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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Cameron"

Iain Dale: The EU’s insipid response to China’s Hong Kong aggression. Another reason to be glad we’re leaving.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I’m pleased to see the Government’s response to what’s going on in Hong Kong ramping up a tad. It needed to.

The Chinese government must be held to account for its actions, and to rip up an internationally binding treaty, as it is doing – well, it doesn’t get much more serious than that in the field of international diplomacy.

The ‘one country, two systems’ agreement has 27 years to run. For China arbitrarily to declare that it can do as it likes, and impose whatever law it likes, is not the act of a friendly country.

In the real world, there is little we can do to stop China in its tracks, but we can hold it to account for its actions in a number of ways.

We now start the process of re-evaluating our entire relationship with China. That doesn’t mean the breaking of all diplomatic and economic relations, but it does mean that we call an end to the mistaken ‘golden age’ relationship advocated by David Cameron and George Osborne.

Their almost craven attitude to the Chinese partly has got us into this situation. So keen were they to attract Chinese investment in our economy – and, outrageously, in our national infrastructure – that the Chinese had (and to an extent have) us over a barrel.

Boris Johnson’s instinct was not to go ahead with the Huawei deal, but in the end he felt that he had no choice. I hope and expect that decision to be reversed by the end of the year.

China is flexing its muscles in a number of areas, when, given what has happened on Coronavirus, you might have thought that it might have reined itself in a little.

Not a bit of it. It’s increased its bellicose language regarding Taiwan, and there are worrying signs that it is ramping up its conflict with India over the disputed Himalayan border.

Dominic Raab is absolutely right to say that democracies need to be united in standing up to Chinese aggression, whether with regard to Hong Kong or elsewhere.

He was also right to call out the EU on its insipid response to what’s going on in Hong Kong. It refused to join the UK, US, Canada and Australia in sending a joint communique. Yet another reason to be glad we’re out of the wretched organisation.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Foreign Secretary has also had a tricky this week following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Both he and the Prime Minister have rightly condemned what happened, but of course there have been calls on them to denounce Donald Trump for his response.

Instead of trying to bring the nation together, the President has added fuel to the flames. Instead of seeking to build national unity, he’s seemingly deliberately chosen to encourage division and hatred.

However, to expect the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary to directly condemn him goes against all the natural rules of international diplomacy. America is our oldest ally, and will continue to be a key partner in the post Brexit world.

Our leaders can call for calm, but to call out Trump in an aggressive and condemnatory way is something that would make the heart feel good, but a long-term headache would ensue. In the real world of international diplomacy it is usually wise to let the head rule the heart.

As a columnist and diarist, I don’t have to do that, and have absolutely no hesitation in calling Donald Trump out for his racism, hatred, divisiveness, misogyny, incompetence, narcissism and general awfulness. I feel better for that.

– – – – – – – – – –

You can’t keep a good man down. How lovely it was to see the ‘People’s Gardiner’ back in the headlines this week.

Sacked by Keir Starmer from the Shadow Cabinet in April, ‘Whispering’ Barry Gardiner has been absent from our TV screens for far too long.

What a pity, though, that he broke his media duck by breaking all social distancing rules by ‘taking a knee’ at the crowded Black Lives Matter protest in Whitehall.

In the most #virtuesignallingtastic way possible, he thought he’d be seen as a hero by the massed protesters, but instead was forced into a humiliating apology the next day.

His Brent constituents have yet to deliver their verdict. Still, at least he didn’t attend the massive overnight street party that took place earlier this week in the constituency of his Brent neighbour, Dawn Butler. What is it that people don’t get about the continuing need for social distancing?

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Darren Grimes: A Pride Day? There’s a good case for one. But a whole Pride Month? That’s just virtue signalling.

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

Last year marked half a century since the protest in retaliation against a threatening police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York. It began a new era of defiance in the campaign to secure equal rights for gay men and women, playing a part in a global movement that eventually culminated in the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

So maybe a ‘Pride Month’ to mark the event last year was justifiable. But is an entire month necessary every year?

There are some good arguments to have a ‘Pride Day’ to celebrate and commemorate the UK’s achievements in overcoming the criminalisation of homosexuality and the lack of protections for trans men and women. And to help us stand in solidarity with people in other countries where it’s still illegal and life-threatening to be gay.

But to dedicate a whole month to this seems to debase the value of such well-intentioned acts, particularly when the month seems more grounded in virtue-signalling and the criticism of others than genuine feelings of celebration, commemoration and solidarity.

On Monday, the Conservative Party changed its profile picture across its social media channels, stripping the light blue oak tree logo, which until 2017 proudly boasted the Union Jack, and instead bedazzling it in the colours of the rainbow. The Party justifies this by arguing in a post on its website that: “Freedom lies at the heart of our Party’s values and we will always stand up for the rights of LGBT people to live and love without fear.”

I find it utterly depressing that the pride flag now takes pride of place in our national life over our own national flag. Our national flag is sneered at with Emily Thornberry levels of derision, but what, might I ask, could stand for the values of freedom and of the Conservative and Unionist Party better than the Union Jack? Our common flag, representing our common direction and identity – one that internationally boasts a pro-freedom message.

The Union Jack groups together all four constituent parts of the world’s most successful political and economic union a hell of a lot better than the artificial union of the ‘LGBT community’, which does not exist. Being gay is an incredibly unreliable characteristic on which to try and build an individual identity, never mind trying to group the four (and increasingly more) together as a so-called community. Yet still politicians speak of ‘LGBT Plus’, as though we’re one religious grouping that gather each week around some sacred text.

It isn’t just the Conservative Party splashing the cash on a rainbow update – the ‘woke capital’ commercialisation of it all is increasingly obvious, with it being very easy for big corporations to whack a pride flag everywhere – but being woke is an expensive business as far as government is concerned, too. According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Whitehall departments often abuse taxpayer cash in pursuit of appealing to identity politics.

Whitehall departments have spent more than £65,000 installing gender-neutral toilets, and purchasing LGBTQ lanyards, stationery and flags. The Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street own four pride flags, compared to only three St. George’s flags: in a world in which identity is king, who cares about England’s national identity?

The cost per LGBT+ lanyard from the departments who responded ranged from £3.53 to £0.49. However, a plain lanyard costs from as little as £0.13. I wonder how much all of the diversity training and the social media videos for each department during ‘pride month’ will cost the taxpayer too?

