I was comedian Matt Forde’s interview victim at the Duchess Theatre on Monday, as news was breaking about the latest Number 10 piss-up scandal. Given both of us are New Labour to the core, I was probably preaching to the converted when I said people needed to wake up to just how awful, and just how dangerous, this government is. But it is clear that unease about Boris Johnson’s character is turning to utter disgust.
This goes way beyond him, though. It is about the whole rotten lot of them, and the way they have conspired to destroy standards in public life. How many Cabinet ministers have trotted out the lies they have been told to tell? How many Tory MPs have looked the other way?
How many government advisers have said and done nothing when they have seen the lockdown laws being broken, and the lies being told? How many client journalists have gone along with helping them cover it up? Rotten to the core. And it was probably a rotten party too. ‘Bring Your Own Booze’ indeed.
The party to look forward to is the one to celebrate the departure of the whole corrupt cabal, then start to rebuild after a dreadful decade.
One of the many things I like about Tony Blair – beyond the most important, which is that he was an excellent prime minister – is that he is one of the least status-conscious politicians I know. I don’t think it would have troubled him overly if he had gone through his entire life as plain Tony Blair.
Equally, he has huge respect for the Queen and when she offered him the knighthood that has caused such consternation, it would not even have crossed his mind to refuse it.
Oh, and can you imagine the shouts and screams from the right if he had?
Many on the right loathe TB because he kept them out of power for a decade and more.
Parts of the left also loathe him because he was a winner, one who never lost sight of the electorate as a whole, not one ideologically motivated section of it.
That the two come together for their current petition campaign tells me they worry too little about things that really matter and too much about things that don’t, such as whether a three-term prime minister, who won his third election after the Iraq War, should get a gong from Her Maj for years of public service which led to enormous improvements in people’s lives.
Some weeks – last week was one of them – The New European is worth the cover price for the cover alone.
Vladimir Putin as a giant puppet-master, strings on one hand controlling smiley Joe Biden, strings on the other controlling elbow-bumping Boris Johnson. It illustrated a terrifying analysis by French Sovietologist Françoise Thom, which made clear Putin’s actions in Ukraine are about a lot more than Ukraine.
I won’t repeat the arguments here, other than to say that this is about a lot more than Ukraine and that, unless Putin is bluffing, it is hard to see how his gambit ends well.
I have a couple of reservations about the illustration. First, that the Kremlin would have loved it; Putin the main man, Russia a serious force – bang on message. The second is that Johnson’s government was not even mentioned in the article, and indeed the only reference to Britain was this: “The pioneers of the Cold War were the British, who formed a Western bloc around the Anglo-French core and persuaded isolationist Americans to stay in Europe.”
In that single sentence, the catastrophic diplomatic damage done by Brexit was fully exposed.
I’m not sure we could pioneer anything right now because we have shattered alliances with major European powers, and made ourselves virtually irrelevant with the Americans.
Instead, we have a prime minister untrusted by other leaders and a foreign secretary in Liz Truss who cares more about the role of Instagram in her leadership campaign, than the role of foreign policy in securing stability in the world. At no point in our history have we been taken less seriously overseas.
Truss’s spin doctors at least have a tidy collection of ‘Truss warns Putin’ headlines to send out in party mailshots, culled from the right-wing rags, Pravda-like in their slavish coverage of a government presiding over a decline of its own making.
Should I ever be tempted to compile a list of insults thrown my way, “faux Scot’’ can be added to it, courtesy of The Herald newspaper. It’ s fair to say I’ve had far worse. “War criminal” pops up fairly often on social media, and even before the Iraq War, which provoked it, I had variously been compared in print to Hitler, Goebbels and Rasputin. So “faux Scot” is pinprick stuff by comparison.
I only saw The Herald because we were in Scotland for the New Year, and the paper was lying around in a barber’s where I was waiting for a trim. And “faux Scot” did get me thinking – about identity.
I was born and raised in England, but in a very Scottish household – my dad a Gaelic-speaking, bagpipe- playing, Hebridean-born crofter’s son, who became a vet; my mum, the daughter of an Ayrshire farmer.
All our holidays were in Scotland. Most of our visitors were from Scotland. I felt more Scottish than English growing up, and when it came to sport, I always supported Scotland over England. I am pleased my sons, third-generation Scots from London, have inherited this trait.
But if Scottish has always come ahead of English in my sense of identity, British has come ahead of both.
Yet, about to do a Canadian radio interview recently on the shambles of
the Johnson government, when the producer said, “We’ll introduce you as a British writer and strategist who worked for Tony Blair, OK?”, I found myself instinctively replying, “Can you say Scottish, not British?”
It is perhaps from the same field of feeling as expressed by the man who eventually cut my hair: “We look at someone like Boris Johnson and we think that if England is going to keep giving us people like that, we want nothing to do with it.”
To understand that sentiment completely does not make me a nationalist. Rather, it means that my sense of Britishness has been weakened by Brexit and Johnson as PM, and my sense of Scottishness strengthened, because most Scots absolutely loathe Brexit and its principal architects.
My belief that English nationalism was one of the driving forces for Brexit has further eroded the English part of my identity.
To complete the picture, my sense of being European has grown too, with the knowledge of all we have lost.
I don’t know if that makes me a faux European as well as a faux Scot, but I sure as hell know I don’t like what Brexit Britain is becoming.
As I played in the New Year with my bagpipes at Ardgour Ales, a new micro-brewery that threw a Covid- secure, open-air party, a dog sat at my feet, staring intently at my hands.
After a few minutes, she jumped up, rested her paws on my thigh and cocked her head closer to the chanter, where my fingers were bashing out the tune.
I could see her owners, Neil and Alison Weir, looking on shocked – I assumed out of worry that I’d be angry at their dog’s attentions.
But no, the reason for the shock was that the dog, Holly, has been deaf for several years.
There was something about the pitch of the sound that she could hear, and she was keen to explore it.
A truly magical musical moment, which made for a happy start to 2022. No anti-bagpipe jokes allowed. I’ve heard them all.