Sunday, 13 October 2019

Leaving women alone should not be a big deal



This blog post should be filed squarely under "I cannot believe this even needs to be said" but here we go... Yesterday, Mallory Hagan, a former candidate for Congress and Miss America 2013, tweeted the following truth which should be self-evident:

Dear every man in America, I’m sitting at the bar by myself because I want to. Please be self-aware enough to know when we are simply not interested in carrying on conversation. Sincerely, 
All women

Sadly, it should come as no surprise that this tweet triggered men far and wide and soon Mallory had to deal with an online pile-on from overgrown, entitled toddlers throwing testosterone tantrums (with apologies to the perfectly adorable and polite toddlers I know). And there were, depressingly, a few women joining in - generally the "but I love being chatted up!" brigade.

Let's go through some of the asinine responses to break down why they're tweeting utter horseshit, shall we? *rolls up sleeves, has bottle of brain bleach at the ready*

Of course Stefan Molyneux piped up. Any opportunity to be a misogynistic dick, eh Stef? He tweeted:

"Drinking alone in public with a hostile and entitled attitude. RUUUUUUN!!!!!"

I see you, Stef. I fucking see you. You think that if you say something rude about a woman and then imply that this makes her unattractive to men everywhere then she'll realise the error of her ways and go out of her way to make sure next time a man talks to her, she'll fawn all over him whether she wants to or not. You big hero, Stef! Look at you speaking up for the men who feel entitled to conversation from every woman they meet, claiming that you're actually helping them rather than telling women what to do. Because that's not at all creepy...

And now for a tweet from a guy who, without irony, claims to know why all women do the things they do:

"No woman goes alone to a bar/club if she is not looking for attention. She goes with her girlfriends."

Sorry, but you clearly don't know any women who travel regularly for work (or indeed women who have gone out on the pull with a few girlfriends - and that's perfectly fine too). I am a woman who travels for work. Sometimes I want to have a quiet drink after a long day working. Inevitably, I've been talking to people all day, I'm possibly jetlagged and the last thing I feel like is a conversation with a stranger. But I might want a glass of wine and some time alone. I might use the time to lazily scroll through the news on my phone, check emails, write up my notes or I might just want to have a drink and watch the passing parade. Whatever the case, it's nobody's business but mine.

If someone tries to talk to me under these circumstances, I quickly and politely let that person know I'm not interested in a conversation - as I'm sure Mallory does too, judging by her patient replies to the idiotic tweets. Usually I am then left in peace. Sometimes I feel the need to flash my wedding ring and let it be known that I am married - but I shouldn't have to do that, just as a single woman shouldn't feel obliged to invent a husband or boyfriend to be left alone. But if someone is persistent and you're alone, especially if you're far from home, that is the kind of thing that women often feel they have to do to feel safe without causing offence. 

We are conditioned to not cause offence, to always be polite and demure, even if we're receiving unwanted attention and don't feel safe. That is how fucked up things still are for women. 

Then there's the tweet from the guy who assumes that a woman who wants to be left alone will suddenly change her mind when an Adonis appears at the bar:

"Translation: “Unattractive Beta males should know their place and not approach me. If you are attractive it’s your duty to approach me.”

This guy would be stunned to know that there are women who don't want to be approached at a bar by anyone, regardless of where they might fall on the scale of attractiveness, conventional or otherwise. Of course, it could be that a good-looking man might enter the bar, the lone woman may spot him and it could be one of those love-or-at-least-lust-at-first-sight moments and if she decides to have a conversation with him, that's her right just as it is to ignore him - except that LIFE IS NOT A GODDAMN MOVIE! There are myriad reasons why a woman might be drinking alone in a bar and for many of us, it wouldn't matter who walked through the door, we'd still like to have a drink in blissful solitude. 

And there were plenty of tweets mansplaining bars to Mallory, such as this genius:

"People go to bars to SOCIALIZE. It's that kind of place."

The use of capital letters always makes a point more valid, right? And sure, the majority of people in any given bar probably are there to socialise. But that doesn't mean that people who want to have a drink by themselves should stay away. If a solo individual wants to buy a drink, whoever owns the bar is hardly likely to stop them give they're in the business of making money through selling drinks. Anyone who tweeted this sort of tripe while claiming to be a free market capitalist is, with all due respect, an idiot. 

And here we go with one Dr Saad. He's a professor of evolutionary biology, according to his Twitter bio. But here he proves that having a PhD does not exempt a man from being a dick:

"If you are sitting at a bar, it is perfectly reasonable for people to think that you are open to social interactions. It takes a lot of courage for most men to approach women. If they do so politely, act kindly rather than as a smug schmuck to half of humanity. Dr. Saad- A man"

No, Prof, it's not "perfectly reasonable for people to think you are open to social interactions". You have no idea why that woman is alone in the bar. Maybe she has just received some bad news and wants to process it over a drink. Maybe she is there to get away from a pesky man in another bar. And sure, you won't know unless you approach her - but if you approach her with the assumption that she is "open to social interactions", you're already being an entitled twat.

And, yes, I get it - it takes courage to approach a woman, just as some women need to summon up courage to approach a man - or just as any of us have to summon up courage to have any number of difficult conversations in this life. But even if it took every ounce of courage you possess to talk to a woman in a bar, she still does not owe you her time or a conversation. You do not get to assume that she really wants a man to insert himself into the situation or into any other part of her life or anatomy.

At no point did Mallory suggest that women shouldn't "act kindly" if someone approaches them politely so to go straight to accusing her of being a "smug schmuck to half of humanity" is a rather un-nuanced escalation for someone who claims to be an academic.

This tweet is just the academic version of the common man-whine of "How are men and women meant to get together if men can't talk to women anymore?". Sit down. Nobody is saying men can't talk to women. We are simply saying we don't owe you anything if you talk to us and if we make it clear we're not interested, back off. Men and women are still getting together, and if they are doing so in a more mutually respectful manner these days, that's a good thing. 

And then there is the patronising oversimplification from a man:

"Try this simple hack: “Nice to meet you, I’m not interested in talking right now.” Works every time"

No, it doesn't work every time. If a polite response worked every time, it wouldn't be a problem for women. How the hell would a man know if it works every time anyway? He is only speaking from his own experience. If he can accept that a woman is not interested, good for him but he can't assume that every man who is politely turned away will take no for an answer. 

There were plenty of responses to Mallory's tweet along the lines of  a sarcastic "the struggle is real", as if she is detracting from what a bunch of men on the internet have decided to deem as genuine oppression against women. The struggle is real. We know the struggle is real because conversations where women have told someone they're not interested have ended up in their rape or murder. That's why it's a struggle and that's why we have the right to be angry about this issue along with the thousands of other reasons from around the world for why feminism should still exist.

And here are a few terrible responses from women, such as this one:

"Well Mallory, there are many of us women out here who adore men. In fact, take me as an example: I quite prefer conversation with a man over a self-absorbed puppet propaganda female."

Thank you for perpetuating the myth of the man-hating feminist. It is possible to "adore men" and expect these adorable creatures to show us respect if we want to be left alone. You are perfectly entitled to talk to men instead of women. Literally nobody is stopping you from doing this.  

