The BBC’s handling of Lineker has been a clusterfunk

I’M currently running for election, so I’m mindful that I should moderate my language on social media at the moment but… what the fudge is going on with the muddy-fracking clockfaces at the dog-jammed BBC?

If for some reason the news has passed you by, the Conservative Government (in an effort to shift the electorate’s attention away from the Conservative Government’s role in the clusterfunk of strikes, cost-of-living crisis, tomatoes becoming rarer than Unobtainium, effluent in our rivers, the Trussonomics mortgage spike, Brexit being “a bit of a letdown”, and Boris Johnson being Boris Johnson) is turning its crosshairs on immigrants and refugees – specifically those arriving on ‘small boats’ – with its Illegal Migration Bill.

Home Secretary and Dolores Umbridge cosplayer Suella Braverman was already chastised last year for inflammatory rhetoric when she spoke of a “migrant invasion”. This week she was at it again, suggesting in the Daily Mail that 100MILLION refugees were on their way to Britain and “billions” more people would turn up in Dover if the Tories didn’t “push the boundaries of international law” to stop them. (In the last five years, it is thought around 85,000 have arrived here on the boats, so 100million is something of a recalibration).  

It’s a tried and tested method: Distract from your own failings by pointing at the “others”, demonise them, dehumanise them. And one of the most notable places where this tried and tested method was tried and tested was 1930s Germany.

Legendary former England footballer turned Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker said as much in a tweet: “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”

In any sane world, nobody should care what a sports presenter says about Government policy beyond the usual “Oh, they agree with me, that’s nice” affirmative feeling you get when someone you admire turns out to be someone deserving of your admiration*. (Or alternatively, when someone you think is a total duckhead confirms their duckheadedness).

Opinions will vary on who is admirable and who has the green-sheened noggin of a mallard… but that is largely where it should end.

It certainly shouldn’t be leading news bulletins and dominate front-page splashes of the papers for over half a week – not when the Government’s method for shoring up the borders of the UK is to casually punch holes in the borders of international law (or indeed when there are 101 other more important issues affecting people in this country and beyond).   

And yet it has been.

That suits the Government just fine, as focusing on a Left-leaning celebrity’s views means there is less coverage of the fact their Bill has also been criticised in the strongest terms by, among others, the UN refugee agency, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, the Board of Deputies for British Jews, and the Children’s Commissioner.   

The coverage has been helped by the fact Lineker’s tweet has been twisted disingenuously by the usual suspects. The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, and Tory ministers such as Robert Jenrick, James Cleverly, Lee Anderson and Braverman herself have all flown off the handle at the apparent equating of this Bill with the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. But that’s not what Lineker wrote.

The language being used is certainly reminiscent of 1930s Germany. Unless the argument is that the language used in 1930s Germany was German, literally a different language to English.
But it’s certainly rhetoric that is reminiscent of the 1930s – not least the infamous 1938 Daily Mail editorial headlined ‘German Jews pouring into this country’.

So despite the fact Lineker had a point, after three days of front-page opprobrium by the Mail and Telegraph, and howler-monkeyesque screeching calls to cancel him by those bulwarks in the war against cancel culture on GB News, the supine, spineless BBC announced he would be taken off Match of the Day presenting duties until there was “an agreed and clear position on his social media use”.

The alleged problem with Lineker showing compassion for refugees is that it breaches the BBC’s “impartiality” rules. But that argument holds no water when considered in light of the 99.9 per cent probability that nothing would have happened to Lineker had he praised the Government sending vulnerable refugees to Rwanda and stripping them of their protections under modern slavery laws.

It holds no water when you consider Richard Sharp was made BBC chairman after donating £400,000 to the Tories and somehow wangling Boris Johnson a mysterious £800,000 loan.

It holds no water when it is explained that Robbie Gibb, Theresa May’s former director of communications, has a seat on the BBC board and is able to block journalists from getting jobs because of their perceived political affiliations.

It holds no water when Tim Davie, a former deputy chairman of the Hammersmith & Fulham Conservative party, and Tory election candidate, was made Director General of the BBC.

It holds no water when a Tory peer is able to tweet support of Johnson, and post objectively racist comments, yet is not asked to “step back” from presenting The Apprentice.

It holds no water when, for many years, Andrew Neil, a key member of the BBC’s current affairs programming output, was allowed to tweet, without censure, his right-wing views and oversee publication of literal Nazi apologism in The Spectator.  

It holds no water when Fiona Bruce, who is married to Nigel Sharrocks, the CEO of an advertising company that received £3.9million to promote Conservative Government policies, is seen as the best choice to chair the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme. One could argue that Bruce should be able to be impartial despite this – although her defence of Boris Johnson trying to knight his father by saying “Stanley Johnson broke his wife’s nose only once – it was a one-off” suggests her partisan leanings might be a little too visible.

Gloriously, MOTD pundit Ian Wright announced he would not appear in Saturday night’s edition of the programme in solidarity with Lineker – leading a revolt which was joined by  fellow pundits Alan Shearer, Alex Scott, Micah Richards, even Jermaine Jenas, whose stock as a pundit with any insight at all is so incredibly low he could have been forgiven for taking this opportunity to boost his career.

The BBC then announced they would simply go ahead without presenters and pundits – a situation preferable to the only remaining alternative of a panel including conspiracy-theorist Matt Le Tissier, bitter, anti-woke misanthrope Mark Lawrenson and racist binbag John Yems.

But then Conor McNamara and his fellow commentators announced they would step down too! Followed by the presenting teams of Football Focus, Final Score, Radio Five Live’s Fighting Talk… It raises an interesting point: Why can’t the BBC compel these employees of theirs to work? Is it because they’re not, in fact, BBC employees? In which case, why are they dictating what they can and can’t tweet?

The BBC has dug itself an embarrassing hole in the name of upholding “impartiality” and not for the first time. In fact, Auntie has a habit of shooting herself in the Titicacas, especially where the distinction between “impartiality” and “due impartiality” is concerned.

