RICHARD PORRITT with this week’s big stories.
‘What could possibly go wrong?’ asked a depressed Number 10 staffer at the news Theresa May was to do an LBC phone-in. She wanted to talk about the government’s newly-announced race audit but the callers wanted to talk about that and much more. One asked about whether she would secure the rights of EU citizens, she stumbled about a bit before delivering a stock answer from the Maybot’s database. But when host Iain Dale asked how she would vote if another EU referendum was held an error code 404 flashed up and there was radio silence. Do we have a PM who doesn’t even believe in her own government’s Brexit position? When asked afterwards how he thought it had gone the same Downing Street advisor sighed and said: ‘Oh, just wonderful…’
In hindsight the cough, the prankster and the letters falling off the backdrop might have saved May from an even bigger mauling. If people had been focusing on the policy rather than the spluttering they would have noted there wasn’t much of it. In fact the whole Tory conference was devoid of proposals. But the Prime Minister rallied the troops and clings on to power. The public shows of support change in private though. Here is one on-the-record response to May’s speech given moments afterwards: ‘It was glorious. A battling display full of spirit. I think the public saw the true Theresa today.’ And the off-the-record quote from the same MP: ‘What a fucking car crash. She has to go.’
There’s a job going with Jim the washing machine salesman – that is, of course, the member for Leicester East. MP Keith Vaz needs a new assistant. ‘Work tasks,’ the advert reads, ‘may include supporting Member of Parliament in his role as chairman of the APPG Grope on Yemen.’ Unfortunate typo. But even though he is short-staffed, Vaz was back with a bang at Labour conference. His beloved Diversity Nite was a hit. Last year the event was in hiatus following allegations, which Vaz apologised for, that he entertained rent boys posing as Jim the washing machine salesman. One Labour MP said: ‘Loved having the night back. Just don’t call him ‘Jim’. That annoys him.’
Has there ever been such a short political honeymoon as Emmanuel Macron’s? As millions went on strike in France this week a new poll showed the majority of losing faith in him and his ability to run the country. A whopping 54% ‘do not trust him to fix the country’s social and economic problems’, according to the Elabe poll. It is a huge tumble for Macron, who won a landslide victory against Marine Le Pen just six months ago. Pollsters are putting the crash in his ratings down to his controversial plans to change labour laws – but a worrying tendency for putting his foot in it is also emerging. While on a visit in central France he was confronted by angry protesters whose jobs in a nearby factory are at risk. He commented that they should be out job hunting ‘instead of wreaking fucking havoc’. And Macron’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe did little to defuse the anger, saying he could not understand the controversy and that is was ‘just a slip of the tongue’. But some French political commentators are coming to a different conclusion on Macron’s fall from grace: He won because it was him or Le Pen.
What now for German Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz? He was drafted in to take on the formidable – although now wounded – Angela Merkel at the start of the year and experienced a quick surge in support. But it was short-lived. And now Der Spiegel magazine has revealed some of Schulz’s private comments during the campaign, prompting calls for him to quit. ‘Life is like a chicken ladder,’ Schulz said after a state election defeat in May. ‘Covered in shit.’ And after telling students in Paris during a speech that ‘as Chancellor I will work with France’ he commented privately: ‘We are in freefall. Maybe I am the wrong candidate. People are nice to me but it is out of pity… I don’t have the slightest chance.’ Then after a particularly bad television debate he lamented: ‘The situation is shit. I am just happy if we have not embarrassed ourselves.’ Of course, Schulz was right. The SPD slipped to their worst result since the Second World War.
‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’ the old saying goes. And that is certainly the case in Switzerland where a study of sewage found more than £1 million worth of gold and silver in just one year. On top of this the same value again was discovered in rare earth metals. But who’d want to fish it out?