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Friday 6 December 2019


Cummings and goings

The week in politics: the Mean Girls of Nato, another Brexit Party catastrophe – and celebs go canvassing

By Hannah Jane Parkinson

Amazing, really; how often politicians are caught out by hot mics. People who spend so much time with cameras and microphones but can’t seem to grasp the technology. Or, specifically, the off switch.

We’ve had some brilliant ones in the past. Ronald Reagan joked that he had “signed legislation to outlaw Russian forever”; the zinger from Jacques Chirac that “the only thing the British have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease”; and Bush’s infamous “Yo, Blair!” at a G8 summit. Which, to be fair, was probably the least embarrassing thing he ever said.

This week, as part of the 70th birthday celebrations of the Nato alliance (partly held in Watford; the lure of Harry Potter World remains strong) press attention shifted to Buckingham Palace, where Canadian president Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson were picked up on camera making fun of Trump. (To the delight of a particularly sassy-minded Princess Anne). “His team’s jaws just dropped!” Trudeau regaled, referring to Trump’s earlier impromptu 14-hour press conference. I can’t imagine being in a conversation with Johnson. The man speaks in multitudes of syllables, but not necessarily actual words.

Trump, who has the temperament to not just throw his toys out of the pram, but forcibly shut down Hasbro, cancelled further events and called Trudeau “two-faced”. Close, but Trudeau is three-faced, coming in shades of white, black and brown. Meanwhile, Piers Morgan fumed that the gossiping was reminiscent of Mean Girls, although I don’t specifically remember Tina Fey scripting anything on an argument over 2% defence spending commitments.

The summit itself was dull, as encapsulated by the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, who was photographed asleep.

Britain’s Princess Anne (R) talks to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, (L) and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a Nato leaders reception at Buckingham Palace

To the screen, where, if all goes to plan for Jeremy Corbyn, the revolution will in fact be televised. After his Andrew Neil appearance, when Corbyn was left not so much licking his wounds as just disappearing into one, he joined the This Morning sofa. Philip Schofield vigorously challenged Corbyn over anti-Semitism in the Labour party (securing an apology) which led to social media uproar over WHAT A TORY SCHOFIELD IS. Until two days later, when he and Holly Willoughy just as vigorously challenged the prime minister over his awful past comments. At one point Johnson brought up his “Muslim heritage” as a defence, in the manner of “my black friend”. (Presumably, Trudeau.)

Elsewhere, both Corbyn and Johnson swerved an ITV debate where, unfathomably, Richard Burgon made an appearance and I only cringed a single time. Representing the Tories was Rishi Sunak, the “rising star” whose entire earnestly cheesy vibe gives the impression he has just wandered off the set of The Apprentice.

Vying for the title of Johnson Being Most Offensive to the British Public, father ‘n’ son Boris and Stanley entered, or rather re-entered, or rather never left, the ring. While the papers splashed on comments the younger had made about the children of single mothers being “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”, the elder was invited on to the Victoria Derbyshire show (WHY?), where he suggested that the public was illiterate.

Stanley Johnson, father of Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion

“That’s quite a pejorative thing to say”, interviewer Joanna Gosling interjected. Which was impressive given how fancy a word pejorative is. Earlier in the week, Stanley also showed up at Channel 4, along with Michael Gove (whose youthful dabble with cocaine seems to have resulted in a permanent gurn). You guessed it: another debate the prime minister had ducked. In this case, he was replaced by a melting ice sculpture.

Just briefly, while we’re on the subject of Tories and climate debate, a nod to councillor Nancy Bikson, who, during a hustings-gone-wrong, sneaked out of the venue, got stuck outside for 45 minutes, and then used a set of bins to clamber over a fence. At which point, a 13-year-old girl on a bike spotted her and told the national press about it.

Over on the yellow team, Jo Swinson did her Andrew Neil interview, leaving Johnson as the only major party leader to run scared. Though Swinson acquitted herself well, she was forced to admit that three of the policies her party wants to repeal she… voted for herself. In one case, nine times.

The greatest appearance of the week, however, goes to one Pat Mountain (surely there is only one?), the interim leader of Ukip. Mountain sat down with Sky’s Adam Boulton, whereupon an avalanche of gaffes ensued. Difficult to pick a favourite line, but when asked whether her party was fielding any black candidates, Mountain replied: “We do have… I think he’s… Indian. So sorry, I don’t know the details.” Responding to a question on Tommy Robinson, she said: “Because of his association with other racist parties…well, not other racist parties…racist parties”. OTHER RACIST PARTIES. Good god. Wriggle free of the bivvy bag, unclip the carabiner, cut the rope. Just make it stop.


Actor Hugh Grant campaigns for Liberal Democrat, Luciana Berger in Finchley

Celebrities are voters too. A fact brought into sharp focus at various points in the past, my favourite being when Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts slammed David Cameron in a Times op-ed. It was of course Girls Aloud’s cover version of the Pointer Sisters’ Jump that Hugh Grant, playing a prime minister, danced to in Love, Actually. Grant is now Voting, Tactically. The actor, who has earned widespread respect for his campaigning on press regulation and in general just being a Good Egg, has been knocking on doors for the likes of Luciana Berger and Dominic Grieve. Basically everyone but the Conservatives, who he called “bad people who must be stopped”. David Attenborough also made an intervention, saying that Johnson was “shameful” for not showing up to the aforementioned climate debate. Last but not yeast, comedian Nish Kumar was reported to have been “pelted with bread” after telling Brexit jokes on stage. “To clarify, one bread roll was thrown. I want to put that on the record. Definitively, I was not pelted with bread.” But if you want to fact check that, I suggest the Twitter account of CCHQ.

Well played of the week

Burger King’s advert

Shut the fridge door of the week

This woman, in a viral video of Brits reacting to US healthcare costs

Extremely concerning manifesto page of the week

Page 48 of the Tory one, which might… slyly rewrite the constitution