Remember when Naga Munchetty was rebuked for opining – in light of one of Donald Trump’s outbursts – that the phrase “Go back to your own country” was racist? That ultimately led to accusations the Beeb was seeking to be impartial on racism.

Or when Emily Maitlis was taken off air for an opening monologue on Dominic Cummings’ disdain for lockdown rules?

Due impartiality does not mean that racism should not be called out or that the Government of the day is exempt from criticism – but the BBC often seems to forget this.

What’s funny is that when these stories break, the BBC feels duty-bound to report them high on the news agenda, because they fear flak from the likes of the Mail if they don’t. But this works both ways, as they also have to cover people claiming that their kowtowing to the Government and right-wing press is pathetic. Hence why I got a BBC News Alert on my phone this morning, stating: “The BBC has badly undermined itself” after criticism from former DG Greg Dyke. Add self-flagellation to the charge sheet, along with spinelessness, lack of self-awareness, and pandering to the far right.

The Lineker controversy comes at the same time as another scandal – as an episode of David Attenborough’s Wild Isles programme will be aired only on iPlayer, reportedly because the BBC fears presenting facts about the decline in UK wildlife might result in a right-wing backlash.

It’s true that the episode in question features collaboration with the RSPB, which last year abandoned its stance of being fastidiously apolitical by breaking its silence about Government policies being ruinous for nature. The Telegraph was up in arms at this partnership, even though you might consider that if apolitical organisations feel the need to change tack in light of damaging Government actions, it might be the Government actions that are the problem.

The BBC denied the sixth episode had ever been slated to air, despite the fact that all of Attenborough’s series of the last 20-odd years have had six instalments. In light of the Lineker case, this denial looks like buhookey. And it’s also now difficult to shake the notion that the recent axing of Autumnwatch was a political move in response to Chris Packham’s activism.  

Cancelling Attenborough and Lineker on the same day feels like a line in the sand. I’ve defended the BBC against its critics for many years but yesterday was the epitome of cowardice in the face of febrile pressure from the increasingly deranged Mail and Telegraph.
I joked on Facebook yesterday that Vichy France had shown more backbone than the BBC in the face of right-wing attacks. Perhaps a better comparison would be Norway in 1940. For Chairman Sharp, read Vidkun Quisling. The Tories putting him, Davie, Gibb, Bruce, Kuenssberg etc at the controls has established the Tories their own puppet government of collaborators at the top of the BBC. Dissent will not be tolerated.
So vive la resistance of Lineker, Wright, Shearer et al. And shame on the BBC, now a state broadcaster rather than a public one. Fudge ‘em.

* Like when Ben Folds of deep-Red North Carolina announced he was releasing a political single and I had to hold my breath until I heard Mister Peepers and was hugely relieved.


2022 – another self-indulgent recap

I started 2022 with what I thought was Covid but was – according to the tests – was not. Perhaps it was my own strain… Bromicron?

I end the year having just about recovered after two weeks of horrible lurgy but having also wrecked my ankle when it stood in, momentarily, for the sole of my foot. It’s a very attractive purple colour now. I also did get actual Covid in between.

Several colleagues/ex-colleagues sadly died, the country is broken, the world is burning, it’s still the best part of two years before we can even try to remove this omnishambles of a government, which has plunged to hitherto beyond-satire depths of chaos in the last 12 months.

2022 has not been a classic.

There have been highlights though. I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled to Portugal (for a wonderful Crawford-Day wedding), Menorca, Iceland and Ireland (where I am seeing out the last few hours of the year) as well as Norfolk, Durham and Center Parcs to celebrate some important birthdays.

I started a WhatsApp group for bird enthusiasts in my village which has been rather uplifting, and Brent Pelham highlights have included a hen harrier (sadly very briefly), mandarin ducks, ravens (now living here), bullfinches, lesser whitethroats and yellow wagtails, while further afield I’ve seen dippers, goosanders, and life ticks of grey phalarope, hoopoe and black redstart.

I’ve reconnected with some old friends and made new ones; I was briefly made Foreign Secretary at Matt Chorley’s live show (a position I think I held for only slightly less time than Liz Truss held the premiership); I have resurrected my monthly pub quiz at my local pub; and I’ve learnt how to write and solve cryptic crossword clues, and how to cook banana bread.

My book – A Curious Fact A Day – has been published and I’m rather proud of the end product. Its original print run sold out very quickly but a new batch is now available to buy – just in time for, er, the new year.

T’boy has once again been a constant source of joy and he’s settled into secondary school (moving from an entire school of 95 pupils to a year group of 240) like he’s always been there. Introducing him to Father Ted this year has been a very rewarding experience.

Thanks to everyone who has helped keep me sane this year – I appreciate so many of you a lot more than you know – but especially to Fran (who may not always keep me sane but who works her butt off for our family).

Goodbye 2022, you’ve been surreal. 2023… let’s do this.

“I’m OK. Just… a little bit not” – a year after the swamping

A YEAR ago I had a bit of a Facebook outpouring. “Anyone else finding everything a bit overwhelming at the moment?” I asked.

I was struggling to keep my head above the water of the daily grind. Working from home during lockdown had gifted me back an extra three hours a day of ‘commuting time’, which I’d filled all too hastily with extra pursuits. The gradual return to the office resulted in something of a time ‘squish’. Too much to do, not enough hours in the day.

It wasn’t just that, though. It seemed that there were about five things a day sent to try me: people being dickish, companies being incompetent, the news being dystopian. I was struggling to make decisions about schooling and home renovations, money was tight and I was physically and mentally knackered.

It felt like all the angst I was meant to be suffering from in 2020 was deferred while I actually (deadly virus notwithstanding) found ‘the year from hell’ quite enjoyable. But 2021 had come back to bite me.

“I’m OK,” I concluded. “Just… a little bit not.”

I didn’t see my post as a cry for help. I didn’t see this as necessarily or explicitly a mental-health issue. I just wanted to share how I was feeling because a number of friends had hinted that they were in a similar position and I wanted to make it clear they weren’t alone – as well as, undoubtedly, angling for some validation that I, too, wasn’t the exception here.

