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The words you never want to read again… an A to Z of 2020

Boris Johnson on the phone in Downing Street - Credit: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street

LIZ GERARD offers a lexicon for the last year, including many words you will never want to hear again.

Activist lawyers

Misguided solicitors and barristers who want the courts and the law, rather than Priti Patel, to determine whether migrants she doesn’t like should be deported.


Vocal ‘libertarians’ with a death wish for others. Often also anti-mask and anti-lockdown. Quite a few are also climate change sceptics who voted for Brexit (or Trump). But let’s not fall into sweeping generalisations.


A woman scorning. Having pretty well confirmed that she had an affair with Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri has turned on her pole-dancing pupil, describing him as a “Great Supine Protoplasmic Invertebrate Jelly”. A bit ungracious, given the thousands of pounds of public money she received while their friendship flourished. [An official inquiry found no evidence that Johnson had any role in securing the grants, but thought those doing the granting knew of their relationship and might have been influenced by it. The GLA is still prodding.]


There’s nothing like a puppy or a baby to make people coo. Last year we had Dilyn the Jack Russell; this year the world was blessed with another Johnson sprog – Wilfred.

Barnard Castle

Renowned beauty spot, site of the most famous branch of Specsavers and shorthand for “Sod you, rules are for little people, I run the country and I’ll do what I want.”


A hotbed of lefties that needs to be destroyed, according to an old Dominic Cummings blog. Various means of execution have been mooted, including scrapping the licence fee and putting Charles Moore and Paul Dacre in charge. [Even Tory MPs are unsure about this approach: MP Huw Merriman warned the PM that in “ramping up an unedifying vendetta”, he was picking an unpopular fight that was unlikely to end well; Damian Green said destroying the BBC was not in the manifesto and would be cultural vandalism.]

A statement of what should be the obvious that some find hard to comprehend.


Well, he got it “done”. We left the EU on January 31, even though not enough people bunged a bob for a Big Ben bong.


There’s a lot of it about. If you’re a former speaker perceived as hindering Brexit, complaints about your behaviour will cost you your expected peerage. If you’re a home secretary determined to keep unwanted foreigners out, complaints about your behaviour will bring a vote of confidence from the PM, who will delay publication of the inquiry report censuring you and then instruct colleagues to “form a square around the Prittster”. You stay in post, the man who found you guilty resigns.

Cain and Cummings

Deadly duo who ruled the Downing Street roost (appropriate for a man most renowned for his chicken costume) until they over-reached themselves and upset Carrie.

Captain Tom

Ultimate sponsored walker who opened up a unique revenue stream for the NHS.


Happy camper. Instagram and No.10 influencer.


Perfect venue for a horse-racing festival bringing together a quarter of a million people from far and wide when there’s an ultra-contagious virus you’d like to spread. (If you don’t care for horses, a Champions League football match or Stereophonics stadium gig will do.)


Mandatory activity at 8pm on a Thursday. Especially for politicians if there are photographers about.


General pain in the neck, whether of the Jeremy or Piers persuasion. Very good at undermining the Labour leadership and measures to prevent the spread of Covid.


World-beating coronavirus borne out of a Chinese wet market to kill 1.5m people (some 65,000 of them in Britain), having infected 68m, including our PM, two princes, and the presidents of America and Brazil.

Cronyism/corruption/conflict of interest

The art of giving jobs, lucrative contracts and/or baubles to friends, relatives, supporters and the neighbour you meet down the pub. These people can fulfil an entire multibillion-pound shopping list at the drop of a hat, even if they have never made or sold such goods before. They can make ventilators, source PPE, oversee vaccine trials and develop test-and-trace apps. [It’s easy and possibly understandable to turn to people you know when you need to act swiftly in time of crisis, rather than reach out to experts you’ve never heard of or met. But when Cain and Cummings want to recruit a new generation of spads to join them, should the £340,000 headhunting contract go to a close Vote Leave associate’s lobbying firm?]


Detailed planning operation in case of a pandemic. Build up stocks for a rainy day, then use when the sun shines. Leave book on shelf for four years and dust off only once the contagion is unstoppable. Go out and buy all the equipment you’ve run down at ten or twenty times the cost.


