Apart from flying in the face of the common myth that young people are green and eco-conscious, this command is absurd: “the young” (whoever they might be) obviously do not realise that it would make not one scrap of difference to them. How many cheap homes would be built in these prime commuter belts? And how have the hundreds of thousands of dwellings built in recent years helped them? Exactly. Not one bit. Hundreds of thousands more buildings all over our cities' green lungs would have exactly the same effect: zero. I repeat yet again, the so-called "housing crisis" is not one of supply – it continues to be a "Housing finance crisis". A very different thing – which explains why it has yet to be addressed intelligently.

MORONS USED TO BE LAUGHED AT IN PUBS: NOW THEY HAVE A TWITTER FOLLOWING

A friend and former Financial Times colleague always enjoys reminding me that when Twitter first appeared on the social media scene, I told him the FT needed to take note: this was going to be BIG. I was the newspaper's Digital Business editor at the time and so at the forefront of technological developments: there were only a handful of us when I first started using Twitter. I don't mind him mentioning it – it makes me look prescient. What embarrasses me is when he goes on to point out that I also predicted it could be a great force for good in the world, with many potential practical uses and a unifying aura. Sadly, on this point I was completely wrong. Twitter, and social media more generally, are the planet's biggest scourge: they are giving voices and great power to frighteningly stupid and dangerous people. Where once a moron would be laughed at in the pub and, with luck, gradually become socialised, they now have a blog or a podcast and come into contact with fellow morons, amplifying their stupidity and influence. Conspiracy theorists, terrorists – this is their territory. But it's also home ground to all sorts of damaging anti-social idiots, too.

FRANCE IN ELLE OF A TWIST OVER PRONOUNS

The French, apparently, have come up with some hideous, meaningless and convoluted terms to hide the fact that there are genders and sexes in the world. They are creeping into business and general use – and the government doesn't like to see the French language despoiled in this way. And it has a point. As today's Times points out, many of the new “gender-neutral” words and phrases are laughable and unpronounceable. But there is a more fundamental issue involved here. Why are they doing this? Who are they doing it for? It can't be for the trans community. Because surely these are the last people who would want gender neutral language. They are more concerned about gender than anyone else – so much so they that are prepared to have their bodies sliced and drugged in order to switch from one gender to another. Why would they want to go all that way and find when they arrive that there are no genders any more?

THE NEED TO ENABLE INFORMED DECISION-MAKING ON SELF-HARM?

Alice Thomson often makes good points in her column in The Times. But she careered wildly off course when tackling the subject of ketamine use by the young. She said society was failing in its duty to provide youngsters with information and details about ketamine, a “powerful dissociative anaesthetic”, as she described it. But little blame is laid at the door of the kids, and others, actually buying and taking this cheap filth – they need something to help deal with the stress in their lives, it's claimed. “It's confusing for the young,” she says. No, it is not. It took me about eight seconds on Google to find out all I needed to know about how potentially lethal ketamine is – the side effects can be horrific and permanent. But Thomson goes on: “They need to know all the facts...so they can make informed decisions.” Informed decisions? What is she talking about? There is only one choice: do not take it. There is no mystery or confusion here, just stupidity.

HOW MANY DAYS CAN YOU FIT INTO 48 HOURS?

If you're the Royal Mail – you can cram up to five days into a mere 48 hours! It says its 48-hour tracked service “aims to deliver in two to three working days” – so if you post a parcel on Saturday morning, it could take until Wednesday. That's five actual days! And that's nothing like 48 hours. Worse, it's only an aim: a parcel I sent last Saturday morning still hasn't arrived – and it's now Wednesday evening.

OCTOBER 30 2023

ALWAYS LOOKING THROUGH THE WRONG END OF THE LENS

The UK needs, apparently, to upgrade its vetting system, because too many poor quality or even fraudulent care workers are finding their way into the country. Rogue agencies are acting almost as disgustingly as human trafficking gangs, by demanding large sums from would-be care workers in various parts of the world which they might one day pay off by working seven days a week, with no training and no experience. Behind this morning's news coverage was a hint of “Oh if only Brexit hadn't sent all those wonderful East Europeans home...” And the whole item, including all of the interviewees' – and interviewers' – contributions proceeded on the assumption that care work is for foreigners only.

As usual, the whole issue was viewed through the wrong end of the telescope. The assumption was that what the UK needs is a better supply of dirt cheap care labourers – not a highly paid, highly regarded and highly trained workforce. Of course this will cost money – but what would you rather spend it on? The country is rich but makes abominable choices as to how it spends its riches – all centred around the self, enormous consumption and individual pleasure. Imagine care workers being paid £100,000 a year, treated well, plentiful and highly skilled and regarded. No? Still prefer the 84-inch flat-screen telly and the gym in the new basement? Oh well. Problem not solved, then.


AUGUST 29 2023

THE UK IS A JOKE – GREEDY, LAZY AND STUPID

I am losing patience with the “developed” world. It is so wrapped up in its desire to consume it cannot see how greedy, lazy and stupid it has become. Very few people work “hard” any more: they think they do and like to tell you they do, but beyond some highly stressful occupations with long hours, such as in parts of health delivery, we enjoy an embarrassingly easy life. Real hard work is spending all day pushing a bicycle laden with jerry cans full of water, or a load of bricks, or enormous quantities of bananas up and down giant hills to home or market for meagre reward. In swathes of the real world, this is how people live – yet the main preoccupations of the “right-on” liberal individualists in the UK are fretting over whether women can have penises, or the evil of wearing “culturally appropriated” clothing at a rock festival. What a joke. For an indication of the extraordinary and laughable hypocrisy of our woke generations, study the aerial photograph of the disgusting tons of debris left behind at the Reading Rock Festival, including brand new tents. This is waste on an epic scale, in a world where so many have so little. When looking at that photograph, imagine it to be captioned with the title of a song by Liverpool pop duo, Johnny Boy: “You are the generation that bought more shoes and you get what you deserve”. Europe and America, plus the high-tech parts of Asia are driving the world into oblivion with their selfishness, and I am losing the will to care. These cosseted nations that are so little concerned with the real world should get what they deserve.

JUNE 20 2023

No blog posts for a month and a half – but for a very good reason. I released an album of 10 original songs in April and the seven-piece band had to work flat out to translate what we achieved in the studio into something playable on stage at Esher Theatre. It went well – thank you for asking. Although I feel it could have been better. But either way, with that gigantic distraction now out of the way, there is time to reconnect with the political world and how it is portrayed by the current generation of journalists.

BORIS IS A LIAR – WHETHER HE IS OR NOT...

First, we have the Kafka-esque spiral of dishonesty that is the Parliamentary Privileges Committee investigation into Boris Johnson's “lies and deceit”. To assess the enormity of the crisis and threat to democracy, we should return to the piffling, piddling, trickling source of this tidal wave of recrimination. During the Covid pandemic lockdowns, rules were in place governing gatherings of humans, sensibly aimed at reducing the spread of the disease. Some rules were made laws, which carried criminal sanctions when breached but there were many necessary exemptions and exceptions, as any sane person would expect from such emergency legislation. A separate body of guidance was therefore also in place governing workplace behaviour. This did not carry the force of law but, instead, a very strong moral pressure to make sacrifices for the greater good while still allowing co-workers to gather to perform tasks. This is from where the grey areas emerged: meeting colleagues for work purposes was acceptable, parties were not. And so this entire edifice rests on the definition of what constitutes a “party” as opposed to a necessary work gathering. I have commented earlier on how this distinction is far from clear cut in many fields, especially those of politics and journalism. However, it has to be conceded that in the circumstances, several gatherings were held by the main political parties in breach of workplace guidance, and a few were undeniably “parties”.

In normal times, this should have amounted to little more than several slapped wrists. But these were not normal times – these were post-Brexit times, and the chief architect of the Brexiteers' victory, the man who “Got Brexit Done”, was being manoeuvred into the crosshairs of the Remainers' sniper rifle. Al Capone was brought down on tax charges; Boris would be brought down by a slice of birthday cake.

But the initial charges failed: fines were paid, wrists left lightly stinging and nothing materially changed. And so to phase two. If Boris's misdemeanours were so minor that they barely caused a ripple in the real world, then the attack would have to turn to what he said about those misdemeanours. It would be far more serious if he could be made out to have lied to Parliament. And even after the Privileges Committee report, we still have no idea whether Boris actually lied – because we cannot know the state of another person's mind. The words he used were carefully constructed to ensure various interpretations were possible: we do not know whether he was at, or even knew about the obvious party at the Tory Party HQ and he only denied wrongdoing in Parliament and Downing Street. What we do know is that the assurances he gave to Parliament were also given by other prominent politicians and civil servants (none of whom are being hounded) and that the outcome of the Committee's work was completely predictable. And so Boris is gone, portrayed by every Brexit-hating media organisation and dud comedian as a liar, to such an extent that it is now unquestioned. Boris certainly has his faults – and serious ones – but he also has great qualities that the UK is now denied because he has been vindictively hunted down and driven to ground for the crime of delivering Brexit.

If it stopped there, this whole escapade would be bad enough. But it goes on. This morning on the BBC's Today programme, presenter Justin Webb indicated through his banal questioning that the next line of attack would be to taint the current Prime Minister through his associations with the now-radioactive Boris. Webb repeatedly claimed that Rishi Sunak was “weak” for not throwing away Johnson's honours list and for not being in the Commons for yesterday's debate on the Privileges Committee report, despite this not being required, despite him having to meet the Swedish prime minister, and despite Keir Starmer also being absent!

THE OH-SO-PREDICTABLE COVID INQUIRY

On the subject of predictable reports, we surely all know by now how the Covid Inquiry report will turn out in six or eight years time. Its disastrous early days revealed its true colours most clearly: it is seeking to apportion blame to those tasked with handling this global meltdown and might present one or two lessons for the future as a by-product. The row over private conversations held via WhatsApp, the messaging service, gave the first indication of just how pointless and protracted this whole “inquiry” is going to be. The simple fact is that WhatsApp has replaced verbal conversation as an instant means of communication. Yes, it is in written form, but its function, purpose and use are all entirely informal and conversational. The line into written communication is crossed with email – more formal, requiring careful consideration, and safekeeping for the record. And in conversations, participants, especially politicians seeking the best solution to an impossible problem, are entitled to test ideas, make outrageous suggestions, and fly kites in the interests of exploring every possibility. To make these musings public is ridiculous and endangers thorough examination of every angle, leading to poorer decision-making. Then, of course, there is the equally dangerous mix of sensitive information and personal chatter to consider. Legislation is urgently needed to safeguard the privacy of WhatsApp discussions and to formalise the role of email. These are new platforms that need to be given defined roles.

The committee chair, Baroness Hallett, said at the inquiry opening that she sought to answer three key questions: was the UK properly prepared for the pandemic, was the response appropriate, and can lessons be learned for the future? We already know the answers to each of those. Of course the UK was not prepared for this precise pandemic. No country was. The only way to have prepared would have been to spend billions of pounds on storing protective equipment to cover every eventuality – and renewing it regularly as it fell out of date. Or burning it, as France was reported to be doing in the pandemic's early days. The UK's response was also remarkably similar to every other comparable country: we moved to a full national lockdown one day before Germany, we imposed very similar rules, we offered very similar safeguards and protections, we chose the correct course out of the emergency by focusing on vaccines and led the world back to normality. As for lessons for the future: if we knew what the next emergency was to be, then we could prepare. But will it be an asteroid, giant volcano, disease, war, weather? We can only ensure that emergency decision-making structures are in place and that an early warning detection system is constantly monitoring and watching for threats. But filling warehouses with perishable “stuff” is idiotic, and prescribing or proscribing measures such as lockdowns or furlough schemes is pointless when we have no clue as to how appropriate they might be.

Instead, the 150 questions sent to Boris by Baroness Hallett before the inquiry began reveal that the investigation intends to focus on government procedures – and ministerial competences and priorities – rather than genuine lessons. Early comparisons of Britain's response with Sweden's also suggest that history is about to be rewritten: Sweden's outcome, despite its less prescriptive approach to locking down, was not dissimilar to the UK's. And yet any comparison is completely bogus because the two countries bear little relation to one another: one has a small and widely dispersed and relatively disciplined population, the other has some of the largest agglomerations of people in the world – the vast majority of them unruly liberal lovers of individual rights and freedoms. The truth is that the UK protected its population in regions that resembled Sweden far better than Sweden did.

Indeed, one factor that I have mentioned before and feel is crucial to understanding the spread of disease is density of population: one glance at the night-time weather map after the evening news reveals it perfectly – the Covid hot-spots all lit up in an almost perfect correlation. Yet I have never heard this mentioned by anyone in an official capacity. Of course, the inquiry begins by suggesting that the years of austerity economics are to blame for the UK's allegedly unusual lack of preparedness. Just how far back is it going to look? Will it later look at the causes of those austere years and question Gordon Brown's reckless encouragement of personal borrowing that inevitably led to the predictable (and predicted) crash? And worse, the early indications are that “witnesses” are merely going to use the inquiry for cheap political back-biting and points scoring. Someone today claimed that the parlous state of our health services meant there weren't the beds or facilities needed – plainly forgetting the speed with which the Nightingale hospitals were set up and ignoring the fact that they were hardly needed. Similarly, the nonsensical claims that international comparisons suggest only 1,700 or so lives were saved by lockdowns is now being taken seriously – which is only possible if you ignore the meaninglessness of those comparisons. This casual rewriting of history would not happen if this inquiry was really serious and really mattered and let the rest of the world know it was not the forum for a witch hunt. When aeroplanes crash, no one seeks to pass the blame or the buck; there is a genuine drive to unravel the truth and the salient facts to prevent a repeat. It seems no other inquiry is capable of such rigour.

One aspect that I am certain will be totally overlooked by the investigation is the role that news coverage and the behaviour of opposition parties and governing parties in the various parts of the UK played in muddling the message and sewing the seeds of discontent throughout the entire pandemic period. The BBC's Today programme on Radio Four was so blinded by its hatred of Boris for his Brexit success that its presenters' attitude in every interview with ministers was negative, aggressive and disastrously undermining. But it will simply be ignored. To have lost all confidence in such an important inquiry at such an early stage is worrying but, Baroness Hallett, I have little faith that anything much worthwhile come out of all this.

HOLIDAYS IN EUROPE RUINED – BY BREXIT?

An interesting little story ran in The Times the other day – tucked away on the foreign news pages. “Summer holidays spoilt by hotel staff shortages”, said the headline. So where was this? Devon? Dorset? The Lake District? No – it was the whole of Europe. “This is a problem that is being felt everywhere,” said the boss of Etoa, the European tourism association. But how can these unprecedented labour issues be being felt across Europe when they are so obviously caused wholly by Brexit?

OUR VILLAGE SHOPS CANNOT SURVIVE THE COMING DISEQUILIBRIUM

With great glee, Bruce McDonald, deputy leader of Elmbridge Borough Council, announced today that M&S will be opening a food store in our village, Claygate, Surrey. The cock-a-hoop LibDem hails this development of a shop and housing on the site of a village centre car park as great news for Claygate – and for its shops. He is, of course, deluded. The presence of M&S will very quickly kill our Coop store, and almost certainly push over the edge several more of our precious and varied shops – the fishmonger, the butcher, the greengrocer and the bakery will stagger on for a while but crumble in the face of this newcomer. McDonald, the dozy supporter of the move, claims it will increase footfall and help them all survive. It will, of course, do the opposite: shoppers will choose to park outside the M&S front door (a section of car park is to be retained) and go nowhere near the rest of the priceless Parade. Once the equilibrium is destroyed, annihilation is never far behind. RiP Claygate's shops.

THE BASIC FACTS ABOUT BUYING A HOUSE WITH A MORTGAGE

When people think they are buying a house, they rarely are. If they require a mortgage, they are actually asking someone else to buy the house for them while promising to pay them back. It is not a normal purchase, it is the arrangement of a loan and one of the results is that the usual rules of supply and demand do not apply: the loan providers dictate the price of housing according to the interest rates they offer. Demand hardly varies, regardless of levels of supply or increases in population. Anyone who has read “The Rise of Antisocialism”, my 2019 book, will understand this. And if they have watched or read Michael Lewis's “The Big Short” they will know intimately how the system works. Which makes it baffling as to why we hear on the news that homebuyers will struggle when their current fixed rate mortgage ends – because this is so obvious it barely merits saying, let alone being treated as news. Here's what I said in my book: “The actual asking price of a house is largely irrelevant to a purchaser. If you go to a building society for a mortgage, the first question is not about price but 'what can you afford per month?' This is because the property you can afford is a combination of price and interest rates. Put simply, if the mortgage rate at the time is 8 per cent, your £500 a month might enable you to buy a property valued at £100,000. A year later the mortgage rate might be 4 per cent – in which case, your £500 a month would buy a property valued at £200,000. Probably the same house. It’s obviously far more complex than this, but this illustrates the fundamentals.

“If you’re borrowing to buy a property – which most people do – then what matters is the 'cost of buying'. Prices naturally adjust as interest rates change. In an era of low interest rates, house prices inevitably rise because the cost of buying them falls dramatically, subject to the payment of a deposit.

“We have travelled up several one way streets – and it’s hard to see how we can back out. Let’s look at them. First – house prices. As we’ve seen, if interest rates come down, prices go up – and loans get bigger, without costing the purchaser more. But this traps people and makes them totally reliant on low interest rates. If a variable repayment mortgage rate rises from 2 per cent to 4 per cent – that’s a rise of 100 per cent. (Although it’s not quite as simple as that, as there are other costs.) But it still means a huge and potentially unaffordable rise in monthly repayments. So if rates rise, house prices can stabilise or even fall, and thousands of households could fall into negative equity – with repossessions of homes rocketing.”

MAY 4 2023

We voted today. Local elections. Although my wife didn't, thanks to me using our married name for both of us on the electoral register, whereas all my wife's picture identification (passport, driving licence etc) is in her maiden name, which she prefers and has used for all of her career. We must get this sorted out before the next general election, which is likely to come along in autumn 2024 – because this election could be rather closer and less predictable than many think. Labour might appear to have a huge lead over the Tories in the opinion polls – but who will admit to a stranger with a clipboard that they are likely to vote Conservative when they are subjected to a daily bombardment from the media and luvvie worlds, mocking and insulting them for the stupidity in supporting Brexit and favouring the monarchy and the nation state over presidents and open borders. Why would they risk humiliating themselves by falling foul of the liberal globalisers who dominate politics and all public life? But when alone with their fat crayon and a ballot slip, will they take their revenge and vote as they did in 2019? It would be their guilty secret.

A TIMES COLUMN STRAIGHT OUT OF MY BOOK - READ IT AND CHEER UP!

Juliet Samuel, Times columnist, has written a perfect riposte to the moaners and groaners upset at King Charles's coronation on Saturday. She writes: “What they don’t grasp is why the institution at the centre of this weird ritual, the monarchy, has lasted on and off for more than a thousand years. It is because it embodies ideas that are necessary to keep together a community beyond the immediate sphere of family and friends. Ultra-liberals tend to take for granted the idea that humans can and should be loyal to an abstraction like 'humanity' or 'freedom', but this is not at all obvious. In fact, our everyday lives are ruled by personal relationships, chores and emotions. Collective loyalty beyond this is built by communal experiences – like the coronation – shared culture and a sense of who would stand with us in the face of adversity or attack. The only political unit that commands this abstract sense of loyalty is the nation.” Another excellent columnist said something similar not long ago, pointing out that only a nation state with criteria governing who should be entitled to its benefits could provide the security and wealth for citizens that most western nations enjoy.

And in her column, Samuel writes: “This return of 'national' thinking has been greeted in most educated quarters with horror. 'Where did these fascist troglodytes come from?' the professional classes wonder. 'How can they be so small-minded?' To suggest that political solidarity and action should primarily be national is, to these ultra-liberals, to reject basic humanity. They view the nation as a relic, an obsolete invention of insufficient ambition, scale and empathy. On the right, they argue instead for borderless economic globalisation; on the left, for mass migration in all its forms.” This column is so precisely in tune with the thoughts and ideas in my book, The Rise of Antisocialism, that I simply have to commend it to you: read Samuel's column and cheer up this Coronation weekend.

APRIL 30 2023

I was just reminded, over a delicious lunch with two wonderful friends in the Griffin pub in Claygate, that one of the aspects of Antisocialism – the word I invented to encompass the rising tide of individualism and selfishness coupled with the collapse of any form of political socialism – is a decline in the willingness of individuals to undertake activities in which they have no special personal interest but which would serve or benefit the community. We were discussing the decline in social events, be it the local amateur dramatic society, the village tennis club, teaching children etiquette and manners, finding people to serve on committees or keep charities and societies going, and any number of socially valuable functions. There has been a shift, we agreed, towards a “what's in it for me” attitude: why would I serve on a committee and endure all the aggravation that goes with it just to benefit others? This explains so much and is perfectly in line with the explosion in liberalism and Antisocialism that I describe in my book. It's not an absolute, of course – there are still good people prepared to work selflessly and tirelessly for their community – but the trend is, sadly, in the opposite direction.

APRIL 29 2023

A CURIOUS TAKE ON SOCIALISM

A good friend has written a blog post for a website called East Anglia Bylines. It's all about what the Labour party needs to do to transform itself, and therefore its fortunes, in order to remain in office once elected. Martin, the friend, calls himself a Labour party member and activist, which I won't question but which does cause me some surprise. But good for him! And he has six fundamental initiatives for his party to consider: five or six seems to be the required number of policy drives at the moment. I shall list them briefly and then add my thoughts.

First, he recommends removing the voter identification requirements to encourage the young to vote and to look at introducing proportional representation. Second, we have “re-join the EU single market”; then a wealth tax on rich individuals; criminalise all tax avoidance; and fifth, review media ownership. Finally, Labour should reform the system of “appointing” MPs, generally treating them more professionally.

Are these the burning issues that you believe should top Labour's priority list once in office? Review media ownership? Really? Would any Labour supporters notice or care? And voter identification was introduced to combat serious election fraud – simply removing it to avoid confusing youngsters is not good enough. Apart from the fact that if they're put off by having to show proof of identity at the polling station then perhaps they shouldn't be voting at all. But as Martin and I suspect, the young tend to vote Labour, so any impediment to them turning up is of value to the party. My more simple and effective solution would be identity cards – also useful in many other fields of service delivery and crime prevention.

Making MPs more professional has long been debated: it's not a black and white argument. MPs are supposed to have real world experience and measures that remove them further from everyday life could well be counter-productive. But again, it's a nice subject for consideration over a glass of red wine on a warm evening when there's nothing more pressing to worry about. Hardly revolutionary. Similarly, a wealth tax always sounds grand – but why not simply have a fairer tax system? We already have wealth taxes – they just need to be skewed more and increased on both individuals and companies. Everyone should contribute a fair share. And many executive pay packages are obscene – and pointless. Who needs to spend a £10m salary every year? Clamping down on tax avoidance is also fine and dandy, and criminalisation a meaty tool to help make the rich behave. So, er, OK.

And then comes that middle-class liberal demand to re-join the EU single market. If this could be done without reintroducing free movement and we could achieve as good a deal as we had, with a rebate and all that, then it might be bearable to most real Labour supporters. But it can't. The EU would impose punitive contributions on the UK and, more importantly, demand it retains the purity of its principles by once again inflicting free movement on Britain, instantly re-extending the UK jobs market back to the Russian border – and recreating the very cause of Brexit and Boris Johnson's “Get Brexit Done” landslide. It was not in my personal interest to vote for Brexit: I am probably worse off because of it and subject to the same bureaucratic inconveniences as everyone else. But there are millions of working class people all over the country, and especially in the northern industrial towns and cities, who are considerably better off now that they are no longer having to compete for their jobs with impoverished eastern European workers happy to put up with pay and conditions that would be intolerable to a British worker. Now that so many east Europeans have returned home, thanks to a mixture of Brexit and the pandemic, balance in the UK's industrial relations has been partly restored: the pre-2004 equilibrium, which allowed workers to protest for improved pay and conditions, is seen in the widespread outbreak of industrial action in the public sector and the rapidly rising pay awards in the private. The boot might not have shifted completely to the other foot – but at least there is a boot on both feet now.

I am therefore confused by Martin's shopping list of revolutionary policies that will keep Labour in power: most are technical, a couple are uncontroversial and the single market suggestion is so anti-working class, so anti Red Wall, that it would put us back to square one in the EU debate and push those millions who desperately need Labour to fight for them back into the arms of Nigel Farage and his successors. That is the choice facing the working class people of the UK who have seen their livelihoods and lifestyles undermined by free movement and who have been insulted, mocked and bullied for complaining about it: either a socialist Labour party that notices them or the Faragist right that, if only as a side-effect, at least offers them protection from unfair competition and the serfdom that free movement brought with it. Martin's proposed single market pitch would force them back into the hands of the Faragists. So where's the socialism in that, Martin?

APRIL 25 2023

MY COMPUTER PING-PONG NIGHTMARE

My computer has been bouncing backwards and forwards between Cheshire and Surrey for weeks. I bought a reconditioned PC, understanding and accepting that I could be inheriting someone else's IT problems and for several weeks it worked fine. Then it started making heavy wheezing noises on boot-up and whirring madly before coming to life. And then it stopped coming to life at all. An IT consultant visited and declared it a hardware problem, advising it be sent back. HST Computers were good about it and I'd kept the box it came in – so off it went. It came back a couple of weeks later, having been declared fixed, and I plugged it in. But after the briefest of whirrs, nothing appeared on screen. Back it went. Back it came. No change. Back it went and back it came, working perfectly in Cheshire but doing nothing to light up the screen on my desk.

I was ready to bin it, cut my losses and start again. But HST, as baffled as I was, had an idea: could it be an unhappy relationship between the PC and the screen? I doubted it, as my screen is fairly new and fancy and the PC had worked perfectly (until it didn't) by being plugged in via an HDMI cable. But it would have been churlish to ignore the professionals, and so I bought a new cable, HDMI at one end to connect to the PC, and RGB at the other to lock on to the back of my screen. I never expected it to work. But it did! Full marks to HST.

But just for the record, there were clearly two problems here – the initial boot-up problem that my IT helper could not fix, and then the bizarre screen issue that must have arisen separately during the process of repair. Or during one of its long journeys up and down the M1.

THE PLAY'S THE THING

I can now call myself an actor. An amateur, of course. But I have now acted in two plays, one in which the cast could read the words and one in which they had to be remembered. The latter concluded its short three-night run in Claygate Village Hall on Saturday and, to my surprise, won us (the cast and crew of Claygate Dramatic Society) lavish praise and plaudits from those who came to see it. I have to confess that on reading the play before “auditioning”, I was dismayed at how dated it seemed and how poorly written. But, to be fair, it came dramatically to life when lifted from the page. And I hugely enjoyed working with a small group sharing a single mission.

When we moved into Claygate in 1994, we made a point of attending a Dramatic Society production, more as a gesture of support for a community enterprise than in any great expectation of quality drama. But we were pleasantly surprised: the quality was high and we went back for entertainment, coupled with feelings of loyalty, collective enjoyment and togetherness. But, sadly, the actors on stage in the mid-1990s are largely still the same people. The audiences, too. There seems to be little interest among the younger generations for being part of a society or supporting local efforts. There are exceptions, of course, but the dwindling numbers say it all. Without replenishment both on-stage and off, such priceless neighbourly ventures will exeunt left and never be seen again.

SURROUNDED BY LIBERALISM – WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THOSE SOCIALISTS?

I've never really asked, but I've always assumed that most of my close friends are left-leaning and broadly socialist in outlook. And so it is with some surprise that I note so many of them have installed “Vote LibDem” posters outside their houses. As discussed previously, Liberalism is the most right-wing of the prevailing political ideologies – if they can be called such – with its emphasis on individual rights and freedoms and the resulting preservation of comfortable middle-class privileges. Perhaps they are endorsing the Liberal party in a tactical manoeuvre aimed at defeating the hated Tories. Although with all three main parties advocating almost identical policies, I can't see a great deal of point in campaigning for, or against, any of them.

HATRED CAUSES BLINDNESS

Returning to the theme of hatred, we have seen once again in recent days how it can cause a blindness that prevents those caught up in it from seeing the facts and the issues raised by events. Take the resignation of Dominic Raab from his posts as Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister late last week. Those who hate were quick to cheer at his defenestration, presumably feeling they know the man, his style and his politics well enough to dismiss him as vile and unworthy without having met him, worked with him, or reading the report into the bullying claims that eventually led to his downfall. But I have met Raab on more than one occasion and found him quiet, polite and business-like. I know other people who, having met him, feel the same. I know yet others who have heard him speak and, while disagreeing with him most fundamentally, accepted that he is intelligent and argues his case well. Within his constituency, in which I live, there are many voices prepared to give testament to his assiduous and caring work, pressing the case for refugees at the highest levels on behalf of a local charity, or providing thoughtful and considerate assistance and support to the woman from Esher whose letter was printed in yesterday's copy of The Times. One of his personal assistants has worked with him for 11 years and only speaks well of him.

And even Matthew Parris, the former MP, Saturday Times columnist and arch Remoaner who clearly despises Raab, has managed to rise above his hatred of the man to see the truth in the “bullying” report by Adam Tolley, KC. He wondered why Raab had resigned when the report could substantiate only minor quibbles over styles of working, calling him occasionally abrasive. Parris – and others – also defend Raab's right to warn about the dangers of civil service campaigns to resist the will of cabinet and to make vague accusations that result in resignations or sackings – even when they have never even met the minister in question but merely joined the campaign to oust him in support of their colleagues. This is something I find quite extraordinary. Tolley, of course, disregarded their complaints but it raises vital questions about civil service impartiality, the bedrock of our democracy, and gives enormous weight to Raab's insistence that the accusations against him were part of a campaign of resistance that could be used in other departments. Indeed, there are indications already that this could be so.

At least the whole affair was dealt with quickly, in approximately 24 hours, in spite of several Labour party figures absurdly accusing the prime minister of “dithering”. Yesterday, it was delightful to see the boot on the other foot as Labour leader Keir Starmer “dithered” over what to do about Diane Abbott (see below). Delicious.

There are so many examples of hatred causing blindness in otherwise rational people, the poisonous trans debate being a prime one. But the monarchy is a more subtle case. A survey has found little support for the monarchy among the young. Indeed, I would have been among them in my student days. But as the scales of hatred fall from your eyes with experience and you can begin to see the full picture, with all of its awful alternatives and drawbacks, views can become more nuanced and more accepting of what, on the face of it, might seem unacceptable. It is easy to write off the monarchy system as archaic, privileged, unjust, wasteful, and so on. It is less easy to offer a viable and foolproof alternative.

The monarchical system provides the UK with a head of state, a crucial role in any nation. How much better would an elected supreme authority, such as a president, be? I would argue this is a hugely dangerous course. Even a stable democracy such as the US descended into chaos not so long ago, which could in other circumstances have led to bitter and prolonged civil strife, when an elected president refused to accept the poll results. If all we need is a figurehead, why take the risk of bestowing such powers? Others suggest doing without. But the same problem arises, with the prime minister now becoming all-powerful. What would have followed had Liz Truss called upon the generals last autumn to secure her premiership, in which she believed passionately? With armed forces loyal only to the crown, she had no choice but to go quietly. But with an army pledging allegiance to an elected head of state, she could have demanded far more. Overall, the monarchy is relatively harmless, it lures tourists and is a priceless international asset, and provides continuity of wisdom and experience at the top of government. Yes, it rests on privilege and heredity, but there are far worse alternatives. Because all we need is a flagpole around which the nation will rally in a time of crisis; a bulwark or champion with no actual power, other than to unite and see off threats to our democracy. Queen Elizabeth fulfilled this role brilliantly for many decades; King Charles will not share her longevity on the throne, but he surely deserves a chance to win sufficient respect and affection to make him that emergency brake on disaster.

DUMB MOTORWAYS

Many years ago, when the first “smart motorways” were being installed, I concluded that they performed poorly as a device for increasing road capacity and that they were lethally dangerous. I recall a trip home on the M1 on a busy Sunday afternoon when every six or eight miles a junction would create a bottleneck and tailback; the lack of a hard shoulder and replacing it with infrequent “shelters” looked seriously short of smart. I recall saying to a new acquaintance one afternoon that we needed smart drivers more than we needed smart motorways: the inside lanes are routinely empty, no matter how many carriageways are built. Oh well. Millions of pounds later, the programme has been stopped.

WHO IS MAKING UP THE NEWS?

“Police arrive at Shell offices”, shouts the headline. But did they? Nowhere in the story in yesterday's Times does it say police attended. All there is, is a disputed allegation that police were called by Shell personnel when the former Archbishop of York, Lord Sentamu, turned up at its headquarters to deliver a letter protesting at the company's role in climate change. Shell refused to open its door and Lord Sentamu had to leave his letter on the step – something he described as “the most arrogant experience I've ever had”. What a sheltered life he must have led. The whole story is a non-event – but the headline is outrageous.

SUDAN FALSE IMPRESSION

The government stands no chance of coming out of the Sudan civil war evacuation without its reputation being shredded even further. The whole tone of the BBC reporting, especially on its increasingly ridiculous Today radio programme, is that the UK's efforts at rescuing the 400 British citizens and 3,500 more with dual citizenship from the country is that our efforts are appalling: ministers have washed their hands of these people, abandoned them to their fate at the hands of the warring generals in Khartoum, while the EU and its governments breeze in and out on rescue missions galore. The presenters' assumption is that the UK is an outlier, failing in its duties – it comes across powerfully in every question, accusation and statement they make.

But then anyone with a gripe against the government is guaranteed a hearing on the Today programme. Can't find a dentist? Call Today. Can't find a red pepper on the supermarket shelf? Call Today. Etc etc. There isn't much more hill left for Today to tumble down.

DIANE ABBOTT – HALF RIGHT BUT THEN COMPLETELY WRONG

Isn't Diane Abbott wonderful. The Labour party has sanctioned her for writing to a newspaper to argue that Jews have not suffered racism in the way races have. Now, by my definition, Judaism is a religion, not a race. Anyone can become a Jew or cease to be a Jew: it is a system of belief, identical to Islam, Christianity, or Diabolism: most people in the world are born into a society or culture believing in some nutty religion or other but when they grow up, their faith becomes a matter of choice. Race, on the other hand, is biological and cannot be changed. No matter how hard Diane tries, she cannot be Caucasian. So up to this point, I find it hard to find her distinction between race and religion controversial. This is not to say that Jewish people have not suffered probably the worst discrimination in history – a religious persecution on a disgusting and industrial scale. But this should not lift their religion, no more than any other religion, above criticism and even mockery.

Abbott did not express herself well, of course, referring to “red hair”, making her sound flippant and trivialising the plight of Jewish believers. But this was not her only blunder. Far, far worse was her idiotic retraction of everything she said: she had got it all wrong, and apologised unreservedly. And then, worse still, she made the unbelievable claim that she had sent the wrong draft of her letter to the newspaper! Is it credible that she had written two, completely opposite versions? It's all a nonsense. But in taking several hours to sack her, Keir Starmer was clearly dithering, by his own standards – which demand lightning fast reactions. Apparently.

It's all such a pity. Abbott is one of the very few politicians with socialist leanings still in the Labour party, it having been taken over by liberal individualists and atomisers. It's a pity, too, because she has clearly suffered terribly herself at the hands of racists. But wading into this debate without defining her terms at a time when sensitivity over antisemitism in the Labour party is sky high shows a political clumsiness that is extreme, even by her standards. And her incompetent and laughable attempts at withdrawing from the debacle is another hammer blow to supporters of a socialist future.

MY 2010 BOOK THAT WAS NEVER WRITTEN – AND IS NOW WRITING ITSELF

From 2006 to 2010, I edited the Financial Times Digital Business supplement, keeping business readers abreast of technological developments that would affect them in the future. In that time, several significant themes struck me as important and which I melded together into a speech, or talk, that I would give when invited to address a lunch or other gathering of FT readers or IT leaders. I was surprised at how unconcerned most listeners seemed to be. But they are concerned now. It seems I was merely a decade or more ahead of my time.

But why should you believe in my extraordinary prescience? I could just be making it up. But one of the advantages of being a journalist is that so much of your work is recorded and saved for posterity. And so I present to you the outline for a book I planned to write in 2010, exploring the confluence of three main forces – artificial intelligence, data sharing and robotics. It was never written because I was offered the equally exciting, and less daunting, prospect of launching and editing a new FT supplement called Executive Appointments, which proved hugely successful. It meant I never returned to my book proposal – and now my book is writing itself in real life. Here's the pitch that was received favourably at Prentice Hall, the FT's book publishing arm. Elon Musk's fears over AI might be leading the debate today, but this book could have been our guide for well over a decade, had I not been happily distracted. This is what I proposed in 2010:

File under Popular Science….

An unstoppable force been unleashed. Science fiction saw it coming – but now today’s technology is on the brink of turning those writers’ visions into reality. The “intelligent” machine is being born.

A perfect storm, made up of technological developments in several fields, is sowing the seeds: but will the infant grow up to be a destructive Terminator or Cylon – or offer a wealth of opportunities for humankind? Are we now embarked on a journey that is leading us to create machines that one day we can neither control nor predict?

Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” HAL: “I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.” - 2001: A Space Odyssey

Number Six: “Let a complex system repeat itself long enough, eventually something surprising might occur.” - Battlestar Galactica

Gaius Baltar: “Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Cylons are, in the final analysis, little more than toasters... with great-looking legs.” - Battlestar Galactica

The Terminator: “I'm a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.” - Terminator

The Terminator:My CPU is a neural-net processor – a learning computer.” - Terminator

Where are computerised beings taking us and how far can they go? If machines are able to evolve so that they can analyse data more quickly than the human brain and make decisions based on those calculations in the context of external information, then how much of the human future will they be able to take over?

Battlefield robots are already a reality – armed with “autonomous intelligent control systems”. Academics are working on ethical control systems for such robots and they can even power themselves by “eating”. When machines are gathering the data, analysing it, predicting outcomes and evolving their own best practices, how much longer will the human mind be required in each field? This original book draws together the previously disparate strands in technology that are driving this process.

The issues it will raise are of vital concern to anyone involved with planning for the future in any walk of life – government, public sector services, business and other organisations. The book will also prove fascinating to the general reader interested in what is possible and to anyone who has ever enjoyed a science fiction movie, play, book or TV series. It is only by drawing together the apparently unrelated strands at the forefront of technological development that a picture of a future featuring intelligent machines becomes realistic. The only question that remains is over the extent to which they will become autonomous.

The key elements involved include: the enormous amount of data now being created and stored; supercomputing; pattern recognition; systems that can interrogate data and make sense of it; systems that can analyse it and use it to predict outcomes; software that can “self-evolve” by selecting the best options through countless generations at lightning speed; software that can learn; artificial intelligence that seeks to mimic human thinking and responses; high-speed wireless communication; and advanced robotics.

Academics and other experts in the above fields all have gripping stories to tell about their own work, which will be presented as written narratives, perhaps alongside self-penned contributions. Each step taken towards establishing the proposition that machines will become “thinking” entities that take over a range of functions from humans will be assessed by specialist commentators and analysts in the field.

Its findings and conclusions will provide essential material for public policy decision-makers, national leaders, business people, and anyone interested in looking into, and planning for, the future – plus those who are simply fascinated by science.

Some examples of the insights the book will offer:

  1. The evolution of computerised characters that interact based on their own decision-making

  2. Battlefield robots – setting the pace in decision-making; and how “ethical” can their decisions ever be?

  3. The Turing Test and human-computer interaction, including the chess-playing encounters.

  4. A real vision of the future: comparing the science of the big and small screen with what we can expect to achieve with real-world technologies.

The shape of the book:

  1. Introduction. Sets out the scope of the book.

  2. Chapter 1. Outlines the technologies – the perfect storm of powerful computers, data, intelligence, and robotics etc.

  3. Chapter 2. Science fiction. Looking at how closely real events have matched the predictions of the sci-fi world. Telling the stories of Terminator and Battlestar Galactica, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and others, assessing their technologies and how they relate to reality.

  4. Chapter 3. The chessboard – the arena for the opening rounds in the Man v Machine contest. From The Mechanical Turk to Deep Blue and beyond – to IBM’s “Watson” question answering system able to take part in the Jeopardy! game show.

  5. Chapter 4. The First Element: supercomputing. The powerhouses, performing trillions of calculations a second – faster than a human can think.

  6. Chapter 5. The Second Element: Evolution. What scientists and mathematicians have discovered about the relationship between biological systems and machines: from Turing and MorphoGenesis, through Benoit Mandelbrot and fractals, to Torsten Reil and artificial brains. How complexity emerges from simple rules to make self-evolving software a reality.

  7. Chapter 6. The Third Element: Data. Data is being created and stored on an epic scale. What is it, where does it come from, where is it stored? What is its scope and does it cover so much human activity that it could be used to automate all decision-making?

  8. Chapter 7. The Fourth Element: Making sense of the data. Business Intelligence software is now able to interrogate data, turn it into “intelligence”, identify patterns, and make reliable predictions.

  9. Chapter 8. The Fifth Element: Artificial Intelligence. The annual Turing Test moves ever closer to finding a machine that can fool a person into thinking it is human. How AI and work on the mathematics of probability – including Gaussian processes and Bayesian inference – are creating new possibilities.

  10. Chapter 9. The Sixth Element: Robotics. “Intelligent machines” can take any physical form but rely on robotics if they are to become mobile. Battlefield robots already come with learning and decision-making capabilities built in; in time, the decision-making capabilities will be combined with more machines of various designs.

  11. Chapter 10. The Seventh Element. Machine-to-machine communication, combined with high-speed wireless connectivity, makes possible the sharing of “learning” and “experience”.

  12. Chapter 11. What is “a decision”? How far along the decision-making chain will a machine be able to go? They already take small, easily automated choices, such as when to apply the brakes in a road vehicle using ABS. How closely can they be involved in setting strategy?

  13. Chapter 12. Ethical and philosophical considerations. Can ethics be built into a machine? Attempts are being made to do this with battlefield robots.

  14. Chapter 13. Peaceful co-existence? A future in which machine intelligence and other capabilities augment the human – and the robot never achieves its independence.

  15. Chapter 14. Conclusions: The future. One vision of where we might be headed.

Writing such a book requires the ability to step back from the individual fields of research and identify trends and the bigger picture. All advances throughout history – and especially in the computer age – have come about when all the required elements have come into line (all the gates are opened; all the ducks are in a row, etc). My work as editor of the Financial Times’ Digital Business supplement has enabled me to identify and see the significance of the key elements that are combining to create the intelligent machine. As a professional journalist who for 30 years has been writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and websites, and creating audio and video programmes, I am well qualified to undertake this project.

I will approach a number of academics and other experts for input and to review progress of the book, including Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University; Dr Alan Arkin of Georgia Tech University in Atlanta; Torsten Reil, chief executive of NaturalMotion; Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot; Jim Al-Khalili, professor of Theoretical Physics at Surrey University; Benoit Mandelbrot, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Yale University, IBM Fellow Emeritus, and Battelle Fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Chris Bishop, professor of Computer Science at Edinburgh University; David Munt, managing director of GenSight; Carsten Sorensen, senior lecturer on Information Systems and Innovation and the London School of Economics; Daniel H. Wilson, a roboticist at Carnegie-Mellon’s Robotics Institute.

The authority and credibility of the Financial Times will bring weight to the book’s cover. It will receive coverage, promotion and perhaps some serialisation in The FT and its technology supplement. I would expect some of the aforementioned potential contributors to endorse the book and I would approach the makers and stars of Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, 2001: A Space Odyssey etc for further high-profile endorsements.

Key messages could include:

Have we unleashed an unstoppable force that will lead to conflict between Man and Machine?”

Science fiction is becoming science fact as machines march towards intelligence.”

The seven required elements are now in place to spark technology’s perfect storm.”

Patterns are emerging from today’s computerised chaos that will change human relationships with machines for ever.”

Search terms used in the book that would feature highly in potential customers’ lists of results would include: Robotics; intelligence; artificial intelligence; business intelligence; science fiction; Terminator; Battlestar Galactica; 2001: A Space Odyssey; data; pattern recognition; man v machine; intelligent machines; machine intelligence; software; evolutionary software; evolution; machines.

This book sits in the Popular Science genre – potentially complex subjects simply explained and placed in context. It will have as much appeal as works by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, for example. There are a number specialist books and very expensive academic works available on most of the elements to be discussed in this book but very few that draw together all the strands.

The exception is Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near”, which sets out to predict the future of artificial intelligence and foresees a world in which information technologies enable humans to transcend their biological limitations. Kurzweil’s book and mine, while taking slightly different approaches, would appeal to much the same audience.

Daniel H. Wilson’s book, “How to Survive a Robot Uprising”, takes a humorous approach to dealing with the possibility of a robot mutiny, and is a light introduction to robotics. And Peter Cave’s book, “Can a Robot be Human?: 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles” is full of intriguing philosophical questions that will be dealt with in my proposed book. “Self-adaptive Systems for Machine Intelligence” by Haibo He is another valuable source and complementary book; as is “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (Prentice Hall Series in Artificial Intelligence)” by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig.

Given that most books around this topic are heavyweight academic works, the main competitors to my book would come from those mentioned above. My book, however, will be broader in scope than any of them, enabling it to make more interesting conclusions.

Additional publishing opportunities include individual essays by academics and experts; audio or video conversations with various experts; online feedback and discussion forums; and live events. I would estimate the book to require 600-700 pages to cover the ground thoroughly, although economical writing and my editing experience could reduce this. The project is at a very early stage. Nothing is yet written, other than a brief précis. I have spoken to colleagues in other specialist areas at the Financial Times and received very positive and encouraging feedback. I would expect the research and writing of such a book to take a minimum of six months of full-time work – perhaps a year.

APRIL 5 2023

UNDERSTANDING MY OWN POLITICS

I have been called a communist and I have been called a Tory. How can this be? It’s a question I have wrestled with for some time but am now beginning to understand. And I can see exactly what my accusers - for those epithets were meant most accusingly - meant. As anyone who has read my book will know, I am opposed to rampant materialism, meaningless economic “growth”, pollution and greed, among other things. I am in favour of a simpler, green world in which people come together in communities, behave as a society, with the emphasis on responsibilities, rather than individual rights. We work too much, produce too much, consume far too much. And during lockdown, many saw glimpses of what life could be like without the weight of production and consumption pressing the joy out of everyday existence. Many reacted by deciding to leave the workforce, prioritising living over serving a pointlessly destructive economic model. We have also seen strikes increase since Brexit - a sure sign that the necessary equilibrium between business and workers is being restored: industrial action had to be off the agenda when employers could click their fingers and hire limitless numbers of east Europeans at rock-bottom pay rates. These are encouraging signs that the population is regaining its voice; that business is no longer calling all the shots. And it gives me hope that other priorities might change, too: that we will seek satisfaction and pleasure from activities other than consumption and that we can begin to talk about an economic model that does not rely on “growth” - whatever that means.

I heard part of a fascinating radio debate on the subject of economic growth the other evening. Various speakers were challenged on their views, including the excellent Kate Raworth, author of Donut Economics and one of the few economists I’ve heard who actually understands that “economics” amounts to far more than mere “business finance”. A gaping hole was picked in her world view over how to pay for the lifestyles her proposals envisaged without economic growth. But others were ripped apart because their limited imagination could not comprehend a world in which economies did not grow. One hapless candidate merely kept repeating that if there was no growth then there would be no growth and that would be terrible. My prescription is for managed de-growth. There were no such things as de-growth communists when I wrote my book - or at least I failed to find any mention in my long period of research. But I find that I can comfortably be labelled as such. I believe economies built on never-ending growth and consumption must be put in reverse, people must be allowed to live more fulfilling and interesting lives, and the planet must be allowed to recover from the damage we have inflicted. This is what we should be debating: how best to achieve this? And so the communist tag makes sense. But what about the Tory label? Can you be both? And my answer is that, in a way, yes, you can. Because there are many conservative aspects to my Utopian version of communism - making do with less, discovering new ways of spending time, being creative, enjoying nature, and so on. These all have a conservative flavour, easily confused with the Tory ethos of conservation and preservation. The difference would be that my version is forward-looking and positive, whereas the Tory vision harks back to a happier, bygone age and the hope of recreating it. But then so does mine, to some extent. And so there you have it - the Tory communist explained.

The one thing I know I am not is a “liberal progressive”. These are terms that send shivers down my spine and that formed the basis of Matthew Goodwin’s majestic feature in last weekend’s Sunday Times. How “liberals” have come to be seen as “left-wing”, or “progressive” is a complete mystery. Liberals are, by definition, right-wing libertarians, espousing the virtues of individual rights and freedoms at the expense of society, community and responsibility. You can call me a communist, or even a Tory - but please, never call me a liberal.      

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT FRANCE

How do they get away with it? The French. How come no one holds them to account? France has suffered humiliation and embarrassment recently over having to postpone King Charles’s official visit because of chaos on the streets. Fair enough. But the country’s shame at the way it treats migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is both shocking and never mentioned. Yet its northern coast is littered with squalid camps, full of tens of thousands of migrants. In the UK, hotel accommodation is offered, with free meals and a tiny amount of pocket money. In France, they are left to fight and rot in the open. But, of course, the UK is the nasty, uncaring, evil one and France the victim. How can this be possible? What status do these migrants have in France? Are they asylum seekers? Refugees? Illegal migrants? Welcome visitors? All we know is that at some point on their journey across the Channel, they magically transform, one and all, into asylum seekers and on arrival they are treated as such. The conditions are not wonderful but they are a million times better than anything on offer in France. So we have to ask why France does not afford them the same courtesy - treating them as asylum seekers and providing food and shelter, as the UK does? If the answer is that the individuals do not claim asylum in France, then the next question is - why not? The answer can only be that they choose to seek refuge in Britain, not France. And this, in a logical world, means that they are no longer refugees or asylum seekers: they are no longer fleeing from danger or persecution, or from anything at all - they are forcing their way into a country of their choice. The libertarian individualists who dominate the public debate and speak loudly and incessantly on their behalf support their right to choose which safe country they decide to settle in, whereas those of a more socially minded bent can see that there are deserving cases being denied the opportunity to reach safety in the UK by the bedlam caused by tens of thousands of undocumented economic migrants hogging all the available admin capacity and accommodation.

IDENTIFYING THE REAL PROBLEM

The Labour Party is quick to accuse the government of incompetence over its handling of the migrant boats problem, claiming that of its several initiatives, none has succeeded but in fact made things worse. This is, of course, true. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Of all the measures planned and proposed, none has been allowed to shift from the starting blocks. As soon as a plan is put forward, Yvette Cooper and her battalion of lawyers crawl all over it, stifling it to death. So the real problem for the government is not how to deal with the migrant boats, but how to stop the libertarian individualist “progressives” from making sure every effort fails.

BIG NEWS - READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Sterling is the best performing major currency so far this year! Fantastic news! The UK can’t be quite as bad as we’re constantly told it is. So read all  about this heart-warming positive news - at the bottom of Page 37 of today’s copy of The Times.

BIG NEWS - READ ALL ABOUT IT! PART 2

Yesterday’s early headlines on the BBC radio news bulletins all led with an attack on alleged government plans to halve spending on one aspect of social care. Listeners had no way of assessing its importance as a news story, because the government’s announcement, policy, plans and thinking had never been explained. The first we hear is the backlash. This item gradually slipped down the priority list as it emerged that more spending is still to be allocated and there are other factors at play. But never mind that - the BBC’s policy is to put the boot in first and then ask questions later.


MARCH 14 2023 

So the saintly Gary Lineker claims to be speaking up for those without a voice? By this he means economic migrants prepared to pay large sums of money to vicious criminals in search of an easier and more comfortable life in the UK, travelling via several perfectly safe European countries en route. But the truth is that these “victims” have legions of people speaking on their behalf - lawyers, politicians, celebrities, pretty much the entire libertarian globalising middle class, in fact. The fact that they have such an incredibly powerful lobby ranting and plotting on their behalf is a fundamental stimulant to the endless march of migrants making their way through Europe and a prime cause of the tragically life-threatening flow of inflatables across the Channel.

I prefer to speak up for the silenced majority in the UK: the under-privileged and vulnerable “precariat” to be found in the country’s working class communities. These are the people who endure poverty and horribly precarious livelihoods, having been made to compete for jobs alongside east European migrants prepared to work for very little. Low paying terrible conditions have become the norm because EU migrants would still be far better off on low UK wages than they would be at home in their completely incompatible economy. I would speak for the working class people who dared not go on strike because they were told they could be replaced in the blink of an eye by far cheaper workers. Why not speak for the people who were given just one opportunity to express their anger and desperation - in the form of one cross on a ballot paper over Britain’s continued membership of the EU. They expressed their opinion loud and clear - and have been attacked, insulted, mocked, pilloried and damned for it ever since by the likes of Lineker and the unthinking libertarian “celebrities” who monopolise our society’s Twitter-led debate.

Because Twitter itself is merely an echo-chamber of like-minded middle class individualists. A fine example is the ridiculous furore manufactured over Laura Kuenssberg reading out a handful of anti-Lineker Tweets on her Sunday BBC programme. How dare she! Someone asked how many thousands of supportive Tweets she would have had to trawl through to find the few criticising Lineker. And that is precisely the point: the silent and long-suffering majority do not use middle-class Twitter, just as they don’t attend rock festivals to sing “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”. These are expensive libertarian, middle-class, globaliser pursuits presented as the prevailing orthodoxy. And the Brexit vote showed just how blindly wrong and misleading that is.

You might argue that the voiceless and under-privileged have a chance to express their views on every polling day, and indeed they did in the last general election, voting in their droves for the only candidate even to acknowledge their existence. In the main, however, they face a choice between three or four virtually identical political parties, all explicitly devoted to business-first economic policies and right-wing libertarian, individualistic values. The Labour Party does not even dare to offer support to those now able to strike, thanks to the labour shortage. I would like to credit Brexit with creating this renewed balance in the worker-business relationship, but it has probably more to do with a general realisation among the population during the pandemic of just how pointless and demoralising so many jobs are - and just how satisfying it can be to spend your time as you wish.

It is therefore catastrophic that an institution such as the BBC has sunk, in a craven and cowardly fashion, to giving in to the unthinking and hyper-smug Lineker and his celebrity cronies who have no concerns over where their next meal will come from, whether the BBC fires them or not. Which it should. Football pundits are ten-a-penny and most are as poor as you would expect amateur presenters to be. 


MARCH 12 2023

FREE SPEECH FOR LINEKER! DEATH TO JK ROWLING!

Good on you, Gary! Leverage that audience! Delight your followers! But not you, JK. You’re a witch with evil, hateful views and must be cancelled, silenced, threatened with violence and death. So go Gary go and spread you hatred of the government - all the right-wing luvvie libertarians will circle round with their wagons to defend you, even though they haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. But the trouble with you, JK, is that you’re clear: you mount a coherent, intelligent and thought-out argument in the form of a reasoned debate. You throw out the occasional soundbite but you have something positive and meaningful to contribute. So it’s 6-0 to Gary. JK, you could learn so much. Look how Gary does it - he fires off a little soundbite denying there is a problem at all with illegal migration and then says he hates the government - which we all knew anyway. The agonising soreness over losing the Brexit argument looks like becoming permanent among the bitter and twisted.

There are so many issues involved in the Gary Lineker case that it almost defies untangling: there are principles, opinions, policies, guidelines, morals, precedents, BBC competence and plenty more. But let us have a go and start with an easy one. That Lineker broke the BBC guidelines on political bias is not in doubt. He is a TV monster entirely of the BBC’s own making, feted and rewarded at absurd levels to the point where his natural smugness and arrogance clearly make him feel bigger than the corporation itself. Even so, the BBC rules obviously apply to him and he has wantonly disobeyed them.

But, say his apologists, others have done the same. What about Alan Sugar in 2014 endorsing Boris Johnson as a potential Tory leader? Yes, true, Sugar should have been reprimanded. But his association with the BBC is far weaker than Lineker’s and his following smaller. But does this failure to address Sugar’s misdemeanour put the footballer in the clear? Of course, not. Why should it? But the BBC has got itself in the most appalling tangle by pulling up Lineker for churning out precisely the same biased, ignorant and toxic opinions that are spread by almost all of its presenters, comedians and other entertainers. Joe Lycett’s disgraceful introduction to the Commonwealth Games last year was a particularly low point but the Now Show and the News Quiz, for example, have become unlistenable to anyone who refuses to buy into the rightist libertarian individualist cult that has taken over most of broadcasting and the arts. To endorse such hate-fiiled and poisonous views in a comedy show and then feign horror at an identical tweet smacks of insistency at best.

Comedy shows, of course, have always attacked politicians and fed off political satire. Spitting Image was vicious in its assaults on all public figures, and its portrayal of the Queen Mother as a gin-soaked dipsomaniac was especially cruel. But it trained its guns on all parties equally: anyone in the public eye was fair game and Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock were ridiculed in equal measure. This no longer happens. Humour is all one-way - anti-government, or more precisely, anti-Brexit. The working class half of the population that supported Brexit is continually told to feel foolish by the constant barrage of Europhile mockery.   

Then we have the knotty problem of free speech. And it is interesting that those prepared to go the barricades in support of Lineker’s right to free speech are among the most outspoken in cancelling, silencing and threatening the likes of JK Rowling, Janice Turner and the raft of scientists who dare to question dubious beliefs on gender identity. I believe in the right to free speech but, like all rights, it cannot be absolute. Every right eventually rubs up against another and has to be curtailed. Our right to free speech is therefore limited: incitement to various hatreds is forbidden, for obvious reasons; we have laws on defamation and libel; the damage done by dangerous and foolish ideologies, such as conspiracy theories, has to be limited; and indeed, today’s cancel culture goes to ludicrous lengths in a bid to curtail our freedoms to say, write, hear and read what we wish. So should Lineker be allowed to say whatever he likes? A headline on a column in The Times yesterday asked why the presenter should not be allowed to speak his mind. But it could equally validly be asked what he should be allowed to lecture on matters about which he knows little and which has no responsibility for dealing with. His offensive tweet first denies that there is a migrant problem at all - flying completely in the face of reality - and then pours hatred and bile on the people tasked with preventing the rapidly growing criminality that is causing death and mayhem on an industrial scale. His ignorance alone is surely grounds enough for demanding that he refrains from such simplistic politicking in future and answers the question as to whether he should be allowed to say anything he chooses.

Social media plays a part, too. We have yet to grasp the depth and breadth of the harm that unfettered social media is causing to societies. Allowing ignorant, biased and hate-filled people unfiltered access to millions of “followers” can have lethal consequences. Even before social media, “influencers”, such as religious cult leaders, were able to manipulate the thinking of others - even up to the point of mass suicides. But they had to work so hard to achieve such control that incidences were rare. Today, anyone in the public eye can spread their venom with a few clicks on a keypad. Andrew Tate is a prime example. Free speech for Tate, anyone? Thirty years ago, Gary Lineker would not have been able to spread his views via an unchallengeable medium: the biases of show business personalities and sports people were largely unknown. I recall learning that Cilla Black was a Tory and feeling quite shocked, not just that she could be a Tory but that this was something I now knew. And this wasn’t a view she was able just to announce in a few words, she had to argue her case and justify her stance. Twitter sweeps away all these checks and balances, allowing anyone to say anything, no matter how vicious or stupid. She was prepared to enter the political fray and face the opposition. Lineker hasn’t given anyone this opportunity: he’s poured out his idiotic, half-baked little “truths” and run away: no debate, no reasoned argument, not even any positive proposals for solving a problem that the world can see - but that he denies even exists. This is simply not good enough. You want to be a politician? Then enter the debate and open up your ideas and way of thinking to scrutiny.

This, however, Lineker cannot do, as his “thinking”, such as it is, falls apart at the first hurdle. “There is no problem,” he says. Er…wrong. “I hate the government - they’re talking like Nazis,” he says. Again, idiotic, wrong and offensive. What would happen if such hate speech led to an attack on the home secretary or other government minister? Would Lineker tweet that they got what they deserved? In the post Jo Cox era, temperate, intelligent and informed political debate is essential. The ill-informed Lineker must be made to understand this.

As with all of those pouring their hatred on to the government as it seeks to tackle to people smuggling rackets, Lineker has nothing positive to offer. He and other rose-tinted right-wing libertarians resort to that convenient three-word slogan “safe legal routes” for migration. Sounds marvellous. But what does this utterly vacuous phrase actually mean? How would these “legal routes” work? To whom would they apply? Would anyone unhappy at home in Bangladesh, Nigeria or Albania be able to fill in a form and apply to live in Britain? Where would they do this? How many would the UK be prepared to provide a home for? How many would apply? An open system such as this would invite applications from tens, possibly hundreds of millions of people. There is no bureaucracy in the world that could cope with this. Which is why the current safe legal routes operate as they do, via the United Nations. The UNHCR identifies real refugees who are in the most dire need - as opposed to the millions and millions of potential economic migrants - and countries, including the UK, help them. If the mythical gay teenage African, persecuted at home, fell into the category of the world’s most vulnerable and endangered people, then he would have a safe route to Britain, or many other compassionate countries.

Were the UK government to advocate sending gunboats into the Channel to turn back the inflatables, or sink them, then public opinion would be enough to prevent it happening. But ministers’ measured and reasonable attempts to close down an inhumane trade that risks people’s lives should be debated intelligently, not summarily trashed by “influencers”. I am no fan of Suella Braverman, but I found it almost impossible to disagree with the detailed and measured case she made for the government’s proposals in a radio interview and in Parliament this week. Anyone prepared to listen patiently to the debate will also have heard sensible commentators this week pointing out that the current set of international laws and rights declarations were drawn up in a different era and today appear hopelessly inappropriate, dysfunctional and prone to making a bad situation far far worse. It is shameful of those who have no solutions to offer to stand in the way of the only non-violent means of resolving the issue - the “activist blob” of individuals who identify as leftists but in fact are firmly in the right-wing, libertarian, individualist tradition. Their abuse of the legal system - using delaying tactics and endless spurious appeals - has already resulted in criminals properly prepared for deportation being freed to commit further horrific crimes.

And then there is France, the country that allows migrants to wander across to the Channel coast, the country that refuses to provide or care for them, leaving them to fester in temporary camps. Again, shame on the French MEP who told the Today programme this week that these people are “human beings”, when France treats them like animals to be herded across to the UK as quickly as possible. This is how France deals with its migrant crisis. It takes the UK’s money and gives the migrant boats a helpful little push in our direction, occasionally sticking a knife in one or two to justify demanding more millions from British taxpayers. But then, what interest does France have in stopping the crossings?

These are all issues that demand proper debate, not a hate-filled little tweet from someone I found to be completely different from his public image when I spent an afternoon with him several years ago. I had expected a fun interview, with banter and self-deprecation and a two-way confrontation. Instead, I found a smug, self-obsessed and arrogant ex-footballer. It surprised me then how and why the BBC wanted or needed to create such a deity; it surprises me even more now. 

TODAY EVEN POLITICISES THE DEATH OF TOPOL

The sad death of Topol, the actor known for all time for his role in Fiddler on the Roof, was reported on the BBC’s Today Programme last week. Nick Robinson said he had seen the musical and the programme played part of the soundtrack. And as the lengthy item was drawing to a close, Robinson suggested we should all watch “Fiddler” again, to absorb its message on refugees. I wondered why the obituary had dragged on for so long.

FEBRUARY 22 2023

Much has been written about the seemingly reactionary views of Lee Anderson, the new Tory party deputy chairman. Why on earth, goes the cry, did Rishi Sunak, prime minister, appoint a man who advocates the return of the death penalty? But Anderson’s journey from deep-rooted, left-wing labour politics is far more interesting and important than his current opinions. Because the path he has taken is extremely well trod and illustrates beautifully how and why the Labour Party’s “red wall” turned blue.

Many commentators assume this colour shift took place in 2019, sparked by Boris Johnson’s charisma, appeal to the working class and his determination to bring an end to the appalling stalemate over the implementation of Brexit. But the first hints of redness in the neglected working class areas of northern England could be detected much earlier. While Gordon Brown was fuelling the cheap money fires then raging around the world and preparing to crash the blinkered western economies, swathes of workers were experiencing competition for their jobs and livelihoods from east Europeans now free to move to the UK. From 2005 onwards, millions arrived to enjoy the higher wages on offer. Unfortunately, the new workers were prepared to work for far less, as even reduced UK pay rates were still well above those on offer at home.

Inevitably, wages and conditions were undermined. And those in sectors such as the trades, hospitality or lesser skilled jobs all noticed. The seeds of the UK’s exit from the EU had been sown. New Labour, an avowedly pro-business party at the time, was little inclined to intervene, while old Labour catastrophically failed to represent this constituency. Labour’s heartlands in the country’s industrial areas were abandoned and even left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn did nothing during his bizarre tenure, perhaps held hostage by the party’s trendy Islington brigades, so passionately pro-EU, passionately pro free movement, passionately pro cheap flat whites. By the time this century moved into its teens, those “red wall” areas knew full well that Labour would not protect them from the expansion of the UK’s labour market to the Russian border. Suddenly unrepresented, they were searching for a saviour; someone who understood their plight and was prepared to do something about it.

Into this melee walked the naïve David Cameron, promising a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The neglected north saw its chance: vote Brexit. With Corbyn lacking the sense to tune into his natural supporters’ hopes and fears and backing Remain, and half the parliamentary Tory Party using every trick in the book to frustrate the implementation of Brexit, where could those old Labour supporters turn? The only mainstream politicians representing their interests were the Tory Brexiteers, culminating in Johnson’s landslide in 2019.

And who had followed this precise same route? Lee Anderson. There will be those who claim that ageing has changed his views. And there may be some truth in this. But Anderson, and millions more like him, are now reluctant Tory supporters because of the failure of Labour; they have nowhere else to go.

The next election is likely to land the country with a Labour government under the leadership of Keir Starmer, an archetypal pro-EU Islington brigade politician, passionately pro free movement, passionately pro cheap flat whites. In London, Labour already has Sadiq Khan, the preening little mayor openly campaigning for a return to the EU free market, with all the alleged business benefits that resuming free movement would bring! By what he has said and done in the past, we must assume that Starmer believes this, too. He might say that Brexit is done and we must move on – but who should trust him? Certainly not the millions of Lee Andersons. And certainly not me.

THE ROTTEN UNIVERSITY BUSINESS

Universities are supposed to be educating the country’s young, making them job-ready, armed with high literacy and numeracy skills, creative talents and expertise in every aspect of science and technology. But they are not. These goals have slipped way down their list of priorities. Top of that list is business success and making money. Educating local youngsters does not tick that box – but educating the rest of the world does. UK institutions are now awash with lucrative foreign students, some barely able to speak English (I speak from personal “lived experience”!) This is the legacy of Tony Blair’s idiotic “education education education” mantra.

           

DECEMBER 11 2022

What a lovely and thoughtful column in yesterday's Sunday Times by Matthew Syed. All he did was point out that grief, sadness and a host of other "negative" feelings are not mental health issues, they are part of being human, of caring, of loving. They are the inevitable and necessary flip-sides of joy and happiness, passion and comfort. He quotes CS Lewis: “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” It is, indeed, the deal.

RISHI NOW GETTING THINGS WRONG

The new prime minister cannot rely on being "nice", "sensible" and a "safe pair of hands" for much longer. Real issues and challenges need addressing urgently if Rishi Sunak is not to be seen as weak and his near identical twin, Keir Starmer, as the sensible strong one. The easiest and quickest win for the government would be to settle the public sector strikes, especially those blighting the health service.

Nurses deserve to be paid more a lot more. They are now very poorly rewarded and appallingly undervalued, given the priceless nature of the work they perform. They are also overworked because a succession of governments running down the profession has left it threadbare and unattractive. A flight to the relatively less badly paid private sector and to other more lucrative and easier occupations is an obvious consequence. I have yet to read a story complaining of a shortage of nurses in the private sector. Indeed, a friend challenged me on Saturday afternoon when I said a group of us retired folk should buy one of the many small abandoned villages in Spain that were written about in The Times that day, and hire a couple of nurses to see us through our dotage. He said that would be fine if we could find any nurses, because there aren't any. I replied that if the pay was right, there would be nurses.

Public sector workers should not need to strike for a fair wage increase. The pay review body should recognise their value and importance and make recommendations accordingly: suggesting that an average 2 per cent rise is sufficient, as is reported, when private sector pay is going up by a headline average of 6 or 7 per cent, is bound to spark anger. It is then incendiary and disingenuous of ministers to refuse to speak to nurses' union leaders on the grounds that the employer is the NHS: everyone knows the government holds the purse strings it says as much every day and makes it the reason for limiting wage increases.

The right way forward for Rishi is to accept these basic truths and agree a medium to long term strategy with providers of essential public services, such as nurses and ambulance crews, that makes these professions attractive and sought-after again. Sit down with the workers, agree a six or seven year package that will increase pay by at least a third in real terms and make the working life easier, more efficient and more fulfilling, and you come away looking strong and decisive, give nurses and the like a better future, and all without breaking the bank next year. And Rishi: do it now, because if you don't, Keir will propose it and you'll look a dithering fool.


DECEMBER 11 2022

England are out of the disgraced world cup – hoorah! And it was all down to Harry Kane – a player I said should have been sidelined before a ball was kicked (see November 21, below). I did not watch any of the qualifying games, and I've seen none of the tournament matches, and my only concern is that all of the West Ham players involved return uninjured. Declan Rice seems to be OK but there have been scares around Morocco's Nayef Aguerd, a top-class defender who has yet to start a Premiership game for the Hammers since they bought him in the summer, thanks to injury.

So this season is looking a write-off for my team. And what a horrible, messy, disrupted season it is, thanks to the disgusting Fifa event. Pity the poor lower leagues, who have battled on while no one is really watching, all eyes on the Middle East. To add to the list of reasons the world cup should never have been awarded to a country with no infrastructure and a permanent population the size of Greater Manchester is the fact that despite the hundreds of workers' deaths, the country could still only provide eight stadiums, when 12 were needed. This has resulted in poor pitches and the environmentally dubious growing of huge areas of spare grass for repairs or complete replacement.

A friend said last night that we should not exclude the Middle East or an Arab country from hosting a world cup, and I agree, even though the heat in the Gulf area means football will never be huge and always impractical. But North Africa would surely be a better choice – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt all have credible teams, facilities and populations. Saudi Arabia might be hard to stomach – but we do send them lots of weapons – and Iran would be controversial. But at least they all have more than one city.