The response was humbling and uplifting. So many people responded to my post with stories of how they felt similarly swamped. Many others suggested things that might help, from meditation and yoga to vitamin supplements to comedy recommendations. I returned home from work that day to find my lovely neighbour Jo had left me a batch of delicious banana and blueberry muffins, so she was the winner.

Most (though by no means all) of the people who responded directly to my post were women. But what was eye-opening was the number of men who subsequently made contact privately, or face to face, to express solidarity with the feeling that we’re paddling and paddling but the waves seem to be getting higher and higher.

Guys are getting better at expressing their feelings and that’s to be encouraged. Last week, a former schoolmate of mine took his own life. In February, my ex-colleague Danny Bottono did the same. Tragedies like these pose uncomfortable questions in 2022, when we have made so many advances in so many areas: Life should be easier than this, shouldn’t it?

So where am I, a year on from being “OK, just… a little bit not”?

Well, it varies. Last week, I was very close to a relapse. Perhaps the switch from September to October is my trigger point (certainly I notice I feel better having taken Vitamin D supplements when the sun isn’t so prevalent in the sky.

The overwhelmed feeling crept up on me, like I was on a beach with my back to the sea as a tsunami hurtled towards the shore. Looking at my to-do list felt like I was trying to read from a roll of receipt paper, spewing incessantly from the till. My breathing is the best barometer of my mood – the bellwether that indicates I’m not coping. It’s one of the main reasons (well, together with my back, and my ludicrously tight hamstrings) that I find yoga such a vital outlet.

I was able to get a handle on last week’s erratic inhalations and exhalations thanks to that, and also thanks to remembering the comments I received last year.

Fran gave me some of the best advice when in this situation: “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

It’s true. And a meticulously plotted ‘bullet journal’, laying out all my tasks for the week and allotting them their own specific days, has helped no end in aiding my digestion of this troublesome pachyderm we call modern life.

I hope everyone who shared with me their worries and anxieties last October is in a better place now, or at least has developed coping mechanisms that might mitigate that feeling of being swamped.

Money is even tighter now, too many people are still being dickish, companies don’t seem to be getting all that more competent and the news, if it were possible, has become even more dystopian and shambolic.

That, I fear, is life.

But if we look out for one other, we might just get through it.     

‘Hidden money! 100 yen!’ cry corrupt reforms (14)*

Or ‘How Bitcoin might have helped my brain finally understand crossword clues’

LIFE is complex right now. Innovation, technology, a social revolution, the Covid aftermath and the necessity to deal with the climate emergency mean the world is changing at a dizzying speed – with humanity seemingly on the brink of launching into the future in ways that until recently were unimaginable (or imaginable only by the most prescient of sci-fi authors).

At the same time, dogma, denial and a mantra of ‘But I like the way we’ve always done things’ keeps us tethered to the past.

The former is scary, no doubt, the latter comfortable (at least in the short term) – but I’m of the opinion that progress is usually positive, so I’ve tried to roll with it.

That’s not so easy at 43. As the great Douglas Adams put it: “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

That said, in a bid to get down with the kids (specifically, the tech-geek kids), I decided it was time to invest in cryptocurrency.

I’ve read some people say that crypto will usurp actual money in the future and, if that does transpire, I don’t want to be one of the bamboozled sadsacks, homeless and destitute, wailing on street corners about why my previously valuable printed portraits of the monarch are now worthless.

So I investigated Bitcoin (obviously, it had to be Bitcoin rather than any of the countless other cryptos nobody’s ever heard of, I’m not a maniac). The words were utterly baffling so I chose instead to focus on the pictures. I was buoyed by a graph that showed there had been a major crash recently – Bitcoin’s value dropping from around $80,000 to $23,000. Buy low, sell high. This looked an opportune moment to invest.

Another reason why it struck me that the time was right is that I figure, if I have my finger anywhere near the pulse of the zeitgeist, then loads of other clueless idiots, like me, completely ignorant of what blockchains and non-fungible tokens are, will also be thinking it’s about time they jump on the crypto bandwagon. Watch that graph soar!

Online messageboards pointed to Coinbase as the most helpful exchange app to use, so I signed up. All was going smoothly, and I was quietly congratulating myself on my elevation to cyber citizen, when I hit a wall. A paper wall. Coinbase could not activate my account until I supplied them with a paper bank statement or utility bill. You what?

I don’t get utility bills any more. For years – nay, decades – my banks, my energy suppliers, my water company (pretty much anyone who would have reason to send me an invoice) have been pushing me to “go paperless”. It makes sense, of course. See your account/bill online, save a copse-worth of trees… what’s not to like? So, that’s what I did. It was before I was 35, so this thinking was new, exciting and revolutionary after all.

How can it be that the groundbreaking, wholly digital future of how we pay for things requires something even the old-style, fuddy-duddy banks rendered obsolete years ago?

The answer, I guess, is increased regulation. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the people with billions of pounds control pretty much everything, and they’re not likely to let anything change too much, lest it affects them and their obscene wealth.

They’re certainly not about to let some upstart cyber-nerdlingers muscle in on the party without a fight. By lobbying for increased regulation on a market where deregulation is key, they can keep those cryptocurrency graphs from shooting skywards.

Perhaps. Maybe. What the hell do I know? It’s against the natural order of things.

I know ‘crypto’ (from the Greek for ‘hidden’) is right there, baked into the name, but cryptocurrencies aren’t helping themselves burst into the mainstream. The nomenclature is so weird, the terminology so esoteric, that would-be investors like me are dissuaded. It all seems a bit too needlessly elitist and smug.

Until very recently – and prepare for a sharp change in direction in this blog ­– I felt similarly about the cryptic crossword community. But I’ve had an epiphany.

I never understood cryptic crossword clues, until that incredibly creepy episode of Inside No 9 gave me a bit more insight into how they work. I’d occasionally peruse the odd cryptic puzzle after that, maybe get two or three answers, but the rest still might as well have been written in cuneiform and, as with the cryptocurrency, I was put off from further investing (my time in this case).