Go-to woman with proven record of bungling in various walks of life. Guaranteed to help spread of virus through links with Jockey Club (see Cheltenham) and then to fail to find the people who’ve caught it with “world-beating” app that is a.) late and b.) flawed. Lack of relevant experience or knowledge should not prevent appointment as head of new body to replace Public Health England at the very moment PHE is working its backside off to cope with spread of virus and struggling to locate those who have it.



Downing Street briefings

Teatime TV soap recorded in front of a live studio audience – until the cast cottons on to the meaning of the scripts, grows further apart and evicts the audience. Leading man’s appearances are sporadic, but show makes stars of supporting cast including Whitty, Vallance and JVT. Returning for a second season next year with a glamorous new leading lady.

Eat Out to Help Out

Wizard scheme to spend half a billion subsidising people who can afford to dine in restaurants so that they keep businesses afloat. Far better use of public money than spending £20m on feeding poor children at half term and over Christmas. Bonuses of the initiative include the facts that it is ripe for fraud – get a separate receipt for every course – and encourages people to mix and spread the virus.


What you announce when your girlfriend is pregnant and you must come out of hiding and face people made homeless by floods. Actual wedding plans optional.


Along with the legislature and judiciary, one of the three pillars of democracy. System works well until the executive realises life would be more congenial were meaningful input from the other two to be minimised, if not eliminated.


Professor who advocated lockdown, saying that without restrictions up to half a million would die of coronavirus, whereas with them, 20,000 deaths would be a “good result”. Resigned from unpaid role as member of Sage committee after breaching lockdown to see his lover. Not to be confused with Dom and Jenrick, who also broke the rules but kept their jobs and six-figure salaries.


Vital commodity for island state, even though we don’t eat what we catch. Doesn’t matter if the rest of the economy is wrecked, so long as we protect our fishing industry and its 22,000 jobs.


If they happen before an election, the PM will stand on a doorstep with a mop that he doesn’t know how to use and a photograph will appear on the front of the Telegraph. If they happen after an election, the PM will stay in his country house so as not to turn people’s disasters into a “stunt” or “get in the way”.


Being paid to stay at home and teach the kids arithmetic.

Food standards

Making sure that food on sale in this country is ethically grown or farmed and safe to eat. Our standards are the highest in the world and will definitely not be lowered to allow for the import of chlorinated chicken or GM crops. For some reason, however, it is a disgrace for peers to try to pass a law just to make sure.


Rupert’s polite assassin waiting for the right moment to lift the knife again. Can’t make up his mind whether a couple of scotch eggs is a starter or a substantial meal.

Grayling, Chris

The only man in the world capable of losing a rigged election. (See also Lewis).


Good place for the PM to tell the world that if some new disease such as coronavirus triggers panic, the UK is ready to “take off its Clark Kent spectacles, leap into the phone booth and emerge, cape flowing, as the supercharged champion” of the right to buy and sell freely. Oh, and also that trade deals don’t matter.


The man we are all grateful to. Because we’re not him. A butter-wouldn’t-melt dissembler and coiner of brilliant “Don’t kill your granny” catchphrase. Inevitable fallguy.


Must be washed with soap and water to the accompaniment of two verses of Happy Birthday. If you’re the Prime Minister you can shake everyone’s, even in hospitals treating Covid patients. If you’re the Queen, it’s best you wear long gloves for an investiture.


On again-off again multibillion-pound projects guaranteed to bust their budgets, stoke Tory restlessness and cause prime ministerial wavering. [Just as he didn’t die in a ditch when Brexit wasn’t delivered on October 31, Johnson didn’t lie in front of a bulldozer to stop a third Heathrow runway. He flew to Afghanistan for a round of Where’s Boris? on the day of the crucial vote and, just as he was preparing to change his tune, was rescued by judges who ruled the decision to go ahead unlawful. What was that about curbing pesky interfering judges?]

Herd immunity

Variation on the principle that if enough people are vaccinated against a disease, it will die out or become so rare that those who cannot be immunised don’t catch it. In this incarnation, the idea is to make sure that at least 60% of the population get the disease, so they don’t get it again. Ideally, these would be healthy people who would recover. But they will, of course, spread it to others. Who may die.