In the end, was the Conservative Party thanked for its unabashed support of this entire month of pride at the altar of the rainbow mob? No, no. Of course not. Shortly after throwing the rainbow mob a bit of meat, ‘Section 28’ was trending on Twitter to bash the Party’s efforts. Deliberately ignoring David Cameron’s support of same-sex marriage, the final frontier in gay equality.

I hope that one positive outcome of our dalliance with a potentially fatal virus that has shuttered much of our economy and seen us all squirrel ourselves away indoors will be a rejection of the fake culture wars. In which arguments over gender neutral bathrooms and changing rooms are deemed less important than issues that are higher on the electorate’s agenda like debt, growth and jobs for the next generation.

After all, what ‘LGBT+’ battles are left to be fought? Same-sex marriage is secured and attitudes are catching up with it. And as trans woman Dr Debbie Hayton writes: “It’s true that trans rights are human rights, but those rights are already protected. It is illegal to harass me or treat me less favourably on the grounds of my gender reassignment – and rightly so.” So what battles are left that justify a Pride Month? Are we not free until we can walk around the streets in puppy fetish gear without raising eyebrows?

Saying all of this will see me attacked by UK’s legacy gay press such as Pink News. To argue that my sexuality does not define me and that I am not oppressed is an act of heresy – despite the fact that our sexuality is the least interesting thing about us. Indeed, the fight for gay liberation was in large part about recognising this. You didn’t choose to be gay, you didn’t achieve being gay – and society not caring about you being so is cause to celebrate.

A prominent case of being cancelled for holding such views was when the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, addressed the Republican National Convention in 2016 – hardly a crowd known historically for being A-OK with gay men and women.

Thiel told the Convention that: “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American.” The crowd’s response? A standing ovation! This should have been seen as cause for celebration of the breakneck speed at which attitudes towards gay men and women have changed, but no, Thiel was instead denounced as “not a gay man” by The Advocate magazine

If the legacy gay press spent half as much time attacking the medieval practices of those who murder and hound gay men and women in countries around the world as they do those gay men and women that they disagree with in democracies like ours, who knows what they could achieve?

At the end of the day, being gay in 2020 is ok. We are no longer prime victims of oppression, and we should hold on to that and reject a month of self-indulgence and narcissism: these groups should be ignored in their attempts to find oppression where little exists. We don’t need a ‘Pride month’. We don’t need your taxpayer-funded lanyards and flags. Perhaps if Whitehall and our politicians could find as much pride in the Union Jack as they do in waving the Pride flag, Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda would be a much easier task.

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Ben Obese-Jecty: Has the Coronavirus crisis now set the conditions for the Big Society?

Ben Obese-Jecty is the Deputy Chairman (Political) for Hornsey and Wood Green Conservative Association and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

Nearly ten years ago a newly elected Prime Minister stood at a lectern at Liverpool Hope University and delivered his vision for Britain. David Cameron’s Big Society speech outlined a framework proposing a redistribution of power from Westminster to the man and woman on the street.

Now, a tumultuous few months have all but torn up many of the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledges. A bold new strategy will be required in order to get the country back on its feet. But to what extent have conditions been created to facilitate the original Big Society agenda, and are they applicable to post-Coronavirus Britain?

The first strand of the Big Society’s framework spoke of the need to “foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action”. This selflessness and commitment to contribution is the key tenet upon which any interpretation of the Big Society is dependent. Without willing large-scale participation, the platform to create the other strands of the framework would founder.

In his 2009 Hugo Young lecture, Cameron argued that “the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism”. With austerity measures having halted that state growth, emerging civic responsibility has naturally filled the gap where required – indirectly setting the conditions for it to grow organically, rather than by edict.

The current crisis has given rise to a new-found willingness to embrace these behaviours, underwritten by the mass engagement required to make them viable. Through a blend of cultural influences and necessity, attitudes within our society have changed markedly since 2010, but in recent times the sense of social cohesion across the country has arguably never been greater; from support for foodbanks to neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and the 750,000 NHS volunteers, the spirit of social action is currently highly evident. We have rarely seen such collective selflessness from the public and must seize the opportunity to ensure that it endures beyond the current crisis.

The second strand outlined the need for public service reform via “new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need”.

Critics have argued that this appeared to be little more than an attempt to reduce Government expenditure under the auspices of civic responsibility; austerity by stealth mitigating any shortfall in resources. But as we look to how our post-Coronavirus environment may take shape, the role of new providers and the incentivisation of third-party providers will be key to encouraging the enterprise that needed in those areas where state support is not available.

The short-term application of big state has been championed by the left as vindication, Jeremy Corbyn going as far as to assert that he had “won the argument”, but a short-term response to an unprecedented situation, particularly one that is unsustainable, does not represent a strategic solution.

With the prospect of a decade of unwieldy state intervention, and the OBR predicting a rise in unemployment to a high of nine per cent, the Government will be keen to ensure that such a top-down approach is in place for only as long as is necessary.

Opportunities to devolve power will be vital in ensuring that tailored solutions are implemented for specific regions. Lord Heseltine’s proposal that metro mayors should be given a greater say over how best to rejuvenate their local regions is an example of where potentially innovative approaches may lie.

Though the response will initially see unprecedented levels of Government expenditure, an inevitable need to rebalance the books will follow. While the Government will be forced to employ a more holistic solution than a simple return to austerity, the incentivisation and invigoration of new organisations sitting on the periphery of the established framework could be a shrewd and practical response in reducing the burden upon local government.

A collegiate approach would be an effective way of identifying expertise to better target the areas requiring attention, as well as providing much needed stimulus to potential growth areas.

The third strand of the Big Society was community empowerment, centred upon communities feeling that “if they club together and get involved, they can shape the world around them”. As with the change in attitudes that has encouraged individual social action, the ability to empower groups at a local level may be significant in not only achieving innovative and democratic solutions, but also the required buy-in to maintain any mass engagement from the wider population.

As a Conservative government we should be embracing the personal responsibility shown by groups and communities eager to make a difference. Empowering community groups from the bottom-up and addressing the impact felt by any structural or regional inequalities facilitates what Cameron believed is the state “directly agitating for, catalysing and galvanising social renewal”.

By encouraging community activists and social entrepreneurs we can help them create the local enterprises vital to address those key areas where a reduced state has failed to identify a local need or is ill-equipped to service it.

This empowerment will not organically appear should the state retrench, as it must, in the strategic response to the crisis, but as the Government seeks to identify those areas where a difference can be made, the opportunity to harness the current groundswell of engagement should not be squandered.