That was until last week when I went to bed late after more Bitcoin investigation while keeping one eye on the US Open tennis. I dozed off, only to dream up a particularly pleasing cryptic crossword clue. I woke up, buzzing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Taking great care not to wake Fran next to me, I took my phone under the duvet and did a deep dive into cryptic clues, their structure, the indicators for anagrams, reversals, homophones and the rest. And then I spent most of the night devising more clues. It’s like the impenetrability of cryptocurrencies had flipped a switch to make decrypting crosswords much simpler.

Yesterday, I attempted a cryptic puzzle and, armed with my new knowledge, I completed it. I’d never come close before. What a thrill!

I may return to Bitcoin at some point but the future can wait. There’s a lot to be said for sitting down with a pen and the newspaper, and giving your brain a workout the old-fashioned way.

Here are some of the clues I came up with. I really don’t know whether they’re too easy, too hard – I’d appreciate feedback from those who have been cryptic-literate for years. It will help you to know they’re all sports related though.

1. It’s said she’s progressively collected more than one billy goat (6, 8)

2. Stadium goes wild for an Italian football legend, Paolo (3, 4)

3. Bury Football Club (5)

4. Giants deliver latest Super Bowls (3, 7)

5. American coach Ballyregan Bob (9)

6. Promoted movie (2)

7. Team comes back in final – Liverpool win, though (5)

8. Dina Asher-Smith’s lost in a specialist 100 metres field (7)

9. Sore and blistered outcome of technical error in choosing last-16 ties in Champions League (6)

10. Mertesacker a steely component with Championship team’s initial 100 per cent record (7)

11. A saint, smooth, socialist, serious, an Olympic legend (6, 8)

12. The quickest yanks inside, secure (5, 4)

13. Numerous Tom Daleys (6)

14. List of horses decried as weapon by anti-woke brigade (4, 4)

15. Turns to ash, circling around with Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre (9)

16. Veto seven-pointer (5, 4)

17. Potter’s wand (3)

18. You and Delhi University cameraman corrupted server (4, 8)

19. Hang around club (6)

20. Goalless stalemate the result of wardrobe malfunction (4, 4)

21. He strikes back in stark Covid warning: “And there’s no end to the beginning.” (6, 5) 

22. South-east London hotel removes helipad for Mercedes driver (5, 8)

23. An upset – adding three defeats to love by a team at the Olympics (10)

24. Saudi sportswashing project plays role in Armageddon (3)

I’m really hoping Khachanov wins the US Open so I can have ‘Entitled Karen rules New York (9)’.

* Oh yes, the answer to the clue in the title is ‘cryptocurrency’.


1. Serena Williams; 2. San Siro; 3. Inter; 4. New Yorkers; 5. Greyhound; 6. Up; 7. Villa; 8. Dashers; 9. Redraw; 10. Perfect; 11. Steven Redgrave; 12. Usain Bolt; 13. Divers; 14. Race card; 15. Crewmates; 16. Black ball; 17. Cue; 18. Emma Raducanu; 19. Putter; 20. Bore draw; 21. Divock Origi; 22. Lewis Hamilton; 23. Volleyball; 24. LIV

An honest Prime Minister? Hurrah! No, wait…

AFTER more than three years of having a habitual liar as Prime Minister, I was blindsided by the unexpected candour demonstrated by Liz Truss on the eve of her being unveiled as Boris Johnson’s successor.

“Levelling up, schmevelling up*,” she honked at soft-soaping political masseuse Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday morning, when faced with a graphic showing that her proposed tax cuts would benefit the wealthiest in society 235 TIMES more than the poorest.

Those Conservative promises to reduce economic imbalances between areas and social groups were written in their manifesto only in 2019, but you could be forgiven for thinking they’d been illuminated on vellum by monks, given how quickly they have become ancient history.

It has long been recognised that the gap between rich and poor always widens under Tory governments, but it feels almost shocking to have such a morally reprehensible goal set out so explicitly, so honestly, as Truss just did. It’s utterly disgusting yet almost refreshing, like a swim in the Channel on a 40°C day – among bobbing human turds**. At least it’s out in the open now, without the pretence that they actually care about anyone besides their donors and big businesses.

Since this leadership contest began (seemingly in the era of those illuminating monks again), Truss has made a series of increasingly right-wing promises in order to woo the 172,000 Tory members – most of them old enough to have voted for Stanley Baldwin – who got to have a say on the matter.

Boo to solar panels, it’s time for fracking and ramping up North Sea oil production!

Pay public-sector workers less if they work outside the South East!***

Workers’ rights? I’ll rip ‘em right up – that’ll show those idlers!

A windfall tax on oil companies’ record profits, while the majority of the population is bankrupted by soaring bills? Pah! Stop hammering business and put on three jumpers!

Make water companies spend money on updating the sewer system rather than hand out billions in dividends to shareholders? Pah! Stop hammering business and drink your effluent!

It’s all been oddly reminiscent of Alan Partridge’s unedifying lap dance for Tony Hares – Truss desperately attempting to snag the next series of the increasingly far-fetched and hard-to-watch show ‘Yeugh, Prime Minister’****.

Unless you’re a multi-millionaire, there is very little to look forward to about what’s to come under Truss. Her Trussonomics of neo-liberalism on steroids will hammer the poor, exacerbate workers’ struggles, brutalise the NHS, and wreak havoc on the environment, while we’re distracted by tedious culture wars and our rights being rescinded.

Predicted Cabinet line-ups highlight a startling lack of talent. Jacob Rees Mogg was even touted at one stage as Levelling-Up Secretary, which would be first-class trolling to be fair.  Kemi Badenoch is being linked with Education, having proposed in her own leadership campaign that schools could save money by cutting “superfluous support staff and peripheral activities” – so that’s SENCOs, sport and music out is it?

Given the lack of suitability of the names linked to such Cabinet roles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Truss name Yogi Bear as Minister for Eradicating Thefts of Pickanick Baskets.

I’ve not even mentioned the B-word, although it will continue to be the elephant in the room, defecating voluminously until our country is so suffocated in its faeces that it becomes impossible to ignore.

