BREX FACTOR: Is James Cleverly the least aptly-named politician of all time?

PUBLISHED: 14:00 03 October 2019

Tory chairman James Cleverly at the Conservative Party conference. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Tory chairman James Cleverly at the Conservative Party conference. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

2019 Getty Images

The Tory party chairman is far from living up to his name, says STEVE ANGLESEY.

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Michael Gove hailed Boris Johnson as the Michael Gove hailed Boris Johnson as the "Pep Guardiola of British polotics". Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The concept of nominative determinism - the idea that people gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names - now feels so tired that all future examples should be collated by a Mr or Mrs Shark-Jumper.

It is 131 years since the Kentish Note Book remarked upon the presence locally of "several carriers by the name of Carter; a hosier named Hosegood; an auctioneer named Sales; and a draper named Cuff". It's nearly four decades since Cyril Fletcher departed the BBC's That's Life!, where he seemed inordinately pleased to have discovered a dentist called Mr Pullman or to report on the Russian hurdler Marina Stepanova.

The idea has been parodied by everyone from Alan Partridge to Craig Brown and even the weekly 'Nominative Determinism Corner' in the gossip newsletter Popbitch appears to have given up the ghost. One recent example was a gardener named John Plant, although the section did score a few weeks ago with the revelation that seen in the proximity of the condom section in Boots' Westminster branch had been Dominic Cummings.

Far more interesting is the concept of nominative contra-determinism, for people who veer from the path seemingly chosen by the surnames. The most famous examples are Frank Beard, the sole unbearded member of ZZ Top, and the Filipino cleric Cardinal Sin. More recently we have the footballer Danny Drinkwater (banned from driving after steering his Range Rover through a wall while twice the limit) and the unflappable Lord Pannick, who did so much damage to the government's case at the recent Supreme Court hearings.

James Cleverly has been Conservative co-chairman since July and is bringing to the role all the gravitas and sound judgement one associates with previous incumbents like Grant Shapps, Liam Fox and Cecil Parkinson (Jeffrey Archer was only deputy chairman, though vice chairman might have been more appropriate).

What is remarkable about Cleverly is how easy it is to catch him acting stupidly. Take Monday in Manchester, when he was boasting that Conservative party membership is "the biggest it's been in the modern era, since we started counting it… I can announce 191,000." How unfortunate that we have the actual members ballots from Tory leadership elections, which show the party had at least 256,797 members in 2001 and least 198,844 in 2005. It took a moment on Wikipedia to work that out.

Boris Johnson's special advisor, Dominic Cummings. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty ImagesBoris Johnson's special advisor, Dominic Cummings. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images

Which brings us on to another great Cleverly moment, again from this week's conference. When Labour's David Lammy ridiculed him for making a speech in which he claimed "it was a Conservative health minister who set the foundations for the NHS", Cleverly responded with a tweet reading "Educate yourself", adding in a web link to the Wikipedia biography of Henry Willink, the health minister in question. Alas, clicking on the link showed that while Willink did suggest a free healthcare system, "at the time he claimed the nationalisation of hospitals 'will destroy so much in this country that we value'". Further reading shows he called Nye Bevan's NHS bill "disastrous" before voting against it.

It is another piece of bad luck on Conservative history for Cleverly, who earlier this year shared a video marking the anniversary of the act which abolished slavery in Britain. He credited this largely to a long campaign "by a Tory MP from Yorkshire, William Wilberforce." Naturally, Wilberforce turned out to have been an independent.

In the same week, he told Radio 4's Today programme that Britain would soon be able to "use that opportunity of Brexit to do the kind of things that we've been precluded from doing for decades, including free ports…". A brief fact check soon revealed that not only does the EU permit free ports, but that the UK had them until 2012.

This turned out to be merely the opener in a hat-trick of Cleverly gaffes on Today - don't you think it seems to have become far more listenable recently? - which included his insistence on August 20 that the Operation Yellowhammer research was "out of date". The document was dated August 1.