The Government will need to ensure that when funding is made available in order to support efforts to reinvigorate areas in need, such groups are included as stakeholders within the discussion.

The expectation that the Big Society could thrive as some form of autarkic concept was undone by the prioritisation of fiscal conservatism; denied the investment it would need to establish momentum. The next decade will likely be hard, characterised by the complex balance of paying for the measures imposed to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus whilst attempting to deliver a manifesto partially rendered moot by the economic devastation of a global pandemic.

A key facet of the concept was the need to inculcate a spirit of civic participation amongst the population at large. It is significant that the current crisis has imbued people with the grass-roots motivation that would otherwise have been difficult to achieve.

Through both the cultural changes of the last decade and exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis, many have experienced a change to their milieu. For the next decade there will be a need for us all to take better care of one another, both with regards to our health and our social fabric. The conditions might now be right to revisit the concept of the Big Society.

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Profile: Munira Mirza, the Muslim from Oldham who leads Johnson’s Policy Unit

Amber Rudd says the Government would make “better decisions” if more women were in senior positions, a thought endorsed on ConHome by Charlotte Gill.

Munira Mirza, Director of the Downing Street Policy Unit, is, as Gill conceded, already in a senior position. This Muslim woman from Oldham, daughter of two immigrants from Pakistan, also worked for Boris Johnson throughout his eight years as Mayor of London.

Johnson loves to surround himself with clever advisers, people who delight in freedom of thought not merely as a pious notion, but as a way of puncturing the complacent liberal consensus.

Dr Mirza, as it amuses him to call her, is like him a rebel, who transcends the various categories in which people seek to place the two of them.

Johnson and Mirza do not always agree with each other, but they both like to astound the holders of received opinions, and especially the assumption that we must tiptoe round any question to do with Islam, for fear of causing offence.

So in August 2018, when Johnson wrote his controversial article about the burka and was widely condemned for having gone too far, Mirza took to the airwaves to defend him, and also contributed her only piece for ConHome, in which she declared:

“Johnson genuinely dislikes the burka, and has felt this way for as long as I’ve known him. Not because he is ignorant about Islam. Quite the opposite. He knows far more about Islam and Islamic cultures than most of the politicians who are now lining up to attack him. He sees that the burka is a recent cultural accretion, which has been championed by extremists in many countries around the world and is actively opposed by moderate Muslims. That some women in the West freely choose to wear it doesn’t make it any more palatable. It remains a symbol of gender inequality (if it wasn’t, why don’t men wear it too?) and it is intended quite literally to limit the interaction between Muslim women and other people.

“Johnson is the one treating Muslims as equals, expecting them to be part of the debate rather than left in a ghetto. He has bothered to learn about their customs, read their literature and understand the internal debates within their religion. He knows how badly many Muslim women are treated around the world and made girls’ education a priority whilst he was at the FCO. He made the issue of FGM in the UK a priority whilst he was Mayor of London. He met Muslim ‘community leaders’ yet also questioned them if he suspected they did not represent the full diversity of opinion amongst Muslims.”

There is a bracing astringency in Mirza’s writing, and in her attitude to her duties in Downing Street: “She’s not interested in the who-is-in-the-meeting bullshit,” as one of her colleagues in government puts it.

Another close observer says:

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who’s genuinely as independent-minded as Munira. She has strong views, arrived at on her own. She hasn’t bought a package – I’m going to think what that person says, because I like and admire them. I bet that’s what Boris likes. She’s a completely self-made person. I suspect he admires it and has grown to trust it and likes not quite being able to predict what she’ll say.”

Mirza was born in 1978 in Oldham, the youngest of four children. Her father worked in a factory. She went to Breeze Hill comprehensive school, which was overwhelmingly Asian and has since been amalgamated with an overwhelmingly white school, and then to Oldham Sixth Form College, from which she was the only person in her year to go to Oxbridge.

She read English at Mansfield College, Oxford, and January 2018, debating “Who is Winning the Culture Wars?” with Afua Hirsch at the Frontline Club, remarked:

“When I was growing up I thought of myself as left-wing. I realised very quickly in my twenties that the main thing the Left was not in favour of was free speech – that there was an intolerance about different ideas and opinions.”

She was by her own account a “museums junkie” who became fascinated by the politics of culture. She went on to do a PhD in sociology at the University of Kent, where Frank Furedi was the leading figure in the sociology department, having also been a leading figure in the Revolutionary Communist Party, or RCP, which dissolved itself in 2000 after its magazine, Living Marxism, edited by Mick Hume, was bankrupted by a libel action.

Living Marxism spawned a multiplicity of successor organisations, in several of which Mirza took an active part, including the Institute of Ideas, run by Claire Fox, and Spiked, an online magazine edited first by Hume and now by Brendan O’Neill, to which in 2006-08 Mirza contributed a number of characteristically tough-minded pieces.

But the decisive encounter of this young, provocative, free-thinking, culture-loving Leftie was with Policy Exchange, a new and at first very small think tank founded in 2002 by Nicholas Boles, Michael Gove and Francis Maude.

Boles told ConHome: “I sort of adore and am fascinated by Munira.” As far as he can remember, she applied soon after they launched for the job of Development Director. But she made her name at Policy Exchange with a piece of work called Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism.

She also edited a volume of essays, Culture Vultures: Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts?

A decade later, a second outstanding but as yet unknown person was hired by Policy Exchange. Rishi Sunak served as the first head of its Black and Minority Ethnic Research Unit, in 2014 co-wrote A Portrait of Modern Britain, the following year entered Parliament and in February 2020 was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.

While writing this piece, it occurred to me that while David Cameron, Conservative leader from 2005 to 2016, and many of his key lieutenants had received their early political training in the Conservative Research Department, Johnson’s key people are far more likely to have learned their trade and made close friendships at Policy Exchange, a think tank set up by a group of modernisers who realised, during the leadership from 2001 to 2003 of Iain Duncan Smith, that the Conservative Party had got somehow to reconnect itself to modern Britain.

Mirza did more than make a close friendship: she met and in due course married Dougie Smith, who had been involved in the Federation of Conservative Students and was now running Maude’s modernising campaign organisation C-Change, which shared premises with Policy Exchange.

When asked in 2014 if her mother was proud of her achievements – her father was no longer alive – Mirza replied:

“I hope so! I’ve just had a son – about a year ago – and I realised the thing that makes your parents most proud is when you have children.