And just as there are patronising men, there are women who are not above patronising other women:

"Dear men, Not all women are like this. If you speak to me, I’m perfectly capable of being polite. I’m often blessed by the stories/people I meet when I don’t close myself off. A brief conversation never hurt anyone. And listening is a valuable skill to develop. Sincerely, me."

Oh yawn. Any civilised adult is "perfectly capable of being polite". The problem is that a polite refusal is not always respected. Good for you that you've been "blessed" by the strangers that you've met because you don't close yourself off. But nobody should be expected to be permanently open to chatting to strangers, no matter how fascinating they may be. As for the patronising guff about listening being a valuable skill to develop, it is precisely because I've spent all day listening to people that I might want a drink by myself when I'm off duty.   

"Dear Men, when I was single, I was mature enough to carry on a conversation with men, and when their attention was unwanted or inappropriate, to let them know that I wasn’t interested. PS, you all responded as mature humans as well."

And this is the terrible female equivalent of the man of the "simple hack". Just as he has never seen an example of a bad situation as a result of a woman rejecting a man politely, this lucky woman is here to tell us that when she politely rejected men, 100% of the time they "all responded as mature humans". That's great but extrapolating from the example of one is stupid. 

If you refuse to recognise that not every polite refusal ends in a civilised manner, you are denying the real experiences of real women than happen all over the world every day. When these interactions go sour, at best, it might result in an awkward conversation - but, hey, nobody ever died of embarrassment, right? Or it could escalate to an angry conversation. Or it could end in unwanted touching, which could be an insistent hand on the arm, hand or thigh or it could be rape or murder.   

Because men who feel entitled to a conversation from a woman can easily be the men who feel entitled to our bodies.

I stand with Mallory.

Photography by Frederic Poirot/Flickr

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Britain: the spoiled toddler of Europe



We got home in the early hours of this morning from a brilliant holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes. Everywhere we went, my Australian self and my British husband did not have to trouble ourselves with knowing a word of Greek, apart from "Yamas!" when the beers arrived. 

Waiters, bar tenders, hotel receptionists, hotel cleaners, the woman in the mini market, people urging us to have fish pedicures and walk through a giant lion's mouth to enter a club in Faliraki, the guys who take the money for the sunloungers on the beaches, the cheerful car hire bloke - they all spoke good English. Better than good. Way better than anything I could burp out in Greek. And then you'd see them talk to other people and effortlessly swing from Greek to French to German to Italian and back to English for the monolingual people.

Because that is what Brits (and Australians and Americans...) have come to expect - that everyone will speak English. 

I couldn't sneer at the Greek waiter who said "Lovely jubbly!" as he took our order at a beachside taverna, even though I find Jamie Oliver chronically irritating. After all, he took the time to learn a popular English catchphrase for our benefit. If I was waiting on tables in London and that waiter turned up, I wouldn't be able to muster a single Greek catchphrase to welcome him. I could manage some schoolgirl German, maybe some French and Italian babble that would make me sound like a reject from 'Allo, 'Allo, but I'd be flattering myself if I thought I could hold entire conversations with our nearby neighbours in their own language.

But the cliche of the British tourist expecting to be pandered to, coddled and pampered like an obnoxious toddler is true. You do see British holidaymakers talking loudly and slowly, creating halitosis mirages in the faces of bemused Europeans. It's embarrassing (and I'm only British by presumption and association when I travel with my husband) but it's a microcosm of how Britain expects to be treated by the European Union.  

And we have been treated very well as members of the EU. We are not compelled to have multilingual road signs. Our driving distances are measured in miles, not metric. We can order a pint rather than 568 millilitres of beer. We have kept the pound as our currency rather than adopting the euro. We are not part of the Schengen zone. We have the power to deport Europeans for reasons of security and if they are a burden on the welfare system. We would have had even more rights in terms of deporting EU citizens under the deal David Cameron negotiated before the referendum - if we'd voted to stay in the EU. Ironically, he did a better job of negotiating with the EU than any of the lazy, low-information charlatans who have turned up to Brussels since the referendum still expecting special treatment.

It is pitiful to see Brexiters whine about the EU being mean to them when all they are doing is enforcing what it means to leave the EU. The four freedoms are indivisible - if you voted to leave the EU, you literally voted to give up those freedoms. You can poke your bottom lip out and wobble it all you like, but that is what you did. At least have the courage and awareness to own your shit.

If we do end up leaving the EU on October 31, we don't yet know the level of chaos that will ensue. Only a masochist would want things to go badly. But there are some things that will become more difficult, things that many of us haven't even considered. There are no cheaper, smoother alternatives for British companies who benefit from supply chains through Europe - and this is not just for exporting to the EU. Anyone with a map of the world can see that the port of Antwerp offers an easy route to Africa, for example. 

There is a world of crap facing the travel industry too. Trust me, I report on it for a living. Bus drivers who drive in Europe will need EU-approved certificates of professional competence as UK certificates would become invalid in a no-deal Brexit. Insolvency protection for UK retailers selling to EU customers and vice versa will become way more complicated, such as those who sell travel products. UK travel companies will need to take out insolvency protection for each EU market into which they sell. EU-based tour operators will need to be ATOL members. UK travel agents will need proof that non-UK organisations they work with comply with separate UK regulations.

But supply chains and ease of working for bus drivers and insolvency protection for the travel industry and Antwerp - that's all boring, right? If anyone read the paragraph above in its entirety, I'd be stunned. Here's the link to a story I wrote on it if you can be arsed.

No matter what I write, there are still plenty of people who are fetishising any possible hardships, spouting tedious bumper sticker slogans about how we survived two world wars and we just need to invoke the Blitz spirit. Except WWII ended 74 years ago. People who have never fired a shot in defence of anything are carrying on as if they were there, underneath Luftwaffe bombs and enduring rationing. It was a bloody awful time. 

We survived? My arse, we did. We didn't have to do anything because most of us weren't yet born or we were too young to really remember - and for that we should be grateful for the generations before us. But in the online peanut galleries, it is the Brexiters who are claiming a monopoly on respecting the sacrifices of our largely long-dead soldiers. That's bullshit.

The desire in particular to see young people suffer post-Brexit is particularly vile. When did people stop wanting the next generation to have a better, easier life?  My grandfather, who saw the horrors of WWII up close in Papua New Guinea and Japan, was always grateful that his son and daughter and my sister and I did not have to go to war. He did not want us to see what he saw and he did not want our young adulthoods blighted by war and suffering because he was decent and rational.

And as the days grind on, ever closer to October 31, it's obvious Boris Johnson, our wretched joke of a prime minister, has nothing to offer. He has no real desire or ability to negotiate anything with the EU. All he has is meaningless arse-waffle about "believing" and "getting on with it" and "clean breaks". It's the Brexiters who are all about the feelz, even when the attempts by the government to negotiate a deal that won't damage the economy collide with reality and dissipate into a fine powder of delusion.  

This country is behaving like a spoiled toddler. I hope we're not the poorer for it. If the Brexiters prove me wrong, fine. So be it. But spare me the WWII analogies - they're historically ignorant and you're embarrassing yourself like a prime minister who runs away from a bunch of middle-aged protestors in Luxembourg.



   





Photography by Eyesplash/Flickr

Friday, 30 August 2019

Of dead cats and trial balloons...