Don’t bet on Remainer-turned-Leave-zealot Truss daring to question why the far-right pachyderm keeps stomping on our farmers, scientists and exporters, though. A bonfire of EU protections will allow her to get on with her now explicit aim – to make the super-rich richer.

It begs the question why anyone but the super-rich will vote for the Tories in 2024 (or sooner, I guess) – but, of course, vast numbers will.

Political ignorance***** has a lot to answer for, as does the dangerous received wisdom that “they’re all as bad as each other”. Reader, they are not.

It’s certainly not helped by the media – a problem summed up by the fact that Joe Lycett being sarcastic got more column inches than Truss’ admission that levelling up is off the agenda.

Cringing as I watch her acceptance speech now, I feel a grim mix of revulsion and fear at what’s to come. It’s been an excruciatingly long leadership campaign, these are some excruciatingly long pauses Truss is leaving for applause breaks, it’s going to be an even longer, even more excruciating wait for the next election. Buckle up.

* I paraphrase only slightly. What Truss actually said, when asked by Kuenssberg whether it was “fair” to have such a huge disparity between rich and poor, was to repeat “It is fair” three times, and to say that “to look at everything through the lens of redistribution, I believe is wrong.” Eesh!

** Thanks to the Tories’ total indifference to the climate emergency and allowing water companies to pump sewage into our waterways, I never have to reach too far for a vividly nauseating metaphor these days.

*** At least she was forced to row back on this one.

**** Alternative name for this programme, based on the NHS crisis: ‘Doctor When?’. Or focusing on the water crisis – and in keeping with the Partridge theme – ‘Knowing Me, Flowing Poo’.

**** OK, I realise this sounds snobby but, if you don’t have Scrooge McDuck piles of money lying round, please explain why you’d vote for the Conservatives – and, in particular, *THIS* Blukip-style iteration of the Conservatives. I pose this question often and I rarely get a reply, so I’d love it if you’d let me know.

The only way is Ethics

In the fortnight since Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser resigned, and the PM opted not to replace him, it transpires…

… that Johnson was caught being fellated by his mistress in his ministerial office while Foreign Secretary.

… that Johnson subsequently tried to finagle a £100k-a-year job in the Foreign Office for the aforementioned mistress.

… that the minister who walked in on the act has subsequently been given a knighthood (as a reward for keeping quiet? It certainly wasn’t for any political successes!)

… that, after The Times published the ‘Carriegate’ story, No10 leant on them to remove it from later editions.

… that, at the same time he was whipping his MPs to vote against feeding children in poverty, he was trying to get a donor (the same donor who paid for his £840-a-roll gold wallpaper) to finance a £150,000 treehouse at Chequers for his then-6-month-old son.

…that the same donor has subsequently received a string of lucrative contracts, worth millions, from the Government.

…that the Tories have received £62,000 from Russia-linked donors since the start of the war in Ukraine, including £50k from the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister (just a day after Johnson pledged to step up sanctions against Russian oligarchs).

…that despite being told of complaints regarding a Chris Pincher’s sexual conduct, Johnson still promoted him to deputy chief whip. Pincher then got drunk and groped two men. Johnson says Pincher did ‘the decent thing’ by resigning as a result, and says there’s no need for an investigation.

…that deputy PM Dominic Raab has spent £1million of taxpayer money in nine months on private jets.

…that the Sports Minister’s favourite rugby league moment was Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute drop goal in 2003 (tenuously linked to ethics in that it is entirely unethical to have promoted someone so clueless about culture, media and sport to be Minister for Culture, Media and Sport).

… that the Tories think it’s really unfair for voters to choose to vote for the candidate best placed to unseat a Conservative, following defeats in two by-elections. The by-elections were held, respectively, because one Tory MP was caught repeatedly watching porn in the House of Commons, and another was jailed for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

And that’s certainly not the lot… What a wild old fortnight.

I get the feeling the phrase “like the last days of Rome” will soon be superseded by “like the last days of Johnson’s premiership”.

Ethics adviser? Pah!

Orange Man Bad – farewell to Trump

Four years on and Trump’s presidency has been every bit as horrendous as I could have expected… and then some.

Right from the start, with lies about his inauguration crowd, it became apparent that he would create his own confusing counter narrative to reality, citing his “alternative facts”, undermining the media trying to report the facts and essentially leaving the populace confused, gaslighted and angry. This cancerous tactic has seeped into our daily lives, and has spread malignly and inexorably to this side of the Atlantic. It has grossly undermined democracy and the terms on which honest political debate should be founded. This, more than anything, is the legacy of Trump’s term in office.

It has been grim, arguing with Trump supporters (and if still a supporter of Trump now, then the term ‘supporter’ seems to be underplaying things – you’re a cult member). I’ve been accused of having Trump Derangement Syndrome, of viewing all US news stories through the prism of “Orange man bad” as pardoned fraudulent white nationalist Steve Bannon would have it. And yet, attempting to look dispassionately back through Trump’s campaign and presidency, there are shockingly few redeeming features to counterbalance the horrors.

Even articles on what Trump has done right are shockingly skinny on accomplishments. The economic boom he took credit for simply carried on the trajectory from Obama’s administration. Isis’ attempts to build a caliphate in the Middle East were ended on Trump’s watch but, again, the back of the movement was broken by Obama. There’s a school of thought that the Middle East is more peaceful now than it was in 2016 but Palestinians are unlikely to be praising Trump for his efforts. Some commentators list tightening asylum laws and assassinating Qasim Soleimani as successes, which is arguable at best, while “toughening up regulations on vaping” is hardly the New Deal.

He hasn’t kept his promises. He failed to successfully build his Wall (& have Mexico pay for it), or repeal and replace Obamacare, or help rebuild the coal industry (all of which is good news, but is down to Trump’s incompetence). Yet his suppor-, sorry, cultists maintain he’s done great things – though tend to clam up when pressed for specifics.

