Weekly News with Brian 7 to 14 July 2022

This Week with Brian

Including a brutal attack from all sides, leaving and staying, Pinchergate as the conclusion, turned on by men in grey suits, planning uncertainty, various other news, a letter of apology, a distracting boss, an aquatic cat, 1922’s date, £1 for 1,500 people in 1970, 69,000 fans and can you hear me knocking?

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including Yogi Berra, 3G is coming, beating the bounds, trashing the cash, the final hurdle, two interventions, several acronyms, Hungerford’s newsletter, Froxfield’s panels, Lambourn’s 49 plans, East Garston’s nets, Newbury’s pride, Speen’s café, Curridge’s citizens, Thatcham’s facelift, Cold Ash’s woodpeckers, Hermitage’s newsletter, Brimpton’s lease, Compton’s grants, Yattendon’s first-aiders, East Ilsley’s questions, Theale’s castle, Mortimer’s show, Burghfield’s youth, Wantage’s festival, Hanney’s news, Marlborough’s police, Wilton’s windmill, Burbage’s fair and Swindon’s picnic  – plus our usual ramble around the websites and FB pages across the area.

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• One of the oddest weeks in recent political life has reached a dramatic conclusion after the PM came under a sustained and brutal attack from almost every possible angle. The opposition parties and the media he can deal with with his large majority; so too the odd assault from his own party. The events of the last couple of days turned this into a cross between a mutiny and a civil war. Two remarks attributed to Winston Churchill on this matters spring to mind: “You have enemies? Good: that means you’ve stood up for something sometime in your life”; and “The opposition occupies the benches in front of you but the enemy sits behind you.” The first doesn’t apply to our PM as I’m not sure he’s ever stood up for anything in his life apart from himself. Either quote might well have appeared in the biography of Churchill that BoJo wrote; in which case he might well have made them up (in fact, no: I checked: they’re for real).

[more below] 

There have never been as many ministerial resignations as there were on 6 July. The ministers have been dropping like flies. Perhaps “like ministers” might be a better phrase. Well, dropping like like minister’s flies, anyway. The Vice-Chairman of the party resigned live on air in the morning. A Tory MP tweeted a no-support message while he was actually grilling the PM in a meeting of the Liaison Committee in the afternoon. Nadhim Zahawi (who seems to have ambitions of his own), who was only appointed Chancellor the day before, said that the PM should resign in the evening. The PM was blasted by a former senior civil servant, his Chancellor, his Home Secretary and his Health Minister and by a deputation of cabinet ministers. Sir Graham Brady, the Chair of the 1922 Committee, paid a visit “to offer wise counsel”: a menacing phrase if ever I heard one.

None of this at first made the slightest dent in the PM’s Alpine sense of self-assurance and he refused to budge. Asked at the Liaison Committee on 6 July how his week was going, he replied “Terrific,” before adding, “like many other weeks.” Really? Name one. Then, on 7 July, he was gone.

Well, sort of. He said that he would step down as leader of the Conservatives but remain as PM until the autumn. This brief address outside Number 10 was a masterpiece of ill grace, assuming that the mandate he won in 2019 was his and his alone and that some bestial “herd” mentality, rather than his own awful  behaviour, had unseated him.

Among many of the party’s MPs, this desire to linger has replaced one grievance with another. Many might be worrying that the longer he sticks around in Number 10 the greater the risk of fresh misjudgments emerging which will further undermine their own chances of re-election. Having a deposed king hanging about the palace must also be unsettling for the courtiers. He can’t contribute anything useful and the suspicion must exist that his real aim is to use the interregnum to cover the any traces of his misdeeds, re-write his legacy or perhaps even set a few traps for his successor: there seems to be no loathing more intense in public life that that felt by former Conservative PMs towards those who replace them.