Dead cat: Apparently coined by political strategist, Lynton Crosby, it is something said or done to draw attention away from unpleasant news.

Trial balloon: A project, scheme or idea that is tentatively announced to test the reaction. 

There is nothing particularly new about dead cats or trial balloons, but in the last few months, we've had enough dead cats dropped on us to fill a Stephen King novel and the sky is so full of trial balloons, everyone has received an online petition about it from Greenpeace.

Basically, the government wants to know how far it can go, exactly how strong is our appetite for assorted populist, right-leaning policies and how loud and effective are the dissenters. And when something awful is happening, a diversion will be created.

The two most obvious trial balloons of recent months were flown by the chronically misnamed Centre for Social Justice,

A think-tank, led by Iain Duncan Smith, floated the idea of increasing the age when the state pension can be accessed, to 75. The CSJ put the proposal forward and it wasn't long before it was howled down by many. It was a bold move for a conservative think-tank led by a Tory politician, considering the reliance by the Conservative Party on older voters.

IDS himself spluttered out a tweet which made a valiant attempt to put a positive spin on a policy that would make many a tired, overworked voter furious:

"Removing barriers for older people to working longer has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, increase retirement savings and ensure the full functioning of public services for all."

Never mind that this policy would lead to many people placing further strain on public services, such as the NHS, because they've worked long after their bodies have started begging for a rest. As if he cares about that - it's all about saving money on the state pension, the biggest proportion of the welfare bill.

A 75 retirement age was never government policy and may never happen, but the reaction to the balloon was probably very instructive for the government.

The other trial balloon from the CSJ was to urge Home Secretary Priti Patel to make the minimum wage for visa applicants £36,700, effectively eliminating people from coming to work in the UK in most nursing, teaching, hospitality and aged care jobs. Despite the obvious labour shortages that such a policy would create pretty quickly, particularly with an ageing population (but, hey, maybe we can look forward to a country where the average care home worker is over 70...), this idea seemed to be a bit more popular, particularly with anti-immigration voters who are being courted by the Conservative Party, lest the Brexit Party parks too many more tanks on the manicured Tory lawns. 

I'm sure it has given Priti Patel much food for thought - and I wouldn't be surprised if she finds it rather tasty indeed.

Of course, both trial balloons caused insta-outrage across social media, even though neither was actually government policy. That said, awful ideas should be challenged loudly because complacent acceptance can be taken as consent.

Meanwhile, dead cats have been distracting us particularly in recent times. The two most obvious dead cats are the ridiculous Jacob Rees-Mogg issuing a ridiculous style guide for his staff to use in written correspondence, and Boris Johnson absurdly claiming he paints wooden buses as a hobby.

While the country was generally united in saying "What a dickhead!" in regard to the Rees-Mogg style guide, Boris Johnson was getting his arse handed to him in Brussels over his delusional rhetoric about negotiating a whole new deal before Halloween. It was probably around then that he realised he had all the negotiating power of a kitten trying to wrest a zebra steak off a lion and started investigating proroguing parliament - or asking Dominic Cummings to look into it for him, because Johnson is essentially a lazy bugger. Negotiation has never been his strong suit.

And Johnson's own dead cat - the admission that he makes model buses from old wine crates for fun - was possibly a work of evil genius. Anyone who seriously thinks Boris Johnson paints model buses in between his busy schedule of shagging, abusing exclamation marks in official letters, farting, spilling red wine on sofas and bellowing bumper sticker slogans instead of answering journalists' questions properly, is either naive or stupid. There is a theory that he was advised, possibly by a digitally savvy member of his team, to confess to this dorky hobby so that whenever someone Googles something like "Boris Johnson bus", the demonstrably dishonest red bus of the EU referendum campaign drops off the search engine's top results

Sure enough, I just Googled "Boris Johnson bus" and the first page spat out three model bus stories and three videos on this story at the top. The image search results still lead with Johnson standing in front of the bus promising an extra £350 million a week to the NHS if we leave the EU, but the search results are certainly less embarrassing than they were before that story broke.

As a bonus for Boris Johnson, while everyone was saying: "Model buses? Really?", the heat died down around the story about his row with girlfriend Carrie Symonds, in which the police were called to her flat. 

Johnson is not afraid to look silly. Indeed, his ludicrous persona has helped him get so far with minimal challenge, so pretending to make buses from wine crates is a minor example of buffoonery compared to his litany of contrived wackiness. His whole manufactured eccentric schtick is possibly the biggest dead cat of them all.

And the biggest trial balloon of them all? The one that could rival the movie Up for its house-lifting properties? Proroguing parliament, of course. This is a classic example of Johnson, with the able assistance of Cummings, seeing what they can get away with. It was so easy. He knew the Queen was not going to tell him to fuck off. 

A much-longer-than-average prorogation of five weeks may only mean a few less sitting days in the House of Commons, because of the party conference recess, but for Johnson, it reduces the time for proper parliamentary debate, and further scrutiny is shut down as the House of Lords and all select committees must close under prorogation. This is sinister. If Theresa May tried to do this to force the passing of her EU deal, there would be outrage across the political spectrum, no doubt with plenty of sexist abuse thrown in for good measure. If a Labour government pulled this stunt, the accusations of Stalinist tactics would fly thick and fast.

But already Brexiters are accusing remainers of panicking over a little shut-down and gleefully celebrating the fact that the prorogation makes a no-deal Brexit on October 31 more likely. The trial balloon is having the desired effect. Dominic Cummings is playing a blinder and we'll probably all be poorer for it.










Sunday, 21 July 2019

On being told to go home

                                     

I'm an immigrant. I was not born in the UK, my passport says I'm Australian. But I have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, I am married to a British man, I work here, I pay tax here, I vote here. I am a privileged immigrant - I have not been subjected to horrendous racism in the eight years that I have lived here. Of course, I have been told more than once that I'm "the kind of immigrant we like", which is usually code for "white skin, native English speaker, not a Muslim" - that is obviously racist too - but I have never been subjected to the sort of racist abuse that leaves people fearing for their personal safety.

Only once have I been told to go home. It happened a few weeks ago on Twitter (where else?) when I had the temerity to express an opinion on the sorry state of British politics. Some faceless, nameless, gutless individual felt the need to reply to me, saying that if I don't like it here, I can always go back to Australia. The tweet was accompanied by a picture of an angry bloke holding a blue passport. (Spoiler alert: I've had a blue passport my whole life and they're not that exciting...).

But plenty of people get told to go home all the time. It's tiresome, it's repetitive, it's wearing and, above all, it's racist. When the president of the United States uses the "go home, go back to where you came from" rhetoric, it's still racist. The two men who are vying to be the next prime minister, however, were unable to say that Trump's words were racist.

In a particularly pathetic display on BBC Breakfast, Jeremy Hunt said he wouldn't use "the r-word". The r-word? Really? It's one thing to say "the n-word" rather than lower oneself to use a particularly vile racial slur against black people but to reduce a word that was entirely accurate in the context to "the r-word" is pitiful. He then went on to say that he was the father of two half-Chinese children, as if that made everything OK. It doesn't make anything OK. If anything, it makes things worse - if some cretin told Jeremy Hunt's kids to go back to where they came from, would he condemn that person as a racist? Or is it only people we're seeking trade deals from that get a leave pass to be a bigot?