SUSSEX, GET THEE TO CALIFORNIA – AND SHUT UP

You have to feel sorry for poor Harry Markle. He did endure a horrible childhood, including the ghastly and sudden death of his much-loved mother. He has problems and issues that it would be difficult for any family to contend with, let alone one in the public eye. His brother William seems to have come to some sort of peace and has found a stable but vibrant and attractive partner to provide comfort and support. Harry has chosen an airhead. Self-obsessed, narcissistic, parasitic and no use to anyone, Meghan is a disaster for Harry; she is the precise opposite of what he needs. The Netflix series, which I suspect we will have to suffer watching out of journalistic curiosity, provides all the proof anyone needs that this is a vicious, bullying woman who, coming from a broken family, is hell-bent on destroying another. She is a spoilt brat who, unable to have her own way in the UK, ran back "home" and began lashing out. Hypocritical, too: if the royal; family is so evil, then renounce all titles and have done with it. This would, at least, remove one extra aggravating factor from your absurd claims.

It's easy to say that we should ignore the Sussexes and their childish ravings, but that would be to ignore the damage they are doing to the reputation of Britain. It's easy to hurl unfounded allegations of racism but far harder to clean away the muddy smears that will inevitably stick in the minds of the unthinking, ignorant and gullible. Unfortunately, there are many who fall into this category around the world, with plenty in decision-making positions at all levels. And so if that grant you were hoping for from America or elsewhere is cancelled because of the UK's damaged reputation, you know where the blame lies.

HUSSEY VERSUS FULANI

We can also feel sorry for poor Ngozi Fulani, the black British charity boss who was asked repeatedly by 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey, former Queen's lady-in-waiting, where she was from. We know that black people have suffered discrimination and that Britain contains plenty of unpleasant people happy to insult anyone of colour. We also know that the UK is one of the most racially tolerant countries in the world and that it tries its hardest to be better. When black people are deliberately insulted, it is right that the offence should be called out and dealt with; when the offence taken is a deliberate act in itself, then we are in a different realm.

I am not at all surprised that Fulani received much online abuse for her behaviour following the most minor of contretemps with Lady Hussey. She purposefully destroyed the life and reputation of an otherwise blameless elderly woman for not sticking to the letter of the updated rule book concerning acceptable small talk. It was a nasty, unnecessary thing to do – more the behaviour of a six-year-old tell-tale than a mature, intelligent grown up equipped to deal with such a triviality on the spot. She could easily have put Lady Hussey in her place and helped her to understand why her persistent questioning was rude and moved on. Her subsequent absurdly exaggerated "pain" made her look even more phoney and vicious, provoking an understandable reaction.

Yes, Lady Hussey was wrong and should have known better in her position. And her timing was catastrophic – coinciding perfectly with the ludicrous wailing from California that the royal family is institutionally racist. If that is indeed the case, then virtually every family in the UK is equally racist: I would not put it past my 88-year-old mother, or other ageing family members, to come out with something similarly embarrassing. They do occasionally. And we correct them. And in that way society is a little improved with every incident. No need to wreck anyone's life or manufacture a bogus international incident that damages and seeks to polarise us all.

NOVEMBER 23 2022

All hail Keir Starmer. Credit where it is due. He appears to have seen the light! The Labour Party leader's address to the Confederation of British Industry yesterday said precisely what Labour leaders should have been saying for the past 20 years: undermining jobs and the labour force by feeding off a constantly gushing supply of cheap imported workers is neither acceptable nor sustainable. For the past 20 years or more, British business has used foreign workers to degrade, and in many cases destroy, the pay, conditions and status of so many lines of work. There is nothing intrinsically awful about working in a factory, an abattoir, a field picking crops, driving a delivery van, or serving in a cafe or bar – most of us have experience of one or all of those. I have experienced them all at various times. What is awful is the way people have come to be treated when performing these tasks. We need to learn to separate the nature of the task from the treatment meted out to those expected to carry it out: they are very different things, but easily confused.

What access to cheap migrant labour has achieved is a catastrophic demolition of the status, enjoyment, pay, conditions and social structures surrounding these roles. Working on the land was once a valuable social activity with an annual calendar built to accommodate its seasonal demands; it still could be. But the factory farms that import virtual slave labour – passports surrendered, piece-work pay, outrageous hours, caravan living, communal facilities, etc – have made working on the land unrealistic for native workers. Similarly, our seemingly endless need for more nurses and staff in all forms of social care results not from a shortage of youngsters wishing to pursue this fulfilling and once highly desirable career but from the miserable rates of pay and high-handed and contemptuous treatment they have to face – all enabled by a ready supply of migrant workers prepared to endure such conditions because, incredibly, they are still better than they can find at home.

This mismatch between the value and importance of the job and the pay and conditions attached to it has been festering for so long that the gap between where we are and where we should be, in terms of rewarding people working in essential industries, is now huge and cannot be rectified in a short time without causing even more damage. So while it is welcome that Starmer has at last understood what a few of us have been saying for years, his measure as a decent leader will only be seen when we discover how he plans to use this new-found insight. And let us not forget that cheap migrant labour swung the vote on Brexit: if the likes of Starmer had undergone such a magical conversion before the country's working environment sank into such a sorry state, and they had forced the EU to take such complaints seriously, then Brexit might never have been needed.

What is required now is a mature and intelligent debate about how we bridge the enormous gap between essential work and the way those jobs are valued. The rail unions, nurses, civil servant and more, along with TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, who I have met several times and like and respect, need to recognise that closing the chasm between important jobs and the rewards attached to them is a long-term project, but one that must transcend party politics and will continue unabated until local workers are lured from their inactivity and the currently repugnant occupations are attracting queues of applicants. Starmer could be leading this mission: it has taken a generation and more to wreck these jobs; it will take a generation to restore them. But setting out a clear path now, with a schedule of significant changes, should work to pacify the understandably hungry unions and show unhappy workers that things really can only get better.

NOVEMBER 21 2022

GENERATION LAUGHING STOCK

"Nearly half of the young believe Britain is steeped in racism", says a horrifying headline in The Times today. Sadly, it is all too believable, given the nonsense they are exposed to: education used to be about educating pupils; today it is about indoctrinating them into some absurd cult of self-flagellation or other. While the fascist bullies of the trans lobby assure every vulnerable and confused youngster that their problems are caused entirely by being the wrong gender, the "critical race" theorists tell UK children that their country is built upon, and remains riddled with, racism – "structurally racist". No one needs to deny that things were different and unsavoury in the past. Of course they were, and we need to study this history and learn from it. Which this country has been exceptionally good at.

There are still racist elements and always will be. But any "survey" that seeks to measure attitudes of young people should also challenge them. After the loaded question "How racist do you think the UK is?", the questionnaire must then ask "Now please name three countries that are LESS racist than the UK". Only then does the "racism" accusation gain any meaning at all, especially when the youngsters can't name any less racist countries – because there aren't any. A mixture of "critical race theory" and dumb surveys are making our younger generations look a complete laughing stock.

KENNEDY LAUGHING STOCK

As if it wasn't enough of a travesty that the current Robert F Kennedy insults his assassinated namesake father, another nutty Kennedy is planning to give an award to the most away-with-the-fairies couple on the planet. RFK, the bonkers vaccine conspiracy theorist, is a terrific laughing stock in his own right, but Kerry Kennedy, another child of the former US attorney-general Robert F Kennedy who was killed in 1968, is threatening to outdo him. She calls herself a lawyer and human rights activist and believes that the dimwit duo, Meghan and Harry Markle, are "heroic" for challenging the "structural racism" that infects the British royal family.

Ignoring the fact that Meghan was given a huge and super-warm welcome by both the royal family and the UK public before she threw away all the goodwill in a tantrum, KK witters on about the wonderful work the fruitcakes have achieved. It beggars belief that such stupidity can be let loose in any society, let alone one that is supposed to have an education system designed to eradicate such ignorance and foolishness. The Markles are a slick money-making machine and little else: their vacuity and meaninglessness do not even register on any scale known in the real world and to award them anything merely encourages their madness. It is made all the worse by the fact that they hold themselves up as role models to the young, giving all intelligent people a duty to deny them credibility. Which makes handing them an award monstrously irresponsible.

FOOTBALL'S LAUGHING STOCK

Beer will be allowed – and now it's banned! Hahahahaha! We'll wear a rainbow armband. Oh no we won't! Hahahahahaha! From the moment the corrupt voting was completed and the announcement made that Qatar would stage the 2022 Men's World Cup, I decided to have nothing to do with it. I studiously ignored the qualifying games and have taken no interest in Fifa-organised events since that day. Qatar is a vile little country, but one that is keeping our country warm with its gas exports: we are under the thumb of a Qatari government, or family, ruling over a population that is roughly the same size as Greater Manchester's. The French are possibly even more in hock, as there had clearly been something underhand and ugly going on during the lobbying period before the vote – and some very lucrative deals heading France's way shortly afterwards, we understand. So no one is going to speak truth to this ghastly, over-heated den of bigotry, backwardness and religion.

In that light, I am delighted the past few days have proved so humiliating for Fifa and several of the countries and players involved: it is an event that should never have been allowed to take place and England's players should never have boarded the flight. It was always obvious this would be an odious and awkward shambles, and so it is proving to be.

It has to be admitted that other events have been held in disreputable countries and we should also remember that when England won the World Cup in 1966 at Wembley, homosexuality was illegal in the UK. But we have moved on, learned and redeemed ourselves. Any country now refusing to recognise women's rights, gay rights and workers' rights has no excuse. Some argue that China and Russia are as disreputable as Qatar and indeed they are, today. But at the time they were awarded Olympics and World Cups, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that they wished to join the global community, which made their applications acceptable. Sadly, this hope later faded. And at least these were appropriate countries in terms of the sports being played: China and Russia are both athletics superpowers and have had strong national football teams; they have infrastructure, an interested population, a benign climate. Qatar has none of these plus, in many ways, its record is even worse than China's and, until recently, Russia's.

One means of establishing whether a country is fit to host a significant men's tournament is to insist it hosts the women's version, too. Would Qatar have passed this simple test?

Meanwhile, on the footballing front, every England world cup squad contains a player that has to be discarded for the good of the team. In 1966 it was the unlucky Jimmy Greaves, who lost his place through injury to Geoff Hurst and never regained it. More recently it was Wayne Rooney – way past his best but playing for a manager who insisted on building a team around him. Failure was inevitable, predictable – and incredibly accuratelypredicted (see my Tweet of June 19 2014!). This time, it's Harry Kane. England's squad is packed with exciting young players who make him look a relic from another age. Sorry Harry, you need to take one for the team, or England's stay in the hell-hole of Qatar will be short-lived.

SUNDAY TIMES LAUGHING STOCK

The UK is to seek a Swiss-style relationship with the EU, screams yesterday's Sunday Times splash headline. The UK is NOT to seek a Swiss-style relationship with the EU, says The Times this morning. I said yesterday when I saw that headline that it would not stand. The Sunday Times' record on getting big political movements right is abysmal and close to zero and so it was not a difficult call to make. But as a former editor, it does trouble me that no one at The Sunday Times saw fit to come to the same conclusion: its story was based on little more than a vague rumour, no doubt planted by a Remoaner Tory insider. Why was it not checked? Why were the actual decision-makers not asked for a response? The Sunday Times, once again, makes itself look a laughing stock.

TROUBLED AGAIN BY SLOPPY JOURNALISM

The Times is not alone in allowing incorrect and prejudicial assumptions to become facts in its retelling of familiar stories – but it is the paper I read and so the one I notice. A prime example from this morning's edition: "Awaab's parents complained repeatedly about the state of their flat in the three years before his death...but were ignored." This is plainly wrong, even according to The Times' own highly slapdash analysis that ran last week. The family was not ignored. Several agencies responded until the family instructed a solicitor, at which point action is, to all intents and purposes, frozen. This is a case of lazy, casual shorthand that can, when so wrong, prove so misleading.

In its big feature on this tragic death a couple of days ago, there were many many unasked questions and contradictions and had I been in charge of the newsdesk that night, I would have thrown the story back to have it explained properly. I have not seen in any medium any explanation of what actions the family members themselves took to protect their child from the mould; they appear to bear no responsibility whatsoever for his falling ill. Similarly, there has been no reporting of how the flat fell into such a sorry state when presumably – we don't know, because it doesn't appear to be an issue to anyone – it was in a reasonable state when the family first moved in. All we know is that they held someone else entirely responsible for the condition of the place in which they were living and complained repeatedly. It seems they were expected to do no more. I cannot help but think that the pendulum of correctness has swung beyond the sensible equilibrium. I suspect that 30 or 40 years ago, this terrible story would have been presented more as "Migrant family do nothing as mould kills their baby son". This would have been equally one-sided and racist. But to ignore their role entirely is just as blinkered.

It has to be said, in mitigation, that complaining does seem to be a sufficient response to any difficulty. The Times listed a few appalling cases of late ambulance arrivals, some of many hours and one of a 19-hour wait at a care home! Again, there was no suggestion that any of the complainants, on finding the ambulance was not arriving, should have to take any action of their own. And as for a care home waiting 19 hours for an ambulance! Was there really no other means of transporting a patient to hospital – or was it really not that serious? We don't know, because the sloppy journalism only tells us part of the story.

AND TROUBLED BY LAZY BUSINESSES

I am also troubled by lazy businesses. "Labour shortages hold Britain back, CBI to tell Sunak" reads the headline. And I am sure businesses do really believe it to be the case. But the alleged and mysterious five million or so inactive workers in the UK do not seem to count as a resource to be nurtured. It is far easier for lazy businesses to call for imported cheap labour than to address the issues of poor pay, conditions and training that have driven so many to reject the world of work in the past two years. Billions of pounds have been removed from pension funds to enable individuals to liberate themselves from the joyless drudgery of so many workplaces and to enjoy the only lives they will have. They have made a choice. It might not be an economically rational one but, for the time being at least, it is satisfying them.

Henry Ford faced a similar problem in the early 20th century, when he realised that workers in his factory in Detroit found conditions so awful they kept leaving, creating an enormous and swift turnover of labour. His response: double the pay and shorten the shifts. The $5 a day reward for workers saw people migrating across the country to seek work with Ford. This is how to solve the problems of a so-called labour shortage: there is no "shortage", just a strong dislike of many employers. Change the pay and conditions, train them, and they will come. There are supposed to be five million waiting to be lured back. The lazy way is to argue for cheap imports.

No doubt Remoaners will argue that businesses are suffering because of Brexit and the flight of so many EU nationals back to eastern Europe. Even some Brexit-supporting businesses are calling for more imported labour. But the UK must resist. Nigel Farage and I both argued in favour of Brexit – but businesses taking the Farage line on EU membership wanted freedom for themselves; I wanted worker power. Workers now have the power to choose whether they work or not, or whether to strike or not. So I have partly achieved what I was after from Brexit – and businesses don't seem to like it.


NOVEMBER 11 2022

HANCOCK UNWISE TO SEEK ANOTHER HALF HOUR OF FAME

Matt Hancock is suffering now. In return for a £400,000 pay cheque (reportedly), he's happy to suffer the indignity of appearing on that ghastly ITV "Get Me Out Of Here" game show. But I fear his worst suffering, beyond being covered in slime and insects, will be the gratuitous and unfair depiction of his time as health secretary during the worst global health crisis in living memory. During the pandemic, I heard him being interviewed over and over again by openly hostile and aggressive BBC Radio 4 Today presenters seeking to undermine his and the government's efforts in balancing the saving of lives and their ways of life. And there was hardly a sentence he uttered that I could take issue with. He steered a course that led to the UK leading the world out of lockdowns along with a tragic, but inevitable, Covid-19 death toll. Just glance at the night map of Europe and you will instantly see where the Covid deaths would occur: they are all lit up like beacons and were obviously where the coronavirus would strike hardest.

Admittedly, there were few other options - politicians, scientists and other "experts" offered opinions that covered the entire spectrum, from "no lockdowns" to "total lockdowns" and so a central path was always the only realistic way. Some things, with hindsight, could have been done sooner, or later, or slightly differently but, at the time, I could not see any rational alternative to what Hancock was telling us we must do. He spoke perfect sense, day after day, under the severest pressure and the severest assault.

Yet all that the Brexit-hating commentators now seem able to remember about his tenure was that a few contracts for providing PPE were awarded to a few unlikely businesses - completely ignoring the fact that the protective equipment shortage was short-lived, thanks to the government's "throw everything at it" approach. A few misfiring deals was a small price to pay for fixing a serious problem quickly. The whole pandemic was a case of learning fast and on the hoof, so of course not everything was perfect. But I did not hear a single credible counter-suggestion from any of his opponents.

Sadly, he is now coming across as a bit of a jerk on the telly. I watched a few moments of the jungle nonsense last night and he clearly had no clue as to the lyrics of "Sweet Caroline", yet insisted on trying to sing along, embarrassingly. And allowing the understandable love affair that toppled him from office to be exposed by cameras in the office was similarly embarrassing. If I was Hancock, I would seek to substantiate my "as good as it could have been" record in fighting Covid, rather than play the fool on a celebrity game show and make himself an easy target for those who simply hate him and will never see any good in him, nor allow him an iota of credit for anything that worked.

FOLKS, YOU ARE NO SUFFRAGETTES

The suffragettes of the early 20th century had a simple, clear and easily deliverable goal: votes for women. Their campaign was designed not to hurt others, not entirely successfully, but mainly so. They disrupted meetings, and chose the targets of their more militant actions carefully, smashing windows of businesses and the wealthy, burning pavilions, churches, golf courses, second homes, all aimed at avoiding pain for the majority of the people. They did use bombs but not to injure. If there were physical victims, they were the suffragettes themselves - those who went on hunger strike in prison or who risked their lives disrupting horse races. Some supporters baulked at this escalation and it is a little acknowledged truth that there were women's groups opposed to the suffragettes: they were far from universally supported, despite the obvious rectitude of their cause. But they eventually prevailed, not entirely because of their own actions, but because of the enormous contribution women made to the war effort, which simply could not be ignored. It was a combined effort.

Similarly, anti-Vietnam War protesters demanded a straightforward change of policy; an easy, binary decision. Again, the decision fell their way but not entirely because of their protests: the US was being out-smarted in Asia and was ready to withdraw. And the pro-war policy could easily be switched to no-war, with a little humiliation and a tiny whiff of contrition.

But phasing out oil and gas is already happening in the UK, with the country one of the leading nations in reducing emissions. It is a vastly complex manoeuvre to undo and rebuild centuries of reliance on fossil fuels without causing economic and social strife on a scale that would threaten humanity anyway. It is impossible to correct an entire eco-system by making a simple binary decision. It is also the case that there is very little opposing argument to the case put forward by Just Stop Oil protesters - not even from government, or at least Boris Johnson's government. We can't be so sure about the current Sunak regime.

It is an infuriating stand-off because the devil lies in the detail - over how far and how fast we move away from oil and gas; how we balance environmental considerations against the need to build alternative sources of energy; how we keep people warm in the short term. Of course, the Just Stop Oil protesters are right, despite the vacuousness of their slogan. The authorities absolutely should not be issuing gas and oil exploration licences: this is not the future. And they absolutely should be promoting solar, wind and water power generation, offshore and onshore - everywhere. I believe every town and village in the country should have its own wind and solar farm - and tidal barrage, if by the coast and it's practical. We should care less what they look like and care more about the saving of life and the planet. I said in my book that with humanity having reached the limits of consumption of the Earth's resources, its challenge now is to find ways of living well by consuming less: not so hard to imagine for those over a certain age, who grew up with far far less.

But how to get this message across? How to win hearts and minds? Surely not by blocking the paths of ambulances, threatening the lives of critical patients; not by preventing a man from attending his father's funeral; not by forcing innocent individuals who might well be fervent supporters of the cause to miss and cancel appointments and meetings. And to sit burning fuel on the M25. These protesters are no suffragettes: they could not care less who they hurt and damage; their arrogant sense of righteousness in their own actions leads them to damage their own cause. The suffragettes would have been ashamed and embarrassed if their members had behaved so thoughtlessly and recklessly in hurting others. The hard but right way to make their point would be to go on hunger strike - and only agree to eat again when the government concedes there will be no more oil and gas licences issued in the North Sea. I would fully support that. But I cannot support the harm and damage to innocent people being caused by doing things the easy way.

NOVEMBER 7 2022

It might fit your narrative, but a lie can never be turned into the truth. Well, perhaps "lie" is a strong word to use regarding journalistic incompetence, but when a known falsehood is repeated with the aim of establishing a case, then it runs pretty close. Here are two quick and recent examples: on the BBC TV news last night, the climate correspondent, seeking to hammer home the urgency for action on global warming – which hardly needs his help in any case – referred to "one third" of Pakistan being under water due to climate-change induced flooding. My former FT colleague Tim Harford hosts a BBC radio programme devoted to debunking nonsensical statistics and a short while ago reported that claims of one third of Pakistan being flooded were incorrect: one third of the country's regions or states were affected, but a far smaller proportion of the country was actually flooded. To repeat such an obviously absurd statistic that has been exposed and explained in detail by your own organisation is sloppy at best.

Equally culpable was The Times on Saturday which, in a story about pensions, referred to the Bank of England spending £65bn on buying gilts to avert a bonds crisis. An easy mistake to make at the time, as everyone, including the BBC's holy Today programme, was referring to this fictional £65bn "loss". But since presenter Nick Robinson's grudging mea culpa in admitting the cost was actually more like £1.5bn, no one should be making this mistake again. But no, there it was – £65bn. And with no explanation that the Bank had only "pledged" to spend "up to £65bn" on buying gilts – nor that this was the Bank buying back its own debt, its own IOUs!

Pensions themselves also seem to be a huge mystery to most "experts", let alone us punters. But that doesn't stop them dishing out advice. Katherine Denham, The Times' personal finance "Troubleshooter", recently advised someone seeking to maximise their state pension that they would need 35 years of fully subscribed national insurance payments to achieve the full pension. And that £4,000 spent on plugging gaps now would be recouped in a couple of years. It sounds simple and a no-brainer: dig into those savings and get your money back in no time – after that, it's all "profit". The problem, however, is that this is dangerously wrong and misleading.

First, it only works if the individual has never been contracted out of Serps (state earnings related pension scheme), which most people will have been on becoming members of a company scheme. This pushes up the required number of qualifying years well into the 40s for those who spent long periods contracted out. I will need 47 years, for example. Second, anyone with a decent occupational pension or other income could be in, or be pushed into, a higher tax band, meaning that the annual net benefit of raising your gross state pension by £2,000 a year from the guaranteed minimum to the maximum will be £1,200, as 40 per cent of your increased income could go in tax. Assuming a state pension of £10,000, the pensioner would, in effect, receive £6,000 after tax. The minimum pension of, say £8,000, might provide £4,800 after tax – a difference of £1,200, which would require several more years for the lump sum national insurance payment to be recouped. This is a highly complex and technical subject which "troubleshooters" try to simplify, including the over-excitable and not-always-rightMartin Lewis. The government website does provide a snapshot of where each person stands, but it is inevitably confusing and almost impossible to work out what to pay without individual personal advice. The "experts" should know better than to provide misleading advice that could result in individuals spending large sums for far less benefit than they were led to expect.


NOVEMBER 3 2022

A deep-seated difficulty with the migrant debate is that each side is talking about different things. Those desperate to keep the migrants coming and to roll out the red carpet for them see them all as refugees, escaping hardship and deserving of help. Those who see the damage being done to communities and the drain on resources tend to see them all as illegal migrants who have willingly participated in the vile people-trafficking industry now established in France and therefore undeserving of help. While there might well be some genuine refugees among those crossing the Channel, all the evidence presented to us (by a government-hating media, no less) suggests the latter view is the more accurate. A clearer definition of terms would lead to a more informed debate.

NOT JUST BIASED – BUT USELESS, TOO

Amol Rajan. BBC Today programme news presenter. Utterly useless. This morning, he was interviewing a man about the Albanian "invasion" of Kent, and was happy to let the interviewee heap the blame on the UK government. The interviewee said there were actions Britain could take. Rajan then posed another question-cum-statement, with the response again concluding with the interviewee claiming there was much the UK could do to stem the flow of migrants. On neither occasion did Rajan think to ask what those actions might be. A vital skill of a real journalist is to listen to the interviewee and interact with them, responding to their statements. But Rajan is so full of himself, he can't do this. And so the listeners were left wondering what on earth it is that Britain can do to resolve this nightmare. Whether the interviewee had genuinely helpful ideas or was just ranting, we will now never know.


NOVEMBER 2 2022

First, the astonishing and appalling discovery that Maria Caulfield, the new minister for women, is a raving anti-abortionist. How can this appointment have ever been made? As if her intolerance of abortion is not enough, she had the temerity to argue that the gangs outside abortion clinics and hospitals might contain individuals seeking to comfort those attending appointments and should therefore be allowed to continue harassing women. She cannot possibly believe this idiocy and is therefore a liar, and clearly unfit to be a minister of any sort, especially for women.

WHAT IS IT, IF NOT AN INVASION?

I have no problem with home secretary Suella Braverman using the word "invasion" to describe the invasion of our shores by illegal and unwanted migrants seeking to take advantage of the UK's generosity, kindness and laxity. Their actions comprise the very definition of an invasion, just as in "pitch invasion" or "invasion of privacy" "an incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity" or "an unwelcome intrusion into another's domain". It describes it precisely.

As I say in my book, the opponents of all measures aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from France are responsible for the current discomfort experienced at some of the UK's reception centres. These are establishments that the UK should not need and certainly does not want: they are forced upon us by economic migrants with enough money to participate in the cycle of violent organised crime that gives them their best chance of crossing the Channel and entering Britain illegally. To say the welcome is insufficiently luxurious is akin to criticising a householder for having a paltry collection of valuables for a burglar to steal and insisting they build an extension to accommodate more burglary. At least on British soil they are safe from the bombing, gunfire, persecution and torture they were presumably exposed to....in France.

For this is indeed a French problem. France's uncontrolled borders cause huge headaches for the country, which it is more than happy to export to the UK, firstly because it eases its own desperate plight and second, because it riles the British. This is why no deal with pipsqueak Macron will ameliorate the all-round suffering – the French have no interest in slowing the traffic.

There is, of course, much that the UK could do itself – all of it, sadly, opposed by hyper-liberal individualists posing as upholders of human rights. Identity cards, as proposed by The Times today would remove a plethora of incentives to reach the UK, making access to work, benefits and services dependent upon having a valid right to be in the country. This would merely put us in line with several other European countries, yet is painted by some as a denial of fundamental liberties. It would, in fact, be no more onerous or intrusive than holding a passport, a National Insurance number or a driving licence.

The UK could also amend legislation so that anyone arriving illegally is automatically declared persona non grata and subject to deportation, within days, to Rwanda, France, their country of origin or even a country of their own choosing. This might create conflict with international obligations towards those seeking refuge or asylum – but given that, by definition, those crossing the Channel from France have already reached a country of refuge or asylum, this should not be an insurmountable obstacle. If the civil rights lawyers manage to scupper this option (as they have every other possible solution to this trade in death and misery), then setting up extensive detention centres, whether on land or at sea, as proposed by a high-ranking official yesterday, and a high-speed asylum process with instant deportation would be a serious deterrent to the tens of thousands living in French squalor awaiting a calm day to risk their lives at sea. Little criticism is levelled at France for its treatment of migrants; in fact, it deflects blame on to Britain for not welcoming them!

The point of this is to highlight how hideously distorted this debate has become. The prime cause – France – escapes condemnation, while the UK is lambasted for failing to spend taxpayers' money on providing a five-star welcome. Our country can do no right.

RISHI CAN DO NO RIGHT

Rishi Sunak can do no right, either. The prime minister said, perfectly reasonably, that he would not be attending the forthcoming climate summit in Egypt because he was needed at home to oversee the plan for economic recovery following the short-lived Truss debacle. He had appointed an environment secretary perfectly capable of ensuring our voice was heard and message brought home. Following a ridiculous assault on his allegedly casual approach towards the environment, he now appears to have caved in, leaving himself looking weak – and open to charges that he ought to be at home at a time like this and others can cover the COP conference! He could not win, whatever he decided – but he has managed to harvest the worst of all worlds by changing his mind.

THANK GOODNESS I DISAGREE WITH MELANIE PHILLIPS AGAIN

I grow anxious when I find myself agreeing with the likes of Melanie Phillips and her ideological rants. Fortunately, it does not happen often – but on the basis that no one can possibly be wrong on every subject all of the time, I put up with occasional convergences in our thinking. But we are poles apart again on the subject of economic growth, thank goodness.

Her latest accusation, made in her column yesterday's edition of The Times, is fired at the World Economic Forum and a paper issued in June that tries to explain (not very well) theories surrounding the concept of "degrowth", which is the idea that in order to preserve the planet, we have to live with less. This seems an entirely uncontroversial notion, given that the globe has reached peak consumption and is dying before our very eyes. However, this is not Melanie's interpretation. She implies that economic growth means "progress, advancement, improvement". She claims degrowth means deindustrialisation, and that growth is "hardwired into us as human beings. To want to halt growth is akin to wanting to stop the world."

This extraordinarily short-sighted view makes no mention of what might happen if humans continue to consume resources at their present rate and beyond. She dismisses the WEF reassurance that living with less does not mean "living in caves with candles", as if it is not possible to live more simply.

As I say in my book, our challenge is work out how we can live well with less. There is no choice in the matter: the Earth cannot support present and growing populations indefinitely. This is what is actually hardwired into nature: when a population of any creature becomes too great it cannot be sustained and will die. The meaningless pursuit of economic growth for its own sake provides no progress: it is deeply conservative and rests on perpetuating a state of permanent dissatisfaction designed to encourage endless and pointless consumption that stimulates economic activity but breeds only further discontent. It can never be fulfilling to buy goods for which you have no great need, or even desire; it can never be a substitute for achievement or creativity. Industrialisation has, of course brought progress in many areas – and this is our challenge: to decide what really matters. During the pandemic we found no difficulty in defining "key workers"; it would be no more difficult to define "key functions" that benefit society as a whole, either by providing essential services or scientific advances. There is no reason for degrowth to require humanity to regress: quite the opposite – we might grow to be more than mere shoppers.

OCTOBER 28 2022

Whatever happened to substance and principle in politics? The Labour Party simply cannot continue behaving as if its leaders were acting in the Monty Python Argument sketch ("Yes it", "No it isn't", "Yes it is", "Oh this isn't a proper argument", "Yes it is", "No it isn't", etc). For example, Rishi Sunak's suggestion that he is too busy with the domestic agenda to fly to the COP27 meeting in Egypt is perfectly reasonable, yet has been lambasted by gain-sayers. I cannot call them environmental champions or campaigners, because there is no substance to their complaints: they are merely gain-saying anything the government does or says. So, in scenario one, we have Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions, asking: "What on earth does the prime minister think he is doing by failing to turn up at the COP27 climate conference? What sort of message is this sending?" In scenario two, he asks: "What on earth does the prime minister think he is doing by jetting off to Egypt when there is so much that needs his attention at home?" There is no principle, no philosophy, no ideology, no position merely an automatic knee-jerk opposition to whatever the other side does. Precisely the level of debate seen in that Monty Python sketch.

OCTOBER 13 2022

We went to the theatre in Soho last night to see The Death of Anna Mann. It was hilarious and moving, a complete triumph. But I only approached London with huge trepidation. I had been listening to the BBC radio news for several weeks and was expecting beggars, families in rags with huge pleading eyes, zombies shuffling the streets and bodies piled up on corners. This is the picture the BBC has been painting of the UK since it failed to get its way over Brexit: the sore loser has been stamping its little foot on anyone associated with Leave ever since. And this involves running down our country, painting it in the worst possible light, ignoring all context and perspective, and in the process doing it considerable harm.

So the impression I had built up of our urban areas was one of decline, decay, death, poverty and misery. The reality, however, could hardly be further from the truth: there were people everywhere, happy, smiling, drinking, eating – a Wednesday as vibrant as any other Wednesday I can remember in London for the past several decades. But these people are the silent majority: no BBC reporter is interested in anyone enjoying themselves, making the best of what they are given. Only the desperate and the politically on-side are invited to queue outside a Radio Four news studio so that their terrible tale of woe can be heard. It will, of course, be a tale no different from the one deprived people could have been telling for decades, or centuries. But they were the silenced minority until the vicious beast was stirred by its Brexit humiliation.

Meanwhile, US interest rates rocket, putting pressure on all global currencies; the pound holds up reasonably well and is roughly where it always is against the euro; and France has no petrol at its filling stations – with reports of fights breaking out and police cars running out of fuel. Not heard about this? No, of course not. It would provide an unhealthy perspective against which to judge our relative comfort, despite the incompetence and political naivety of our new prime minister.

OCTOBER 9 2022

I have never cowered in a "safe space" and never wish to; I have never knowingly been in a "safe space" and find the thought of it abominable. I'm not even sure what a "safe space" is supposed to be or why they appear to be cropping up in various institutions, such as universities and schools. I assume they are meant to protect the mental health of youngsters unable to process and deal with any opinions, facts or ideas that do not conform to their own "lived truth". If that is so, then give me "challenging spaces", "confrontational spaces", or "courageous spaces" (as Matthew Syed calls them in his excellent column in today's Sunday Times). These are the sort of spaces I have always encountered, especially at university, and I believe they are essential to enable reasoned argument, intelligent debate and a broadening of minds and understanding. Allowing young people to retreat and cower in a "safe space", hearing only kind and gentle words that soothe them and bolster their pre-existing beliefs is simply to reinforce and magnify the tiny intellectual bubble in which they subsist.

We see this happening at quite a pace as presumably well-meaning but certainly misguided individuals take it upon themselves to impose absurd and dangerous rules on the rest of the world: "Thou shalt not use the words 'mum', 'dad', 'grandmother' etc"; "You are forbidden to say 'economic migrant' etc". This linguistic fascism flies in the face of sense and reason and requires an enormous degree of pretending that things are other than they so clearly are. We are being ordered to become delusional.

A small example from last night's "Strictly Come Dancing". Jayde Adams danced badly: she was out of time, the choreography was unpleasant, the outfits were grotesque, and it all looked a mess. However, because she is on the show to represent the obese, her performance is described as "body-positive": she said before the dance that she wanted to prove that being overweight was no hindrance to performing a beautiful dance. Sadly, she proved precisely the opposite. Only those who agree that obesity is to be celebrated could possibly have found anything "brilliant" or "beautiful" in her dance – as the judges were clearly instructed to do. Judged objectively, she would have been in the bottom three; judged politically, she was near the top. I have nothing against her and would never dream of demeaning her for her size – until she decides to make a statement of it herself.

STAYING IN ON SATURDAY NIGHTS

That Strictly dance was not the only horror on the show last night. The camera work and special effects have become so obtrusive, garish and cheap-looking that spotting the dancers in a jungle of brightly coloured digital detritus becomes an effort. Similarly appalling camera work marred "Later With Jools", as the producer ordered close-up after close-up of nostrils, ear lobes, fingernails, armpits. The beauty of Later used to be that we were all in the audience together with a perfect view of an artist. An occasional close-up would add detail and contrast, without destroying the flow and continuity of the performance. I was left with a vague impression that rock band PVA were quite good, for example, but the wild and intrusive camera angles were too distracting to be able to tell.

OCTOBER 8 2022

A YouGov poll suggests, apparently, that most people in Britain do not realise that the current economic strife, involving inflation, rising interest rates and high energy costs, is a global issue and instead blame our government. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it's something to do with the way the media are portraying events, constantly ignoring the rest of the world, constantly ignoring the pound's value against the euro and the basket of currencies, and constantly quoting nonsensical figures. While I do not believe the government is doing a great deal to help the situation, it is outrageous of media organisations to provide neither context nor perspective and to pretend that the UK is an outlier in a mess of its own making.

OCTOBER 7 2022

"Ah, Mr Hitler, thank you for coming in, and welcome to the Charity Commission's head office. We've been looking at your application for charitable status for your new Nazi association, and we think it's a marvellous proposal to seek to improve the conditions of people with blond hair. It all sounds very exciting and some of your money-raising suggestions look novel and effective – mass gatherings might well tend to encourage generous giving and participation. So, well done. Go and do your charitable thing! We won't trouble you again.

"Love the logo, by the way."

Every day, we read of the shocking behaviour of so-called charities: a rag-bag collection of religious cults and fanatics issuing death threats, maniacs advocating female mutilation, political factions. Adolf's Nazis would have fitted in very nicely.

TOO FAST OR TOO SLOW?

Bizarre. The Bank of England now has one foot on the accelerator (buying guilts and creating money) and the other on the brake (raising interest rates to stem inflation). Does this mean we are in equilibrium or veering into an uncontrolled spin? On balance, whichever it is, I suspect the effects will not be as bad as the doom-mongers would like us to fear. The current trend of interpreting every tiny event as a catastrophe and a crisis is becoming extremely tiresome.

SWEDEN EXPOSED AS MEAN AND INCOMPETENT

Everyone loves Sweden – such tolerant people, such an efficient and well-meaning government. And anyone who has never had much to do with Sweden might be forgiven for believing that. However, a dear friend who cares for her granddaughter In England has been trying to renew the 14-year-old's Swedish passport. It expired during the Covid travel ban; efforts to renew it have been going on for many months. The child is of English descent but was brought up in Sweden and is a Swedish citizen. Sadly, a succession of awful events have left her unable to apply for a British passport without risking the reignition of a potentially ugly court battle, leaving her reliant on super-cool and friendly Sweden. Except, the Swedish embassy in London is a disastrous failure and it is impossible to book an appointment to launch the passport renewal process – Sweden insists on face-to-face applications, for some reason.

Between us, three or four helpers have clicked on the online form thousands of times over several months and every single time, the message in red at the top reads: "At the moment, there are no available time slots. We are adding new time slots on a regular basis, please try again later." It is inconceivable that, were this to be true, we would not have stumbled across a vacant time slot at some point. And reading the embassy's Google reviews simply confirms what we fear it has abandoned its citizens living abroad, or at least, in the UK. Its reviewers have suffered the same experience as us and are furious.

This ought to be a deeply shaming and embarrassing failure on the part of the Swedes and were any UK organisation to be treating people in this way, it would castigated and vilified by our media and be forced to put it right. Which is why we have alerted the Swedish news agency and have asked the embassy and its now tarnished ambassador, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, to reveal when it last issued a time slot for an appointment, as we have ceased to believe any are being released at all. Or, if they are, it cannot possibly be in an open and fair manner. We shall see if they respond. Granit has been ambassador for more than a year and so has had ample time to sort out this travesty.

Meanwhile, a 14-year-old Swedish citizen in England is unable to travel on school trips abroad or visit her loved ones in Sweden because of her embassy's disastrous incompetence. What makes it worse is that a child's passport has to be renewed every two years! The London embassy is the only option, as the child cannot travel obviously. It might be possible to demand an emergency passport to get to Sweden to pick up a full passport but they are only available two days before a trip commences and upon production of a valid ticket and still involve a trip to the embassy in far-away London. On top of which, tickets often cannot be bought without providing a valid passport number! If it is ever renewed, subsequent renewals can take place in Sweden before it runs out and she will not be subjected to the shambolic and uncaring embassy again. I have had one response from someone at the embassy, who claimed staff were working hard but she notably failed to apologise or sympathise, leaving me to conclude that they really could not care one jot about their own people. I leave you to make up your mind about the true nature of Sweden.

OCTOBER 3 2022

In considering the government's recent behaviour, it is important to separate two key elements: economic rationality and political competence. What Liz Truss, prime minister, and Kwasi Kwarteng, chancellor of the exchequer, are trying to achieve through their economic policy is growth, using the tried and tested methods of stimulating economic activity – ie, spending – by removing barriers to any and every means of spending money. These methods have not always worked – no economic policy does for long, and this one, with its central principle of "trickle-down", from rich spending to poor pockets, is particularly simple-minded.

It is, however, rational and an acceptable strategy if simply achieving economic growth is your goal. Those of us who believe the planet has reached – or even gone beyond – peak consumption and therefore advocate economic contraction and a new, more satisfying, way of living obviously object to that goal and are therefore naturally at odds with all that the policy entails. But, even so, we have to respect the fact that elected politicians have a right, a duty, to pursue the path they believe will lead to the best outcome for all.

Political competence, on the other hand, is the ability to implement policies while retaining the respect that everyone owes to our grand constitutional institutions. In this case, Truss and Kwarteng have failed badly. They have allowed a collection of relatively modest and far-from-radical fiscal nudges to bring their offices into disrepute through their ineptitude. Today's announcement that the 45p tax band will, after all, be retained is an indication of just how surprised the pair in charge must have been at the response of the public, party and markets. The introduction of this measure was, in the first place, a fairly trivial one, involving only small sums and affecting only those wealthy people unable to dodge paying it; we managed without such a tax band throughout almost all of the last Labour spell in charge. So if this small back-down does anything to pacify the markets and head off a Tory revolt then it will show just how overblown their reaction was – or confirm that it was the impression of incompetence they created that really sparked the fear, not the numbers themselves.

And once again, the media must accept a sizeable chunk of responsibility for pouring petrol on the flames in recent days. One notable trick being used by the Tory-hating and Brexit-hating hyper-liberals is to repeat endlessly that the pound has crashed. It has not. It is severely weakened against the dollar, yes – because the US government has raised interest rates faster and harder than elsewhere and the dollar, being a reserve currency, has become a good buy. It has therefore risen strongly, leaving other currencies in its wake – including the euro and those currencies that make up the basket usually used to assess the value of the pound. Proper comparisons have been avoided, to give the impression that the pound alone is suffering. But its value against the euro is roughly where it has been for the past decade or more. Some crash!

LET'S NOT TALK ABOUT MEGHAN AND LITTLE HARRY

A frightening survey of the public's views on Meghan and Harry Markle seemed to suggest that people under 30 actually liked and respected them, while older, wiser and more experienced judges of character had come to loathe the whining pair of spoilt brats. I have been told that it is pathetic to be concerned about them – just ignore them because they're nothing to do with me. Well, I am sorry, they are very much to do with all of us. If Meghan is indeed popular with the young, she is setting a terrible example as she promotes herself as a role model. She began with brownie points galore – huge public admiration and support. But bit by bit she has squandered it as we learn more and more about her behaviour, both from her own mouth and from others. Those who have bothered to listen to her endless complaints as well as the responses of those she has accused and attacked will have reached the opinion that her place in the public eye is dangerous. How many of the young people who so admire her will have spent time, for example, studying a book by Val Low, a former newspaper colleague of mine, listing a catalogue of hard evidence of Meghan's bullying, lies, arrogance, narcissism and sole focus on herself. As if we weren't already suspicious, following the ghastly Oprah Winfrey "interview", Val, a national newspaper royal correspondent for nearly 15 years, reports on highly decent, respected and dutiful courtiers, and others trying to help her, who found themselves unable to work with such a prima donna, reduced to tears and throwing up their hands in horror.

If her "me, me, me" attitudes and total focus on herself appeal to the young, that is hardly surprising, as social media has made looking inwards the norm – with gruesome, and sometimes fatal, consequences. Come on youngsters – arm yourselves with some knowledge. You are going to look back on these years and wonder how you could have been so dim and blinkered. We must hope. Otherwise, we truly are doomed.

SEPTEMBER 30 2022

THE TROUBLE WITH TRUSSONOMICS

The joy of economics is that you can never be wrong: it is the equivalent of choosing a route to a non-existent destination from your own imagination. You state your goal and how you intend to get there, and that's it. There are, of course, good ideas and bad ideas, but not "wrong" or "right" ideas. Another analogy: it's like making a cake. You choose your ingredients and your method and decide how you would like your cake to look and taste – and off you go. In this sense, there is nothing fundamentally "wrong" with Liz Truss' economic policy, now known as Trussonomics.

This is why the BBC's local radio lynch mob, which yesterday saw a succession of unknown DJs trying to out-do the previous ones in hurling insults at the prime minister, was so completely unacceptable as a journalistic exercise. Yesterday morning, Truss submitted herself to a barrage of abuse in several short "interviews" with the likes of Radio Leeds and Radio Norfolk, or whatever they are called. This morning, the Radio Four Today programme celebrated this assault by giving a platform to these DJs to repeat their rudeness. One even claimed to be a journalist.

But journalists seek to challenge with politeness, decency and intelligence, all of which were in horribly short supply yesterday. The local radio hacks barely asked a question, happy to settle for having a row with her because her policies differ so radically from their own personal beliefs. Some used the shield of "listeners" to provide cover for their attacks: "This is what my listeners are telling me" etc. Well, it might be what SOME listeners are telling you, and you might choose to elevate these opinions because they are also your own, and the prime minister might well have embarked on a reckless gamble with the economy, but that can in no way excuse the the barrage of rudeness, disrespect, coarseness and boorishness Truss faced. Challenge, yes; bully and harangue with your own opinions, absolutely not.

And so, with all due respect to the prime minister, I should explain why I believe she is wrong in almost every aspect of her economic policy. This does not make me hate her and want to bury her under a tirade of curses: I am prepared to learn more about what she proposes and debate with her. More than that, I have already set out a radical alternative agenda for western economies and societies in "The Rise of Antisocialism". And my agenda does not involve economic growth, putting me at odds with Liz Truss from step one.

So first, we should ask: what is the one thing that is threatening the very existence of life on our planet? And the answer, quite simply, is a meaningless pursuit of economic growth in order to fuel rabid consumption and "business". My path for the economy therefore involves looking in the opposite direction and working out how to deliver and manage economic contraction. In my book, I outline how our hyper-liberal consensus on individual freedoms, greed and selfishness must be turned around and become a focus on community, society, sharing and responsibilities. It is, perhaps, a hopelessly Utopian vision – and I do indeed conclude in the book that it is unachievable, given our current sorry state of mind. However, it is where I would begin in questioning Trussonomics. Because even if Truss's strategy works, it will fail – it will have moved us ever closer to planetary oblivion and increase the difficulty of ever achieving a repair.

A wise and all-seeing prime minister would not be obsessed with pointless and counter-productive economic growth; they would be seeking ways in which sufficient wealth can be created to sustain a simpler lifestyle, based on enjoyment and satisfaction for all citizens, while providing the basic services and provisions we will always need. They would ditch the current philosophy of maintaining high levels of permanent dissatisfaction throughout society in order to sustain ridiculous levels of consumption, so that individuals can find miserable and pointless "work", so that they can earn money for more consumption, in an insane death spiral of greed.

There is room here for a discussion with the prime minister; no shouting or accusations, just reasoned argument. The difference is that she has the power to implement her views, which I fully respect. It doesn't mean I agree with her and it doesn't mean she's right – but that still doesn't mean she should be subjected to a hate-filled BBC lynch mob.

SEPTEMBER 29 2022

HOORAH! WE'RE BACK TO TRICKLE-DOWN!

It's hard to know what to say about Liz Truss's government and its instant lurch to the right on economic policy. We know "trickle-down economics" are an absurd notion – almost as big a joke as a Russian referendum. Even if the policy works and boosts growth, it won't work for everyone. The Tories will now lose the next election and Brexit, miserably, will become a live issue again. Keir Starmer must surely be thanking his lucky stars for delivering him, at last, a Tory leader who is more right-wing than he is.


LONG LIVE THE QUEEN – AND THE KING

As a graduating student in 1979, I declined an invitation to attend my graduation ceremony, partly because it was for the whole of the University of London, not just the London School of Economics, and partly because the awards were being presented by the Queen Mother. As a republican, she was no great lure to go along and receive a certificate. Pop it in the post.

I fear, however, that I was afflicted at the time by a shortcoming that seems to affect all radical youngsters: being against things. And worse: being against things without any real idea of what would be better. The Queen was an extraordinary person, one of the greatest "leaders" the world has ever seen. And while we should not let her greatness whitewash the potential pitfalls of a hereditary system, we are also obliged to examine the wider picture when assessing the value of a monarchy in a constitution such as ours. Loyalty and allegiance to a nominally powerless figurehead is a priceless gift in a world beset with dangers. Without such a head of state, a prime minister could command the armed forces to impose whatever ghastly regime they chose; replacing a monarch with a president would be worse – they would have to be elected and from that, gain power. But power to do what? And where would it leave Parliament? Our delicate balance and separation of powers, devised over many centuries is, without doubt, the best in the world. It also brings the added bonus of soft power galore – even in death, the Queen provided a spectacle for the world, a reminder of respect for tradition, continuity, experience and wisdom. And so I am won over. And I will remain a constitutional monarchist until someone comes up with something that would work better.

SEPTEMBER 28 2022

WHEN WILL JOE LYCETT DISGRACE HIMSELF AGAIN?

I was glancing in the window of a small art shop and gallery in Woolacombe, Devon, a couple of weeks ago and noticed it had a collection of pictures, cleverly created, of notable figures. Plus, bizarrely, Joe Lycett, the sort-of comedian. His image looked ludicrously out of place – but then Lycett is both ludicrous and, lately, has been hideously out of place.

His first offence was making an inappropriate and incorrect statement while supposedly presenting part of the BBC's coverage of the opening of Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. At this grand sporting event, in front of (presumably) millions of viewers, he accused the government of being unwelcoming to foreigners. This political statement could hardly be further from the truth, as the UK welcomes increasing numbers of migrants, has opened its arms to refugees from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, and has provided a haven for Hong Kongers fleeing the creeping fascism of China. The UK is one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse countries in the world and it is difficult to fathom just what the idiot Lycett was talking about. I can only think that any rules that stand in the way of anyone in the world entering Britain must be interpreted as hostile and unwelcoming. If not, then where exactly would Lycett draw the line over who is "welcome" here and who is not?

The trouble is that this unfunny "celeb" seems adept at fooling the BBC. He appeared more recently on Laura Kuensberg's political TV show and, we are told, promised the world in a Tweet that he would behave as if he was on "Would I Lie To You" – which he did. He pretended to be "very right wing" and applauded everything Liz Truss said. This was a puerile and childish gesture that raised questions both about Lycett's motives and the BBC's competence. I am sure the great institution saw Lycett's participation as a means of brightening up an otherwise dull political discussion group. "I know! Let's stick a comedian on the panel!" Brilliant. And bound to backfire. Although Lycett's facetiousness will doubtless have appealed to young hyper-liberals – seemingly the target audience of all of today's output. I suspect the BBC has not yet been sufficiently shamed for its poor judgment and is very likely to allow a repeat performance.

I am sure Lycett felt he was being so clever and smart, managing to keep a straight face while talking rubbish among the grown-ups charged with serious real-world responsibilities. If he wishes to be involved in politics, then he needs to become a politician and submit his half-baked ideas and opinions to scrutiny. He would not last 10 seconds.


AUGUST – CATCHING UP

A few observations from August – a busy month in which I had little time to comment on events. We are now in late September, having passed the equinox, the death of the Queen and the installation of Liz Truss as prime minister. But, looking back on less momentous events of the summer, I did note that on August 23, BBC Radio 4 Today presenter, Amol Rajan, complained that until recently, political debate had been all about silly little inconsequential matters, such as birthday cakes and parties – but that now it was turning to big important issues, such as the cost of living. "And not before time," he commented, without a hint of irony at this extraordinary hypocrisy. As one of the shameful conspirators in the BBC's relentless campaign to destroy Boris Johnson, Rajan was repeatedly guilty of trivialising the debate and insisting on discussing cakes and parties. What absolute brass neck from the odious and increasingly stupid Rajan.

And then Emily Maitliss and Jon Sopel, in the process of promoting their new non-BBC podcast, moaned and whined about the problems of being a journalist at the BBC – because of its insistence on impartiality. Excuse me, amateurs, but impartiality is the bedrock of decent and accurate journalism. We know what ugly impartiality looks like – the witless Maitliss ranting away and broadcasting her personal opinions about Dominic Cummings on Newsnight, safe in the knowledge that in this BBC echo-chamber only like-minded hyper-liberals would be watching. She was rightly chastised for this abhorrence. Andrew Marr made the same stupid gripes and grumbles about the Beeb's impartiality requirements when he left his political show. Yet a proper measure of a journalist's worth is whether they keep their politics to themselves: I never knew the personal views of Brian Redhead or David Frost, but it is all too clear what Maitliss, Rajan, Nick Robinson, Mishal Hossein and many others believe. I always placed Sopel in a higher category, and so have to ask what he thinks he is doing sloshing around in all this unprofessionalism.

If it has been a terrible few years for journalism, then politics has fared little better. Yvette Cooper, for example, again stamped her foot and demanded that "something be done" to stop the flood of migrants entering the UK illegally. Yet she is responsible for blocking every single idea and attempt aimed at stopping it. Her only positive contribution is to suggest that asylum claims might be assessed in France – but what could be the point of this? Most are doomed to fail, even if you ignore the glaringly obvious fact that they are sitting in France, completely safe from whatever threat they claim to have left behind. And then what? The failed asylum seekers simply resume their illegal – and deadly – journeys with the assistance of the sniggering French authorities.

Going back in time, The Sunday Times managed to publish three excellent columns on August 14. Matthew Syed wrote: "The ayatollahs have found their accomplices in western liberals". Following the stabbing of Salman Rushdie in Chautauqua, New York, he recalled an incident in which British gymnast Louis Smith and a friend were larking around and one of them shouted 'Allahu akbar'. Syed wrote, scathingly: "Liberal commentators were united in outrage. None saw this as two kids harmlessly mocking religion. None saw it as a trivial episode of ridicule of the kind that has always existed in liberal societies. None stated that no citizen, religious or otherwise, has a right or even a reasonable expectation to not be [sic] offended. Instead, they called for Smith to be banned – and he was, for two months, by British Gymnastics. He was accused of Islamophobia, racism, you name it." He said Smith received death threats and lost his livelihood and continued: "To be clear: this punishment beating was perpetrated on Smith not by fanatics, not by knife-wielding fundamentalists, but the monolithic liberal ideology that will not tolerate opinions (or even jokes) that breach their [sic] antiliberal creed."

On the opposite page, writer India Knight pointed out that the "Snowman author knew kids weren't snowflakes". She was writing about the death of children's author Raymond Briggs. She said: "Many of today’s writers and illustrators write as though they were children, with a faux-naif child’s sensibility. Briggs and so on were very clearly adults, making books for children. This meant their work was meaty and had real heft...I worry that some of this is lost with some contemporary children’s picture books, which seem so nicely and predictably behaved. They are thoughtful and inclusive, which is obviously great, they teach a nice moral lesson about sharing or suchlike, hurrah (and also, slightly, yawn), but the most anarchic or subversive they get is poo, pants and fart jokes – all of which have their place, and many of which are funny, though perhaps not as hideously funny as the Plop-Up edition of Fungus the Bogeyman. But they are not thrilling. You don’t gasp as you turn the page. You aren’t shocked, and there isn’t that sense of being absolutely and instantly submerged in a whole other world where strange things might happen."

And completing the hat-trick was the paper's Leader comment: "We must never give in to intimidation on free speech." Echoing Matthew Syed, it said: "The rise of thuggish Islamic extremism has dovetailed with the rise of excessive sensitivity in the West. The assault on Rushdie and the massacre of staff at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 are not unconnected to the 'cancellation' of JK Rowling for her defence of women’s rights in the face of a militant trans movement." It went on: "The craven response of some publishers to outrage – such as Picador, which parted ways with the poet Kate Clanchy after she was accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes in her memoir 'Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me' – has encouraged yet more outrage and had a chilling effect on artistic licence. Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in literature, said last year that a 'climate of fear' meant young authors were self-censoring lest they anger an 'anonymous lynch mob'. The writer of 'The Remains of the Day' said that 'novelists should feel free to write from whichever viewpoint they wish or represent all kinds of views'. This should be a statement of the obvious. But in recent years ridiculous unofficial rules have been proposed, such as that only gay actors play gay roles and only black women write about black women – suggestions that, followed to their conclusion, would mean the end of most art. The insidious advent of 'sensitivity readers' leads to censorship. One suspects 'The Satanic Verses' would not have fared well with this breed.

"Standing up for free expression tends to result in victory because its opponents’ arguments are rooted in emotion, not logic. Netflix refused to cave in when Ricky Gervais joked about the 'new women', the ones with 'beards and cocks'. The streaming service updated its culture guidelines with the long overdue edict that staff disagreeing with its content should quit. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive, explained that comedians could test boundaries only by 'crossing the line every once in a while'. The row faded away, the black-and-white purveyors of indignation having been confronted with a nuanced truth."

These are all powerful and obviously important values that have been undermined and are now being eroded at an alarming rate by people who think they are being nice but in fact are pandering to bullies, thugs and fascists.

On August 15, another excellent column in The Times. Libby Purves, who might almost have been quoting directly from my book, wrote: "Society pays the price for our cheap goods". She argues that western liberal consumers enjoy low-priced luxuries because others suffer to make and deliver them. Again, pretty obvious – and all explained in "The Rise of Antisocialism".

And online, a video accidentally stumbled across showed how Uruguay had made itself self-sufficient in renewable energy. This contrasted hideously with a news story about a Scottish planning official having turned down a large wind farm because "it wouldn't look very nice". Dear oh dear.

THE PROBLEM IS FRANCE – NOT US

After a good run of intelligent comment pieces in The Times, it was inevitable things would collapse and so it came to pass in a ridiculous Leader comment on August 23. It called the UK's handling of the migrant crisis a source of national shame and claimed the issue was the responsibility of UK border control. But this is glaringly wrong. The migrant crisis is a French and EU border issue – they are the ones letting in anyone and everyone, allowing them to wander freely until they end up in Calais and illegally enter UK waters, kindly escorted by the French police. The UK then, apparently, has no other option but to be nice to them, carry them to England and roll out the red carpet, upon which they wave and raise their fists in triumph. Once they are here, our liberalism demands that we set them free to enter the black economy or join criminal gangs. The Times offers no solutions, ideas or suggestions as to how this human traffic can be stopped, other than to call for the new prime minister to be friendlier to the nasty little Emmanuel Macron. Good luck with that!

The only way to stop this appalling business is to be tough. The vast majority are not genuine asylum seekers at all (by mid-September it was being reported that 60 per cent were Albanians – an increasingly popular holiday destination!) and only undertake such a hazardous journey because they have no right to be in the UK. There are workable remedies but they are all ruled out by hyper-liberals and refugee campaign groups masquerading as charities. One would be to introduce identity cards for those entitled to live and work in the UK, without which no one could claim benefits, work or receive care. Alongside this, swift repatriation is vital: to their home countries for those prepared to admit their origins, and to welcoming countries such as Rwanda for those who refuse. It is neither pleasant nor painless – but then it is considerably better than encouraging the people traffickers to ramp up their business.

And it is time to name and shame France as the prime culprit in all this. Imagine a Kent coastline dotted with camps run by criminals, with cheap hostels full of migrants seeking to cross illegally into France. The UK would be labelled an international pariah – there would be an outcry. We would not be pocketing tens of millions of pounds from France while giving the migrants a gentle push into the Channel – we would be rightly castigated and attacked. The problem is France. It is time to wake up.

JULY 30 2022

BBC – THIS IS THE FINAL STRAW

Having watched what seemed like an 11-hour interview with Chris Hoy on BBC1 (and occasionally, of course, BBC2) yesterday, my last vestige of sympathy for the licence fee has evaporated. The BBC's coverage of the Commonwealth Games is disgraceful. Viewers want curated and edited coverage of every event, not fleeting glimpses of sport hidden between endless, boring and pointless chats around a coffee table. The red button actually makes the BBC coverage worse because it enables it to give the impression that the viewer need never miss a thing when, in fact, to watch real sports action, they have to disappear into an iPlayer channel to watch netball, boxing or rhythmic gymnastics, or whatever, without any idea of what other exciting action is taking place. The BBC used to brilliant at this: we never saw a presenter's face all day long, just constant, non-stop action, superbly edited and curated. That is how the viewer gets to avoid missing a thing.

And as for allowing a mediocre comedian to become entangled in the Games' opening ceremony and make ignorant and hate-filled remarks it simply beggars belief. Joe Lycett's disgraceful slur, claiming that he was going "to do something now that the British government doesn't always do" in "welcoming some foreigners", not only ignores the fact that our current administration is the most racially diverse in history, it ignores the fact that our government has recently put enormous efforts into providing for tens of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their country, tens of thousands of Afghans and Syrians, tens of thousands of economic migrants welcomed into the country. A welcome of sorts is even extended to those forcing their way into the country illegally in the selfish pursuit of their own economic interests: they are at least treated humanely, which is more than can be said for the treatment they might receive elsewhere. And worse, Lycett's shameful stupidity has dragged every duh-brained knuckle-head out of the woodwork to vent their unthinking knee-jerk hatred of people with whom they happen to disagree. Are these fools seriously saying that every single person in the world who wishes to live in the UK should be welcomed with open arms? Have they not spent a single second wondering about the consequences of such lunacy? Lycett's appalling smear remains on the BBC iPlayer and, as far as I can see, no apology has been issued.

DO PANELLISTS HAVE TO PASS AN ANTI-INTELLIGENCE TEST?

Where do they find the guests for Any Questions on Radio 4? Do they have to take an intelligence test and only the failures are allowed on air? The dimmest panellist today, so-called "journalist" Ash Sarkar, talking about rising energy prices, demanded action because "right now you've got pensioners riding the bus just to keep warm". First, this single alleged incident was discredited as a political stunt long ago, and second, who is riding on buses "right now" when the temperatures are in the high 20s? Moron.

BAD BLOOD AND A FALSE DICHOTOMY

Three consecutive interviews this morning on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme debated the subject of contaminated blood products administered in the 1970s and 80s and the need to compensate those affected. The first was with a woman who received blood transfusions from the age of a few months old to treat her haemophilia: she agreed that her physical side effects were relatively mild but that her mental health had suffered and so urged rapid compensation, as recommended by an interim report issued yesterday. The third interview was with a campaigner on behalf of the victims of the contamination, which could leave patients with Hepatitis or HIV. He called the affair a grave injustice and also demanded large payments be made immediately.

But was it "a grave injustice"? The second interview with an experienced and concerned specialist medical practitioner provided the necessary context and perspective and indeed several potential questions that should have been put to the campaigner but were not. The doctor explained that the risks of contamination in blood had been known about since the 1950s but that in the 1970s and 80s the tools did not yet exist to test and purify blood donations. It meant that every transfusion carried a degree of risk and every patient was treated on the basis of the lesser harm. The medical profession of the 1970s and 80s was not acting negligently or recklessly; it was not deliberately infecting patients: it was saving lives. The crude radio presentation therefore proposed a grotesquely false dichotomy: the choice faced by those patients, mostly haemophiliacs, was not a "normal life" versus an infection, it was a grave risk of death versus the hope of a cure. Patients face precisely this dilemma today when weighing up the risks of agreeing to experimental and pioneering treatments. Even after these issues were sensitively and clearly spelt out by the specialist, they were ignored by the interviewer who failed even to challenge the third interviewee's assertion that a "grave injustice" had been committed and failed to ask what the alternative life would have been for these "victims of injustice". The BBC is now routinely and casually referring to all this as "the scandal".

JULY 29 2022

Lionesses? The exciting England women's football team that has reached the final of the European Championships should surely be referred to as "lions with wombs" or some-such? I've lost track.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL IS EVERYTHING

So many comparisons are made with times gone by: the hottest day/driest summer since 1976; the worst inflation since the 1970s; the homophobia/racism/sexism of the 70s, and so on. But do not forget the surge of change that was taking place during the 1960s and 70s: barriers were being broken down in every social sphere; the general population was collectively gaining power and influence; art and culture were vibrant. It was a phase through which we had to travel in order to progress from the conservative, narrow-minded, inequitable past. The second world war lit a flame that sparked a wildfire of reforms, almost a revolution, that laid down the rough template for a modern Britain before an attempt was made to stop it in 1980. But up to that point, the pace of improvement in so many fields was astonishing and the momentum so great that even 40 years of Tory rule failed to derail it completely. Of course, the 1960s and 70s look bleak from this distance. The country was still recovering from the costs of war and was in only the early stages of ridding itself of so many social ills. But any graph plotting the rate of social betterment over the past century would show a precipitously steep gradient during this period with a downwards blip through the early 1980s and then a slower and more gradual rise thereafter. Just think where we would have been now had the forces of change in the 1960s and 70s been allowed to blossom to their full potential.

JULY 27 2022

OH, HOW THE FRENCH LOVE A QUEUE

The French certainly love a queue. Anyone who's suffered the repeated and seemingly endless waits at peage booths will appreciate this Gallic passion. And when the opportunity arises to inflict an enormous queue on a neighbour, then so much the better. Never mind that the innocent holidaymakers trapped waiting to cross the Channel at Dover are bringing money to spend in France: the chance to poke a finger in the eye of Brexiteers is far too tempting. Of course, there is a minuscule chance that the unattended French passport booths in Kent resulted from a bizarre coincidence of sickness, train failures and suchlike. But Brexiteers and Remoaners alike know this to be nonsense the difference being that Brexiteers are outraged at the sabotaging of months of planning for this busy weekend, while Remoaners say "serves you right" you voted for it". But let us look at it as a divorce. If one party behaves reprehensibly, does that make the divorce a bad idea? Quite the opposite. most people would conclude.

It will, of course, be sorted out. Stamping passports has been one of the few airport functions not to have caused huge delays it is not difficult to do. And in my own experience of using ferries and the rail tunnel, the French border officials have always been slow and awkward in their work. The weekend's chaos does raise the question, however, as to why people working in such critical jobs in the UK are living in another country, leaving them vulnerable to a range of obstructions. If we have to conduct these checks in England, then a simple requirement that staff live nearby would at least remove one potential obstacle to turning up on time. Also, does it remain sensible to retain a French border control in the UK? If passports were dealt with in France, any queues would then clearly be their entire responsibility. But then, the reciprocal arrangement would be cancelled and the French would allow a constant stream of undocumented migrants to reach Kent.

The irony of this rigid and rigorous system being imposed on travellers from the UK should not be forgotten, either. Holidaymakers on one side of the country are made to suffer while the complete lack of restrictions on the other side of France allows economic migrants to pour in and seek illegal and lethal entry into Britain. Again, this suits France nicely, as it gives its odious politicians and civil servants another opportunity to rile a neighbour as they help blow up the inflatable rafts and give the migrants a little push into the deadly Channel.


JULY 22 2022

WHAT EXACTLY DO WOMEN WANT?

I have been a huge fan of actress Jodie Comer since watching the opening scenes of Killing Eve, the TV series that, for its first five episodes, was among the sharpest TV drama ever made. And she is undeniably extraordinary in portraying a barrister in the one-woman play, Prima Facie, which I saw last night streamed into the Everyman cinema in Esher to an audience largely made up of women. It is an undeniably powerful production, dealing with a raw and painful dilemma with an unrelenting intensity.

But I came away with several reservations and a little disappointment. The very relentlessness of Comer's performance meant it lacked light and shade: the very few quieter, reflective moments were fleeting before the polemical barrage resumed. She had presumably been directed this way and she was still fabulous to watch but it sapped its impact slightly.

What spoiled it for me, however, was when Comer's acting ceased to portray her character, a barrister who withdraws her consent during a sexual encounter and reports a rape, and began speaking the words of the playwright. When a character becomes the author, a play instantly loses its edge and this is precisely what happened towards the end. The art should be allowed to speak for itself: Leonardo da Vinci felt no need to scrawl captions across his paintings; Charles Dickens needed no appendix at the end of his novels declaiming social conditions and calling for change. Great art can do its own talking and is so much more powerful for it.

In spite of these relatively minor disappointments, the play achieved its goal of raising a vitally important issue: how society deals with this specific form of rape. This is not violent rape by strangers, which is clearly a vicious crime, but a situation where two people are together, each knowing and accepting that sex will, or is likely to, take place but where one party at some point changes their mind. In the play, two people went to a room expecting to have sex and sex took place; but not in the way it was intended, at least on the part of the victim. The motives of the alleged rapist were left unclear.

Either way, and as things stand, such a case can only be dealt with, if at all, via the legal system, which is hopelessly ill-equipped for the purpose. Such cases involve deeply subtle and nuanced points of view, misunderstandings, the nature of a relationship, trust, the point at which consent is withdrawn, and more; whereas the law, in its clumsy, binary approach, is interested more in how the alleged rapist held down his (always "his") victim, as highlighted in Prima Facie, and other largely irrelevant factual details. These cases involve two people who cared for and had feelings for each other, from simple, short-term lust, to a deeper, longer, more complex entanglement.

Rather than use specious statistics to claim that the legal system is failing rape victims, any debate on this issue ought to begin by asking "What is it that women want?" following an alleged rape in such "consent" cases. Is it years of detailed testimony and being examined and scrutinised by police, doctors and lawyers; years of hatred, wrangling and stress, followed by the destruction of the life of someone with whom they once had some sort of positive relationship? Or is it the establishment of the truth, an acceptance of wrong? Is it clarification over misunderstandings, apologies, reconciliation? In the particular circumstances outlined in the play, no one benefits: all are left scarred and damaged, as much by the legal processes as they were by the incident itself. It would seem that offering an alternative resolution process in the case of "relationship rape", aimed at truth and reconciliation, would provide significant benefits for all.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Drug lords and dictators why do they lead such miserable lives? Take Pablo Escobar and Vladimir Putin: they are, or were, constantly in fear of their lives and those of their family, friends and associates; they have knowingly destroyed the lives of others; they have been responsible for thousands of deaths; they are hated and will enjoy notoriety throughout history – their legacy is revolting, and even their day-to-day activities are proscribed by fear and loathing. What a pointless and miserable life. It is a misery they deserve, of course, having killed and cheated their way to great riches. But we have to ask why on earth they continue with it once they have an opportunity to be better, smarter and decent?

JULY 16 2022

DUE DILIGENCE, MORAL HAZARD AND THE RIGHT TO MOAN

Cambridge undergraduates say the rise in suicides at the university is because of its high academic standards and demands. Er, yes. And what did you expect when you applied? Some students need support, help and guidance I myself felt slightly homesick and confused at times during my first term at LSE but I learned to adapt. I found friends (easy when sharing a treble room, now frowned upon) and by my first Easter would have been happy to skip the holidays and stay in London. It makes me wonder just how far hand-holding should go and how much damage society has done to its young by cosseting them, selling them false dreams and reassuring them that nothing horrid will ever happen. No wonder they have no coping mechanisms when encountering new and challenging environments. But to sign up for three years at one of the most prestigious and high-pressure universities in the world and then moan that it's all a bit academic and affecting students' mental health displays a remarkable degree of ignorance and absurd expectations.

Even actresses fall victim to their own self-obsession. Meghan Markle signed up to become part of one of the most regimented and documented firms in the world. To then complain afterwards that the organisation will not bend to accommodate you shows remarkably poor due diligence. Or outrageous arrogance and self-delusion.