He has stoked racial tensions, not only siding with but hiring white supremacists such as Bannon and Stephen Miller. He denounced even peaceful Black Lives Matter protests with far more disdain than he mustered for the deadly Charlottesville far right rally. He condemned BLM further when a small percentage of demonstrations turned violent – not seeming to realise that, if you denounce as “sons of bitches” the likes of Colin Kaepernick for peacefully taking the knee, it doesn’t leave the downtrodden with many other avenues of protest. He has railed against teaching about the States’ history with regards to slavery, and has demanded an oxymoronic “patriotic education”.

Taking the US out of the Paris Climate Accord is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg with regards to Trump’s ruinous environmental policies as scores of protections were rolled back to devastating effect.

His cosying up to authoritarian leaders such as Putin and Erdogan raises all kinds of concerns about what nefarious schemes are going on behind the scenes but which (& this is little better) is likely to have much to do with Trump’s own business interests in those countries.

His downplaying of the coronavirus has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, as the virus didn’t simply disappear by Easter “like a miracle”. Meanwhile the suggestion of injecting disinfectant should have been an unthinkably stupid thing for a world leader to say but was (along with wanting to nuke a hurricane) just one of countless statements that highlighted his intellectual paucity. That such high-end idiocy became almost quotidian shows just how far the goalposts have moved in terms of what we should expect from our elected leaders. Trump embraced the Scottish blood in his veins to not only move those goalposts but to snap them like his mother’s compatriots at Wembley in 1977. This ‘new normal’ has left us with a dearth of expectations for our representatives, which has allowed other world leaders (*side-eye at Boris*) to get away with corruption, venality and sheer incompetence on the basis that they haven’t plumbed below the Trumpian baseline. Time will tell if this leniency of the electorate extends to the post-Trump era.

And of course, Trump’s pathological need to win at all costs has led us to the point where civil war is no longer a fanciful notion. One man’s ego, and the slavelike devotion of his followers, has led us to a very dark place, where not only the US but most of the western world seems polarised – and epistemologists will be kept busy for years trying to unpick quite how and why such fervent beliefs have been built on the flimsiest, most fantastical of foundations.

I felt I should have been more surprised by so many Americans experiencing the last four years and voting for more of the same. We’re at a period of time when the febrile news cycle is apt to give one stress headaches – and yet 72million signed up to it, passionately. But then Trump got elected despite bragging about sexually assaulting women, mocking a disabled journalist and casting racist aspersions about Mexicans. Why then would refusal to condemn white supremacists, revelations of affairs with and illegal hush money to porn stars, the caging of migrant children and the decision to believe Putin over his own security services dissuade his disciples?

So, on this, his last day in the job, I am left hoping beyond hope that none of his cultists – emboldened as they were at the January 6 Capitol riots – does anything horrific at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Am I suffering from TDS? Is the Orange Man Bad filter clouding my judgment?Or have we just endured four years of the world’s most powerful nation being ruled by a uniquely terrible individual? Whichever is the case, I’m relieved this day has arrived.

2020 – the year of the bookworm

I read 57 books in 2020. To put that in context, a recent Facebook memory reminded me that in 2018 I’d made the New Year’s resolution to read “at least one book a month”.

OK, so eight of those were very short (mostly kids’) books, which I read in one sitting. But then I did read several brick-sized monsters too, plus another one twice…

Here are a few of my favourites…


Commander In Cheat by Rick Reilly
Perhaps fittingly, my year was bookended by two books about Donald Trump. I started 2020 reading Michael Wolff’s Fire And Fury and ended it with this… a coruscating, entertaining analysis of Trump’s breaking of rules on and off the golf course. Published in 2019, it has some startlingly prescient insights… not least the fact that Trump’s coat of arms (which he stole off someone else and then tweaked slightly) includes the motto ‘Numquam Concedere’ (Never Concede).
*exhales endlessly*

A Chicken Can’t Lay A Duck Egg by Graeme Maxton and Bernice Maxton-Lee
The authors are two of the smartest people I have the privilege of knowing and this book highlights the stark fact that our current capitalist system (the chicken in the title’s analogy) cannot solve the climate-change crisis (aka lay a duck egg). It’s depressing – because looking at the state of humanity and our ruling elites today, there seems to be no way we will avert catastrophe. And yet Graeme and Bernice do give some practical advice on how we can seed the changes we need to make. Mostly though, this is a furious polemic on the criminal negligence and corruption which has led us to this point, by two brilliantly intelligent people who are fed up with taking any more crap.


Natives (Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire) by Akala
I was deeply moved by Black Lives Matter in 2020 and it prompted me to do a lot of soul-searching – about my white privilege, about whether I’ve called out racism enough in the past, about whether liberalism is currently complicit in the failure to deal with systemic racism. It was uncomfortable but I took an opportunity to learn and grow – and read a number of books on race, racism and society in general.
Akala’s was my favourite. He expertly skewers a lot of the right-wing canards such as “What about black-on-black violence?” and highlights some of the shocking disparities faced daily by black Britons.
I preferred this to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (although perhaps this was because I read it first, so Eddo-Lodge’s revelations had their shock value dissipated for me somewhat). Where Eddo-Lodge discusses the hurdles in the path of a hypothetical young black man, Akala discusses them from the point of view of his non-hypothetical self. That’s not to say Eddo-Lodge doesn’t make great points – her explanation of white privilege and how you only notice privilege once you lose it (like an able-bodied person suddenly needing to use a wheelchair) is incredibly powerful.

How To Argue With A Racist by Dr Adam Rutherford
Digs down into the genetic science of race and simply but effectively exposes the idiocy of treating people differently because of skin colour.


You’re A Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton
Probably made me laugh out loud more times than any of the other 56 books I read last year. Hilarious nonsense.
Trivia: I read another book this year with a VERY bad man called Mr Gumb (although he’s not the most famous bad man in the book). Can you name it? Answer will appear later on…

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz
The Alex Rider teen-spy series is not meant to be a spoof but sometimes it comes across like that. Although there are cliches and plot holes galore, I did enjoy reading this as a bedtime story to Toby, although he was less than impressed with the range of accents I felt I should attempt. (Russians, Americans, Cubans… I was grateful the Chinese baddies had no dialogue).