Of course, that was everyone's defence of the mealy-mouthed responses of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to Trump's awful comments. It's the Special Relationship! They're our closest ally! We need to do a trade deal after Brexit! Ilhan Omar's a racist too!

A few things: the special relationship predates the Trump administration and it will long outlive his presidency and the premiership of either Johnson or Hunt; trade deals take years to negotiate and a negotiation with the US will almost certainly go on for longer than our next PM is in office; and if a trade deal is done in a hurry, it will not be a great deal for the UK. Trump means it when he says "America first".

And in regard to Ilhan Omar, it is possible to disagree with her position on a number of issues without resorting to one of the oldest racist insults in the book. We should be better than that, but it seems that, increasingly, we are not.

We've reached peak whataboutery when it comes to accusing people of racism, particularly in the Labour and Conservative parties. Anyone who dares call out anti-semitism in Labour is guaranteed to have someone yell "But what about Tory Islamophobia?" at them and vice versa. How about we aim to reach a place where none of it is OK? How about we stand up against racism without trampling on another group which also experiences racism and ensure our own houses are in order before we start deflecting attention to the house across the street?

This is how we've ended up with Katie Hopkins using her supposed support of Israel and Jewish people as sticks with which to bash Muslims, even though she is not above making anti-semitic comments herself and making allusions to a "final solution" or using dehumanising language when it comes to migrants. Hopkins merely picks on a group of people for her own self-promotion and profit. If it's not Muslims, it might be poor people or obese people or people with tattoos or any other group she seeks to demonise in her desperate quest to stay relevant. Any one of us could be her next target and her loyal band of haters will gleefully wave their pitchforks and join in the pile-ons.

It's no coincidence that Trump and Hopkins are in bed together, at least in the online world, with their cosy, bile-laden circle jerk of mutual tweeting.

Trump's comments matter on this side of the pond because many people over here look to him for inspiration, to legitimise their own awful views. We do need to maintain a relationship with the US but it is possible to do this without lowering ourselves to Trump's level. Britain must be better than that if we are at all serious about remaining an influential country, if we are serious about setting an example to the world, if we care about our standing in the global community and, above all, if we truly love this country and the people who call it home.


Photography by Jim Larrison/Flickr 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

When the news became a great big trigger warning...



The news cycle since last Thursday has been more unedifying than usual. Perhaps it is naive to expect that people would largely agree that the correct way to deal with a peaceful protester at an elite dinner is not to push her into a pillar and frogmarch her out, grabbing the back of her neck. And perhaps it is naive to expect that if a couple is having an argument so loud it can be heard in the street as well as in neighbouring flats, a reasonable response would be to knock on the door to see if everyone is OK and, if there is no response, call the police.

Yet here we are, arguing all over the internet about all this. I can only imagine how horrific it must be for so many women who have been victims of physical violence or domestic abuse, which can be physical, emotional, verbal or psychological - or an awful combination of these types.

On Thursday night, Janet Barker, a Greenpeace campaigner, along with a group of fellow activists, managed to barge into the Mansion House dinner just as Chancellor Phillip Hammond was about to give his speech. She was dressed in a red cocktail dress and heels, she carried a small bag, a phone and a bundle of leaflets, and she wore a Greenpeace sash. Her fellow protestors were similarly dressed - red cocktail dresses and sashes for the women and tuxedos for the men - and the obvious question is how did they get as far into the building as they did? It is astounding in these paranoid times, that they were not stopped at the entrance, bags X-rayed and leaflets inspected. I've been to events at the Houses of Parliament and Portcullis House and the security was on par with catching a plane.

But get into the dinner they did. And when Janet Barker walked towards the front of the room, Mark Field MP took it upon himself to stop her - which would have been fine if he'd handled it almost any other way other than the way he did. 

He could have been a true class act and defender of free speech by stopping her, asking her to tell the room why she was there, and then handed her leaflets around the room. Or he could have steered her away by the arm rather than push her into a pillar and grab her by the scruff of the neck, his face magenta with instant rage.

For so many women who have been attacked in that manner, whether in public or private, the endless repetition of the footage for a solid two days cannot have been easy. The pushing into a wall, the grabbing of the neck, instantly weakening defences - it's appallingly familiar for too many. It gave me a brief flashback to the time I was pulled off a footpath in Dubai and pushed into a bush in an attempted sexual assault. And I managed to get away, albeit with laddered tights and a scratch on my chest. I can only imagine how much worse this footage would be for women who have suffered worse violence at the hands of men, especially over a sustained period of time.

Field's defence was that he "acted on instinct" but if that was his instinct, he really does need to take some time away to reflect as to why his immediate reaction was rage and excessive manhandling of a woman who was clearly representing a group known for peaceful protest. Please note that "peaceful" in this context means "non-violent", not "quiet" or "non-disruptive". The Greenpeace protesters who woke me up one morning in Durban in 2011 to protest a gas industry event in my hotel made a racket but nobody was in any danger. They were allowed to sing, bang drums in the street and chant unimpeded. One activist managed to get into the hotel business centre and change the wallpaper on the computers to the Greenpeace logo. There was no harm done. I giggled to myself when I went to the business centre to write up my notes from the gas event on one of the altered PCs - it was excellent mischief.

And nobody was in any real danger last Thursday night. 

Nobody else at the dinner felt the need to react so disproportionately. Plenty of people who were at the Mansion House dinner were at the Conservative Party conference of 2017 when Simon Brodkin, a "prankster" (read: overgrown schoolboy who is about as funny as burning orphans), barged in and handed Theresa May a P45. On that occasion, no male MPs felt the need to be a Billy Big-Balls hero and push Brodkin into the wall or frogmarch him out by scruff of the neck, Theresa May was the very model of British good manners when she took the P45 form in the same way that many a Brit is too polite not to take a leaflet from someone at the tube station, and the security guard who escorted Brodkin out did so with a single, gentle hand to the back.

Following on from the usual suspects defending Mark Field, news broke of a noisy row at Carrie Symonds' flat, which would not be newsworthy except the argument was with her partner, one Boris Johnson, the man most likely to be the next prime minister. He has been staying there after his second marriage broke up. God forbid he rent a place in Uxbridge, his actual constituency, but that would require him to show some sort of commitment to his job as an MP.

But I digress. As with any argument between a couple, only the couple knows the full story, but we do know this argument was loud enough to be heard on the street and through walls, Ms Symonds was heard saying "get off me" and "get out of my flat", Mr Johnson was heard saying "get off my fucking laptop" and smashing sounds were heard. It's the kind of language and sounds that are familiar to many a victim of domestic violence.

The ethics of the neighbours giving a recording of the altercation to the Guardian newspaper is being furiously debated - along with the ethics of other newspapers making hay from it all while spouting fauxrage at the neighbours who recorded the argument and claiming Ms Symonds is "furious" based on what "friends" have apparently said, rather than anything she has directly told a journalist. There is definitely an intelligent debate to be had about media ethics here, especially in regard to whether this endangers Ms Symonds' safety. The Daily Mail, in particular, should remove from its website a diagram of the apartment building, including a floorplan of Ms Symonds' flat - that invasive crap goes way beyond the public interest defence.