Similarly, illegal migrants, via their spokesperson, the UK's chief inspector of prisons, seem to share these types of absurd expectations. Young, fit and enterprising young men decide to leave their home countries and walk, stow away or pay criminals to help them reach England's beaches. At which point the UK authorities are slated for failing to have booked them a nice hotel. These people are uninvited, have committed offences, many will have disposed of documents and lied about their age and backgrounds, risked their own lives and those of others, fuelled the human trafficking and people smuggling businesses, denied their home countries whatever skills and energies they possess, and reduced the chances of genuine refugees reaching safety. And the bad guys turn out to be those who fail to roll out the red carpet for them!

The red carpet has certainly been rolled out for a young man called Adnan, however. His cricketing prowess suspiciously extraordinary for a boy of 16 from a war zone – means he is feted as a star. He features in Freddie Flintoff's TV series about putting together a cricket team consisting of deprived young lads in Lancashire. But Adnan, who looks surprisingly mature for a 16-year-old, stands out. The story is that he somehow made his way to the UK from Afghanistan and now the UK is lucky to have him: phrases such as "It just shows what refugees can do for our country" are scattered throughout the episode I saw.

But this is surely a stupid, dangerous and counter-productive response to such a glaring trail of lies and deceit. If Adnan is 16, then I am 24; if he has never played cricket, as he claims, then I am Joe Root; and is he indeed from Afghanistan at all? His word simply goes unchallenged by the liberal, globalising programme makers. But they should remember this: when they say "good for Adnan", they are forgetting or ignoring the fact that there are another 2bn, 3bn, maybe 4bn more Adnans in the world. Why should this clever and resourceful Adnan be raised shoulder high because he has somehow managed to make his way into the UK by making himself part of the disgusting human trafficking business? Is it right and good that the UK harvests his talents that are now denied to the country he has left behind, a country desperately crying out for his contribution? And do we care about the people he will displace in this country, people who will continue to lose heart and hope? It's an incredibly short-sighted way of looking at migration: a typically individualistic and simplistic response to a global issue of failed governments around the word.

WE'VE SET THE WORLD ON FIRE

Almost every activity you read about on the business pages of newspapers and media sites is contributing hugely to global warming. And a huge amount of it is pointless. It has to stop and my book warned of this three years ago.

JULY 7 2022

WHAT A WIMP: IT WAS ONLY A FLESH WOUND...

So, Boris has gone. Inevitable, really. And a shame. He had some of the qualities required of a great prime minister, but sadly not enough. And his drawbacks became too big to excuse. I still maintain he was extremely careful to avoid lying. He perhaps evaded the truth at times but then all politicians do. He relied heavily on smoke and mirrors. But he was the man for a crisis, it's just that he couldn't be bothered with normality and so was leading us nowhere. He was also subjected to the most blatant, vicious and sustained media campaign. It was unfair, inaccurate and unprofessional. And it was epitomised by the glee so obviously emanating from the BBC Radio Four Today studio this morning as a wave of ministers resigned. It was revolting and amateurish. Mishal Husain was giggling with excitement as she announced one resignation and full of cloying and smug self-satisfaction when interviewing another minister.

So who next? I would choose Priti Patel. Not because she would make a good prime minister but because she has the hide of a rhino. I love watching, hearing, and reading about her responses to questions in the House of Commons it's hilarious. She is a potent mix of Jonny Bairstow and Nick Kyrgios. Ben Wallace is, apparently, loved by some but only because he has made a quick and recent splash over Ukraine. Who had heard of him before he began dishing out missiles? Liz Truss is a loose cannon and horribly inflexible; Penny Mordaunt cannot seriously be among the favourites; Nadhim Zahawi has far too much grubby-looking baggage; Sajid Javid is nowhere near bright enough; and Jeremy Hunt? You might as well have that dozy Starmer bloke. Steve Baker and Tom Tugendhat heaven forbid. Dominic Raab is undeniably clever but hardly a man of the people and has, in any case, ruled himself out. Mark Harper (who?) is said to be interested and carries the advantage of anonymity, while Grant Shapps appears too lightweight. Which brings us to Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman. Given that no one knows anything at all about Braverman, she stands a chance. And who knows what might then happen. We know more about Sunak, however. He was treated disgracefully by the media over his wife's perfectly rational financial affairs and he appeared to be an inventive and concerned chancellor of the exchequer – until his spring statement, which failed to hit the spot as far as ameliorating the cost of living was concerned. The removal of the £20 pandemic uplift in benefits also looked mean when so much money was sloshing around: his laser focus on the requirement to work shows a lack of understanding of real life. There is also Lord Frost, an excellent and sensible negotiator but far too conservative for the times. And then there's Michael Gove. I hated him when he wrote his column for The Times, calling him an ignorant pipsqueak. But he has shown deftness of touch, resilience as an under-fire interviewee and has impressed in key departments, such as law, education and now levelling up, especially with his attitude towards planning rules and guidance. Sadly, he appears not to want the highest office. He would have my serious vote. But regrettably, the winner will not be the best candidate, but the least worst the lowest common denominator. Of which there are a frightening number of frightening candidates.

JULY 6 2022

IS IT JUST A SCRATCH; A MERE FLESH WOUND?

Two Cabinet ministers resign from your government, saying the country cannot continue to be led in the way it has been. They, of course, have their individual agendas but that cannot disguise the perilous state in which it leaves the prime minister: Boris Johnson's days are now numbered. For the moment, he is toughing it out, making new appointments, filling gaps, fire-fighting. But the distasteful revelations surrounding Chris Pincher's behaviour and the way in which he was picked for the team prompted another apology from Boris and it is one apology too many. Daniel Finkelstein writes about Johnson in this morning's copy of The Times, saying he has many qualities along with many flaws. I agree that he is far from the worst prime minister the UK has endured in the past half century and he has certainly not been judged fairly or accurately by a baying anti-Brexit media and "liberal elite" determined to sabotage his leadership. But the balance of politics has now shifted from dealing with the change and chaos of "getting Brexit done" and seeing off the pandemic, which played to his strengths, to tackling the normal mundane issues of inflation, taxation, gas supplies and so on, in which he clearly has little interest. This explains his passion for fighting the Russians in Ukraine it's straightforward, easily understandable and easy to make an impact. For the sake of "business as usual" politics, which is beginning to go haywire, the country now needs a new leader, someone with a plan and vision for putting right the "small stuff" now that the "big stuff" has been done.

PRESENTER INFLATION GETS NOTICED AT LAST

I rarely read Martin Hemming's column in The Sunday Times, but this week he joined, without knowing it, my campaign to force the BBC Sport department to focus on sport, rather than its presenters. We'll skip over the fact that almost all of them are not professional presenters at all, but former players "having a go", and return to a theme I have been commenting on for many years: that the BBC seems determined to turn all sport into a ghastly sofa-based version of the appalling One Show. Olympics coverage consists predominantly of retired athletes sitting around a coffee table desperately trying to find things to talk about; Wimbledon coverage has similarly been teetering on the edge of absurdity for a very long time. I recall Sue Barker once almost apologising to viewers for having to return to live action following a rain delay, as if this refocusing on the sport was somehow depriving the audience. Hemming also launched an assault on the BBC's Glastonbury output, which required three presenters to gush over the wonders of the band they were introducing. I actually thought this was an improvement on recent years, when it was a challenge to find live music amid a sea of "presenting".

At least the BBC has a nursery playground in which it can nurture its crop of presenters: the red button. It should, of course, nurture, assess and test its budding voices, but that clearly does not happen how else would the utterly hopeless Marion Bartoli have slipped through quality control? But with iPlayer now showing play from all courts at Wimbledon, the demand for commentators and "analysts" has rocketed. Not long ago, there was very little commentary. Now, each match seems to have two old players describing what we can see with our own eyes. The costs must be eye-watering, too.

But for anyone still requiring proof of the BBC's incompetence over its sports scheduling, the constant switching of matches between BBC1, BBC2 and the fall-back option of the red button makes the case watertight. Last afternoon and evening, Cameron Norrie, a sort-of British player, was battling for a place in the singles semi-finals, the match being shown quite happily on BBC2. It had all the hallmarks of being a long struggle running into the early evening: anyone with a smattering of knowledge or understanding would have left it to run continuously and uninterrupted on that channel. After all, the alternative match featuring Djokovic and Sinner on BBC1 looked likely to finish in time for the early evening Six O'Clock News. But the incompetents at the Beeb decided to switch the matches at around 5.30pm. Any fool could see that this would necessitate another channel switch to accommodate the news. And lo, as 6pm approached, Sue Barker told us that the news would be delayed until the conclusion of the Norrie match a ridiculous suggestion, as it was quite likely to take an hour or more to complete. So the news was now disrupted as well. Having created this complete mess, the Norrie match returned to BBC2 at about 6.20 to allow the news to be broadcast. Heaven help anyone trying to record it. The BBC's Wimbledon coverage was criticised yesterday for looking old and tired and it is indeed hard to think of anything older, more tired and more stupid than the Beeb's bonkers fixation over the primacy of BBC1 – that channel has to show the "best" at all times, regardless of the viewer's experience or convenience, as if BBC2 is somehow inferior or doesn't work as well. Madness.

WIMBLEDON'S HORRIBLE DOUBLE FAULT

As if the BBC's idiocy was not enough, Wimbledon itself has been doing its bit to increase global levels of stupidity. Abandoning a rest day by playing on the middle Sunday might have seemed a good idea in theory. But in practice, it has spread out the matches to provide increasingly thin fare as we approach the semi-final stages. And even worse, the scheduling of the singles quarter-finals is a disgrace. I have always congratulated Wimbledon for ensuring a fair contest for all, in that no one is asked to play on consecutive days, as happens at the other grand slam events. This year, a fool somewhere in the organisation has ordered there to be two women's quarter-finals and two men's quarter-finals on each of the second Tuesday and Wednesday, copying the failed system used elsewhere. This means that the two triumphant women from Wednesday's quarters will have to play on consecutive days, with the final being on Saturday. The men are not so badly damaged, although two men will enjoy two rest days and two only a single day. And even worse than that debacle, the women's quarter-finals have all been played in the graveyard slot at lunchtime, when hundreds of corporate seats are empty, while all of the men's matches have taken place at peak viewing time in the mid afternoon and early evening. Wimbledon has therefore successfully sunk from running the best and fairest scheduling, with all women's quarter-finals on Tuesdays and men on Wednesdays, to copying the biggest failing of the other slam events, while adding in a grotesque sexist and discriminatory element. Well done, Wimbledon.

Then we come to the excruciatingly bad on-court interviews, often with exhausted players who want nothing more than to get off the court but invariably with players who have absolutely nothing of any value or interest to say. Perhaps this is why the interviewers are so atrocious at their job. But they could at least try to ask questions instead of making statements. The sweet Elena Rybakina, on securing her place in the semi-finals was told by her interviewer that her win was important for her country, among other things. Barely a question to be heard. If Wimbledon has to continue with these toe-curling sessions, then at least it could find someone who knows how to ask a question.

THE DANGER OF LOW INTEREST RATES

Low interest rates are wonderful, in one way, for those buying a property. The downside is that they tend to be associated with low inflation – and high inflation is the great debt-killer that enabled so many baby boomers to clear their mortgages swiftly. The Price of Time, a new book by Edward Chancellor explains an even more dangerous side to low interest rates: they lead individuals to invest in the impossible. Chancellor believes that rock bottom rates create asset bubbles as the wealthy make ever more desperate efforts to find a good return for their investments and, indeed, history would suggest he is on to something. The current example would, of course, be crypto currencies and non fungible tokens.

CAMILLA LONG PROVES NO ONE CAN BE WRONG ALL OF THE TIME

Well done Camilla Long for proving the theory that it is impossible for anyone to be wrong about everything all the time. She has said some terrible things and many dumb things in her Sunday Times column over the years but last Sunday's (July 3), about the real issues facing feminism, is very good. It falls apart slightly towards the end but the points she makes about how trivial nonsense is distracting campaigns away from what really matters are very well argued. It's worth seeking out on The Times website.

THE ALBUM IS TAKING SHAPE!

I am currently working on the recording of 10 original songs that will form an album called "All The Notes There Is". The aim is to have it finished before the end of the year and the song arrangements are developing well. They were all written at different times and with different songwriting partners, some during a songwriting retreat run by Chris Difford of Squeeze, some with old friends, one based on a poem fragment written by former colleague Allison Pearson and the rest solo efforts. Two tracks were given their first public airing in their studio-ready shape last night at the Hare and Hounds pub in Claygate. where Yasmine Giles and her husband Pete, a former member of King Crimson, had invited Derek Huff and me to be guests at their new series of "Planet Giles music club" events. A small audience seemed to find our songs acceptable. It was my first proper public performance of music since before Covid and was enough to remind me how addictive it is. Great fun – and thanks to everyone who came along.

JULY 2 2022

THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF MISS RADUCANU

Emma Raducanu, lovely tennis player and delightful person, I'm sure, played two matches at Wimbledon bedecked in expensive Tiffany jewellery. It all looked as extremely pretty as she does. But the teenager received plenty of criticism for accessorising her sporting whites in this way. And those critics were, in their turn, criticised for daring to question her choice of bling: one said, apparently, that everyone should stop going on about the jewellery, leave the poor girl alone and focus on her tennis. But I fear this is the last thing the young woman and her sponsoring jewellers are wishing for: Raducanu will tumble down the world rankings once she has been eliminated from the US Open; and the sole purpose of telling her to wear the pearls and diamonds was for them to be talked about. This was advertising, pure and simple: Raducanu is as much advertising hoarding as she is tennis player at the moment. I am not sure how this sits with Wimbledon's relatively strict rules on promotions and advertising, but we can be sure that unless Raducanu, who looks increasingly lost and clueless on and around the court, assembles a coaching team and concentrates on her tennis then advertisers' interest in her will quickly wane: exclusive brands tend to avoid too close an association with losers.

JUNE 30 2022

ONE RULE FOR CRICKET, ANOTHER FOR TENNIS

Michael Vaughan, former England cricket captain turned commentator, has stepped down from his broadcasting work having been cold shouldered by the BBC over comments he is alleged to have made. He strenuously denies any offence and has yet to be found guilty of anything. Meanwhile, over on Centre Court at Wimbledon, we have the BBC's very own supreme court judges Sue Barker and John McEnroe declaring their love for Boris Becker and telling him how much they miss him, followed by tennis's biggest dolt, Novak Djokovic, telling the world how he keeps in touch with his friend, the inmate of Cell Block H. Becker is a convicted criminal serving two and a half years in jail.

BIG MISTAKES NEED MORE THAN A TUCKED-AWAY CLARIFICATION

The Times confesses to its most heinous blunders in a tiny slot in the bottom corner of its letters page. While I applaud any media organisation that owns up to its mistakes, I am becoming extremely concerned at the nature of the errors being recorded. A story this week about the popularity of the prime minister among Conservative voters carried figures that were wrong; another admitted that a review of Scottish police was not connected to the fatal arrest of "Scotland's George Floyd", as its coverage had stated. Everybody makes mistakes, but when the mistake affects the meaning of the story then it needs a rather larger correction than a heavily disguised and barely noticeable "clarification". There are, after all, people still going around believing that a disabled old man died at Gatwick because of gross neglect.

JUNE 27 2022

Well, that's a big "Wow" to Glastonbury. There is usually enough entertainment on offer to outweigh the gushing BBC presenters and make it worthwhile tuning in. But this year, the presenters were kept to a brief gush before each act and there were terrific performances on all stages. It's impossible to catch everything, especially if you attend in person, but I must have watched about seven hours of TV coverage and enjoyed almost all of it. Paul McCartney's set, lasting nearly three hours, was history in the making, featuring sparkling songs from his 60-year career and the most dramatic opening to a set I have seen in a long time, with a dynamic three-part vocal harmony. First Aid Kit, the Swedish sisters performing with three extra musicians, were superb; Haim have developed into a highly watchable band, Sam Fender was well worth a listen and Celeste, serene in white, showed the power of her voice, although I needed a break after half an hour of it. But Olivia Rodrigo's naming and shaming of the grotesque US Supreme Court judges was the political highlight of the weekend. Her duet with Lily Allen was full of anger and disgust at the judges' decision to allow the banning of abortion – yet still managed to maintain the joyous, smiling, youthful tempo she had brought to the event.

This ruling on abortion, returning an advanced country to the dark days before the great social reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s, is another example of how an appointed judiciary has taken it upon itself to make its own law. To be fair, in the US, this has always been the case – the abortion law itself stems from the Roe v Wade litigation of 1973. But when judge Clarence Thomas, an aged, right-wing bigot, threatens that he will now turn his attention to undoing laws governing same-sex marriage and the right to use contraceptives, it is time for elected politicians to step in and assert their democratic authority. The Americans' sclerotic political system means that this won't happen, however, especially with such a weak and doddering president. And so women in the US will have to endure enforced pregnancies, no matter what the circumstances, as the country slides ever closer to becoming Gilead, the dystopia predicted in The Handmaid's Tale.

The sadness is that this assault on common sense and decency is being launched by older people, who should have the experience, knowledge and intelligence to know better. It is important that wiser, more socially enlightened people of age loudly denounce the US Supreme Court judges as rotten apples, unrepresentative of the vast majority of senior citizens. The greater tragedy is that the wealth of understanding and perspective amassed by older people is more generally discarded. Those of us with first-hand experience of high inflation, high interest rates, conflicts, shortages and all sorts of crises take a calm view of the current economic blip; we are far less likely to share the panic of the young, stoked by media desperate to portray the UK as the world's basket case.

Similarly, with regard to "woke political correctness", those who have experienced the enormous social changes set in train by the victorious crusades of the 1960s and 70s, and can appreciate the continuing direction of travel and constant improvements in the levels of respect shown to all minorities, are far less likely to go to the barricades over such dubious, complex and highly personal and individual campaigns as the one mounted by the aggressive and bullying transgender lobby. It is almost as though the trans campaign is employing tactics used by terrorists – create a divide, create enough hatred and tension towards your own cause that it stirs sympathisers to extremes. Its latest atrocity demonstrates this: Julie Bindel, the noted feminist campaigner and powerful advocate on women's safety issues, was banned from debating women's safety by a council in Nottingham. It said her views ran counter to its "transgender rights policy" and fell foul of its "inclusion strategy". I hope there is someone associated with this Nottingham council who is bright enough to point out that being "inclusive" cannot include actively excluding anyone with whom you happen to disagree. This is shocking ignorance and hypocrisy; a council has to live a lie in order to appease a vicious minority. This is not how the great social reforms were achieved.

It is, however, a tried and tested terror tactic and it is certainly achieving at least some of its aims. Plenty of people are becoming sickened by the idiocy and illogic of the trans movement's complaints and nebulous demands, but most people have more pressing issues to concern them and so are less vulnerable to being stirred to rage by its provocations. The same applies to Greta Thunberg and her finger-pointing, accusatory style. She talks perfect sense on climate change but does so in such a divisive and deploring manner that she alienates so many who would otherwise applaud her. This is not the way to encourage people to make sacrifices to protect the planet.

Equally worrying is how those great social movements of the 60s and 70s are currently being portrayed. Back in Time for Birmingham is a BBC series in which the Sharma family experience 50 years of British Asian history, recreating the conditions of previous decades and re-living its news. I caught a glimpse of the family experiencing the 1970s but it was enough to persuade me that the programme could not be taken seriously. Old newsreel showing cards in windows barring people from ethnic minorities from applying for jobs, or rooms, was greeted with understandable horror by the family: these were hideous manifestations of widespread racism and the younger Sharmas could not believe that such discrimination was legal. What the commentary failed to point out, however, was that it was only legal in the sense that it had not yet been made illegal: no law had been passed declaring it to be acceptable. This was a new phenomenon that had arisen following a period of social disruption caused by large-scale immigration. Gradually, most people came to regard this brazen racism as completely unacceptable, so much so, that the various Immigration and Race Relations Acts of the 1970s outlawed it, beginning a steady and continuing process of tolerance. There will always be further to travel along this path but, for now, we are still heading in the right direction. We should all be very frightened, however, that misrepresentation of the past, along with political judges and the nastily divisive nature of current "debate", means this can no longer be guaranteed.

AN ARMED INVASION OF SPAIN

Extraordinary scenes broadcast on the internet showed armed men attacking the Spanish territory of Melilla on the north African coast this week. There are two ways of viewing this: it was an attempt at an armed incursion into another country and should be dealt with harshly; or this is a sign of things to come, as conditions deteriorate across Africa and Asia and the search for a better life in a wealthy nation becomes a genuinely desperate, life or death journey. We have to look ahead to the endgame here: as global warming causes parts of the world to become uninhabitable, how will we respond? With walls and soldiers to resist incursions? Or the destruction of our own economies, social structures and environments by accommodating every migrant? These are appalling, but very real, choices. A dystopian vision of warring continents us versus them is rearing its ugly head. The reality could be even worse, though, as the developed countries could also become uninhabitable, not just from the pressure of hugely unsustainable populations but from climate change. Developed nations are not immune: Rome has turned off its fountains because of drought and the UK has just seen Glastonbury take place in dust-bowl conditions. We have plenty of important things to worry us.

ACTUALLY, PERHAPS IT'S BEST TO STAY AWAY FROM KYIV...

I said last week that the re-settlement of people from western Ukraine might have been over-hasty when conditions there now seemed safe for many to return. I did also say that this situation was precarious and indeed, that has turned out to be the case, with Cruise missile attacks on Kyiv the capital.

JUNE 21 2022

Party or work event? You decide...

Not easy or obvious, is it?

JUNE 20 2022

SUMPTION GETS IT RIGHT AT LAST

I was heavily critical of the arch-arch-liberal Jonathan Sumption last year when he railed against vaccine passports. He also spouted some other daft views about vaccination and Covid. But as if to prove correct the rule that says even a fool cannot be wrong all the time, he wrote a startlingly sensible assessment of the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights on the UK government's Rwanda policy in yesterday's Sunday Times. He argued that the court "has little interest in the democratic legitimacy of a state’s internal decision-making processes. Apart from a very narrow discretion allowed to participating states (called the 'margin of appreciation' in Strasbourg-speak) the question for the European court is whether it approves of the outcome". He points out that this is an extremely undemocratic approach, especially when a single anonymous Strasbourg judge can overrule the careful deliberations of three UK courts, including our Supreme Court "behind closed doors, without any hearing at all". Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, is clearly riled by the arrogance of the Human Rights Court, saying it is where law and politics collide and that much of the law it imposes on signatory countries is its own precedent. He explains that this law has been "created by the court itself on the grounds that it is the sort of law that modern democracies ought to have, whether they have chosen it or not".

Sumption rightly argues that UK ministers are "politically responsible to a representative parliament and indirectly to the electorate for everything that they do". And he rightly asserts that it is "not [the court's] business to review the social, moral or economic merits of government policy. Responsibilities which are conferred by law on ministers politically answerable to parliament should not be shifted to judges politically answerable to no one. Every time this happens, it cuts across lines of responsibility which are fundamental to the democratic state. The current problem is that the UK courts understand this, but the Strasbourg court does not."

He concludes that we therefore have "two parallel and potentially conflicting judicial systems for giving effect to human rights: a domestic one which respects the proper limits of the judicial role and the proper claims of democratic politics, and an international one which has little regard for either".

While he does not explicitly call for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights over this issue, he does play down the consequences of such a move: it "need not mean abrogating human rights. We can have all or any of the rights in the convention under ordinary domestic legislation without submitting to the expansive and self-promoting edicts of the Strasbourg court". Its abominable behaviour last week makes this very much my preferred option.

RWANDA POLICY NEEDS UNDERPINNING AT HOME

I have one further thought on the Rwanda policy, which I see as a penultimate resort to tackling people trafficking, the final option being detention centres for processing asylum applications offering little hope of acceptance but plenty of discomfort. A deterrent is urgently required and the Rwanda solution looks a perfectly humane alternative. I said recently that all other possibilities have been tried to stop the flow of illegal entrants crossing the Channel, and, indeed, most have. However, I was reminded on Sunday that the UK's lax labour regulations enable a flourishing underground sector to accommodate all-comers, regardless of legitimacy. A strenuous tightening of employment rules, with strict enforcement, accompanied by the introduction of identity cards for all, would eliminate, or at least limit, the scope for abuse, exploitation and illegality and reduce the attraction of a dangerous voyage across lethal shipping lanes.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE WORKERS GONE?

An old friend posted on Facebook last week that he had been saying for months that the structure of employment was changing. He said: "We move from a society where we live to work to one when we choose to cease to work and can expect leisure and retirement to last a fair proportion of the time we worked. If we are among the lucky ones, and this trend only accelerates social inequality. Implications for the economy and for the way we live are pretty extraordinary."

Coincidentally, I have been arguing along these lines for several years, the proof of which can be seen in my book, published in 2019 but written some time before, obviously. I doubt whether Martin has read it; I certainly didn't spot it among the thousands of books on his extensive and beautiful new bookshelves. This is why I haven't commented on his Facebook post: I take the view that if you can't be bothered to read my book then you're unlikely to have much interest in my take on the matters it analyses. He is also never going to read this blog post.

In that light, let us ponder for a moment the "economic inactivity" conundrum to which he referred on Facebook, a topic studied by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, with its findings published in a report this month. First, we must set aside the fact that older people are not entirely economically inactive they do, of course, spend heavily, a vital economic activity. But, bearing that in mind, it is an interesting piece of work. Its summary stated: "Overall, the rise in economic inactivity among 50- to 69-year-olds does not look to be driven primarily either by poor health or by low labour demand leading to people being unable to find work and becoming discouraged. It looks more consistent with a lifestyle choice to retire in light of changed preferences or priorities, possibly in combination with changes in the nature of work post-pandemic (in particular more remote work) which reduce the appeal of staying in employment."

It listed several other possible factors, including changes to the state pension age: since 2010, when inactivity among this age group stood at 42 per cent, the pension age has been rising, meaning more people remaining economically active for longer, leading to a gradual decline in inactivity. In 2021 this fall was always expected to slow, it being the first year in which the state pension was not rising. But the report says that this, and events such as lockdowns and ill-health resulting from Covid, do not fully account for an unexpected rise in inactivity from 35.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 to 36.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2022. And the most recent official figures for pension withdrawals, published in April 2021, show that more than £45bn had been accessed since 2015 giving a clue as to how this early retirement and economic inactivity is being financed.

For me, not working has always been my lifestyle of choice: I have many other interests and projects with which to occupy my time, and so I chose retirement as soon as it came available. I quit while I was ahead: I was loving my job, my high-calibre colleagues and the many successes and triumphs we enjoyed together. I always took the view that work should be enjoyable. It is, after all, how we spend many of our waking hours. As a boss, I like to think I was encouraging of individual responsibility and enjoyment. But as good as it all was, I thought I could do better, and I was right. I wrote in my book that I believed many people would choose to spend more time on family, leisure, creativity and fulfilment than on a pointless task, being poorly treated and subject to the increasing interference of human resource departments and the strictures of an intrusive and bullying woke agenda. It seems that Covid lockdowns have revealed the truth of my suspicions: workers have certainly disappeared in their droves. And no matter how hard Remoaners might wish it, Brexit is not the reason. Across Europe and the developed world, employees have awoken to the realisation that there is more to life than work. In Berlin recently, the hotel bar was closed due to a lack of staff, airports across Europe are cancelling flights because there are insufficient people to run the essential services. In France, hotels and restaurants are reported to have turned to the Tinder dating app to help overcome a shortage of seasonal workers, caused by a simple shortage of people seeking work. Businesses need waiters, kitchen staff, hotel receptionists, sales staff and other seasonal workers. These are precisely the problems that in the UK some are desperate to blame on Brexit yet Brexit could only be responsible for France's difficulties if it had resulted in French workers all relocating to Britain! The industry in France says 150,000 people left the sector during the pandemic, which begs the question of why and where have they gone? If the IFS is right, and the same conditions prevail in France, then they have sensibly given up on world of unappreciated labour and are enjoying themselves.

All across the more advanced countries, the story is the same. And governments and businesses are clueless as to how to respond. In the UK, the government is seeking more teachers by removing limits on the states from they can be sourced, opening up jobs to the whole world. This is a ridiculous and short-sighted policy bound to do little more than accelerate the revolving door through which staff are spinning. Because the problem is not recruitment, it's retention. The Times reports that "one in three teachers left the classroom within five years of qualifying and one in eight left after one year". Simply extending the recruitment field does nothing to stem this exodus and merely adds to the churn. The answer can only be to train teachers locally, treat them well, pay them better and do everything possible to encourage them to stay for their whole career.

Fortunately, there are signs that this shortage of workers is forcing employers to adapt. James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think tank, wrote in The Times that there could be up to a million "missing workers" in Britain today, and that a lack of migrants is not a factor, given the government's liberal post-Brexit immigration policy. No, he says these missing workers are Brits. And his damning verdict is that "the experience of work has been getting worse for many people for several years". And it is not a deterioration that can be cured simply by throwing more pay at the problem: staff are demanding flexibility, time and happiness at work. He says Britain's "inactivity rate" at 22 per cent, is well below France's 29 per cent, but is rising fast. He says: "That rise must be stopped, in part by making work a nicer, less arduous experience more compatible with other parts of our lives."

This, of course, is music to my ears: I believe work should be fun; I have always found it so, even in the most dull and dour-sounding roles. And it can be for everyone. A richer work-life balance that involves an equitable sharing of necessary work will not only make work fun but will be necessary as the self-indulgent western way of life falls apart in the face of climate change. The greatest challenge the world faces is how to transition from a consumption economic model to a needs-based one that requires economic activity to shrink rather than grow aimlessly in perpetuity. Economic inactivity must be encouraged; unnecessary functions must be eradicated, rewards must be shared equally, along with the distribution of essential work. All this will become essential once global warming begins to fry, freeze or submerge parts of the world.

CRASS JOURNALISM

On June 17, I questioned the quality of journalism that had allowed what I called "a partial story", full of holes, unanswered questions and absurdities, to reach the pages of The Times. It concerned a man who had reportedly been left stranded on an aeroplane at Gatwick and, in desperation, had taken himself into the airport, where he died as a result of an escalator accident. The inevitable apology and correction appeared today: almost every pertinent fact in the story was wrong. This can happen, of course, and honest mistakes should be forgiven. But in this case, the story was such obvious errant nonsense that it should never have survived even the most cursory scrutiny on its way into print. This is truly unforgivable: any journalist reading this article should have immediately hit the panic button, spiked the drivel, and summoned the reporter to their desk for a severe dressing down.

EBAY – FRIEND OF THE FRAUDSTER AND PUNISHER OF THE INNOCENT

Once again, eBay features on the consumer pages, with a user complaining that it punishes innocent sellers while rewarding criminal buyers. This is very much in line with my experience of the trading website. And is why I steer well clear of it.

JUNE 17 2022

JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE 'NICE', DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE RIGHT

I went to church last night: St Michael's, Cornhill, in the City. It was full. I sang the hymns lustily and together we made a glorious sound, accompanied by one of the world's great church organs. I listened to the readings and lessons. And the sermon. This might sound a strange thing for an atheist an anti-theist, actually to do. But I justify singing hymns by saying I love singing, and I attach as much meaning to the lyrics as when I sing "Honky Tonk Women": I have never even been to Memphis, let alone met a gin-soaked bar-room queen there. As testimony it is meaningless.

But the chaplain conducting the service seemed at first a decent chap: confident and clear and not spooning on the religion. And all through his sermon, he was witty, asking us to think of the most irritating person we knew and extolling the virtues of being an irritant: a necessary function in turning a grain of sand to a pearl and in guiding all of us to the right path through questioning and mild conflict. The inevitable and overt political denouement could have gone either way: were Boris and Priti the necessary irritants, tackling important issues in the face of vicious opposition by "nice people"? Or were their critics the benevolent irritants? It was, of course, the bishops and their unthinking condemnation of the government's Rwanda agreement. It was also, of course, Prince Charles and his unconstitutional and simplistic labelling of the Rwanda policy as "immoral" if that is even what he really said. (If his political interference in government continues, he will make a very bad king indeed, which will pose a real threat to the monarchy.) At this juncture, the chaplain himself became a serious irritant. Politics from the pulpit leaves a nasty taste: the "niceness" wears thin.

The test, as ever, is whether the most vehement critics have any alternatives. And they do not. The only vacant plea now forthcoming from the likes of bishops and princes is that the UK provides "safe legal" routes into the country as if there weren't any. The reason illegal entrants choose the lethal Channel crossing is because they know they would fail the tests required to reach Britain legally. A 22-year-old male Albanian or Nigerian would rightly be sent away from British embassies and consuls, unless there were extraordinary special circumstances. This specious "safe legal" argument is meant to sully the UK's reputation for compassion and human rights, whereas its record before the European Court of Human Rights is exemplary and it is renowned globally as being compassionate, decent and fair.

Every other possible means of stemming the tide if illegal entrants has been tried and scuppered by oppositions various: the unco-operative French who are more than happy to give each inflatable boat a little push on its way; the intransigent EU and its open door policy enabling tens of thousands of economic migrants to wander freely; the do-good human rights lawyers; the multinational courts with their recklessly broad definitions of a human right; and all those with placards who fail to spot the difference between a refugee and a chancer seeking to better his life at the expense of others.

Friends of ours posted pictures of themselves at what looked a small rally holding placards that carried the most uncontroversial message ever daubed on cardboard: "Refugees welcome here"! Of course they are. Britain is famous for its welcome to refugees. It has taken in tens of thousands in the past year from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine alone welcoming them and helping them to assimilate as best can be managed in a small, crowded island with what almpst everyone seems to agree is a housing shortage. This week, it was reported that British schools are wrestling with integrating and teaching 20,000 child refugees. And that's without counting children of illegal entrants.

A Times 2 feature on June 13 also hopelessly missed the point. Its front page headline read: "Refugees shouldn't be sent to Rwanda." Again, this is completely uncontroversial as no one is suggesting a single refugee will ever be sent to Rwanda. The introduction to the feature inside, written by someone who should know better called Hilary Rose, begins by claiming the home secretary "announced plans to deport refugees to Rwanda". This is not true. She did not. You could only be confused about this if you fail – or refuse – to grasp what a refugee actually is. The feature then claims "there is no route to safety that is legal or safe". Again, this is completely untrue: there are many safe and legal routes to safety. The interviewee claims people say "Britain has no more room for refugees". Again, who is saying this? Hardly anyone. Refugees are offered places in their tens of thousands each year. Perhaps he was really suggesting there should be no limit at all? And the notion had clearly crossed the interviewee's mind as he was forced to admit, with reference to Afghanistan: "Of course, we can't get 40 million people out." The entire feature was a travesty of misinformation and ignorance, echoing, sadly, some widely held views – subscribed to by good, nice, well-meaning, but misguided, people.

Those banners completely missed the point that the real choice facing genuine refugees is between "a safe place or death", not "the UK or death". One idiotic banner pictured in The Times on June 13 screamed: "If fleeing danger is illegal, the law is wrong". Fleeing danger is one thing; fleeing France in a dangerously deflating kayak is quite the opposite. There are almost 200 countries in the world, and even taking into account those upon whose soil no sensible human being would wish to set foot, there are plenty that offer safety. All migrants crossing from France are choosing the risk of death over the safety of a developed country and so, no matter what their background, have comprehensively trampled all over any right they had to call themselves a refugee. They are economic migrants entering a country illegally. If I did it in the US or Australia, for example, I would anticipate punishment. Of course, every arrival claims asylum and lawyers have to represent them and processes are dragged out until the prospect of ever being removed from this land of milk and honey diminishes to zero.

There is only one further policy that could be implemented, and opposition to every other attempt to thwart the deadly people traffickers is bringing it closer: detention camps, on land or at sea. This would be far less humane than the relatively benign Rwanda initiative. Indeed, despite the UN and the clergy railing against the policy, the UK courts could not find any legal impediment to this week's flight of deportees taking off. Even the European Court of Human Rights, which acted in secrecy, without considering evidence or argument, just paper documents, and is still refusing to say which judges made the decision, or how many it could even have been one did not rule against the policy but bizarrely insisted on a random delay of three weeks. A more political judgment you would have to search hard to find. Home secretary Priti Patel, showing all the nonchalant aggression and bravado of England's batsmen against New Zealand on Tuesday, whacked away all criticism in the House of Commons to stake her claim to being the cabinet's answer to Jonny Bairstow. Like her or loath her, you can't fail to be impressed when she launches another off drive into the top tier of the stands.

The only negative mark against the Rwanda policy appears to be its effectiveness. Israel has tried something similar, without enormous success; Denmark is trying to do the same. It needs to be sufficiently draconian to persuade those in France that staying there, or elsewhere, is a better option, but comfortable enough to quieten those who will always unthinkingly prefer open borders, the only alternative on offer. Either way, placed in their position I would prefer Rwanda to a summer of slaving in a British agricultural labour camp.

USELESS AMERICA

I love America, but how can we explain the desperately poor quality of its leaders? Is it down to money? Only stupid rich people can afford to run for high office? In Joe Biden, they have a president who is about 30 years past his use-by date and is proving to be utterly useless and worse, with his ignorant and one-sided meddling in Ireland. And Donald Trump, a dangerous and arrogant idiot. Come on America, get your act together. This cannot possibly be the best you can do

THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF DIGITAL COMMUNICATION

Using digital technology to communicate not only removes inhibitions and enables bullying and worse, it also slows down communication. The paradox is that lightning fast connections lengthen the period in which an exchange takes place dramatically so when compared with face-to-face debate. One person tries to deal with a problem by firing off a message, and then waits for the response. While waiting, they dwell upon the outcome, they fret, they worry, they feel stress, as does the recipient and those copied in. Being in the same room offers the possibility of instant resolution with incidents forgotten; being digitally connected by high-speed broadband can be frustratingly slow and encourages festering.

MY KINGSTON BOYCOTT CONTINUES

I'm losing track of the number of years since I began my boycott of Kingston commercial centre. It must be five by now. It was over the council's disgraceful decision to install confusing and misleading signs as part of a cycle route, and then fining everyone it managed to trick into using an allegedly closed piece of road. It collected millions of pounds from innocent motorists not me, luckily and has refused to pay back what it owes. I don't know how Kingston's commercial centre is faring, and I do not wish harm on any of the equally innocent shops or other attractions there. But if I have contributed in any small way to shaming or embarrassing the council, or encouraging businesses to see it in its true light, then my boycott has been worthwhile.

SHEILA HANCOCK: NATIONAL TREASURE OR NASTY OLD HYPOCRITE?

Is Sheila Hancock a national treasure? I don't think so. She's more like a nasty old hypocrite. It's fair enough being a nasty old hypocrite if you keep quiet about it. But if you parade your ignorance and double standards in a book and expect intelligent people to find you a treasure, then think again.

MICHAEL OWEN, NATIONAL TREASURE OR AN EMBARRASSMENT?

Michael Owen deleted Tweets promoting an unlicensed cryptocurrency casino. They breached rules on gambling advertising. It was also a disgusting thing to do. Has he not heard of the numbers committing suicide thanks to the addiction that he is promoting? And what knowledge and experience qualifies him to be promoting "the power of crypto". National treasure? More a disgrace and an embarrassment.

HOW CAN YOU WIN?

A headline in The Times told us that "Minority staff are being put off by diversity". You just can't win. And then that slightly annoying national treasure Lenny Henry started moaning about the lack of black faces at Glastonbury and similar festivals. Look, Lenny, you can't force people to go to a rock concert. If they don't like the music on offer, there are festivals catering to every taste. Would anyone bleat about the lack of white faces at a rap or bhangra gig?

MORE EXAMPLES OF ATROCIOUS JOURNALISM

It's a terrible indictment of my beloved profession that the most comprehensive serious daily newspaper, The Times, can churn out articles full of lazy and incorrect assumptions, exaggerations, misunderstandings, omissions, ignorance and downright untruths. I am flicking through editions from two recent days Friday June 10 and Monday June t3, and perhaps one or two horrors since.

One of the most heinous crimes is publishing the findings of a "report" without revealing the nature of the organisation behind it. The headline in The Times read: "Brexit and Covid 'leave UK trailing behind rivals'." The report on which this article was based blamed the UK's economic woes on Brexit. It was produced by the Centre for European Reform, which the paper called a think tank. Yet nowhere did the journalist bother to mention that this body focuses on matters of European integration and is devoted to making the EU work better and strengthening its role in the world. It is therefore a campaigning organisation, biased, and with an agenda. It must have been delighted to see its views, presented as objective facts and running unchallenged and unquestioned, in The Times.

● In a Q&A on fuel prices, the writer casually claims "the pound has slumped". This was not true. At the time of publishing it had not slumped and was roughly where it was several weeks or months ago. Figures on the paper's own statistics pages showed this.

● An article alleging that nurses were "paying to go to work" allowed this ludicrous claim to run in both the headline and the introduction. No effort was made to point out that a nurse driving 10,000 miles a year would be reclaiming 32.6p a mile to run their own cars, compared with the average car costing about 22p a mile to run. On top of this there is a monthly wear and tear allowance. I believe nurses should be paid a fortune and treated as national heroes. But The Times still has a duty to work out such figures before writing ridiculous headlines. It smacks of simply reproducing the campaign press release.

● A long feature on the Grenfell fire anniversary amounted to little more than a first-hand recounting of events that happened five years ago. If I had approached the Financial Times news desk with a story that was five years old and that shed no new light on the subject, I would have expected to be laughed at.

● News by anecdote: it's one of the BBC's favourite tricks. Find a malcontent and present their tale of woe as representative of the entire country. Similarly, reading The Times, you would have assumed that no one was able to renew their passport, or fly from a British airport, this spring. Yet I have been abroad three times already this year without significant disturbance. And the anecdotal evidence reaching me concerning passport renewals is full of praise for how efficient and fast it is. Indeed, the minister responsible claimed this week that 98.5 per cent of passports were returned within the advertised time and that applications had risen, because of the pandemic hiatus, from about 5 million a year to 9.5 million so far this year. If accurate, it helps explain why one or two cases might slip through the net. To be fair, some of the airport bias was corrected in one news story admitting that almost half of Europe's flight delays were "caused by 'capacity and staffing' issues at European airports". It pointed out that in one week, 45 per cent of air traffic flow management delays originated in Germany, with just 9 per cent in the UK. Even so, these facts were tucked away, with the headline on the piece giving the strong impression of uniquely British chaos: "Gatwick suffers nightly meltdown".

A Comment piece in The Times on access to the housing market by James Coney was headlined: "The problem is not the lack of mortgages, it's the lack of homes". And indeed, the article did try to sustain this argument. But it is nonsense. It might be true that the problem is not the lack of mortgages, but neither is it the case that house prices are necessarily affected to any great degree by a so-called shortage of housing. Had I unlimited wealth I could buy thousands of houses, flats and palaces tomorrow (there are today nearly 40,000 properties for sale on Rightmove in London alone). When those who fail to understand the housing market claim there is a shortage of homes what they actually mean is that there is a shortage of homes they can afford. And given that in many instances, repaying a mortgage is cheaper than paying a private rent, it is the deposit requirement that stands in their way. And deposit demands have become so onerous because of the 2007 crash, led by the champions of the loosest possible mortgage market, such as Gordon Brown and American financiers. This Comment article was accompanied by two first-hand accounts from youngsters aged around 30 who could not find anywhere within their price range to buy in their chosen areas one in Putney, the other in Surbiton. One said: "£450,000 won't get the two of us much at all in London." The other said: "Interest rates are mental at the moment." Today, there nearly 300 entire houses in London for sale at less than £450,000 just on Rightmove alone; and well over 10,000 flats. And those "mental" interest rates? Our mortgage rate went up to around 15 per cent at one time. Forgive me for thinking that 2.5 or 3 per cent is unusually and unsustainably low. (The repercussions of low interest rates are explained in my book; the complexities do mean I have some slight sympathy for the confused state of the interviewee's mind.) But read these pieces uncritically, swallowing whole their message, and the myth of a housing shortage is perpetuated.

These are examples of dreadfully misleading journalism. But the malaise is widespread and I encounter shocking examples every day. Occasionally, I am asked for advice from young would-be journalists. As recently as Tuesday, I was placed in the invidious situation of having to disillusion a student pondering a career in journalism. I had to advise that if he had ambitions to be on camera as a presenter, he should focus on sport: reaching international level and perhaps winning a medal or trophy or two has become the necessary qualification for broadcast "journalists" (see June 3). Equally important is a fresh-faced gullibility and a determination to avoid asking pertinent questions. These qualities will enable a journalist's written pieces to be as full of holes, or as laughably absurd, as so many we read. This morning's papers, for example, brought us two hysterical screamers: the Surrey Advertiser took seriously the nonsensical tale of Elsie, the elderly woman who claimed she kept herself warm by riding on a bus all day: it sent a reporter to spend a day on a bus, and he found it far from comfortable. The story also repeated a ridiculous allegation that Elsie's energy bills jumped from £17 to £85 a month. What on earth was she doing?

This is an example of how an urban myth Elsie was outed long ago as a Labour party activist can become "fact": it is the journalist's most fundamental function to confront such nonsense. A second example is the partial story of the man who died at Gatwick airport. We know little about the facts of this case, as the omissions in the story are huge and glaring: questions have clearly not been asked. How did the man leave the flight cabin? How did he reach an escalator? Where was he? What actually happened? We have answers to none of these basic questions but are expected to absorb this sad tale into our negative view of airports, airlines and transport, perhaps spicing it up a little. This is not even poor work; it is bad.

KYIV: WE WERE PERHAPS A BIT HASTY...

A lovely picture of young people frolicking in the sunshine by a river in Kyiv appeared in the news this week. It was a delight to behold. But it begs a rather large question: would it have been more sensible to wait before re-settling western Ukrainians in western Europe? They would have endured several weeks of discomfort in camps in Poland and other neighbouring countries. But by now, they could have returned as the war moved east many weeks ago. Instead, because of the furore and accusations of heartlessness and dithering, those fleeing war are becoming embedded in alien societies, perhaps never to return home. This is a far worse option on many counts. The Russian invasion could, of course, refocus on western Ukraine, necessitating a renewed evacuation. But for now, western Europe's emotional and over-hasty reaction is looking just that: emotional and over-hasty.

LLOYD-WEBBER, PERHAPS YOU WERE A BIT HASTY

Poor Andrew Lloyd-Webber: he was booed on the closing night of his musical, Cinderella. He drew the final curtain on the production despite claiming it had garnered him his "best reviews". It seems that financial difficulties resulting from early opening while the pandemic was still raging was the cause of its demise. Poor Andrew, there he was hectoring and lecturing the government on how he could sidestep Covid-19 by spraying his audiences. If only he hadn't been so hasty – all he had to do was wait a few more months.

THAT PROTOCOL AND TWO DIFFERENT MINDSETS

The row over the Northern Ireland Protocol highlights the fundamental and irreconcilable differences between UK and EU ways of thinking. The Protocol is failing, of that there is no doubt even the EU accepts that changes are needed. The impasse arises because the EU refuses to revisit the wording of the Protocol itself, whereas the UK is demanding that this is necessary for trade and government policies to be carried out legitimately. Continental EU countries have a tradition of turning a blind eye to EU rules that they don't like; the UK does not. Part of the reason for the permanently uncomfortable relationship between the UK and the EU is because the UK has always shown determination to follow the rules: it would rather commit absurdities by following rules than show common sense and ignore them. The UK has therefore always campaigned for EU rules to be altered to match reality, whereas other nations skirt round them. Only a day or so ago, a German minister admitted that his country had introduced differential taxation, thereby suggesting that the UK could and should do the same in Northern Ireland if it so wished. For Britain, the rules says it can't, so it won't, and the rules have to be changed. The EU says, never mind the rules, we'll just add a few get-outs. The EU mindset is focused much more on the over-arching ideology than detailed instructions. A letter in The Times this week also spelled out these differing mindsets in response to accusations that the UK government was being confrontational towards the EU. It pointed out that EU intransigence and insistence on ideological purity forced David Cameron into the Brexit referendum in the first place.

And there is the further example today of companies' response to bans on trading with Russia. A survey suggests that just one British company is continuing to trade with Russia, while 26 French and 23 German companies have failed to heed the embargo. Again, the UK sticks to the rules, EU countries and their businesses allow themselves plenty of wiggle-room. But there appears little room for compromise when the two sides have such a fundamentally different way of thinking.

EVERYONE'S BURNING PPE

The government is accused of wastefulness in burning excess PPE, which it costs £3.5 million a week to store. For a few weeks in 2020 it was accused of not having enough, a situation that was quickly resolved in the UK, while EU countries had to wait for its common procurement system to creak into gear. We have equipment left over because the vaccination programme was so incredibly successful, bringing an end to lockdowns months ahead of the rest of the world. Burning it seems a sensible option. However, if France had known there was a pandemic on the way, perhaps it would not have thought it sensible to burn vast quantities of PPE just before the Covid outbreak.

AT LEAST LABOUR IS GIVING US A LAUGH

Now that Labour is back in the hands of the liberals, it is at least entertaining to watch it squirm when working people choose to go on strike. The party is tying itself in knots over the train dispute, with shadow ministers having to apologise for supporting the workers. Andy Burnham, Manchester mayor, is today reported to have attacked the leadership for being too scared to support the striking workers; and Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, says Labour is ready for office because it now takes business seriously which can only mean, sod the workers. There's nothing like a strike to prove that Labour can't be all things to all people, no matter how firmly it refuses to reveal a single policy on anything.

THE GREAT STONEWALL TAKEOVER

I fail to understand why so many organisations have fallen under the spell of the increasingly ludicrous Stonewall campaign group. Parts of the NHS, we are told, include questions set by Stonewall, in their procurement documents. One trust, it is reported, includes five questions titled "Stonewall UK Workplace Equality Index". Bidders are asked whether they are members of Stonewall's Equality Index and whether they have a "transitioning at work" policy and these questions carry the same weight as health-related questions. This is extraordinary. As the whistleblower who revealed this outrage said: "The NHS is willing to compromise on patient safety care to promote Stonewall." This is a fantastic achievement for Stonewall, but a shameful travesty for everyone else.

JUNE 6 2022

Reflection is a marvellous thing. And having had time to come down from the high of the immediate and powerful sentiment of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee concert on Saturday night and having discussed it with respected peers and read a review or two – I can now see one or two more flaws in the line-up of artistes. While my congratulations to the organising committee on choosing a list that spanned sufficient generations and genres still stands, it does seem to have taken its eye off any geographical representation. It is a significant criticism that while there were big-name Americans (why?), there were too few stars, or indeed none, from the UK's home nations and the Commonwealth. Could Tom Jones not have been persuaded to be the headliner? Was the adorable Nicola Benedetti not asked to join in? Or those Northern Irish performers so adept at winning the Eurovision Song Contest? They would have felt completely at home on that giant set outside Buckingham Palace. The Times' reviewer this morning also asks whether Diana Ross was miming, which I commented on at the time as there certainly appeared to be several mismatches between what we saw and what we heard. If so, the inclusion of Ross was a gross mistake and utterly pointless. I do disagree with the reviewer's damning verdict on Celeste's performance, though. OK, it was not exactly party fare, but it was poignant and compelling immediately on the heels of Prince William's green speech.

NO ONE COULD SURVIVE THIS VICIOUS TROLLING EXERCISE

The prime minister will not survive long now. Tory MPs are increasingly worried that their seats are in jeopardy and even if they support him in this evening's vote of confidence, there will be a renewed, and probably successful, drive to oust him after the forthcoming by-election defeats. In the circumstances, they are probably right to do so: Boris Johnson has gone from being an electoral asset to serious liability. This is in no small measure down to the scandalous campaign mounted against him by Brexit-hating sections of the media, notably the BBC. The Times is equally culpable, with its succession of recent "cartoons" libellously depicting Boris as an alcoholic. Times cartoonists are always pathetic, unfunny and ill-informed but this attack is as bad as any online trolling or bullying. No one could survive the incessant barrage Boris has faced: the drip effect of unsubstantiated accusations, grossly disfiguring caricatures, and yes, lies, was inevitably going to have an effect sooner or later. As mentioned a few days ago, when a newspaper so passionately desperate to damage the prime minister as The Guardian decides to list his "lies" and can only muster one that actually amounts to a proper bare-faced lie you start to see how vicious this campaign has been.

It seems to be the alleged Downing Street "parties" that have whipped away his public support, along with the claim – now an adopted fact – that he lied to Parliament. My riposte to this is that if you had asked me on the day I left the FT whether parties had taken place there, I would have replied No. The fact that a subsequent Metropolitan Police investigation used a different definition of what a "party" is would not make me a liar. And so the Boris-haters will get their way. Perhaps the time is right: despite several sensible policy initiatives, delivery is slow and in some cases, such as the removal of illegal migrants, defeatist. The move to reintroduce some imperial measurements, a trivial and meaningless gesture, smacks of desperation. I believe his tenure and legacy will be viewed positively by future historians – even those Tory MPs preparing to ditch him mostly believe in his programme – and the fates have certainly been unkind. But wavering policies in such areas as gambling and planning, and fumbling on tax and benefits and economic management, have all undermined the sense of purpose and progress. There is no obvious successor. But then I was astounded when Boris was chosen. It's a one-off task and impossible to tell who will excel – or fail – at it until it's too late.

THE 1970s – OH, THE SUFFERING! OH, THE MISERY!

It's interesting to discover just how awful the 1970s were – from youngsters who have not the first clue what they're talking about. There are, of course, plenty of people who did live through the seventies who are happy to make it out to be the worst decade imaginable. They tend to be professionals and business people who felt the power balance between bosses and workers was skewed too far towards the latter and were thus relieved when Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair put executives and owners firmly back in charge. But for the vast majority of working class and the lower middle classes – by far the biggest proportion of the population, the 1970s were not at all bad. You won't hear this said very often because the writing of history is the prerogative of the victorious and the myth of 1970s awfulness is now dominant and all-pervasive.

But just occasionally someone will break ranks and paint a truer picture. Having not heard a good word said about the 1970s for what seems like decades, it came as a surprise that two writers in The Times stable managed it in the past few days. First, columnist Carol Midgley wrote: "Boris Johnson has complained that his crèche, sorry 'cabinet', which includes an attorney-general aged 42 and a chief secretary to the Treasury aged 37, is too young to remember the 'pain' of the 1970s. Well, prime minister, I’m not. And while yes, the strikes and the blackouts weren’t ideal, especially since your mum had to light lots of cheap Woolworths candles and when you blew your nose into a hanky it went black, it wasn’t all bad. In fact much of it was hilarious and should be brought back immediately."

Among the positives, she listed: "No fretting about bulky children’s car seats when driving on holiday they just tipped us all in the hatchback with a few cola cubes, the sun burning through the rear windscreen on to the scratchy poncho knitted by your nan. If you wanted to see your friend you didn’t snapchat them from bed, you walked round on your actual legs and knocked on the actual door. Which meant that children then were thin, not pavement crackers in 46in-waist school trousers (I’m not exaggerating; that’s a true story). No one wore seatbelts or thought twice about balancing a baby on their knee while driving, possibly after a few brown ales (not condoning it, just saying). No one seemed to think that paedophiles had been invented (Jimmy Savile was a national hero), so you’d be left outside a pub in the car with bottles of pop and Salt & Shake crisps feeling, genuinely, as though life couldn’t get any better.

"Politicians always evoke the Seventies as a bogeyman but for some of us that doesn’t work, because it was also a thrilling time filled with David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Tiswas, Vesta curries, cassette tape recorders, waterbeds, sausages and beans in a tin." And she concluded: "What was nice about the Seventies was that youthful innocence still, just about, existed. We could laugh for days over one saucy seaside postcard, such as a picture of a busty barmaid misplacing two flagons of orange squash and asking: 'Have you seen my big jugs?' Imagine kids of today raised on internet porn seeing anything subversive enough to laugh at in a cartoon of a swimming instructor asking a woman in a bikini: 'Now, would you like to try a length underwater?' Those were the days, my friend."

She is, of course, right. Every decade has its pros and cons but the seventies is only allowed to be seen through the lens marked "cons". This s because it flies in the face of today's consumer obsession, its business-first culture and its greed, selfishness and alienation from real society. Do those who ritually condemn the seventies not understand that the best ever music was created, that it contained the best-loved year (1976) and that life for the vast majority was one of gradual improvement. We went to concerts, just like today; we went on holidays, just like today. We ate better food because it was made from ingredients, not pre-packaged by someone desperate to make a profit; and we were greener, in that there was no central heating and baths once a week. We were all fine. Honestly. But most important of all, and very unlike today, participatory democracy was in action. As Midgley writes, it was exciting.

Even that old grump Rod Liddle is on board. He wrote in his Sunday Times column: "Perhaps it was a simpler age. If the UK was stagnating, it was a comfortable stagnation, with gradually rising living standards and, since Elizabeth’s accession, peace in our time. Yes, we had endured power cuts, the three-day week, almost perpetual strikes and real, proper, inflation. But the growing affluence and the absence of real war, as opposed to the Cold War, made us a rather cosseted generation, one which demanded change with a certain irresponsible petulance." He was writing about the thrilling but individualistic and nihilistic explosion of punk rock, which he, probably correctly, calls a right-wing, anti-society movement. They were such interesting times when, in order to be heard you had to have something worthwhile to say, not just a vacuous social media platform from which to utter a vile brew of inanities, hatred and ugliness. My snapshot view of subsequent decades shows how alike they all are in their pros and cons: the 1980s violent suppression of miners and the starving of their communities to force them into obedience; the 1990s – economic mismanagement and financial scandals, with Middle East wars thrown in; the 2000s – more wars, Blair's betrayal of the working class and Gordon Brown's destruction of the world's best pension system, his sell-off of gold reserves and his laying the foundations for the inevitable crash; 2010s – when we have to start paying the price for living beyond our means in a fool's paradise for the past decade or more. And the 2020s – we already have war, disease and the same old political in-fighting. Give me the 1970s any day.

JUNE 5 2022

Nice concert last night. Outside Buckingham Palace. Queen's Platinum Jubilee. Duran Duran misfired by choosing two dirges instead of party songs, George Ezra misfired by removing all traces of groove from his anthemic Shotgun, and Craig David was....just Craig David. But the mix was right, covering all ages and generations, and as many genres as would be bearable in a single evening. Highlights for me were Celeste singing a powerful and dramatic "Wonderful World"; the wonderful Alicia Keys belting out "New York", slightly inappropriately and for the millionth time; the incredible drones; and, bizarrely, Diversity's energetic three-minute history of British dance music, which featured some clever tricks. What struck me about many of the brief sets, however, was that I had seen something very similar only a few weeks ago. Anyone who says they enjoyed the Jubilee concert performers but claims the Eurovision Song Contest is unwatchable needs to alternate between watching Mimi Webb, Mabel and several of the other acts from last night and watching the best dozen Eurovision acts and then try to describe the differences between them.

Overall, however, there was a difference last night: this was a show with a purpose, a party and celebration for an entire nation. And in this regard, too, it was a huge success in that it offered something for most people, from opera and ballet via old rockers to young stars. I suspect this was a result of a diverse commissioning panel. Had the selection of artists been left to a committee of old folks, it would have alienated the young, and vice versa.

And there is a lesson here for all selection panels, be they hiring employees or choosing a leader for high office. There is currently an assumption that unconscious bias, from which every single human being suffers and will always suffer, must be countered by ever more extreme and absurd levels of anonymity in the filtering process, to the point where decision-makers know virtually nothing about the candidates. This is obviously ridiculous: at lunch in the FT canteen a decade ago we used to joke about how far this removal of information in order to avoid discrimination would go. It has already gone way beyond any of the ludicrous scenarios we came up with. Given that the whole purpose of a selection process is to discriminate between different candidates, the panel must have all available information before it. Of course, each member will have their own unconscious biases to contend with, although these are now relatively trivial compared with the days when certain categories of candidate needn't even bother to apply. Even so, we can do better and the way to achieve it is to appoint a diverse panel. Just as the Jubilee party programme must have been the product of diverse input, so all choices would and should benefit from diverse input. That is the smart way to resist bias.

So many organisations get this hopelessly wrong. The Crown Prosecution Service provided the perfect example last week, when it announced the appointment of Sophie Cook to a new role of "speak-out champion”. Cook is transgender and has supported the replacement of the word woman with “womxn” and used the abusive acronym “terf” trans-exclusionary radical feminist. On her website she calls herself a "self-harm and suicide survivor". As a trans activist she sounds aggressively extremist and has already struck fear into the minds of prosecutors who are now waiting to be attacked and hounded for their reasonably held views. Cook sounds a deeply troubled individual, as far as it is possible to gather from a few hundred words, and surely a controversial choice for even this daft role. It will inevitably lead to conflict, because of the intolerant and bullying methods of the extremist trans lobby to which, bafflingly, so few seem prepared to stand up. Perhaps it's something to do with its vicious social media cancelling policy.

Unlike the trans extremists, I believe all views should be heard and considered. Even Cook's. But she should not be in charge, making judgments and pronouncements: her views appear so fanatically narrow that she is completely unqualified to evaluate others. If the CPS is using Cook to establish a new culture it is making an enormous mistake. Her views represent the very tip of the tail of the dog that she might now be able to wag. If the CPS allows Cook the sort of level of influence her new title suggests, then its new-look culture might look less like an increasingly perfect dog and more like a gigantic tail.

JUNE 3 2022

When I call in at the surgery to see a doctor, I am always relieved when the doctor has the sort of training and experience that qualifies them for the job. If I need legal advice, I hope the lawyer has studied and been through the required career progression, one that confers knowledge and top-class judgment. If I were ever to be an axe thrower's stooge in a circus performance, I would check their CV with a fair degree of intensity. But employers seeking television presenters or sports event tournament directors couldn't care less about competence, training, knowledge, experience or judgment: all they seek is a "name", usually from sport or light entertainment. And so we have former footballers sitting on the BBC's early evening snore-fest, The One Show, and even taking part in coverage of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. We have a former tennis player running the French Open event in Paris. And we have the likes of Clare Balding, Alan Titchmarsh, some boy-band singer, and even runner Seb Coe organising things and presenting things when they are not even in the top million candidates for the job. This wouldn't hurt so much, were it not for the fact that properly trained and experienced professionals, for whom these prestige jobs should be the highlights of their careers, are ignored in favour of Jermaine "Yeah, I'll give it a go, thank you very much" Jenas.

This is not to heap all the blame on to the likes of Jenas, Alex Scott and the boy-band bloke. Some are reasonably competent: Jenas is OK and likeable enough but has occasionally been caught out when the fairly easy One Show job turns tricky and he has no tools with which to respond. This is why employers with brains choose professionals. Who would you trust in a crisis Jenas or Kirsty Young, Alex Scott or Huw Edwards? Similarly, how can it be fair to have thrust the equally likeable Scott into front-line coverage of the Olympics, with the inevitably embarrassing results? Meanwhile, seasoned professionals sat at home, justifiably fuming. The BBC's most heinous crime in this regard is allowing the utterly clueless Marion Bartoli near a microphone. Presenting on screen might look like a job anyone can do, and to some extent it is. But to do it well takes aptitude, skill, training, experience and more. This is not to deny that there can be spectacular successes: two of the greatest sports broadcasters, David Coleman and Kenneth Wolstenholme, were both career communicators, but a third, Dan Maskell, was first a tennis player. Several cricketers have been successfully converted into broadcasters. But there has been a big switch: former players identified as excellent communicators were once the exception among professional broadcasters; today, they barely need to be average to take the place of an excellent professional.

If that applies to broadcasting, it is even more crucial in organising major events. London 2012 was mostly a success but the mess made over the future of the Olympic Stadium, for which Londoners might be paying for ever, was caused by appointing an amateur to run the show. Seb Coe might have made a name for himself by running fast, but running an Olympics might better have been left to a professional. The stadium might then have been designed for future use as a football ground the only possible outcome. Coe's idiotic and naive insistence that it would remain an athletics stadium meant this did not happen and handed West Ham United the deal of the century when they eventually agreed to take it over.

The French, of course, take things to another level. Under a headline containing the phrase "staggering incompetence", The Times sports pages yesterday let readers know how well former tennis player Amélie Mauresmo was getting on in her terrific new job as French Open tournament director. This would be the 2022 French Open, at which hundreds of spectators were left stranded outside the Roland Garros stadium in the early hours of Wednesday morning after watching Rafa Nadal beat Novak Djokovic a match that everyone knew could not finish before midnight and in fact finished much later. Stuart Fraser reports in The Times that there were people desperately trying to find a taxi and paying through the nose if they did.

Fraser, The Times tennis writer, then wrote: "Asked about these problems at a press conference on Wednesday morning, the response of Mauresmo beggared belief." And indeed it did. She said: "That’s actually a key issue that needs to be settled and that will be one of our priorities in the future. We haven’t planned anything yet, but obviously we need to organise ourselves differently with the department of transport of Paris, with bus systems and the underground system. Obviously it’s not simple. It’s the first year that I’m the tournament director. I’m learning a lot of things regarding the scheduling of the tournament. Having such late matches could actually trigger some questions. I’m wondering about it myself, to be honest."

Fraser then wrote: "This is astonishing. French Open organisers specifically sold a separate night session rights package to Amazon Prime for approximately £12m a year, guaranteeing that a match would start at 8.45pm, but seemingly did not have the foresight to consider what may happen if it does not finish until after midnight. Not for the first time, it is an example of staggering incompetence on the part of a tennis governing body." It is equally important to ask what on earth the governing body thought it was doing appointing an amateur and a complete beginner to run such an event. If I was seeking someone to direct a grand slam tennis tournament, I would choose a qualified and experienced tournament director, not someone who is humiliatingly forced to admit "I'm learning a lot of things".

Sadly, this is not Mauresmo's only display of incompetence this week. She also enraged female players by saying their short matches were not worthy of the prime time evening slot. I'm sure she is likeable and capable of many things. Andy Murray employed her as his coach for a while. But who could have been stupid enough to offer her work experience in the top job? Are there really no qualified and experienced tournament directors in France? And if there are, will they be able to resist a wry and resentful smile at Mauresmo's abject failure?


JUNE 1 2022

Incredible isn't it. For almost 30 years my wife and I have been keeping an eye out for the supposedly "in-need" people who live opposite us in "charity" housing – it's owned by some sort of housing association, which claims that everyone it takes in exhibits some level of "need". The residents used to be elderly, now they are all ages, some with multiple vehicles. There are currently several motorcycles in the car park. Over the years, we have picked up the old residents when they've fallen over, rescued them when stuck on the steps, seen them home, carried their shopping, comforted them, delivered them meals on wheels, taken them to medical appointments (only this week I arranged for a lady to receive a lift for a pneumonia jab appointment), chatted to them and invited them to join our road's occasional street parties. The older residents appreciate this; the newer, younger and far less needy intake and their relatives largely fail to.

Last evening, as I was putting out the bins, an angry, aggressive and unpleasant looking man stormed up my driveway and accosted me, accusing me of placing a log on the grass verge opposite. He was right, but no sane person would have admitted it immediately in the face of such an assault. I told him, as I ushered him off my property, that while it was up to him whether he parked illegally on the double yellow lines or not, we were simply asking him not to destroy the grass verge by driving on it. He claimed to park there for only a few minutes while picking up his mother but I pointed out that this made no difference to the damage caused to the grass. It is also true that his car has spent up to an hour parked illegally at times. Without enforcement in this area, he is able to do so with impunity.

So, in return for nearly three decades of care, admittedly low level for the most part, we are attacked and left feeling vulnerable to any reprisals this visitor decides to inflict. It is not the first abuse we have been subjected to by residents or family of those housed over the road. One couple, who have since left, had at least three vehicles, one of them an open-backed truck, often full of rubbish, that the chap had no qualms about parking outside our front door. On one occasion he parked blocking the road and reacted threateningly to a neighbour when she asked him to move. I was also abused by a small man with a hideously coloured minibus that regularly darkened our front window. He saw me looking at the van when parking one afternoon as I was walking our dog and launched into a rant. I was super-humanly restrained in my response as, again, I could not trust this horrible little person not to harm our property in some way. He has also moved on, thank goodness. But the problem inhabitants just keep coming. We will, however, continue to pick up the ones that collapse, assist those in need and keep guiding the incoherent alcoholic to his door in spite of the rotten apples letting the side down.

'SHE RAPED YOU WITH HER PENIS'

As Ricky Gervais pointed out, there is now humour in the most unlikely places. No one thought even a decade ago that it would be possible to joke about such a statement as "she raped you with her penis" because it would have been thought stupid, too absurd. No one could even have thought it. Yet here we are. Similarly, the idea that airline passengers would be allowed to take pigs and peacocks into the cabin to "comfort them" would have been too ridiculous to think up 20 years ago. Even the Monty Python team, those masters of the absurd, would have drawn the line at such idiocy. I always felt the dafter aspects of the world were Pythonesque, but we are now beyond even their imaginings in a world so preposterous I long for the sanity and common sense of a Python episode.

THE BBC AND ITS PRONOUN MANIA

If The Times' reporting is to be believed, the BBC website changed a rape victim's quotes, after she accused her attacker of being a him and using his penis, to the assailant's preferred gender neutral pronouns of they and their. Quite extraordinarily bad journalism.

THE BBC AND ITS 'NEWS BY ANECDOTE' MANIA

"And after the news summary we'll be talking to a poor person about how hard it is being poor." This interview was meant to show that the current "cost of living crisis" is having a devastating impact despite the government handing out tens of billions of pounds left, right and centre. What it actually showed is how a heart-rending chat with "a poor person", which could have been recorded with "a poor person" at almost any time in the past millennium, can be used to contort world events so that they appear purely local. But they are only of interest to the BBC when they can be useful: when they can suggest that the government has abandoned them to a living hell.

THE COST OF LIVING CRISIS WHAT CRISIS?

We all know that the disgracefully lop-sided distribution of wealth in capitalist "societies" means poor people have a miserable time. They suffer at all times, as explained above. Thankfully, they are a minority and with better targeting of tax-payer support could be helped and we must hope this happens. Instead, for now, everyone is being bunged £400, or more, whether they need it or not. As we were sitting in a traffic jam on the M25 on the way to my mother's on Friday night, my mind wandered into thoughts of how we might begin excluding sections of society from receiving this cash so that more of it might reach those genuinely in need of it. The obvious first thought was that anyone who can afford to sit and burn money in a stationary car should be struck off. When we began moving freely on the M40, I then thought that anyone happy to waste fuel by driving at more than 75mph might also manage without their £400. The holiday hordes, causing so much bother for travel companies and airlines, provide more candidates. The list goes on.