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
An ambitious tale set elsewhere in the multiverse – with a unique, ethereal quality and an enthralling lead character in Lyra. Certainly gripped me enough for me to explore the rest of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Holes by Louis Sachar
A cracking modern fable.

The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Rauf
This was one of Toby’s class readers which I borrowed. A really important story about a refugee, with the moral that wherever we come from, whatever we look like, whether we’re a boy or a girl… shouldn’t really make all that much difference. Made me cry.


The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns
From the creators of The Wire, this is just as gritty and heartbreaking as their TV output – but also just as beautifully told.

Educated by Tara Westover
Horrifying and engrossing real-life tale of a woman growing up in a cult and how she escaped it.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
Exactly how much of this Gonzo journalism is ‘real’ life is up for debate but the writing style (as you’d expect from someone who created their own genre) is spellbinding.
Not being a drugs fan myself, one or two of the ‘under the influence’ sequences occasionally drag on – but some of the dawning realisations in Thompson’s sober moments are abs-achingly funny. A tour de force.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I told a lie earlier – it wasn’t Mr Gum. This is the book that got the most laughs out of me in 2020. This collection of vignettes kicks off with two stories – about his speech therapist and his dwarf guitar teacher – that had me incapacitated in politically incorrect spasms of snorts and guffaws. Not all of the tales maintain the early level of hilarity but Sedaris is a man who can squeeze the funny out of the most banal of situations.


Birds And People by Mark Cocker
I could wax lyrical about this huge tome for hours. I must confess, I’d already read half of this book but still needed the best part of a month of daily attention to complete it. 530 pages – but with at least as many words on each page as a normal book would have in four – and every one of those pages is a joy.
It’s hard not to be in awe of Cocker for managing to complete such an audacious project – to write about every bird family in the world and the relationships between each of them and the humans who share their planet.
It made me laugh, it made me cry, it left me overjoyed, it left me aghast at the profligacy and cruel idiocy of humans. Such is the scope of this book, which is a very strong contender for the best book I’ve ever read.

Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith
I guess this fits under science, being a series of treatises on the psychology and philosophy of how and why people believe what they do – and what it is that makes them change their minds. Spoiler alert: It’s not often reason.
For someone who engages in way too many online arguments, trying to use reason and rational thinking to out-debate my foes, this was an important read – and I can hopefully carry its lessons with me into my 2021 spats.
If I’ve made this sound a tad dry, believe me, it’s not. It is engrossing, at times mind-blowing, and Gordon-Smith regularly often lands some of the funniest lines I read all year. Brilliant.

A Brief History Of Almost Everything by Bill Bryson
Another ambitious project that is accomplished with aplomb. I love Bryson’s writing and this book is moreish. Once I’d digested it once, in an attempt to get some of the facts to stick in my brain, I went back through the index, making notes on the names within, all of whom have made some contribution to the incremental gathering of evidence towards getting to knowing what we know. Science, baby! An absolute delight.


Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
If Birds And People has stolen my heart as my favourite book, then this is one of its very close contenders. In equal parts harrowing and funny, surreal and beautiful… this is where prose becomes art.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
A timely read at a spell in the year right-wingers started quoting Orwell as if to support Brexit or Trump or to oppose Black Lives Matter. Yes, it’s clear that it’s the authoritarianism of Soviet/Eastern Bloc Communism that is the inspiration for this brilliant allegorical tale but that doesn’t automatically make it a fable for the Alt-Right. Far from it. Indeed, some of the main right-wing protagonists have used Orwell’s fictional dystopias as playbooks for how they’d like society to be. Make Orwell Fiction Again, as the T-shirt slogan says.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Unputdownable mystery/coming-of-age drama with gorgeous depictions of the North Carolina marshlands and its wildlife.

The Silence Of The Lambs by Thomas Harris
This is the answer to my earlier trivia question – Mr Jame Gumb is the very bad man… the Buffalo Bill killer in this fantastic book, although he’s no Hannibal Lecter. I obviously knew the film well, and it’s remarkable how closely the movie keeps to the plot of the book. Very little is altered or removed – and as a result it was a deserved success.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
A rather sweet, heart-warming tale about loneliness and how showing a little kindness can make all the difference.

It by Stephen King
I’d had three previous attempts at starting this 1118-page monster and never got beyond the 100th, but in a year in which I’d built up so much reading momentum, I gave this a running jump. And it was worth it, I think. King’s characterisation is second to none, and the scares are all you’d hope they would be… until the denouement, where it all goes very weird. Firstly, the 11-year-olds (one girl and six boys) all have an orgy, the lads lining up to have their turn with Bev. And after that, I was a bit too icked out to enjoy the final battle.  

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I didn’t get it – at first. I mean, I got parts of it… the hypnopaedia conditioning, indoctrinating the populace as they sleep, obviously translates into the media. The sports such as centrifugal bumblepuppy and Riemann-surface tennis, not to mention the ‘feelies’ cinematic experience are synonymous with the wealth of pastimes and entertainments we bury our troubles in today… but still, I didn’t fully appreciate Huxley’s prescience.
After finishing it though, I began to see it everywhere. Not just elements of Huxley’s imagined future, but references to the book itself – not least in the spookily timed Sky Atlantic adaptation. Unfortunately, while entertaining in parts, the TV version diverged significantly from the book and, in the last episode, disappeared entirely up its own backside… putting all its chips on a second series, which doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. Oh dear, pass me the soma.


SPQR by Mary Beard
A comprehensive history of Ancient Rome, engagingly told and eminently readable. I whizzed through this near-600-page brick in under a week. I’d love recommendations on similar for the likes of Ancient Greece or Egypt etc.

Great Britain’s Great War by Jeremy Paxman
I didn’t know what to expect from Paxman, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, he’s a little pompous at times but this was a thought-provoking look at the First World War and did much to debunk the widely held idea that it was simply mindless killing, with the likes of Field Marshal Haig sending wave after wave of Tommies to their fate as machinegun fodder – and certainly that the British soldiers weren’t willing to be there. Different times, as Paxman muses, when the sense of duty to your country over-rode any thoughts of your individual rights. It’s very true – you wouldn’t get today’s millennials lining up round the block to go and do your Government’s bidding. I’m not sure the shift is such a bad thing.