However, it is stunning that anyone says the police should not have been called. The ire has been directed at "nosy neighbours" and their own politics have been thoroughly dissected in today's papers. But in this sort of situation, where an argument can be easily heard outside a flat, where it sounds as if there are people in distress and possibly in physical danger, calling police is absolutely the right thing to do.

It is pretty common for police to arrive only to be told everything is fine, but there are plenty of occasions where the arrival of the police has saved someone's life or is the turning point for an abused partner to leave a dangerous relationship. In the wake of the Johnson-Symonds row, people have spoken up about how they were grateful for the neighbours who called the police, or how they would have left an abusive relationship sooner if the police were called earlier or, tragically, how people were left badly injured or killed because nobody picked up the phone.

I have been the "nosy neighbour". In 2005, I called the police multiple times on the couple in the flat across the hall from me in Sydney. They were drug addicts who would have noisy and violent fights that would spill out of their place and carry on outside the door to my flat, usually in the middle of the night. This went on for months. On one occasion, after I knocked on their door telling them to be quiet because I was trying to sleep, the woman bashed on my door when I was back in bed, yelling that she would "kick my cunt in". Then there was the day when I burst into tears at my desk, crying frustrated tears of distress and exhaustion because I was too sleep-deprived to do my job properly.

That story did not end happily. The parents of the woman called me, desperate for information about their daughter, particularly as they were caring for her child from a previous relationship. One night, the woman knocked on my door to tell me she was pregnant and too scared to tell her boyfriend - I told her she would have to start taking better care of herself if she was serious about continuing the pregnancy and that she should end the relationship. I let her know that her parents were very worried and would take her in. She told me it was too hard to leave him and scuttled back to her flat. The good news is that ultimately she did leave the toxic relationship, but not long afterwards, her boyfriend committed suicide in the flat - by this time I'd moved to Dubai and a friend who lived upstairs told me the sad, sorry story.

I don't regret calling the police. The police officers' interventions could have defused life-endangering situations, even if they always sent the police away and said they were fine. Calling the police several times was still the right thing to do. And it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether the couple is a wretched pair of drug addicts or a privileged couple who are on the verge of being the most powerful twosome in the country.

The more we argue about the morality pushing women into walls and grabbing their necks or whether we should call the police if we overhear a nasty argument, the less safe women will be. Why the hell is anyone who professes to be decent tolerating this?







Photography by George Hodan

Sunday, 16 June 2019

The curious tale of Alexandra Pepper



Alexandra Pepper has led a charmed life of immense privilege. She was born into a large, lively, wealthy family and never really wanted for anything. Academically, she was bright and won a scholarship to study at Badminton School - not that her parents would have struggled to pay the fees - but it was nice to have her intelligence recognised.

School was fairly easy for Alexandra, although her report cards reveal someone who was easily bored and not gracious in defeat during games. She didn't need to study too hard and it was no real surprise that she sailed her way into Cambridge.

It soon became clear that Alexandra was able to get through life easily and breezily. She was never the prettiest girl in school, a bit scruffy even, and she was never going to be a revered beauty but that didn't matter - when you're wealthy, white and privileged, a modicum of charm, charisma and humour makes you attractive, magnetic. You grow up to be the kind of young woman who is frequently described by posh people as "good fun". Yes, that's it. She was jolly good fun, our Alex.

Never short of a boyfriend or two, university was mostly a boozy hoot for Alexandra. When you are the privileged life of the party, when you don't have to hit the books that hard to pass exams, when your essays are dazzlingly verbose, it's easy to become entitled and a bit lazy.

But would this mean the wheels would fall off for Alexandra any time soon? Probably not. When you're a cheeky lass from a "good" family, whatever that means, it's astounding what you can get away with.

After she graduated, Alexandra fancied herself as a journalist. She didn't particularly want to bother with the drudgery of learning shorthand or getting her NCTJ qualifications or how to type without turning her fingers into confused, pudgy pretzels. She assumed she'd just breeze into a job in publishing.

And, because journalism can be insanely nepotistic and all about who you know rather than what you can do, Alexandra slid into an entry-level job on a Vanity Fair-style magazine. You know the kind of magazine, don't you? It's stylish, it's slick, it has its serious side - and everyone wants to work there. And then you look at some of the people who do work there and wonder how the hell they got there, like the proverbial turtle on a post.

Of course, entitled little Alex didn't really want to bother with the mundane bollocks that most graduates have to do when they start out in the media. It was a bit of a shock to the system to discover that her first job would not be as editor, or doing glamorous things such as presiding over photo shoots for the cover with the likes of Meryl Streep, who was starring in The French Lieutenant's Woman at the time. She enjoyed the magazine parties, of course. Who wouldn't? But when it came to making the coffee, doing research tasks for senior writers, or returning soiled clothes from fashion shoots to PR companies, that wasn't really her thing.  

But did I mention she was fun and charming and charismatic? And connected. She was bored but convinced the editor that she could interview a few up and coming British artists. Or maybe an aristocratic BAFTA winner... These stories would be a piece of piss for her, a chat with the kind of people she hung out with on weekends. 

Before long, she was getting bylines on proper features. With her lack of shorthand, attention span of a kitten and low boredom threshold, her interview subjects weren't necessarily quoted accurately. Hell, if Alexandra found them to be truly dull, she'd throw in a few fake facts for her own childish amusement. There are still people who think a certain famous actress has a collection of terrifying china poodles in her bathroom and the handsome lead singer of a band that was big in the '80s had appalling acid reflux. 

Pulling these sorts of stunts would see most people fired on the spot, never to work in the media again, but Alexandra got away with her slapdash journalism for more than a decade. Sure, she was sacked once or twice, but she was the cute, goofy cat who always landed on her feet. She was such a laugh, her opinion pieces were hilarious apparently, even when they were full of or evidence-free assertions and awful views, particularly on the vulnerable. And opinion writers often get away with playing fast and loose with the truth - after all, it's an opinion, not a news report. Accuracy, schmaccuracy!

But what of Alexandra's personal life while all this was going on? She had plenty of fun at university and good for her. Like many a well-heeled young woman though, she "settled down" when she was 23, marrying a lovely young man she met at Cambridge. He had always been the backburner boyfriend and her parents were relieved when she looked suitably virginal in a lace-festooned '80s wedding dress for the ceremony in a village church not far from her parents' estate. It surprised nobody from her university days that marriage wasn't really a great fit for Alexandra. Her first husband's joy at discovering he was going to be a father was soured when she left him for the man who actually got her pregnant and promptly made him her second husband, albeit with a much quieter wedding.

Alexandra discovered that she was rather good at getting pregnant and proceeded to have four more children with her second husband, except one of them was actually the daughter of an art gallery owner - there was always talk in her social circles about the girl who was born nine months after rumours swirled around about Alexandra's sudden passion for arts funding.

Arts funding? Oh yes, by now, Alexandra was a Conservative MP, parachuted into a safe seat, after enough time had elapsed for people to forget about the scandalous end of her first marriage. It was all part of an Alexandra rebrand - she was able to charm the local Conservative association by presenting herself as a respectable, if a tad eccentric, barrister's wife and devoted mother who passed the time by writing Sloaney moany newspaper columns about assorted rich person woes. As a politician, she was very careful to vote with the Tories on any policy that would shrink state responsibility for the sick, the poor and the disabled - but she was able to appeal to people outside her world by flying the flag for causes such as the arts and animal rights.