And more recently we have had this superb exchange with Mishal Husain over Boris Johnson's inflammatory language in the Commons:

CLEVERLY: He did not use the word 'betrayal'.

Stricly Come Dancing joint-favouruite and former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher deleted a series of pro-Brexit social media posts. Picture: Getty ImagesStricly Come Dancing joint-favouruite and former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher deleted a series of pro-Brexit social media posts. Picture: Getty Images

HUSSEIN: (reading a transcript of Johnson's remarks) "We will not betray the people who sent us here..."

CLEVERLY: You're saying he said 'betrayal'; he said 'we will not betray'.

With the sheer brass balls to come out with stuff like that and keep a straight face, to bend numbers to suit his agenda and to rewrite history about what the Tories were responsible for (and you thought Conservatives were against claiming credit!) - James Cleverly is clearly destined for an even more senior position with a party for which TINA used to mean There Is No Alternative but now means Truth Is Not Applicable.

When he finally moves on and up,let's hope the Tories conjure up the spirit of nominative determinism and appoint a former MP and Brexiteer whose name fits with their agenda: Mark Reckless.

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Brexiteers of the Week

4) MICHAEL GOVE

Hailed Boris Johnson as "the Pep Guardiola of British politics" - a remarkable comparison given that the Spaniard's Man City have already won eight games this season while Johnson has lost seven straight Commons votes.

But perhaps there is a link after all. Despite statistics showing a 375% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in the week after the future prime minister's infamous Telegraph column comparing burka wearers to "letterboxes" and "bank robbers", he has repeatedly refused to apologise.

Meanwhile, after City midfielder Bernardo Silva appeared to compare team-mate Benjamin Mendy to the cartoon mascot of a Spanish confectionery brand - described by the Times as "a small, naked, pot-bellied African native with enormous lips" - Guardiola said: "It's a cartoon and the face is quite similar... It's just a joke."

3) THE HOME GUARD

It's been a week of carrying on about abroad for Brexiteers, with Colin Price writing to the Daily Express to demand no public money should be spent on rescuing Thomas Cook because "if the trendy, liberal, unpatriotic Remoaner elite can't have holidays in the EU then though luck to them… if they get stranded in the EU, good riddance. Patriotic Brexiteers should take their holidays in Britain".

Even better was the caller to LBC's Eddie Mair Show who declared that if we don't leave the EU by the end of October then in his view Britain would have ceased to be a democracy. He would stop paying taxes and eventually he would have to leave Britain. And, Mair wondered, where would he go? "Maybe somewhere in Europe…"

2) DOMINIC CUMMINGS

In case you're wondering where James Cleverly and Boris Johnson get it from, the Wile E Coyote of British politics had this exchange with a BBC Breakfast reporter on the way in to work:

REPORTER: Brexit doesn't look like a walk in the park, does it? 
CUMMINGS: Who said it would be a walk in the park?

REPORTER: You did, last night

CUMMINGS: Noooo (shuts car door).

And of course it turned out that he'd said nothing of the sort at Vote Leave backer Stuart Wheeler's book launch the previous night… well, apart from: "We are not under pressure, the referendum was pressure. The referendum was difficult. This is a walk in the park compared to the referendum."

1) KELVIN FLETCHER

The Strictly Come Dancing joint-favourite has wiped a series of his pro-Brexit social media posts, apparently in an attempt to make sure he does not turn off Remain voters.

Former Emmerdale actor Fletcher deleted the tweets but still visible are replies to them from other Twitter users. They include "I'm with you Kelvin, I voted leave too #Brexit" and "I want my country, its laws and its borders back. Great Britain survived thousands of years without pandering to Europe."

Which all begs the question: What will Strictly look like after Brexit? Why can't we get rid of this fancy foreign stuff like the tango and the paso doble for dances we invented, like the pogo? Why not rename it Strictly Morris Dancing?

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