AT LEAST IT'S POSSIBLE TO SAVE MONEY THESE DAYS

A mother complained on the lunchtime news that she has to shove her three children into the shower together as she can't afford for them to shower separately. I didn't catch their ages and I don't think she was asked how often they shower quite an important question. But saving money in this way, as unpalatable as it is, was not even possible in the 1960s and 70s without risking widespread disease. Because reducing our single weekly bath would have had potentially dangerous consequences. Similarly, we had no mobile phones to give up not even a land-line in our house; few, if any, electric appliances to unplug – not even a fridge in either of my grandparents' houses. We didn't eat out, didn't smoke, didn't bet, had no central heating, never went abroad, and hardly ever went to the cinema or theatre or football matches; we drove old cars, and not often at that, and rarely bought anything other than food and clothes. And we considered ourselves reasonably well off! These are different times, of course, and the very poorest will struggle desperately. I aim to find a charity that will collect and redistribute unneeded government fuel handouts so that our £400 might be re-routed in that way. But for the vast majority, cutting back might be painful, but at least it's possible.

SUNDAY TIMES, YOU ARE CHARGED WITH...

What an appalling paper. Why do we still read it? These are a few of the charges to be laid against it this week:

● The splash headline: "Gray 'diluted' parties report after pressure". On close reading, the article makes clear that Sue Gray published what she wanted to publish. She was required to allow those criticised in it to respond: those are the rules. Had she been under undue pressure, she could have insisted on having her say. The first named reporters, the always-wrong Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, seem to have confused the obligation to consult with "applying pressure". It suits their narrative. But they are, once again, completely wrong.

● Page 2, and it's Caroline Wheeler attacking the government again. This time it's over watering down its planned gambling restrictions. If this does indeed turn out to be the case, then it is scandal and should prompt every right-thinking citizen to castigate their MP. But we're still some way off seeing a white paper.

● Page 8. An attack on the Rwandan government is made by the country's opposition leader. How unsurprising is that? Not news.

● But capping it all was the Business section report on bitcoin investment. This appeared in the Money section, where great care needs to be taken not to mislead readers into losing their money. Which, judging by the clueless buffoons profiled, is what crypto currencies are all about. The writer says of one: "Paula McMullan, 60, a careers coach who works with lawyers, unwittingly became a bitcoin investor in August 2020." This is not true. She did not "unwittingly" invest she knowingly bought £300 worth of bitcoin. The £300 rose in value to £1,500 but then was "lost" somehow. Instead of steering clear, however, she ploughed in another £2,500, which shrank to £1,000. Would you seek financial advice from this woman? Well you can – she gave up her job to trade full time and creates YouTube videos about investing. Her overall portfolio has "tumbled 22 per cent this year". I would call the paper's endorsement of her dangerous. Next is Hannah Jones, a 30-year-old accountant from London, who is reported to have lost half her crypto investment but "is still considering buying more". Hardly a role model, surely. And then there's Hugh Falcon who has lost about 10 per cent of his £4,000 investment. "It doesn't look too bad," he says. This is all so irresponsible.

MAY 26 2022

If the BBC's highest profile journalists were not so blinded by hatred and could focus on doing their job properly, Boris would have been out of office by now. Presenters play directly into the hands of the master manipulator by losing their cool and giving their loathing a prominent display. This morning on the Today programme, Nick Robinson became so consumed by bitterness and malice towards his interviewee, a Downing Street spokesperson, that he spat out accusations so incorrect and incoherent that he later had to apologise. And in the same interview he displayed such an appalling ignorance of the Covid restrictions that the interviewee was able easily to draw distinctions between events, people, groups, what was said and when, and what it all meant. And the interviewee was not even that good! So much for Tim Davie's "fairness" edict. He should be saying to his staff: be objective, throw out your preconceptions, ditch your underlying assumptions, and take nothing at face value including your revulsion for a prime minister who delivered Brexit. You can't do your job when weighed down by detestation and prejudice.

MASS HYSTERIA AND THE BRILLIANCE OF RICKY GERVAIS

On the one hand, you have one of the UK's funniest people: clever, witty, thoughtful, brave. On the other, you have blinkered bigots deciding that anything with which they disagree is offensive (which is, remember, a subjective state) and should be cancelled. It is therefore well within the natural order of things that Ricky Gervais should be attacked for his new hour-long stand-up routine, Super Nature. A story in The Times this morning listed a few phrases from Gervais's act that were said to offend the humourless trans campaigners. Reading them, it was instantly clear that even written down there was nothing that need offend a sensible, thinking person. But even so, I decided to turn on Netflix and watch his show. I have not laughed so much in a very long time  along with an audience clearly loving every second of it.

Judging Gervais's jokes by reading them on a page is like deciding how good a song is by only reading the lyrics. His timing, his delivery, his humanity, his intelligence, his rapport with an audience, and his sheer comic genius transform the bare words into something truly magical. He takes a stance, yes. But a perfectly rational and well-informed one: he, and millions of others, have every right to express such legitimate opinions. Humour is society's way of allowing steam to escape from the kettle: block it, as the small-minded religious dogmatists insist should happen, and an explosion will inevitably follow. I found it hard to accept the baby's funeral joke was funny and I'm not a fan of the "c" word; the "Hitler masturbation" room gag was gross. But the rest was simply a comedy genius at work. I highly recommend Gervais's show. It is hilarious and I saw absolutely nothing that would genuinely offend a reasonable person. Unreasonable people – now that's another matter.

MAY 25 2022

WHAT'S ALL THIS RUBBISH ABOUT 'PROGRESSIVES'?

Who and what are "progressives"? They seem to have sprouted up wildly in discussion of political alignments. But what on earth are they? Macron, the French president, seems to be being called one; and some commentators call for a "progressive alliance" of Labour and LibDem parties. In reality, what "progressive" appears to mean is "centrist" a conservative-liberal stance that longs to return to the Blairite "holiday from history" years at the start of this century. It might sound trendy and go-ahead to throw around the "progressive" label – but what's progressive about a backwards-looking yearning for a former status quo that suited you best?

BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS. NO QUESTION.

American gun lobbyists have the blood of yet more dead children on their hands. This is no longer up for debate: America could stop this happening but its politicians choose not to because of the moronic but powerful pro-gun activists. This is the choice the US takes every day: it says that it prefers dead children to the control of lethal weapons. Gun lobbyists, you are just as much murderers as the poor, now dead, halfwit who rampaged around slaughtering the innocents. You could stop next week's massacre – but you won't.

CHASING MONEY IT'S ALL THAT MATTERS

The Times today reports that convicted drug dealers and all manner of other inappropriate and completely unqualified dregs of society have become owners of children's care homes. Not because they care one jot about children, but because it's a frighteningly easy way to make money. As with pretty much every single pursuit, as soon as you introduce market incentives, business principles and the greedy hunger for profit, you open the door to crooks, conmen, danger and gruesome mismatches between the stated aims and function of an organisation and its reality. Care of children was passed from local authorities to the private sector and it has been a disaster. Energy retail was liberalised to create a competitive market and it has been a disaster, with the only requirement to setting up a company being possession of a laptop. Just two glaring examples from a litany of market disasters.

SPEND THE WINDFALL TAX – AND THEN WHAT?

The debate over whether to impose a one-off windfall tax on energy companies in order to help the poorest cope with rising fossil fuel costs still rumbles along. There are arguments for and against: people need money and the energy companies have a huge surplus of it because of rising prices; but there is also an urgent need to develop alternative sources to avoid dependency, reduce costs, stop children breathing fumes, and save the planet. The latter requires huge and rapid investment and so the idea of grabbing the money that would be used for this seems perverse. Indeed, the UK's biggest economic problem of the past 20 years has been a preference for cheap labour at the expense of investment. I, and many experienced economic commentators, would agree the arguments are finely balanced. But there is a clincher: a windfall tax would not raise a large enough sum to make a significant difference to the millions who would share it; and once you've handed it out and discovered that it was not the panacea you were expecting, what then?

TAKE NOTHING AT FACE VALUE

My journalist instinct to take nothing at face value remains intact. When the casual assumption that "Boris tells lies" was reiterated at the dinner table by friends last night, I could not help myself pointing out that The Guardian had recently listed what it called Boris's 12 lies. The paper hates Boris with a passion and does everything it can to undermine him and his government. And yet of its 12 lies, only one can truly be said to be a outright lie an untrue denial of his affair with Petronella Wyatt. The rest amount to possible misunderstandings, controversial statements, "cock-ups", and perhaps being misleading. But whether he means to be or not, Boris is a master of not lying, of speaking in ambiguities, of covering himself in the event of challenge, and yes, of being open and cavalier about what he says at the same time. It's a heady mix and quite an art. It led me to read an article by a philosopher on what constitutes lying, which included a discussion of what amounts to misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. How lying is defined makes a world of difference. Afterwards, I could only conclude that while Boris might sail close to the wind at times, he makes it extremely difficult for the relentless accusations of constant lying to stand up to scrutiny.

MAY 24 2022

I received a message from an Australian friend yesterday. It contained two attachments regarding last weekend's general election there and calling for a more decent public debate, free of the pathetic and vicious "gotcha" questioning that infects journalism there. I replied that it's not just Australia suffering from sub-standard reporting. Our press including the BBC has also thoroughly disgraced itself over the past few years with vacuous "gotcha" nonsense. Standards of journalism have plummeted to the point where basic questions go unasked because they would interfere with the government-bashing narrative. I don't like having a Tory government but I detest even more the unfair, biased, inaccurate and inadequate "journalism" that seeks to undermine it even during a national emergency and now an "almost-war"!

Even in today's "news", we have a huge "scandal" over a photograph of a "party", which looks exactly like what you would expect a work leaving do to look like and precisely like hundreds of what were clearly work events that I attended at the FT. Unnecessary work gatherings such as this were supposed to be "avoided" under lockdown restrictions but were never made illegal. The Met police had to decide at what point a work event switches to a social event. And made a total hash of it inevitably because it's a stupid question that was foisted upon it after relentless campaigning by the government-hating section of the media, notably the BBC.

We also have an absurd non-story presented as a government scandal concerning Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. She was forced to sign a false confession before being allowed to leave Iran - but because there was a UK official present, who very sensibly did not intervene and risk having her sent back to jail, this is portrayed as an appalling failure. Presumably, Zaghari-Ratcliffe herself resisted signing but thought better of it. Official intervention might have been a disaster at that point. It was a meaningless gesture by the incredibly stupid and nasty Iranian "authorities" and the UK official clearly did the right thing. But not if you read British media or listen to the BBC. Again, I'm no fan of the government, but this is indefensibly rotten, crass journalism.

And the unions get it, too. Today's media are happy to reveal their hatred and bias quite openly. This has always been the case in the poorer sections of the press but the rot has set in everywhere. The RMT leadership, about to cause mayhem with rail strikes, is trashed in today's Times for making perfectly reasonable statements and for what they earn and the homes they own. One is called a "Putin apologist" for a valuable and sensible contribution he made to the debate over dealing with Russia in 2015. Seven years ago! It says the union leader has earned £763,000 in salary a very odd and pejorative way of describing his pay over a seven-year period. And it says, accusingly, that he lives in a "west London home worth about £730,000" as if this was a mansion. At that valuation, it's more likely to be smallish flat in west London.

We have reached the point where the press absolutely cannot be trusted. As Matthew Syed rightly said in The Sunday Times a few weeks ago, public discourse has become so bitter and vicious that it is virtually non-existent. Closed minds, social media bubbles and a "burn-the-witch" mass hysteria and madness has replaced intelligent discussion. You have to be careful who's listening when expressing any opinion today.

MAY 14 2022

OH, COME OFF IT...

A "survey" is under way in Claygate this morning. At the end of the Parade, a board has been placed asking passers-by how their lives have been affected by Brexit. I refused to have anything to do with it, realising quickly that this "opinion poll" is loaded and will produce exactly the result the "pollsters" some sort of re-join the EU campaign are seeking. I didn't read the precise questions but they were along the lines of "have prices risen since Brexit?"; "have you endured a pandemic since Brexit?"; "has there been war in Europe since Brexit?"; "Have Norwich City been relegated from the Premier League since Brexit?" Given that the only answers allowed are "yes" or "no", some of the cause-and-effect subtleties might be lost in the responses. But no matter. This little slice of "democracy" will deliver a resounding boo for Brexit, just as intended.


MAY 13 2022

Millions of pounds are being squandered on the a court case in which no one has done anything of any significance whatsoever. Lawyers' time and effort, the cost of running the court, all wasted on vacuous "Wagatha Christie" litigation upon which no one seems able to pin a purpose. Protection of reputation has been suggested, presumably as a jest. It's the event for which the phrase "more money than sense" was coined. If I had been the judge I would have ushered the lot of them out of my court on day one and ordered them to settle matters in a more appropriate environment perhaps the gutter?

MAY 12 2022

So much has become "individualised" and atomised in the past 40 years, a trend that began with "greed is good" and the denial of the existence of society by Margaret Thatcher, and is (hopefully) reaching its zenith with ultra-liberal identity politics, that it is inevitable news would become similarly infected. Individuals have always been asked to "tell their stories" as a means of illustrating and personalising a particular event or trend; today, they are the news. Every day, over and over again, an individual is dragged in front of a microphone to tell their hard luck story, which is always the present government's fault and its duty to fix. Not everyone is dragged, of course: political activists regularly put themselves forward for such a role, thereby destroying the last vestiges of trust in so much media output. The most recent case was the elderly woman who claimed to have to ride the bus all day to keep warm: this nonsense spouted by a Labour party campaigner is now regularly quoted as fact by careless commentators.

But even the genuine cases tell us little or nothing. For example, a woman was interviewed this morning about the hard choices she faces as global energy prices rise and inflation takes hold around the world. Yet a broadcaster could have recorded an identical interview at any time in the past century or millennium. Poverty is not new. It is not right and the number one political priority of every politician should be to find long-term and lasting ways to eradicate it. But there are no immediate solutions to such people's plight, other than slipping bank notes into their purses which would require vastly higher taxation, which in turn is claimed to squeeze household budgets, too. And in any case, taxation is designed to be lop-sided: a few pounds contributed by millions creates a large pool of cash, but distribute it back out again and it returns to being just a few pounds each. Either way, our understanding of global inflation and worldwide energy price rises is not assisted one iota by listening to a hard-pressed woman telling us she is hard pressed. We already know this. The only purpose of such an interview can be to provide the sort of "gotcha" moment of which Matthew Syed speaks when interviewing a minister immediately after.

THE ALTERNATIVE VOICE IS IGNORED

As I said a couple of days ago, the boss of Tesco leapt to the top of the BBC's news headlines by calling for an energy windfall tax but anyone with an opposing view was ignored. Yesterday, the boss of Centrica, an actual energy company, convincingly explained why a windfall tax would be a terrible idea. Were his views going to make headlines on BBC radio news? Not on your life.

MAY 11 2022

Matthew Syed is once again the voice of intelligence, reason and sense. His column this week in The Sunday Times makes several points that I have been making in this blog for more than two years, pointing out that the government did a decent job in the face of the pandemic; he even says the honesty with which the UK presented the statistics should be a source of pride. It is such a superb article, it deserves quoting at length. Syed goes on to comment on how ministers' efforts were portrayed: "What strikes me most about the past two years is the abject, often irrational nature of public discourse. At times it was as if social media and some of its mainstream equivalents were observing an entirely different crisis. Far from a government doing its best in challenging circumstances, left-wing pundits glimpsed an evil cabal that failed to lock down early in March 2020 because it revelled in the mass deaths of the elderly and vulnerable and perhaps wanted to euthanise them. 'Eugenics' trended so often that I almost lost count. Consider this from The Guardian in the summer of 2020: 'The Luftwaffe did not chalk up such a gruesome death toll.' Or a piece from the same period speaking of 'a daily mortality rate far deadlier than the Nazi onslaught on British towns and cities between September 1940 and May 1941'."

I recall the ghastly Hugh Pimm beginning a "question" to Rishi Sunak with the words "Are you ashamed...?" It is quite something that we are now talking about something of which we can be proud.

The trigger for Syed's column was the World Health Organisation's report that assessed the actual number of Covid deaths around the world by examining "excess deaths" over the period. The UK is revealed to have been on a par with comparable countries; its statistics were startlingly accurate and honest; and many other countries were hopelessly dishonest or confused. Again, I have been saying precisely this since the start.

Syed continues, and this is all so important: "In short, what the Covid era reveals is the shocking decline in the standard and probity of public discourse. It is hardly novel to place the social media at the centre of this malaise, but we perhaps fail to grasp how it has infected other areas of our lives. Think back to how television functioned during the pandemic – the constant attempts to ask 'gotcha' questions rather than elicit information. This was not because interviewers were superficial but because they had an eye to how the clip might go viral later in the day.

"A few days ago I came across a video that showed an interview of Harold Wilson after the 1970 general election, and it was almost shocking to behold probing questions and direct answers. David Dimbleby was actually seeking to extract information on behalf of viewers, and the prime minister was doing his best to oblige. Political discourse was by no means perfect back then, but a cursory glance at these fragments of history reveals the vivid contrast with the sewers we occupy today.

"But let me suggest that it is no good blaming social media for the rise of the divisive and sensational. It is time for the public to take responsibility, too. I am talking about those who mindlessly retweeted 'eugenics' hashtags; those who amplified the rants of mouthy radio presenters on the one hand and lockdown sceptics on the other; and those who danced on the graves of elected officials who succumbed to gotcha questions, revelling in their discomfort without a scrap of empathy.

"It has become de rigueur to condemn the shiftiness and evasiveness of politicians, but can you blame them when they are beset with these elephant traps? Can you blame them when they see Twitter mobs circling, hoping for another kill? Can you blame them when they make difficult decisions in what they perceive to be the public interest only to be condemned as Nazis by one side and fascists by the other?

"Honesty? Integrity? Yesterday I trawled the internet feeds of those who most aggressively attacked the government, particularly those on the left who condemned the 'high' death rate. Do you think these fearless pursuers of truth acknowledged the new evidence from the WHO? Do you think they informed their followers that the UK wasn’t the worst performer in Europe after all? Did Independent Sage scientists revise their criticisms, too? Not a bit of it.

"I disagree with many policies of this government, but that doesn’t mean I feel moved to disagree with everything. Like many, I have become weary of the bad-faith attacks, the inability to offer even a soupçon of credit for policy successes, the exhausting criticisms that do nothing for democracy and everything to inflame the cynicism that has become a democratic disease. The truth is that on the whole, and with only a few exceptions, ministers did their best in unenviable circumstances. And to think otherwise is not a reflection of them, but a truly devastating one of us."

I could not agree more. And I say that everything I have written on this subject over the past two years absolves me completely from the shame that so many should be feeling today. I also point out that it does not make me a Tory.

SO WHY WERE MINISTERS SO WEAK?

Given all of the above, why did ministers remain so meek when being harangued and bullied by know-all yobbish questioners such as Nick Robinson? There were so many times that an easy and obvious riposte would have silenced the bullies, yet government spokespeople remained painfully polite. When Hugh Pimm began his notorious question to Rishi Sunak by saying "Are you ashamed...", why did the chancellor not interrupt and say: "Let me stop you there. No, I am not ashamed. Can we move on to the next questioner, please." A bully will not stop until they meet resistance: my approach at work was always that I abhor bullying, but I made it a rule that the only bully I would ever tolerate in the room was me: if you sense someone is being bullied, then bully the bully back and the results are usually instant and satisfying. A more robust attitude by ministers would have helped prevent some of the worst excesses of the bad-faith attacks and helped everyone understand the reality of what was actually happening.

MAY 10 2022

IT'S NOT FAKE NEWS – IT'S NOT ACTUALLY NEWS AT ALL...

Step one: choose an interviewee you know to be critical of the government and strongly supportive of a windfall tax on the energy companies. Step two: ask him the obvious questions and secure the predicted replies. Step three: use the freshly expressed opinions as part of the lead item in your next main news bulletin. Job done: your headline news now says the government is undermined for getting it wrong again. Even though this is not news at all merely what one person thinks. Never mind that there are as many economists and commentators out there who believe the opposite they were not interviewed. Nor will they ever be by a biased media organisation. Who on earth would sink to such depths? The BBC's Radio Four Today programme, of course.

PLEASE, LET HIM BE FINED

The cavalier promise by Keir Starmer to resign if he is fined over "beer-gate" perhaps indicates that he has had word that no fine will be issued. It certainly places a huge burden on Durham police, now knowing that they hold in their hands the career of a politician, albeit an extremely dull and annoying one. The facts are that this case and those of the alleged Downing Street breaches are absolutely on all fours. I think it was not a lie for Starmer to have said he believed he was attending a work event, but then neither was it a lie when Boris said precisely the same. Subsequent reinterpretation of events that were reported on at the time and caused not a ripple of interest then has made political "liars" of many. What was a damned lie, however, is that the Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was not present: she was, and her name was on the plan. I believe it is an idiotic political farce to pursue any of these "offences", one that was initiated and encouraged by Labour, the BBC and the Boris-hating half of the country. But I now fervently hope that Starmer gets his just desserts and is handed a fine – for hypocrisy, lying and being such a diabolical leader of what is supposed to be a Labour party.

MAY 7 2022

The typical Tory voter is now a deprived working class socialist seeking a fairer deal in life. The typical Labour voter is now a privileged middle class London liberal wishing for a return to the free-wheeling fun days of "New Labour". Yesterday's local election results showed this more clearly than ever and confirm that the biggest divide in Britain is still Brexit versus Remain. Labour under Keir Starmer can be nothing but a Remain/Rejoin juggernaut, trundling over the needs of his party's former core supporters who had suffered economically and culturally from uncontrolled migration, while cheer-leading madly for the return of cheap labour. This appeals to the Islington wing of the party, hence its success in London and a few other trendy urban areas. The Conservatives delivered Brexit, as democratically instructed by the electorate and, apart from the impossible-to-avoid Irish question, did a pretty good job. This shifted the workplace power balance back towards labour and the workers remain grateful and hopeful. Starmer's pathetic response to the "beer-gate" allegations his defence is almost identical, word-for-word, to that of Boris and Rishi Sunak should take the absurd party-gate and "lies" campaign out of the equation. The political question then becomes, how deep and strong is the workers' gratitude over Brexit and how will they weigh its effects against the government's response to the impact of the pandemic and the global economic squeeze? And all this will have to be assessed through the distorted prism of loaded media coverage. So far, Labour, with every possible advantage handed to it on a plate, is screwing up horrifically because of its total disconnect with labour in favour of liberal Remainers. It's going to be interesting.

A FEW DAYS IN GERMANY

A city break in Berlin over the early May bank holiday weekend was fascinating in many ways. The city is fantastic, jammed with the most extraordinary history that many of us remember and actually lived through. It was also instructive in revealing just how misleading the UK media's newly found passion for self-flagellation has made its coverage. According to the British output, the country is the only one with struggling airports, the only one with labour shortages, the only one wrestling with inflation, the only one facing fuel price rises, the worst in the world regarding Covid-19 deaths, the list goes on and on. This outrageous parochialism and lack of perspective is partly aimed at undermining the much-hated prime minister, along with being a natural consequence of focusing on national news, to be fair.

This is why I was so much happier working for an international newspaper, the Financial Times: it provided a vital global perspective that enabled a reader to make sense of the worldwide reality. Today, lacking that daily immersion in international affairs, it is travel that provides the balance. And in Germany, I found labour shortages. Our hotel had closed its bar because of a lack of staff and apologised that some services were withdrawn. It was still a very nice hotel experience. There were several signs about the city appealing for workers. The country is also facing fuel price rises and inflation and the recent WHO assessment of Covid death tallies rates it "worse" than Britain. Berlin's shiny new airport functioned well – but then so did Gatwick despite coping with far, far more passengers. Heathrow was similarly impressive on a return from France in early April.

Try another country. Surely quiet Canada is running smoothly while the UK collapses. My daughter flew to Vancouver yesterday and her messages about the appalling shambles at the airport on arrival can barely be repeated. This contrasts with her having whizzed over all the hurdles at Gatwick so quickly that she had ages to wait at the gate – and she hates wasting time. The truth is, we are not alone.

FIXED IT!

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson's novel, has been adapted into an exquisite four-part series for television. Everything about it – the acting, the filming, the beautiful use of a narrator, the imagery, the music – was outstanding. I cannot recommend it highly enough. And, without wishing to give too much away, the plot, the conceit, the ideas and the philosophical underpinning are outstanding, too. Briefly, we see Ursula's life many times over as the fatal mistakes she makes each time provide her with a sense of deja vu, enabling her to avoid that same mistake – but go on to make a different one. She hears the words "The world is a very dangerous place" many times.

Coincidentally, her lives become entangled with Nazism and the Second World War. Having just spent several hours on a Third Reich walking tour in Berlin, learning about the rise of the Nazis and the many plots to kill Hitler, it struck a chord when Ursula asked "What if?", echoing the words of our excellent guide Chloe: "What if Hitler had been admitted to art school? What if one of the plots to kill him had succeeded?"

The brilliant cleverness of Life After Life is that it debunks the myth that humans can learn from their mistakes. Every era, every age, epoch and civilisation believes that it has overcome the errors that led to war, pestilence, famine, destruction in the past. Our era certainly carries the aura of a know-all invincibility that will prevent disaster; it oozes a sheen of sophistication and superiority that suggests we have more important things to concern us than fighting or mere survival and more effective tools to combat strife. The swift defeat of the latest coronavirus mutations will have fuelled this belief. Yet today's obsession with consumption, which was supposed to have tamed the vicious streak in human nature around the world, has failed dismally. The fear that one lone maverick psychopath could lead the world to destruction is also allayed by our experience of Hitler and our alleged understanding of how to prevent it happening again or, if it does, the contagion it brings. And yet we have Vladimir Putin, and Alexander Lukashenko, crazed dictators who care nothing for the future of their own people, let alone the planet, creating mayhem. Their behaviour is primitive, basic and unstoppable. And it is fundamental human nature it's the lizard within us, as celebrated English psychiatrist Peter C Whybrow would say. Sadly, it is as much a part of human nature as our complete inability to learn from previous mistakes. As Ursula discovers when intuition tells her avoid this boy, this window or this infected housemaid, the impossibility of remembering and learning leads her directly towards new dangers. The circle of life has us trapped in its spin.

APRIL 22 2022

One day, it is believed, the Earth's magnetic poles will flip, with devastating consequences for life on the planet. It seems that such a flip has already occurred in the world of western politics, where left is now right and right is left and the universe is flipped upside down. And it is having similarly disturbing consequences for politicians and voters.

An excellent essay on the UnHerd website by Thomas Fazi, a journalist and translator, highlights precisely this phenomenon as it is affecting the French presidential election. He is bemused by Jean-Luc Melenchon's call for French voters to support Emmanuel Macron in the two-horse run-off for president, rather than Marine Le Pen. He goes on to point out the strong similarities between Melenchon's manifesto and Le Pen's, and how different the right-wing neoliberal policies of Macron are from both. Macron's appalling track record of destroying workers' rights and rewarding the super-rich should repel any left-wing voter, he says, quoting one who said he would vote Melenchon in Round One and Le Pen in Round Two. I would do the same. Le Pen's reputation and background are her biggest handicap; her policies are left of centre, according to the old, traditional spectrum, yet she is seen as racist and almost fascist. Most of this stems from her firm anti-immigration stance, which is actually very similar to that of many ruling parties in Europe and elsewhere. Fazi makes this point forcefully by saying: "The notion that a state should prioritise the well-being of its own citizens would have been considered self-evident up until not too long ago even among Left-wing parties and voters." He concludes that absurd and misleading political labels will deliver a win for Macron, much to the delight of France's ruling classes, and greatly to the cost of the workers.

The same bizarre mislabelling is occurring in UK politics. And labels stick. Just as Le Pen was blithely dismissed as "far right" four times in a two-minute BBC Radio News report this evening, Boris Johnson is blithely dismissed as "a liar", without further explanation or evidence ever being required. Johnson is, on many counts, the UK's most left-wing prime minister since Harold Wilson, or perhaps James Callaghan at a pinch. He pursues green policies, has increased taxation, has pushed spending towards deprived areas and is enthusiastically supportive of public services. Given a free rein over the government finances, he gives the impression that he would spend freely on trying to ensure a fairer society. And yet he is labelled a "populist", a term used by neoliberals to describe what they see as a rise in right-wing fascism – a force that can easily be confused with a working class revolt over long-standing abuse and exploitation.

This means that if Boris is hounded out of office by a baying lynch mob of liberal politicians and media Remoaners on trumped up and ludicrous "partygate" charges we will have lost the most progressive leader we have seen since the 1970s. It is probable now that the witch hunt will succeed – not because it is right; it is demonstrably wrong, as one glance at the lockdown rules makes clear – but because Conservative MPs are caught in a dilemma over Johnson. They have chosen a leftist leader who appeals to working class voters and who delivered them a thumping majority, but many want a return to more traditional Toryism. They don't care a jot about "partygate" – neither does beer-drinking Keir Starmer, despite his insistence on wasting five hours of parliamentary time on debating it yesterday – they are concerned about how the relentless bombardment aimed at Downing Street is affecting the party's popularity and their own hold on their seats.

A witch hunt on this scale will inevitably damage anyone caught in its glare. The power of the media is being clearly demonstrated in Russia, where the public has been persuaded to see black as white. Readers and listeners everywhere should beware of believing that something is true simply because the media say it is so. For example, we see at home that Johnson faces all manner of spurious accusations and is constantly dismissed as a serial liar. I was interested yesterday to know just what these lies were and consulted The Guardian, a publication that hates the prime minister with a fevered passion. It, surely, would reel off a history of calumny. And indeed, it did have such a list – the definitive list of Boris's lies, apparently. Yet it actually included only one indisputable lie – relating to an extra-marital affair many years ago. The rest were debatable, at best, or lies in themselves: confusion over who paid for Downing Street wallpaper, a harsh judgment of Liverpool fans, and then The Guardian's own lie about what was written on the side of the Brexit bus. This is all it takes to be labelled a "serial liar" in the upside-down land of modern politics.

APRIL 19 2022

I have just listened to the most extraordinary piece of propaganda, presented as "an insider tracing the story of Covid-19". In truth, it is a simplistic and distorted trashing of the UK government's approach to fighting the pandemic. With glorious hindsight, Devi Sridhar, an "American public health researcher" (I can't believe she is a professor), pushes herself to the front of the queue of Boris-haters desperate to sink their hatchets into the prime minister. Claiming perfect impartiality and objectivity and an unwillingness to be even the teeniest bit political, she describes how she sat on the Scottish government's Covid-19 advisory group and witnessed the tensions between London and Edinburgh as the two countries took "opposite paths" in containing the coronavirus. Smarter people would describe the differences as slightly nuanced at best, as Nicola Sturgeon made frantic attempts to appear distinctive. The facts are that the strategies were identical, with Scotland adopting policies a day or two earlier or later simply to strike a pose. But the awful Sridhar gives the game away when she declares her devotion to Sturgeon during her party political broadcast, presenting the Scottish first minister as a genius, a paragon of virtue, and a divine visionary, or words to that effect. She claims Scotland's strategy saved countless lives, while England's killed swathes of the population. Sturgeon was clear and trustworthy, while no one trusted Boris and his lying henchman Cummings and so lockdown measures were ineffective. She grudgingly accepts that the UK investment in science was world-leading but says it happened despite the frustrations with Johnson, rather than because of his enthusiastic support. How could this bilge and bile have been broadcast? Why not just give Sturgeon herself 13 minutes of prime national radio time to describe how wonderful she is and how awful and incompetent Boris is? Perhaps it's unfair to heap the entire blame for this absolute disgrace on to Sridhar when there are plenty more Boris-haters prepared to hold the same beliefs. The BBC lynch mob, now baying for Boris's blood is equally culpable and shamed for this shocking lapse of judgment.

LEARNING HOW TO FIND THE TRUTH

In my early days at LSE, I would read a book full of ideas and sit back in wonderment, swayed by the debate. It was only when my friend and room-mate Kevin, now Professor Theakston, suggested I challenge what I was reading that I began to find a path to understanding reality. "Assume the opposite is true," he said, and see where it leads. It led to an intellectual breakthrough. While the opposite is not always true, taking a contrarian stance is an excellent test of the rigour of any assumption, belief, claim or argument. This is especially true in questioning the "wisdom of crowds", which could equally be described as the madness of the mob. This is why the more the popular mob screams and wails for Boris to burned at the stake, the more I am driven to consider the opposite. The mob's assumption is that everything Boris does or touches is evil and contaminated. With the intellectual tool gifted to me by Kevin, I begin by assuming this is not the case and then see how far that argument can run. In the current climate of closed minds and lynch-mob mania, it runs an awfully long way.

APRIL 18 2022

MIGRATION: MAKE YOUR CHOICE BETWEEN RWANDA OR SUPPORTING PEOPLE TRAFFICKERS

If the Archbishop of Canterbury says one thing, it is pretty safe to assume the opposite is true or sensible. And so it goes with this poor old dunce's Easter sermon denouncing the anti people trafficking agreement with Rwanda as "ungodly". Why any church leader's opinions on delicate political issues are front page news is beyond me, but when they show such an ignorance of the facts, such a disregard for the realities, and are entirely negative then they really have no place in the debate at all. Justin Welby makes himself look ever more foolish by failing to define his terms: he appears unable or unwilling to distinguish between refugees and those seeking to improve their own personal situation at the expense of others. He also fails to understand that the issue of uncontrolled mass migration, after decades of resistance to every possible solution, now boils down to a binary choice: a Rwanda-style deal or approval of the status quo which enables people smugglers to make fortunes out of death and misery. For me, the latter is the "ungodly" option. Is Welby really too dim to see this, or is he a political activist in favour of free and unfettered global migration, aided and abetted by vicious criminals? He certainly puts forward no alternative suggestions. Indeed, no one condemning the government seems to have the first clue how to tackle the criminal racket that is killing people and undermining societies and communities.

As I said in "The Rise of Antisocialism" three years ago, the only way to deal with this issue is to implement Australian-style measures that have proved to be effective. I fear the reason the Rwanda plan will be opposed, without any alternatives being suggested, is because the liberal-conservative middle class believes there is no issue to be tackled. This strata is only affected positively by mass immigration: its coffee served with a smile; its plumbing fixed cheaply. It is the working classes who experience the negative effects: wages and conditions reduced to meet the lowest bidder; swathes of jobs rendered unviable for local people seeking even the most modest lifestyle.

Clare Foges, a former Downing Street insider turned astute columnist for The Times, makes a series of excellent points in her article this morning, saying the government might not care too much if the Rwanda deal flounders under the inevitable weight of legal challenges: it is happy that just the idea of it is triggering angry, unconsidered knee-jerk reactions from all the right people, from Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott to the lawyers who make a fortune from the tawdry asylum trade and the likes of Welby. She also takes a dismissive swipe at the idiotic parallels drawn between the "processing" of migrants in comfortable camps in Rwanda with the behaviour of the Nazis. As far as anyone can recall, no one was paying criminals in order to break in to any concentration camp. A correspondent on the Letters Page makes the further point that the vast majority of those seeking asylum in Britain are not fleeing from danger in their home country, they are fleeing from France and Belgium. In short, the whole debate is a hotch-potch of half-truths, downright lies, misrepresentations, criminality and complete nonsense.

Ditto "partygate". The Brexit-haters' PR machine is in overdrive on this issue, but every absurd allegations merely highlights how shallow and vindictive this campaign has always been. Sadly, the western world, and especially its politics, has become little more than a giant PR exercise, a bare-knuckled fight using smoke and mirrors, so that nothing is ever what it seems, or as it really is. For example, many of the so-called Downing Street "parties" were work events, but in PR world they are whatever the police decide they are. Of all the reporting on this subject in The Times this morning, the only parts that make any sense are those pointing out that opening a bottle of beer or wine at 2pm in the office to drink for a few minutes alongside people with whom you have been sharing an office and working frantically all day at the height of a national emergency is a highly bizarre description of a "party". Add in the fact that Boris's birthday cake "celebration" was reported in the press on the following day and no one at the time thought it even worth questioning and we can see how disingenuous and opportunistic the accusations of law-breaking truly are. Pure and empty politics, without substance or meaning.

If the UK loses the most effective and constructive prime minister it has had for more than 40 years because of some trumped up "party" allegations, those responsible will one day be held to account. No prime minister can ever be judged while in office and time will only swell and embellish Johnson's record, just as it did his spell as London mayor. I thought it impossible for Boris ever to become PM: he's too chaotic, clumsy, flippant, scruffy, uncaring, incompetent, etc etc. But I have been astonished at how effective and bold he has been, taking on issues that his predecessors have skirted, and putting Britain at the forefront of the fight against both Covid-19 and Putin. No one has dared to tackle social care until now. It might not be a particularly good plan, but at least it's something, compared with nothing from the rest. No one has dared to take on the people trafficking business and unfettered mass migration. He delivered Brexit, as mandated by the electorate a monumentally complicated task. And there is a host of legislation – some good, some bad – making its way through Parliament. If you had asked me five years ago whether I could possibly have had a good word to say about a Boris Johnson premiership, I would have answered loudly in the negative, perhaps adding that it might at least be entertaining for a short while until it collapsed. I would have said, short-sightedly, that he lacked the integrity and moral compass to be a good prime minister. But that would have been said in the mistaken belief that those are essential qualities of a good leader whereas, in fact, the reverse is more true.

APRIL 14 2022

We have squirrels in our loft. Hundreds of them. All cheeky little characters and a joy to watch but they do cause problems for other wildlife in the area and more than a little damage. It started when the trees in our garden began to perform better than the trees in the gardens along the road and accelerated when our neighbour removed all of his doors and windows and knocked a hole through from his loft to ours. The squirrels poured in, some of them looking dazed and confused, many dragged by larger squirrels.

Everyone agrees that this state of affairs is intolerable, causing suffering to the squirrels some die on the perilous journey through the roof space – as well as problems for us, our neighbours and for the countless squirrels in far worse predicaments than the fit ones able to reach our loft. And so solutions have been sought. We tried selecting a few deserving squirrels and giving them priority, but this merely exacerbated the problem. We tried to turn the creatures back but were accused of gross cruelty. We asked that our neighbour reinstall his doors and windows to prevent so many creatures reaching his loft but that was against some odd, almost religious, set of principles to which he claimed to adhere. We also gave him large sums of money to repair the gaping hole in the loft, which he accepted with glee. But he did nothing apart from shovelling squirrels through to our side at an ever faster rate.

We also tried removing the creatures already in our loft but were told this would be inhumane, especially as some had had babies while on our premises. We challenged this but became embroiled in an endless legal labyrinth from which we could only retreat. This large-scale movement of squirrels had grown tentacles and become embedded. We even thought of removing the huge bag of nuts from our loft that we feared might have been attracting so many squirrels but were again told this would be cruel and vindictive and leave us with a reputation of being "anti-squirrel".

We were thwarted at every turn. And, in an ultimate irony, the very people demanding that we find effective solutions to this squirrel crisis were precisely the same ones standing in the way of even the slightest improvement. In desperation, we concocted a scheme whereby male squirrels passing through the hole in the loft wall uninvited would be caught and sent to a forest in need of more squirrels. The idea was that as soon as the worst of the disruptive squirrels realised they would never reach the sack of nuts in our loft they would pass word back along the trail and it would dry up. This, of course, did not find favour with pro-squirrel campaigners who insisted that every last one of them should be welcome in our loft and had a right to stake their claim to a nut.

Admittedly, the technicalities were complex but we thought it worth a try, especially after the long succession of simpler initiatives had been crushed. We heard that removing the incentive to travel had worked elsewhere – and it worked for us after a few teething troubles and plenty of opposition. The overwhelming cascade of creatures dwindled to the point where no one noticed when we removed the sack of nuts, reducing the flow still further. There are still squirrels in our loft, of course, but at a level we can cope with and live happily alongside. And now we are able to focus on those most genuinely in immediate, life-threatening danger and those in most desperate need of help.

APRIL 13 2022

What an incredible bore these "partygate" allegations are. They are made interesting only when we remember that party politics in most wealthy nations is merely a game played between a few liberal-conservative tribes, each seeking to score points and perhaps achieving "power", with which they reassuringly promise to change absolutely nothing of importance. In this light, we can see that the Boris-hating liberal-conservative parties are scoring decent points with their sustained but spurious accusations that Boris's attendance, or otherwise, at a "party" or two in Downing Street during lockdown was as heinous as Putin's despicable war on Ukraine.

We can also derive some mild amusement from the turn of events that have resulted in the Metropolitan Police becoming the ultimate arbiters over the exact moment at which a normally functioning office has completely transitioned into a fully fledged social event, formerly known as a party but now redefined, it seems to include any gathering at which alcohol is consumed. More entertainment is provided by the lynch mob peopling the BBC's Radio Four Today programme as they disgracefully and disrespectfully dredge up recordings from a couple of years ago of grieving relatives as if they were anything to do with Boris and Co's transgressions of workplace guidance rules. Replaying the complaints of an exploited and vulnerable Covid-positive migrant worker in a shameful meat processing plant and comparing them with the jollity and frivolity of Downing Street's atrocities would make slightly more sense.

This is because the lockdown legislation sensibly and necessarily drew a clear distinction between the regulations applicable in a social context and those pertaining to workplaces: social events were subject to laws, work events to the less prescriptive "guidance", which sought to maintain social distancing in those organisations that could not function without using a workplace. It is therefore of the utmost importance to know when an obvious workplace event a leaving do, say mutates into a social event in order to know which set of rules might apply. Accept that the subjective assessment of some attendees is relevant and the water is muddied beyond parody. And spending their days studying all this historic nonsense in minute detail and drawing conclusions that have enormous repercussions are many many officers within the Metropolitan police force. When they have done, perhaps they would like to share with the rest of us their finely honed definition of where a workplace event ends and a social function begins. Having worked for more than a quarter of a century in an environment where drinks and socialising were heavily used to further the business, I would apply a very broad definition to "work event" and an extremely strict one to "social event" if it concerned a gathering for work purposes attended exclusively by colleagues in the workplace. Although I can see that a karaoke machine and music and singing into the small hours might well drag a workplace function across the "party" line.

THE OTHER END OF THE TELESCOPE

It is quite extraordinary how people once in broad agreement regarding their fundamental political beliefs can veer apart. Almost everyone with whom I come into contact hates Brexit and therefore hates Boris and seems to be under the weird illusion that if Boris is sacked, forced to resign, or suffers a dreadful accident then Brexit will just magically go away. Rather than get over it and seek out the benefits of the new order of which there are plenty they prefer to blame every slight mishap on Brexit, regardless of its relevance: my flight is late it must be down to Brexit; the price of milk is rising thanks to Brexit; I've lost my sunglasses – bloody Brexit. It would be as meaningful simply to replace the world Brexit in these contexts with "Catholics", or "journalists", or "Manchester United".

This disconnect stems, I fear, from us peering through opposite ends of the telescope. One Remoaning friend worries that businesses unable to replace their migrant workers will collapse. Looking from the other end of the telescope, I am happy that migrant workers are no longer being exploited and that if businesses only able to exist by paying minimum wages and using zero hours contracts go to the wall, then so-be-it. If they are good enough businesses to be able to adjust their prices and offer wages high enough to sustain a reasonable livelihood for local workers, then we should all offer thanks to Brexit.

The strangeness I behold extends to others' visions of "populism", interpreted by some as an inevitable precursor to fascism. Brexit, of course, is held up as a nasty and vicious manifestation of this extreme right "populism" – even though it ignores the fact that the vast majority of those voting for Brexit were left-leaning working class families betrayed by an Islington-based Labour party. To refer to this disenfranchised majority as an evil "populist" movement is an outrage. Similarly, the forthcoming French shoot-out for president between the two grotesques, Macron and Le Pen, offers a binary choice between a ghastly status quo that robs the poor to feed the rich and a disruptive force that might bring about substantive change – for better or worse, but who cares given that the prevailing state of affairs is so appalling and shameful. What a hideous choice. Rather than stigmatise the silenced, ignored and suffering majority by labelling them "populists", it might serve all parties better to listen to their complaints and address them. Gaze through the telescope from the end marked "socialist", rather than "middle-class liberal-conservative", and things begin to look very different.

APRIL 5 2022

THE TIMES SHAMED INTO SILENCE?

It is now more than a week since The Times handed over its Thunderer column to a snivelling apologist for the betting industry. And in that time, not a single letter has been published challenging his disgraceful view that grieving families should stop trying to curb his industry because they were spoiling other people's fun. I can only think it it because even The Times realises how appalling an act this was, is hanging its head in shame, and wants to forget the vile incident ever took place.

POLITICS MADE SIMPLE

As the politics of hatred continues to scar UK society, I offer the simplest possible guide to where most people stand. Politics has been reduced almost to a binary choice between two broad camps: liberal or socialist. Liberals love the EU, globalisation, migration. They love freedom to trade, to live as they choose, to garner great wealth, they accept the freedom to exploit. They love rights, individualism, free expression and being able to access whatever they desire at a competitive price. Socialists love localism, communities, seasonality. They love responsibilities, egalitarianism, fairness, equal opportunities, protection of the vulnerable. They love collective action for the good of all, sharing and valuing those things that matter most. Liberals hate Brexit and anything that stands in the way of individuals wishing to move, express themselves or make money. Socialists hate consumption, free trade, the EU, and the freedom given to the powerful and greedy to exploit others.

It's odd that 40 years ago I would have put most of the people I knew in the socialist camp. Now, I hardly know anyone I could define as a socialist. There are certainly no mainstream political parties that offer anything even approaching socialism. Instead, we have a rag-bag collection of parties offering near-identical shades of liberalism, with slightly differing, but always minimal, safeguards  depending on how "nice" a liberal party they wish to appear. And there are virtually no traces of socialism in what used to be called "quality journalism".

These two diametrically opposed ways of viewing the world have been able to co-exist for decades because the liberal philosophy has dominated, as I describe in my book, The Rise of Antisocialism. But the Brexit referendum, the pandemic, and now war in Europe have come as serious shocks and setbacks to the liberal ideology – and it has reacted with fury, lashing out at anyone daring to contradict its fundamental beliefs. The deep hatreds that have formed in the past five years or so run deep and might never be healed. Unless global warming forces a radical re-think and society has to reconsider what it values.

APRIL 4 2022

"NOT HEARD LOUD ENOUGH" AND "SYSTEM DOESN'T LISTEN" DO THEY MEAN THE SAME THING?

Woman's Hour on Radio 4 a few moments ago played a clip from an interview with the Minister for Women's Health, Maria Caulfield, as a preface to an item about the NHS. When pressed to say whether the NHS was sexist or not, she replied: "I don't think it's a sexist system. But the voice of women is not heard loud enough." Presenter Emma Barnett then reinterpreted this as: "Not sexist. But women's voices not being heard." Later she said: "Or do you agree with the minister...that the NHS is a system that doesn't listen to women's voices." But are they the same? As an old-school journalist who built his career on integrity, I can safely say that they are not. I am sure the minister herself would have been cringing at the reinterpretation of what she actually said, especially as it was done to magnify undeniable problems within the NHS. Add to the mix the phrase Barnett used to highlight the quotes and you have a clear case of manipulation and politicking, very far from a journalistic exercise to establish facts and the truth: Barnett called the minister's answer an "extraordinary admission". By any standards this is clearly absurd and can only be explained by taking sides, campaigning and failing to do your job properly. 

I suppose one riposte might be that Woman's Hour is a campaigning programme. In which case, I would argue that it should not degrade and undermine its arguments by using inaccuracies and absurdities. Honesty and integrity speak far louder than distortions.

FROM TENTED CITY TO TENTED CITY

Well-meaning and warm-hearted friends still fail to grasp the fundamental realities of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. In Ukraine, civilians are being bombed. They cannot be reached. They cannot be what the media are talking about. Civilians managing to flee to a safe country become refugees. There will be millions close to the border, notably in Poland. They are now relatively safe, but uncomfortable, traumatised and extremely vulnerable to the vermin who take advantage of people displaced by war. They are likely to be sheltered in temporary tented villages, billets, town halls and the like. They have food and shelter and the primary concern now is to protect them from the many predatory people traffickers and slave traders.

The third stage in managing refugees is to move them to more comfortable and stable environments, where they can process their trauma, settle, continue education or work and await a return to their home country. This must be handled cautiously and with proper checks and necessary bureaucracy, to safeguard both refugees and hosts from exploitation or abuse: among the hordes seeking to settle in western European countries will be many seeking to cause harm; among those offering themselves as hosts, there will be many potential abusers, many without proper accommodation or facilities, and many merely playing the system. There have already been reports of UK "hosts" in one-bedroom flats volunteering for the government hand-outs and then leaving their Ukrainian guests homeless and at the mercy of a local authority already unable to cope with previous waves of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The idea that the UK relax all visa requirements and carry out checks once Ukrainian refugees are in the country is also extremely unwise: where are the people to go? They would simply be swapping a tented city in Poland for a tented city in Britain. Or they would simply be moving from perfect safety in The Netherlands, France or Italy to a worse situation of homelessness and dependency in the UK. And what terrible things are these other host countries doing that makes so many feel the need to get away and seek sanctuary in the UK anyway? It also seems to be the case that most Ukrainians are eager to remain close to their own country, especially as Russia moves its troops eastwards. In all of this, the best approach is slow and cautious; get it right; ensure hosts and their guests are genuine and can cope. By far the worst mistakes will be made when trying to do too much too soon and shifting refugees from frying pan to fire.

CITY STILL LOVES ITS BARGAIN BASEMENT MIGRANT WORKERS

The trend towards cheapness, begun in 1980 and rapidly accelerated over the past 20 years through globalisation and unfettered migration, has already brought us the drastic erosion of UK workers' rights, Brexit, and the disgraceful sacking of P&O's loyal staff. Our values have been distorted, as we allow gamblers in financial instruments to hoard enormous wealth and care staff to claim in-work benefits and rely on food banks all in the name of keeping down costs. Brexit did at least promise to reverse some of these ghastly trends, but then came the pandemic and disrupted all sense of cause and effect. But old habits die hard and employers are eager to get their hands on cheap foreign workers again. P&O is the most hideous example, but it merely reflects what has been happening in the UK labour market for two decades. Supermarkets were even quick to hold out a warm welcome to any unsuspecting Ukrainian refugees they could lay their hands on.

And the finance sector is also hiring abroad again at quite a rate. It claims to be seeking unique talent, unavailable in Britain which sounds to me like an insult to the people of the UK. Let us accept, however, that there will always be a few rare talents and pools of expertise – a shortage of IT experts is mentioned – that makes some migration understandable. But once it reaches the point at which hiring decisions are made on the basis of costs, it surely becomes unacceptable.

This hiring phenomenon also debunks the idiotic myth that the country's finance sector would be wrecked by departures of people and money by voting for Brexit. As The Times reported this morning: "The numbers appear to contrast with the worst fears expressed at the time of the Brexit referendum, when City firms warned of an exodus of talent." I heard such bogus cries of wolf from the City so many times during my decades at the FT that I was able to discount these claims at the time. Some might even have called them lies.

UNIONS CALL FOR AN END TO "DISPOSABLE LABOUR"!

In one of its most dramatic ever U-turns, the TUC has called for a law banning "disposable labour". It says dropping an employment bill from the Queen's Speech would expose workers to "rogue employers". I'm not sure where the TUC has been looking for the past 20 years. Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, who I have met a few times and like very much, is quoted in The Times today as saying: "After the scandalous events at P&O, which have exposed gaping holes in employment law, the need for new legislation has never been more urgent." If this is a belated realisation of how the UK labour market has been run and regulated for the past 20 years then it is to be welcomed. For a full explanation of how the whole middle class labour movement leadership has sold out the British working class to the cheapest bidder for the past four decades, Frances should read my book, The Rise of Antisocialism.

IN TWO MINDS ABOUT HUNGARY

I am left ambivalent towards Viktor Orban's victory in the Hungarian general election. He is clearly a nasty right-wing piece of work; on the other hand he spells trouble for the European Union. The EU has had a terrible pandemic and is having a terrible war – all pretty much in line with its many terrible responses to crises near and far. Were there to be referendums in each member state, the entire project would collapse: it plainly lacks the consent of the majority of people in many countries, especially those in the east. Orban's victory is as much a poll on attitudes towards the EU as it is an endorsement of his grotesque policies. But the accession states, who suck vast fortunes from EU coffers that are filled by the western nations, cannot afford to break free and so remain as a thorn in its side. I am not unhappy at that. But as I said in relation to being called a Tory – sharing a common opponent does not necessarily place us in the same team.

OSCARS FISTICUFFS

One small afterthought on Will Smith's assault on Chris Rock at the ghastly Oscars ceremony: I have already said that if he felt so insulted and angry at Rock's jibe, he should have walked out. It could also be argued that anyone attending an event in the full knowledge that they are likely to be subjected to incredibly lame "jokes", embarrassment, humiliation and personal insults, perhaps ought just to sit there and take it when their turn comes.

MARCH 30 2022

The word "choose" has been used in connection with Ukrainian refugees in several stories and letters in The Times this week. It was used to castigate the UK government for placing bureaucracy in the way of those "choosing" to settle in Britain, having reached the safety of Poland or France or Italy or The Netherlands. But we should just ask: what if 2m Ukrainian refugees "chose" to come to the UK? Would the government then still be evil (in the eyes of those who already hate it) for seeking some filter, along with sensible safeguards for both refugees and their hosts?

The same applies to so many topics currently reported on. The UK is unique in demanding visas for refugees when every other EU country welcomes them all without question. Yet other countries also seem surprisingly keen to get rid of the refugees and the refugees keen to leave. Are they not receiving the "fairytale welcome" described by one of the UK's early settlers under the government's spare room scheme? Judging by what we learn this morning from The Netherlands, they are not. It is hard to assess, because our news coverage has become so desperately parochial and partial. Similarly, has the UK been slow and feeble in its response to the Russian invasion? Yes, if you only pay heed to our national news media. No, if you listen to the assessments of both Zelensky and Putin.

Another stick being used to beat the much-hated government is the rate of UK inflation and the impending cost of living squeeze, so gleefully raised by Remoaning liberals. Does this mean Britain is facing these pressures alone, through its own incompetence and vice? Or are all western economies facing precisely the same forces, many of them much worse than the UK? The latter is true, of course, although anyone relying on British news would have no idea. Pointing this out is not "being a Tory". It is "being a journalist". It is understanding that biased news is, fundamentally, fake news.

OPPOSITION ISN'T ABOUT LABELLING REAL SUCCESS A FAILURE

The most extraordinary and unbelievable story I've read so far today is the one in which the Labour Party attacks the government for having ordered "too much" PPE! First, who knew how much was needed at the time? Second, the government makes the perfectly sensible riposte that it was preparing for a protracted battle against Covid-19. Third, huge amounts were ordered partly because of the hysterical shrieking from the opposition (including the BBC's Nick Robinson) that we had no PPE, the EU had an amazingly brilliant procurement scheme (it didn't), that we needed more more more, and the government was doing "too little, too late". Fourth, the fact that we have excess PPE is a tribute to the government's Covid-19 strategy and early and rapid vaccination research, investment and delivery, rendering much PPE thankfully redundant. There are two sides to every story – so why are we only ever hearing one of them?

MARCH 28 2022

THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH...

I don't have a sandwich board with those words written on it, but there is a deeply depressing fin de siecle feeling abroad. The world does seem to have gone mad and in some cases turned inside out and upside down.

One personal example came yesterday with a drive to Hampshire to visit relatives. The behaviour of some drivers was so appalling that it amounted to nihilism. The driver who stopped in front of us in the middle lane of the A3 so that he could jump the queue at the M25 junction certainly could not care a jot for the safety of his passengers or other road users. We were trapped behind him for quite some time as those patiently queuing to his left understandably refused to let him shove in. Traffic came flying up behind us and was forced to swerve into the third lane to avoid a pile-up that would definitely have resulted in deaths. Had it been a weekday, a truck would have found it hard to avoid a smash and we would have taken the force, not the irresponsible vermin causing the blockage. The sneering grin on the ugly face of that selfish moron once he eventually forced his way into the queue said it all.

Later, on the A303, a lone driver in a black German car travelling at what must have been at least 120mph suddenly leapt up to our rear bumper as we were overtaking slow traffic. Despite being entirely in the wrong on many counts driving illegally in several ways he seemed to assume all other vehicles ought to move aside. The vile attitudes of people such as these two dreadful road users are spreading: my warnings about the reprehensible Rise of Antisocialism are continuing to be proved right.

HOORAY! BABY BOOMERS ARE TO BLAME FOR EVERYTHING!

A laughably stupid piece of "research" by someone connected to Norway (I don't want to be specific as it might only encourage them) claims that the Baby Boomer generation is by far the worst when it comes to environmental damage, because they are well off. What it fails to work out even though it is glaringly obvious is that the correlation is between wealth and pollution, not age and pollution. Rich households of all ages are the worst polluters, well-off consumers are killing the planet whatever their age. And taking their life-time pollution, younger people will be enormously more damaging than older generations who spent the first decades of their lives using virtually no power at all. The survey is so dumb it is hard to understand how it came to be reported on by The Times this morning. But then it was not the only offensive item to insult the intelligence of readers today...

"YOU GRIEVING SPOILSPORTS ARE JUST TRYING TO STOP US HAVING FUN!"

How on earth could The Times have given over its Thunderer column today to Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, to tell bereaved and grieving parents, relatives and friends that their opposition to his filthy trade is spoiling others' fun?

ARE JOURNALISTS NO LONGER ALLOWED TO ASK "WHY"?

The Times was truly shocking and appalling in several departments this morning. Its "news" story claiming that fewer than half of those eligible for a second booster had received it never bothered to ask why this might be. It merely trotted out what looked like a press release from a charity attacking the government (of course) for still failing to protect those at risk, months after it made the jabs available. If a journalist always assumes the worst of the government then it's a quick and easy space filler to churn out this complaint and present it as news: no bothersome questions such as "why?". I strongly suspect that the answer would be that while everyone in the high-risk category has been offered another (free) booster, the reason coverage appears low is due to slow take-up. If there is another reason, I would like to hear about that, too. As it is, this sloppy and prejudicial piece of journalism raised far more questions than it answered.

NOT EVERYTHING BAD IS ILLEGAL

The Metropolitan police are still getting it in the neck for prosecuting well-meaning people for crimes and failing to prosecute questionable people for being not nice. The actor Noel Clarke, it appears, will not face prosecution for behaving badly towards women. Lots who have worked with him agree that he is not nice and have told the police what he did to them. Unfortunately for them, being not nice does not necessarily make you a criminal if it did, there are at least two disgusting drivers who would be behind bars this morning. These are judgments that law enforcement bodies have to make all the time and there will always be marginal cases. And maybe the law needs changing but that it another matter. And a minefield.

As things stand, I might think that Clarke's behaviour was disgraceful as he himself seems to have admitted while also accepting that it did not cross the border into criminality. This is not good enough for the pressure group pursuing him, however. Its spokesperson is given plenty of space to vent her fury; the Met just has to take another blow to its reputation, right or wrong.

WHO IS SUFFERING MORE IN THIS REFUGEE KERFUFFLE?

Gradually, we are beginning to see who are the real sufferers in the fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine: the British. The terrible bureaucracy placed in the way of their generosity is driving so many to distraction and the media.

More seriously, there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding of what it means to be in danger and fleeing for your life: it is not something that happens in France or any other EU country. The Times today is littered with well-meaning people using phrases such as "choosing to come to Britain". Refugees do not "choose" a destination: refugees are fleeing from danger to a place of safety. Any able to come to the UK have already achieved that. This places them in a completely different category needing temporary comfortable longer-term resettlement. This ought to require careful consideration, paperwork, consultation and checks, both on the refugees and their self-selected hosts. This will take time; it should take time: rush it and get it wrong and people on both sides will be placed in danger. The vast majority of refugees are relieved to be billeted in Poland, close to home and ready to return; those now "choosing" the UK are also already safe, though perhaps uncomfortable and insecure as they travel freely around Europe. It cannot be unreasonable to ensure that when they eventually arrive they are who they say they are and can be well looked after.

DRAMA AT THE OSCARS AT LAST

I always wish for some embarrassing incident to mar ridiculous awards ceremonies, except when Ricky Jervais is presenting, and they usually oblige. But last night's Oscars drama was off the scale. Not the scale of world events, of course in this context it was piffling, barely worth a mention, despite the hopeless BBC radio news editors deciding to make it the lead item.

But why oh why did Will Smith have to hit Chris Rock for insulting his wife? He was acting in the heat of the moment and I am sure on reflection would have behaved differently. Indeed, he has apologised to the whole world (except Rock). In such a situation you have to cause maximum damage to the offender and the least damage to yourself and violence is rarely the best way to achieve this though the urge is fearsomely difficult to overcome. All Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith had to do was ostentatiously get up and walk out, perhaps wagging an angry finger towards Rock. This leaves Rock floundering and humiliated and the Smith party on the moral high ground, being chased by reporters eager to tell their story. The organisers, too, will have to act quickly to make reparations so that Smith can return and calmly collect his Oscar to the rapturous applause of a sympathetic crowd. In the event, significant damage is done, extending beyond the immediate spat: at least one fellow black actor has despairingly pointed out that it could fuel the racist view that "this is how black men settle things". I might wish for bad things to happen at the Oscars but certainly not this.

WHY THE OPPOSITION CAN ONLY FOCUS ON TRIVIA...

It happened again on Saturday night: I was mistaken for a Tory. Please, let us get this straight. Just because I loathe and speak out against the lies, anger, misinformation, ignorance, self-righteousness, malice, arrogance and the superiority complex of one brand of business-first ultra-liberals does not mean that I support the very similar target of their ire. Their attacks on the Tories are wrong and extremely unhelpful in so many ways but pointing that out does not make me a Conservative party supporter. Anyone who has read my book will know that the reality is quite the opposite. Being appalled by the same thing does not necessarily put us on the same team.

Having said that, I am in a permanent state of surprise at what the Tories are doing: increasing taxation and spending lavishly. Yes, you can criticise the Chancellor for doing little in the spring statement to help those on benefits but anyone looking at the total package of support for individuals and businesses over the past two years should find it hard to believe these are a Tory chancellor's doing. Billions have been allocated to levelling up, saving jobs, saving businesses, helping schoolchildren catch up, protecting people from the pandemic. Does it really matter that he waved his bank card at the wrong part of the payment machine? Haven't we all done that? Is that more important than the £16bn the Treasury spent on cancelling business rates for the hospitality sector during lockdown? Or the £5bn the Education Secretary says he has at his disposal to ensure pupils catch up on learning? Indeed, Boris Johnson is labelled "spendthrift" in a leader column in today's copy of The Times.

The truly astonishing fact is that this is all being done by people calling themselves Tories. But taxing and spending on such a scale has always been the province of the Labour Party. Tory MP Steve Baker even used two words long deleted from the Conservative dictionary: "social" and "co-operation". The reason, therefore, that Labour's opposition is so feeble and so heavily focused on trivia and niceties (wallpaper, the definition of a "party", a few out-of-context quotes and video clips, etc) is that the Tories are doing perhaps in some cases being forced to do precisely what Labour would do.

MARCH 26 2022

NAIVETTE COOPER STILL FAILING TO GRASP THE ISSUE

She's still at it after three decades. When will Yvette Cooper learn that she needs to understand a subject fully before she can pronounce on it. I first became aware of her failure to grasp issues when she was sharing her views on the housing market in the mid-1990s. She plainly hadn't the first clue what she was talking about. To be fair, it's a very common problem when it comes to housing. Yesterday, her topic was visas for refugees, telling the world via friendly BBC Radio that the UK is appalling in placing near-impossible bureaucracy in the way of those seeking to reach the UK. This morning in The Times, however, we learn that more than 20,000 Ukrainians have been granted visas to settle here in less than three weeks, with thousands more in the pipeline.

That same story in The Times also displays its own tragic ignorance by pointing out that the total of refugees reaching Britain is minuscule compared to the millions in Poland. This is as intelligent as saying that were there to be a crisis in Ireland it would be surprising and scandalous to find half a million refugees in Northern Ireland and just a handful in Poland. It's brainless. Both Poland and Ukraine have stated repeatedly that most Ukrainians wish to stay near the border so that they can return as soon as possible. What Poland wants is help in creating temporary cities. And this, it says, is not forthcoming. At least from the EU.

I have also yet to hear any politician or commentator pointing out the difference between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants. Neither have they articulated the difference between people in Ukraine being bombed and unable to escape, refugees requiring temporary billeting across the border and those seeking longer term settlement in a more distant country of their choosing. All of these are lumped together in one category even though they are vastly different. No wonder rational debate on these subjects is impossible.

EVERY POSSIBLE SOLUTION IS BLOCKED AND THEN THE BLAME FOR INACTION BEGINS

"Something must be done!" "People are dying!" "They're desperate!" "Criminal gangs are killing people!" Fine, says the government. We'll turn back the migrants' boats in the Channel. We'll pay France a fortune to fight the criminality that it is hosting on its soil. We'll criminalise those who break into the UK illegally. We'll process their asylum applications offshore (especially as we know a high proportion are bogus). We'll try to curb vexatious legal challenges that cause interminable delays to deportations. And more.... Oh no you won't, says the House of Lords and every well-meaning liberal. In that case, the numbers risking their lives to cross the Channel, with the connivance of a France unable to control its own borders, will continue to grow; and the enormous costs and disruption of dealing with them will continue to rise. Just don't complain when people die and the costs limit the amount the Chancellor can spend on other things. More likely, of course, is that the very same people who have blocked every move to tackle this appalling situation will hammer the Home Secretary for failing to deal with it!

THIS IS GOING TO HURT

The short-sighted criticism of Rishi Sunak's spring statement ignores the larger picture. In isolation, it did indeed sound a mean package. But looking more widely, we see billions already devoted to helping households as energy bills rise and global inflation washes over us, too. Some might like to tinker with the precise targeting I would certainly have looked at benefits and VAT rates, rather than fuel duty and a future tax cut, nether of which will make much impact. But the bigger point remains that there is little the Exchequer can do to ensure that every household is unaffected by a vicious combination of global events. The basic rule of taxation is that everyone being charged a barely noticeable extra penny creates a huge fund, but using that huge fund to benefit everyone amounts to barely noticeable penny each!

So why did Sunak make the point more forcefully that this is going to hurt. His opponents are  they are pointing to the impending fall in living standards with glee! It will hurt some more than others, but it will hurt everyone. It is global and it is inevitable. As we move from pestilence to war with barely a break, and have to deal with an energy crisis and resulting inflation, should we simply forget the billions spent on fighting the pandemic and saving people's jobs and businesses? Should we ignore the billions that our powerful opposition to Russia will cost us in many ways? Of course living standards will fall just do the sums. The focus now has to be on accepting this and protecting the most vulnerable. The one saving grace is that if this does turn out to be the steepest fall in living standards for 70 years, then at least it is from a far higher base for the vast majority than in the post-war 1950s.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CONTEXT?

Jonny Dymond, the BBC's royal correspondent, seemed to go slightly off the rails yesterday. He reported that the one image the world would remember of William and Kate's visit to the Caribbean would be the moment they reached out to shake hands with black youngsters behind a wire fence. It was not a "good optic", he said and castigated the royal PR machine for failing to steer the couple away. William and Kate could not win, of course. Ignore the children and they would have been condemned for that. Dymond argues they should not have been put in this invidious position. It would certainly have been nice to avoid it. But in reality it was a joyous, spontaneous moment that should be celebrated. Can such moments not be allowed to happen any more?

It is only when the picture is used out of context that it becomes an issue. To its credit, The Times did not use the picture this morning and I have no idea to what extent it is being spread elsewhere. But anyone who uses it to damage the reputation of William and Kate or the royal family is simply malicious and a liar.

Context is everything and taking words and pictures out of context has been used in so many despicable cases of misrepresentation recently, examples of which have become disastrously absorbed into the national consciousness. Boris's discussion of the shared values of freedom and self-determination of the British and Ukrainian people is a prime example. Taking what he actually said out of context is malicious and misleading. But it is all too easy to make such misrepresentations stick, to be repeated by columnists, comedians and commentators and become "fact". Another appalling example is the misinformation spread by an out-of-context and short clip of Boris at this week's Nato meeting in Brussels, suggesting no one would talk to him. The rest of the footage shows him talking happily with others; even the poisonous brief section shows other leaders similarly not talking. To broadcast such a misleading clip out of context displays a level of malice that devalues every argument that accompanies it. 

MARCH 25 2022

AT LAST A BALANCED AND FAIR RADIO INTERVIEW

I am so fed up and disgusted with the BBC's blatantly partisan interviewing Mishal Husain's seething anger at Rishi Sunak was downright embarrassing yesterday morning that I have switched my bathroom radio to Times Radio. It's the only functioning digital radio in the house now that both the Pure and the big Roberts have broken down and Times Radio is only available on digital or online. And this lunchtime I heard the best interview I've heard for years. It concerned the Chancellor's spring statement. I had no idea who the two involved were, but the interviewer was fair, asked intelligent questions, and avoided snide asides and negative re-interpretations of what the interviewee had just said. This immediately made it dramatically different from a BBC radio interview. The interviewee, too, was calm and rational, and allowed to speak at length to complete a viewpoint, rather than be hustled into a pre-prepared ambush, or interrupted without reason. He also sounded intelligent, considered and balanced, criticising Sunak on some grounds but appreciating his difficulties overall.

So who could these paragons of journalism be? An interviewer with integrity and a thoughtful interviewee – possibly a correspondent? The interviewer was Ruth Davidson, former member of the Scottish Parliament, the interviewee David Gauke, former Lord High Chancellor – and odious Brexit denier who, through his despicable abuse of parliamentary procedures, protracted the UK's EU departure, causing lasting divisions in society that are festering to this day. Yet these two politicians, when placed in the position of interviewer and expert commentator were exemplary. It really highlights the rotten state of the journalism profession when it takes two politicians to sound like impartial journalists.

WHAT IS THE EU PLAYING AT?

Is the EU heading for an existential crisis – or at least a further contraction? Its pathetic response to the invasion of Ukraine becomes ever more starkly exposed as the UK's toughens. Poland and the eastern states will surely be itching to quit this club that, according to Poland, has so far failed to provide a single cent in humanitarian support. The selfish, comfortable western nations are showing more concern for their power supplies than Ukrainians within or without Ukraine, and the conflict is resulting in the EU's usual dither, indecision, delay and farce. Tensions between the bossy, self-righteous Eurocrats of the west and the eastern, non-PC awkward squad were already high before this. When the dust settles, the eastern countries might decide that enough is enough.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson continues to earn extravagant plaudits from Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials for acting decisively, sensibly and generously and has even won the ultimate accolade of being hailed as Russia's most active opponent among western leaders – by Russia. Had we remained in the EU, we, too, would have been part of the dithering and division. No credit must be given for this, of course.