And then it all came out. The whispers became howls about the true parentage of one of her three daughters. Then new rumours popped up about another affair, another two cuckolding pregnancies and this time, two abortions rather than giving birth to her sixth and seventh children by a third man. Alexandra's contrived persona fell to pieces. She was not able to charm and lie and deny her way out of this one. She was an ambitious MP, she was being touted as a future cabinet minister, maybe even Britain's second love-her-or-loathe-her charismatic female prime minister - but instead she was asked to resign from parliament. She had lied to her leader about her affairs. That was the end of her political career and her second marriage.

Sure, post-politics, Alexandra was going to be fine, at least economically - her family would look after her, she'd blag her way into some media work, as she left politics she was throwing herself into the era of the troll for hire, there would be a market for her terrible opinions.

But no woman in politics could survive the quadruple scandal of two affairs, a child as the result of one affair and abortions as the result of the other. And the stench that would surround this woman would be even worse if she was from a working class background or an ethnic minority.

But if you're a wealthy, privileged man with an equivalent track record to the fictional Alexandra's, both personally and professionally, your political career would be fine. If you managed to carefully cultivate an image of being a figure of fun, a scruffy eccentric chap, you could get away with saying all manner of hateful, horrible tripe and it would be brushed aside as bantz. You'd go on to do something high-profile, such as mayor of a major city, your multiple screw-ups and disgraceful wastage of public funds in that role would be overlooked, you'd blag your way back into another safe seat in parliament, you'd be bestowed one of the great offices of state, you'd find multiple ways to bugger up that job to the detriment of the country's international reputation and put a woman's life in peril in an Iranian prison.

And then you'd be the favourite to be the next prime minister.

Because it's still different for wealthy, privileged men.






















Image credit: Maxpixel

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Powderhounds and pot-heads... The absolute state of the Tory leadership contest




This weekend has seen a pathetic scramble among Conservative Party leadership contenders to 'fess up about their past drug use. Last month, Rory Stewart inadvertently kickstarted the Tory snort-off with a confession guaranteed to liven up the next Lonely Planet guide to Iran - he smoked opium at a wedding there 15 years ago, apparently out of politeness.

Then there was the obligatory statement of regret and of an awakening when he saw the damage the opium trade does to communities in that part of the world.

It would have been a mildly amusing footnote to a leadership campaign dripping with lies, false promises, Brexit unicorn fantasies, mindless bumper sticker soundbites and general self-serving omnibollocks, if it wasn't for the Daily Mail interviewing Michael Gove and leading with his confession about taking cocaine 20 years ago as a "young journalist", a mere spring chicken ingenue aged 31.

Then we had Jeremy Hunt trying to out-Stewart Stewart with his gap yah confession of gulping down cannabis lassi while backpacking in India, Andrea Leadsom sticking her head over the powdery, potty parapet with a tedious admission of smoking a joint while a student, and Sajid Javid boldly stating that he has only ever smoked cigarettes. A ridiculous claim of Boris Johnson's from a 2005 episode of Have I Got News For You reappeared this week in multiple news reports - he said he tried to take cocaine but sneezed. Jesus Christ, even when Johnson is not actively seeking attention, it is handed to him anyway.

Johnson's story is the snot-stained equivalent of Bill Clinton trying marijuana without inhaling. It's totally on brand for him. It's perfect for his completely contrived, lovable buffoon persona. Oh, what japes! BoJo is such a silly duffer, he gets stuck on a zipwire, his moobs jiggle hilariously when he goes for a jog, his hair is a fright and, golly, he got all sneezy when he tried to snort a line! It's yet another distraction from the many, many reasons why Johnson, a principle vacuum with the ethics of a wasp at a picnic, should not be an MP, let alone PM.

They all regret their drug use, of course. None of them would dare admit that it might have been fun. And nobody is going to compare the impact of illegal drugs to the impact of the legal, but frequently socially, mentally and physically destructive drug that is alcohol.

This sorry snowstorm wouldn't really matter too much except that none of them have used this line, so to speak, to announce that under their premiership, the country can look forward to a new, innovative approach to drug laws. Nobody is going to promise harm minimisation polices, broader decriminalisation, a public health approach rather than a punitive approach to drug use, or call for an end to prison terms for minor drug offences.

It's a cynical tightrope act for the candidates. They are trying to appeal to the wider community and to the Conservative Party members who will choose the next leader and therefore the next Prime Minister, despite the party membership being a group that in no way resembles modern Britain. Hurrah for democracy!

Once upon a time, these confessions of illegal drug use would spell the end of a political career but we are living in absurd times - Claire Fox has been elected an MEP for the Brexit Party despite appalling views on child pornography and jihadi videos that, even a decade ago, would have ended her political career before it started.

The drug confessions are a calculated risk - will enough Tory party members be unbothered when it comes time to make their selection, and will enough people who might vote Tory find the whole thing to be a massive wheeze rather than an exercise in self-interested hypocrisy with nothing constructive promised as an outcome? Overall, the whole brouhaha has been viewed as a bit of a laugh rather than evidence of how terrible the candidates are, of how little they would actually do about ensuring drug laws are sensible and evidence-based rather than populist kneejerk reactions to play to their crowd.

The reality is that it's much easier for these white, privileged people to admit to drug use than it is for poor people or people from ethnic minorities. These are the people who end up in jail for low level drug offences way more often than people like Gove, Stewart, Hunt, Johnson and Leadsom. Indeed, Gove was predictably mealy-mouthed this morning when Andrew Marr asked him if he should have gone to jail for taking cocaine, and about the obvious hypocrisy of being responsible for tightened drug laws despite his own experiences.

In the end, these pitiful confessions probably won't harm the chances of any of the candidates, but they are not the start of the Conservative Party developing drug policies that will do any good either.







Photography by Austin Kirk/Flickr

Monday, 20 May 2019

What's a remainiac to do?


At the time of writing, the dreadful but effective Brexit Party was polling at  around 31%, incoherent Labour at 23%, resurgent Lib Dems at 16%, hapless Tories at 9%, the possible-surprise-package Greens at 9%, the dismal Change UK at 4% and the busted flush that is UKIP a puny 2%.

So, we have with Brexit and UKIP, two definite, unambiguous we-want-Brexit at all costs taking up 33% of the votes.

The other 67% features the unambiguous pro-remain/pro-people's vote/pro-revoke Article 50 parties at 29%. But here's the bit that's harder to quantify - who is pro-remain among those who still plan to vote for one of two increasingly pathetic major parties?

Among the 23% for Labour, there is a strong pro-remain component - there are still plenty of people, and not just Labour MEPs, who are pushing the line that a vote for Labour is a vote for a second vote and the best way to quell the charge of the Brexit Party in Brussels. And there are pro-remain Conservatives who may well be resigned to the fact that Theresa May's Brexit deal is as good as it will get for the UK outside the EU, but would open a quiet bottle of champagne if this whole Brexit shit-show was called off.