52 Times Britain Was A Bellend by James Felton
This should be on the school history curriculum. It won’t be… a) because it’s too rude and b) you’ll get the usual boneheads moaning that it’s for people who hate their country. If loving your country is predicated on not finding out about all the bad stuff that country’s done, then I don’t know what that says about your ‘patriotism’.

So, in conclusion, my top 10 reads of 2020 were…

Birds And People – Mark Cocker
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Natives – Akala
Stop Being Reasonable – Eleanor Gordon-Smith
SPQR – Mary Beard
The Boy At The Back Of The Class – Onjali Rauf
A Brief History Of Almost Everything – Bill Bryson
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Negativity in the age of Covid-19 (a lament for the UK media)

A message to our negative national press:
We think you are being quite rude.
By suggesting our Government’s making a mess,
You’re missing the national mood.

And TV’s Beth Rigby and you, Robert Peston,
Piers Morgan, the whole BBC,
Give it a rest with unpatriotic questions
About a shortage of PPE.

The Government’s clearly doing its best,
And yes, 26k dead’s a shame,
But give them more flak and we’ll strongly protest.
The last thing we need here is blame.

At 5 every day, just like alligators,
You gather round waiting to feed.
You taunt them with questions about ventilators
And things that our nurses might need.

In wartime, y’know, you’d be considered traitors
You’re out to stoke fear and drama.
Lefty Sunday Times hacks are just Tory haters
And I won’t ever watch Panorama.

Why aren’t you toasting our ‘apparent success’?
Try cheerleading not criticism.
True, Hancock and BoJo could have barely done less
But they won’t improve just cos you quiz ‘em.
(At least we’re not the ones leaving our NHS
Lacking in hope, faith and optimism.)

The nation has spoken, or don’t you remember,
That we all back Boris to the hilt?
We gave him a huge majority in December.
Now we shouldn’t be made to feel guilt.

He vowed after Brexit we’d be still be world beaters.
(Though did he mean in mortality rates?)
And our overall death toll? No one can defeat us
Except the fine United States.
(Ignore sore points by Joe Public’s crayon-eaters
Who jealously claim we’re not great).

Why do you insist on making it political?
If you had their job, you’d be crying.
It’s so very easy to be hypercritical
(Though less so if fewer are dying).

This is a crisis without precedence
Though we saw what it did to poor Italy
And our Government just sat on a Cheltenham fence
As our herd start was wasted, admittedly.

But as long as you ignore all of the evidence,
(And start using figures more Priti-ly),
There are three hundred thousand and thirty-four, nine hundred and seventy-four thousand reasons to jump to their defence,
And zero for you to act shittily.

That might sound a bit 1984-y
Yet hindsight’s 2020 and, well, this furore
‘Bout warnings unheeded, findings ignored, see,
I don’t want to dwell on it, really, I’m sorry,
But your foresight saga just bores me.

Maybe later an inquiry mandatory
Will judge the Government’s steps preparatory,
But because now we all have the memory of Dory,
They’ll come up smelling of pot pourri.

So media types, can you do something for me?
All of this death, well, it’s ever so gory.
Can’t you lead on a rather more positive story?
(More happy-clappy, more Captain Tom Moore-y).

Just please, please stop highlighting, I implore ye,
The consequence of voting Tory.                          

                                                             Dave Bromage


Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

At last the UK will be free from the EU’s dictatorship of elected MEPs. 

For too many years we have been forced (although only with our explicit consent and often at our own instigation) to adopt laws which dictate that our businesses must give their workers rights such as maternity leave and mandatory time off; that we must take steps to combat climate change; and that our food-standards guidelines should minimalise the amount of maggots and rodent hair we consume.

No longer! As an independent nation we will be free to do away with all of that nonsense.

Having yanked ourselves free from the shackles of our frictionless trading relationship with our biggest market, and ripped up the 40 trade deals we have with 70 countries around the world, we are in the exciting position of starting over! Everyone loves a challenge and there are few things more challenging than decades of negotiating stuff we already had but from a weaker position.

We have plenty to offer other countries. Admittedly we can no longer use French wine, Seville oranges or German BMWs as bargaining chips – but we can still strike great deals thanks to our Great British Newcy Brown, Marmite, Mini Coopers and Rolls-Royces. (Oh, hang on, they’re now Danish, Dutch and German-owned respectively.) Never mind, we sure have some great areas of our health service with which to tempt other countries. Donald Trump is promising us lots of chlorinated chicken in return for access to those.

The blip from having to renegotiate all those deals is likely to last only four or five decades so, if you’re still alive by that point, look forward to this country returning to its present level in about 2065. (And by this country, I obviously mean England because the others will have buggered off by then).

The best thing about this short-to-medium-term downturn is that it is predominantly the places that voted for Brexit that will bravely shoulder the largest burden, so they should do so happily and without complaint. Brexit means Brexit – even if that means the closure of the Japanese car plant on which your city relies and the loss of thousands of jobs. But, hey, it’s swings and roundabouts. The decimation of our motor industry means the boom of our food bank industry (that’s an industry, right?)
Anyway, some things are worth even more than food. Juicy, succulent sovereignty, for one. Nom, nom, nom.

Sure, there will also be much more inconvenience and cost involved in living in or going on holiday to Europe. Luckily, the way we are treating EU nationals who have lived in the UK for years, often decades, will make Europeans far less predisposed to make us feel welcome on the Continent – so probably for the best that we don’t even bother going there.

Trump and Vladimir Putin agree that we’re doing the right thing and it’s probably not in our interests to dwell on what possible ulterior motives they have for saying that. Although the vast majority of the rest of the globe seems to be of the opinion that we’re making a catastrophic mistake, we can cling to this: we will stand on the world stage as an independent nation.

Let us hope ‘independent’ is not merely a synonym for ‘alone’.