HOW MANY MORE LIBERAL PARTIES CAN WE PUT UP WITH?

One minute you're accused of being a socialist, the next a Tory – make your minds up, folks. I guess it might be confusing trying to assess the politics of someone who holds fundamentally different beliefs to any of the current mainstream political parties, which are all almost identical in their liberal outlook. I do not believe in liberalism, nor ever have, because it is the antithesis of socialism, which is where my politics are rooted. I suppose the nearest "party" or movement to my own views would be Extinction Rebellion, but it is more pressure group than realistic seeker of power. And so I remain unrepresented, surveying a political scene dominated by Conservatives, Labour and LibDems – three parties I struggle to tell apart.

I suspect the reason I was asked whether I was Tory is because I feel no allegiance to any party – I judge each issue on its merits. And I suspect the reason there have been no sensible alternatives proposed to much that has happened in the past three years is because when faced with pandemic, war and now inflation, there are no substantive rational alternatives for any opposition parties to come up with. Into this vacuum have slipped liberal journalists, universally anti-Brexit and therefore anti-Boris, who have abused their position to paint a picture of relentless negativity and failure by the government. They have resorted to an absurd parochialism, as if every evil in the world is uniquely the product of Boris Johnson, while everywhere else is in rosy health. The latest example of this is the complete disregard for international rates of inflation. The UK's is not as bad as in most other comparable countries but when viewed in isolation it can be presented as a home-grown disaster. Whether you like Boris or not – and I don't particularly – this is grossly misleading and biased.

In truth, nothing is as good as it seems, nor is it anywhere near as bad; and there has not been a single potent, credible suggestion from any opposition party that I, or any other objective observer, could fall in behind. I have judged the government's actions in the past three years by racking my brains to think of what I would have done differently. And on almost every issue of note, neither I, nor anyone reported in the media, has had any superior alternative. It's hard, of course, when policy is dictated by science, as during the height of the pandemic, and it must be hard for the New New Labour liberals to complain when the government steals its only real slight differentiator and increases taxes. All they can do is bleat about different taxes or a different time-scale. How about a windfall tax on the energy companies? But even this is dubious, given that a lack of investment across swathes of business has caused low productivity, poor wages and, in the case of energy, slowed our conversion to renewable sources.

To be fair, it must be difficult to oppose when there is little scope for credible alternatives, which is why politics today is so bitter, personal, nasty and negative.

For my part, I believe the government acted as well as any nation in the face of the pandemic – better than many when it came to vaccines and unwinding the safety measures early this year. It has excelled in its response to the Russian invasion. And within the confines of established politics and liberal, business-based social structures, it is managing the economy tolerably well and probably better than any other party – who knows? But these are not my politics. I value workers performing essential tasks, such as those in the medical and caring professions; I place little value on gambling in the City. It is the liberal business world that rewards workers involved in the worthless trading of obscure financial instruments and reluctantly leaves scraps for those dedicated to securing our health and well-being. In the upside down world of misplaced value, it is perhaps no wonder that friends fail to appreciate where I stand on the established political spectrum – because I am not really on it at all.

MARCH 24 2022

There's a strange view doing the rounds that Brexit somehow emboldened, or made it easier, for Putin to resort to violence and invade Ukraine. Well, first, this same train of thought also maintains that Putin's aggression and military strategy has been in place for decades. It also ignores the fact that Putin invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. So Brexit's impact on Putin's long-term planning can only have been zero. And even if we accept that it somehow "emboldened" him in his current thinking, it was a huge miscalculation on his part. Because while the UK has been acting quickly and decisively in providing a vast arsenal to Ukraine's forces and earning heaps of praise and gratitude from Ukrainian officials from President Zelensky down, the EU has been its usual dithering self, split between the reluctant western countries dependent upon Russian energy supplies and the threatened states in the east. It has been slow to provide humanitarian financial support to Poland, slow in providing the weapons it promised and has been roundly criticised by Zelensky over and over again. If the UK had been subject to "acting as one" with the always ineffective EU, Putin might well have walked right across Ukraine by now.

MARCH 22 2022

At last, Remoaners have something to cheer about! Their dismay at so many migrant workers leaving the UK labour market must surely now be turned to joy at the sight of coach-loads of migrants now returning to take up jobs at P&O. See! You needn't have worried. They're back already! Add to this the many employers screaming for Ukrainian refugees to be admitted to Britain not so that they can escape the hardship of camps in Poland or France, but so they can provide more cheap labour. The supermarkets were on to this straight away. Well done, Morrisons, you were among the first. And now Parliament is to debate changing the rules allowing asylum seekers to work, reducing the waiting period from a year to six months. This is marvellous news for those desperate to see more workers enjoying disgraceful pay and conditions but providing wonderful service with a smile (or else!). All the employer groups are behind it, claiming it gives economic migrants something to do, plugs skills gaps, fills shortages, and lightens the support burden. Wonderful! No long-term down sides (continuing low productivity, low investment, low pay, low retention of home-trained staff, and all the repercussions that inevitably flow) at all!

BORIS AND UKRAINE

At least the Ukrainians appreciate what this country is doing to support their fight. The country's president continues to heap praise on our government's efforts and its ambassador sat smiling and applauding Boris Johnson's speech at the weekend, even though, according to some, it insulted and belittled Ukraine's fight against the sickening Russian invasion. I was unsurprised at how the Boris-hating liberal media took a sentence or two of that speech out of context and stirred up an artificial cauldron of fury among like-minded Brexit haters. But I did check just how disgusting their tactics were by watching the whole of the relevant section of Johnson's speech. And at no point did he equate standing in front of Russian tanks or being bombed by Russian jets as comparable with voting for Brexit. What he actually said was that our two peoples share a love a love of freedom and self-determination: we were able to display that through voting to make our own decisions and choosing to become vaccinated in order to escape the imposition of safety measures. He said the people of Ukraine also held those values and would be appalled at the thought of losing their freedom and self-determination to the gradual encroachment of Russia. As an illustration of what freedom and self-determination means to people and, in particular, the man giving the speech, it made perfect sense. Only a desperate political activist could see it otherwise. The BBC's "journalists", now having implanted this gross misinterpretation into the minds of the population, were clearly listening to Boris with a very different ear from the Ukrainian delegation in the front row.

MARCH 21 2022

P&O: WHY ONLY COMPLAIN WHEN IT HAPPENS IN MINUTES?

What actually happened at P&O Ferries? The local unionised workforce loyal, skilled and seemingly secure in its employment, and in its support for families and communities and its modest but decent lifestyles was replaced by cheaper foreign imports. To those who have cared to look over the past 40 years, and especially since 2004, this is a horribly familiar tale.

Ever since the application of crude and vicious business "principles" to every walk of life in the UK in 1980, this labour replacement process has been happening across Britain, as foreign investment and ownership of British companies and firms, combined with race-to-the-bottom trends in offshoring, brought dramatic cuts in costs at the expense of workers. Admission of the eastern European "Accession countries" to the border-free EU in 2004 turbo-charged this decline by allowing "near-shoring", or the employment of cheap east European labour at home without hindrance or paperwork.

Extending the British labour market to the border with Russia and Belarus swept jobs away from local workers in business's desperate downwards plunge towards rock bottom cheapness. Any unskilled, and even some skilled and semi-skilled, sectors were almost emptied of local staff construction, hospitality, social care, transport, agriculture, food processing, supermarkets and more allowing products and services to be sold at unrealistically low prices for decades and enabling many broken businesses to survive thanks to pay and conditions ranging from outright modern slavery to appalling zero hours contracts with no work benefits. Communities unable to compete on price for their own jobs unforgivably labelled as "lazy" by some ignorant commentators have either had to adapt or rot.

What happened at P&O is precisely the same, the only difference being that it took place over a few hours, rather than many years. Yet there are many who hail the "success" of migrant labour and who desperately long for the return of exploited east Europeans to serve them artificially cheap coffee with a smile. In the next breath those same people condemn the disgusting behaviour of the Dubai-owned P&O. To me, it makes no difference whether it takes 20 years or a few hours: using migrant labour to break the local workforce is wrong; exploiting impoverished foreigners to cut business costs is wrong; allowing unfettered foreign ownership of important UK businesses is wrong.

RADIO GA GA

The radio is silent in our kitchen. Why would I want to listen to the utterly obnoxious Nick Robinson for one more second? Playing his idiot game of "false comparisons", he reminds me in so many ways of Putin, showing similar levels of charm, honesty and decency, and an identical attitude towards the truth.

Repeating the fallacious nonsense around Boris's speech on freedom, he failed to mention that Zelensky and Ukraine continue to heap praise on Boris and Britain. This, of course, barely merits a mention on the treacherous BBC.

THAT "TORY" THING

Of course it hurts when a friend suggests you sound like a Tory, when you are anything but as I explained yesterday. But a further thought on this: in this crazy era of all political parties holding the same fundamental beliefs, Boris is no more a Tory than Blair was Labour. It is bizarre that in his utterances and his actions, Johnson clearly stands well to the left of that charlatan and champion of business and consumption, Tony Blair. Keir Starmer as well.


MARCH 20 2022

We can praise the BBC for much of its Ukraine invasion coverage and it does indeed still have a few first-class journalists working under terrifying bombardment. Whatever drivel Putin comes out with, we know Russian bombs are destroying formerly peaceful cities because we can see them with our own eyes, thanks to the bravery of committed reporters and crews. The BBC and other media organisations also have many disgraceful staff who do not deserve to be called journalists. Many times I have had to turn off the radio, most recently when the UK-hating Nick Robinson virtually spat at a minister while attacking him over a rumoured figure of a mere "50 refugees" being admitted to Britain and declared that this amounted to "national shame". If I had been the interviewee that day I would have replied with a furious "You know NOTHING. How DARE you..." and ended the interview immediately.

At least The Times that day, less than three weeks ago, had the decency to point out that if this "50" rumour was indeed true it was only because the process of documenting and identifying those refugees most suited to life in Britain ie, having family here, for a start was just getting under way, just hours old, and the number would rise rapidly. Which is precisely what happened.

Unfortunately, the barrage of ignorant abuse and insults hurled at the government caused it to make a series of concessions, culminating in a hastily cobbled together plea for spare bedrooms. Would there be checks on those volunteering to share their homes with Ukrainians for at least six months, to weed our abusers and the like, or not? The government could not win: apply sensible safeguards and Keir Starmer bleats on about it all being "too little, too late"; take a light touch and it is accused of recklessness and will be held accountable for every case of harm that follows.

It's easy to oppose when you feel under no pressure to offer an alternative. Starmer's stock response to everything the government does is: "It's too little, too late." When asked what he would do instead, the answer is invariably: "We will have come up with a proposal in three years." Ed Davey, the latest hapless little twerp to lead the LibDems, has his own style: "Well, that's an important question and it requires very close scrutiny and examination. We shall be reviewing it and considering all the options. It's vital that we consider this. And that's precisely what needs to be done and is what we will be doing, etc, etc, ad nauseum...."

Being the opposition, they face no opposition themselves to this stream of obfuscation, indecision and lack of commitment. Meanwhile, the government is busy having its own decisions and commitments re-written by the liberal media. A prime example is today's cover of The Sunday Times, with three stories attacking Boris Johnson in different ways, and all partly written by a writer hell-bent on sticking knives into Boris at every opportunity, deserved or not. The smallest and most bizarre story is Caroline Wheeler's condemnation of Boris for being at a Conservative party event the evening before the Russians invaded Ukraine. The article states that despite days of warnings of an imminent invasion, the prime minister fulfilled diary commitments. It does not say what he should have done instead sit by the phone for 24 hours a day for several weeks in case the tanks suddenly started to roll? The fighting did not begin until the following morning; Boris's attendance at the event was a complete irrelevance, yet he is castigated. Only a journalist without judgment or integrity could put their name to such a piece. Next, again involving the toxic Caroline Wheeler, is a veiled slur that the prime minister knew all about the despicable sacking of P&O workers in advance and that ministers only criticised P&O after seeing the ferocity of the backlash against this disgusting company. Neither allegation fits the facts as currently known: ministers have already said they only heard about the sacking plan a few hours before it was implemented at the crack of dawn last Thursday; and ministers were among the first voices raised against it when the news of what had happened became apparent at lunchtime. Two completely manufactured stories designed to malign and harm the government. The third, and biggest, is the most glaringly concocted: Boris's supposed attack on the EU and supposed likening of the Ukrainian people's struggle to the Brexit vote.

It's an object lesson in how to create news: take a few out-of-context sentences from a speech (although it actually sounded more like an off-the-cuff discussion) and seek the opinions of a few people you know to hate the prime minister as much as you do yourself in this case, the EU's Donald Tusk and Guy Verhofstadt, a horribly unprincipled man who can be relied upon to assault Boris and Brexit any day of the year, and the odious half-wit SNP dunce Ian Blackford. They duly trot out their shock and fury and the item becomes second most important on the BBC's main radio news bulletins, to be followed up on every front page of the Sundays. No one cares to ask what Johnson was actually saying, or whether it matters. As my friend Roger puts it: "I have been enjoying Remoan Central having apoplexy about Boris making a very Boris-like sweeping observation about the desire for freedom and the instinct that tells us running our own country is better than letting foreigners do it for us. How dare he?!"

A more fair and accurate assessment of the UK's policies over Ukraine came this week from unexpected sources: an Irish minister and Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. The Irish representative (I didn't catch his name or title) even had the temerity to disagree with the BBC interviewer's interpretation of events when he was assured that Britain's response to the refugee crisis was pathetic and embarrassing. He replied that that was not the way Ireland saw matters at all: the UK had reacted with generosity and speed in every respect, notably in regard to refugees, sanctions and military help. This, of course, floored the bewildered interviewer who was unable to comprehend such a deviation from the one and only accepted liberal narrative. Worse was to come when Zelensky, having praised Johnson's efforts to the skies, rounded on Germany for its hesitant, faltering and self-serving lack of support. None of this received much prominent coverage.

Neither did the momentous negotiations that freed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from her Iranian hell. Yes, she had served her time and should have been released, but the Iranians would not have hesitated to jail her again on more nonsensical charges had it suited them. That she is now home is the result of painstaking work by the UK's negotiators under the leadership of Liz Truss who has suddenly and surprisingly transformed herself into a force to be reckoned with. The government's extremely delicate work in settling its long-standing debt with Iran opened the jail door, yet the short-lived coverage of this triumph of diplomacy and concern focused heavily on how it had upset the US and on Nazanin and her family before rapidly sliding down the news agenda. Positive news does fit the liberal globalisers' narrative and is therefore not wanted here. The mantra goes: Brexit = BAD; Boris = BAD; therefore the government = BAD; therefore what the country does = BAD; therefore the country = BAD. What a miserable view to take of your own country when so many with experience of other nations are desperate to come here to share the rights, freedoms, privileges, opportunities and welfare that we take for granted.

But returning to my friend Roger's satisfaction at the fulminations of the Remoaners, I can say that I, too, would enjoy their frothing were it not for the fact that I hate appearing to stand up for Tories. I only have to do so because the attacks on them are made without integrity or fairness; they are partisan and built on a blind hate that can see no credit even where it is due, and that interprets every action, no matter how successful, as catastrophic. A friend suggested yesterday that I sounded like a Tory. I assured him I am an old style genuine socialist who believes the world is playing the wrong game completely. I liken my stance on "support" for Tories, Labour, Greens or whatever to that of a neutral dragged along to a game of American football between two minor teams and who is therefore able to make objective, unbiased assessments of how each team is playing. Acknowledging that one team appears particularly skilled or that the team's quarter-back made a marvellous interception does not in any way make me a supporter of American football, which I cannot abide. Yet I am forced to sit and watch, bemused as to why anyone would think it a good idea to play this awful game when Aussie Rules is so marvellous. Running a world on the business principles of growth, consumption, greed and selfishness is clearly the wrong game; yet all three of the UK's main political parties are indistinguishable in their fundamental stance and belief that this is the right game. And this makes the vehement, all-consuming hatred that liberals have of the Tories all the more difficult for me to understand, given that they are virtually identical to Labour and to every other conservative-liberal government in Europe: the similarities are astounding, the differences trivial a few pence here or there. If I were to hate anyone which I don't because it denies integrity and objective analysis it would be Labour for its abandonment and betrayal of working class people. Its liberal, business-led leadership really has no understanding at all of what workers want and need. And we know this: the Brexit vote proved it beyond any doubt.

MARCH 3 2022

A short hiatus caused by an excursion to Sri Lanka. It's a fascinating country with an enviable history and culture, but I fear it might have peaked too soon. It's water management systems, for example, consisting of "tanks" (huge reservoirs) and an ingenious means of moving water from one to another, date back to the fourth century BC. Today, it is busy and claustrophobic and in danger of masking its natural beauty with desperate and ramshackle commerce: ribbon development is taken to the extreme as stalls line every main road without interruption. We even bought drinks at a smallholding beside the railway line just outside the trendy mountain town of Ella. I would sum up Sri Lanka as a cross between the Garden of Eden and the Leatherhead Community Municipal Tip: the misty hills and glorious beaches are breath-taking but where humans seek to sell each other hub caps or the front halves of vans it becomes extremely messy. I suspect, as a first and brief impression, that the Buddhist culture of mutual caring and respect provides the lubrication necessary for people to co-exist on an island the size of Ireland with four times the population. This certainly looks to be the case on the roads, where traffic flows freely thanks to the mixture of cars, tuk-tuks and scooters narrowly avoiding each other. I would love to visit again, but might have higher travel priorities. Either way, I would hesitate to fly with Sri Lankan Airlines, which is still messing us about and holding on to money it owes us several weeks after the event.

WAR

And so we move seamlessly from pestilence to war. Putin is clearly deluding himself if he truly believes in his justification for invading Ukraine. But then, this is what warmongering world leaders do. Putin himself points out that the West invaded Iraq on equally criminally spurious grounds and left the country devastated. The Russian president also notes that the US has military bases around the world, while Russia does not. This rather overlooks Russia's more covert foreign interventions, however, as it resorts to murder with impunity wherever it sees fit. Each of these examples is, of course, a case of two wrongs not making a right. Putin is wrong on all counts, quite probably a war criminal and it is right that his country, its people and its dirty money should be labelled as unwanted; the world's pariah.

Dealing with all this is complicated, however. Yet there are still fools who support the declaration by the West of a "no-fly" zone over Ukraine, a move that would inevitably lead to World War Three and the real possibility of a nuclear exchange. Putin likes to make clear his willingness to initiate global Armageddon, which makes responding to his madness a tightrope act. He must be resisted militarily by Ukraine but Nato cannot become directly involved and sanctions must hurt the people of Russia so that they turn against their dictator. But Putin must be given, at all times, a way out, a route by which he can save face. As soon as he feels the game is up and he is cornered, whether militarily or by unrest at home or complaints from his oligarchs and henchmen, then he will surely consider reaching for the nuclear button. In reality, the only people who can stop Putin are the Russian people, but before they will rise and rid themselves of this monster they themselves will need to feel they have nothing more to lose in taking on his fascist regime.


FEBRUARY 4 2022

THE WORLD AND ITS DEATH WISH

Putin lures the world into war. aided and abetted by China; religious fanatics bully, kill, maim and control huge areas of the planet; glaciers melt on the slopes of Everest; poverty and greed spark vast global migrations. Humankind plainly has a serious death wish. Meanwhile, in central London, the overwhelmingly dominant topic for debate is an accusation – a "theory", no less! – that Keir Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions, and thereby head of the Crown Prosecution Service, at the time it was deciding whether or not to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sex offences. Starmer has accepted responsibility for this failing and apologised after an inquiry, even though he was found to have no personal involvement. Which begs the question as to why not. But even so, were anyone to suggest he was the person in charge when opportunities to proceed against Savile were missed, it ought to be completely uncontroversial. Yet the outrage over Boris Johnson's alleged implication that Starmer made the decision has almost achieved the impossible of relegating "partygate" to a footnote this week.

What Starmer levelled at Johnson is, of course, ignored. Here's what he said on Monday: "But people shouldn’t feel guilty. They should feel pride in themselves and in their country. Because by abiding by those rules. They have saved the lives of people they will probably never meet." Does this not imply that Johnson caused deaths? That would be an outrageous slur against anyone. He continued: "They have shown the deep public spirit. And the love and respect for others that has always characterised this nation at its best." Again, implying that Johnson has no public spirit or respect for others – a debatable point at the very least. "He is a man without shame...And just as he has done throughout his life. He is damaging everyone and everything around him along the way." This is seriously nasty and underhand personal abuse, nothing more.

He went on: "That his behaviour and character don’t matter. I have never accepted that. And I never will accept that. Whatever your politics. Whatever party you vote for. Honesty and decency matter. Our great democracy depends on it. And cherishing and nurturing British democracy is what it means to be patriotic. There are members opposite who know that. And they know the Prime Minister is incapable of it." Incapable of being patriotic? Seriously?

Obviously, Johnson was livid. Visibly so. He had, apparently, been advised not to dredge up Starmer's difficult time as DPP and perhaps had not intended to. But in the heat of rage after a stream of highly personal vitriol, he let loose with all barrels. I can understand that. I have said things pretty rarely, I should add in a fury that I have regretted and apologised for. Johnson might well have regretted raising the subject but once said, in such a public forum, there is no going back. And as regrettable as it might have been, it felt perfectly fair and reasonable when seen live and in the context of battle. Even in the cool aftermath, it hardly seems outrageous or even wrong. Starmer took responsibility for, and apologised for, his department's failure to prosecute Savile. To make reference to that during a slanging match over the relative integrity of party leaders is well above the belt. To claim that it was really an implied reference to something else some sort of poorly explained conspiracy theory that Starmer was personally and directly involved in the Savile decisions – goes well beyond the words actually used. How this tiny affair can have captured the news headlines for several days is utterly absurd.

Sadly, the excellent Munira Mirza, Johnson's closest policy adviser, used the manufactured furore as her excuse for leaving the prime minister's team. Everything I have read of her is impressive, her background and thinking seem to have shaped the left-of-centre initiatives levelling up, climate change measures, the need to tackle social care that have put Labour to shame and that secured a positive popular response to his time as London mayor. I cannot believe that this insignificant parliamentary kerfuffle was her main reason for quitting: it appears to have followed a period of relative distancing and frustration in her work with the prime minister. The final straw, perhaps, at a convenient moment. But of all the accusations, allegations, controversies, resignations and witch-hunting, losing Mirza looks to be the most serious. Without her his days must surely be numbered.

If the end of the Johnson era is nigh and I cannot recall a more sustained, meticulously engineered and vitriolic persecution of a politician – there can only be one priority when it comes to choosing a replacement. It has to be a committed Brexiteer. This is the defining characteristic of our current politics and to allow a Remoaner prime minister to subject once again the poorest UK workers to direct competition from even poorer East Europeans would remove the primary benefit of leaving the EU, as far as working class people are concerned. It would truly place us in the worst of all possible worlds.

FEBRUARY 1 2022

LISTEN TO YOURSELF, LISA

Lisa Nandy opposes a tax rise that is aimed at supporting the NHS! How can the Labour Party have tied itself in such ludicrous knots?

And another poor Lisa gaffe: Labour has taken a free and easy ride on the relentless Boris/Brexit-hating witch-hunt aimed at undermining and distracting a prime minister battling a global crisis – and then Nandy accuses him of being distracted! And Keir Starmer had the nerve to say the same thing himself when yesterday in the House of Commons he was ranting at the prime minister in a sordid, deeply personal diatribe while Boris Johnson would otherwise have been on the phone discussing the prospect of war with the Russian president. It's a pity. I had hopes Nandy would lead Labour towards the realm of socialism. I have no hopes whatever for the ridiculous puffed-up Starmer.


HITLER WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD OF THESE FELLOW TRAVELLERS

The thought police are now telling us ever more frequently what words we are not allowed to use (they never indicate what IS acceptable). The latest onslaught is aimed at the heroic Kate Clanchy and the schoolchildren she teaches. Clanchy won awards and heaps of praise for her beautiful-sounding books (I confess I have not read them – yet) of children's verse and her priceless observations on, and experiences of, teaching in "Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me". Then suddenly she was attacked by bigots, piling on to accuse her of racism. Racism! This is a teacher devoting her life to nurturing youngsters in a multilingual, multi-race school. She could hardly be LESS racist. But she made the unforgivable mistake of describing an Afghan girl as having "almond eyes" a beautiful and appropriate description with which Shukria Rezaei, the subject of the compliment, whole-heartedly agreed, going so far as to write an article in The Times expressing her disappointment at those attacking Clanchy under the headline: "I do have ‘almond-shaped eyes’. My teacher Kate Clanchy described me beautifully".

Similarly, Clanchy made the awful mistake of describing chocolate coloured skin as "chocolate coloured" – another perfectly apt and accurate description. And if these words are "offensive", someone needs to tell the countless websites using precisely the same term. Just Google "chocolate-coloured skin" or similar. Or is it only "offensive" when used by a white teacher? What if she had written the words "porcelain white skin", as used so often in classic novels? Or if she had quoted Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder by saying "ebony and ivory"? Are adjectives, similes, metaphors all things creative now banned by these self-appointed thought police?

Other allegations against Clanchy complain of her use of "unselfconsciously odd" when describing the demeanour of a child with autism. She has apologised for this. I think she should not have done. It resonates precisely with my experience of working with youngsters with Down's Syndrome – the "unselfconsciously odd" nature of some of their characters is endlessly appealing. Perhaps "odd" could be seen as mildly pejorative by the hyper-sensitive but in the context of autism it is accurate and helpful in understanding what are often odd and inexplicable behaviours. The same applies to another of her phrases: "jarring company". Critics should be made to spend a day with a child with autism and deny their company was "jarring".

The feeble, craven fools running Picador, the publishing house that pathetically chose to throw Clanchy to the wolves once the heat rose, rather than standing by its principles and defending her against the irrational mob, ought to be thoroughly ashamed of itself. It has even dumped "England: Poems From a School", a despicable assault on those children and their work. For an ignorant clique to cancel, deny, and silence a truly heroic teacher and her pupils who are expressing themselves so beautifully on the grounds that they deem some of the words used not to be their taste is pure fascism. The same applies to the right-wing religious fanatics in the US who are calling for books to be banned that offend their obnoxious hyper-sensibilities. With books being burned at both ends of the spectrum, there will soon be nothing worthwhile left. Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Big Brother in 1984 – they would be so proud of you all.


HOW DO PARLIAMENTARY REPORTERS STAND IT?

I have worked with many Parliamentary reporters on the Financial Times and rarely given much thought to the torture they must endure to gather their stories. Having just watched Boris Johnson give his statement to the house regarding the still relatively trivial "party" allegations, in the light of Sue Gray's partial report, I am more than ever in awe of their patience and forbearance. Boris's statement was fine it made sense, it was a reasoned response to the findings and it tried to shift the focus forward on to weightier matters than who was in which room on which date and at what time holding what drink next to whom etc etc a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, I left the TV on for another 45 minutes to be enraged, bewildered and bored by the crass stupidity of the "questions" supposedly being put to the prime minister. Keir Starmer's contribution was little more than a stream of unpleasant personal abuse; the nasty little Ian Blackford, SNP leader, was forced to leave before he was thrown out by the Speaker for making an unsubstantiated accusation; and MP after MP mithered on about the irrelevant issues of unvisited care homes and unattended funerals, lacing their complaints with vague allegations of all manner of wrong-doing. It was repetitive, unintelligent, unproven, unoriginal and a discredit to the House. In spite of all this, the only insult thrown in the debate yesterday that merited a mention on this lunchtime's BBC Radio Four news was the one from an understandably furious Johnson who mentioned that Starmer was head of the DPP when it declined to prosecute Jimmy Savile. Much play was made today of the fact that Starmer was not personally involved in that decision. But as head of the organisation, it is surely fair to ask questions regarding his leadership and judgment!

Whatever the "facts" of the Downing Street gatherings, which will now be decided upon by the police's investigation, a debate of this magnitude about a subject so relatively minor can only be a waste of valuable parliamentary time. Indeed, as mentioned above, Johnson was supposed to have been speaking to Vladimir Putin about the build-up to war while this pantomime was taking place. Boris-haters claim these matters matter because they show the PM's true character that he is a liar, a man of little integrity and that he misled the House by denying there were "parties". From what we have seen of Gray's report so far, she appears to have diligently avoided the word "party" and used "gathering" instead. In reality, the exact details about the gatherings matters little. It is what Boris said about them that matters in Parliamentary terms. But the fact that this is all the Opposition has to offer is far more damning of Starmer and his team than it is of the government. And the more shrill and desperate their pleadings for him to resign, the more pathetic they look and the more I am convinced that Boris is right to remain.

The key issue of whether Boris misled the House comes down to whether he was attending "parties" or not or more precisely, whether he thought he was attending parties or not. Pure social gatherings were, at various times during lockdowns, a breach of the criminal law, punishable by a fixed penalty notice; workplace gatherings are far more complicated. The guidelines bear repeating, as they merely require employers to ensure that "different teams should usually avoid mixing as far as possible"; that meetings should usually be limited to “only absolutely necessary participants”; and that these should be held outdoors or in well ventilated areas when possible. A separate document said “workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace". The guidelines also said that breaks in common areas should usually be staggered. Lots of "usually", "minimise", "try to", "necessary", "when possible", "should" and so on.

As I and others have said before, in some workplaces, such as national newspaper offices and, it seems, political establishments, the boundaries between work and purely "social" events can be extremely unclear: a large proportion of the work is carried out in social settings. Added to that, Nikki da Costa, former director of legislative affairs at No.10, wrote in The Times yesterday: "Within No.10 it was different. Staff were needed in the office and were required to suppress their personal anxiety. Many of the staff voluntarily cut themselves off as far as possible from even immediate family or housemates because they knew there was a high risk they might be asymptomatic. The inevitable happened: most in the building then got Covid. Having faced the worst, I can understand how many became more relaxed. And the ethos that had made remarkable efforts possible led to a bunker mentality, a feeling of being cut off from the world. In such conditions it is also easy to become distanced from the impact of the policy you are making." This aspect of her column was not highlighted only her fair criticism of the culture that allowed possible rule-breaking.

It is in this light that the "party" allegations should be assessed. Gray's report makes reference to 16 gatherings, four of which seem to have been dismissed as minor, with 12 being deemed worthy of further investigation. So what will further inquiries find?

May 15 2020

An accusation of drinking in the No.10 garden. Even Dominic Cummings says this was work. But then he was present. It is also the case that Boris and Carrie Johnson were in their own garden, which is not a public space. This does not even seem to breach the loose workplace safety guidelines.

May 20 2020

A Downing Street private secretary asks colleagues to take a break in the garden, with an instruction to "bring your own bottle". This took place in work time, on work premises, with work colleagues, with the purpose of motivating and thanking staff for their sacrifices and efforts in fighting the pandemic. It seems perfectly reasonable to see this as a work event, albeit in fairly clear breach of the loose workplace safety guidelines.

June 19 2020

This is a shocker but for different reasons. Boris attended a school event during the day at which he was presented with a birthday cake. It is then claimed that later on, about 30 people gathered in Downing Street to present him with another birthday cake an extremely common occurrence in workspaces across the land. No one would sensibly describe such an event in the office during work hours as a "party". Which is probably why a story about it in The Times the next day by Steven Swinford, deputy political editor, and Oliver Wright, policy editor, caused not the slightest political ripple. The manufactured fuss only began 18 months later when ITV News repeated the story as if it was a fresh "scandal". And this is the most shocking aspect: Oliver Wright then ran the story again in The Times, pretending it was a new outrage just unearthed by ITV News! In my day as a journalist, this fabrication and subterfuge or incompetence would have led to a reprimand or sacking. He is still writing. There may be bad news for Boris to come on this one, though, as he might become dragged into the repercussions of a party that Carrie might, or might not, have arranged in the Downing Street flat that evening. This event with family friends has been denied. This denial could prove awkward.

November 13 2020

A leaving speech for Lee Cain, former director of communications. Clearly not a party. Allegations of a short gathering in the Downing Street flat are denied, do not appear to be considered significant, but have been referred to the police.

November 27 2020

Cleo Watson's leaving speech. Cummings called this a "red herring". Funny that. He's said to be close to Watson. But there have been allegations of drinking late into the night. If it had turned purely social by this stage, then at what point did it transition? This could have become a party and be both in breach of the criminal law and workplace guidelines. It took place less than week before the second lockdown was eased. And was Boris there? No further inquiry.

December 15 2020

A Christmas quiz was held via Zoom. While Johnson was on screen, some colleagues appeared to be sharing a screen elsewhere. It is totally unclear who or to what extent rules on workplace closeness might have been broken, if at all. But clearly not by Boris. No investigation.

December 17 2020

Two leaving events, plus a Christmas quiz held by Simon Case, cabinet secretary, for members of his office. Being investigated by police, though it is hard to see why.

December 18 2020

A party in the Downing Street press office. Few details but it could well have been a party. Police investigating. No mention of the prime minister being involved.

January 14 2020

Another double leaving do. Again, it's being investigated by police, though it is hard to see why. At worst it was a breach of workplace guidelines.

April 16 2021

Two leaving events came together. Dancing into the early hours is alleged. It sounds as though it ended up very much like a party. There is no mention of Boris attending but he and Carrie are believed to have been in Downing Street.

May 26 2021

Another leaving presentation in the workplace. Clearly not a party by any rational definition. There were also one or two others, barely worthy of mention

In summary, it is pretty clear there were multiple breaches of workplace safety guidelines. But these are not police matters and are not criminal offences. One or two might have crossed the line but Boris himself was either not present, or has a fair excuse for attending the worst. But all of these events were unwise in the circumstances and Sue Gray is right to accuse Johnson of a failure of leadership and judgment. The image created is one of a highly informal and relaxed working environment – nothing wrong with that. Some might view it as juvenile, not serious. But having worked in such an environment it is actually quite the opposite: it requires great maturity and high levels of personal responsibility and initiative to be successful. It results from a flat, democratic structure in which everyone is held individually accountable and responds accordingly and is commonly found in grown-up newspaper offices. It is effective, stimulating, challenging and sometimes stressful; professional life blurs into social life and it is a culture with which Boris would have been very familiar. Perhaps he tried to recreate this way of working in City Hall as mayor of London and, if so, it worked. His tenure is celebrated as a success – with an almost unheard-of 52 per cent approval rating. If Johnson thought this way of working would bring out the best in the hundreds of civil servants and advisers based in Downing Street then it might have been a worthwhile experiment but was sadly an abject failure during pandemic conditions that required greater restraint and sharper self-discipline. That's not to say the attempt was wrong, but it was certainly inappropriate during lockdown and can rightly be called an error of judgment and leadership. If he is able to deliver on his promise of tightening up and the police find no reason to issue a notice against him, then Boris can justifiably continue and should be supported by his party. For my part, a life-long socialist and mostly Labour-supporting, I despair of the current Labour leadership's pathetic style of opposition: I want policies, not infantile name-calling; I want a positive agenda for levelling up, reforming social care, countering climate change, not personal slurs and a witch hunt aimed at disrupting and undermining the functioning of government at a time of multiple global crises.

JANUARY 19 2022

BBC'S HUSAIN – JUDGE, JURY, EXPERT WITNESS AND EXECUTIONER

War, inflation, pandemic. Never mind that. Let us focus solely on what Boris Johnson might, or might not, have known about an alleged party nearly two years ago. To the BBC's radio news presenters, it's crystal clear, black and white, an open and shut case: the prime minister is a lying scoundrel and no one can rest until we have fulfilled Dominic Cummings' mission and ousted him. The increasingly vicious Mishal Husain treated listeners to more of her thoughts and opinions this morning on the Today programme: ignorance is no excuse; he must have known; it's "just not good enough". Her pretext was a supposed interview with James Heappey, armed Forces minister, lured on air to discuss a review of the impact of the long-standing ban on LGBT military personnel. She began: "But first of all..." Heappey must have been expecting it and made no protest, answering the few questions that were put to him amid a barrage of accusations, put-downs and Husain's own notions of how a prime minister's time is spent. He said that having worked in No.10 he could see how the PM would not have known the nature of the event he was about to attend. He pointed out that a prime minister's diary is extraordinarily congested and they spend their day bouncing from one high level meeting to another. Heappey said, quite reasonably, that having seen how No.10 works, Johnson would have been briefed on the event to which he was going only as he was being led to it – because of the hectic schedule, most preparations could only take place immediately beforehand. It was therefore perfectly likely that Johnson did not know the nature of the event when on his way and therefore could not know whether it would break the government's workplace guidelines. He has since accepted that once he arrived, he should have realised it was a breach of guidance and should have shut it down straight away, something he regrets and for which he has apologised.

If all this rings true, it was not to the satisfaction of Husain who dismissed it out of hand. No attempt was made to explore the subtleties of the prime minister's workload, diary, briefings or preparations in an attempt to assess the validity of the explanations given by Johnson – and several others. Husain's mind is made up; there are no shades of grey, no nuances to explore, no minor errors of judgment, no accounting for human nature. As judge, jury, expert witness and executioner, Husain delivered her verdict and sentence – "guilty of whatever I choose".

LUCKY CHRISTIAN WAKEFORD – SO MANY CONSERVATIVE PARTIES!

The elected Conservative MP for Bury South has crossed the house to join the Labour benches. We can only hope he'll be happy with his new friends. The likelihood is, however, that he will find no difference whatever between them and his old friends. He is just lucky that he has so many conservative parties to choose from. Would he have found the slightly more socialist version of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn equally palatable?

ROMEO AND JULIET

An interesting pub garden discussion took place this lunchtime. The presence at the table of a retired top level theatre critic led to consideration of trigger warnings issued before a growing number of works, such as Romeo and Juliet – "Warning: graphic descriptions of self-harming behaviour such as suicide." Fair enough. It's a minor and meaningless irritation to the vast majority of those about to watch the centuries-old drama but if it means something to just one person and steers them away from potential danger, then that has to be good. Never mind about gambling and betting adverts and sponsorships, though. They can be rammed down the throats of impressionable young men before, during and after almost every sporting event. Betting is said to be responsible for one suicide a day; the most common cause of death among young men is suicide; there are no trigger warning associated with this bombardment of poison, just momentary and inane phrases such as "bet responsibly" or "when the fun stops, stop". Good to know woke-world has its sights set on the deadliest targets.

The dangers of allowing random and naive woke agendas to set policy was also shown in a short debate about the discrimination of various minorities. One example cited was the dearth of senior black lawyers. My counter argument was that deprived white youngsters are in similarly short supply at the top of the legal profession. There are still elements of racism and other prejudices, of course, but these have been so dramatically reduced over the past half century that they are now vastly overshadowed by background. A poor and disadvantaged white kid stands roughly the same chance of becoming a top lawyer as a poor and disadvantaged black kid – virtually none.

JANUARY 18 2022

HELL HATH NO FURY...

Hell hath no fury like a Cummings scorned. In the most egregious waste of political intellect and energy in recent years, the mad genius Dominic Cummings now seems to be focused solely on destroying the figurehead he constructed by organising a giant puppet show. He is the master pulling all the strings, with Laura Kuenssberg, Nick Robinson, Mishal Husain and most of the BBC, plus The Times and virtually every other media organisation leaping manically and absurdly to his bitter and twisted tunes. And his message is being spread like wildfire. This is mean and nasty childish behaviour – a Chinese burn, a dead leg and a razor to the throat. I am sure Cummings feels Boris Johnson humiliated him twice: once when he forced him to face the press in the Downing Street garden to explain his lockdown exploits and again when he was forced to leave the inner circle of power. But none of this can possibly excuse the misinformation, manipulation and dangerously distracting sequence of vicious, yet mostly trivial, attacks he is inflicting upon the government and the country.

Today's accusation that he discussed the proposed "party" of May 2020 with Johnson, advising it be prevented, is typical. It is his word against the prime minister's who would you prefer to believe? It also seeks to reinforce the dubious claim that work events at which alcohol was present were always "parties". At this time, such functions were clearly in breach of the government's own guidelines on workplace safety, but were not against the emergency laws limiting social mixing. This is also why the Daily Telegraph's use of the picture of the Queen mourning alone was irrelevant, in that it was not comparing like with like.

Fortunately, we have the words of a former Downing Street insider to confirm what I have been saying from the start that it is far too simplistic to call any event with alcohol a "party". Sonia Khan, a former special adviser, previously a civil servant and now a political consultant, was interviewed on Radio Four's The World At One yesterday and confirmed what anyone who has worked in journalism or politics, and perhaps many other professions, already knows – work events with alcohol are commonplace and a useful tool in maintaining the smooth running of an organisation.

Admittedly, Clare Foges, another former Downing Street insider, claimed just the opposite in The Times yesterday – that she never saw drink being taken in Downing Street during her time there. And interestingly, Khan was fired, quite brutally by many accounts, from her Downing Street post by Cummings, giving her a motive to fight. But even so, what she said rings very true and very familiar. I tried to find some accurate reporting of what she said, to save me the bother of transcribing the interview myself, but while there were reports on several media streams, not one reported what she actually said. Shockingly, all the articles I found gave the opposite impression of her clear meaning and so here is perhaps the only place you will find a fair and accurate report.

Khan made it clear that drinks during a pandemic were ill-advised and that senior and intelligent people should have known better. But she explained why they went ahead: "They don't feel like parties – it feels like having drinks as part of your work day...it feels like a very very routine thing." She said drinks were "really used as a way to say thank you to everyone and to keep people motivated." And: "At No 10 people work very very long hours and they don't get paid very much compared to people in other departments. So often senior people at No 10 – and this had existed for a long time...would...use it as a way to kind of recognise people's hard work and to try and really foster a culture of teamwork and bringing people together and use it as a way to keep people in their jobs...There was a very strong sense that you should go." When asked why the gatherings went ahead during lockdown, she said: "That's because drinks at No 10 – they feel like such a normalised thing, so it doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary." While the pandemic should have changed this culture, Khan said: "For them, for years and years, these drinks have happened and nobody has ever really cottoned on to them so they felt very very safe."

When asked whether the drinking culture should be stopped, she said no. "I think there's a really big risk associated with restricting alcohol at No 10. And that's primarily because people will always try and find a forum to kind of decompress from the week. And the benefit of No 10 is that it's quite secure, in that if anyone is a bit loose-lipped or has some documents with them it's not going to have a major impact."

In summary, this was an unequivocal rejection of the accusations of "partying at No 10" under Boris Johnson's regime (and solely under Johnson's regime); an explanation of the importance of such work events taking place in a controlled space; and a clear indication of the dangers of banning alcohol. It is both depressing and appalling that those media organisations reporting on her interview chose to present it as saying the opposite.

AT LEAST THE READERS' LETTERS MAKE SOME SENSE

The Times continues its headlong plummet away from serious journalism with a headline in today's edition saying Prisoner numbers will rocket under Raab's court backlog plan. I have not surrounded it with quotation marks, because there were none used in the paper: it was written a straightforward fact. This is an extraordinarily outrageous abuse of journalistic privilege: the story itself said nothing of the sort – merely mentioning that "critics had warned" such "rocketing" might result. Indeed, the Magistrates Association welcomed Raab's move, having first called for such a change nearly 20 years ago. This is a level of distortion and manipulation we have seen on a regular basis in the tabloid press, and it is now a regular feature of the tabloid Times.

Fortunately, the paper's readers (and some columnists) occasionally provide a counter-weight to the deluge of one-sided negativity on the news pages and in its ghastly, simple-minded and hopelessly unfunny "cartoons". A recent example was the reaction to the crown court jury's finding in the case of the four activists put on trial for heaving Colston's statue into the Bristol docks because of his links to the slave trade. A range of views on the Letters Page demonstrated precisely the balance that lies at the heart of the UK's political and judicial systems: at one end of the debate, a writer said that the acquittals could be seen as a victory for the mob; at the other, a correspondent pointed out that an obviously perverse jury verdict now and then was a small price to pay for keeping oppressive and authoritarian government at bay. The wisdom of a small, thinking crowd managed to sum up the constitution perfectly.

JANUARY 14 2022

IF YOU INSIST ON HANGING SOMEONE, AT LEAST HAVE THE DECENCY TO HANG THEM FOR THE RIGHT 'OFFENCE'

Sue Gray has a tricky task. Whatever her findings in the "partygate" inquiry, they will fail to prove acceptable to one warring faction or the other. Boris haters want him hanged, whatever the facts, and supporters want him cleared and able to move on to more important matters. Those, like me, who don't like him but believe he is performing as well, if not better, than most prime ministers of the past 40 years, would like to see truth and justice. And if The Times' report on Gray's latest thinking is anything to go by, a semblance of truth and justice might be on its way.

The newspaper's report – presumably based on spin – claims that Gray will find no "criminality", whether it is within her remit to do so or not. If this is accurate, then we will see at least one victory for common sense. The coverage goes on to say that she is likely to censure him for showing a lack of judgment in briefly attending the gathering in the garden at 10 Downing Street. Again, perfectly sensible: it was blatantly against the government's own workplace guidelines on keeping personnel safe at that time during the pandemic and he should have stayed away or, better still, told attendees to go back to work or go home.

More contentiously, she is expected to criticise the blurred lines between working and socialising. This is the nub of the issue in this latest furore. I cannot believe the Financial Times has been the only employer over the past 30 years deliberately to blur the lines between working and socialising. As I said before, gatherings at which alcohol was consumed and colleagues chatted were commonplace during my entire 27 years at the FT, providing opportunities for colleagues to share, or for managers to reward, and a plethora of other perfectly reasonable work purposes. My philosophy at work was always that it should be enjoyable, both for me and for anyone working under my management. I stayed at the FT for so long because I felt this ideology was very much in line with that of the organisation. And, of course, having fun at work and providing a varied and stimulating environment involved blurring those lines that are now, to many, so crystal clear. Take an example. During the 2010 world cup, the FT turned its sixth floor function space into a "pub/cinema" so that staff could watch an England match during the afternoon. The purpose was both to give employees enjoyment and to keep them in the office instead of finding excuses to disappear for the afternoon. I went along and Lucy Kellaway came and sat beside me: we very happily discussed the complexities of the offside rules, tactical manoeuvres and the noise made by vuvuzelas. Alcohol was sold, too. Was this a work event?

As far as I am concerned, that, and many hundred other similar occasions, were very clearly work events. There is inevitable blurring, as I've said before – and it's a very good, healthy, productive thing. I would therefore refuse to criticise any workplace that used such gatherings to motivate staff and make their employment more enjoyable. If it's organised by the employer, involves work colleagues, is in the workplace, is held within, or contiguously to, working hours, for work purposes – which can and should include motivation and enjoyment – then it is a work event. The fact that the "invitation" mentioned BYOB makes no difference in this case. First, BYOB to everyone of my, and the current civil service leadership's, generation refers to Bottle, not Booze. And second, on more than one occasion during lockdown we either took our own cutlery to outdoor meals, or asked guests to bring their own, as a sensible anti-virus precaution. I have no idea of No.10's motive for not providing drinks but anyone hating Boris will obviously choose the most damaging interpretation.

In all the hours and hours the BBC has devoted to this trivial topic, I have not heard one commentator consider these fundamental questions. The media monoculture is solely intent on securing Johnson's resignation and is happy to use any and every allegation, regardless of the truth, justice or facts, to create a groundswell of loathing. It isn't difficult to do. The BBC, especially, has enormous power: witness the fuel crisis it fomented with its misleading coverage. It's taken two years of constant undermining, but it is working.

CAN LIES ALWAYS GET EVERYONE OFF THE HOOK?

Any rebuttal of the endless sequence of carefully choreographed accusations against Boris Johnson, coming months, even years, after the event, is met with a simple accusation of lying. It's a tried and tested formula, akin to the "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" jibe. The process is: accuse, wait for the response, then denounce it as lies. Do it often enough and your version becomes "the truth". When the campaign fails to achieve its goal, you simply add that only corruption can be keeping the perpetrator in office, causing a further escalation. Yet since when has even obvious lying been enough to clear a wrong-doer? If lying was ever enough, then no criminal would be convicted, no cheat condemned.

So is it feasible that the holder of one of the most closely scrutinised public positions in the world could avoid censure simply by repeated lying? Most prime ministers lie – they often have to; they have to use subterfuge at times: that's politics. But when those lies are clear, damaging and important, the prime minister has to go. That is patently not the case here: the accusations in themselves are trivial and ambiguous, seeking to paint a portrait of a flawed character; they can only become sufficiently important if they demonstrate that Boris misled parliament, which is where the hate campaign is headed, of course. But if two years of concerted hate campaigning has failed to land a knock-out blow, perhaps it's time to accept that life and politics is rather more complicated than "us and them", "good and evil", "work and social".

PLEASE STOP FORCING ME TO SIDE WITH THOSE I DO NOT LIKE

As I have said many times, I do not like Boris Johnson, though I do believe his attributes, abhorred by many and not necessarily in any way likeable, are precisely those that make a good prime minister. In addition, I am pressed into supporting him by the outrageously unreasonable, illogical and incorrect onslaught of accusations and allegations constantly hurled at him. He is far from perfect but those making him out to be two rungs below satan have driven me to point out their prejudice and hate, which has the effect of appearing to offer him defence and support.

The same is now happening over Prince Andrew and Novak Djokovic. The latter's treatment in Australia has been shocking. If he is not welcome, or a danger, then remove him, quickly. But with every passing day that he is allowed to mix and practise for the Australian Open, it becomes more obvious that he is not considered an imminent threat and that moves to throw him out of the country are becoming politically motivated. He should have been deported immediately upon arrival, or immediately after the perverse judge's ruling on Monday that allowed him entry on a ridiculous technicality, while ignoring the substantive factors. Neither opportunity was taken and so he should be allowed to stay and compete.

Prince Andrew is far murkier and he is much less easy to defend or support. Even his mother now appears to accept that, having severely downgraded him as a royal. But nothing of the little we know of his accuser is palatable. She herself is accused of being part of Jeffrey Epstein's procurement team and of merely seeking to profit from a court case she might well have signed away her right to bring. I care little for Prince Andrew but it seems that he, too, is to be hanged by hate before the trial has even begun. Which to me does not seem fair.

JANUARY 12 2022

WOW! WHAT A PARTY-GOER I WAS!

It suddenly turns out that I attended hundreds of parties at the Financial Times, where I worked as a senior journalist for 27 years. Every budget day, drinks and nibbles would be provided; every success throughout the year (and there were many) would be marked by drinks, as would the departure of a colleague. Special demands or efforts would be similarly noted and visitors to the office would also be offered refreshments of various kinds, depending on the time of day. That these were all parties comes to me as an enormous surprise – I understood them at the time to be workplace events, taking place in the workplace, during the very long and flexible work hours a journalist might work, with some appearing to be voluntary, others compulsory and others much-needed. What I thought were the few actual FT parties I attended mostly took place elsewhere. As for the countless functions held by other organisations at which drinking of alcohol took place, I never for a moment considered them to be parties, and neither would anyone else. I always tried to draw a clear distinction between what was a work event and what was a genuinely social event, but even then there were grey areas: the FT rock band performing at the Menier Theatre in Southwark Street was clearly social; the budget-night drinks and office celebrations and thank yous clearly not; the fabulous annual Weekend FT contributors' party lay somewhere between the two. A rough rule of thumb might have been whether I considered myself to be a guest or an attendee.

To talk, therefore, of Boris Johnson having broken the law by walking in his garden in May 2020 where an alleged "party" was taking place is grossly simplistic. And yet all of those speaking on BBC Radio Four's World At One programme today were happy to accept this simplistic opinion. The questions that were not asked – perhaps carefully avoided – were: could the gathering be considered a work event? And if it was, what laws or guidance should be used to evaluate its legitimacy? Only when these two questions are settled does it make any sense at all to assess the level of wrong-doing. Yet they were not even asked.

By any reasonable definition, this was clearly a work event: the only people invited were colleagues, it was held in the workplace, almost certainly during the long and flexible working hours of at least some of those invited or attending, and its purpose was as work related as the FT's budget day refreshments – except in this case, the colleagues were asked to provide their own drinks. The "invitation" referred to it being a "socially distanced event" and implied that alcohol would not be provided. Some party! Furthermore, would those invited consider themselves to be "guests" or "attendees"? I would have been in no doubt that this was a workplace event and would say that the staff's vital work in controlling a pandemic required them to be in the office during the month in question.

This being the case, what then was the state of the law and government guidelines relating to such occasions? Even a cursory investigation reveals that there were no laws applicable to workplace mixing at the time, but there were guidelines. These are neatly summarised by the Full Fact website: the advice was that different teams should usually avoid mixing as far as possible; that meetings should usually be limited to “only absolutely necessary participants”; and that these should be held outdoors or in well ventilated areas when possible. A separate document said “workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace". The guidelines also said that breaks in common areas should usually be staggered.

It is therefore crystal clear that the gathering was in breach of both the letter and the spirit of the government's own guidelines; it was extremely ill-advised. Upon that we can surely all agree. But it was clearly not "illegal", as so many commentators, who should have known better, were more than happy to assume. A police inquiry would be an absurd waste of public funds; better journalism and a focus on the vital, pertinent questions would make that clear. This was a silly error of judgment within the context of the workplace – similar to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of non-workplace errors made by so many during that truly unprecedented period. Johnson has given a dignified apology, accepting responsibility whether he was the instigator or not, and that should be the end of the matter. Subject, of course, to anything fresh that Sue Gray's inquiry discovers.

This will not, however, be the end of the ridiculous saga, because it is not a mission to reach the truth and administer justice but a protracted, carefully calculated, scurrilous and vicious drip-fed campaign to undermine and discredit the elected prime minister and force him out of office. Those who hate Johnson are not only to be found on the opposition benches but on his own side: even those grateful to him for delivering a thumping Tory majority are divided over what they expect to gain from that victory. As I pointed out (that phrase used advisedly) in my book, there was a curious matrix of support for, and opposition to, Brexit, with Tory supporters divided between free-market liberal radicals and those opposed to the cheapening and exploitation of workers. These groups are irreconcilable but Johnson needs them both on his side, which suggests his days are numbered. But those who hate him on the Labour side need to be careful what they wish for – Truss or Sunak would wipe the slate clean and would show up Keir Starmer for the confused dullard that he truly is. A smart socialist leader would quickly identify the gap in the political market, currently occupied by three very similar conservative parties, and push the communitarian, localist, ecological and pro-worker message to scoop back those northern "Red Wall" constituencies. But the arch-remoaner leading the Labour Party seems to care little for the plight of the working class that he should be representing and cannot see past his burning desire to reintroduce a failed relationship with the EU that resumes the erosion of British workers' pay – and beyond his blind hatred of the man who enacted the electorate's clearly stated wish for Brexit.

JANUARY 7 2022

SNIPPETS

● In today's Times we are warned to expect higher retail prices because of "soaring costs". These include energy and transport bills and wages. I have long argued that consumers have been force fed a diet of unrealistic and damagingly low prices, driven down by appalling wages and exploitation, a globalised race to the bottom, and business's need to drive consumption at the cost of everything else – even the planet. If higher prices mean we consume less and reward workers better, then it is surely to be greatly welcomed.

● A message arrived this morning from a committee member at our local tennis club, referring to the provision of new tennis balls each week. There has been some debate over whether players should continue to enjoy this benefit or buy their own. The balls are renewed each Saturday lunchtime in time for the club's weekly mix-in social tennis event in the afternoon, which means that by later in the week they are worn, dirty and have lost their bounce. This is frustrating to players on Thursdays and Fridays. The messager this morning called this system "old world" – a reference to the fact that the Saturday social mix-in has declined in popularity and so timing the replacement of balls around it is out of date. This might seem trivial but in fact it represents a huge shift in society over the past 40 years, from a community-focused social system to an individualistic one. The tennis mix-in has suffered because the next generation of club members do not see the club as a club, but as a facility; they feel no obligation to maintain any collective element and seek only to maximise their own personal interest. The disbanding of the club's social committee a few years ago was an earlier stark warning of the fractured and increasingly antisocial direction of travel. I have mentioned this before and it is another vital theme in my book, "The Rise of Antisocialism". I could say that I am pleased to see this work being proved right, day in, day out, by large events and small. But I am not. We should all be extremely concerned.

● History is being re-written at an alarming rate – and by the ignorant and biased. This morning in The Times' T2 section, that intellectual pipsqueak James Marriott sings the praises of the BBC's equally dim and equally sloppy Amol Rajan, who has been presenting a Radio Four series on demography. Pipsqueak seems to deduce from it that the UK needs a boom in births to correct a dramatic decline in birth rates (partly caused, he says, by a "housing crisis"!) that is leaving the hated "baby boomer" generation in the majority, which is distorting policy decisions. This is wrong and stupid on so many counts: there is no "right" balance to age in society; the birth rate declined decades ago; there is no housing crisis – only a housing finance crisis (see my book for details); success in society is not dependent upon generation but wealth, geography and status; from the baby boomers' perspective there are no policy privileges being handed out; Pipsqueak's generation is demonstrably the most pampered in history; and the list of uninformed blunders goes on. This is dangerous. Once such nonsense becomes accepted as history, learning and improving becomes impossible.

● Another aspect of this casual misinterpretation of history and recent events is the offhand remarks made by so-called professional journalists. Yesterday on the Radio Four Today programme, Nick Robinson claimed Boris Johnson had been "forced to acknowledge" the NHS was under strain. As a life-long journalist, I am sickened by such ill-informed and biased comment being introduced as if it were true: my generation of reporters were not even allowed to use phrases such as "they pointed out" because this implied that what the interviewee was saying was accurate. Johnson has been saying all along that his primary concern is to preserve a functioning NHS and has repeated many times that it is inevitably under severe stress. To say that he had been "forced to acknowledge" this is deliberately misleading and undermining – a blatantly political statement. And it is an indication of how easy it is to distort and manipulate the public discourse when bad people are controlling the message.

JANUARY 6 2022

ONLY AN IDIOT TALKS ABOUT 'THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY'

Had I been in Bristol on the day Edward Colston's statue was dumped in the dock, I might well have joined in. I would also have had the decency to accept that my behaviour was criminal, requiring me proudly to proclaim my guilt and accept any appropriate punishment. I would expect those who attacked the US Capitol building a year ago to do the same. It can sometimes feel right to express strong views in violence; but merely holding strong views places no one above the law. When any idealist or bigot is allowed to choose which laws they abide by and which they don't, then democracy and social cohesion dies. The "right side of history" is a many faceted thing – and being on it is far more complex than most simplistic activists appreciate.

HOORAY FOR DJOKOVIC

Poor old Novak Djokovic. Stuck in Melbourne limbo, unable to enter Australia and not yet allowed to go home. I dearly hope he is escorted on to a flight after losing his appeal over being refused entry by a judge on Monday. But the world's top male tennis player has done us all a favour in highlighting the way anti-vaxers and conspiracy theory loons operate – through subterfuge, double-speak and pretence. Macron in France has lashed out against his country's anti-vax fruitcakes (everyone, no matter how foolish or odious, inevitably gets something right occasionally, even the French president), and Italy plans to make vaccines compulsory. The UK, probably rightly, is sticking to persuasion and reason but is allowing some differentiation between the fully vaccinated and the foolish refuseniks, such as over quarantining and testing after travel. This might persuade a few to do the sensible thing. But now that anti-vaxers are clogging up hospitals, jumping the queue with their self-inflicted gasping for air, and causing operations for innocent patients to be postponed, prolonging their suffering, it is surely time to get a little tougher. If it would feel too draconian to deny them hospital treatment at all, might we not at least line them up on trolleys in a corridor and admit them only when there is spare capacity after all other commitments are met? Still too cruel? Then how about denying them free treatment? If you refuse to take the vaccine, then you will need to take out expensive insurance to cover the costs of your hospitalisation – or forgo it. Something is certainly needed to focus these feeble brains.

SOCIALIST EU? COME OFF IT

A friend posted a sort-of ironic allegation on Facebook that the NHS Covid vaccine was in fact a drug that makes us all love the EU – he quoted some jokey statistics to support it. He asked: "Why are you being forcibly injected with EU beliefs by the socialist-medical establishment?" Yes, all jolly funny. Except, I cannot think why any genuinely socialist organisation would wish to promote a liberal, business-led alliance of predominantly right-wing led nations? 

POP GOES FROM 'WE' TO 'ME'

I overheard an interesting aside on Radio Four this morning. The programme after the news at 9am. I wasn't listening properly as I cannot stand Amol Rajan's flippant, amateurish presenting. But one of his intelligent guests, a Japanese woman, I believe, was talking about the increasingly individualistic nature of Japanese society. She said pop song lyrics, once filled with references to "We, us, ourselves", were now found to be dominated by "I, me, myself". The reason I found it so interesting is that it is exactly one of the primary points I was making in my book, The Rise of Antisocialism.

JANUARY 2 2022

THE SHORTEST REVIEW OF THE YEAR YOU'LL SEE

My televisual moment of the year: Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice dancing to Clean Bandit's "Symphony" – this transcended the highest limits of Strictly Come Dancing to become a beautiful work of art in which everything melded together to reach sheer perfection. The music, the lyrics, the choreography, the originality, the creativity, the personalities, the spectacle and, of course, the dancing and movement, were sublime.

Little pet hate at the end of the year: I have plenty of big pet hates, as you will have read, but a repeated irritation is the indiscriminate use of fireworks by people who, quite literally, have money to burn. I cannot understand why fireworks – powerful explosives – are on sale to the general public at all, so that buyers can make complete nuisances of themselves night after night, terrifying wildlife and pets and annoying everyone else. If they were restricted to two or three nights a year (bonfire night and new year's eve, perhaps) they might be tolerable, but random bombardments through the whole of the autumn and winter is downright antisocial. Large organised displays? No problem.

JANUARY 1 2022

Happy New Year to all my readers! I do realise, of course, that I have no readers – and quite honestly, I would be slightly horrified to think I did. But should anyone stumble across these thoughts I hope they enjoy a wonderful 2022. And perhaps by focusing on the positives, rather than buying into the media's constant stream of negativity, we can help make it an even more wonderful year. Some have suffered through no fault of their own in 2021 and they have our heart-felt sympathy. But when my immediate family and a few friends looked back on the year, we realised what a richly fulfilling time it had been for us. We had enjoyed no extravagant tours of Australia or Africa, and endured plenty of frustrations while working at home, on Zoom calls, and eating outside in the early part of the year. But we recalled countless small and vivid events and interactions which we had given our full focus and deep appreciation. So a less dramatic year, but one that was concentrated, full-strength, creative and packed with flavours – even those chilly but wonderful outdoor meals.


DECEMBER 30 2021

A friend wrote an article on a website under this headline: "As Brexit continues to fail, the government – of former Vote Leave campaigners – is beginning to adopt the doublespeak of the former Soviet Union". He hates Boris and cannot accept the nation's decision over the EU and Brexit. This colours his entire view of current events. I could just as easily write, with equal credibility: "With the benefits of Brexit flowing and the government having brilliantly defeated Covid-19, it can at last turn its attentions to its two vital and worthy priorities – tackling climate change and ensuring a fairer allocation of the nation's resources to all the people in all the regions." Each is equally valid. I would argue that neither represents the whole truth or the facts – they are both absurdly opinion-laden. Somewhere between them lies reality. But that zone of accuracy, fairness and integrity is a barren no-man's-land today: political debate is now conducted almost exclusively at the extremes. And which extreme you take in the UK depends largely on your view of Brexit, the EU and Boris Johnson.

This is important, because my friend is a former journalist, just like me, and we are now free to speak our minds. As senior professional journalists we had our personal opinions but we did not allow them to colour our editorial judgements nor the impartiality of our writing. One of the biggest dangers we currently face is that journalists now act as my friend and I do now – not as we did when we were required to display balance and integrity. This explains the permanent negativity of all nearly news coverage and the inability or refusal of so-called journalists to focus on the most relevant and crucial questions.

Are thousands of people in Britain off work because they are ill or because they have tested positive and are required to isolate yet feel fine? Are those people who are genuinely and seriously ill vaccinated? How should those who willingly inflict Covid upon themselves be treated – if at all? And are most people not getting seriously ill because the virus is weakening or because we are so greatly strengthened by vaccination? These are some of the key questions journalists should be asking. But too many of them, both news reporters and columnists, are behaving as though they were politicians, with the majority still too blinded by their hatred of Boris even to think of digging deeply around these questions. This is because their assumptions are always negative and their research and inquiry devoted to damaging and undermining, rather than seeking a fair and accurate portrayal of the facts. Marina Hyde (The Guardian) is a prime and appalling example but even Jonny Dymond on The World at One on Wednesday glibly told Chloe Smith, a government minister, during an exchange about lateral flow tests that "there don't appear to be any". This is his – and his colleagues' – assumption, and it is wrong. There are tests available – I received one yesterday morning in the post and our next neighbours acquired a pack at a local chemist. It is also misleading to claim repeatedly that there is a supply shortage when, if there is an issue, it is one of enormous demand. It is the same principle as the so-called "fuel shortage", during which there was never an actual shortage of fuel, just a sudden demand by every car in the country to have its tank filled over the course of a day or two. The BBC, being largely responsible for triggering this phenomenon was, of course, never going to examine the true state of affairs and explain the news correctly. These are the distortions that affect journalistic output when a journalist becomes partisan – and no one can be a professional journalist and a political agitator at the same time.

More widely, the political debate is narrowing and becoming hideously blinkered – it is now little more than a case of "label and hate". Anyone deemed to be antisemitic, transphobic – whether they are not – or who is regarded as insufficiently enthusiastic in supporting "taking the knee", or questions the Black Lives Matter political demands (such as the idiotic call to "de-fund the police"), or who suggests Brexit might help Britain's poor, is immediately labelled and hated. There is rarely an attempt to understand or engage or debate. Simply label and hate. And if the indignant outbursts of hatred, no longer contained to a single of sheet of paper and green ink but broadcast via social media, happen to fall in line with a media organisation's narrative, they are quoted or interviewed as if they had reasonable and valuable points to make. When professional journalists used to come across such people, they dealt with them sensitively or brusquely, as appropriate; most were humoured and pacified. Today, they are used as evidence of failure and conflict and to justify negativity.

This labelling works on a larger scale, too, and brings us back to the question of what is currently deemed to be "left-wing" and "liberal". To a socialist, these are mutually exclusive terms and yet the BBC and The Guardian are often called "left-wing" and "liberal", as if the terms were interchangeable or even the same thing. The fact that they are opposites is lost: being left-wing involves a focus on contribution, community, society, caring and being inclusive; being liberal is to advocate individual rights and freedoms at the expense of others, as well as exclusivity and atomisation. Socialism seeks the best for all; liberalism the best for the individual.

SHIFTING THE COVID RISK FACTOR

Are we now less afraid of catching Covid than we are of testing positive for the virus? Obviously, no one wants to get Covid, especially with the risk of long-term symptoms, but we should ask how it might shift our individual risk assessments over our social behaviour were there to be no more isolating. And this must surely be the next goal. For example, we agreed that a relative should not join a lunch party after Christmas because she had spent the previous evening with someone who the next morning tested positive. Our relation had recently had Covid and was fully jabbed and boosted and so the risk of her becoming infected again and of passing on any infection to the rest of the party was extremely small. Had there been no requirement to isolate on testing positive, we would have treated her in the same way as we would anyone who calls and admits before a gathering that they have a cold – we would have taken the risk but been careful not to get too close. As things were, she didn't come because our concern over having to isolate, even the though the risk was minuscule, lightly tipped the scales in favour of caution.

THE SCOTS HAVE BECOME AN EXPENSIVE LUXURY

It is time for another Scottish referendum. This time, the English should be asked to vote on whether to jettison Scotland. The country has become an expensive luxury and we would be far better off, financially, without it. A further example of the cost is Nicola Sturgeon's latest political game of closing the hospitality industry over the new year period. Which has sparked a demand that UK taxpayers' cash be provided to subsidise this very industry. Sorry Scotland, we can no longer afford you. But you will be fine with Nicola, I'm sure. As for the Welsh Assemblage. Dear oh dear.

DECEMBER 19 2021

Thank you, anti-vaxers. As rumours of another severe and imminent lockdown swirl about us, we only have you to blame. Your belief in nonsensical conspiracies and irrational gibberish is turned into a religion, defying all common sense, logic and evidence and impervious to rational argument. But the UK, one of the most tolerant nations on the planet, allows you to propagate your ridiculous and dangerous foolishness: other countries have forced or coerced their dimwit refuseniks into being jabbed while the UK leaves it to each individual's conscience. Meanwhile, Covid-19 cares not a jot for how stupid its victims are and so our hospitals are filling up with idiots. And given that sensible government policy from day one has been to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, it is the sick and sickening anti-vaxers who are clogging up the wards, preventing genuine patients from being treated, and forcing the scientists and politicians to resort to the re-imposition of highly damaging safety measures that the rest of us no longer need. Well done.

FRANCE!

And as for France. I am so pleased that I placed on record my loathing of the fraudulent Macron right from the moment he became a candidate for the French presidency. His latest piece of nasty, self-harming and ludicrous politicking is to ban travel from Britain, on the grounds that it will keep the Omicron variant at bay for a time. This ignores the fact the the UK finds more cases than others because the population is busy testing itself umpteen times a week and our Omicron quota is high because we have the sequencing technology to identify it – unlike France. As with all virus transmission, it takes place in areas of high population density: from London to Manchester, along the M1/M6 corridor, throughout Belgium and parts of the Netherlands, in Paris, Madrid and northern Italy. The prevalence of Omicron in all these areas will be roughly similar; only the ability, will and honesty to discover and report it differs. Which makes France's brainless actions look even more vindictive and a continuation of its pathetic "you must suffer for Brexit" campaign.

BRING BACK HANCOCK

Many people complained that Matt Hancock, former health secretary, was not competent while dealing with the pandemic. I have said all along that he performed as well as anyone possibly could in the circumstances, made extraordinarily difficult decisions which, for the most part, were sensible and effective, and communicated clearly. I certainly heard no one at the time voicing any credible alternatives. As mentioned above, his stated goal from the beginning was to protect the NHS so that it could continue to serve everyone in the direst need while we awaited a vaccine that plenty of doubters claimed would be years away. He was proved right. Sadly, an unrelated indiscretion led to his resignation and we were left with Sajid Javid, who appears to have little understanding of the problem and inspires no confidence whatever. His biggest blunder was to allow a negative lateral flow test to remove all credibility and point from his vaccine passport policy for large events and nightclubs. No one comes out of this with credit. There was some merit in imposing a vaccine passport to encourage anti-vaxers and sceptics to get themselves protected, as has been shown to work well in other countries. But the addition of the negative lateral flow option left the move worthless – these tests are far too easy to forge and of only marginal use in such circumstances. The right-wing liberal extremist Tories who rebelled against the government proposals were therefore half right when they pointed out the ineffectiveness of the new regulation. And even the Labour opposition, voting with the government, was as dumb as Javid in thinking the measures would work and should have made its backing conditional upon the use of lateral flow evidence being struck out. Hancock would never have made such a hash of things.