Chinese comms giant and essential partner in 5G development, whatever the Americans say. Or perhaps not.

Iranian assassinations

A signal to cuddle your girlfriend in a Caribbean villa while your troops are under threat, your defence minister sends warships to the Gulf and your foreign secretary scuttles off to Washington to find out why your special American friend decided to kill a top general and risk a war without mentioning it to you first.


A new fairer points-based system to attract the people the country needs rather than “low-value” workers like carers and fruit pickers. Anyone coming here will need a job paying £26,500. The starting salary for a junior doctor is £23,000. The same as the average nurse’s wage.

International Law

Something others – like Syria, Turkey and Russia – must always observe, but something Britain can break in a “specific and limited way” when we’ve negotiated and signed a treaty we later decide we don’t like.


Chancellor who took on Dom and came off second best. Now looking forward to having the last laugh in the next reshuffle.


Untouchable cabinet minister. Thinks it’s ok to overrule planning decisions to save a wealthy businessman £48m at the expense of one of the poorest boroughs in London. Thinks it’s ok to travel to second home in breach of lockdown. Thinks it’s ok to approve funding for a neighbouring constituency, while that constituency’s MP approves funding for his. As housing minister, still struggling to cope with fact that half a million homes still have flammable cladding, three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy.


Public health expert and Guinness Book of Records contender for longest-sustained metaphor.


Leader of the opposition who baffles the PM by occasionally opposing government strategy. The man pollsters suggest most voters would like to see as PM, while half of his party and all Tories pray that never happens.


We’re going to level up the north by spending billions on infrastructure in neglected areas; we don’t want a level playing field with the EU, and for heaven’s sake don’t mention A levels.

Lewis, Julian

The only Tory MP to be disciplined for anything by the Prime Minister (see Jenrick, Patel, Williamson). For having the temerity to stand for – and secure – the Intelligence Committee chairmanship that had been lined up for Failing Grayling. And then immediately publish the Russia report that Johnson had been sitting on for nine months.


Shutting the stable door after the horse has won the Gold Cup (see Cheltenham).


Twenty-three-year-old conscience of the government who should stick to football and shut up about free school meals now he’s been given an MBE.


Just the place for a ten-day New Year break in a “£40,000-a-week” hotel, courtesy of a descendant of Bismarck, the founder of Carphone Warehouse or your own pocket, depending on who’s asking.


Jewel in the British crown, must be protected at all costs – whether from being overrun with Covid patients or from Americans who want to take it over or ruin it by inflating the cost of medicines. Well, maybe not from the Americans if we want to sell them anything next year (see also food standards).

Nightingale hospitals

If the Chinese can build a state-of-the-art hospital in two weeks, the British army can create half a dozen in record time too. Just don’t expect the government to stump up for staff so that they can treat any patients.

Oven-ready deal (aka Withdrawal Agreement)

Suddenly doesn’t taste as good when the outer wrapper is removed and the list of ingredients exposed.

Overseas aid

A tiny chunk of national income ring-fenced to help poor and developing countries and protected by the government’s election manifesto. Naturally the first port of call when money gets tight.


Blue, of course. Made in Poland. The Brexiter’s symbol of freedom and something to cling to at all costs. Not to be confused with …


Financial services’ actual freedom to conduct multibillion-pound trades in Europe. Something to be thrown away in the name of “sovereignty”.


All-heart home secretary, renowned for her compassion, understanding and ability to get along with colleagues. Eagerly looking forward to former permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam’s constructive dismissal tribunal.

Personal Protective Equipment

Specialist gear for health workers. Can be bought from Turkish T-shirt makers. If they’ve run out, a binbag and a pair of Marigolds will do. There’s plenty to go round, so long as you don’t squander it while treating patients with a disease that has killed your colleagues.


Establishments to which it is an Englishman’s inalienable right to go. Especially if you are the PM’s father. They should stay open, but customers should avoid patronising them. They should shut. They should reopen, but close at ten – to give drinkers time to restock before the Sainsbury’s Local shuts at 11. They should shut. They should reopen, but serve drinks only with a “substantial meal”. Which may or may not be a scotch egg. I hope that’s clear now.