“But, yeah, she is proud of me. I’m very proud of her as well. She was a housewife, and she did some part-time Urdu teaching as well, but she does a lot of voluntary work, and she’s very active in the community.”

Johnson was kept at a distance by Cameron, whom he was liable at any moment to upstage, so went off and beat the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in the election of 2008.

After his victory, Johnson had a number of key posts to fill at City Hall, and no people of his own whom he could put there. Boles, who had assisted him in the later stages of his campaign and stayed on for a short time afterwards, accordingly recruited some able people he knew, including Simon Milton, Kit Malthouse and Mirza.

She took the Culture portfolio at City Hall, to which in due course Education was added. In this role, she campaigned for the riches of high culture – literature, music, art – to be brought to all children, with no dumbing down of the curriculum in the patronising belief that children from disadvantaged backgrounds would not be able to cope with Shakespeare.

As Jess Bowie who interviewed her for Total Politics reported:

“While Mirza wants arts organisations in the city to work with a wider range of people, what she doesn’t want is for ‘people in those organisations to think “oh well that’s a black kid or a Bangladeshi kid, therefore we have to give them art that will be relevant to them”.’ This approach is very limiting, she argues, and for many people ‘also really boring’.

“If you want to show them great art, broaden their horizons and show them the full range of it and make them feel that it belongs to them too.

“That was my experience when I was growing up. The books I loved reading weren’t by Asian women from Oldham, they were by great writers. That mattered.”

A woman who worked with Mirza at City Hall described her as “really nice, really clever and really smart”.

In 2009, Mirza made a Radio 4 Great Lives programme about Hannah Arendt, of whom she said to the presenter, Matthew Parris:

“She doesn’t fit into categories of Left and Right very easily. The Right often criticised her for being too sympathetic to Marxism, the Left for being too conservative…

“There is a confusion about what’s Left and Right today and I don’t fit easily under a label and don’t particularly want to right now. It’s very difficult to understand lots of the problems we have today through those categories.”

One of the many reasons some commentators find Johnson incomprehensible is that he resists ideological definition. He is eclectic, as is Mirza.

Of the two of them, she is the more rigorous and scientific, he more inclined to rely on instinct and intuition.

But there is an affinity between them, especially as she also possesses, in the words of a senior minister, “A wonderful, waspish sense of humour which is attuned to the Prime Minister’s.”

She was a strong supporter of Brexit, which she said made her “a complete pariah”, but is one of the reasons why she understands the Labour voters who in December 2019 looked to Johnson to Get Brexit Done.

She is also strong on law and order, contending that the first duty of the state is to provide security for all, and that the poor suffer most when this duty is neglected.

In 2017, when the Labour MP David Lammy brought out his report into racism in the criminal justice system, commissioned by Cameron and endorsed by Theresa May, Mirza disputed his findings, arguing in Spiked:

“his review found that BAME people are more likely to plead not guilty than guilty because they do not trust their state-funded solicitors and the advice they give – the result is that they will not benefit from more lenient sentencing when they are convicted. Lammy implies that this lack of trust is because of institutional bias and discrimination. Certainly there is a historic legacy here from previous decades, but it is equally possible that the current accusations of institutional racism by lobbyists and activists – a perception more than a reality – is behind the further corrosion of public trust. When anti-racist lobby groups criticise the authorities for their racism, it is not surprising that BAME communities start to believe they cannot trust their own professional solicitors. They then make decisions that might harm their chances in the justice system. It is not likely that this report will do anything to improve that level of trust and it may even worsen it.”

The toughness of her reasoning is again apparent. Admirers of her intellect include Lord Bew of Donegore, David Goodhart, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Paul Marshall and Douglas Murray.

She likes football, is a supporter of Oldham Athletic, and has also been seen, in London, at Millwall games. A number of people who have worked with her remarked that she is “ethereally beautiful”.

When Johnson was told this week at Prime Minister’s Questions by Rosie Duffield (Lab, Canterbury) that there is a need for “a change of tone and more female voices at the top of Government”, he said she had made “an extremely important point”, and pointed out that “even before a reshuffle” he had just appointed two women, Dido Harding and Kate Bingham, to senior positions concerned with contact tracing and the search for a vaccine.

He could also have said that Mirza is the head of his Policy Unit, and that her severe egalitarianism and intense competitiveness make it difficult for him to get away with sloppy thinking. Here she is on exams, in the days when she held the education brief at City Hall:

“I believe in exams. It’s one of the important things about them, you learn to cope. Life is like that. You can’t turn up to a job interview and say I’m having an off day. You have to just do the best that you can…

“Actually I think it benefits children to have exams. That sense of being able to compare yourself with your peers is extremely important.

“It creates a sense of ‘I am not just from my background, I’m not just my identity and my social class. I am able to compete with the best’.”

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Owen Paterson: The Coalition was formed ten years ago today. I served in Cameron’s first Cabinet – and we can take heart in its achievements.

Owen Paterson was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in David Cameron’s first Cabinet. He is MP for North Shropshire.

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David Callaghan: Whatever happened to the Liberal Democrats?

David Callaghan is a former Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Sutton and parliamentary candidate. He works as a freelance journalist for ConservativeHome.

When the Liberal Democrats joined the Coalition Government in 2010 they were back in the big time, with their first ministers in 65 years. Leader Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister after his parliamentary colleagues and wider party overwhelmingly backed the coalition.

There was great excitement within the party, and I experienced this as a Lib Dem councillor and a parliamentary candidate in the general election, that the Tories had given far more ground than expected in the Coalition Agreement. Some Lib Dems could not believe that so many of the party’s manifesto policies made it into the agreement.

There were policies in the agreement on education such as the pupil premium, and on tax like an increase in the personal allowance, that enticed the Lib Dems into thinking ‘wow, we are actually going to put these policies into practice’.

Perhaps the most significant inclusion from the Lib Dems’ point of view was the promise of a referendum on electoral reform. The possibility of a system based on something other than first-past-the-post was the holy grail for Lib Dems, who were used to settling for a meagre number of MPs much lower than their share of the vote deserved.

One notable dissenter though to this historic new government was former leader Charles Kennedy, who saw some of the pitfalls and preferred ‘a confidence and supply’ deal to prop up a minority Conservative administration. Kennedy’s misgivings should have set alarm bells ringing in the party hierarchy and made the leadership think twice.