DECEMBER 15 2021

I should point out that West Ham have been in the top four of the Premier League almost continuously since the start of the season. We are now 16 games in and it's nearly Christmas and the team is still there! I'm saying this now, before this evening's match against Arsenal spoils everything.

LIBERALS CANNOT BE LEFT-WING, MELANIE

Melanie Phillips wrote in The Times on Monday that California is going to the dogs because left-wing liberal views are allowing antisocial behaviour in the name of individual freedom. I sent this letter to the paper today:

"Dear Letters Editor, It is fair to argue that life in California is becoming squalid because of liberal attitudes and policies. But it is wrong to claim, as Melanie Phillips seeks to do (column, December 13), that these attitudes and policies come from the left of the political spectrum. Such extreme liberalism is, in fact, a very right-wing expression of individual freedom to harm others without heed for the consequences. While a leftist view might entail the conferring of some rights upon the individual, these would always be accompanied by corresponding duties and responsibilities. A socialist stance involves consideration for the greater society, for community, as I explain in my book, The Rise of Antisocialism. The liberal stance, as witnessed in California, plainly does not."

TRANS INSIGHTS

Every now and again, the BBC broadcasts a programme so out of keeping with its continually deplorable news coverage, that it shocks with its insight and wisdom. I listened to one such yesterday: "Many Different Lives", by Jon Ronson, part of the "Things Fell Apart" series. It spoke mostly to and about trans women and feminists about the complexities with which we are all wrestling except, of course, those who have made up their minds and wish to impose their views on everyone else. One striking illustration of the subtleties came when a trans woman told of how she had been excluded from a feminist festival because it was for "women born as women". She then took part in a rival, or complimentary, festival nearby for post-operative trans women. When pre-op trans women tried to gain entry, they were excluded on the grounds that women with penises were insufficiently transformed. Bizarrely, this debate was echoed in The Times this week with a story that one UK police force believes it is possible for one woman to use her penis to rape another woman. There is clearly a pressing need for humane discussion and debate (which, sadly is not being allowed to happen by trans extremists) but with this level of absurdity, is it any wonder that most people are utterly bemused by it.

COUNTING COLDS

Are we now just counting colds? The daily figures for reported Covid-19 cases are rising, inevitably as more and more testing takes place. But so what? I am of the very strong impression that no one is afraid of catching Covid-19 from a health point of view any more, especially not the Omicron variant. I know of many people who have tested positive but no one has had more than a baddish cold. Even the prime minister, in a bid to up the fear factor, could only rustle up one death of a patient WITH Omicron on Monday – which is very different from dying OF Omicron. We can fairly assume, therefore, that no one has yet died OF Omicron.

Yet despite this largely good news, the population is withdrawing again, disappearing into the safety of isolation – and we have to ask why. There are two connected reasons: one is that testing positive is hugely disruptive to daily life and planned events, particularly as we near Christmas. The second is that the news media, notably the BBC, is focused on almost nothing but absurd scaremongering statistics and pathetic moaning about shortages – of booster appointments and testing kits, mostly. The World at One today spent more than its first 30 minutes on ramping up the terror of what could turn out to be our saviour. One obscure body claims there are hundreds of thousands of cases of Omicron per day already, with millions more looming. This media campaign is pushing the government to react accordingly with ever more disruptive safety measures, regardless of the true facts. Which are that if Omicron continues to disappoint those wishing harm on the UK government by being mostly a mild sniffle, it should surely be encouraged to spread: we should be welcoming millions of Omicron cases a day, as we watch this friendly variant chase away and protect us from the nasty ones. This, surely, is how humankind has managed to survive for so long in the face of mutating viruses.

DECEMBER 13 2021

F1 DEBACLE IS PERHAPS FOR THE BEST

I gave Formula One a chance to win me over this season. An intense and dangerous rivalry between two aggressive drivers, backed by aggressive teams – VERY aggressive in one case – and an unfolding drama that pitched the two camps into a final showdown on equal points. And then the dim and dumb race controllers threw it away. I won't bother with F1 ever again – the people running the competition are idiots. Yesterday's finale saw Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes execute a perfect campaign, with the reigning champion just over 11 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen with nowhere near enough laps remaining for the Dutchman, on newer and faster tyres, to catch him. Suddenly, an unrelated incident – a crash into a wall – necessitated the safety car being used to slow drivers while the debris was cleared. This took a while and there was concern that the procession behind the safety car would continue until the chequered flag, making Hamilton the winner. There was also concern over whether lapped vehicles should remain between the two contenders or allowed to overtake the safety car. The issues were pretty simple and a fair solution very obvious that would have delivered a fair race to the finish. But in scenes of complete chaos, the upshot was that Verstappen was gifted an 11 second advantage, plus a pit stop and new set of soft, fast tyres. All other obstacles were removed and he was awarded a hollow, worthless victory in the most shambolic and unjust conclusion to a “sporting” event you could ever imagine.

Bizarrely, some commentators seemed to interpret this tawdry affair as “thrilling” and a dramatic last-minute turn-around. I would say it was as thrilling and dramatic as a referee or umpire in football, rugby or tennis demanding that the leading team or player be seated and motionless for the final 10 minutes or deciding set of a match. That was the level of competition involved in the denouement of this F1 season. A complete debacle and an opportunity to win back sports fans to this ugly polluting business thrown away. Perhaps it's for the best.

SO WHERE IS BETTER?

The people of the UK are some of the luckiest in the world. Watching the news on Aljazeera can open our eyes to the realities of what is really happening beyond our shores: famine, war, fires, floods, typhoons, destruction, persecution, slaughter, mass migrations, hardship and misery. Even in the more economically and technologically advanced areas there is adversity and grievance: accusations of “police state” behaviour in Australia and New Zealand, riots and unrest in several European countries and America, human rights abuses throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Meanwhile at home, the news media is focused on who might have attended an alleged small office party a year ago and whether the prime minister knew who ultimately paid the bill for some tasteless redecorating of a flat. In the global context, especially during the heat of a global pandemic, these trivial matters – even though many argue they undermine the credibility and integrity of the prime minister – should make us realise how lucky we are. And for those who still insist on feeling appalled and hard done by, we might ask where they would prefer to live – the Middle East, Asia, Africa, locked-down Australia, a locked-down turbulent European country, or a chaotic South and Central America state where the people are desperate to reach a hostile US, itself struggling on many fronts. As so often, the UK's sensible middle-road strategy is serving us relatively well.

DECEMBER 10 2021

● Why is there so much apparent “badness” attached to the government, or more specifically to Boris? Wallpaper, parties, favouring friends, etc, etc. The main reason is that opponents – and among them I include the BBC and most other media – are looking for badness. Every utterance, payment, outing is placed under a microscope in the hope of finding some misdemeanour, trivial or otherwise. If Boris is seen talking to a cat he will be condemned as a witch and burnt at the stake. Meanwhile, no one is examining anyone else's past behaviour with such forensic eagerness. Has no one in any other political party breached social distancing at all?

● BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Justin Webb pressed Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, this morning on the subject of Covid-19 safety precautions. Very gently and supportively, of course. But Webb did sound exasperated when Streeting refused to comply with his wishes and promise to steer Labour to vote against extensions to mask-wearing etc in Parliament. Webb just stopped short of saying: “Come on, you've got to! This'll finish him!” but his meaning was clear enough from his anguished and imploring tones. To his credit, Streeting insisted that the safety of the public must come before silly political points scoring. Not sure Webb was convinced, though.

● On the subject of rules and parties, it is highly galling to find so many people who this time last year were moaning about a terrible “lack of clarity” in the rules governing gatherings are now experts in the intricacies of what was allowed and what was heinous (ie – anything that happened anywhere near Boris!). For example, Times writer Hilary Rose said on October 28 2020: “And the whole 'no mixing households indoors' rule is so half-arsed, with so many exceptions and ifs and buts depending on where you live, and whether it’s a leap year and there’s an R in the month, that with the best will in the world, who on earth can follow it all?” She was one of three Times columnists who proudly told the world that they would be breaching “arbitrary” Covid restrictions over Christmas, following in the wake of the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire. I rest my case.

● From recent reporting, it is becoming ever clearer that anti-vaxers are the only thing currently threatening to overwhelm the NHS. One country is said to be demanding the unvaccinated pay for their Covid medical treatment. It won't happen here, perhaps rightly, but the principle is sound.

DECEMBER 7 2021

EDGING VERY CLOSE TO TREASON AND TREACHERY

I really don't know how they stay so calm. Government minister after government minister puts themselves forward to be “interviewed” on the BBC Radio Four Today programme. It always – and I mean always – ends in an attempted political assassination; the presenters are acting just as anyone who wished to discredit, undermine and remove the government would. This is a barely civilised coup campaign. And even if elected representatives are happy to keep absorbing this daily abuse, I am not. I have had it with the seditionists Nick Robinson, Mishal Husain, Amol Rajan, Justin Webb and the other rag-bag of presenters.

The straw that finally broke the camel's back was Robinson's all-out attack on Justice Secretary Dominic Raab this morning. I am no fan of Raab but I am passionate about journalism and for an interviewer to end one section of an interview with a viciously inaccurate summation of previous answers – a daily occurrence on Today – is not journalism. Raab was being harangued – this was not inquisitive questioning aimed at enlightening, but a blatant assault, as so much “journalism now is – over the allegations of one whistle-blower who claimed last summer's flight from Kabul in the face of a Taliban take-over was chaotic. Well, yes, inevitably, as Raab quite correctly answered. Robinson claimed that Tom Tugendhat, the MP holding an inquiry into the evacuation, was “enraged” at how dysfunctional it was – and yet we had just heard Tugendhat calmly saying “if what the whistle-blower says is true” and making measured comments on this version of events. Having misrepresented Tugendhat, Robinson then demanded to know what lessons Raab had learnt since the flight from Afghanistan. He made a perfectly reasonable response, saying that the inquiry would highlight areas for improvement and that he was ready and willing to listen. This is when the odious Robinson cut in, saying he had allowed Raab several minutes to explain what he had learned and that as he hadn't listed any lessons, he had learnt nothing. Raab was not allowed to respond to this travesty as Robinson bulldozed straight into his next offensive on the subject of Covid-19. I switched to Aljazeera on the TV.

All this followed yesterday's astonishing contempt shown by Husain for ministers and others who commented on the alleged “party” in Downing Street last year during strict lockdown. Ostensibly “interviewing” Kit Malthouse about other matters, she turned the discussion to these Christmas bash allegations. Malthouse pointed out that he had not been there, had no first-hand knowledge and had been assured rules were followed. “And you believe them!” replied Husain – and with just four words gratuitously insulting ministers and clearly implying that they are liars. Surprisingly, Malthouse was not driven to fury. Why did he not ask Husain whether she was calling everyone a liar? Why did he not say that she clearly must know more about this party than he did and so should tell listeners what happened? I cannot understand why they remain so passive and accepting of these daily outrages. If I was Boris I would boycott the programme until its guerrilla rabble has been replaced with professional journalists.

SCREAMING IDIOTS

It seems the UK is dominated by two cohorts of screaming idiots when it comes to subjects such as migration. One side screams that illegal migration must be stopped; the other screams that any and all measures are an infringement of rights and must be dropped. In between is a government unable to solve an obvious and serious problem, thus upsetting one bunch of screaming idiots, while outraging the other bunch with its suggested and only workable solutions. And we wonder why no progress is made.

ACTING AND IMAGINATION

The greatest works of literature all stem from flights of the imagination: creativity abounds, minds are stretched, understanding is enhanced. Similarly, the very essence of acting is to be something you are not – to act, to place yourself in the position of otherness, to perceive, interpret, acknowledge, empathise, project. The absurd world of wokeness – which truly is political correctness gone literally mad – cannot countenance the use of imagination in writing, nor the concept of acting. Writers must stick to writing their own “lived experience” – bringing an end to inventive, visionary stories. And actors must only play themselves – bringing an end to acting. No white actor can play a black character, no straight actor can portray a gay character, etc, etc – this is the completely illogical orthodoxy now terrorising the most creative, expansive and exploratory minds into silence. Why is this absurd, sloppy and corrupt thinking not dismissed as the rubbish it so plainly is?

POWERLESS

It wouldn't be tolerated in London, yell the headlines, referring to the length of time many households in north-east England have been without power following the storm of a week ago. It wouldn't happen in Surrey scream those country dwellers unable to access high-speed broadband. These phenomena can be bracketed together on the grounds that they ignore reality. Those choosing to live in remote, inaccessible areas cannot then claim they are being denied services enjoyed by those who tolerate more crowded conditions. Similarly, the storm that tore down power lines in Scotland and north-east England was hugely destructive. In London, the devastation might well have been repaired far more quickly – geography, an urban urban environment, close proximity of people, materials and damage all reduce the complications, both for fixing the wreckage and delivering assistance to those affected. With today's media focusing more on giving a voice to the loudest moaners than on explaining real issues and the complex logistics, we hear nothing of the workers operating round the clock in horrible conditions to restore services – just how appalling and slow their response has been. This must really inspire them to greater efforts.

BRAINLESS

Brainless Brown is at it again, living up beautifully to the immortal song lyric “Gordon is a moron”. His repeated pleas for the UK to give away its vaccine supplies to poor countries – on the highly dubious grounds that until the world is safe, no one is safe – were made to look even more idiotic by the assertions of someone who actually knows what they are talking about. The Sunday Times interviewed the boss of a vaccine manufacturer in India who pointed out that there is, in truth, a surplus of vaccines in the world and that much is already going to waste in African countries who are unable to use it before it passes its use-by date. He assured the world that any country placing an order would receive as much as it wanted.

It has been plain all along that Brown is, characteristically, barking up the wrong tree. What the developing world is short of is not vaccine but the means of delivering it and populations willing to have it squirted into their arms. These are the areas in which poorer nations need help. Just dumping vaccine on to them is ludicrous.

Equally ludicrous is this “vaccinate the world” demand. Poorer nations claim, officially at least, to have low death rates from Covid-19 – and they cannot have it both ways. Vaccines should be concentrated where the biggest problems lie – such as the most densely populated areas of Europe. Similarly, the emergency instructions in every airline announcement stress the importance of attaching your own oxygen mask before helping others. The rich nations cannot help the poor by ripping off their own oxygen masks – especially when the would-be recipients appear not to know how to wear them.

SCIENTISTS AND THE TRUTH

It is vital that scientists tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Almost everyone is applauding those South African experts who alerted the world to the Omicron variant. And we should be applauding most governments for taking swift action to slow its spread until its threat level is known. One group not applauding either action are the people of southern Africa whose travel plans have been disrupted by this display of honesty and caution. We ourselves booked flights to Sri Lanka two days before news of Omicron emerged and for now, we're hoping the trip can go ahead. But it might not – and we accepted that when we booked, so we're not complaining. The best case scenario is that the South African scientists are continuing to tell the whole truth when they say the variant is mild – because if it takes over as the dominant form then Covid-19 is reduced to a mere cold. But because the scientists were pasted at home for telling the truth over the discovery in the first place they could now be playing down its effects to avoid a further battering. We hear that internal barriers to travel are being imposed within South Africa, suggesting that all might not be as rosy as they would have us believe. Until we have the whole truth, the approach has to be cautionary.

DECEMBER 4 2021

One small addition to yesterday's post on gender identity: Janice Turner points out in her column in today's edition of The Times that children, especially girls, are being fed on to the transition conveyor belt as the supposed answer to a vast array of symptoms. Youngsters suffering from stress, unhappiness, mental health issues, mental illness, bullying, poverty, anger management, and multiple other disorders of varying degrees are steered by social media and peer pressure towards the overwhelmingly powerful trans solution as the explanation for, and answer to, their perceived problems. Swathes of the NHS have now been pressured into going along with this diagnosis, giving underlying causes a cursory examination before focusing on gender identity and initiating dangerous and irreversible procedures. To claim that this is wrong, both in promising that gender is the cause and that transitioning will be the cure incites the wrath and rage of the extreme trans campaigners, who screech that anyone questioning their solution does not want trans people to exist. Sadly, this blatant and hysterical lie has bullied even level-headed professionals into playing down all other possible causes – including the most obvious that questioning sexuality is a common part of growing up that usually resolves itself naturally without intervention.

Only extremists on the other wing would want to ban transitioning or even place barriers around it; the most caring and thoughtful people I have encountered on this subject are simply calling for each case – each child – to be treated individually and looked at in the round. If transitioning is indeed the agreed solution, that, of course, is fine; but where it will leave the real causes untouched – or worsened – then other courses of action need to be considered. That's all the voices of reason are suggesting.

TAX CUTS AND SPENDING CUTS

Rishi Sunak is beginning to lose his way. If his plans for tax and spending cuts reported today are true and accurate then the Tories will lose the north of England vote, retreat to the leafy and comfortable home counties and open the door to the lumpen, lifeless and rather dim Sir Keir Rodney Starmer. When every social ill is now blamed on a lack of government funding, reducing it further has to be a massive loser. I had higher hopes for Sunak, but cutting taxes for the wealthy at a time like this is really not a good look, no matter how cleverly you package it.


DECEMBER 3 2021

HENS AND HENS AND FOXES AND HENS

Robert Crampton, a writer on The Times, says he now understands “Gen Z” (youngsters born between 1996 and 2010) – even on the subject of gender identity – having spent an evening with seven of them. In his feature in The Times magazine (November 27) he equates the young's welcoming of gender fluidity with his own generation's acceptance of gay relationships in the 1970s and 1980s: a realisation that, actually, this is no big deal. I'm sure the twenty-somethings were delightful, easy-going and tolerant – they certainly sounded that way from his depiction of them. But he is wrong to equate the two trends.

First, homosexuality, as it was known, was illegal – a sexual offence – until 1967, whereas sex changes have always been legal, if not always easy, with some celebrated cases, such as Roberta Cowell in the 1950s and, of course, the well-known travel writer Jan Morris. Indeed, I interviewed a woman chief executive who had once been a man for the Financial Times' Digital Business section: it raised numerous fascinating issues about the treatment of women but the transition itself raised very few eyebrows.

There are also deeper differences: for a man to say he loves another man affects no one else; but for a man simply to say he is now a woman and to then be entitled to all the protections and benefits that women have struggled to win for more than a century affects all women. The first example is akin to a hen saying she loves another hen; the second is a fox demanding entry to the hen coop. This does affect others and it gives them every right to state their case – a right that the extreme trans lobby is violently and threateningly desperate to deny them. It also affects men in that allowing gender by assertion seeks to change the very definition of men and women. And it affects gay people – a gay lover decides to identify as the opposite sex: where does that leave their partner? Straight? This might not matter, and there is almost certainly a spectrum of masculinity to femininity upon which we each place ourselves. There is also biological fact – X and Y chromosomes, chemistry, physical features, none of which can be summarily dismissed as irrelevant compared to how someone – even a child – feels. The arguments and repercussions are completely different to the acceptance of gay relationships half a century ago and need to be debated. And they would be, with the contentious issues melting away, were it not for the intolerance and brutality of the trans campaigners.

I'M SO CONFUSED

Oh this government is the very limit! I've been invited to two office Christmas parties – one for six people to be held by a small business and the other for 200 hundred pensioners packed into a boozy meeting room. But thanks to this baffling government, I have no idea which one – if either – to go to. One minister says you don't have to cancel the parties, another says be cautious, a scientist says be sensible, another says use common sense. How am I to decide when faced with this cascade of contradictory advice and appalling lack of clarity? I want the government to tell me how many people and in exactly what circumstances a Christmas party turns from being probably safe to probably dangerous.

I demand that it produces a matrix showing threat levels depending on the number of people attending, their ages, the size of the room, the distance they will have travelled, the amount of alcohol to be served and the minimum distance every attendee expects to maintain between themselves and others. It should clearly specify which parties are allowed and which not. This shouldn't be difficult with today's technology. And then everyone planning to hold a party or attend one could simply survey the giant spreadsheet and see whether their party is legal. There will still doubtless be people moaning that a party with 10 people is allowed but 11 is not and that a despicable police state is imposing arbitrary and draconian rules. But surely, putting up with such complaints is far better than forcing people to make their own decisions in a sensible and responsible way.

ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?

My first reaction on learning of the Omicron Covid-19 variant a week or so ago was to hope that it had come to save us all. It could, of course, be a vicious, vaccine-evading killer that brings the world to the brink of collapse. Or it could be the virus that supplants previous variants, causing mild symptoms that in the olden days we would have called “just a bit of a cold”? Or it could be something in between? It's given the BBC and The Times (I keep criticising these two, because they are my predominant sources of news – others are just as bad, I know) fresh impetus for their “incompetent government” campaigns as they attack ministers for being too fast or too slow or not having answers to unanswerable questions.

No one can know how dangerous Omicron will prove to be until it has had the chance to work through the system. The government's middle path of introducing a few sensible precautions, without clamping down too hard on the nation's work and social life seems spot on. It can be adjusted in either direction should news from South Africa, where the variant was first identified, turn good or bad. So far, the news is promising. We hear there are many cases of the new variant but has anyone died from it? The South African scientists say it is mild. My hope its that they are correct and that in a couple of months we will be lauding Omicron as the variant that took the sting out of Covid-19.

AMOL RAJAN: AN APOLOGY

It's good to see that Amol Rajan has apologised for some stupid and nasty remarks he made about the royal family a few years ago. It was also interesting to read an article about him in last weekend's newspaper. What struck me hardest was the frighteningly meagre training, groundwork and discipline that had featured along Rajan's journalistic career path. There are many ways of entering the journalist profession today – and if we stretch the definition to include TV interviewers, then all that's required to work on the BBC's One Show is an averagely high-profile career in sport or pop music (Johanna Konta will be eyeing those sofas right now, you mark my words!) – and this can be a strength, but more often a weakness.

Almost everyone in the profession above a certain age will have been drilled, sharpened and educated not only in how to be a good journalist but also in what it means to be one. There is simply no substitute for being sent by a strict local paper's news editor to knock on a bereaved family's door as part of the learning experience; it creates a professional who understands the impact of their behaviour on a community, who understands that it is impossible and wrong simultaneously to be a reporter and a commentator, who understands that there is more to journalism than using it as a platform for your own opinions

. Working for an editor who values accuracy, impartiality, integrity and fairness above all else creates a professional able to prevent their own opinions from intruding and distorting the way they present the world to the public. These principles, once learned from respected senior colleagues and ingrained through strenuous coaching, last a life-time. They are essential, fundamental prerequisites for being a professional journalist.

But with the demise of local newspapers as training grounds and the avalanche of alternative media, we are now moving into an era in which the self-taught – or the untaught – are reaching senior roles, bringing their lack of professionalism with them. This trend can only worsen. And this is what we see with Rajan who, incredibly, has been given one of the BBC's most responsible jobs on the Today programme. The article last weekend suggested that Rajan's rise to this post was achieved mostly by sharp elbows, schmoozing and charm, with the overall impression being that he possessed few qualifications needed for several of the important roles he was handed by friends. His recent performances on Today, with his sloppy delivery and continual insertion of comment, and the embarrassment he has caused for the BBC over his dreadful assault on the royal family are a very strong indication that without being instilled with the right qualities at the start of their career, journalists can be dangerous. And most worrying of all – this is just the beginning of a catastrophic decline in standards that is already warping what should be intelligent and reasoned democratic debate.

NOVEMBER 23 2021

Now that the political fog caused by the pandemic is clearing, we can see more clearly how this government is faring. I believe it made some inevitable early errors in fighting Covid-19 – very similar to those made in other similar countries, such as protecting care homes, which caused early deaths in many European nations. But I do not believe it was a mistake to weigh up the pros and cons of how to deal with the virus, when precautionary approaches and scientific arguments varied from New Zealand's strict lockdown and total isolation to Sweden's herd immunity policy. Both were lauded as being better than the UK's middle road but, over time, their obvious drawbacks became clear to even the most extreme doubters. PPE shortages in the UK were dealt with as swiftly as in any comparable country; testing targets were hit and the UK now leads the world in the volume of tests; and the clearly stated policy of reliance on vaccines has proved, so far, to be a triumph. We have seen none of the violence now erupting across Europe, thanks to a softly-softly approach on compulsory vaccination which has kept the ridiculous conspiracy theorists at bay for now. It would have been perfectly reasonable to ask those refusing the vaccine to waive their rights to medical treatment in the event of catching Covid-19 – on the grounds that they are akin to the type of fool that climbs Ben Nevis in winter wearing a T-shirt and flip-flops and then expects others to risk their lives to save them. Yet they have been treated gently.

But then we come to the government's efforts to clean up long-standing messes that have foiled previous regimes. Social care has been crying out for reform and resources for decades – and at least a start is being made on the personal finance side. But this is only the lesser part of the equation – staffing, funding, provision of facilities, new types of accommodation and ways of living, these all need a radical overhaul, too. There is much more to do, but blaming the present government for the dreadful state of social care is short-sighted and unjust. Criticising it for failing to get to the heart of the problem is fair, however.

The national transport system is another long-standing failure that this government is trying to tackle. The plans for HS2 have been hopeless since the day they were published by Labour in 2009 and mangled by the Tories shortly after. In essence, they amounted to little more than an extension of London's hinterland beyond Birmingham to Manchester. Other routes and spurs looked cumbersome, inconvenient and poorly thought out. The London to Birmingham “phase” should have been struck off years ago, in favour of a revamped plan for the Northern Powerhouse, linking every city from Liverpool to Newcastle with superb services for passengers and freight. But as the monster project has hobbled along, costs have risen and resources slumped due to the costs of the pandemic and something had to be done. I believe the government has made poor choices: the cuts should all come in the south and new lines should be provided in the north. Cutting into fresh soil is unpopular with those affected but we all know what “upgrades” mean – years of weekend closures and Monday cancellations due to works overrunning. The mess we appear to be heading for at great speed will make public transport far worse in the north for a decade or more.

Another deep-seated problem that has defeated plenty of home secretaries is the unending and limitless flood of economic migrants fleeing France. The real reasons for the current incumbent's apparent impotence in dealing with this tide of criminality, misery, death and danger are the overwhelming weight of opposing forces, from well-meaning but gullible charities and those encouraging migration, such as the Labour party, to lawyers and the devious French, who are using migrants as a means of punishing the UK for Brexit while taking its money and laughing. Emmanual Macron is behaving as brutally as the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko in exploiting these poor folks. These are the real opponents Priti Patel has to defeat or circumvent; without them, she could easily thwart the people smugglers. But she has learned that the only way to make progress that will not be scuppered by the pro-illegal migrant lobby is offshore processing. It has worked for Australia. Of course there are push factors leading migrants to seek better lives in England and Keir Starmer was partly right to focus on these “upstream” issues in his BBC interview the other day. Where he is idiotically wrong is in suggesting there is anything this country can do in practice that would have even the smallest impact in the source nations. In the real world, we can only manage the pull factors by making it less desirable and cost-effective for economic migrants to hand large sums to criminals. Using offshore centres, already a proven success, is the last roll of the dice and could be scuppered if no overseas accommodation can be found. But in principle it ticks many boxes: applicants are not detained – they are free to leave the site but would simultaneously forfeit their application. This instantly weeds out those with no case, speeding matters for the few genuine refugees.

Of course, BBC Radio 4's Today programme tried to pin the blame on the government again yesterday morning but only managed to muddy the waters further. Rather than questioning a minister who knows the subject, the programme resorted to having presenter Justin Webb interview the know-all Mark Easton, a reporter who for many many years has always managed to get hold of the wrong end of every social policy stick. He, of course, following the familiar BBC group-think, blamed it all on Brexit and the consequent dropping of the Dublin Agreement which, in theory, allowed many migrants to be sent back to one of the countries they had passed through. In practice, the Dublin Agreement was completely useless and hardly anyone was sent anywhere; its passing has made not a jot of difference to the flow across the EU. But it's an easy way of blaming the government for an issue beyond its control – and beyond the control of many previous regimes.

And so Boris's scorecard is starting to look more blotched and tatty as normal service takes over from pandemic measures. He scores several “must try harders”, a few “good efforts” and a growing number of “oh dears”.

Finally, Boris is accused of having no vision, of not being a preacher in the manner of Thatcher or Blair, both of whom were obnoxious and pursued catastrophic policies, the fallout from which our politicians are still having to contend with today. But Boris talks of levelling up and going green, which are surely two pretty good visions. The question remains as to how genuine they are and how achievable? Again, it comes down to the interface between good intentions, reality and opposing forces who have not a coherent positive word to say between them. What is desperately needed is an alternative, a socialist party demanding a new way of living that rids us of deadbeat, mindless and always unsatisfying consumption and materialism, saving the planet and our sanity at the same time.

GENERATION BEDWETTER

We can thank goodness, at least, for controversial socialist Julie Burchill. She and I have not always seen eye to eye on every issue but our overall thinking has probably followed a similar course, believing as we do that democracy is best served when people have a genuine say in their everyday conditions and that the closest the UK has ever come to this was during the robust 1970s. She refers in her new book, “Welcome to the Woke Trials” to “Generation Bedwetter” – a typically smart and amusing label that speaks volumes. The sort of stupidity against which she rails is the dramatic U-turn made by Stonewall over the use of the term “mother, which it now grudgingly concedes is just about acceptable in company HR documents. Burchill is right about such people and would be justified in asking where they leave their brains when setting off for “work”. Similarly, in pre-Blair times, no university would ever have suggested its female students become prostitutes to pay for their fees. And yet that is virtually what some institutions are now promoting – safe sex work. I'm sure Burchill has a view on this, too. I look forward to reading her book.

EVERYTHING IS 'US AND THEM'

A medical device – the Oximeter – now stands accused of being racist, because it works less effectively on darker skin. This is interpreted by some as the inherently racist approach of science that makes things only for white people. So instead of seeing this simple device as having a limitation that should be dealt with in some way, the “Us and Them” warriors of society turn it into a sharpened chisel to be hammered between communities to create tension and division where there should be a united effort at improvement.

HAVE YOU SEEN GB NEWS LATELY?

Oh my, oh my. GB News has jumped the shark. It should be hauled before some standards body for masquerading as a news channel when it is nothing of the sort. It's dumb, toxic and horrible and in a sane world would be blasted from the airwaves.

AND CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE

Rather embarrassingly, I allowed my passport to run out, so that when we came to try and book flights at the weekend, I was blocked. I had not needed to glance at the document for two years, with no foreign travel on the horizon. But we needed to book those seats quickly and I checked on the fastest way to renew. And it was done in just two days! I filled in the online form on Sunday, having spent an hour trying to take an acceptable photo, paid £100 more than a more leisurely application would have cost and booked an appointment to collect it today – Tuesday. The online process was quick, simple and extremely efficient and the collection, from a slightly spartan and depressing office across the road from Victoria station in central London, as easy as buying stamps. I turned up 10 minutes before my appointment time and was out two minutes after it. I can put up with spartan if it works as well as that.


NOVEMBER 20 2021

The debate over journalism grows ever more menacing. Andrew Marr has announced that he wishes to relieve himself of the draconian “filter” of alleged BBC impartiality; he strives to “get his own voice back”. This is, of course, appalling. First, as I have argued before, the BBC is already failing in its duty to remain objective, with many or most of its news presenters becoming more campaigner than journalist; and second, if Marr believes a journalist's role is to be partial, support campaigns and “have a voice” then it is a very sad day indeed. These are terribly disappointing words from a formerly respected journalist.

In another article in The Times this morning we find a similarly horrifying throw-away line that seems to condone the combination of journalism and lobbying. It describes The New European as a “weekly newspaper, set up by pro-EU journalists after the 2016 EU referendum”. How can a “journalist”, tasked with balanced, fair and credible reporting and analysis, be trusted when they are tainted with clear bias? A journalist can hold views privately, but a professional journalist must absolutely leave those biases at the door as soon as they pick up their notebook. Once at work their own views must remain irrelevant; they can only be credible and trusted if they are prepared to give a genuinely fair hearing to all sides in a debate. On this basis, there are no real professional journalists working for The New European and its output is of no more value than a party political broadcast.

This goes back to the point I made yesterday about BBC News's plummeting credibility. It cannot understand that more than half the country does not live in its thought bubble; the only voices its presenters listen to are those of like-minded ultra-liberal, middle class globalisers, which has created a narrow orthodoxy that makes this single world view the only world view. It is deeply distressing to witness these trends destroying respect for journalism, which should be a vital check and balance in the fight against the mono-think that can be a precursor of fascism.

NOVEMBER 19 2021

A columnist in The Guardian claims the present government is not being held properly to account by the media. I couldn't agree more – but not for the reasons the writer purports to have identified. He accuses the BBC of failing to stand up to the Tories and of playing down its “excesses and disasters” (he provides a list of so-called “failings”, all of which are laughably irrelevant). From my objective viewpoint – being a radical socialist who cannot stomach conservative business principles, materialism and rabid consumption and who retains the objectivity of a seasoned Financial Times journalist – what I hear every day on BBC radio is a persistent attack on everything the government does or says (and even on what it doesn't say) and a gentle, kid-gloved approach with opponents. The coverage is seriously biased but will, I am sure, be being seen by the BBC as the fulfilment of its role to scrutinise and hold power to account.

The reason it is missing the mark so horribly is not, as the Guardian's twerp alleges, because the BBC is the government's friend, but because the BBC itself is partial; it has lost its integrity and credibility by having its own agenda and inserting itself into the political debate, rather than standing on the touchline and providing accurate commentary and measured analysis. Its presenters make cases rather than ask questions. A prime example can be taken from yesterday's Today programme, when Amol Rajan, instead of asking Dominic Raab a question, presented him with his own version and interpretation of events. Raab quite reasonably replied that he did not recognise Rajan's “partial caricature”. A journalist would have apologised and asked a question but Rajan chose to compound his lopsidedness by demanding in a sneering tone: “OK – tell me what I'm missing then.” This is not holding power to account, it's becoming part of the opposition – a position from which proper scrutiny becomes impossible. Making this even worse, is that in a world made up of shades of grey, BBC presenters are just as prone to misjudgments and inaccuracies when mounting their case as the other side.

As further evidence, we can contrast this morning's lame questioning of Keir Starmer by Justin Webb. Starmer was merely seeking to score cheap political points when discussing the topic of migration, claiming the huge numbers illegally entering Britain could only be stemmed by tackling the problems “upstream” (meaning the push factors in the source countries). He argued that cutting the Overseas Aid budget was therefore a terrible mistake. A journalist on a mission to probe and challenge would immediately have asked how our relatively tiny aid budget could have any meaningful effect in these areas, and even if it were vastly increased, which countries should receive our investment first – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, or in fact most of the northern half of Africa and nearly all of the Middle East and large tracts of Asia. Starmer should also have been asked precisely what we would do to persuade the citizens of these countries to stay put. So rather than going on to expose his simplistic proposition as absurd, we heard that solemn Today programme nod of agreement. An interviewer simply cannot be both an impartial interrogator and a participant in the debate at the same time. This is why the media checks and balances on power are increasingly failing to hit their mark.

And as if this isn't bad enough, we have the latest trend of predicting bad news and disasters – mostly on those days when reality is not quite bad enough to embarrass a hated regime. Sometimes they become self-fulfilling, such as the BBC-instigated “fuel crisis”. Today, a blazing headline tells us that Albania is angrily rejecting the UK's bid to create an offshore assessment centre for migrants in the country. I have not read that any named government representative has confirmed this was ever being sought. Quite the reverse: a speculative cover story in The Times yesterday admitted there had been official denials; this morning, Albanian officials said there had been no talks. And now, suddenly, this lightly sourced rumour has travelled 360 degrees to land as another curated fiasco/scandal.

This terrible journalism extends to other subjects, too. The Times yesterday ran a story headlined: “White working class needs college quotas, says actor”. We could excuse this rank nonsense as a misconceived means of advertising the paper's “Education Commission, whatever that might be, were it not for the fact that it was presented as news. An actor, of whom most people would have been blissfully unaware and who clearly possesses no expertise or even basic knowledge of the subject, as he himself appears to admit, calls for this and that. It amounts to complete rubbish. Beside it was an equally bonkers article about school exchange trips and how Brexit had caused a sharp decline. Only two lines at the very end were allocated to a voice of common sense at the Home Office, who pointed out that the decline was obviously due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, not new immigration rules.

NOVEMBER 17 2021

So much to add after a busy few weeks!

HOW LOW CAN JOURNALISM GO?

I am so sad to see how far journalism has sunk: local newspapers reduced to advertising sheets with minimal local content, leaving just syndicated celebrity gossip, TV listings and quizzes to fill the space; national newspapers publishing headlines and even whole stories that are unsupported by the facts in that very article; and what was once the bastion of accuracy, integrity and balance, the BBC, grovelling in the gutter of tainted, opinionated editorialising. I am relieved to find I am not the only one who believes this about the BBC: in agreement are former broadcasting role models Martin Bell, Neil Bennett, Tom Mangold and Baroness Stowell, former BBC head of corporate affairs, who all wrote to The Times in support of a column by James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation.

One unnamed BBC insider was recently quoted as saying that talking to younger colleagues was like “explaining journalism to idiots” because of their ingrained partisanships, with which they could see no problem. Kirkup had already said just as much in his column, pointing out that an independent review of editorial practices had spurred its director-general Tim Davie to commit the corporation to impartiality and robust debate – scrutinising contested issues without taking sides. As Kirkup also said, the only controversial thing about this is that it needed saying at all, since those are the fundamentals of journalism. He then refers to several BBC editors and reporters who say many colleagues increasingly believe their own views and values should come before that impartiality.

This is an attitude that is glaringly on display every morning on Radio 4's Today programme. Just this morning, the sneering Nick Robinson pursued his virulent anti-government agenda in his bullying interrogation of a minister on the subject of MPs' jobs, while shortly afterwards he could almost be heard nodding with approval when a gullible representative of the church implied that the Home Office must be wrong in the case of the Liverpool bomber's alleged religious conversion because priests could tell “instinctively” whether future terrorists were just pretending to be good christians or not. No interrogation for her, no challenge to her faintly absurd contentions.

This ghastly trend has become blatant. Yet, as Kirkup argues: “To journalists, campaigning and reporting should be incompatible.” He points out that a failure to understand this simple rule suggests “a worrying failure to understand the purpose of journalism”. If “values” lead anyone to shy away from quoting or broadcasting people with whom they disagree – notably on topics such as gender and race – then they are patently not a journalist. And crumbling in the face of organised, concerted and extremist activists claiming that even factually accurate accounts should not be published or broadcast for fear of “upsetting trans people” would be a deplorable dereliction of duty.

So what does Martin Bell think of today's BBC: “Parts of the output are now so lopsided that they need serious review through the lens of the principles that guided us. These include BBC1's Six O'Clock News, which has come to resemble an extended medical bulletin, with space reserved in the second half for campaigns by sectional interests.” And Neil Bennett? “Generations of former BBC journalists will be alarmed at the apparent inability of more recent intakes to understand the concept of impartiality...Usually the real story was very clear without the need for BBC reporters to act as campaigners with microphones and laptops.” And Tom Mangold? “The line between total impartiality and comment has blurred almost beyond repair at BBC News.”

The lopsidedness to which Bell refers is seen in coverage of many issues. A recent example would be the one-sided presentation of the unfolding disaster inside Afghanistan (now oddly dropped from the news). The only views broadcast were those of campaigners for intervention. Yet despite the highly complex landscape, I heard no voices arguing that a massive humanitarian drive would be idiotic, unaffordable, counter-productive and make matters far worse. Even though this is a reasonable and widely held view. On another occasion, Gordon Brown faced a dutifully tame interviewer (if the Today programme can't find Tony Blair to share his dubious wisdom, they resort to the hapless Brown). Martha Kearney's attitude was far more “Oh, I see” and “Yes, that explains it” than “I have to put it to you, Mr Brown...”

LYNCH MOBS AND FASCISM

Related to the above is the extraordinary tale of Eddie Jones, the England rugby coach, who made the mildest of observations about Britain's new tennis darling, Emma Raducanu. This is a young woman who has it all: looks, personality and a prodigious skill honed through excellent coaching and her own determination and effort. Jones pointed out that she had become distracted since winning the US Open and had under-performed since. Pretty obvious stuff. Who wouldn't have been distracted by such instant fame and the demands of modelling assignments, dinners and planning the next step of her promising career by upgrading her old team. I haven't heard that she was particularly perturbed by this but the hyper-sensitive world of the oh-so-easily offended launched a huge hate campaign against the experienced and judicious Jones. And so today, even stating the blindingly obvious – interpreted by the naïve as unforgivable “negative comments” – can now be manufactured into a hate crime. In the face of the barrage, Jones even wrote to Raducanu to apologise or explain – why, I have no idea. And as Owen Slot, The Times' chief sports writer, said: “It isn’t actually unreasonable to ask: was Eddie Jones right?” No doubt Slot was then pilloried, too, for daring to question the lynch mob. This looks horribly like the beginnings of a fascist mentality which, if we don't stand up to it now, will only gain confidence and strength.

As for Kathleen Stock, the academic driven out of Sussex University for stating perfectly reasonable and widely held views on gender and sex. They might not be everyone's views, but the nasty, voluble and extreme minority holds the floor and to disagree with their beliefs, their orthodoxy, makes you, in their eyes, an enemy. Stock is reported to be joining a free-thinking, free-speaking university based in Austin, Texas. And good luck to her. This episode contains so much that is wrong, and so much failure. What was the university thinking in failing to defend its staff member? How have we lost a valuable thinker to a foreign university? This looks horribly like a business running scared of upsetting its loudest customers.

COMPULSORY JABS FOR NHS STAFF

The debate rumbles on. Forcing individuals to have a vaccine squirted into their arms is awkward and clumsy at best. But our Covid-19 infection rates remain high, with continuing deaths. It's a difficult balance to strike. France has leant towards compulsion, the UK takes a more libertarian approach. I would first ask how much of a danger unvaccinated medical staff are to anyone other than themselves? If small, then leave them alone to take the risk and suffer the potentially deadly consequences of their faith.

LESSONS UNLEARNED

Every generation could learn so much from history – but it doesn't, partly because each generation insists on making the same old mistakes and only realising when its own level of experience and knowledge becomes enormously valuable to its equally deaf successor. And it is partly because history is constantly being rewritten and reinterpreted, often ignorantly. So much for standing on the shoulders of giants: we are destined merely to spin in circles.

EDUCATING ED

At the FT, my former colleague Ed Balls was known by some as “two brains” because he was considered to be terribly clever. I never noticed, at first hand, the justification for such a glowing epithet, but he certainly came across as smart and was a bulldozer-like centre forward in the FT's football team. Having risen to the heights of shadow chancellor and being a star on Strictly Come Dancing, Ed is now multi-tasking, it seems, with his latest public venture, “Inside The Care Crisis”, a TV programme about social care. He spent time working in a care home and in home care, searching for evidence of a crisis, which the programme's title lazily assumed. There was plenty to see that was horrible and sad but nothing particularly surprising to anyone who has experienced the sector or cared to give it a moment's thought. That there is so much care at all in our society is a surprise to me. As I said in “The Rise of Antisocialism”, the rabid consumer world in which we subsist cares for little but consumption. This is what has led the government to view the “care crisis” as one of finance instead of addressing the wider inverse structure of worker rewards. While those in fundamentally easy and worthless jobs are paid handsomely, those performing vital tasks are given very little value.

OUR FIRST-WORLD SELF-LOATHING

The UK truly is a country defined by self-loathing. Yet compared to almost every other nation, Britain is amazing – with legal protection on grounds of race, age, gender, sexuality, religion and probably more. The people are largely tolerant of “difference” in all its forms. There are unfortunate empty-headed deviants but over recent decades they have grown markedly fewer. Liberal policies allow almost anything and the kindness and back-breaking self-sacrifices shown to various brands of law-breakers and fools is sometimes heart-warming and at other times infuriating.

And yet, amid this pampered throng, there are people so divorced from reality that they refer to Britain as a “wretched island”. I would invite such people to take their self-loathing elsewhere. If the UK's tolerant attitudes are not good enough, try anywhere in the easy-going Middle East, Asia or Africa. Or Russia, South and Latin America or any country in which a religion still has a political influence. This leaves a handful of states in which you are unlikely to speak the language and which might not be as universally user-friendly as you think – for example, France, with its hard line over islam and most Mediterranean countries' “robust” attitudes towards women. I cannot think there is another country that so safeguards and protects its countless minorities as the UK seeks to do. It might not be perfect, and when it comes to distribution of income and the work that it values it can be quite shockingly awful, but it's as good as it gets if you're “different”. But feel free to try elsewhere if you don't agree.

GONE TO THE DOGS?

The outcry over the government's attempt to clear former minister Owen Paterson was justified: he had clearly done wrong and could muster no plausible explanation nor mitigation (his wife's suicide was a tragedy but its true cause can never be known and is, in any case, not relevant). He was given ample time on BBC News channels to air his grounds for an appeal, which amounted to nothing new. The government was wrong to seek to let him off, even though there were complications, due to arguments over standards that needed to be considered. But it is comforting to know we have a potent system that exposes and investigates potential wrong-doing and equally reassuring to find our democratic processes bring about a swift change of heart and set us back on a more correct path.

Bizarrely, this is seen by some as proof that the country has gone to the dogs. To say that this sorry episode shows we've hit rock bottom is to ignore the facts, the issues, the rest of the world and our own history. Rod Liddle only had to mention the name Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister forced out of politics amid a plethora of allegations, to remind everyone that Paterson's behaviour was relatively mild. Fiona Onasanya and Claudia Webbe are Labour MPs who were found guilty of criminal offences. Tony Blair made himself supremely rich after leaving office. Harold Wilson's lavender honours list is still remembered by some. And outside Parliament, the public has been defrauded of millions, if not billions, of pounds by unscrupulous thieves cashing in on the government's anti-pandemic financial measures. It's all a sorry mixture of corruption and human nature. And in the grand scale, MPs behaving within the rules, but not quite as we would ideally like them to, is not a sign that the country has gone to the dogs. Everything is far messier than that. And that Owen Paterson was eventually ejected is a clear sign that we are far from rock bottom.

Similarly, almost every day, the BBC's news agenda is dominated by one appalling “crisis” after another. All are presented as being of the current government's making and all disappear from our screens and radios as quickly as they appear. From PPE shortages, failed testing regimes and fuel shortages to “scandals” and rows of every hue. But what they really show is that matters arise, are dealt with, and then go away. Many turn out to have been non-events from the start. What everyone should have learnt in recent months is that calling everything a “crisis” and a sign that we have hit rock bottom is simply ridiculous.

TWO BATHS A WEEK, GRETA

No matter how worthy her views, there is something deeply annoying abut Greta Thunberg, the well-heeled Swedish environmental campaigner. Of course she is right about most things. But she is, of course, hopelessly wrong to try and spark a war between the generations, by claiming that baby boomers and others are responsible for destroying the planet. The culprits are not ordinary, innocent, decent individuals but the relentless and unfettered forces of business, materialism and consumption, created by a hyper-capitalist creed unleashed by right-wing free-market economists and politicians in the 1980s. In pursuit of perpetual economic growth, these leaders handed our fates to greedy opportunists who relied on a cycle of innovation, marketing, unending dissatisfaction and widespread purchasing power to fill homes with goods, the skies with holidaymakers and the streets with “hospitality” venues. Yes, some of these things made life more comfortable, to the point that today's youngsters are unarguably the most pampered in history. But it was not like that when the baby boomer generation was growing up. And its members can surely be excused for wanting to provide greater comfort for their children than they experienced. So Greta needs to tell her teen supporters that to match the baby boomers, they must relinquish bottled water, give up their phones (and use phone boxes, as we did) and do without pre-pack sandwiches. They must stop buying exotic imported foods, buy no more new clothes, and own just one pair of shoes until they wear out. They must make do and mend, share rooms, say no to en suites and take no more than two baths a week in freezing bathrooms. Forget cosmetics. Only one room in their house should be heated, with just one light bulb per room, and they must learn new skills – sewing, darning, carpentry, etc. They will cycle or walk, and take no more foreign holidays. These are just the top few items from an extremely long list. The baby boomers might have enjoyed ever-increasing luxury but today's youngsters have been born into luxury without having had to endure the harsh realities of previous generations (not that we realised it at the time – we had plenty of simpler, non-damaging fun).

IF I WEAR A SOMBRERO...

If I wear a sombrero, I am liable to be pilloried for committing “cultural appropriation”. But if tens of thousands of people, availing themselves of expensive and criminal people-smuggling services, choose to force their way in to another country which they decide can make them better off, they are petted and patted and shown no scorn – just sympathy and kindness.

In the frightening stand-off at the Polish-Belarusian border, we are seeing what does now amount to an invasion (defined as “an incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity”; or “an unwelcome intrusion into another's domain”). This is an organised body of people, armed with primitive weapons but marshalled by military forces, attempting to force their way into the territory of others. At what point does sympathy and kindness expire? And for anyone unable to conceive that it ever might, perhaps their thinking might be made clearer if they were asked to state how many pretend refugees they would choose to accommodate in their vicinity. Because the numbers are limitless. One million? Ten million? Half a billion? As the planet heats, this is a question that will float inexorably to the top of the list.

LEAVE THEM ALONE

What would Poland and Hungary be like if left to their own devices? Would they be miserable Stalinist deserts out of choice? Or would they be right-wing reactionary states, as they are now? These countries, and others in Europe bordering Russia, have been puppets of the superpowers for about a century – no less so today than they were under Communism. Now, the EU has control and is enforcing its views, values and policies – pushing the local leaderships further towards the extremes. These are potentially progressive and enlightened countries, full of smart and hard-working people. They will progress if spared the burden of having to react to an outside power's mismanagement and being made dependent. Let's leave them alone.


OCTOBER 26 2021

I TOLD YOU SO

The main purpose of writing my book was to place on record my analysis of the past half century of UK history and to warn of the dangerous implications that followed from the underlying forces at work. Well, thanks to a mixture of Brexit and pandemic, I can say with complete clarity and certainty in so many areas – “I told you so”. It leaves potential readers with a choice – read it and know what is about to happen, or avoid reading it and be perpetually surprised at each day's events. Up to you.

LET'S GO LOCAL

One of the leading themes in the later part of my book concerned the need for localism and communitarianism to counter the forces of big business and the resulting climate catastrophe. And while good news on this front abounds, one heart-warming item in this morning's edition of The Times highlights the success that small independent butchers are enjoying. Their meat is roughly twice as expensive as the supermarkets' bland, plastic-packed alternatives but it is cleaner and greener (in a good way), involving relatively few food miles. And it creates skilled work – for which we should be happy to pay a premium: a small independent butcher will learn the full range of skills required to take a carcass and convert it into joints, chops etc. The supermarket alternative is from a production line staffed by, bored, underpaid and exploited mono-skilled workers, doomed to remain in place because their single “skill” is useless away from the conveyor belt.

We have an excellent butcher, fishmonger and grocer nearby: all are notably more expensive than Lidl but thrash any large chain when it comes to all-round value for money. The grocer's plums might go off after two or three days but taste juicy and delicious on the day they're bought; the supermarket's plums are dry and tasteless from the moment of purchase until they're binned two weeks later.

QUALITY JOURNALISM ON RADIO 4 – AT LAST!

Just when I'd written off the chances of hearing any decent journalism on Radio 4, the Food Programme on Sunday (October 24) checks in with a superb investigation of the so-called staffing crisis in the hospitality sector. It began perfectly, challenging itself to ask how this problem had arisen, what could be done about it, and even whether it was a problem at all. This last question is crucial to tackling the demise of so much of what is today mistakenly called “journalism”. A never-ending vox pop among the disaffected is not journalism – yet this is what BBC News is highly concentrated on. Barely a soul interviewed to air their grievances bothers to suggest a workable solution – merely demands that something be done to address their complaint. And worse, never is the question raised as to whether their outrage is justified or whether there is a problem here in the first place.

The Food Programme refused to take the lazy way out and simply interview restaurateur after restaurateur moaning about how their wonderful Romanians and Poles had all run away, implying that Brexit is a disaster. Instead, it examined working conditions, pay, recruitment issues, education, student behaviour, status, and more. For example, it revealed that large numbers of workers in the sector had learned from the respite provided by the pandemic that life can be different. It revealed the horror of “doubles” – shifts that begin at 8am and continue until close of play, which could be midnight. Staff returning from furlough were not happy with their hours and pay and had found alternatives. One relatively enlightened business owner admitted they were trying to reduce the number of doubles each staff member had to work during a week. It was hard to imagine how they had ever coped with more than one a week before. Another pointed out that there had been no recruitment for nearly two years, either locally or from abroad; another said students staying at home meant a further source of labour had vanished; and the sector has shown itself to be highly vulnerable to viral outbreaks and therefore insecure as a profession – East Europeans had left the UK to be with their families during the pandemic, rather than because of Brexit, the terms of which would actually have allowed them to stay had they chosen to. And the programme dared to ask why it was necessary for so many clearly thriving restaurants to be open seven days a week: this was the gripe of so many – that staff shortages meant they couldn't be open every day. But why should they? The answers to that question are all unpleasant.

Overall, the programme was balanced, objective and interesting. It didn't take the easy Nick Robinson line of blaming everything on the government and Brexit – it was more intelligent than that, seeming to understand that Brexit had shone a scorching spotlight into so many dark and seedy corners of British life. I maintain that none of the conversations taking place in this programme – and indeed in many other places – would have possible but for this Brexit spotlight. And to those who claim it's not Brexit but the pandemic that has caused this soul-searching, I say you can't have it both ways – if the pandemic has caused the soul-searching it must also have caused the so-called staffing “problem”, too, not Brexit.

HURRYING ALONG...

So many issues arising – here are a few quick observations:

● What a fabulous weekend of sport we have just witnessed: West Ham win to go fourth in the Premier League; the Cobblers win away against a promotion rival to go third in League Two; and the Saints run riot against Worcester – a wonderful hat trick. Following hard on the heels of Melbourne's extraordinary Aussie Rules triumph, it's all going too well to last!

● I'm boycotting Beckham. This poor useful idiot is being used to make positive noises about the World Cup in Qatar. There is nothing positive about allowing hundreds of migrant workers to be killed in the building of stadiums that will require cold air to be pumped out at a planet-destroying rate in order for the games to be playable. I've been boycotting this larger disgrace for some time; now Beckham has been added to the list.

● I'm also done with Oxfam. This craven, pathetic organisation has been in the news for the wrong reasons far too much lately – but its abject capitulation to the trans extremist fascists is the final straw. By withdrawing a game featuring role-model women it has crumbled before the forces of misogyny and bullying. The trans lobby is doing a grave disservice to genuine transgender people, just as the Taliban and Isis shame and embarrass the vast majority of muslims.

● A friend has found a New Zealand news story that says the country is laughing with glee at the trade deal just struck with the UK, implying that we have been taken for suckers. Disgruntled British farmers were mentioned – but when are they not disgruntled; they have much to be disgruntled about, constantly being fleeced by supermarkets. Not mentioned of course, was the fact that New Zealand already had a quota for meat exports to the UK – one that was significantly larger than the amount of meat actually sent. The Kiwis, in reality, are focused on Chinese markets. But it's good they are happy – as are we. It's the sign of a good deal when both sides are smiling.

● Why does it take so long? I scribbled on my copy of The Times a couple of weeks ago, asking why everyone over 50 should not be able to book their booster jab online two or three weeks before their due date, rather than have to wait until a week after they should have received their invitation. Thankfully – and eventually – someone has worked out how dumb they're being and how much cleverer it would be to get the vast supplies of vaccine into arms as soon as possible. Come on Sajiv Javid – wake up!

● Amid cries for the police to be more proactive in protecting the public and to bring their full weight to bear on every allegation or complaint, along comes the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, seeking to give officers greater powers to do just that. But hold hard – not everyone is convinced, and so Radio 4's Today programme wants to speak to them. It's a former top cop, and he is denouncing the new powers as amounting to the creation of “police state”. His solution? Education. OK everyone – are you happy to wait a generation or two while we educate crime out of society?

● Social media could have been a wonderful tool. But instead, it's been hijacked by big business as the most potent sales tool in history – notably through its direct access to youngsters' communication networks. An excellent account by an Oxford student in The Times T2 section today gives an idea of how pervasive this marketing tool has become: she cites the fake Kardashians, fake conversations about lip fillers, and the vicious bullying that greets teenagers as they fall asleep and when they wake. Social media has become vile and destructive – but then, that's big business.

● A friend hates Boris. Well, most of our friends seem to. They accuse of him of being unscrupulous, underhand, dishonest and worse: the most evil prime minister ever. It's hard to disagree with every charge, Johnson is no angel, but no prime minister ever is. Where I take issue is over the qualities required of a prime minister: fitness for the job is what matters. If politics was an afternoon tea party, I would suggest Mary Berry be our leader. But I see politics more like a bruising game of rugby. You would surely want the nastiest brutes on your side, whether you like them or not, and so were I to be picking the team, Boris would be one of my first choices.


OCTOBER 20 2021

FROM HUSTLING HANCOCK TO A VACCINE VACUUM

To all those who continue to ridicule and condemn Matt Hancock for his performance as Health Secretary during the global pandemic – I counter that we would be managing far better now were he still to be in post. The casual approach of his inadequate replacement has seen mask-wearing and other measures virtually disappear, the vaccine programme to decline and the virus to become reinvigorated. Reliance on the vaccine programme was always an experiment – one that required rigorous observation and adjustment should it not proceed as expected. Luckily, the first phase went beautifully, with 100 per cent of the willing and able adult population receiving their protection and hospitalisations and deaths under control. Disastrously, as evidence mounts that the vaccine's effects wear off more quickly than hoped, there has been no response from Sajiv Javid. In fact, he is nowhere to be seen. Hancock would have been bouncing in front of cameras and microphones, herding everyone into jab centres for their boosters ahead of the nominal six-month gap and pressing for more youngsters and all professional sportspeople to protect themselves and others. He might well have been mocked, but he would have been right – again.

Instead, the vacuum at the top is allowing anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory half-wits to harass schoolchildren and threaten ministers, and enabling prominent athletes, such as the appalling Djokovic, to set a terrible example without being challenged. These dangerously misguided fools are literally killing people by promoting the spread of a deadly disease. The relatively low proportion of the UK population accepting the vaccine, compared to several similar countries, is not the fault of government, the medical profession or the scientists – it is because the UK has a larger proportion of simpletons: the entire adult population was offered the jab several months ago. Some were unable to accept it; but most are just dumb, deranged and dangerous. Hancock kept up the programme's momentum; Javid has lost it completely and it will be extremely difficult to persuade the millions who now consider the pandemic to be over to bother with renewed safety precautions or extra jabs.

LOVE WORK, HATE JOBS

Yesterday's You And Yours phone-in, on Radio Four, was actually quite sensible. Normally, these sessions are dominated by aggrieved individuals moaning about a hardship entirely of their own making and which, after even light questioning, usually falls apart completely. This week's topic was “How has lockdown affected your attitude to work?” Admittedly, the featured responses came from a fairly narrow demographic, but the overwhelming message was that, contrary to the ludicrous myth that Britons won't work, British people are very keen to work; it is jobs that they object to. One caller after another explained that lockdown made them realise there was more to life than a job: some had switched to part-time work, some amended their small business to allow more free time, some had taken early retirement, and one family had decided to sell their home and travel the world. All spoke of enjoying the beauty of nature, of having time to appreciate their families and friends. One said he would prefer “15 years of bliss” to 30 years of bleakness. They all sought time to develop hobbies and crafts. They also spoke of the positive side of work – social interaction, a daily and weekly structure, a steady income. Indeed, none was opposed to working – quite the reverse. But many spoke of how hideous and pointless their employment was – penny-pinching pay cuts, mismanagement, dull and unsatisfying tasks. An employer spoke of how hard it was to find staff and how he needed to find ways to attract people. He didn't go so far as to say British people are work-shy, but one rogue correspondent did. And this is the point. If a baker is trying to sell cakes and no one buys them, would it be right to blame the public, to call them too lazy and entitled to eat cake? Or would it be right to look at what is being offered and ask whether it meets society's needs and desires? I considered these issues in some detail in The Rise of Antisocialism and came to exactly the same conclusions as those disillusioned phone-in callers. It is yet another example of how so many re-evaluations sparked by the pandemic have confirmed the arguments I, and others, have been pursuing for many years.

PUTTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

Two first-rate articles caught my eye this week. The first, a highly justified demolition of the ghastly Blair and Brown BBC programme looked at the true legacy of the worst prime minister in living memory – Gordon Brown. It pointed out the inequities of his windfall tax on the privatised utilities (cancelled investments, unfair distribution of taxation); the disastrous impact of stripping supervision of commercial lenders from the Bank of England (allowing the free-for-all that precipitated the 2007 crisis); and, worst of all, his abolition of the tax credits on dividends that deprived pension funds of £5bn a year and wrecked the world's best occupational pension scheme. Ian King, a Sky News business presenter, wrote the piece for The Times, and concluded by saying: “Since his eviction by the voters in 2010, an attempt has been made to rehabilitate Brown as a dignified, almost cuddly, elder statesman. The truth, sadly airbrushed from this documentary, is that he did lasting damage to the UK economy.” And, I would add, to countless individuals.

The second is an excellent account of how the opponents of globalisation, of which I have been one for many years, have been proved right. It was always about cheapness and inevitably involved a huge downgrading of resilience – two factors that we are now facing head-on following the relatively mild shock of the pandemic. Two examples: mistreatment and exploitation of workers around the world is – in the ultimate irony – leading them to head for the very countries that have been exploiting them; the drive for cheaper energy is now leading to insecurities in supply and to rocketing prices. This superb wake-up call is on the UnHerd website (link below) and is a complete vindication of the decades-old left-wing campaign against globalisation. It is also amounts to a condemnation of the liberal conservative now leading the Labour Party. As the writer, Aris Roussinos, a former war reporter and a contributing editor at UnHerd. writes: “The Left has seemingly abandoned its commitment to localisation and the preservation of unionised, national labour in favour of cosmopolitan dreams of unfettered globalisation.” He's basically saying what I say in The Rise of Antisocialism and have said repeatedly in this blog. And for that reason – and for the sake of the planet – I'd say it's a must read!

https://unherd.com/2021/10/crisis-is-the-new-normal/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=cb85415bb2&mc_eid=9be086e691


OCTOBER 15 2021

Got a problem? Could be personal or something to do with business? How about not being allowed to see your elderly relative in a care home – and risking passing on Covid, of course? Or not being able to find staff for your hotel? Well, all you have to do is call the BBC and they will interview you, giving air to your grievance and allowing you to blame whoever you choose. It's been going on for two or three years. Perhaps more. And you can concoct a story to make it more devastating – and don't worry, it won't be checked. BBC News has now reduced itself to cataloguing moans and whinges from all and sundry without taking the trouble to research, investigate or challenge. This is news as one long rolling vox pop reflecting only one side of the argument.

The latest topics to occupy the Beeb are dead pigs and living lorry drivers. With the country barely able to move as the mountains of smoking pork grow, we learn that this “crisis” is not one of our government's manufacturing, but possibly a scam by farmers to try and force the taxpayer to subsidise the losses they might face because China has stopped importing pork over Covid fears. With so little analysis of current events it is hard to know whether this explanation is fully valid or only partially. Either way, the BBC swallowed the farmers' story whole – and so far it has turned out to be complete rubbish.

Today, it was all about the scandalous minor technical adjustment regarding cabotage, made by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to enable visiting foreign lorry drivers to be more efficient while they are in the UK. This is for a six-month period and is yet another measure aimed at easing the post-pandemic haulage difficulties being experienced around the world. It all sounds terribly sensible. The Times reported the move appropriately – in a small space at the bottom of an inside page. But neither Today presenter Nick Robinson nor the haulage industry see things that way: the former absurdly accused Shapps of giving up on “high-skills, high-wage” at the first hurdle – as if the labour-market atrocities of the past four decades can be corrected in the blink of an eye; the latter accused Shapps of exposing British haulage firms to cheap foreign competition!

These assaults proved too feeble for a nimble operator such as the Transport Secretary – he pointed out to Robinson that this was a temporary measure and that these foreign drivers are visiting anyway. The move would give haulage firms a little breathing space to get their own act together as more newly trained applicants enter the profession. As for the idiotic haulage industry. For decades it has exploited its long-suffering drivers to the point that so many have left the industry it can barely function. This is its big chance to haul itself out of the cheap and nasty era with higher pay and improved facilities. For it to claim it is having to compete against low-cost east European firms who exploit their drivers is utterly astounding, given that until a few weeks ago it was doing precisely that itself. But never mind, its spokesperson was welcomed on to the airwaves to spout this nonsense, unchecked and unchallenged.

It was worth listening to Shapps. He is a politician and so, of course, is partial. But he did sound far more believable than the whining presenters and their obliging complainers when he put into perspective the appalling blockages at British ports. Again, with the BBC presenting this global shipping snarl-up purely as a parochial, home-made British issue, Shapps informed his host he had contacted Felixstowe last evening and established that there was just one ship waiting to dock, whereas there were 60 or so queuing outside Los Angeles and plenty more at Asian ports.

This is what journalism has become. And at the BBC, too. As a career-long journalist, it is deeply painful to witness this tragic decline. When the BBC shifts from informing and educating the public to merely providing it with a platform to air any grievance, no matter how spurious or self-inflicted, then news is in a perilous state. And where news standards fall, democracy is rarely too far behind.

OCTOBER 14 2021

And so, unleashed this week, is the first Covid-19 hindsight report. Produced by MPs – the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee – it pretends to be a helpful exercise in learning lessons from the pandemic. In fact, it is a simplistic attack on Boris, Cummings, Whitty, Vallance and crew – one that we have heard repeatedly from Brexit-haters – claiming the government did “too little, too late” in locking the country down and that this killed many people unnecessarily.

One particularly nasty piece of work crawled out of the woodwork in the form of BBC Radio Four Today presenter, Amol Rajan. I'm not sure who he was “interviewing” on Tuesday morning – his casual, slurred delivery does not make for a good radio voice, and so I didn't catch the name – but it was someone from the government. Rajan hurled a volley of insults and allegations and then went on to claim ministers had learned nothing because they delayed the autumn lockdown, too, killing yet more people. He became quite shirty, bordering on charges of manslaughter as he accused them of not following the science. People died because there was no lockdown until November, he ranted.

If you are to investigate, explain and hold authority to account, as us journalists should, your first duty is to be fair, accurate and know what you are talking about. Rajan managed none of these. First, to say there was no lockdown until November is simply incorrect and playing with words. Safety measures in England were gradually ramped up from September – social distancing, the rule of six, working from home, a 10pm curfew and severe regional lockdowns, with a Tier system. It should also be noted that by this stage, every single person in the country should have been fully aware of how Covid-19 was being transmitted and how its spread could be prevented: the new year surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths was the direct result of the bulk of the population knowingly choosing to take huge risks in order to celebrate Christmas. The government is not the only player in this game.

His second ignorant assumption was that the government was “not following the science” – even though ministers and scientists appeared together, united, at the daily press briefings. Moreover, as Rajan himself smugly pointed out in a subsequent debate, there is no single “science” – there are many opinions, stretching from one extreme to the other. Some scientists were indeed calling for early and severe lockdowns; other equally eminent scientists were shouting, very loudly, that “lockdowns kill people, too”. Every day for more than a year, BBC news presenters were seeking out malcontents keen to describe the misery and damage being done by lockdown. It, too, took its toll. Indeed, today we have been hearing how NHS waiting lists and waiting times deteriorated because of distancing, staying at home and other lockdown rules, as well as pressure on the system.

From the beginning, the exercise had to be a precarious balancing act – saving lives, protecting the NHS, avoiding social disorder, keeping the economy and essential services functioning. There was no right or wrong, no grand mistakes, no “worst failure ever”, just a rapidly evolving global disaster that was handled differently by every country in the world. Some parts suffered more or less than others; none escaped completely. But to compare the UK's response and outcome to that of countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, as we heard on Tuesday, is laughable. And to claim the government's “slow response” was an act of “deliberate policy” in order to achieve herd immunity is to ignore a succession of facts: the full UK lockdown was announced just one day after Germany's – we were not slow; other countries, such as Sweden, were being lauded for their robust anti-lockdown approach – it might, for all anyone knew, have been the least damaging route in the long term; population density is one of the primary factors in determining death rates – just look at the almost precise correlation between deaths and density on the night-time weather map every evening; Australia and New Zealand are obviously special cases – small, isolated settlements – and still their protracted and severe lockdowns have failed to keep out the virus; and, as was stated clearly and correctly at the time, Asian countries are very different, both culturally and in their far greater experience of dangerous viruses.

Of course there will be scientists and opportunist politicians protesting, rightly or wrongly, that they were, all along, urging the government to take what would have turned out to be a better course. But for every one of those were many more calling for precisely the opposite. On balance, to say that the UK got it wrong, and more wrong than any other nation, is simply wrong. It is a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation of the issues as they arose. There were mistakes – how could there not be? But were they reckless, heartless, clueless? Of course not.

OCTOBER 6 2021

In early 2016, it felt as though Janice Turner and I were the only left-wing Brexiteers in the country – or at least with access to the media. The Times columnist wrote an excellent column headlined “The loneliness of the left-wing Brexiteer” (roughly). But when it came to the referendum, she changed her mind, leaving me feeling deserted and very alone, surrounded by liberal remainers. Now, suddenly, it's me and the Tory party leadership! How did that happen? Boris Johnson gives a conference speech that should have come from the lips of a Labour leader worth his salt, and ministers galore head to Radio 4 studios to trumpet their socialist credentials. Up the workers! Patience Wheatcroft – Baroness Wheatcroft, former journalist, if you must – also voiced her opinion on the radio – agreeing with the prompt from presenter Sarah Montague that this idea of “high wages-high skills” seems very new – saying she thought these slogans had been retro-fitted on to the policy to justify an awkward turn of events regarding labour shortages. Perhaps it is an afterthought; perhaps the Tory cabinet and I are only together in peddling socialist ideas because it suits them for the time being. If so, I am still a very lonely – but increasingly delighted – left-wing Brexiteer.

That's not to say everything will be plain sailing. There is a serious chicken and egg conundrum over which comes first – higher wages or improved productivity. How can you pay higher wages if productivity remains tragically low? For me, the answer is that you have to start somewhere or nothing ever improves. And if being forced to pay higher wages in order to secure staff leads to investment in technology and training that improves productivity, then that's as good as we can hope for.