Those who are pro-remain probably add up to quite a bit more than the 33% Brexit/UKIP conglomerate. A Survation poll from May 17 revealed 51% support for remaining in the EU. This same poll found 68% of Labour voters and 47% of Conservative voters support remaining.

Obviously, we all know we can't put blind faith in polls but with around 67% of voters apparently not interested in either of the hardline Brexit parties, it would appear there is no appetite for a hard Brexit and possibly a diminishing appetite for any Brexit at all.

Thursday's European election will, most likely, be a protest vote for most people. If we leave the EU, as planned, on the new deadline of October 31, our latest batch of MEPs will only represent us for a few months. But for almost all of us, whether we're remainers or leavers, Thursday's vote is a chance for us to be heard. There is a lot of impotent rage right now. It has to come out somewhere and I'd rather it came out in the ballot box than on in riots on the streets.

For pro-remain voters - and I make no secret of being one of these people - it's a frustrating time. We don't want to see Nigel Farage emboldened any more. We look at him and his diabolical collection of candidates in utter despair. Ann Widdecombe hates women so much that she changed religion when the Church of England started ordaining us as vicars and, despite professing to be a Christian, she has no issue with pregnant women giving birth in shackles. Claire Fox takes a deliberately contrarian view on child pornography which is so awful that it's unclear whether she genuinely believes children would not be traumatised if they had to participate in simulated sex for the purposes of gratifying absolute sickos or she is just trolling for attention. Annunziata Rees-Mogg has had a long career writing articles about how to get rich off other people's misery. Lucy Harris has cheerfully said we'll just have to deal with 30 years of economic hardship as a price worth paying for Brexit.

To these awful charlatans, along with Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit hardships and job losses are for the little people. If you genuinely believe any of these people give a damn about you, I have a box of fishnet condoms in the boot of my car to sell you.

But it's too easy for me to sit here and slag off these people. I could sit her all night pulling them apart forensically but it's not going to make a difference. It won't change minds. It won't win hearts. If anything, every time a milkshake is thrown, it strengthens the resolve of the "LEAVE MEANS LEAVE!" crowd.

My fellow remainers and I should be pushing a positive case for remaining in the EU. This should have been the case back in 2016. There are so many benefits we will lose, many of which have not occurred to most people, particularly in the event of a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart was seen the other day quite rightly pointing out that a no-deal Brexit is not a destination -  it is stunning that he is not seen as a more serious leadership contender than Boris bloody Johnson among Tory members, but I digress. A no-deal crash-out is a starting point for a long, onerous process of negotiating with the EU, and with the rest of the world without the support of the EU. The inevitable outcome will be a deal with the EU that is not much different to Theresa May's deal, only it will leave the UK in an even weaker position. It will probably break up the UK.

A no deal Brexit is not a lark. It is not something to be flippant about. We will be the only country in the world trading under WTO rules for God-knows-how-long now that Mauritania is no longer solely trading this way. Surprise, surprise, this is because Mauritania is seeking to trade freely and closely with geographical neighbours in northern and western Africa and as part of the ever-closer African Union. Mauritania's example reflects a positive case for being part of close economic and free trade unions with the countries closest to your shores.

But none of this is being distilled by one pro-remain party that remainers can all galvanise around. Instead, our votes will be cast in different directions - there is certainly a strong groundswell of support for the Liberal Democrats, whether those who are voting yellow with a clothes peg on their nose or they are simply energised by the #BollocksToBrexit slogan. And I predict the Greens will do better than expected on Thursday.

As for Change UK, it has scooped up plenty of smart people who have, it now appears, thrown their political careers on a bonfire. It's a shame - it could have been so good. There was a frisson of hope and energy when people started defecting from the Labour and Conservative benches. A lot of we remainers really wanted it to be good - like a new Amy Pohler movie. But it has not been good. Not even the logo is good. The black lines on a white background look like a flag to wave while opposing gay rights, which I am guessing is not the vibe they were going for. And the message about changing politics has been swept up in a tidal wave of critics yelling that the party is all about preserving the status quo rather than changing a damn thing.

That's the problem with pro-remain messaging. Few of us think the EU is perfect but we do believe the benefits are still immense, that we should stay in, retain our influence in the world, play our role in reforming the EU where required, emphasising how we are made stronger by the four freedoms, and not see a diminished UK make desperate trade deals with the US, Russia and China. It's just that it's bloody hard to encapsulate this complex and nuanced message on a bumper sticker, bus or billboard.

On the other side of the fence, the simple soundbites such as "take back control", "leave means leave, "let's go WTO" and "no deal, no problem" have cut though the noise. And remainers, all of us, may have left it too late to fight back with better arguments, with positivity and at the ballot box.








Sunday, 7 April 2019

The form guide of the damned... Runners and riders for our next PM


Theresa May is a dead woman walking, although her cadaverous prime ministerial form has managed to stagger on for longer than many expected. But she will not be the PM to contest the next election, which will presumably be against Jeremy Corbyn, unless he is, I dunno, caught interfering with barnyard fowl in the speaker's chair or something. 

As such, the country is witnessing the unedifying spectacle of assorted Tory MPs on leadership campaign manouevres that are as subtle as Liberace's bathroom - Poundland Machiavellians, the whole sorry lot of them. How about on this Grand National weekend we take a stroll through the terrible contenders who might replace the terrible incumbent, shall we? None of them are likely to get shot if they break a leg but, rest assured, they are all more concerned with not breaking the Conservative Party than they are about not breaking the country.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is the man who wasted money while Mayor of London on everything from a cable car that is used most days by approximately three people and a Basset hound called Trevor to secondhand water cannon that ended up being sold for scrap for £11,000 to a £1.4 million fiasco in which he thought gluing pollution to the road might help London meet, funnily enough, EU air quality standards. Boris Johnson is the man who is originally responsible for people whining about Europe because of supposed regulations about things like the shape of strawberries and the bendiness of bananas, after he got bored while play-acting at being an EU correspondent for the Telegraph and simply made shit up. Boris Johnson is the man who played no small role in ensuring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe won't get out of an Iranian prison any time soon. Boris Johnson is the man who buggered off to Afghanistan at our expense to avoid facing an embarrassing vote on the expansion of Heathrow Airport. 

Boris Johnson is an irresponsible, verbally incontinent, principle-free, contrived, self-serving pedlar of clown car fuel. As such, he should not be anywhere near 10 Downing Street, yet William Hill has the odds of him being next PM at 9/2. 

Dominic Raab

In these absurd times, it is absolutely fine that this glorified nightclub bouncer with an amoeba's grasp of European geography should be considered a serious contender for the highest political office in the land. 

He said, out loud, in a public forum, where other people could hear him, that he "hadn't quite understood the full of extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing."

Despite this blinding flash of clarity about why it might be important to ensure trade remains seamless with our nearest neighbours, Raab insists on styling himself as Mr Hard Brexit. Sure, he, along with Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, were the trio of self-interested flakes who suddenly decided Theresa May's rancid Brexit deal was alright after all, but he still likes to come across as some kind of Brexit enforcer. This is despite resigning from the post of Brexit minister over work he'd done himself during his ill-starred tenure, claiming as recently as March 21 that a no-deal Brexit will be just dandy - and, scandalously, admitting that he had not properly read the Good Friday agreement. Never mind that reading the Good Friday agreement from cover to cover should be a bare minimum requirement for anyone who thinks they can sort this shitshow out. 