But at that point the party was being swept along by the hysteria created by the sweet scent of power, and the opportunity to see some policies implemented for the first time in living memory. Any talk of caution was quickly dismissed as party stalwarts, including influential former leader Paddy Ashdown, said the coalition was in the national interest and necessary.

This euphoria was to turn sour though within months as the blame for a trebling in tuition fees landed squarely on the heads of Lib Dem MPs who had signed a pledge not to increase them. Student protests were aimed at the government and more specifically the Lib Dems who were accused of ‘selling out’. Assurances from Deputy Leader Vince Cable that universities would not increase fees to the maximum of £9,000 per year proved to be based on wishful thinking.

There was also a backlash against the austerity measures, including cuts to welfare and local government, which was to prove damaging for the Lib Dems.

Clegg has admitted the party should have been more assertive in the early days of government, standing up to the Tories. He and his colleagues were stronger in their positioning later in the coalition, vetoing parliamentary boundary changes, for example, in retaliation to Conservative-led opposition against House of Lords reform.

The general election of 2015 was to be a catastrophic event for the party that it still hasn’t recovered from. It was slaughtered, losing most of its MPs, including Cable, as it was punished for five years of coalition and the tuition fees debacle. Clegg held onto his seat, but resigned as leader with his party on its knees.

Were the Lib Dem policies on education and tax big vote winners, and did the party get the credit anyway? The Conservatives made a point of claiming responsibility for the lightening of the tax burden, which was the one policy that might have a made a real difference at the polls.

The 2011 referendum on voting reform had proved to be a damp squib with a turnout of only 42%, and a decisive vote against change. The pro-reform campaign was characterised by splits and a lack of clarity over the benefits of any overhaul of the voting system. The referendum itself has largely been forgotten, as it is completely over-shadowed by the earthquake ballot on the EU.

By contrast to the plight of the Lib Dems, the Conservatives won a surprise majority in 2015 under David Cameron, and gleefully formed a new government without the need for a partner. The Tories have won subsequent polls in 2017, albeit without a majority, and then decisively last year. There does not appear to have been a political price for the Tories from austerity in the way it has hit the Lib Dems.

Most importantly, the Conservatives have got it right on Brexit since the referendum. Yes Theresa May’s agreement wasn’t approved by resistant MPs, but ultimately the party was rewarded for honouring the 2016 EU referendum result and promising to ‘Get Brexit Done’. Swathes of Labour voters switched to the Conservatives in December’s general election, and the Lib Dems faced another bad result, making no progress and losing their leader Jo Swinson.

A few months earlier the Lib Dems had voted to drop their policy of a second referendum and actually revoke Article 50, therefore reversing Brexit. Buoyed by a strong performance in May’s European elections, the party seemed to get carried away, especially as it attracted some high profile defections from other parties. In an attempt to gather all the Remain voters under its banner, it said it would win power and stop Brexit.

Brexit, like tuition fees, has proved to be a landmark in the party’s history. It achieved power in a coalition, but paid a very dear price, and is now reeling from another disaster of its own making.

Ten years on from the coalition launch, Sir Ed Davey is doing his best as interim leader to keep the party’s head above water, but it is struggling to be heard as the country grapples with the Coronavirus emergency. With only 11 MPs, the Lib Dems are a long way from the heady days of 2010 when they boasted 57 and were the government kingmakers.

There has been a series of strategic mistakes and a lack of understanding of what happened. The party got it badly wrong over tuition fees, and the MPs should take a large share of the blame for this after insisting the pledge of ‘no increase’ stay in the 2010 manifesto despite the misgivings of Clegg and Cable.

On Brexit, the party has misjudged the mood in many parts of the country, where even Remainers like myself, wanted the result of the referendum to be delivered.

A future direction for the Lib Dems is now unclear and they must learn from these mistakes over the last 10 years, which have left them on the sidelines, miles from power. They have been defeated on the big debate of the day with Brexit, after finding themselves on the losing side of the argument. Now perhaps they have to remodel as the party of ‘Return’ to the EU, but will this be tenable as the country moves firmly in the other direction? A series of false starts leave the party with an uncertain future.

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Joe Porter: The Big Society is back in Staffordshire

Cllr Joe Porter is the Cabinet Member for Climate Change on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.

We live in unprecedented times where our lives have been fundamentally changed, our personal freedoms have been restricted, and more people have needed a safety net than in years. Whilst the national media spread a lot of negative headlines around coronavirus, the situation on the ground is one of positive social action – a surge in community spirit, or a I see it, a resurgence of the ‘Big Society’.

I really believe in what David Cameron said in 2010: “The Big Society is about a huge culture change where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace, don’t always turn to officials, local authorities, or central government, for answers to the problems they face, but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.”

Up and down the country, and in my community, we have witnessed the best of Cameron’s aspirations for a ‘Big Society’ in action. People have been selflessly setting up community support groups in their local communities to help elderly and vulnerable people get through this crisis. The national army of over 750,000 NHS Volunteer Responders and British Red Cross volunteers has also been on the frontline helping those who are in many cases suffering in silence.

In my own area in the Staffordshire Moorlands, it has been amazing to see self-starters establishing these groups from scratch and then spring into action – Surviving Together Leek – to name one great example. I do feel that the ingenuity and focus that people are applying to tackle our shared issues reflects the kind seen at great national crises of the past. No wonder this situation has been compared to the Second World War and the Blitz.

As Winston Churchill described the war in 1940, “This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes.” We are certainly engaged in a war, but this is a war against a silent and invisible killer.

That’s why, over the last few weeks, I have established a project called ‘Food for Endon’ to provide bags of fresh and locally grown fruit & veg to elderly and vulnerable people in the local area. Every Tuesday morning I collect the bags from Haregate Community Centre’s Community Hub who kindly provide them through local farmers and producers. They are sold for £3 each as the Council and various local councillors have helped to subsidise the cost of the bags each week. The bags contain eight different types of fruit & veg, depending on what is in season and I deliver them in person, following social distancing rules.

I also helped establish a network called ‘Help and Hope’ to spread positivity and connect people through online friendship. The network works with the two local churches – Endon St Luke’s Church and Endon Methodist Church – to provide volunteers to do weekly shopping, collect pharmacy prescriptions, and chat over the phone to those who are feeling lonely. We also have a Facebook group called ‘Surviving COVID19 – Endon’, which has gained over 300 members in just a few weeks and painted a rainbow of hope across our village.