It can't happen, of course, if the premise of higher pay is again undermined by resorting once more to free movement by the back door, as proposed by several sectors addicted to cheap exploitable labour. The government has rightly resisted such calls for the addict to be given one more shot of poison. But perhaps it should consider Lord Wolfson's proposals more carefully. The Brexiteer chief executive of Next is suggesting allowing migrant labour to plug gaps in the UK economy – but making it more expensive to do so than to use local workers. Forcing employers to pay the full rate for the job, plus a migrant worker tax on top, would focus the minds of businesses too ready to take the easy and cheap option. We would then see just how serious the labour “crisis” really is.

A PROFESSION IN TATTERS

We are awash with rubbish statistics: meaningless, misleading and just plain wrong. They're everywhere. Yet so many are treated as facts if they suit the narrative, or if they simply cause a little splash of attention. One example is a “survey” that “discovered” the colour of a house door affects its value – brown doors make a house worth a few hundred pounds less and a blue door a few thousand more. It's clearly absurd, yet it was broadcast uncritically on a BBC breakfast time programme. Thankfully, we have another BBC programme, More or Less, hosted by my former FT colleague Tim Harford, to put matters straight. It was, of course, just a ridiculous publicity stunt. But astonishingly, it had been accepted as fact.

Also in the past week or so, a feature on how to save money in a time of rapidly rising energy costs suggested that turning off the TV at the wall when not in use could save £35 a year. More or Less took the “expert's” figures, checked them and found that switching off a new TV at the wall would actually save just 40p a year, or 80p a year for an older one. This is a shocking and utterly damning indictment of what passes for journalism today. It has become such a catch-all title, covering showbiz presenters, former footballers, sofa-bound chat show non-entities gossiping, that it is has lost most of its meaning. Worse still is that extending the title “journalist” to cover anyone who simply has access to any form of media, for whatever purpose, is allowing all this nonsense to be peddled before a largely trusting public. Where is the rigour, the integrity, the scepticism, the investigation, and the checking in these programmes that care more about headlines and hits than facts and accuracy? Those vital and precious skills, honed by real journalists over centuries, are now being replaced by lazy and dim-witted sensationalism and abject gullibility.


OCTOBER 5 2021

TIME MAKES A MOCKERY OF SNAPSHOT JUDGMENTS

This is quite an extraordinary time in politics, society and culture. Not only is the Tory Party the champion of the working man and Labour the party of business, but the issues I discussed in The Rise of Antisocialism are now, having been largely ignored for years, suddenly being aired in every media conversation.

The first lesson we must learn from current events is that taking a snapshot in time is idiotic: change, for better or worse, takes time to manifest itself. Take, for example, the Covid-19 statistics and debates around them. The fear over a rising infection rate is now fading: a quarter of a million new cases per week are now shrugged off, as hospitalisations and deaths gradually fall. As I've said before, and as New Zealand's over-rated prime minister has had to admit, vaccination and learning to live with the virus is the only route out of pandemic. And as more and more people – a million a month in the UK – gain natural immunity to add to the protection afforded by the vaccine, the long-term policy is clearly working. Matt Hancock deserves credit for his relentless pursuit of this but doubtless will be written out of the success story. But the crucial point is that it was a long-term policy, dating back to the summer of 2020 – no quick fix was available despite the daily wailing and moaning that government should “do something”. There was nothing to do but work assiduously towards a vaccinated population, able to carry on largely as normal. We have now achieved maximum vaccination of the adult population – 100 per cent of those willing to be vaccinated. Refuseniks choosing to place themselves, and others, at risk cause a distortion to the statistics when comparing the UK to countries that have used force or bribery to persuade the unwilling to accept the jab. We await the final outcome, which could be blown off course by a change in the virus. But with a fair wind, the job appears to be done.

Change in the jobs market will take longer to produce such positive results but it would, again, be idiotic to judge trends on a single day in early October 2021. Putting right the blunders of the past four decades will take years – but the grand correction is now well under way. As it proceeds it will surely become as difficult for employers to keep harking back to the bad old days of cheap exploitable East European labour as it is for critics of the vaccination policy to complain that it isn't working. When Peter Tiede, chief political correspondent of Bild newspaper in Germany, wrote a hideously ugly and very stupid column in The Times last week, he clearly could not have even understood what he was saying when he boasted that Germany was happily motoring along, powered by the cheap, exploitable East Europeans, to whom we had closed the door. He failed to comprehend that Germany is pursuing a broken and outdated model, based on feeding unsustainable businesses on an unlimited diet of lowly paid, but diligent, workers performing vital tasks the comfortable local population won't touch. His column should be compulsory reading for every Pole or Romanian thinking of accepting a job in Germany: they can now easily be made aware of how they are being mocked and abused. Future generations will come to equate this treatment with the slave-owning plantation culture that seemed so efficient at producing crops for so long.

If Germany has yet even to identify the disease, let alone think of a cure, the UK is getting much right – and a few things wrong – in dealing with the deep-rooted problems and the consequences. Ministers talk of a “high skills, high wage” economy, which sounds marvellous as a sound bite and is a more than worthy aim – but which could be improved upon to reflect the reality of the challenges ahead. Because many of the jobs for which high pay will be required, in the name of fairness and “levelling up”, are not high skilled, nor ever will be. Hospitality, agriculture, food production and processing, logistics, care, and others – these sectors all require varying levels of skill but little that cannot be learned fairly speedily. What they are, though, are necessary. I categorised jobs as “necessary” or “unnecessary” in my book before they came to be labelled “essential” and “non-essential” during the pandemic, and I called for greater rewards and better treatment for those in necessary roles. What they require, as much as skills, is attitude and application, thoughtfulness and care, initiative and common sense. And so the vital categorisation is not between “high-skilled” and “low-skilled”, but evaluating which functions carry the highest levels of value – value to individuals and to society in general. Adjusting the sound bite to “high-wage, high value” would reflect reality and perhaps persuade youngsters to consider the wider value of a job when planning their careers, rather than simply its value to them.

This is a high hurdle to leap and, as before, will take time. The reckless and simplistic university ambitions imposed by Tony Blair compounded the growing issue of the undesirability of many necessary jobs: the vastly increased number of graduates would inevitably have ever higher expectations, unattainable in the existing societal structures and consumption culture. A profound change in the way necessary tasks are perceived and valued is therefore urgently required.

The pandemic brought about a spectacular start to this process. But whether it proves long lasting is dependent on the momentum being maintained – of which the current debate is a hopeful sign. Proper treatment of HGV drivers and others should have a ripple effect, as labour supply shortages feed through into training, investment, wages, conditions and status. Brexit, Covid-19 and the resulting shifts in power have together brought a shock to the system – almost as great a shock as hearing a Tory prime minister sounding like a Labour leader – and a socialist Labour leader at that – while the actual Labour leader talks the language of business and the continuation of a cheap, oppressed workforce.

In order to fuel the fears, talk in some media – and the BBC is a prime offender in this, especially after its irresponsible stoking of the petrol panic – is now focused on “empty supermarket shelves”, “Christmas shortages”, inflation, higher interest rates and a slowing of the economy. There is a danger of creating another self-fulfilling prophecy but it is more likely that such “dangers” will be, as Boris said this morning, signs of stress and strain as a higher grade workforce evolves. And some of those dire warnings do not withstand scrutiny anyway: surely, a slowing and shrinking economy means less pointless and polluting activity. Surely, it is good news that latest figures show fewer new cars being registered – they might be slightly cleaner than some older cars, but fewer cars in total ought to be welcomed as a benefit to humanity, rather than presented as a blow to business. As the economy shrinks – which is inevitable, whatever other choices we make, given the alarming acceleration of the damage caused by climate change – it is imperative that those taking on the least desirable but most necessary jobs are rewarded. There will be a cost, of course, and that must be carried by those best able. Any idea of “levelling up” must, of necessity, involve a significant element of “levelling down”. Over time, this will come to be seen as inevitable and eventually as desirable. I might be among those having to “level down” – a little – but I am more than happy for this development to begin.

COPING WITH CHAOS – THE FIRST QUALITY REQUIRED OF A PRIME MINISTER

I read an interesting insight into the quality of prime ministers at the weekend – apologies to whoever wrote it, as I didn't take a note. But it pointed out that Boris Johnson grew up in chaos – a picture of a wild childhood was painted in which pragmatism and invention were required to survive and flourish. The Johnson clan has clearly done well on it, with some punching enormously above their weight. So where does this place Boris? Looking back at the prime ministers of the past 40 years, they pretty much all had a plan, a programme, a vision. And they pretty much all failed miserably. Boris is accused of failing to having a plan, of “making it up as he goes along”, of reacting to events rather than carrying out a programme. Which raises the question as to whether these are the ideal qualities of a prime minister. Perhaps one that is able to chart a course through the chaos that is real life, that behaves pragmatically and responsively, is likely to be far more successful than one that sticks to the plan in the face of impossible obstacles and a constantly moving target. I wouldn't, though, accuse Boris of having no vision: he has a well-articulated and simple, two-pronged vision – “levelling up” and tackling climate change. As I've said before, they would be my top two as well. And it's also important to note that a “vision” is not the same as a plan or a programme – it's a goal that might be reached by any number of routes, depending upon the prevailing, and inevitably chaotic, circumstances.

This might be what infuriates highly opinionated commentators, such as the BBC's Nick Robinson. I would no longer call him a journalist; I was a journalist. And his recent Today programme interviews on Radio Four have hit new lows. Last week, he made the mistake of attacking the Shadow Lord Chancellor David Lammy, and lost. Robinson was his usual obnoxious and rude self – but Lammy was even more obnoxious and, like all bullies, Robinson immediately became obsequious and pathetic. Almost the same thing happened this morning when Robinson “interviewed”, or argued with, Boris and – incredible as it might seem – ordered him to “stop talking” in the middle of a perfectly sensibly answer. It was an extraordinary low in even this commentator's career, but it certainly had the desired effect of preventing the prime minister from explaining why Robinson's suppositions and premises were wrong. For the rest of the argument the commentator sounded slightly contrite, as though someone from the legitimate world of journalism – perhaps the programme editor – had told him he'd stumbled way over the mark.

TRAFFIC AT TERMINAL VOLUMES

Not to so long ago, the country was able to keep functioning, just about, with minimal use of the car. It was a wonderful glimpse of what might be. Last week, the country claimed to be unable to function at all without a full tank of petrol, while at the same time driving hither and thither on missions we managed without last year. Anyone who wonders just how much traffic there is on our roads should note what happens when an artery is blocked by misguided fools protesting about insulation or, as this morning, by a flood: Google maps shows dark red roads everywhere. Like our precarious “just-in-time” supply chains, levels of traffic are teetering on the brink.

A FEAT NEVER ATTEMPTED BY ANY PREVIOUS GENERATION...

Drums roll....it's daring, thrilling – and it's a trick that has never been attempted by any previous generation. But we now expect more; we believe we are entitled to more, and so young people today are having a crack at what was once thought almost impossible for the majority – buying a home on their own. The idea of a “home-owning democracy” is surprisingly new and certainly for well over half of the last century home ownership was only for a few, with renting the norm. And when buying did become more common, it was virtually always on the basis of a couple, who would have saved hard and pooled their resources. This seems no longer good enough, partly because of absurdly high expectations and partly because relationship formation seems to be on the decline, or at least occurring much later in life. A two-week series on housing began on Radio 4 at lunchtime yesterday and, contrary to my extremely low expectations, it did manage to acknowledge that home ownership is a relatively new concept. I shall listen again.

SEPTEMBER 30 2021

DON'T BLAME THE NEW DOCTOR FOR WHAT LIES BENEATH THE OLD STICKING PLASTER

I heard on BBC Radio 4 news last night that another three “energy suppliers” had gone bust. The Times repeated the story this morning. Luckily, the articles were not about energy suppliers at all – as in companies that actually supply gas and electricity – but about energy “retailers”, or “buy and sell” merchants, wheeler-dealers. In fact, many “companies” in this sector are barely even that – they are spivs with a couple of laptops operating from a back bedroom taking punts on moving market prices. Calling them “energy suppliers” is the equivalent of calling Del Boy Trotter a “car radio supplier” – except Del Boy would actually have some car radios.

This state of affairs is not new: it has been five or six years in the making as previous government decisions sought to increase competition in the market and make it ever easier for consumers to switch to lower prices with minimalist regulation over the quality of the many start-ups. It was a wound that was bound to become infected and burst open sooner or later.

So, too, was the long-term shortage of HGV drivers, as mentioned before – the dreadful pay and conditions have been nurturing it for decades. The UK's care system has also been in a sorry state for decades: no one knows what to do about it and the government's latest ineffectual efforts at reform are concerned only with how it is financed, with inheritances protected. Elsewhere, jobs for seasonal produce pickers have been shockingly awful for many years, teetering on the brink of slave labour in many cases, thanks to unscrupulous supermarket giants squeezing farm prices to artificially low levels. These jobs are so bad that no local people can or will take them on. Importing migrants is just another unsustainable sticking plaster covering another stinking sore. The broad hospitality sector is short of labour, too, with low pay and unsociable hours making it unattractive to those who have a choice. Again, exploiting migrants has been the misdiagnosed medicine, allowing the infection to fester.

Add in 40 years of mismanaging the nation's housing stock and the increase in personal wealth that enables multiple home ownership and rabid consumption, and it's easy to see why some young people are priced out of their native areas, furthering regional labour shortages.

Now, a pandemic and Brexit – yes, Brexit must take plenty of credit for helping to expose these ulcers – requires that the old dressings be removed and the underlying sicknesses remedied. In doing so, we have to ask whether it is fair or correct to place all the blame for the sorry condition of the patient upon the physicians exposing it. Either way, I am astonished at how quickly the fresh tonic is taking effect: wages are rising – by 60 per cent in the logistics sector, according to James Reed, boss of the Reed recruitment firm, and conditions are improving as well. Even more astonishing is that the Tory administration can see all this – how honest workers have taken the driving seat and it is actually encouraging and applauding this reversal of power in the labour market, while Labour whimpers about how badly business needs its cheap exploitable immigrants back. It beggars belief.

There will, of course, be repercussions. The most obvious of which is inflation, along with the more worrying prospect of higher interest rates, which will whack mortgage holders, leading to widespread repossessions unless steps are taken to help them. Inflation is inevitable because the increased costs of labour will eventually reach the consumer. There has been talk in news programmes today of prices rising in supermarkets and restaurants by about 10 per cent over the next few months. And this is right and proper. We live in a country and culture that has become addicted to consumption at unnaturally cheap prices – cheap because they do not allow for decent pay and conditions for the workforce. As I say in The Rise of Antisocialism, any business that fails to provide a good living for those sustaining it should not really be called a business at all. Thanks to Brexit, we might see an end to widespread bogus cheapness and the start of better lives for those carrying out the most arduous and sometimes least attractive jobs. And if higher prices means we consume less, as I said before, so much the better.

It has to be admitted, however, that there are special cases in the labour market and seasonal farm work is perhaps the largest. There is no guarantee that any level of improvements in pay and conditions would enable local people to take on seasonal jobs lasting just a few weeks or months in a tight labour market. However tight it becomes, there will always be a few unemployed people but assuming there are not enough, then how can this rural industry be serviced? One spur of the moment thought is that school holidays have historically been timed to coincide with the need for agricultural labourers. University terms could be tweaked even more easily. It's an old remedy to a disorder that has been plastered over for far too long: offer students a significant reduction on their loans if they spend eight or 10 weeks a year in the fields. Make the offer attractive enough and it treats two maladies at once. It seems too good to be true; I will need to give it some more thought.

SEPTEMBER 29 2021

LABOUR FOR BUSINESS, TORIES FOR THE WORKERS!

So Keir Starmer said it: Labour is “in business”. And never did he speak a truer word. His keynote speech at this week's Labour Party conference was at least clear on one thing: the political world is now turned upside down – with Labour now proudly standing as the party of business and the Tories the party of the worker. Labour, for all its “Brexit is done and dusted and we have to move on” rhetoric fully supports business's demands that the unlimited supply of cheap and exploitable workers be re-established, whereas the Tories argue that shortages in some industries open up opportunities for a market correction that will benefit the humble labourer with better wages and conditions. Indeed, we are seeing this already. Labour would, given the chance, allow freedom of movement to cruelly distort the UK labour market once more, papering over decades-old cracks in investment, productivity, training, technology, innovation, and retention of staff through decent pay and conditions. Its obsession with metropolitan liberal views leaves it with no clue as to how working people feel and are faring. Labour has become a ridiculous middle-class luxury that real-world labourers can ill afford. What is a genuine socialist to do?

CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST

Ignorant and idiotic banners on social media suggest that Brexiteers (whoever they might be) are regretting their vote now that they're stuck in a self-inflicted queue for petrol. Well I am certainly not. Wages are rising for those performing the most worthwhile and essential tasks in our society – in caring, logistics (drivers), hospitality and the like. Their contribution is at last being recognised and valued. HGV drivers, for example, have suffered truly awful roadside conditions in the UK for decades, with dreadful, or non-existent, facilities. With poor pay failing hopelessly to compensate for the unsociable hours and lifestyle, and a badly timed tax change it is no wonder drivers are choosing to walk. Huge investment is needed in all these areas, meaning that the costs of moving goods around will rise sharply. How will these be paid for? In the normal way – pass them on, and pass them on again until they eventually reach the consumer. And if this means we consume less, so much the better for the planet. All socialists should celebrate this long-awaited and momentous change. We might experience several months of mild disruption but 40 years of foolishness will take quite some time to turn around. Would a cancer patient, experiencing side-effects, regret agreeing to life-saving chemotherapy after the first treatment proved that it was working?

EXPENSIVE PETROL VERSUS NO PETROL

The UnHerd website does it again with another fascinating argument that suggests radical pricing could be used to calm the panic buying at filling stations. It includes, of course, the inevitable complaint that this would hurt poorer people, who are often those who need it most. But it goes on to point out the false dichotomy contained in that scenario: the choice is not between expensive petrol and cheap petrol, it is between expensive petrol and no petrol. Allowing price gouging in the snow shovel market, for example, would enable a smart seller to amass a stock before a blizzard struck, to be sold expensively once everyone is at a standstill. Claiming this also discriminates against the poor ignores the fact that without the price adjustment no one would have snow shovels. I'm not totally convinced but it might be worth a try in a fuel context, for a limited period at least. Fuel hogs would be less likely to fill their tanks and plastic bottles unnecessarily if petrol was going to be three times its normal price for 10 days. It's a simple form of rationing. Yes, poorer people would struggle to pay a fiver a litre but they would buy no more than they absolutely needed – no one would. And at least there is a better chance fuel would be available.

POLITICAL LEADERS ARE ONLY PEOPLE

A Tory reshuffle and there are different people in the same old jobs. Some will be good, some bad. It is always thus. In the half century or so during which I have been politically aware, there has been one constant – those in government are just people. Intellectually ordinary, as prone to mistakes as anyone else, and only distinguished from the crowd by a ruthlessness in their pursuit of influence or power. The current freshly shuffled crop is no different. Some will get lucky and achieve, most will flounder as events continually dash them against the rocks. Making instant, contemporary judgments of a political cadre is hopeless: those rejoicing at the election of slick Tony Blair's regime in 1997 were made to appear most foolish within just a couple of years; the apparently bumbling John Major will be treated far more kindly by the history writers. The root of the problem is that nearly all policies and decisions hold within them repercussions that might take years, or decades, to emerge and so each cohort is wrestling with the ghastly mistakes of the past as well as their own limitations. The UK's catastrophic reliance on a globalised energy system, which dates back several decades, is a current example. It is a case of yet more chickens coming home to roost. While remaining seriously suspicious of the motivations of some high-profile political leaders, I see them, in the main, as well-meaning but hopelessly out of their depth – doing their best while drowning in an impossible storm of their predecessors' making. And I have learnt to avoid making contemporaneous judgments but try instead to project forward the consequences of our leaders' day-to-day decisions. In this way, we can assess slightly more accurately their intentions and the overall direction of travel.


SEPTEMBER 20 2021

Pay is rising. This is something the market should be able to understand: when a commodity is in limitless supply, its value will drop; in reduced supply, its value will rise. Simple. This is precisely what has happened in the UK labour market in the past year or so. But rather than accept this most basic of market principles, businesses in every sector prefer to moan and whine and beg for help.

Well done Iain Martin who used his column in The Times last week to bring the world's attention to this “good-for-the-workers” fact, hitherto presented as “bad-for-business”, usually couched in such terms as “businesses that rely on migrant labour”.

SHIPMAN SINKS AGAIN

Is there a journalist in history who has written so many glaringly incorrect and irrelevant “insights” as the hapless Tim Shipman? Week after week, The Sunday Times' political editor warns of some impending catastrophe, predicts some disastrous constitutional manoeuvring, or uses his vast powers of hindsight to analyse recent events and come to the most absurd conclusions. No other medium follows up; rarely does anyone even bother to contradict them; they are never heard of again. Again, yesterday, he wrote a long and barely readable or credible piece about the difference in attitudes between the under-25s and over-25s. He had found “research”, based on focus groups and a small survey, that listed the gravest concerns of those in the two age groups. Any sentient being of any age should have ticked every item, apart from the first one, “mental health”, because this was already covered by a concern for the NHS. In fact, several vital issues were strangely overlooked. Perhaps that is explained by the methodology; it was not instantly clear why so many people cared little for tackling climate change or gender equality.

But leaving that aside, the entire “shock” element of the feature evaporates for anyone who believes, as I do, that the young SHOULD hold challenging and radical views that baffle older generations. I certainly did, as did most of my contemporaries, and those opinions have largely remained with me but have been re-shaped by growing experience and wisdom. A feature that assumes all under-25s have fixed views that will never grow with greater understanding therefore ignores the fundamental and essential building block of growing up, rendering the whole exercise worthless.

The only difference between my formative years and now is that our younger selves were treated with contempt and aggression by older generations and “the establishment”; we had to throw things and occupy spaces to be heard. Today, twerps galore hang upon every word of every youngster struggling to make sense of the real world; they are treated as little gods.

And as a columnist points out in The Times today, this cycle will inevitably continue when today's pampered youngsters face identical accusations of “stolen futures” and mistaken priorities from their own offspring in this eternal “generation war”. It is perfectly normal, natural and entirely to be welcomed. Which is why Shipman's article will sink without trace, along with almost all of his other outpourings.

LEVELLING DOWN

I have spoken before of Alex Scott's diction and the debate continues. Scott is an insightful and interesting Match of the Day pundit; this does not make her a candidate for every BBC presenting job. As columnist Clare Foges points out in today's Times, the objection to her taking jobs fronting the Olympics coverage or The One Show is nothing to do with her accent, it is to do with the fact that she has poor diction – and good diction should surely be an essential attribute of any good communicator, especially one addressing an entire nation. Some academics, of course, claim that anything goes, that there is no right or wrong in language or communication as long as an individual can make themselves understood. I suppose if you give up on any idea of levelling up, then all that's left is levelling down. And, as ever, taking an argument to its logical conclusion or considering its reverse reveals its true strength – and this one collapses quickly: “Just grunt twice and we'll know what you mean.” Does this really cut it when it comes to national broadcasting?


SEPTEMBER 13 2021

The past few weeks away from the keyboard are explained by trips to England's east, south and west coasts. First to a truly idyllic Woodbridge in Suffolk and accommodation on a cabin cruiser moored to the end of a small jetty jutting into the Deben estuary. Surveying the wide sweep of mudflats at low tide, spattered with countless wading birds, was as peaceful and as exhilarating as watching the relentless tide creeping under our boat and lifting us twice a day five feet above its normal resting place. Woodbridge is a real town, a community, with the silent history of Sutton Hoo on one side and the chaotic present of Felixstowe on the other. We loved it. We also ventured north, to Lowestoft, a scruffy but enjoyably real town with potential galore. And then to Southwold, a ghastly mutant town; a Bicester Village-on-Sea full of shops selling toxic designer tat that no genuine local could ever find a use for, with claustrophobic huts crammed in behind a beach that disappears at high tide. The darkened four-by-fours, giving not a care for the safety of the shopping hordes, provide the final nail in its coffin. Aldeburgh appears similar but less so. I would happily never visit either again. But Woodbridge – we'll be back.

Like Woodbridge, the south coast somehow manages to combine the tourist takeover with keeping its feet on the ground. East Wittering, for example, offers a practical and convenient range of shops catering to a native population rather than pandering to money-to-burn wastrel incomers. And from there, we headed straight to wonderful Woolacombe in the west, as unspoilt a holiday village as you'll find close to a beach of this bay's quality. It has its caravan parks hidden in the leafy valleys so that they do not intrude and the village itself has hardly deteriorated in the 30 years we have been visiting.

What these remote and seasonal regions do lack, however, are the young people who grew up there. Those that can – a high proportion – migrate in search of better pay and conditions; few can afford to live in an area of high accommodation costs, fuelled by second (and third and fourth) property owners while businesses have exploited the cheap labour pools of eastern Europe, destroying the old but delicate equilibrium that once balanced supply and demand, costs and wages. Today, these businesses claim there are labour shortages, blaming local people for refusing to accept pay and conditions that might seem acceptable to those from rural parts of Poland or Bulgaria but are pitifully below the threshold for a reasonable existence for those already living there. As I say in The Rise of Antisocialism, any business that can only survive by exploiting its workforce is not a business at all – any more than a slave plantation could ever be considered one.

Brexit has at least made a small start in correcting the imbalances of recent decades and pay is beginning to rise. The costs will eventually have to be met by consumers – and if this encourages less consumption, then so much the better. It will be painful for some, for a while, and putting right the mistakes of the past will take a generation. But this cycle of cheap imported labour, exploitation by businesses, local workers being forced out, the wealthy hoovering up houses, and communities being wrecked has to be broken. “Labour shortages” are the equivalent of an itch that shows the cure is starting to work.

On the other hand, should we be giving Brexit so much of the credit for labour shortages and rising wages in the hospitality, logistics, agriculture and other sectors? The Times reports today that the ONS estimates only 100,000 EU nationals have left the UK as a result. This is an insignificant proportion of the labour force and, if true, must mean that the impact of the pandemic and the furlough schemes is also contributing. And if that is the case, the shortfall will be temporary – and the benefits to working people less than we might have expected. Let us hope these figures are a little misleading.

The repeated mantra that the UK is short of 100,000 HGV drivers – that magic figure again – and that Brexit is to “blame” also feels wrong and highly misleading. This is partly because other countries are experiencing similar issues and partly because 100,000 HGV drivers cannot just disappear: they are either not working (on furlough), have moved to other jobs, or have returned home if they were migrants. The biggest bottleneck in supply actually appears to be in training and testing of new drivers, put on hold by the pandemic. But the biggest bottleneck of all would be if there were another 100,000 lorries on our already chock-full roads. No one would be going anywhere.

And amid all this, one surprising person who seems to have been persuaded by the arguments in favour of local sovereignty is that cheer-leading doyen of EU unity, Michel Barnier. He was reported in The Times last week as speaking in favour of France extricating itself from the bonds of key EU institutions as he made his bid to be elected French president. Unless I missed the newspaper's correction, this is a most extraordinary conversion.

TALIBANNERY

First, it's really annoying that Dominic Lawson, in his Sunday Times column, also noticed (after I did) how the Taliban ruling council looks exactly like a meeting of a screwball Incel (Involuntary Celibates) sect. I once edited his Weekend FT columns, rarely finding much to agree with and often much to amend to spare his blushes. But he's spot on to have spotted this one. Sadly, the grotesque Taliban ethic extends even beyond fruitcake religionists and failures and dopes. We now also have the Texan Taliban, controlling women's lives in the name of religious purity. Hats off to the companies offering to evacuate their staff from this faith-based hell-hole.

And second, I heard an opposition politician saying on the radio during the peak of the west's flight from Kabul that “we owe a great responsibility to the Afghan people”, suggesting we must accommodate more. It's hard not to agree that our catastrophic meddling in Afghanistan, as opposed to constructive engagement, has seriously damaged the lives of the country's people and that this, along with so many of Tony Blair's blunderings, will take decades to repair. But anyone advocating a mass Afghan resettlement programme in the UK must suggest figures. Its population has roughly quadrupled since 1960 to 40m. A large proportion will be no less happy under Taliban rule than they were with the US in attendance – many (males) might even welcome a good dose of Islamic extremism – but there will still be many millions wishing to escape the misery of its fascism. So how many should we be prepared to absorb – if absorption is even possible? Ten million? Fifteen? Five? Surely anything less would be simply a gesture. Yes, we do owe some of the Afghan people a great responsibility. But real life is now rather getting in the way of us being able to do anything about it.

WARMING TO STOPPARD

I've always liked his plays, in the main, but have always been a little cautious about embracing Tom Stoppard himself. Perhaps it's a thing about fellow journalists being so successful – or perhaps it's because he always had a reputation for being anti-left, politically. However, watching Alan Yentob's excellent Imagine documentary on his life, I was completely charmed by him. It became apparent that the charges against him centre on his refusal to denigrate and disparage the country and the culture that gave him shelter as a Czech boy caught in an appalling moment in history. This one realisation sheds so much light. Of course Stoppard is not going to trash the people who saved him and made him. Overall, his philosophy emerged as one founded on a good joke, a glass half full, and a show of gratitude that he had enjoyed a life in a country full of opportunity, freedom and stability. But to anyone intent on radical change, as many traditional left-wingers are, this is anathema: why would you change anything that works so well? To the traditional left, the glass must always be half empty – you can only advocate radical change if you label the status quo as rubbish. Stoppard would not do that. And rightly so. Britain is one of, if not the, most desirable places to live; it punches well above its weight in many fields – science, politics, finance, innovation, arts, music and culture, sport, and many more. Millions of people from all over the world would choose to live here if they could. This places the new liberal urban leftist elite in a dilemma: it doesn't want too much to change at all, as it is the prime beneficiary of the status quo, yet it constantly has to moan and whine and demand change in order to maintain its credentials. This is not to say, of course, that the UK is perfect, nor that it can avoid the necessary changes being forced upon the world by climate change. The next era of politics must focus on how we allocate resources among individuals as we rapidly shrink the economy to minimise consumption and unnecessary pollution while creating a more fulfilling and time-rich culture. Fortunately, this Utopian vision of equality, community, richness and creativity is perfectly in line with the new-left politics described in The Rise of Antisocialism.

SNIPPETS

● Did I actually hear someone on Radio Four's Broadcasting House programme yesterday equate Emma Raducanu with an illegal migrant crossing the Channel in a bath tub? I hope not.

● And how much more stupid can Hilary Mantel become? She says she's ashamed of her country for its failure to welcome all-comers. She fails, however, to have a clue as to the difference between a genuine refugee and migrants deliberately breaking the law while feeding a vicious and deadly criminal network in order to enter another country illegally. They have virtually nothing in common, but Mantel can't see it. And if I did hear Broadcasting House right, she's not the only one.

● There are those who suggest us senior folks need to apologise to the coming generations for “stealing their future” with our pensions, properties and climate change. And then we see the mountains of rubbish left behind at the Reading rock festival. Absolutely disgusting. Hypocrites. And no apologies necessary from us. Quite the reverse, in fact.

AUGUST 18 2021

Incel and Taliban. (And indeed the other extreme Islamist nasties.) You MUST have noticed the similarities.


AUGUST 6 2021

A friend yesterday said that the UK has the most dishonest, reprehensible, amoral prime minister ever. Unfortunately I was driving at the time and, negotiating a tricky junction in Epsom, was unable to respond before the conversation moved on. I would have liked to make four points in reply. First, many prime ministers and senior politicians have been accused of being disreputable: Harold Wilson was embroiled in various scandals, Jeremy Thorpe plumbed extraordinary depths, John Major's government was dragged down by sleaze, Tony Blair was dubbed Tony Bliar, and so on. How much worse a character is Boris than some of these? Second, does being amoral and reprehensible necessarily make a bad prime minister? These could be the very qualities that make a successful leader. Third, the UK's system of cabinet government limits the PM's powers: a lazy premier can be just a recruitment officer or team selector and figurehead, delegating the serious work to able ministers (ideally). And fourth, Boris seems to have two main policies that concern him: the environment and “levelling up” the impoverished parts of the country with the rest. I think these would be my priorities, too. This is not to say that I like or even approve of Boris. But it is always too soon to reach a final judgment on a prime minister while they are still in situ.

AUGUST 5 2021

I WANT MY MONEY BACK

The BBC's shameful coverage of the Olympics is making me furious and, by the latest definition of the term, damaging my mental health. Those responsible should be made to pay and I should definitely be entitled to a refund on my licence fee. The only tiny positive to come out of it is that I am not listening to Radio 4's toxic and atrocious Today programme: raging – or should that be ragin' – at the sports department is as much as I can take in a single morning.

First, much as we all love – or loved – Alex Scott, there is one thing of which can be absolutely certain: she is not the best person in the country to present the main evening Olympics round-up. She is probably not even in the top million and even manages to make the cloying Clare Balding appear the ultimate professional. Dan Walker and Sam Quek in the morning repeatedly tell us that the BBC is only allowed to show two sports simultaneously – while showing us none at all on either of its dedicated channels. Over on Eurosport, Greg Rutherford bafflingly seems to have been promoted to a lead anchor role in the athletics stadium, using such phrases as: “Do you know what!” “I'll tell you what.” “I'm telling you.” “I would love them to be in contention.” “I've really enjoyed this evening.” And then insulting viewers by suggesting that anyone criticising an athlete is ignorant because they know nothing about the work that has been put in behind the scenes unless they've seen it for themselves. Other “presenters” often resort to “You know” or “What can you say?” (Er – that's what you're there for!). Our language has a new verb – to medal – and it can only be a matter of time before "medalling" is joined by "podiuming" (or podiumin'). 

I'm sure we can all agree that sports stars need to find a new career when they retire at a young age. But that should not entitle them to take away opportunities from professional journalists, broadcasters, presenters and editors who have themselves put in the hard work and training to make themselves excellent communicators. There must be hundreds of them spitting with fury and outraged at watching this rag-bag of recycled jumpers, throwers, runners and kickers doing a truly awful amateur job.

On the other hand, it is not entirely their fault. The producers, recruiters, editors and schedulers share the bulk of the shame for churning out such dross. For these people, the sport is never enough – they seek to create “personalities” to “liven it up” and to appeal to those with no interest in sport. In doing so they have made sports coverage unbearable for those who are truly interested in sport. Informality is fine but the cosy in-jokes and studio banter during Radio Five Live's morning programme on Tuesday left the listener completely excluded. Mark Chapman, Victoria Pendleton and others were having a bit of a laugh, casually contemptuous of the audience. At least they sounded vaguely as though they knew what was going: sadly the same could not be said of Naga Munchetty when she took over.

And at least we didn't have to see them. Anyone watching BBC1 will have seen more than their fill of Chris Hoy and Michael Johnson in the past few days, for example – yet during the countless hours they have been on screen they have uttered little other than banalities, inanities, hackneyed cliches and hopeless guesswork. Chris Boardman, on the hand, is superb at describing the intricacies of the many and varied cycle races, while on Eurosport Carlton Kirby achieves the same in a slightly more irritating manner. This might be partly because they actually have a race taking place in front of them, whereas the studio chat show is an end in itself. For the BBC, this is the holy grail – the chat show is the default option, only to be grudgingly interrupted by snippets of Brits in action. No competition is allowed to develop and capture the viewer: I have become enthralled by diving competitions, volleyball, the pole vault, none of which I would normally be drawn to, because they have been shown at length on Eurosport. Oh, thank goodness for Eurosport, which takes the opposite approach to the BBC – non-stop sport with an occasional presenter when there really is nothing going on. The point here is that presenters, commentators and pundits should rarely, if ever, be seen: I have not seen Boardman this week at all; I have no idea what Carlton Kirby even looks like; the great professionals, such as David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, Dan Maskell and the like, were hardly ever glimpsed. This evening, Balding and Scott will cram little more than 15 to 20 minutes of sport into a 90-minute “show” that is “all about them”. The whole hideous edifice is a monument to self-regard and self-absorption. As I've said before, I really like Scott as a football pundit but her permanently gleeful “look at me – I'm presentin'!” facade is becoming increasingly embarrassin'. Sports fans are being treated with contempt: that evening show should last one hour and show non-stop competition with a voice-over threading it together, creating the narrative. Money back. Please.

EVERYONE EXPERIENCES BUTTERFLIES

The Cubans make excellent boxers. Literally. They take children and feed them, stretch them and produce champion boxers by the score. They train right-handed boxers to adopt the southpaw stance rather than the orthodox left-leading stance. It's ruthless – but hugely successful. When talking about sporting sacrifice, the physical pain, the mental stress, the Cubans are – we must hope – towards one extreme of the spectrum. Employing coaches on the condition that they be “nice” to their charges lies at the other. In between is the land of compromise which pits dedication against apathy, aching and distress against comfort and calm, being a winner against losing. It's tough to be a winner but there are rewards – medals, acclaim, advertising contracts, and a top BBC presenter's job, for example.

Mental stress is an integral part of this equation: some athletes perform well in the big arena while other, perhaps better, athletes suffer. This is normal life, not a mental health issue: everyone experiences butterflies when faced with a daunting task – giving a speech, for example. This is the context in which I fully respect the decisions of the Simone Biles and Ben Stokes temporarily to step back from the front line. It makes perfect sense if they feel anguish at being away from home or fear disorientation while performing potentially dangerous gymnastic tumbles. The pressure at their elite level is enormous, the butterflies gigantic. Left unchecked, it could eventually and in extreme circumstances mutate into a genuine mental health issue. But in the meantime they should call it what it is – stress, pressure, fear. We can all understand that, show sympathy and respect their common sense; any mention of “mental health issues” is an attempt to stifle comment, leading to ridicule, as well as insulting those with genuine health problems.

AUGUST 2 2021

ALL (SUCCESSFUL) COACHES ARE BASTARDS

The Olympics are increasingly presenting themselves as a microcosm of current society – highlighting many of its worst ills and focusing our minds on many horribly familiar issues, from mental health to working class accents and winding everywhere in between. Let us begin with choice. In theory, having an unlimited number of television channels provides limitless choice – everyone can watch everything. In practice, it is a shambles, forcing viewers to channel hop endlessly in an effort to catch the key moments which, inevitably, clash in the schedules. This idea of individual consumer choice permeates modern culture: parents are offered a choice of schools for their children; commuters are offered a choice of transport provider; retailers promise a universe of choice; political parties differentiate themselves giving voters a choice; the list goes on. Yet almost every “choice” is fake: schools actually choose children; commuters are an exploited captive market; retailers feed off our carefully nurtured state of permanent dissatisfaction; the main political parties are, in reality, almost identical and in fundamental agreement on all but a few details.

And so the chimera of choice in coverage of the Olympics coverage results in confusion and, in my case, fury. In spite of its poor deal, there is plenty of action for the BBC to show. As previously mentioned, this is not the problem: the BBC's problem is its fixation on studio chat shows – which means sport coverage is now infested with hour after hour of inane, banal and meaningless nattering, with hopelessly wrong predictions thrown in. It veers between The One Show and Blue Peter, when a presenter sticks pieces of card on to a board; then the other one will read out viewers' emails: “We were up at 3am to watch the swimming, so we're all tired now. But it was worth it, although little Emily's got a cold, blah, blah, blah;” “We're still in our pyjamas” etc etc. This morning, while cyclists were speeding round the track, BBC1 viewers were only allowed to watch about half an hour of Chris Hoy saying nothing of the slightest interest. As I sit writing, all I can hear from the TV is the voice of Michael Johnson and the occasional laughter of the happy studio guests being paid a fortune to gibber. Later, while a live track final was taking place, one studio anchor was interviewing a reporter at the show jumping arena about his failure to interview someone else! Then on comes the news, the Olympics switches to BBC2 for no reason whatsoever and 30 minutes later you find yourself watching Flog It. One lunchtime session began with Gabby Logan, Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis-Hill bubbling away over how funny it was that they had all chosen such a similar red/pink colour for their tops – even though they hadn't arranged it (blah, blah, blah) and weren't even allowed to get together outside of the studio (blah, blah, blah). It was a coincidence! And last night, Balding and Scott, in the deplorable evening “round-up”, babbled between themselves, completely disregarding the viewer for long stretches. What were we watching? This is how far sports coverage has fallen.

A serious, intelligent and experienced head of sport would know instantly how to fix it: BBC1 should provide a continuous narrative of all that matters while the red button channel provides extended coverage of the best live action at the time. This puts the viewer first. Even using professional broadcasters and journalists this is hard work – but it can never be achieved with amateurs and a bits-and-pieces lazy chat show approach. Getting it right involves top level editing and scheduling, informing viewers, managing their viewing, looking ahead, time-shifting the highlights so that nothing is missed, creating the story. No one can concentrate fully on more than one channel at a time, so one channel is plenty if you know what you are doing and are prepared to put in the effort. Paradoxically, professional editors are far cheaper than un-gifted amateur pundits, so there is also money to be saved in providing a worthwhile service. Even more paradoxically, it was once the case that Olympic Games were played by amateurs and broadcast by professionals – whereas now it is precisely the other way round.

Poor old Digby Jones walked into this mess up to his chest at the weekend by daring to criticise Alex Scott for her inability to sound the “g” at the end of gerunds (Priti Patel and Sadiq Khan and countless others suffer the same affliction): we are watchin' fightin', kickin', fencin', swimmin', etc etc. The ensuing Twitter storm reminded us that pointing out such obvious facts is beyond the pale; Digby was taken apart. And Scott herself hit back saying how proud she was of her working class background, how she had overcome hardship, and that she was who she was, and would always be so. Good for her. I really like Alex Scott. As a football pundit on Match of The Day, for example, she is one of the best (in an admittedly low-grade field); her comments bring a fresh perspective and her mannerisms are indeed part of who she is and her charm and appeal. But when she is presenting The One Show or the Olympics round-up programme to a general audience at peak viewing time, the “just being me” argument does not cut it: she often appears out of her depth, asking baffling questions and suddenly those idiosyncrasies insert themselves between her and the caring viewer. Although a pedant and a stickler for accuracy and propriety, I can just about put up with it but can fully understand why others might not: it hints at amateurism and tokenism. What I cannot stomach, however, is that there are professional journalists, broadcasters and presenters who have worked hard at their vocation and who would do the job immeasurably better but are swiped aside by the big name. If you disagree, ask yourself how you would feel if a group of under-qualified celebrities were brought in to take over the best parts of your profession. JK Rowling and David Walliams take the top book editor jobs; the Great Train Robbers take all the top criminal lawyer jobs; high-profile digital entrepreneur billionaires occupy the top posts in banking; famous astronauts take over the design of rockets; or George Osborne becomes a newspaper editor. This is the fastest route to amateurism and a cycle of lowered standards and gimmickry.

But dare to criticise, as Digby unwisely did, and the backlash will be severe. All must have opportunities and prizes, no matter how bogus those opportunities and prizes are. This, today, is seen as the surest way of guarding against upset, disappointment and concerns over mental health. It began on the primary school playing fields, where competition was frowned upon and co-operation pushed to the fore. As a design for life, I would be all in favour: life is not, as some friends of ours might aver, a competition – it is a co-operative venture if all are to benefit. Sport, however, is different. It is where co-operation is side-lined and competition is all. And this is fine because, fundamentally, sport does not matter: it is a safe environment in which we can push boundaries, experiment, test ourselves and find enjoyment and satisfaction. Losing hurts, of course it does, but it's meant to. Try harder next time, improve your technique and fitness, become resilient. We are seeing individuals who have achieved exactly this every day in Tokyo – their dedication, resilience and sheer hard work is a joy to behold, whether they win or not. Indeed, for me the most impressive performance of the Olympics so far has been Dina Asher-Smith's attempt to run in the 100 metres while badly injured and then giving the most heart-breaking of interviews. This wonderful young woman rises and rises in my estimation: she has placed winning in her sport at the centre of her being but she knows it is not everything. I do not fear for her mental health. She is too honest and wise.

Yet a succession of stars and celebrities ask us to take seriously their insinuations that their mental health has been damaged by the very thing that has made them famous, rich and comfortable. Simone Biles, Ben Stokes, Meghan Markle – these are just three of a host of idols citing mental issues as their motive for actions that might otherwise be questioned – even, in some cases, appear suspect, feeble or self-serving. It has become the catch-all, unchallengeable excuse for doing exactly as you wish without any fear of being confronted. Stokes, for example, must have suffered from being separated from his family while on Covid-proof cricket tours; home-sickness, sorrow, unhappiness, etc are all likely and understandable emotions, especially at a difficult time. But this is what everyone who is alive experiences – some people far more deeply and often than pampered celebrities. This has nothing to do with mental health in any meaningful sense, unless it is defined so broadly as to become pointless and hollow. If we see the term “mental health” as potentially stretching from serious mental illness to feeling slightly fed up then it is valueless and insulting and demeaning to those with genuine and severe difficulties. This applies equally to the hordes claiming damage to their mental health from Covid-19 safety measures and any other relatively trivial difficulty they face. Suffering, struggling, stress, pressure, overcoming adversity – these are natural, everyday conditions we all face. To concede that the hordes claiming to be mental health patients actually are is to condemn the whole of humanity to suffering from mental health issues. This might be fair and accurate at one level, but utterly unhelpful at a level worth concerning ourselves with.

The pressure of succeeding at the Olympics is, of course, huge. Athletes, coaches, families and the public, through funding and support, have made huge investments and when it goes wrong there are consequences. The British rowing team is currently embroiled in recriminations over the reasons for its meagre tally of medals in Japan last week. But one explanation stands out above all others: the coach focused on winning was “let go” a year ago; the new one is nicer, apparently. As argued above, sport is a safe environment in which to explore, express and challenge yourself because it doesn't really matter; losing hurts but isn't the end of the world. But if you want to beat the best there is a price to pay in terms of sacrifice, devotion and effort – and being prepared to be bullied, harassed and pushed to, and beyond, your limits by a ruthless coach is usually the only way to reach the summit. Those who don't like it can walk away – sport is not life; it's not compulsory. And it's striking how those singing the praises of Jurgen Grobler, the British team's former rowing coach, and those accusing him of being an unacceptable bully are roughly divided into winners and almost winners. As long as these practices are confined to safe, voluntary areas, such as sport, they can be a force for excellence. But they have little or no place beyond these realms: excellence through co-operation is the only tolerable path in most other worlds.

Indeed, while co-operation is the essence of team games and has its place in all sports, it can be taken too far. The sight of two high jumpers yesterday agreeing to share the gold medal after clearing the same height and failing three times each at the next level was presented as heart-warming. But it cannot have been right. These good friends (we were told) have added an extra gold medal to the ultimate tally and they have set a dangerous precedent: what could now prevent the seven golfers tied in third place on 15 under par yesterday from agreeing amongst themselves that all should be awarded a bronze medal? The essence of sport is pressure and competition; reducing it to a cosy, prizes-for-all primary school pursuit is to undermine its very purpose.

JULY 30 2021

'ALL COPPERS ARE BASTARDS'

Are all coppers bastards, or just some of them? Are as many of them bastards today as were bastards in the 1970s and 1980s? And at what point does the proportion of bastards to decent coppers cause a sea change in attitudes and behaviour by the police as a whole? Then there are more questions. Is there an irreducible minimum of bad apples that will always infect any organisation and do we have to learn to live with that? Or can they all be excised from the police force?

These questions arise from my just having watched Uprising, Steve McQueen's brilliant three-part documentary on the New Cross fire of 1981, and from hearing that in 2021 a number of officers have just been caught mocking the disabled son of Katie Price on WhatsApp. The answer to the first question is, and always has been, not all coppers are bastards. And the answer to the second is that there are clearly far fewer of them today than in 1981. Attitudes have changed dramatically, from a culture then that made it somewhere between extremely difficult and dangerously impossible to be anything other than a violent racist if you were a police officer operating in a predominantly black area to one in which it is no longer dangerous to be decent. And yet some officers continue to fail: taking photographs of dead bodies, mocking the disabled, stopping young black people because they are black – these are disgusting acts, bordering on criminality itself. They also undermine respect for the police and damage community relations which, today, are unrecognisably better than 40 years ago.

But do these improvements amount to a sea change? Are things as good as we can reasonably expect them to be? I think policing is qualitatively different now in the areas where it was once so embarrassingly atrocious. But given current misconduct by officers there is still obviously much more work to be done. There will always be bad apples but as many as possible must be thrown away; the culture of providing a service to everyone must be promoted; extending ethnic diversity within the force has to be a priority; and every new officer should be shown McQueen's Uprising series and asked to debate it. They should then be shown the social media thread mocking a severely disabled young man and debate that, too. Anyone showing even the glimmer of an inappropriate smile or a smirk during this process should be instantly drummed out of the force as unfit to practise. An enormous amount has been achieved: the protests that erupted in the early 1980s achieved many of their goals, to the point where the focus can now shift from fundamental rehabilitation of attitudes and behaviour aimed at eradicating what certainly was institutional racism within the police, to more measured reforms building on those achievements. It can never be perfect, but it can be better still. But what remains to be done needs to be seen in its true and full perspective.

RECKLESSLY RUDE AND INSULTING

Who knows how the great unlocking of Britain will unfold? Not me, not you, not the scientists, not the government, not the World Health Organisation, and not Keir Starmer, who stated on July 4 in his usual barrel-chested, all-knowing manner that lifting “all restrictions at once” (ignoring the fact that lifting had begun in March) in England was reckless. The WHO weighed in a couple days later, calling the UK action “epidemiological stupidity”. This was shortly before a steep plummet in the daily Covid cases figure. They are starting to rise again now as the cause of the fall (probably largely to do with testing of schoolchildren) works its way out of the system. But either way, the number of cases, as I've written several times below, is mostly irrelevant: all that matters now is knowing who is dying and what their vaccination status is (vital information that we are sadly denied). But as things stand today, England's policies are an enormous success and if the UK continues to defy the expectations (let us fervently hope they are no more than that) of the likes of Starmer and the WHO, then they must surely issue a grovelling apology for their reckless scaremongering.

WORST TV COVERAGE EVER

This has to be the worst television coverage of any major sporting event in history (if we exclude Channel Four's dismal efforts in sport's second tier a few years ago). Even when the BBC had only one channel it managed to present a coherent story, maintain excitement, ensure viewers knew when the key events were taking place, and communicate in recognisable English. One presenter on Radio Four this morning said something along the lines of “he's never swam better”; another commentator managed to get the GB's footballers' names wrong (I doubt this was a BBC commentator, though); and we are subjected to endless meaningless chatter and hopeless predictions that provides little or no insight. This lunchtime's coverage of the athletics is a case in point. After the moronic BBC schedulers switched the Olympic broadcast channel twice in a short time, we found our TV stuck on an antiques programme. Flicking back to BBC1, we found a studio stacked with talent – the increasingly beautiful Denise Lewis, Michael Johnson, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Gabby Logan as MC. But the debate was dull. There must be action somewhere. And there was: Eurosport was showing the men's 10,000 metres final – with 20 minutes of it gone! Glancing back at BBC1, it was just moving to pictures of the track for the start of this same race, as if it was live. Having watched the whole race, the BBC then hopped back and forth between its heavyweight studio expertise and tiny snippets of excitement – the mixed 4x400 relay, women's 5,000 metres heats, field events. Viewers were given no idea of when these events took place. But it was clear there had been live athletics – with none of it shown on the BBC's main channel.

Earlier, the one dominant feature of the BBC's morning coverage of Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) is Hazel Irvine's face: avid viewers will by now know her every wrinkle and pimple. I appreciate that the Japanese time zone makes life difficult and that Irvine is one of the BBC's more professional presenters, but a spectator turning on their TV at 7am in the UK is tuning in to Tokyo at 3pm – for what should be the start of six or seven more hours of live sport. Of course, much will have taken place during our night – the events held in Tokyo between 6.30am and 3pm their time, which unfortunately seems to include most of the swimming and other water-based sports, as well as heat-sensitive contests, such as triathlon. We need a re-cap of those. But neither the BBC nor the Eurosport coverage achieves any narrative, either with its catching up, or its live output. The BBC focuses on presenters chatting and Eurosport on anything with “ball” at the end – volleyball, handball, basketball, football – plus tennis, judo and gymnastics and a smattering of others. But both are totally unpredictable: the TV guide and “info” often bear little relation to what Eurosport is actually showing on its 10 channels; and the BBC loves to time-shift, pretending that what you are seeing is live when you heard the result two hours earlier on the radio. And then it switches the action to another channel for absolutely no reason. Both also fail dismally to offer desperate viewers a timetable. Perhaps this will change when the athletics comes to the fore tomorrow. But if I miss seeing Dina Asher-Smith, my favourite ever athlete, in the 100 metres final because of the shambolic coverage, I will be campaigning for BBC Sport never to be allowed to cover a live event again.

HAMILTON REHABILITATED

I had gone off Lewis Hamilton when his success appeared to go to his head. Arrogance, smugness and self-regard overwhelmed his image as a hard-working and highly skilled driver. But I can see now that those unpleasant characteristics might be a necessary defence shield in the sorry world of Formula One. He won the Silverstone grand prix this month, fair and square: if the overtaking manoeuvre that saw his main rival Verstappen spin off the track was illegal then F1 is even more worthless as a competition that I thought – if that is indeed possible. They might just as well ban overtaking altogether. Either way, Red Bull lost that day – though it doesn't seem prepared to accept it. Christian Horner's team is whingeing and whining that Hamilton didn't play fair and should be punished with a ban. If the mildly obnoxious Hamilton is banned because of the F1 administration's incompetence and the grossly obnoxious behaviour of his opponents, I will feel sorry for him and see his worst characteristics as a product of the toxic environment in which he finds himself.

RNLI

A good point was made this morning regarding the RNLI's efforts at saving migrant lives in the English Channel – it does not draw any distinction between those in peril through misfortune, recklessness, their own stupidity, or criminality. This is fair enough. However, it cannot deny, too, that it has made itself a large part of the lethal, lucrative and criminal business of illegal migration from France. The UK's border force, for example, is reported to be regularly summoned by migrants to pick them up once they are at sea in their unsuitable crafts – a major selling point for the criminal gang operatives working in France. This clearly encourages more migrants to risk leaving France, and so we have to ask whether the RNLI is actually contributing more to the problem than its cure.

WE WERE WARNED

The spectrum of “mental health” stretches a long way these days – from severe disability to feeling a little upset. Much has been written of this in the past few days since American gymnast Simone Biles cited mental health issues in her withdrawal from competition. But this trend has been festering for years: books, such as The Coddling of the American Mind, have pointed out that any pursuit of perfection is doomed to failure and disappointment. Today, that disappointment and disillusion is not seen as growth, a learning opportunity, a step towards resilience – it is interpreted as a threat to mental health and well-being.

To promise that a perfect life is possible is, and always has been, irresponsible – but it is the mantra of modern business and consumption: “All you need is X and all will be ideal.” This ultimately self-regarding formula has created the “snowflake” generation, by stripping away its attachment to real life and removing its ability to cope with any other feeling than happiness and euphoria. It's being written about a lot at the moment – but we warned a long time ago.

JULY 27 2021

The nasty (ex)nurse; the bonkers BBC; the untrustworthy Taliban (who knew?); the social care crisis, what crisis? and so much more requiring analysis and perspective. Where to begin?

BBC AND THE OLYMPICS

Let's start with an easy one. Because it is obviously sheer madness for the BBC to pay anything at all to cover the Olympics. Why pay to show two simultaneous live events and then show none at all – just an endless stream of former athletes sitting in a studio chatting? Olympics coverage that resembles the One Show – but is even worse – is a criminal waste of licence-fee payers' money. And the final straw has to be the idiotic scheduling decision to keep the midday news bulletin on BBC1, shifting the sofa-thon to BBC2 for anything between 15 and 45 minutes – and then back again. Completely bonkers.

UNTRUSTWORTHY TALIBAN

The US thought it had a deal with those decent chaps in the Taliban – a bit less slaughtering, allow the women out for a few minutes of fresh air a day, that sort of thing. But it turns out that they are not men of their word! Who could have foreseen that?

CRISES? WHAT CRISES?

If you've read The Rise of Antisocialism, you will already know that the UK does not have, nor has ever had, in peacetime at least, a housing crisis. There are homes galore. What we do have, however, is a housing FINANCE crisis. If the housing crisis was actually a real and genuine crisis, the first thing the authorities would do would be to ensure that every available living space was indeed lived in. Instead, developers are allowed to construct towers of investment properties where the lights are never switched on. These dark monoliths are evidence enough of the absurd idea that housing shortages have pushed up prices. Yet there is more: the preponderance of second homes in so many coastal towns and villages. In this morning's Times we read that a 2018 survey of homes in Salcombe, Devon, worked out that 57 per cent were second properties – ie, not available to those wanting to live in them as a home. If supply really was an issue, it could therefore be greatly ameliorated very quickly. But it isn't, and so it isn't.

Precisely the same factors are at work in the field of social care. “It is in crisis”, is the unthinking, knee-jerk mantra. But what does this mean? Is there no social care? Of course there is. The crisis is over who pays for it. Again, it is a social care FINANCE crisis. Get financing right – it has to be an extra tax of some sort, surely – and the rest falls into place. “Crisis” over.

THE NASTY (EX)NURSE

Once again, the blank-eyed conspiracy theorist idiots have assembled a platform of speakers with fewer collective brain cells than they have heads: Piers Corbyn, David Icke, Vernon Coleman, Katie Hopkins and the deeply obnoxious Kate Shemirani, a nurse, apparently, until she was struck off recently. According to the Nursing Times, a fitness-to-practise panel of the Nursing and Midwifery Council ruled in June that after months of being suspended for spreading misinformation, Shemirani was no longer a “safe or effective” practitioner. Her own son, who sounds perfectly intelligent, says he agrees. As should we all: she is clearly dangerous and useless as a nurse if she believes the vile and absurd nonsense she rants about medical professionals and Nuremberg trials. There is no argument to be had with such fools – theirs is a religious fervour far beyond the reach of rational thought. Yet they are dangerous, because there are many gullible chumps around who might latch on to what they say, especially as their message is often disguised amid vaguely reasonable other statements and is not always so glaringly exposed as twaddle as it was on Saturday. This wouldn't matter too much, were in not for the danger to others they pose by refusing vaccines.

Because as the scientists continue to twist themselves into knots in an effort to explain the sharp fall in England's Covid-19 infection rate over the past six days, the key question we should all be asking is – who is dying? As I said a while ago, the infection rate only matters if we fear it could be creating an incubator for variants. What is vital is knowing who is dying, and who is in intensive care. If 60 people are reported to have died with Covid in a day and 55 of them had refused the vaccine, the real death figure is five. This is obviously simplistic, as some vaccinated people remain vulnerable, others cannot have the vaccine, and some young victims might not have been offered it yet or not had both doses. But the principle stands: everyone who needs the vaccine has now been offered it; those who refuse it must take their chances and should be stripped out of the statistics – because the carefully calibrated five-month unravelling of the pandemic safety measures was designed to show that vaccination protects us. Including the likes of Icke, Corbyn and Shemirani and the poor misguided suckers persuaded by them in the statistics creates a distortion in the headline totals. We therefore need to know the proportion of fully vaccinated people who are dying. And we are not receiving those figures.

Worse still, we need to know urgently how many of those given the vaccine early – the oldest and most vulnerable – are being hospitalised and dying. This is crucial information in assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine – and how long it guards against the disease. There is a suggestion that its effects wane after six months or so, which, if accurate, makes the need for booster jabs in this cohort a pressing priority.

And finally, almost as loathsome as the conspiracy theorist clowns are three of our supposedly distinguished “meritocracy”. Two of them, Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, are theatre types. They have been whining and bleating for months about how the “government restrictions” (they mean “public safety measures”) are ruining their businesses – and that their businesses are the only thing that really matters. Now “restrictions” are lifted, they're still moaning. And the third, Jonathan Sumption, argued last week that it was too late to bother about vaccination passports because soon everyone could have one. I find it extremely odd that this so-called libertarian might have supported vaccine passports when he would have benefited but millions of others would not, and is now against them because they would free up everyone. Look, Jonathan, the reason passports were deemed unacceptable by thinking people a while ago was because not everyone had the chance of claiming one. And that would be grossly unfair – anti-libertarian, in fact. Now that everyone is eligible for a passport, one way or another, they have become far more acceptable. I would have thought that even a rabid libertarian could have understood that. (He prattled on about this on the BBC Today programme – and the “interviewer” did not challenge him in the slightest.) And if the likes of Shemirani, Icke and Corbyn never become eligible to visit a theatre, a shopping centre or nightclub for want of a passport, so much the better for the well informed and responsible among us.

WELL-MEANING BORIS

Boris-haters will never agree, but I am increasingly coming to believe that Johnson means well: he is championing climate change reversal and the “levelling up” of the poorer areas of Britain far more openly and passionately than any previous Prime Minister we can remember. His actions in tackling Covid (as opposed to what he is supposed to have said during heated debate over which path to take) have been both successful and well-intentioned. Ideas for tackling the social care finance crisis, crime and other issues all sound positive. Other ideas are disastrous, such as planning reform. You can't win 'em all. But overall, it appears not unreasonable to conclude that Boris is trying, at least, to do good work – he has big ideas and is tackling huge problems. The snag seems to be that he is pretty clueless as to how he can achieve many of his promising goals.

JULY 7 2021

I was happier with Matt Hancock at the wheel. Sajiv Javid has swanned in with a slightly alarming gung-ho attitude towards Covid-19 safety measures, lacking the nuance and subtlety shown by his predecessor as Health Secretary. Having said that, the direction of travel must surely be right: a further easing of restrictions should happen now because, as the prime minister said on Monday, if not, then when? Some might say never, others argued against there being any safety measures all along. Between these two extremes, this middle path seems sensible. What is not sensible is allowing a presenter to give the impression that restrictions are “all being lifted at once”. This, incredibly, is what Mishal Husein said on BBC Radio 4 this morning. Has she been hibernating for the past five months? Restrictions began to be lifted in early March and further easing has been gradual and accompanied by testing, checking, analysing and data collecting. And in practice and reality, even some of the further relaxations announced this week have already taken place: social distancing has been normalised for some time, large crowds have been gathering for sporting and other events, mostly under strict “test event” conditions, and the hospitality sector has been accommodating customers indoors, for example. The idea that restrictions are all being lifted at once is therefore laughable: in fact, the changes on July 19 amount to removing the legal requirement to wear a mask – the public is still being invited to wear one when and where appropriate – and entertainment and hospitality can extend their offerings. Hancock's carefully calibrated five-month programme is, so far, working well. The results are almost precisely what anyone should have anticipated and cautiously welcomed – a steep rise in infections with no corresponding leap in hospitalisations and deaths. This is evidence that the vaccines are doing their job. Yet the most vital piece of information we now need is not forthcoming. Whether it is because media organisations do not consider it important or whether official figures are not released, it is crucial to know exactly who is now falling seriously ill and dying. Yesterday's figure of 37 deaths does indeed, on the face of it, look alarming – perhaps the beginning of a trend towards more fatalities. But the figure alone is largely meaningless without us knowing the vaccination and health status of each individual. At the very least, we need to know the proportion of fully jabbed people making up these numbers. If it is small, better still tiny, then we are close to proving that vaccination works and the challenge then becomes one of persuading those choosing to remain vulnerable to take the vaccine, and offering help and shielding measures to those who cannot receive a vaccine or for whom it offers lower levels of protection. But we simply cannot remain in a state of suspended animation until every last refusenik has been hunted down and jabbed; living with Covid-19 is going to involve compromises and if that involves anti-vaxxers and the like voluntarily putting themselves at risk and inflating the casualty numbers, then what else can the majority do? Everyone in a vulnerable group, or over the age of 40, has now been invited to receive a free vaccination. Nationally, the take-up figures are impressive but there are areas where it has been low. This is not for want of effort on the part of those trying to save lives and quell the pandemic. We must, of course, continue to try and convince reluctant communities to accept the protection being offered but ultimately, without the use of coercion, anyone refusing a jab is choosing to take their chances. Good luck to them – they might well need it. But if they are the ones making up the vast bulk of the casualty statistics then we need to know. Our route to normality depends on it.

JULY 6 2021

SOUTHGATE GETTING IT ALL WRONG

This is the BBC News: England manager Gareth Southgate is leading England to humiliating defeat in tomorrow's semi-final of Euro 2020. A top sports psychologist says the team's inability to concede a goal means players are poorly prepared. “They will crumble as soon as the opposition scores. It's appallingly short-sighted of the manager to expect the players to cope. Their mental health will be severely damaged by this lack of clarity,” the top sports psychologist expert said. A former England player agreed: “Winning 4-3, or even losing 4-3, is far better in the long term. Our lions are being led by a donkey.” And now for more relentlessly negative interpretations of events....

It's interesting, isn't it, that last week the only people who could get their voices heard on the Beeb were nightclub owners, hospitality venues, festival organisers and the travel industry. Today, the only voices being given a hearing are terrified scientists and schoolkids pretending to be annoyed at missing lessons because someone in their year-group tested positive.


And so the conspiracy theorists were right! The government HAS been using Covid-19 as an excuse to control our every move. The final proof came yesterday with the announcement that the removal of almost all restrictions must be replaced by individuals' personal responsibility for the safety of others. This is the ultimate in government control – demanding that we make our own decisions!

JULY 5 2021

It's now a week since Matt Hancock was forced to resign and he has disappeared from the news. We have a new Health Secretary, who, as far as I can tell so far, is not as good as the last one – he seems dangerously simplistic and lacking in the nuance and balance that Hancock displayed so well. It's early days and he has a huge brief to digest but this switch does beg the question: could anyone else have done any better than Hancock? And from what I've seen and heard over the past 18 months, the answer is a resounding no.

I have listened to him being “interviewed” on the BBC's Today Programme many times and found it very hard to disagree with what he has said. He told us last spring that the government's strategy was to use safety measures to contain the pandemic as best we could until the white knight, in the form of a vaccine, came along to save us all. This is exactly what happened – it worked, or appears to be working, and must therefore be deemed a success.

In the early days there were severe problems with PPE; within weeks these were largely resolved. Other countries suffered exactly the same issues: there was a global shortage of protective equipment; France had recently destroyed enormous quantities; and no amount of vitriolic haranguing of the Health Secretary by radio presenters could alter that. But however it was done, the problem was quickly dealt with. Then came attacks over the lack of testing equipment: again, targets were set and largely met and within weeks the country was awash with testing capacity. The extraordinary vaccine programme speaks for itself.

All along, Hancock has been subject to appalling and bitter insults and absurd questioning but remained consistently and astonishingly calm and polite; he accepted responsibility for setbacks beyond his control; and above all, none of his accusers had any positive alternative suggestions or strategies. This has been the overwhelmingly depressing theme of the whole pandemic – the constant undermining of official strategy and measures without a single better positive idea being put forward. Loons, such as Lord Sumption or those with vested financial interests, such as Lloyd-Webber or every nightclub owner, travel company boss etc, were happy to suggest policies that suited them but were likely to have caused many deaths, and it is therefore to the minister's credit that these were ignored.

There were muddles and mistakes, of course: travel and border restrictions have appeared lax throughout and Christmas was a disastrous case of trying to please too many people too much of the time. It could also be argued that enshrining safety measures in law encouraged the population to place responsibility for every aspect of the pandemic on the government's shoulders. This could have been partly responsible for the changed behaviour in the lead-up to Christmas and new year and the holiday period itself. The suggestion of a five-day partial relaxation of safety measures was not enough for many commentators and comedians, such as Victoria Derbyshire, several Times' columnists and the likes of John Bishop – they mocked the rules and stated openly their intention to defy them. The resulting melting pot of people and virus triggered the huge third wave of hospitalisations and deaths in late January and early February. The second wave in October, caused by the increasingly virulent variant first identified in Kent, and that followed similar unexplained rises in infections in central Europe in September, was being brought under control by the Tier system before the festive season took hold. By this time, the public well understood what was required to contain the spread of infection but chose, collectively, to take the risk, with tragic consequences. Many individuals will have stuck rigidly to the rules, many more infringed them slightly, many simply ignored them – but more people were prepared to turn a blind eye for a few days than the system could withstand. I would include myself and almost everyone I know in that last category.

Could Hancock have taken a tougher stance over Christmas? It would probably have made little difference to people's behaviour. But I suspect the promise of a five-day relaxation, later reduced to two, and then largely ignored, will not have helped.

But this aside, I believe there is little that anyone else could have done better at the time. And what we know for a fact is that not a single person came up with anything different that was remotely convincing. For a final reckoning, look at where the UK is compared to almost every country in the world: the best and most coherent vaccination programme; a nation gradually and intelligently unwinding from a period of severe but necessary safety measures; and an economy in as reasonable shape as might be expected.

As for the manner of Hancock's demise, this is so difficult. Yes, his position became untenable after his admission of an affair and he had to go. I have no problem with the Prime Minister giving him a short time to reflect and make the decision himself; he was bound to go quickly, one way or the other, and to have sacked him summarily after all he has achieved would have been appallingly unjust. So again, the right outcome was reached but not without stirring indignation among those who hate this government on principle – and yes, that goes back to Brexit. As for his affair: they happen, it's human nature. It has its ugly side, of course, but condemnation of Hancock for giving way to his passion involves condemnation of countless others.

Yet all of this is still insufficient for some. Even the perfectly judge and balanced “road map” route out of safety measures is assailed – mostly, it should be added, by those with vested financial interests in having restrictions lifted earlier, by safety-first scientists who require ever-more data, and by the swivel-eyed haters who are automatically against everything a Johnson government says or does. It has produced some bizarre reactions: for example, two-thirds of the main BBC television news last night was focused on the revelation that legal restrictions would be lifted on July 19! This “news” is months old. It was announced in February that “lockdown” would end in June, subject to good progress with the vaccination programme and responses to it. This was sensibly amended in mid June to allow an assessment of any damage being caused by rising infections. Yet the odious little twerp Chris Mason and the lumbering great dolt Hugh Pym managed to peddle their agendas by conjuring up an air of astonishment that mask-wearing and distancing could end this month and that we would have to learn to live with Covid-19. This astounding non-news was followed by the more than day-old news that England had reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and that teenager Emma Raducanu was playing well at Wimbledon. But the implication throughout all of last evening's pandemic news was that the government is freshly embarking on a dangerously high-risk strategy, when until recently coverage was stressing excessive government caution and the damage being caused by the safety measures.