Here's a crib note, Dom - Strand 3 is the bit that you really need to read to understand why a hard Brexit with a hard Irish border could see a return to the violence that had been left behind 21 years ago. But rather like Johnson, Raab doesn't do details either. 


Sajid Javid

All hail The Saj! For that is how he refers to himself, apparently - and who doesn't want a bellend who refers to himself in the third person for PM, eh?

So far, as Home Secretary, he is proving remarkably bold. Stripping Shamima Begum of her citizenship was clearly a populist move - it won't do a damn thing to keep the UK safe but it plays well to his crowd. And it appears that his crowd are UKIP types who are desperate to appear progressive in a reductive "some of my best friends are Asian" kind of way. 

Today, he is happily riding out the remainer outcry about the words "European Union" being removed from British passports, even though we're still in the EU. He says it's simply more efficient to take these words off the front of passports now, even though that explanation makes precisely no sense.

Last week, he loyally joined forces with Theresa May to urge hospital staff and teachers to spot young people who might be at risk of being involved in knife crime. Unsurprisingly, there does not appear to be any evidence of extra funding for this plan - no mention of when already-overworked NHS and teaching staff will be trained to spot the signs, whatever they may be, or how such training will be funded, or who would conduct the training (probably G4S after the bang-up job they did with Olympic security...), or whether more staff would be employed in hospitals and schools to help with this new addition to everyone's job description, or what sort of protection might be on offer for hospital and school staff who report on such young people and find themselves on the receiving end of threats themselves. Nope. It's just another pie-in-the-sky idea with no real money attached to it, and it will be as effective as a fishnet condom.

But, like Johnson and Raab, The Saj is another one who does not feel the need to do details. Which brings us nicely to... 

Michael Gove

In the Govester's defence, he was quoted out of context when he said people were "tired of experts". He actually said: "I think people in this country have had enough of experts ... with organisations with acronyms saying they know what is best and consistently getting it wrong." 

To be fair, there is a grown-up conversation to be had around this idea but, just as we are no longer in an era where potential PMs need to be at all details-oriented, we are in the era of bumper sticker politics. It is cheap soundbites that win the day. While it was easy to be outraged at Michael Gove saying we've all had enough of experts, it was a soundbite that played well with the leave voters who are perceived by all these runners and riders to be the people they need to stay in power. 

And with Gove, we have another one who breezes through scandals with effortless ease. He has brushed off questions about whether he was aware of any illegalities in the Vote Leave campaign by simply saying he had no idea because he was too busy campaigning in the lead-up to the referendum. Still, he was only the co-convener of Vote Leave so it's not as if he was involved with any of the major campaign decisions. 

So, in this case, we have someone who probably does do details and may well have been aware of certain unsavoury goings-on, but in this case, it serves him well to bat off any hard questions from journalists by portraying himself as a hardy little Brexit foot soldier, out there on the campaign trail back in 2016, not really having any time to be aware of any irregularities. Details, like any fallout from a hard Brexit, are for the little people. Someone else can worry about those piffling trifles.

Andrea Leadsom

Oh good! At last! We have a woman in the running to be the next PM! Oh shit. It's Andrea Leadsom. This is the woman who made people defend Theresa May after Leadsom made appalling comments about May's childlessness last time she aspired to the top job. It was a nasty, unnecessary cheap shot, particularly as (a) there are plenty of good reasons to criticise Theresa May no matter what side of the political fence you sit on and (b) nobody ever starts wondering out loud about whether a man's fatherhood status is relevant to his ability to do pretty much any job.

Thanks to crap from the likes of Leadsom, women really can't win - we're either being told that we're bad employees because we'll all sod off to have babies and then want silly things like maternity leave and affordable childcare or we're told that if we don't breed, we've somehow failed as women. With this in mind, not to mention her hateful voting record, it's quite clear that a Leadsom government would not be a feminist statement. Still, that's probably not her demographic either so why would she care?

It is pretty clear that a Leadsom government, just like the government of any of these contenders, would look to things like further NHS privatisation and a one-sided trade deal with the US, particularly in the event of a hard Brexit, which she favours with almost religious fervour. 

Jeremy Hunt

It is not exactly a state secret that any of these contenders are more concerned with their own careers and with the survival of the Conservative Party than doing what is best for Britain. But of these craven cynics, it is Hunt's mask that fell the hardest. 

He appeared on Marr last month and said that it would be "devastating" for the Conservative Party if Brexit wasn't delivered. He doubled down on this astounding rhetoric by saying his party was in "perilous waters" and that the Conservative Party would be blamed if the UK didn't leave the EU. To which anyone who gives a damn about the national interest should say "So bloody what?". 

Of course, it is naive to suggest that either major party is absolutely devoted to serving the people of this country and that nobody is obsessed by getting into power - it is what they all want - but for it to be said so brazenly was a new low, even for Jeremy Hunt. He was Britain's longest-serving Health Secretary and, on his watch, A&E waiting times went up, funding in real terms went down and junior doctors went on strike. I'm not sure what one expected when a failed marmalade mogul was given this job rather than, say, an expert. 

Like Johnson, Hunt has flip-flopped on Brexit, campaigning for remain and now trying to out-UKIP UKIP in his quest to fly the flag for a hard Brexit while simultaneously staying loyal to Theresa May's Brexit deal. Like Johnson, he is not a conviction politician. He is a snake in the grass but he is not bright enough to be truly sly. Like Johnson and Raab, it is a mystery why he is considered a serious contender for Prime Minister or why his message, whatever the hell it is, would resonate with anyone.

Matthew Hancock

Who? Oh yes, that's right, the talking potato who is the Health Secretary... Nope, again no idea why he thought he had anywhere near enough runs on the board to make a serious bid for the Tory party leadership. Next! 

Ian Duncan-Smith

Oh Christ, not him again... He already had a go at leading the Tories between 2001 and 2003 and look how well that went. To paraphrase former Australian PM Paul Keating, when asked about the resurrection of the political career of one of his rivals, Andrew Peacock, is IDS another souffle who could rise twice? Next!

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Et sanguinem infernum, as Rees-Mogg himself might say... He is another one, like Johnson, who puts on a ridiculous persona to ensure he gets a leave pass no matter how awful he might be. Last week, he was lumbering about, moping like a gothic Eeyore, as reporters asked him if he was going to try and convince other MPs to support Theresa May's deal, after he finally voted for it as "the least worst option". He looked like a man who had no real zeal for pushing for a hard Brexit. In any case, he is so wealthy that it doesn't matter how things pan out - it's not as if his six kids will go without shoes any time soon. 

I predict that, assuming the next Tory party leader is a Brexiter, Rees-Mogg will get a nice cabinet post. For all the talk of him being the next PM, William Hill only has him as a 50/1 chance. But, hey, if you think a man who has let his religious beliefs interfere with his parliamentary votes on abortion and same-sex marriage should be in charge, knock yourself out! I'm jetlagged, I need pasta and I'm overwhelmed by the state of it all. Don't even get me started on some of the absolute melts on the other side of the house...



Image by Karen Arnold