By pulling together, we have seen what most characterises that wartime spirit and shown the best of being British. I hope that we continue to see remarkable examples of the heroic efforts to help us defeat this disease. Together we will win this war.

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How Johnson’s editorship of The Spectator delayed his ascent, but perhaps also educated him

10,000 Not Out: The History of The Spectator 1828-2020  by David Butterfield

Boris Johnson is the first Prime Minister to have edited The Spectator, but not the first to have worked for it. That distinction belongs to a Liberal, Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister 1908-16, who in the eight years from 1876, as a not yet successful barrister, contributed a total of 60 articles.

Earlier still, William Gladstone, in the fourth year of his first premiership, wrote a wonderful letter to The Spectator, seeking to correct its report that he had said “every day must begin for me with my old friend Homer”, a remark widely taken to mean he was neglecting his official duties:

“I wish to say that the reporter has been led, probably by some careless or indistinct expression of mine, into an error. What I said was that every effort to examine the question raised on that day must begin for me with Homer … as to my beginning every day with Homer, as such a phrase conveys to the world a very untrue impression of the demands of my present office, I think it right to mention that, so far as my memory serves me, I have not read Homer for fifty lines or for a quarter of an hour consecutively during the last four years, and any dealings of mine with Homeric subjects have been confined to a number of days which could readily be counted on the fingers.”

One is reminded that many people, among them Max Beerbohm, found Gladstone’s rhetoric irresistibly funny.

This book contains something funny or striking on every page. I was ready to be disappointed, for the history of a magazine which has appeared since 1828 could easily become an arid digest of the huge volume of material contained within the 10,000 issues referred to in the title.

David Butterfield has instead produced a book which reads like the magazine itself, and is printed at the same size, the text in three columns (two for the earlier period), copiously illustrated with covers and with photographs of various editors looking shockingly young – across the top of page 148 we get Alexander Chancellor, Charles Moore and Dominic Lawson.

When Johnson became editor in 1999, a reporter on The Daily Telegraph rang me in Berlin, where I was working as that paper’s correspondent, and asked me what I thought of the appointment, for I had been deputy editor of The Spectator from 1984-87, the first three years of Moore’s editorship, and was contributing to it from time to time from Germany. Butterfield reminds me that I said:

“It’s like entrusting a Ming vase to an ape.”

Why did I say this? Partly because I thought Johnson would be slapdash, but mainly because I placed such a high value on The Spectator.

Like his critics when he entered Downing Street, I did not foresee the care with which he would select colleagues able to perform those duties for which he was not himself suited. He was a man with the energy, determination and ability to make a success of things, which for most of his editorship he proceeded to do, even though, from 2001, he adopted the risky course of serving also as Conservative MP for Henley, and was soon seen as the future leader the party might need.

There was no precedent in British politics for riding two horses at the same time in quite this way, and at the end of 2004 he came a spectacular cropper, which ruled him out of contention for the Conservative leadership when it fell vacant the following year.

David Cameron, who became leader in December 2005, conferred on Johnson a junior front-bench post which was incompatible with continuing to edit The Spectator, so down he stepped from that role.

Over a decade elapsed before he was once more in contention for the leadership. Some, including myself, think he was by then older, wiser and more professional, but this is a question which falls outside the scope of Butterfield’s book. Perhaps future historians will look back on Johnson’s editorship as a valuable preparation for his final ascent, perhaps not.

My high idea of The Spectator dated from when I started reading it as a student, in about 1978, during Chancellor’s editorship.

It is often the period just before one’s own which exercises the greatest fascination. Chancellor had taken over in 1975, when the magazine was in danger of collapse, the circulation having fallen to an official figure of 11,000, but probably below that, the patience of many readers exhausted by the paper’s unremitting and unavailing attacks on Britain’s membership of the Common Market.

Butterfield quotes the leader written by William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times, in 1978, to mark the magazine’s 150th anniversary:

“The Spectator, having quite recently been a very bad magazine, is at present a very good one. For that Mr Alexander Chancellor, its still new Editor, and Mr Henry Keswick, its still new proprietor, deserve much praise… The Spectator now plays an important part in the most interesting intellectual movement of our times. Just as The New Statesman was the leading intellectual magazine of the movement to collectivism in the 1930s and 1940s, so now The Spectator is the leading intellectual magazine of the movement away from collectivism in the 1970s.” 

Chancellor would not have dreamed of writing about what he was doing in such terms. He was not very political, and had never voted Conservative. He attracted wonderful writers, many of them refugees from The New Statesman, which just then was going through a wilfully dull period, and he induced them to do their best work for him, for how wide his sympathies were and how delightful it was to make him laugh.

But Rees-Mogg was right. The tide had turned and The Spectator picked up or reflected what was happening. It was Patrick Cosgrave, in the magazine’s previous, more ideological phase, who was one of the first people to perceive that the future might belong to Margaret Thatcher.

Chancellor’s contributors included Jeffrey Bernard, Ferdinand Mount, Auberon Waugh, Richard Ingrams, Shiva Naipaul, Alan Watkins, Xan Smiley, Murray Sayle, Christopher Hitchens, Sam White, Patrick Marnham, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Richard West, Peter Paterson, Peter Ackroyd, Roy Kerridge and Andrew Brown, all of them writing some of the best pieces they ever wrote.

As a reader, you could relax in their company, and felt that they knew what was going on, but were not obsessed by politics or by success, and would laugh at people who deserved to be laughed at.

In Butterfield’s account, we get the young Moore’s reaction to the magazine:

“when I first read Alexander Chancellor’s Spectator when I was at university, it was a bit like ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’: I recognised at once an exhilarating air of freedom. That is the best thing about The Spectator.”

And we also have what Johnson said, in an interview with The Guardian, on becoming editor in 1999, two years into Tony Blair’s New Labour rule:

“In the glutinous consensus of New Britain, The Spectator is a refuge for logic, fun and good writing. It challenges the orthodoxy, whatever that happens to be. It will continue to set the political agenda, and to debunk it.”

There is, Johnson implies, an essential two-facedness about being an editor. One wants to know and influence the thoughts of the mighty, but one also needs to debunk them.

Like a good politician, a good editor conveys, through every twist and turn demanded by changing circumstances, an honesty of purpose, a quality of being true to himself or herself, what is now known as authenticity.

This quality was communicated by Robert Rintoul, born in obscurity in 1787 outside Perth, who learned and practised the trade of journalism in Dundee and Edinburgh, and in the mid-1820s came south to London, where in 1828 he founded The Spectator.