Traditionally, an opportunity for MPs, notably the leader of the opposition, to quiz the Prime Minister and taunt him/her for not answering. Now, an opportunity for the Prime Minister to quiz the leader of the opposition and taunt him for not answering.

Question Time

Traditionally, an opportunity for senior politicians, the great and the good to debate rationally with thoughtful members of the public on the big issues of the day. Now, an opportunity for junior politicians, comedians and columnists (occasionally all three rolled into one) to ingratiate themselves with aggressive members of the public chosen for their ability to generate controversy.


Restrictions imposed on holidaymakers returning from Covid “hotspots” (many of which have fewer cases than the UK) but not on 18m people who flew into Britain before lockdown without so much as a temperature check.


The most important letter of the year.

Ramping up

What you promise to do with testing for coronavirus. Having stopped when it would have done most good and WHO was imploring countries to “test, test, test”.


Device for Dom to take control of the Treasury (see Javid and Rishi). Also the chance to appoint Suella Braverman, a lawyer who wants to curb the power of the courts, as attorney general and to put Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a woman who believes charity begins at home, in charge of overseas aid.


“Dishy” free-spending chancellor and Eat Out to Help Out architect who was supposed to preside over Boris’s post-Brexit boom but now has to cope with the biggest recession in history. Hotly tipped for a move next door.

Russia report

Commons investigation which found “substantial evidence” that Russian interference in British democracy was commonplace. It did not, however, find evidence that Russia had influenced the Brexit referendum. Because the government had not asked the security services to look – and to do so off their own bat would have amounted to interfering in British democracy.


Group of experts offering scientific advice to the Government. Provides smokescreen/scapegoat for questionable decisions, as in “Follow the science” – (see Slogans) but can be ignored when politically expedient, as in “experts advise, ministers decide”. (Hang on, that has four words.)


What you do if you or someone close has Covid symptoms. Unless you’re D. Cummings. In that case, you go home, pop back to the office, go home again, bundle your wife and young son into the car, drive for four hours and then quarantine yourselves in a country estate cottage built without planning permission on which you have escaped £30,000 in council tax. This is perfectly reasonable and you need have no regrets.


All government policies must come down to three little words or phrases, from “Get Brexit Done”, via “Unleashing the Potential” to “Hands, Face, Space”. These are so important that plans for a new coronavirus slogan (as opposed to a new approach) made the lead story in every Sunday newspaper – even when none of the writers knew what it would be.


Noted for her impassioned defence of cheese and spectacular trade deals with countries the size of a small English county, Liz pipped Rishi as the most effective government minister in the eyes of Conservative members. This matters because these are the people who will likely choose our next Prime Minister. For the record, Johnson ranked 21st, ten points behind Alister Jack (who he?), but ahead of Hancock, Jenrick and Williamson.


Still nowhere to be seen.

Uplands (sunlit)

Still nowhere to be seen with regard to Brexit, but now apparently within the Prime Minister’s sight with regard to Covid.


Weapon against coronavirus developed by Turkish immigrants in Germany and made in Belgium. But Britain is still the best country because we are the first to use it. And we’ve got our own versions coming on stream soon. So there!

Vote Leave

Finishing school for anyone wanting to be an adviser to anyone in this government.


People needed to help with the Whitehall revolution that will bring a hard rain on civil servants. Until the chief weirdo is kicked out.

Where’s Boris?

Strange how he can never be found when there is serious work to be done or a sticky situation, such as Cobra meetings to discuss a looming pandemic, an A-level results fiasco, when floods inundate homes across the country, or when his best American buddy tries to start a war.


The same as furlough but with added responsibility: you have to do some work, comb your hair and wear a shirt with your jogging bottoms.


Former chief whip with a pet tarantula, which is enough to scare the PM into leaving him in charge of our children’s education.


Apparently the UK equivalent of Saudi oil. Should be powering every home within ten years as part of the PM’s move to make the country greener.


Movement to make the country greener that is even less popular than Boris Johnson.


Putative new home for the House of Lords.


Goldsmith scion repeatedly rejected by the electorate, given a peerage so he could keep his job in government (see also cronyism). Democracy, who needs it? Hope he enjoys the commute to York.


The reason people WFH have to wear that shirt.

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