The absurdity continued this morning, with the nasty and opinionated Nick Robinson bombarding Helen Whately, the social care minister, with dumb questions about mask-wearing in care homes. Admittedly, she was unimpressive in dealing with the onslaught, but a simple question in return would have silenced the bully: “What then, Nick, is the alternative? Lockdown for ever?” This has been a constant theme of the atrocious news coverage of the pandemic: in addition to its narrow, parochial approach that fails to address context or perspective, it has never challenged the gain-sayers. A few more replies from those wrestling with the pandemic along the lines of: “And your alternative is?” should have diverted much of the half-witted aggression; and the same question posed to interviewees from the airline/restaurant/theatre/nightclub/etc sectors might have exposed their self-serving pleading for what it was – a campaign in support of their own financial interests.

This really is a sorry time for journalism and the portrait it is painting of the UK and its current leaders is distorting the views of even the intelligentsia, let alone the less interested. Even the brightest of people are happy to label the Prime Minister a liar, perhaps the biggest liar in political history. Yet this raises several questions, certainly concerning a ranking of lying prime ministers: where does Tony Bliar stand in all this? Was Harold Wilson the paragon of virtue his adherents claim today? A professor of politics and close friend provided some context recently during a debate by saying that the phrase “If his lips are moving he's telling a lie” had been applied to many leaders. It also raises the question as to whether lying is an altogether and universally undesirable characteristic to see in a prime minister. Diplomacy itself is the art of lying nicely – and when Just William attempted to tell nothing but the truth one Christmas his world quickly fell apart. It must depend on what lies are told and why. And this is something that much of the time we cannot know. I have no idea whether Johnson is more of a liar than anyone else. This is compounded by the demand that a prime minister comments on everything all the time: it may well be that any spokesman is giving their best account at the time in order to meet the demand. Deeper allegations of corruption are another matter and if it exists it will come to light in due course. All is compounded, too, by the constant barrage of “news” – the 24-hour channels with time to fill being forced to resort to speculation and prediction. Endless forecasts of what is about to happen makes politicians appear to have lied or be muddled when things turn out differently, and when it was not them who made the statement in the first place. Then there is the in-built extra scrutiny to which public figures and bodies are exposed: they are more watched than any corporate leader and the function of government more closely monitored than any private sector organisation's actions. As editor of FT Digital Business I saw how disastrously and expensively so many businesses' IT projects went wrong but that no one ever heard about, compared with public sector technology ventures that were pored over minutely and scathingly if they faltered.

This is not to say I approve of everything the government is doing. I believe its planning policies are shocking and its attitude towards leaseholders stuck in potentially unsafe blocks of flats feeble. I approve of measures to prevent criminals and frauds from taking over our border policy but I am baffled by the row over international aid: why is it a fixed amount? Let us spend as much money as is needed on worthy causes but stop wasting it on corrupt regimes and frivolous projects in rich countries. But overall, it is hard to see how anyone else could have steered a better course through this pandemic. I have certainly not heard any hint of it – and I have been listening hard.


● A friend, apparently now a member of the Labour Party, claimed “we” would have “walked” last week's Batley and Spen by-election had George Galloway not intervened by standing as a candidate himself. Well, that is one interpretation, I suppose. Another is that Galloway appealed to former Labour voters who under no circumstances were prepared to vote for the confused mess of a party that refuses to represent their interests and were looking for an alternative. Without Galloway they would have been far more likely to continue the dismantling of the “red wall” by voting for the Conservative candidate, who just missed out by a tiny number of votes.


● Celery salt: whoever invented it deserves every accolade going. Thank you. Builders' radios: whoever invented them should be condemned to being imprisoned in an eternal deafening disco and be denied the mercy of hearing loss.


● Most sports, with the glaring exception of football, have used technology well and have developed intelligent, mature rules around it. Tennis, however, which was one of the early adopters of IT, is making itself – and especially its umpires – look silly by denying officials access to simple replays. Today, Elena Rybakina served a perfect ace at Wimbledon. Her opponent raised her hand to challenge the lack of a call as the ball sped past her, far beyond her reach. Only then was the call of “fault” made. Rybakina then challenged and was proved correct – the serve was in. The umpire now has the discretion to award the point to the server or replay it, depending on whether the call interfered with the opponent's playing of the ball. In this case the call came long after the ball had passed the receiver, and the receiver had already raised her hand to challenge the lack of a call. She was also several yards away from being able to reach it. There were no grounds whatsoever for replaying the point. Yet, while viewers everywhere were able to reach this accurate conclusion after seeing the precise unfolding of events, the umpire incorrectly demanded the point be replayed – to the understandable fury of Rybakina, who rightly said her point had been taken away from her. If the whole world is able to see that an injustice is being done, why can't an off-court official watch the replay, too, and report the correct decision to the umpire. In this and many other instances, tennis is being fair neither to players nor umpires.

● And aaaargh! The total dimwits in the BBC scheduling department have made a complete hash of it again tonight by swapping their BBC1 and BBC2 schedules for no reason at all. It means viewers trying to record BBC1 programmes will have captured an hour or so of tennis, and those hoping to record Wimbledon will be able to watch EastEnders. The Beeb has been making this same crass mistake for years. Is there no one there with the capacity to learn? Do they not yet realise that no one, apart from BBC die-hards, cares one jot which channel they are watching?


JUNE 23 2021

A Letter to The Times

Dear Letters Editor, You report that “smart traffic lights” could smooth traffic flows and reduce carbon emissions. Why, then, is the policy across swathes of south-west London, and probably beyond (I try not to go there) to obstruct traffic flow by moving bus stops out of lay-bys and into the middle of the road? Any gains from “smart” traffic lights will be more than wiped out by the choking fumes emitted by the hordes stuck behind stationary buses.

And a Letter to The Sunday Times

Dear Letters Editor, You report that lovely “Little Hollands” are to spring up everywhere, making life safer and more joyful for cyclists. The appalling borough of Kingston upon Thames claimed to be doing this some years back, but making a complete hash of it from the point of view of both cyclists and drivers. I asked Kingston council, via a freedom of information request, how many of its designers had visited “Holland” to see how it should be done, and how many consultants from Holland had advised on the project. The answer in both instances: zero.

Neither was published.

JUNE 21 2021

It is no longer enough to publish the numbers of Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths: we need to know who these people are. We would expect to see a sharp rise in infections resulting from greater social interaction. If there is one thing a “confused” public must have learnt by now it is this simple equation – contact causes spread of disease, as happened quite dramatically just before and over the Christmas and new year period. And so as we “unlock” infections are rising again, just as we should have anticipated. The difference now is that the majority of the UK population is protected from the disease's worst effects, either by vaccination, prior infection or age. The numbers requiring hospital treatment are drastically lower than the number of infections would previously have caused – but they are still rising. Deaths are, statistically speaking, insignificant: each death is, of course, an enormous personal sadness but the numbers now dying from Covid are tiny compared to other causes. They could rise, of course, as could the hospitalisation rate. And this is where it becomes vital for the statistics to show precisely who is being hospitalised: if those with protection form only a tiny proportion of those taking hospital beds, then the link between infection and severe illness is sufficiently broken to allow greater social contact and, in due course, some overseas travel. In effect, if the overwhelming majority of those requiring hospital treatment are those who have chosen to risk their health – and indeed that of others – by refusing vaccination, then the pandemic is at an end.

There are three provisos: the first is that there will always be an unlucky few who have received the vaccine and still become ill and even die – few vaccines are 100 per cent effective. There are also those who cannot, for whatever reason, be vaccinated; they must continue to take self-preserving precautions, just as those who need to avoid the flu or other threats do. As long as the numbers in this category remain tiny, they cannot be a reason for continuing restrictions on social interaction.

The second is that while vaccine refuseniks should be stripped out of one set of hospitalisation/death figures on the grounds of irrelevance in controlling the pandemic, they are relevant in the context of NHS resources. If those falling ill after refusing vaccines begin to impede the efforts of the health service in dealing with its huge backlog of treatment then questions can justifiably be asked about the type and level of treatment they should receive.

The third proviso concerns new variants. Should a new variant appear that is able to side-step current vaccines, we might be forced to backtrack. The likelihood of this happening is greatly increased by international travel, which should remain strictly limited for the time being. And which should have been much more severely controlled throughout.

JUNE 18 2021

The Conservatives have lost a by-election in Buckinghamshire, a seat they have held comfortably for decades. Does this tell us anything about a great shift in political alliances? Not really. It is a clear and very traditional protest vote, with disaffected Remain-voting Tories siding with shire Labour voters to support the compromise challenger – the LibDem candidate. A detestation of the HS2 rail line, which passes through the constituency, and of the Tories' proposed free-for-all for developers in its planning reforms are said to have been the main issues. And if so, that's a positive sign – because the Conservative Party is completely and utterly wrong on both of those and needs to be forced to re-think. The result gives the hapless and confused LibDems something to cheer, briefly – but they also support HS2 and recklessly building hundreds of thousands of houses a year. Beyond that, it's little more than a good old-fashioned and well-deserved protest vote.

JUNE 17 2021

I tuned in last night to an excellent webinar by my friend Richard Busellato and his colleague Dr David Ko, both long-time players in the investment industry. The blurb for the event says they have recently come to realise how unsustainable policies and practices in their business are. They have co-written a book, “The Unsustainable Truth”, which looks at why sustainability has become incompatible with investing for the future. I was impressed by their passion and their arguments – perhaps largely because they fall precisely in line with the case I make in my own book, “The Rise of Antisocialism”, published in 2019. I mentioned the similarities to Richard and he replied that this was perhaps less surprising because of our similar age and backgrounds. This might be true but I feel there is far more than that: I put it down to our close and long-standing proximity to finance, economics, money and investment and using that experience to understand the forces that are destroying our planet.

I'll list here a few points the authors made during the presentation (paraphrased) and note how closely they match the analysis and conclusions I detail in my book:


The Unsustainable Truth”: There is far too much investment money in play – we are running out of things to spend it on. And so we resort to finding things that are dangerous for the environment.

The Rise of Antisocialism” includes most of a chapter talking about the developed world's inability to cope with its enormous wealth and how so much is spent on antisocial and dangerously polluting projects and materials.


The Unsustainable Truth”: Traditional economics has always assumed planetary resources are infinite and perpetual growth is possible. But because it relies on extraction, activity and borrowing from the future, this is clearly wrong.

The Rise of Antisocialism”: Traditional economics, and especially what passes for economic theories and studies today, encompass little more than business finance. The book says resources are finite and infinite growth impossible. It says exploitation and extraction are leading us towards environmental difficulties that we might not be able to overcome.


The Unsustainable Truth”: Without infinite resources to fund our lifestyles we have to find new ones – we need a new focus. The authors quote St Augustine, to the effect that “we always feel we don't have enough”.

The Rise of Antisocialism”: One of its main themes is that a business-led culture of materialism, individualism and consumption rests on creating a state of permanent dissatisfaction.


The Unsustainable Truth”: Policies are designed to protect portfolio wealth and little else. A culture change is required to update our view of what work is and what it means. Our ideas of ownership need to be updated to become custodianship and caretaking. We might have to accept less, which raises questions over “Who am I?” and “What do I do?” Our attitude has be one that avoids having to make to our future generations the same abject apology and failure of the last Labour Treasury: “Sorry, there is no money left.”

The Rise of Antisocialism”: The whole of the final chapter says that our culture has to change if we are to avoid an environmental catastrophe – we can choose to change or be forced to change. I take the pessimistic view that the victory of the forces of antisocialism has been so complete that we will have to be forced; the webinar moderator (and the two participants did nod in agreement) was more optimistic that younger people offer hope. I talk about work becoming “doing what is necessary”, and avoiding the activities associated with unnecessary and meaningless consumption (dubbed “non-essential” during the pandemic) to which we have all been made addicts. As Richard said, we need to find “more enjoyment and fulfilment in little things”. This is almost word-for-word what I say in my book. There are many pages on how the future might have to look, with a restoration of crafts and mutual help – a restoration of society, indeed. And it asks how we can shift from all-out consumption, selfishness and materialism to a simpler more satisfying life, while retaining the benefits of engineering and technology. The authors talked about innovation for future generations – precisely the topic of my final chapter.


The Unsustainable Truth”: Change must come from us. Politicians cannot tell an electorate they plan to make everyone “poorer”.

The Rise of Antisocialism” says change will either come from us – politicians can do nothing but protect the status quo – or it will come from necessity. Once the sea levels rise and the ice is gone and parts of the Earth are scorching and other parts drowning, only then will we act. And by then it will be too late.

Having quickly scanned the text of their (I believe as yet unpublished) book, I can see many many more parallels. They are telling the same story from an investment perspective – but it's exactly the same story.


MAY 26 2021

'AS I SAID AT THE TIME....'

Oh, this is going to be tedious. The raking over of what might have gone wrong, or not, since the start of the pandemic is going to be littered with individuals denying a reliance on hindsight and saying, or implying, that they told us all so. “As I said at the time...” is set to become the most commonly used phrase of 2021/22. Dominic Cummings, Angela Rayner, the BBC Radio Four Today programme presenters, and many more have whisked us off to a cracking start.

Indeed, listening to Rayner on the radio this morning was mildly amusing, given that the dose was mercifully small. She had two perfectly prepared answers to any and every question: “We have the worst death rate in Europe”. We don't, actually. And: “We don't know that lessons have been learned unless we have an inquiry now.” Even when it was pointed out that the majestic Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, has pleaded for patience over any investigation saying that any hearing this year could prove distracting and dangerous while the virus still rages, she merely repeated mantra part two: “We don't know that lessons have been learned unless we have an inquiry now.” Her simplistic and out-of-touch ranting shows just how damaging the lack of a constructive political Opposition has been over the past year.

THE MEANING OF 'DESPERATE'

When your level of poverty reduces you to theft or other degrading behaviour, you can be said to be “desperate”. When a rescue team cannot quite reach someone in deadly jeopardy, they might put themselves at risk to make one last truly “desperate” attempt at saving a life. When your bladder is full to bursting and you feel about to explode but there is no hope of speedy relief, you might justly call this being “desperate”. But I'm afraid that, according to all known definitions of the word, wanting to go on a foreign jaunt to sit by a pool in the sun does not come even close to qualifying as “desperate”. One interviewee on yesterday's lunchtime Radio Four, however, claimed people were “desperate” to go on holiday. We may laugh – especially when the interviewee is from the tourist industry and therefore has a vested financial interest in such ludicrous exaggeration.

And hearing him say “desperate” reminded me that a couple of weeks ago, Alex Jones and Jermaine Jenas were happily presenting the BBC's early evening One Show, when it included a short item about a migrant seeking to bypass legal channels of entry into the UK by illegally hiding in a car's roof box. Instead of being shocked at this flagrant breaking of the law and abuse of an unsuspecting family's vehicle, Jones said something along the lines of: “Well just imagine how desperate he must have been to do that.” Jenas nodded assent and I reached for the TV remote. Is was an abject failure to understand that most such migrants are not in the least desperate; they are chancers seeking an economic advantage for themselves at the expense of legitimate refugees. They have also come from France! Can a desire to flee France ever be said to be “desperate”, except for those who have been sentenced to the guillotine? We don't expect great intellect or intelligence from the presenters of such shows, but I believe we do have a right to be spared such crass, unthinking stupidity and ignorance.

MAY 26 2021

CUMMINGS

There are several things hopelessly wrong about Dominic Cummings' miserable whining attacks on the government's Covid-19 performance. First, he was one of the most senior decision-makers and “influencers” in government at the time to which he refers. This makes him among the most horribly guilty of whatever allegations he is laying. Second, it was only a year ago that those now treating his every word as gospel were saying Cummings was incapable of speaking a word of truth – a congenital and unrepentant liar. Now he has turned on Boris and Hancock, the arms of the government-hating community are opened to welcome him as a fount of all knowledge and correctness. Hypocrisy on a grand scale, surely. And third, his accusations amount to almost nothing: the now familiar “too little too late” nonsense; being unprepared for the unexpected; and a spattering of “he's a liar” claims, which, when examined are in reality a mixture of semantics, misunderstandings, wishful thinking, moral boosting and the inevitable output of a team dealing with a global crisis of an unknown nature and proportion at breakneck speed.

This is all a pity, as I have long had a sneaking admiration for Cummings as an intelligent and original thinker. I still feel he could be a force for good one day. But this witless, nasty and vindictive assault on his former colleagues suggests he has an awful lot to learn before he can be of any use to anybody.

GREENPEACE

So the ecological campaign group has spent what must be a small fortune on a very silly advert, called “Wasteminster”, that begins with model figures of Boris Johnson and the press in Downing Street. As Johnson states the need to protect the planet, a mountain of plastic pours from the sky on to those below, eventually bursting through the gates of Downing Street where models of sad-faced children stand fearing for their future. This plastic mountain is claimed to be the amount the people of the UK throw away every day. And I have no reason to disbelieve it: we are an enormously wasteful, rich society, built on consumption and individual self-interest, that will inevitably produce extraordinary amounts of plastic waste. I don't believe, however, that it is Boris Johnson who is discarding plastic in such Alpine proportions. I believe it is all of us: everyone who shops, all the smiling children who spend their early years surrounded by multi-coloured plastic, all the businesses that cut costs and corners through the use of convenient plastic. Ironically, Johnson appears to be the most ecologically determined prime minister the UK has so far elected; his announcements and targets go far beyond anything we have heard before. Not far enough for some, perhaps: indeed, in The Rise of Antisocialism I argue that our current unsustainable lifestyles will eventually require society to change radically and to adopt a new, green, economic model. But to make government entirely and solely responsible for people's rabid consumption of toxic plastics is stupid. It's just as stupid as saying that horrific levels of obesity and the awful impact it can have on health is an urgent wake-up call for, not obese people, but the government! It's always good to have someone else to blame and someone else who is expected to fix problems entirely of your own making.


MAY 22 2021

LABOUR – IT COMES IN ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE

The Labour Party is not just a different colour of the same product requiring a slightly different marketing strategy to sell itself to consumers. Failing to grasp this simple fact will leave it floundering in the shadows for years. Labour must have a distinct message, a distinct set of values. The trouble is that all of the main parties, including Labour, start from the same basic set of assumptions – the primacy of the economy, consumption, jobs, individual rights etc. All of my basic assumptions are the precise opposite – and so should Labour's be.


THE STATE OF JOURNALISM

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, a spokesman claimed that the majority of the public retained trust in the BBC despite its latest scandal. I'm not sure from where this emanates. Hardly anyone I speak to has any respect for the “news” coverage of the pandemic by any media organisation, with many of the BBC's leading journalists (Kuenssberg, Pimm, Robinson, and many more) castigated for being completely out of touch.

And being completely out of touch is really the state the BBC has been in since the referendum campaign began in 2015. It misunderstood the mood of the nation then and it misunderstands its needs now. This is why it is imperative that any inquiry into the handling of the pandemic includes an examination of the role of the media, and specifically, the BBC, the national broadcaster. At its simplest, the media have three possible stances they could take with regard to the authorities during an emergency: blanket support to convey the official message; constructive questioning to hold government to account in a search for optimum performance; or opposition by undermining all government messaging, sowing confusion and damaging confidence.

The BBC has done little but the last of these. The Times and Sunday Times have not been so bad and their failings appear to have been caused largely by poor quality journalism. But too many of the BBC's big-name correspondents and presenters have adopted the role of political opposition. This might be because there has been little credible opposition from other politicians, or it could be because these journalists have allowed their own personal beliefs and opinions to colour their journalism – in my book, one of the most heinous crimes a professional journalist can commit. Also, because most of these journalists are of a like mind, they encounter few, if any, contrary views in either their work or private lives. And yet the results of both the referendum and the last few sets of elections show clearly that the views they hold are not shared by the majority of people in the UK. Writing and broadcasting with objectivity and integrity about ideas that are hated by your social “bubble” is the essence of the job – and it is not happening at the Beeb and elsewhere.

Instead, we witness daily the ambush interview: rather than seeking to inform, explain and elucidate, the interviewer is trying to trap the speaker into a contradiction, or to make them appear uncertain. For example, recent questioning of the Wales Minister on the details of foreign travel was not an effort to clarify but to confuse. The Today presenters do little else when interviewing ministers. The journalists' underlying assumptions also lead them to mock reasonably held views expressed by members of the public: a few days ago, people were asked how those refusing a vaccination should be treated and those who argued that there should be serious consequences for putting society at risk and needlessly taking up valuable health resources were actually laughed at. This ridiculing was then re-played on the lunchtime Radio 4 news. Even where government advice is crystal clear it is presented as “confusing”: the gov.uk website categorically states that no one should be travelling to amber list countries, yet most media, instead of seeking to clarify and inform, have deliberately sought to exacerbate a serious concern that is almost entirely of their own making.

This constant drive to undermine, which has surely put many lives in jeopardy, must be considered by all future inquiries.


THE MIDDLE EAST – IF ONLY...

If only someone had thought, a few years ago, to appoint a Middle East Special Envoy then perhaps the current tragedy there could have been averted.

MAY 19 2021

CONFUSED? YOU WILL BE...

Oh, we are all so confused about foreign vacations. The message coming through in all media is that it's holiday time – so get booking or miss out on that sun bed by the pool, glass in hand. But that wretched killjoy government is confusing everyone by saying we can't go on holiday to countries on the amber list – and who wants to go to most of the green list countries, if they'll have us.

To assess the catastrophic level of confusion being alleged by the likes of Willie Walsh and others with a vested financial interest in encouraging travel, I checked www.gov.uk – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england – and it took all of 90 seconds to establish the true state of affairs. This is what the official website says: “You should not travel to amber list countries or territories.” The fact that airlines and tour companies are keen to ignore this instruction does not mean the rule is anything less than crystal clear. There are suggestions that the red and amber categories should be merged and indeed, the instruction not to travel is the same for both. But the distinction between the two is worth keeping because of the differing quarantine requirements on entering the UK.

So Keir Starmer, Nick Robinson, the new “lack of clarity” idiot Amol Rajan, and anyone else peddling the “lack of clarity” lie, if you find this confusing, how on earth do you manage to get yourselves dressed in the morning?

APRIL 28 2021

It is now official: expressing an opinion is a “hate incident”. If the 85-year-old man who politely and intelligently explained his honestly held and not terribly controversial view on abortion and Down's Syndrome is now on the “hate incident” register, then everyone who dares to set out their reasonable arguments in a debate must be, too. I think that includes just about the entire population of the world.

THE BIGGER SCANDAL

Peter Franklin, associate editor of the UnHerd ideas website, makes some interesting comments about the non-stories concerning Boris Johnson today:

Over the last week, we’ve had day-after-day of screaming front-page headlines – depicting Downing Street as a latter-day court of Caligula. It’s absurd. Everyone knows it’s absurd. And yet 'we' by which I mean those in the media pretend that this nonsense matters.

Take the allegation that the PM remarked that he’d rather see 'bodies pile high' than take the country into another lockdown. I don’t care whether he said it or not. I do care if our leaders can’t use intemperate language or gallows humour to let off steam in private...

...What is genuinely offensive is that while the media are engaged in fevered speculation as to what Boris Johnson did or didn’t say, actual bodies are piling up – in India...”

He is quite right. Indeed, I would go further. I do not demand the same qualities of my prime minister as I do of my GP, local scout leader, head teacher or vicar. I require someone far more robust, punchy, and even underhand when necessary. The only problem I have with Boris is that he seems to pick fights when they are not necessary at all.

Franklin then says the current crop of wild allegations are a sign that the media are reasserting themselves after a year of having to defer to scientists. He gives an example of the difference between then and now:

...Don’t forget that last autumn, the media were more interested in attacking Kate Bingham for who she’s married to and who she went to school with, than understanding her vital work with the Vaccine Taskforce. Had politics-as-usual been in full force, the media witch-hunt may well have forced her out. Fortunately, the grown-ups were in charge and she was able to finish her job.

The irony is that it’s the success of the Vaccine Taskforce that’s allowing politics-as-usual to reassert itself...In celebrating with a festival of gossip our political journalists are signalling that nature has healed and they are back in charge of the news agenda. Indeed, no titbit from the last 12 months is too trivial not rake-up and present again to the public.”

During my early years as a Financial Times journalist, I once suggested to the night news editor that we covered a very similar “political gossip” story to the ones we are enduring today. He asked me what the story really was, what it amounted to, what evidence there was, what difference it would make if true, why anyone engaged in serious business would find it of the slightest interest. I was left having to admit that it was empty mud-slinging of little interest to anyone other than those playing juvenile politics. It was a vital lesson in what news really is. Sadly, it seems that news editors with such standards are now extinct in even the finest institutions.


APRIL 25 2021

I hope the current tsunami of empty and pointless gesturing and posturing makes someone, somewhere feel better. Because it sure as hell isn't improving the lot of those who need help the most.

Take race and the Black Lives Matter hysteria. In the UK a serious, intelligent report was trashed by BLM extremists and others for identifying the true causes of deprivation and disadvantage, and in today's Times, author Lionel Shriver adds sparkling perspective to its main thrust. She argues correctly that the noisiest people involved in the BLM campaign and those benefiting most from the resulting swing to favouring ethnic minorities are those who were already doing very nicely, thank you – black middle class professionals and their white liberal middle class sympathisers. I avoid, and have always sought to avoid, such racist campaigning. As a stalwart anti-racist campaigner, I attack poverty and deprivation, whomsoever it affects.

Trans extremists provide another example of how gesture politics inexorably leads to shooting yourself in the foot. See April 24 below for an explanation of how the idiotic trans lobby has alienated a huge swathe at the more intelligent end of its potential support spectrum. Me included.

And then we have interfering would-be do-gooders who have infected the world of HR. One of the many reasons I chose early retirement was the increasing stranglehold HR was taking over the efficient functioning of the workplace – absurd and meaningless online “courses” on how to use a fire extinguisher (ending with an instruction not to use one!) and on how to lift a box. These were compulsory and a tragic waste of 90 minutes of my work time. Now the highly respected former Parliamentary Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, is being “investigated” for failing to attend a compulsory course on “Being Nice” or “We're All Lovely”, or some such vacuous title (it was actually “Valuing Everyone”!). This is in spite of her excellent excuse for not attending – that she had been having heart surgery. She made clear she would happily take part when fit and it was safe – adding a typically generous postscript: “You're never too old to learn.” HR please take note.

Sadly, the disgusting Nick Robinson features in my blog yet again and was responsible for my first angry turning off of the radio this morning. On the day the UK launched a gigantic and impressive aircraft carrier, he dismissed it as indicating that we now have a pocket navy – like global Britain, he said, it was sign that we're a second rate nation (he pretended his comments were a question – another of his typically vile traits). He then, with a hint of triumphant glee in his voice, taunted defence secretary Ben Wallace by alleging the UK needed US fighter jets to equip the ship. When Wallace pointed out that Robinson clearly failed to understand that all military vessels of this size carried craft from various Nato countries – an attack on one is an attack on all – the obnoxious Today Programme presenter reeled off some appalling and preposterous allegation that Boris Johnson had said he would rather see thousands of Britons die, with bodies piled high, than impose an autumn lockdown. Wallace batted this away as a lie and then, slightly feebly, told the odious one that it was unfair of him to repeat such obvious nonsense. He should have said it was downright irresponsible. It is certainly crass journalism.

Anyone who was paying attention last autumn will have been surprised, in fact, at just how cautious the prime minister was over safeguarding the population. Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised, as Johnson had, after all, suffered badly from Covid-19 himself. Any accusations of him being cavalier over re-imposing a lockdown when, at the time, there were libertarian fruitcakes screeching for “no lockdown” on one side, and scientific gloomsters demanding “lock down everything for ever” on the ever, simply carry no credibility whatsoever. It's even possible he might have said something roughly approximating to the words he is accused of saying, but without context, meaning, and knowledge of the temperature of the debate at the time, the anonymous allegation is hollow and inconsequential. Exactly the same applies to accusations that he dismissed calls for a “circuit-breaker” lockdown: it was discussed and considered in depth at the time but not considered to be effective. Wales tried it, where it was proved to be an abject failure.

What the facts actually show is that the autumn “second wave” was being turned around by lockdown and related controls in late November and early December: the numbers were falling sharply. Then came Wave Three. This was ignited by Christmas and New Year and was entirely the result of UK society deciding to prioritise having a nice Christmas over the risk to people's lives. The third wave was voluntary and there was little the government or its scientists could do about it – we all chose to take the chance and we are all responsible for the inevitable deaths that followed.

As I wrote in October:

Right. It's decision day again. You are the government and this time you have three choices: a complete lockdown, something approaching martial law with virtual house arrest for everyone, enforced by soldiers; an end to all restrictions, with your government saying it is no longer its responsibility to prevent people giving each other a cold and from now on it's up to every individual to decide whether they prefer a social life or death for grandma; or continue juggling myriad demands, statistics, accusations, negativity etc in an effort to minimise deaths and minimise damage to people's livelihoods. And remember, whichever you decide, you lose.”

And

At least Victoria Derbyshire had the nous to apologise for her disgraceful declaration that she would flout lockdown rules so that seven could gather at Christmas. Three or four idiotic Times columnists then announced their support for her the following day, claiming they were “sensible”. Of course, we now know that being “sensible” provides total immunity from the virus, because we can see from the charts just how fast the dim-witted peasants of the north pass it between themselves and how sensible, educated southerners don't. I cannot recall a more obnoxious, arrogant, hypocritical, irresponsible, witless, simple-minded piece of journalism – and it's competing in a historically strong field.”

On December 10, I added...

We have a crystal clear choice – socialising versus dead people. From the umpteen irresponsible actions I have witnessed in the past few days, the consensus seems to be that we prefer socialising to keeping people alive. Fine – that's not what I would choose, but if that's what the majority wants...”

And

Forget the relaxation of safety measures and impose stringent ones. That way we might avoid a national lockdown, job losses, business failures, hospitalisations and a rocketing death toll by the end of January. The relaxation has only arisen because so many had made plain they would refuse to obey safety rules – including a double-page spread full of irresponsible Times columnists. So scrap it now – and save both lives and jobs.”

And on December 20

For those cannot accept their personal responsibility for the dire situation we now face, then by all means blame the officials: blame Boris, Hancock, Whitty, Sturgeon, Merkel, Tegnell – anyone but yourself. But then realise that WE are the ones spreading the virus – no one else. And we know full well how to prevent it.”

That's how it was. With Wave One successfully combated and Wave Two easing, we all chose to risk Wave Three.

There will claims and calls from the blind Boris-haters that everything he did was wrong and that the evidence (none, so far, by the way) provided by that paragon of virtue, Dominic Cummings, is damning. The rank stench of hypocrisy surrounding this crusade is shameful: even those media organisations who lambasted Cummings less than a year ago, dismissing him as a scandalous liar, are now embracing him as the final arbiter of all that is true and fair. As long as he keeps condemning Boris. This is a sickening case of “my enemy's enemy is my new best friend”.

And finally to the second moment I decided I could stand listening to Radio Four not one minute longer this morning. The channel is re-running its excellent series on the scandal that saw the Post Office jailing its own employees on trumped up charges of fraud and theft, when all the time it knew that the “missing money” was down to its own flawed IT system. I could not listen to this harrowing tale of injustice and barbarity all over again without it making my blood boil. Those executives in charge at the time – and it covers a long period – must be prosecuted. Justice is not served simply by apologising to, or even handsomely compensating, innocent individuals who have had their livelihoods, partners, liberty and even their lives taken from them. Those responsible must face justice, too. And all these years later, they are still free to run businesses, be advisers and consultants and enjoy their lives without any hint of a sanction for their heinous behaviour.

As we can see, there have been so many examples in the past few days and weeks of how laughably idiotic things have become. But the full-page advertisement placed by Highways England in today's Times really takes the biscuit. “If you break down on the motorway,” it says, “Go left.” It fails to add: “where there is a strong likelihood you will be killed by a lorry using the lane you will be parked in”. This ludicrous attempt at defending the indefensible policy of creating “smart motorways” would be hilarious, were it not so serious. We read regular reports of deaths on these killer roads, of emergency vehicles being unable to attend horrific accidents because all lanes are blocked (obviously), of lay-bys being too far apart, of cameras being useless – yet the roll-out programme goes on. Par for the course, I suppose, these days.


APRIL 24 2021

FOOTBALL BRAINS

A final word on the grotesque “European Super League” proposals: what must be remembered is that the people conjuring up this plan are not rogue football people – they run things, they have control over people's lives, they influence governments. They, and people like them, run the world. When they demonstrate how stupid, arrogant and out of touch with reality they are, we should all be very afraid.

PROUD TO BE A TRANSPHOBE

According to what sounds like an excellent and intelligent new book, “trans activists” would label me – and almost everyone with the capacity for rational thought – a transphobe, simply for failing to fall in line with their potty beliefs on gender. I am not a transphobe, of course, in any meaningful sense of the word but in the fascistic, coercive-control world of once-admirable and pioneering organisations such as Stonewall, even the slightest belief in the existence of biological gender is apostacy and must be countered with the modern day equivalent of medieval retribution.

It's a familiar story: half-witted extremists drag an important, deserving and noble cause well beyond the realms of common sense and aggravate not only their opponents but their natural supporters, too. Unfortunately, it only takes a tiny faction in the age of social media to bully enough of the feeble-brained into climbing on their bandwagon and amplify their warped message, winning them manipulative powers far above either their numerical or intellectual worth. The book that seeks to inject a little wisdom into this slurry is “Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism” by Kathleen Stock. A positive Sunday Times book review admits that it is not an easy read and calls it “controversial”. That what sound like its eminently sensible and reasoned arguments could be described as “controversial” shows just how foolish we have been to give the trans fascists so much free rein.

THE DEATH OF BBC NEWS

In just 30 minutes of watching news bulletins on the Al Jazeera and Euronews channels last night I learnt more about what's happening in the world than the hours and hours of BBC “news” I have endured all week. There were terrifying pictures of Russian warships controlling the Sea of Azov, India's Covid-19 disaster, Joe Biden aggravating Turkey with his apology over a historic genocide, climate threats, and more. Meanwhile, the BBC continued its pathetic “nail Boris” campaign which, by last night, had been reduced to arguments over who paid the bill for a bit of tasteless redecorating.

Anyone doubting the Beeb's embarrassing passion for its anti-Boris crusade should listen to Nick Robinson's disgraceful statements on the Radio 4 Today Programme. They come thick and fast but a few recent highlights include him praising and thanking Anthony Fauci, the American president's chief medical adviser, for all his work in combating “this appalling disease” (can anyone imagine him saying the same to Chris Whitty or Matt Hancock?). He also assured an American official a few weeks ago that Biden would not visit the UK first because the new president hates Brexit and Boris – Robinson was so sure of himself that he bet the official a pint of beer that Britain would not be first. Yesterday morning, with no hint of shame at his ignorance and blundering, Robinson admitted he had lost that bet – he got it wrong, just as all his assurances over the vast superiority of the EU's procurement systems and pandemic handling proved to be completely wrong. And in the same programme he shut up an Australian interviewee because he was full of praise for the way the UK had handled the coronavirus crisis. There are countless examples of his un-journalistic bias which, as a life-long journalist, I find deeply disgusting.

And so, while Al Jazeera and Euronews continue to report on serious world events, the BBC keeps trying to find a flame amid all the smoke it is pumping into its “political scandal” offensive. But so far it has come up with not a flicker: there are accusations galore from those with vested interests, and from fellow Boris-haters, or BBC radio show “comedians”. Yet even Dominic Cummings, promoted to media darling now that he appears to have turned on Boris, has so far come up with nothing more than: “I told him that if he did X it would be very naughty”, without telling us whether anyone went ahead with X at all. Similarly, the claims of tax impropriety in the effort to secure urgent life-saving ventilators from James Dyson still amount to little more than Dyson and Johnson knowing each other and communicating by mobile phone. As a journalist, I always proceeded on the basis that unsupported and rebutted allegations were worthless without evidence. Today, it seems mere allegations are sufficient to condemn, convict and generate hours of coverage; rebuttals are largely ignored. Of course, new facts might emerge, but as things stand the BBC and some other parochial media organisations are using all their might to sling as much mud as they can in the hope that something sticks. But, as when the odious Nick Robinson asked the other day whether it felt as though Johnson just kept “getting away with it”, could it be that those flinging the mud either have very poor aim or very poor quality mud?


APRIL 21 2021

WELL THAT DIDN'T LAST LONG

Well done, football fans! The clueless financiers won't be applying the final lethal injection to the already heavily infected world of football – infected with the principles of business that have largely obliterated the principles of sport and made it an ugly and idiotic spectacle. Business might rule the world, but it is far from omniscient – far, even, from being particularly bright or clever. This filthy and thankfully short-lived little “European Super League” episode shows just how ignorant and out of touch these global businessmen and financiers are. They understand spreadsheets, or at least the bottom lines of them, but very little else.

SALVAGING POOR LAURA'S REPUTATION

Poor Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's hapless political editor. She's trying her hardest to nail Boris and his “cronies” but, armed only with a rubber hammer, she keeps missing or finding it bouncing back into her face. The Beeb has spent all day trying to fan the flames under her accusation that Boris has done something terrible by talking to brilliant inventor James Dyson, trying to persuade him to provide us with the perfect ventilator to stop us all from dying. The feeble Justin Webb on the Today Programme pestered and goaded Tony Blair into condemning what must be a clearly corrupt prime minister – but even the most callous and slippery of former prime ministers refused to take the bait. He said he understood the urgency of the discussions and without knowing more details could not assume anything worryingly underhand had occurred. So far, the lobbying “scandal” amounts to a great deal of mud-slinging, a fair amount of smoke, but very little flame. But it won't stop Laura and the other Brexit/Boris haters from hammering, slinging and fanning.

APRIL 20 2021

Business principles have infected every corner of western lives: we suffer the devastating consequences every day as the resulting greed, consumption, self-interest and antisocial behaviour dominates. Football has long provided a near perfect example of the appalling results of what I termed The Rise of Antisocialism in my book of that title; this week football surpassed itself with the suggestion that a “super league” of businesses based in England, Spain and Italy would be formed, with its participants continuing as if nothing had happened in their own domestic leagues. As with all business decisions, this move takes no account whatsoever of the interests of the players (the employees), nor the supporters (the customers); it is purely based on the financial advantage of the business owners – in this case, remote, uninterested investors, for the most part. It has happened in cricket and rugby union, as well as many other sports. It is business principles in action: in non-sporting walks of life it leads to zero hours contracts and modern slavery. In football it leads to great huffing and puffing and very little else.

Because, thank goodness, professional football as currently constituted really does not matter one jot. It is run by a cabal made up of the incompetent, the weak and the corrupt; its administrators cannot even establish an acceptable means of timing matches; its sporting elements have been replaced by blatant cheating; and its use of technology in seeking to enforce unworkable rules is abjectly inept. I ceased viewing live football several years ago as these trends made it increasingly unwatchable – especially since the disgusting infestation of gambling advertisements ran rife.

If these six English businesses wish to pursue their financial interests elsewhere, then let them. The authorities could give them until Friday lunchtime to renounce their plans and commit themselves to their national league structures, with a refusal to do so resulting in immediate expulsion. Their results against other Premiership teams this season would be declared void, and their employees barred from participation in international events. This last penalty is harsh on the players, who are contractually bound to these rogue businesses, but is necessary to apply the severest pressure.

None of this will happen, however, because the main footballing authorities are so thoroughly incompetent, weak and corrupt: they are far more likely to end up throwing money at the villains. But at least for a moment we are able to dream of a relatively open competition for the national league title, free of the dreary super-rich businesses that make the Premier League as exciting as a Formula One procession. My team, West Ham United, could win the league, as Leicester City managed to do a couple of seasons back. Then, Leicester's triumph was seen as an aberration – an assault on the new “natural order”, a challenge to the business model. In the future, clubs such as Everton, Leeds United, Southampton and many more, could all begin the season with a realistic ambition of being national champions. Meanwhile, the not-so-super six become an irrelevance. All that would then be needed to make football a great sporting spectacle once again are: an eradication of cheating, proper timing of matches, several rule changes, improved refereeing, intelligent use of technology, the banning of gambling logos and advertising, etc, etc. It won't happen. But if it did, I might even start watching again....

MORAL HAZARD

Anyone who books a holiday in the full knowledge that a global pandemic has already killed millions of people and is still raging in many countries must accept full responsibility for whatever might go wrong. We must all know by now that insurance will not help in the event of a Covid-19 cancellation; we all must have heard by now of the requirements regarding quarantine and testing and their associated costs; we are all well aware, too, that conditions might change quickly and radically. The taxpayer has no responsibility to bail out anyone who chooses to take such a risk.

Exactly the same applies to those organising music festivals. The Boomtown Festival near Winchester – which, from personal experience, I can confirm is an outrageous nuisance to everyone venturing near it and operates the most inept traffic management imaginable – has sold tens of thousands of tickets to an event it must have known might not be able to take place, and did so without, apparently, securing insurance. Now that the organisers have changed their minds about holding it – for obvious and entirely predictable reasons – they have the temerity to blame the government for failing to use taxpayers' money to underwrite and insure it. Quite incredible.


MARCH 30 2021

PLACE YOUR LIES ON THE SIDE OF A BIG RED BUS

It was the lie to end all lies, according to some. The lie that ruined their lives, dashed their hopes and dreams, stole their futures. “We send the EU £350m a week. Let's fund our NHS instead.” Except – where is the lie? It was true that the UK sent £350m a week to the EU and it is surely a worthy aim to spend more on the NHS. In what sense do those statements amount to “a lie”? But if you DO want a whopper to grace the side of a gigantic bus, then how about this? “The EU has exported 46m vaccine doses.”

This is so laughably wrong that it barely merits a comment. But when Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian politician and MEP who has called Brexit “stupid” and has made such idiotic and undiplomatic statements as: “Politically, the UK is already on its way to becoming an adversary, rather than a trusted partner, of the EU”, decides to up the ante and spread more anti-UK hate on Facebook, silence would allow his devilment to win.

Let us begin with a fact: the EU has not exported a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine. There are private companies operating within the borders of some member states that have assembly and finishing facilities and which have signed binding contracts with outside parties, being perfectly free to do so in a globalised, business-led world (which I despise, by the way). These companies use ingredients and materials supplied via international supply chains. At least one of these companies is a UK (and Swedish) enterprise that developed its vaccine in the UK, thanks to the enormous support and investment given to it by the UK taxpayer – and at cost! This is because the UK authorities were smart enough to realise early on that a vaccine was the most likely way out of the virus trap – Matt Hancock said many times last year that government strategy was to hold off and minimise the impact of the virus until a vaccine maker rode in to the rescue. This, of course, is forgotten by all who cannot stand the thought of the UK doing anything right – and who still, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, believe the EU is competent and benign. The EU, in fact, for reasons only known to its third-rate collection of bureaucrat leaders, decided not to invest in vaccine research, production nor delivery mechanisms. By the time it understood how foolish it had been, the commission could only secure “mopping up” contracts – with companies only able to offer their “best efforts” – because more nimble and intelligent agencies had taken a huge calculated risk in investing in these businesses before anyone knew they could actually produce a vaccine that worked.

There is no escaping the fact that the EU has been slow and inept and the UK has been quick, shrewd and forward looking. Of course, those who hate the UK now wish to see it punished for its successes – being made to surrender the vaccines it invested in, legitimately ordered and now needs to complete the second doses of millions of citizens. The EU is threatening to stop them arriving in the UK – it would love to but, for now, daren't; “charities” are saying our government is mean to look after its own people ahead of the whole world and should give its doses to someone else. Anybody will do, it seems, as long as we are punished. As I wrote a day or two ago, there is no stockpile of vaccines to be spread generously around more deserving countries, even if we could work out which they are (although I would argue most strongly that no EU country could possibly qualify, with the exception of Ireland, for the very specific reason that it threatens Northern Ireland).

But back to our new bus: the final touches include the claim that the UK has exported no doses. Technically, this might be true, but given that UK research created one key vaccine, and that it exports materials needed in other vaccine production, and that it has only a small final production capacity, it is disingenuous, to say the least. And further incorrect EU claims (there are too many to fit on the side of a single bus) that the UK is banning the export of vital Covid materials, which it is is not, ought to leave us aghast when we recall that one organisation has indeed authorised the blocking of a shipment of vaccines – the EU.

MARCH 28 2021

RADIO GAGA...

Why do we have to put up with such rubbish? Sunday morning, Radio 4, and we're told that there is “bickering between” the EU and the UK. Er, no, there is not. This is actually and demonstrably incorrect. Even the BBC's own compilation of sound bites demonstrated its inaccuracy. The EU has launch a sustained, bitter and ignorant campaign of assaults and attacks on the successful UK and the altruistic and effective AstraZeneca company and the UK has responded in a calm, measured, diplomatic and restrained manner. This, clearly, is not “bickering”.

And the news headlines kicked off with a demand by “charities” that the UK begins donating its vaccine supplies to poorer countries right away. The levels of ignorance behind such a demand are many and deep: the main one is that there is no stockpile of vaccine to give away, there are no “excess supplies” and, in fact, supplies are about to dwindle. And if the large body of UK-haters is to be believed, Britain has the most need for vaccines – the world's highest death rate, Europe's highest death toll, care homes ravaged etc etc. So are these “charities” seriously advocating the removal of non-existent vaccine stockpiles from what so many see as the world's worst hit country to be used in countries with a lesser problem, just as our own supplies are about to fall. Have they been paying no attention whatsoever?

And in pedant's corner: yesterday's edition of The Times ran a headline that included the words “a myriad of”. How could this have reached the presses? Does no one bother to check pages on The Times any more?

MY WORK IS BRILLIANT!

I'd like to congratulate myself on such spectacularly erudite, insightful and simply brilliant commentary. Well done, me! Does that sound a little self-congratulatory? If so, then in mitigation I would argue that if The Sunday Times can get away with it then why can't I. Today's Culture section contains a review of a book by its Insight team into our government's “mishandling” of the pandemic and its “incompetence”, based on the truly hideous piece of garbage it ran in the paper last spring saying the same thing. The reviewer calls it “brilliant investigative journalism”, or something similar and alleges or implies that its findings might represent “truth”. I prefer not to mention either the book, its writers or the reviewer, or to re-read it to check its precise wording, but that is its import. At least it admits it was written before the spectacularly brilliant vaccination programme began – not that that would change the thrust of writers hell-bent on regurgitating a biased and flimsy hatchet job that failed to stir much of a reaction at the time even among opposition politicians: anybody giving it a moment's thought could see it for what it was – a nasty piece of hate-filled bile. I doubt whether these warmed up dregs of a foul and rotten meal will fare any better this time in their aim of hurting, hampering and damaging those in charge of saving our lives.

ANOTHER POLITICAL CAREER ENDING IN ABJECT FAILURE

Macron. I pointed out in my book that this “centrist” and “unifying” politician is anything but. He is a gutless, arrogant little Thatcherite charlatan who, bit by bit, is being taken apart by facts and reality. Yet he has the gall to say, after his abject failure and abdication of responsibility for his country's vaccination programme: “There won't be a mea culpa from me. I don't have remorse and won't acknowledge failure.” The real world has a tendency to come down on hard on such pompous and preposterous egotistical braggarts and narcissists. I quote him here purely for the pleasure of being able to refer to this stunning quote when he finally collapses in disgrace and humiliation. Which, we can only hope, will not be long now.


MARCH 25 2021

THE APPALLING LACK OF CLARITY CONTINUES...

All political careers end in failure, but Angela Merkel's is particularly abject. Her moment of total madness in 2015, when she opened the EU's front door to economic migrants from here, there and everywhere, and for which she was forced to apologise, was catastrophic enough. But during the pandemic her decision-making, if it can be called that, has been even worse – and deadly. Literally. Only yesterday, she was being mocked for imposing a complete Easter lockdown in Germany, with supermarkets open for just a few hours over the weekend. And now today, she has U-turned spectacularly, with a grovelling – and necessary – apology that ought, in a just and intelligent world, see her crashing shamefully from office. “I ask all citizens for forgiveness,” she whimpers. Presumably she means all citizens of all European countries, given that her heinous and humiliating capitulation to the even more appalling and useless EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen over who should take charge of the vaccination contracts and roll-out has cost, and is continuing to cost, citizens' lives across Europe.


THE SHAME CONTINUES...

Is journalism of integrity and accuracy now officially dead? The serious media – the tabloid trash can do what they like as no one could possibly take them seriously – operates under a heavy responsibility to report accurately, fairly and with integrity. We know The Guardian merely publishes campaign speeches dressed up as news and The Telegraph splutters vehemently and indignantly into its brandy or sherry every morning; but we expect and need The Times and the BBC to be far better than they currently are (see many many examples below of how they are going so desperately off the rails). This is not only so that reasonable people can make reasonable judgments based on facts but so that political decision-makers are able to debate all options and ideas freely. The latter is now becoming impossible, thanks to outrageously irresponsible journalism and politicians. This morning's splash in The Times is a prime example. It states, categorically: “Covid jab needed to enter pubs”. It takes only a few seconds of reading the article to learn that this is a fake headline. The truth is that it is one of many ideas and options being considered and debated, quite legitimately, by politicians. If the so-called serious media choose to distort vital deliberations and suggestions for the sake of an incorrect sensationalist headline then they run a calamitous risk of driving political consultation into the realms of secrecy. This absurdly manufactured story actually gathered pace during the day, including a long, hilarious and superbly irrelevant anti “pub passports” diatribe from Steve Baker, one of the Tories' most half-witted libertarian extremists, on the BBC's World at One.

The same applies to all politicians at war with their own party's leaders. The Conservative Party has always been a vicious snake-pit, full of mutual hatreds, chinless dimwits, sozzled assassins and self-satisfied buffoons. But these twits need to learn quickly that leaking every casual remark made in what was understood to be a private, chewing-the-fat conversation to a newspaper is another sure-fire way to stamp on open debate and decision-making.


YOU'RE WELCOME...

In my book I condemned a western economic order that relies on keeping its consumers in a permanent state of dissatisfaction, always wanting and demanding more, more more. I warned that climate change would force this devastatingly wasteful and miserable social structure to cease pillaging the Earth's resources simply in order to enrich a lucky, ruthless, and occasionally smart, few. I argued that this need not be a bad thing, if achieved in time. Quite the reverse: it would free “the masses” from the wretched cycle of meaningless work, only undertaken in order to purchase and consume an ever-increasing proportion of utter rubbish. “The Rise of Antisocialism” offered a hope that when faced with the stark choice of change or destruction, even our greediest and most self-centred of economies would choose a new order that would require only essential “work” to be done, that would end the rabid pollution of the planet and that would enrich people's lives with crafts, hobbies, exercise, family, friends, simple pleasures – the sort of fulfilled lives we currently enjoy only when “on holiday” or in retirement.

I thought it sounded so hopelessly Utopian a vision of a sophisticated, satisfied, communitarian and clean society that only the threat of human extinction could possibly nudge it towards reality. But wait. What am I reading in The Times this week (in yesterday's Alice Thomson column)? A Cambridge University professor has found the happiest people over the past year have been those who have worked less; the least happy are those who have worked full-time. He finds those who have kept the country going are more content: farmers, postmen, supermarket workers, hospital porters – those performing what I called in the book “essential tasks” and what became known during lockdown as “key work”. Feeling valued and recognised for performing important and meaningful work is seen as crucial for contentment. No wonder then that so many stuck in pointless, worthless but lucrative employment feel the opposite.

Is there any hope that a focus on what is making people happy – and what is not – might bring about change before it is forced upon us by impending annihilation? The column says: “Psychologists say the newly happy are more significant than those who have struggled with lockdowns because they show us how we can improve our lives. These people have enjoyed slowing down, seeing their families, learning hobbies, consuming less and becoming more flexible.” It could have come straight from the pages of my book – written in 2019. I don't hold out much hope that much will change. The forces of greed, self-interest and consumption are so deeply ingrained it will take more than a pandemic to loosen their hold once the emergency subsides. But at least we have seen a glimpse of what the future could be. We now know there is a better way, and that we have a choice. Covid-19 has given us a glimpse of what we will inevitably have to do in order to survive. If only we can find the intelligence to choose this better life well before we reach the brink of elimination – by which time our period of truly fulfilled and happy communities might be tragically short-lived.

MARCH 24 2021

OH, THE UK IS SUCH A BASKET CASE...

In Lombardy, Italy, vaccination centres in several northern cities stood deserted after a booking system failed.

Germany's Easter lockdown will see even its supermarkets closed, except for a few hour on Saturday. The German leader keeps blaming what she calls the “British Mutation” for her country's latest spike in infections, even though it was only identified here following a mysterious rise in infections across Europe in the autumn. And, bizarrely, the country's amazing and admired (by some) track and trace system seems oddly unable to cope.

Russia reports 95,000 Covid-19 deaths. Its excess death statistics, however, suggest the real figure could be more than four times higher.

And what is the US playing at? In one breath it praises the AstraZeneca vaccine and in the next it smears its reputation by questioning the freshness of its latest data. One theory is that it doesn't take kindly to pharmaceuticals being produced at cost for the benefit of the world and is rather more keen on giving a clear run to its commercial rivals. Who knows? 

All of the above are from today's Times, by the way. Meanwhile, I must mention the BBC's ludicrous tribute to Iceland on its main evening news earlier this week. Its report showed happy Icelanders free of virus and out clubbing. What it failed to say is that infections are rising quite quickly on the remote and easily isolated island. It also glossed over the fact that far fewer people live there than in Bristol and it has an average population density of just nine people per square mile. Admittedly, a lot live in the capital. But this shoddy piece by the Beeb was at best highly misleading.

MARCH 22 2021

WHEN WILL BRITAIN LEARN?

● In Paris, residents wishing to leave their homes were required to complete a multi-page form so dense, convoluted and contradictory, and littered with footnotes and explanations, that it was withdrawn after just one day. That's how to control a pandemic.

● In Mallorca yesterday, 24 Lufthansa flights arrived from German cities, disgorging desperate sun-seekers. Lufthansa is planning to lay on even more flights. That's how to control a pandemic.

● The reputation of the Oxford vaccine has been so thoroughly trashed by European leaders that in spite of their plentiful supplies, EU countries cannot persuade people to take the jab. In Turin on Saturday, 31 per cent of the 672 teachers called to be vaccinated did not show up. In Naples the no-show rate was 35 per cent. That's how to control a pandemic.

● A state of emergency has been declared in Miami Beach after thousands of mask-free revellers overwhelmed police, reports The Times. Florida's oh-so-intelligent governor promoted the state as a place to let loose and simultaneously stripped officials of their powers to enforce safety measures. That's how to control a pandemic.

● Meanwhile, my embarrassment grows and grows at the fact that Ursula von der Leyen once attended the LSE. How did she get in? At least she only spent one year there, but you might have thought she'd have learnt SOMETHING in that time. Put Ursula in charge of Europe. That's how to control a pandemic.


MARCH 20 2021

This morning's news included a suggestion that demonstrations and protests should be allowed during lockdown “for the sake of clarity” and in pursuance of people's “human rights”. Those proposing such a move turn out to be from the arch libertarian wings of arch-libertarian movements, including several nutty Tory MPs. In response, I would argue that for the sake of clarity all gatherings should be banned until late June – what could be clearer? What could be more sensible than saying these super-spreader events are outlawed for a short time but if all goes according to plan, and you just wait three months, then you can protest away to your hearts' content. A total and clear ban would also protect the human rights of the vulnerable in society who have either not been vaccinated, cannot be vaccinated, or do not know they are vulnerable to Covid-19.

This is all the more vital because dangerous anti-lockdown mania and extreme libertarian eccentrics will latch on to any and every chance to demonstrate, protest, and gather. They are not especially interested in the substance of whatever protest happens to be taking place, such as women's fear of street violence, merely in seizing the opportunity to make the case against lockdowns and defying authority. Paradoxically, they achieve precisely the opposite as they create super-spreader events that prove just how crucial lockdown behaviour is.

If, on the other hand, the safety measures and eminently sensible road map proposed by our exceptional scientists continues to diminish the threat of Covid-19, then the pandemic might soon be declared done with. Infections might rise again, but this need not necessarily alarm us. To judge the dangers we need key pieces of information. The first is whether any rise in infections leads to a significant rise in hospitalisation and deaths. If not, then we have reduced Covid-19 to the status of a normal cold – subject to the threat posed by mutations, of course. But if there are seriously more people committed to hospital and dying then we need to know precisely who is in hospital and who is dying. If Covid-19 is only a threat to those who have refused a vaccine, then again, safety measures can be lifted: people can be free to choose to take their chances with this killer disease, but they cannot be allowed to restrict the freedoms of everyone else.

Finally (for today), on the subject of information and statistics, there is a hint in this morning's Times that figures suggest the autumn spikes in coronavirus in continental Europe are suspiciously similar to the one that occurred in the UK some weeks later. I was writing about exactly this last year: the evidence is far more supportive of a European variant having been introduced to south-east England than the other way round. It is just another example of how facts and numbers have become so many and so varied that they can readily be manipulated in support of any case. The biggest “lie”, or to be charitable “misunderstanding”, about the Covid-19 death rates is that no one is comparing like with like. National figures, based on internally diverse countries, are largely meaningless. Covid strikes where populations are concentrated, as I have written many times before. So to compare Germany with Belgium, for example, ignores the basic fact that Germany is large country with a widely dispersed population; Belgium is small and densely packed. Deaths in the English Cotswolds or Scottish Highlands are in no way comparable to those in east London, the West Midlands or industrial Lancashire. To compare like with like, you have to consider deaths where people are amassed: the Low Countries, northern Italy, coastal north-east Spain and west Portugal, the very large cities such as Paris and Madrid, and the diagonal swathe running from Greater London up through the West Midlands and into the north-west and Yorkshire. Then you find that this is precisely where the most infections and deaths have occurred. There are, of course, pockets elsewhere, such as those super-charged by the sweatshops of Leicester, for example. But to make any judgments based on death figures without taking into account direct and proper comparisons is foolish and wrong. Add in the various different methods of collating the data, reporting methods and political interference and we have discrepancy heaped upon discrepancy heaped upon discrepancy. Instead, we should compare urban Belgium with the UK's M1/M6 corridor and compare the Cotswolds with rural Provence.

MARCH 18 2021

NOT MY PLACE?

When you start a fight, the first rule is to choose carefully who you want on your side. Those orchestrating the weekend protest on behalf of women chose anti-police activists and agitators – the sort who turn up to any and every demo in search of trouble. They come from either end of the political spectrum and are typified by the SWP types I first saw in action at LSE in the 1970s and who are still hard at it today. And with whom, I should add, I often sympathise on many subjects, although rarely their tactics. Add in the dangerous anti-lockdowners, the anti-vaccine brigade and loopy libertarian extremists, who will jump at every opportunity to gather in defiance of anything they choose not to like, are the outcome is predestined. Perhaps it was naivety rather than choice that led to this sorry and damaging alliance. Whichever it was, it has set the tone for a national debate that has narrowed to the point of meaningless in one direction and broadened to the point of echoing hollowness in the other.

A single moment speaks volumes about how this worthy cause is being mishandled. On Clapham Common on Saturday evening, a male is reported to have tried to address the gathered crowd. Whatever his motivations, he was instantly howled down by women yelling “Not your place”. Clearly, those at the sharp end see this as a gender war and therefore seek allies not among the millions of supportive men but among those guaranteed to create headlines. Men's views are not wanted: the “debate”, such as it is in the various media to which I am exposed, has been conducted exclusively by women, with the only male contributions coming from chief constables challenged to defend the police response and politicians who have no choice but to say something. From almost all other men comes a deafening silence: they all stand accused of being potential murderers, rapists, harassers. And from the vitriolic outpouring of words and deeds of so many women, they had better not try to mount a defence of any kind: “How dare you even think #Notallmen”. That is the message being broadcast loud and clear.

Of course there is enormous anger and sadness over the appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a psychopathic police officer and there are issues that could be addressed that might – or might not – make a difference to how safe women feel when alone on the streets. But to channel that into hatred and bitterness is counter-productive insofar as it breeds division, sectarianism and the alienation of friends and supporters, as well as disrespecting the victim's memory.

Perhaps this tunnel vision is partly a side-effect of the pandemic safety measures: reduced social contact and sharing of views has narrowed individuals' perceptions. That so many absurd conspiracy theories have been given anything more than short shrift suggests too many people are disappearing into worm-holes, or enclosing themselves in bubbles of “their own truths”, where they become untouchable, unreachable, immune to rational debate. Even among some otherwise level-headed people, exaggeration and a form of mania seems alarmingly close to the surface.

Does my own characterisation of events falls into that category? Speaking as someone who has championed women at work and in society for many years, who enjoyed working with brilliant female bosses, who sought opportunities for women in my team (in one case guiding my “secretary”, to whom I refused to apply that term, using “administrator” instead, into a journalist role on the Financial Times), and who campaigned for women and once wrote in the FT that company boardrooms should consist of 60 per cent women because the males had “not done a great job”, I would argue that they do not. I feel a large part of my life's work has been thrown back in my face in this blanket accusation that men, simply be being, are a threat to women.

It does not fit the prevailing narrative, of course, to point out that men are also a serious threat to men. Facts and figures, as presented by the BBC at the weekend confirm this: 205 women were murdered last year, compared with about 550 men. Of those, about 90 women were murdered by strangers – as in the Sarah Everard case – and about 360 men. Yes, they were pretty much all committed by men – and so we have a common enemy, we face a common threat: bad men. Labour MP Jess Phillips read out the names of 118 women killed in the past year by “male violence” in the House of Commons last week. It took her four minutes. To read out a similar list of male victims would take several times longer.

Perhaps these actual facts explain why the attack has been widened to encompass women's unease at walking the streets at night – a subjective fear where there might be no danger at all. But equally importantly a subjective fear experienced by men, too. Many is the time I have hurried past a group of men, chosen a route that avoids a certain street, been followed by footsteps along a dark road in Southwark on leaving the FT office at night. Often, the danger was imagined, very occasionally it was real and potentially life-changing: a few male colleagues were harmed, one seriously by a stab wound.

So is it right that we allow murder and fear on the street to become exclusively feminist issues? Of course not. I do completely understand, however, that women have additional fears and face a wider range of threats and harassments, from wolf-whistling to groping and to rape. Men also have to confront violence, bullying and power battles everywhere – on the roads, in the pub, at work, in the street. These can range from aggravating to being genuinely terrifying. For men, though, the threat is purely violent, often to do with establishment of power or a pecking order, or simply criminal; women have to contend with sexual abuse in all its forms. Pornography, TV dramas littered with murdered women, the new menace of faked porn images, these are all ghastly and related and need to be addressed. But how are men expected to react when presented with images of women in advertising, magazines, on social media – everywhere – deliberately made to look attractive, desirable, alluring, enticing, sexy? Should this not be addressed, too, if we are serious about change?

And this lies at the heart of the issue: males of the species – and indeed most species – are programmed to be predatory, to hunt, to be aggressive and violent, whether they like it or not. This is what survival demands. And without proper socialisation and self-control these primal instincts spill over into aggressions towards women, as we see demonstrated in primitive theocracies, from the Taliban to the equally verminous regimes of the Middle East. In less backward parts of the world women do have a voice – a very powerful one and almost all of their arguments and complaints are accepted and efforts are made to rectify them. There is a welter of equalities legislation and many excellent initiatives seeking these very goals. Things are far from perfect but they are improving in some areas – opportunities for women and workplace equality are rising rapidly, for example, from an admittedly low base. Sadly, they are worsening in others: in the social sphere I detect a dramatic deterioration, caused largely by rampant abuse of social media and the culture of antisocial behaviours described in my book, The Rise of Antisocialism. I said many years ago while editing the FT's Digital Business section that if you wished to know what people today were truly like and what they truly thought, then provide them with an anonymous platform upon which to vent forth. That platform was Twitter at the time, now joined by an array of others, all dangerously unaccountable and huge enablers of antisocial behaviour. At best, it remains digital; at its worst, the vile thoughts of inadequately socialised males are acted out in reality. We cannot legislate against anyone, male or female, having vile thoughts. All we can do is try to teach individuals how to deal with them through upbringing and education. Relationship lessons in school are a step forward but a tiny one in the face of the giant strides made by social media horrors and the dominant forces of infantilism. For 30 years individuals in western nations, especially the English-speaking ones, and especially the UK under the Thatcherite/Blairite regime, were fed on a diet of “I know my rights” attitudes, free-flowing consumption and self-absorption, self-interest and self-gratification, as the binding forces within society were systematically dismantled. Such an environment can hardly be expected to nurture such concepts as respect for others.

If the questions go far deeper than the simplistic headlines suggest, then the answers are are even less obvious. Hugo Rifkind in Tuesday's Times pondered the dilemma under the headline “How should men behave in age of #MeToo?” (sic) and ended with more questions: “What does it mean then, to say we should educate men? How? Towards what?” He concludes that merely trying to teach men to be more respectful of women is not enough, even if do-able. He can relate to and help his daughters, but boys? “I'd be lost. And I've been one for a while now,” he says. This is the question that goes out to the banner-carriers: if you shout “End violence against women”, then you have to tell us how. An interviewee on Woman's Hour on Tuesday poured forth her list of complaints but when asked what her solution was, her first words were: “I don't know.”

One suggestion we have heard is to make misogyny a hate crime. But not misandry? And what would a legal definition look like? We already have too many “subjective” laws – “I was offended, therefore that action or those words were a crime”. This is clearly nonsense. But misogyny/misandry as an aggravating factor in crime? It might help but in reality is little more than posturing. Removing anonymity on social media, on the other hand, would be a positive step for everyone. If you have something to say, then say it – but face being held accountable. Another positive move would be to tag offenders. We know that prison is a poor deterrent – if it worked jails would be empty – and tagging could tick many boxes: whereabouts always known, the shame of wearing one, the enabling of shorter jail terms. Burglars would hate it, and that is surely reason enough. And how about more police officers on foot, on the beat? It might allay fears if there were enough of them. But even when this was the primary method of policing there were never enough. There are myriad tinkerings that might achieve small gains but no one should be under any illusions that there any quick fixes for a problem caused both by man's nasty nature and poor nurturing. And I believe a gender war can only make things worse, diverting us from the real cultural and societal battles we all need to fight.

As will a scatter-gun approach to a campaign that lumps in every grievance, every slight, every issue, hardship, injustice, sorrow, tribulation – a thousand objections in a single movement, making it unfocused and likely to miss achieving its main goals – which even now have yet to emerge in any detailed or practical form. Tuesday's Times illustrated this perfectly: it reported that Labour MP Jess Phillips is calling for a new offence of “street harassment”. “You can follow somebody and intimidate them and it's not illegal,” she claimed, as if Section 4 of the 1986 Public Order Act did not exist. Yet on Page 6 an article pointed out that this Act already makes it a crime to “harass, alarm or distress a person by using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”. There are also calls for the re-education of boys – as if we haven't already introduced relationship classes in schools. All worthy ideas, but superficial in the extreme.

Inevitably, there are calls for tougher sentencing of offenders, but again the campaign is misguided and uses spurious arguments and distorted statistics. We are assured that the law does more to protect statues than it does to protect female victims of violence. Obviously, this is completely wrong, as we can establish quickly from observing the maximum jail terms for each: 10 years for the statue – a sentence, we should add, that might never ever be imposed – and life for manslaughter. The recent case most often quoted in support of this facet of the campaign is of a 70-year-old man who strangled his wife. It was a tragic case and the court, having considered his plea of diminished responsibility and listened at length to the awful details of his decline during lockdown, sentenced him to five years in jail. I agree, it does not sound long enough on the face of it, but I was not in court. Either way, this is not a system failure – the judge could have imposed a life sentence but they are given discretion, allowing them to show compassion and understanding in hard, desperate, unique cases. And it must always be left to the judge. I have spent many hours in court as a journalist covering cases and found most of them to be tragic, often with those in the dock being victims, too. Our system demands that those who have sat through hours of evidence should be the ones to fix sentencing and would we seriously want it any other way? Any alternative could lead inexorably to the lynch mob.

This is where the carefully choreographed scenes on Clapham Common last Saturday did so much more harm than good. The sequence of events leading up to the weekend made confrontation inevitable: the organisers of the proposed vigil spoke to the police about how it could be run and the police said it could not be managed safely in the context of a pandemic; the organisers pleaded exceptionalism for their case (as everyone is wont to do in these days of isolation), saying their cause outweighed all safety measures. A High Court judge disagreed and issued a vague ruling seemingly against the protest; the organisers then took the commendably responsible decision to call it off and ask for a doorstep vigil – a far more inclusive and safe option in the circumstances.

And from that moment the die was cast, because the police could now be placed in the invidious position of either standing by and watching blatant law-breaking on a large scale or intervene and be photographed arresting women. It was an absolute gift to anyone determined to provoke authority and so it came to pass: a peaceful afternoon of respectful and distanced tributes was then wrecked when a larger group formed as darkness fell and those hell-bent on an encounter with the police stepped up their provocation. One objective eye-witness (female) said it was disgusting the way the police were being goaded and tormented. Cue arrests, and cue outrage on social media and in the real media; cue calls for the woman in charge of the police to resign. Mission accomplished.

In the event only four people were arrested, although from the social media outburst you might think it was hundreds. And so any real issues are swamped by the outrage and ranting on countless subjects, from street lights to serial killers, from prison sentencing to schoolboys, from police methods to human rights, and plenty more. And poor Sarah Everard. All done in her name. As a former colleague of hers said: “She’s a real person, not some hanger on which to display your views about women.”

Retrenchment follows, with a barrage of exaggeration, overstatement and inaccuracy. I recall how the animal rights movement allowed itself to be taken over by radicals and extremists with wider agendas and a readiness to threaten respected scientists and cause damage and physical harm to people, property – and even the animals they released. The strong public support the cause had enjoyed evaporated. Facts matter and people do care about honesty and accuracy. So when they hear the “fact” that 97 per cent of women aged between 18-24 have been sexually abused or assaulted in some way, they know they are being manipulated and react against it. It's easy to play with statistics and I have commented several times below on how The Times' charts have abused them every day since the start of the pandemic. Times columnist Rachel Sylvester commits a similar offence when she writes that “police recorded 55,130 rapes in 2019-20”. Anyone who can write that without using the word “alleged” is dangerously distorting reality in order to make a point. We know that fake news is rife and that everyone will argue from their own perspective, using exaggeration and sometimes lies to support what they believe – “their truth”, “their lived experience”, as if those were objective fact. It's becoming impossible to know what to believe as more and more of what we are told becomes simply unbelievable. Most of what is now written in The Guardian, for example, reads more like a campaign speech than objective journalism.

By far the best column I have read on this subject in the past week was in this morning's Times, written by Joanna Williams, founder of the think tank Cieo. She urges caution when reacting and responding to manufactured statistics and subjective feelings being presented as facts. He article, headlined