Very soon, Rintoul found himself covering the tumultuous agitation for Reform in the years 1830-32, and though he was no mindless partisan, in March 1831 he coined what Butterfield calls perhaps the most famous slogan in The Spectator‘s history: “The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill.”

And yet he did not wish to preach:

“a newspaper that should attempt to dictate must soon perish…if it dictates, it dies… Newspapers are but an instrument to express the opinion of their readers on either side of whatever may be in question; and, taken all together, where the Press is free, they constitute the public voice.”

To read Butterfield’s account is to see public opinion becoming an irresistible force in public life. It was in 1828 that Macaulay had observed of the Commons, “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.”

Rintoul, in the words of one who knew him, had a “hatred of shams“. This is an enduring thread in the magazine which he founded, and which he proceeded to edit for 30 years.

The Spectator hasn’t always got things right: when Mussolini came on the scene, it was unduly impressed by him. But it has usually been able to find a readership which shared its hatred of shams.

An admirable feature of this history is that it records the contribution not only of famous figures, like the present Prime Minister, but of forgotten ones, such as Charles Seaton, who worked for The Spectator for 42 years, performing a multiplicity of arduous and generally unsung duties, and died in 1995, still working at the age of 84.

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Robert Halfon: If we stay in lockdown beyond the end of May, it won’t be a threat to our liberty, but the safeguarding of our lives 

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Life of Liberty?

The first Parliamentary Committee I ever sat on was the 2010 Public Bill Committee that repealed the plans for Identity Cards by the previous Labour Government.

A copy of the Bill, with the signatures of all the Committee members, is framed on my wall at home. In October of the same year, after launching a campaign against the questionable Google Street View mapping of our home WiFi protocols, I initiated a debate in the Commons urging action to be taken against ‘the privatised surveillance society’.

All this is mentioned because I am no slouch when it comes to protecting our individual freedoms and privacy.  Like most Conservatives, rightly, we are always wary of the big state, the small fiefdoms or large multinationals interfering and monitoring every aspect of our lives.

However, when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 and the choice between potential life or liberty, I part company with libertarianism.

If a Matt Hancockian app wants to monitor the last 200 people I have spoken to, for contact tracing and quarantine purposes, then I cannot see what all the fuss is about. If a Hancockian drone comes down through my window and watches me during my morning absolutions or observes how I make my very large, strong mug of coffee, I just don’t care – as long as it is helping combat the disease.

If police officers are shouting at people with loudhailers and disbanding picnickers in local parks, then, good! Far from criticising the police, we should be hailing them for doing their bit to stop the spread of coronavirus and, whilst we’re at it, thanking these officers for putting their own health and that of their families at risk every day, because of the actions of a few selfish people.

If we are required to stay in lockdown beyond the end of May, this is not a threat to our liberty, but the safeguarding of our lives.

By their very nature, these emergency measures will not be around forever. Rather than getting involved in esoteric intellectual arguments about freedom, let us revert to, arguably, the most cherished human value of all – the preservation of human mortality. As the old Talmudic saying goes, “whoever saves a single life saves the whole world”, or perhaps put more simply as Opus once sang, way back in 1985, “Live is Life”.

Time for a new Broadcasting Education Channel?

Some alarming figures this week from the respected Sutton Trust suggested two thirds of pupils have not participated in online learning.

Another survey from Teacher Tapp (the YouGov of educational polling) has said that 55 per cent of teachers in disadvantaged areas believe that the average pupil is learning less than an hour a day, whilst just two pe rcent of teachers from the same areas, think their pupils have adequate access to online learning.

In my own constituency of Harlow, one headteacher told me that up to 200 pupils are not online, and another that eight percent of his students were not not able to use the internet at home.

It is good that Gavin Williamson has announced free laptops and 4G modems for certain year groups. There should also be a national “Laptops for Learners” campaign, encouraging businesses to donate unwanted laptops to schools and children. However, the provision of laptops and mobile dongles requires getting them into the homes, set up and used – not always easy.

For this reason, whilst Coronavirus continues, we need a new kind of ‘Broadcasting Education Channel’ on our TV screens.  When the original Open University was established, the lectures were originally on television.

BBC Two or CBBC, for example, could put all the education tools they have – whether it be their own, the DfE Oak Academy or Google Classroom – for broadcast for a few hours a day. At least then, many of the children who don’t have access to online learning would be able to participate in some of the education being offered to their better off peers.

Cabin Fever

Four weeks at home so far and it is inevitable that unusual things start to happen.

On Sunday morning at about 4 AM, I literally woke up in a cold sweat. It was not Coronavirus, but a strange dream about a senior MP in her prime. She had decided to run against the Speaker and was asking me to support her campaign.

I drift back to sleep and all I can remember is more of the MP and the Carlton Club (nothing untoward). I’ve given her a lift there a few times, so it must have been in my subconscious.

I should add that I have massive respect for the current Speaker, who is doing an extraordinary job under the circumstances, and the MP in my dreams has absolutely no such intentions. Perhaps I should not have eaten cheddar and crackers late the night before, whilst watching Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith.

Later in the day, I get a message from a journalist who has seen a TV broadcast I did via Skype. He asks why it is that the puppet, Sweep, is on the bookshelves behind me.

I explain that a crowning achievement of my childhood was attending the Sooty and Sweep show, live on stage, as they were my favourite puppets of the age.

Sweep has been strategically placed in front of some Hitler biographies, which unfortunately before his appearance, made the Twitterati very happy after a Newsnight interview a few weeks ago.  Apparently, I am in good company. David Cameron also made the same mistake.

Rather than moving the books and upsetting my order, I thought this puppet would sweep away the Nazis and solve the problem nicely.

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Buffoonery, suffused sex and Latinate evasion: how Johnson’s language helped him become Prime Minister

The Borisaurus: The Dictionary of Boris Johnson by Simon Walters

Westlake Legal Group borisaurus-pic-199x300 Buffoonery, suffused sex and Latinate evasion: how Johnson’s language helped him become Prime Minister Tony Blair Simon Walters Roy Jenkins Puritans Michael Portillo Michael Binyon Mail on Sunday Ken Clarke Iain Duncan Smith MP Highlights EU Referendum David Cameron Daily Telegraph Daily Mail Conservative Party Boris Johnson MP Book Reviews

Simon Walters has thought of an amusing pretext for collecting some of Boris Johnson’s most bizarre remarks. He will tell us what the classical and other references actually mean.

