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Friday 8 November 2019


Cummings and goings

The week in politics: Rees-Mogg mouths off, an exodus of MPs – and Boris Johnson’s perennially depressed dog

By Hannah Jane Parkinson

In America, where baseball is the national sport, there is such a thing as a ceremonial first pitch. Ceremonial pitches – when a celebrity throws the initial ball – are often so poorly executed that a whole genre of humour has grown around the worst efforts. For instance, prior to this week, I had never seen anything launched as poorly as the ball pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen chucked into the earth in 2013 with the velocity of a tissue. Not even the solo album Nadine Coyle released exclusively into Tesco shops which was snapped up by all of 1,616 people.

But then the Tory party cut the ribbon on its 2019 election campaign.

Let’s start at 6.13am, on Wednesday, when Andrew Bridgen apologised for backing colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments insulting the intelligence of people who died at Grenfell. Rees-Mogg had implied that he would not have perished in the fire because of his superior intelligence. I am neither a medical expert nor a philosopher, but I’d vouch that a basic tenet of humanity is not sneering at the tragic deaths of 72 people. (Rees-Mogg later apologised; an apology which included the word “however”.)

Other actions that don’t necessarily scream “ideal public servant” include endorsing a friend and former aide who “deliberately sabotaged” a rape trial, and then lying about it. Which is the reason Welsh secretary Alun Cairns resigned. (The judge in the case to Cairns’s friend: “Get out of my court.”)

In Broadland, BBC Norfolk radio host Nick Conrad was selected as the Conservative candidate – and then stood down last night. In 2014 Conrad said that rape victims should perhaps think about “keeping their knickers on”, and that “if you yank a dog’s tail, don’t be surprised if it bites you”. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, one candidate with an awful attitude to rape may be regarded as well, more than a misfortune, but two is… extremely Tories 2019.

Away from rape, the chairman of the party, James Cleverly, was empty-chaired on Sky News after failing to turn up; the camera zooming in on an untouched glass of water and expanse of black pleather and chrome armrests, while Kay Burley repeated “I wanted to ask him…” no fewer than ten times. Burley wanted to ask him about the Grenfell comments. She wanted to ask him about a Telegraph column (£) in which Boris Johnson had defended billionaires and compared Corybn to the genocidal Stalin. She wanted to ask about the failure to publish a Russian intelligence dossier. She also, she said, wanted to ask, “Whether the Conservatives were having a good day.”

Iconic is a word much devalued. But play that interview in the Louvre.

Nadhim Zahawi

Before the day was through, a business minister, Nadhim Zahawi, defended the Corbyn-Stalin comparison and, when Andrew Neil asked him with incredulity “Will Corbyn have wealth creators shot?”, replied with: “I don’t know, you’d have to ask him that question.” (Zahawi is worth £25 million).

It’s difficult to imagine how much worse the Tory campaign might have started. Endorsement from Peter Sutcliffe? Finally, to add insult to substantial and multiple injury, a Vogue interview with the country’s sweetheart, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, landed. In which the Emmy collector declared herself: “Not a Tory. Proudly not a Tory.” CCHQ made Carly Rae Jepsen look like Babe Ruth.


Tom Watson

Why might MPs decide not to stand again in this election? Elementary, my dear Watson*. Look at the state of it all. An easy decision, then, for Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, who quit his party post and announced he wouldn’t be running. He joins an exodus of parliamentarians. At the current count, it’s more than 60.

Notables include Tories expected to leave after decades. Father of the House, Ken Clarke; Nicholas Soames; and former defence secretary, Michael Fallon (“30 years is quite long enough”). A coterie of thoroughly fed up one-nation Tories, as well as those recently exiled, joined them: Amber Rudd; Heidi Allen; Philip Hammond; Nick Boles; Rory Stewart; Alistair Burt; Justine Greening; Guto Bebb… and Jo Johnson, Boris’ own brother. Cross-party, Vince Cable; John Woodcock; Seema Kennedy; Caroline Spelman; Alan Duncan; Margot James; Ed Vaizey and many, many more cut their losses. There has been widespread concern at the number of women, in particular, who have announced departure, with Spelman explicitly stating abuse she and her family had received.

*At no point in the Sherlock Holmes books was “Elementary, my dear Watson” ever said. Before you all email in.


Angela Smith

Finally, a truly stunning example of chutzpah from Angela “Funny Tinge” Smith, in the form of a letter to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, written with the unhinged air of one created from cut-out newspaper lettering. Smith, who voluntarily crossed the floor from Labour to the Liberal Democrats (via the short-lived Change UK; and god bless Anna Soubry for clicking and clicking and clicking at a lighter clearly run out of gas) wrote that she “cannot underestimate my horror” at realising that changing parties would result in her not receiving the £22,000 compensation payout that MPs who lose their seats are entitled to.

“Given I had no option but to move to another party and then no option but to move to a vacant candidacy, I honestly consider I am being discriminated against”, she wrote. 🤔🤔🤔

I don’t personally remember Smith being dragged against her will to Nandos to share chicken wings with Chuka Umunna, but who knows what went down in the WhatsApp group.

Smith really has her husband to blame for the potential loss of the windfall, given he works as her parliamentary researcher. Never mind, if Smith isn’t elected, the couple could always sell some of the furniture they spent £11,000 of taxpayer money on.


Unhappy pet of the week

Dilyn, Boris Johnson’s perennially depressed dog.

The Artist Formerly Known As a party leader of the week

Nicola Sturgeon… sort of, pretending to play guitar

Look of the week

Popping colour and pastels. To wit: the Lib Dems cosplaying as a Mark Rothko painting

Cover illustration: Sean O’Brien for Tortoise