Walters, who is now assistant editor of The Daily Mail, is brilliant at working out what politicians actually mean: at cutting through the verbiage and obfuscation and writing the splash, which is what for 19 years he did as political editor of The Mail on Sunday.

But he does not, thank heaven, begin his brief introduction by dwelling on scoops past. He instead remarks that in August 2008 he “first experienced Latinate evasion” at Johnson’s hands.

They were at the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games in Peking, where Johnson as Mayor of London delivered his “ping-pong is coming home” speech, a scene-stealing comic masterpiece which one can enjoy watching on YouTube.

The Latinate evasion had come 24 hours earlier, when Walters interviewed Johnson, and already knew, as a good journalist does, what story he was looking for:

“With his Old Etonian rival David Cameron yet to make his mark as Tory leader, the obvious way to skewer the new mayor was to ask if his sights were now set on the Conservative leadership. 

“After playfully dodging the question once or twice, Johnson muttered: ‘Were I to be pulled like Cincinnatus from my plough, it would be a great privilege…’ and sauntered off.”

Walters has to get a wifi connection in order to learn that Cincinnatus was a Roman statesman of great virtue who had given up public life but returned from his farm to save Rome from invasion:

“The denarius dropped: Boris did want to oust Dave. But Johnson had couched his disloyalty in such heroic lyricism it made you want to smile, not scowl; to admire his ambition and erudition, not admonish him.”

Johnson puts a smile on people’s faces, while also producing good copy with such prodigality that long before he became Prime Minister, or even looked as if he had much chance of becoming Prime Minister, television shows yearned to have him on and journalists were anxious to interview him.

To tell the truth without adornment sounds like a good idea, but in practise can become dull. Voters want a performance which goes beyond what the cautious careerists can provide – if you doubt that, look at Donald Trump.

Some of Johnson’s performances have been thoroughly disreputable. Towards the end of 2004, when news of his affair with Petronella Wyatt broke, Walters asked him if the story was true and Johnson dismissed it as “an inverted pyramid of piffle”.

This memorable expression was not, unfortunately, true, and gave the tabloids the chance to seize the moral high ground and prove him a liar.

In this dictionary of expressions used by Johnson, Walters has an entry for “Inverted pyramid of piffle”, even though there is no obscurity about what it means.

We learn, however, that Johnson used the phrase on at least two previous occasions, and that it qualifies as a “Borisism”, the term Walters uses for what appears to be an original coinage, of which there are many.

I looked up the Telegraph article in 2001 in which “an inverted pyramid of  piffle” is first found, as the final flourish in a vibrant paragraph in which Johnson suggests it would be wrong to over-interpret the defeat of Michael Portillo in that year’s Tory leadership race.

He goes on to suggest that although the two remaining candidates, Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith, disagree about Europe, the victory of either would probably leave the result of any referendum Tony Blair calls about Europe completely unaffected:

“The experience of other countries’ euro-referendums is that the best way to achieve a ‘No’ is to ensure that the political establishment is in favour of a ‘Yes’, in which case the public has the exquisite pleasure of telling them all to go to hell.”

That observation was proved correct 15 years later, when Cameron held the referendum Blair had avoided. And here are Johnson’s final remarks in that piece:

“Whatever happens, let no one say that this is a struggle for the Tory party’s soul. There is no such thing. The Tory party is a vast organism animated by a few vague common principles such as tradition and love of country, and above all by the pursuit and retention of power.”

How free that leaves a traditional Tory statesman, such as Johnson, to pursue the pragmatic course the country requires.

Before writing my life of Johnson, first published in 2006, I reread a great many of his articles, was impressed by how little effort was needed to get through that curious autobiographical mixture of Rabelais and P.G. Wodehouse, and found that in most of his commentaries, however much energy he may devote to keeping the tone light, he does actually say something.

A few classical terms whose meaning it is hard to hold in one’s head – Anaphora, Chiasmus, Ignoratio elenchi – are defined here, which is helpful.

Many other terms – Feckless, Filching, Gobsmacked, Laggard, Sclerotic, Scrumple, Scum, Snooty, to give only a few examples – need no elucidation.

But the words themselves are enjoyable words, and each is followed by a short passage in which Johnson has made striking use of them.

In his Autobiography, Edward Gibbon said of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

“My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the obscurity of a learned language.”

The same cannot be said of Johnson. Walters’ compilation is a reminder that licentious expressions occur with remarkable frequency in his work, both in English and in about a dozen foreign languages.

In an article in 2001 for The Daily Telegraph calling for the speed limit to be raised from 70 mph, Johnson related that “I found myself at the wheel of a Ferrari Testadicazzo, or some such name, capable of 220 mph.”

Walters cannot recall a model called that, and discovers it is Italian for “dickhead”. The car reviews Johnson wrote for GQ are suffused with sex.

Johnson is a Chaucerian, a vulgarian, a Merry Englander who revels in his freedom to use sexual imagery whenever he feels like using it.

He delights in teasing the Puritans who, the moment they condemn him for using expressions which are in dubious taste, reveal themselves as joyless, censorious and self-important, so just the sort of people Johnson’s voters would like to annoy.

His language puts him on the side of those who want to laugh at the powers that be: a remarkable feat, when one considers that he himself is one of the powers that be.

Dante, Molesworth and Roy Jenkins are among the influences on Johnson’s speech patterns which receive inadequate acknowledgement in these pages, but one of the good things about Walters is that he is not trying to be a pedant.

He says “Johnson can recite entire Shakespearean sonnets”, an amusing understatement.

Not mentioned here is the story of how, while working for The Daily Telegraph as a young man in Brussels, Johnson entered – after a disagreement in Strasbourg with Michael Binyon of The Times about where “the true, the blushful Hippocrene” comes from (Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale) – a challenge to see which of them could recite 130 of the greatest poems in English.

Binyon made an alarming discovery about his opponent: “To my horror he had a considerable knowledge of long poems. He could recite reams of Milton.”

This light-hearted book went to press before the pandemic. Walters quotes an interview with Piers Morgan in 2007 in which, after being told by that stern figure that he must stop playing the buffoon if he aspires to lead the country, Johnson says:

“It will get easier when there is a big job to do and I can get on and do it. These points you make about image and buffoonery will fall away.”

Johnson’s critics tend not to realise that it is possible for someone to be at one and the same time entranced by jokes and deeply serious. They will not enjoy this compilation. Other people will.

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