There’s also the question of what such a lame-duck administration can accomplish. He’s said he won’t introduce any major new initiatives but that might be just what’s needed. There’s a war on, the economy is tanking, inflation is soaring, strikes are breaking out, Brexit is far from done (despite the PM’s assurances in his resignation address that it was) and Covid is coming back.

I know that the country is really ruled by the senior civil servants – we’ve all seen Yes, Minister – but you do need people at the top table making sensible calls. For this to happen you require some kind of job security. There hasn’t been a lot of this recently with, for instance, three Education Secretaries in the last three days. Due to the resignations, most portfolios have changed hands recently. The present incumbents are probably little more than stopgaps, to be replaced when the new leader is chosen and they want to bring their own people in (who may be the same ones as those who’ve recently resigned). 

At some point there’ll be an election. Not a general election but one conducted among the Tory MPs. Three of the last four Conservative PMs – Major, May and BoJo himself – came to power by this rather strange route (as did Gordon Brown and James Callaghan). Indeed, since 1974, only four Prime Ministers – Wilson, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron – actually assumed office as a result of winning a general election, fewer than the number of Prime Ministers who did so by being given the nod by their own party. Even more amazingly, of the 17 PMs since 1935, only two of them (Attlee and Heath) both started and ended their periods in power as a result of a general election.

Who the new leader will be is anyone’s guess. The high-profile resignations and sudden re-alignments suggest that several games of high-stakes chess are being played. I could probably cope with anyone apart from Jacob Rees-Mogg or Priti Patel, as I want to live neither in the 18th century nor as a prisoner of the Mysterons. However, as I’m not a Tory MP, no one’s going to ask me anyway. Nor is it yet clear how long this will take, the more so as a new committee of the 1922 Committee, which sets the rules, is due to elected next week. The 2019 election was triggered by Theresa May’s resignation statement on 24 May but Johnson was not elected until two months later.

Following that, there may be a snap general election so the new leader can cash in on their honeymoon period and get five more years for the blues, perhaps before any further revelations about their predecessor emerge. A tiny footnote to this is that, were this to happen, this would not allow enough time for the recommendations of the Boundary Commission to be implemented regarding constituency change, meaning that any quick election will, as well as being politically motivated, be in some areas border-line undemocratic.

• The trigger for all this might have been Pinchergate last week. The origins, of course, go back further: to partygate; to the Owen Paterson debacle; to many questionable decisions during the pandemic; to the slogan on the side of the bus in 2016; to his grovelling apology to the city of Liverpool in 2004; to his dubious career as a journalist during which he was sacked for making up quotes; to the entitlement that came from eight years at Eton and Oxford; to god-knows-what that was instilled in him during what appears to have been a highly competitive childhood. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is, as events have regularly shown, a man with a persuasive rhetorical manner which combines affected buffoonery, empty erudition, self-centred arrogance and cunning manipulation in roughly equal measure, the moral sense of a cat, the self-awareness of an antique pine wardrobe and seemingly no idea whatsoever about the meaning or importance of objective truth, certainly not as it applies to him.

This is clearly a good combo for winning elections – he’s won a lot – and thus something in which we’re all to some extent complicit: even most of the people who didn’t vote for him participated in the process and would probably have been swayed by equally persuasive arguments made by someone more to their political taste. Look at Tony Blair, for instance, who manoeuvred his way to power in 1997 in a similar way. Blair was a far better human being than ABdePJ but his legacy will always be tarnished by his hideous error over Iraq. I’ve quoted Enoch Powell’s remark that “all political careers end in failure” before and I do so again. What’s remarkable about BoJo’s is that it has ended in failure and yet, at the time of writing, is still going on.

• I can still remember 1990 when Thatcher, who had by then without doubt completely lost the plot, was ousted. That was, compared to the multiple car crash of 6 July, handled quite well and swiftly when push came to shove. The final moment came when a deputation of male Tory grandees arrived to tell her that her time was up. She was, as one columnist put it, after eleven years of triumph, “turned on by men in grey suits.” It’s important to stress that she was “turned on by men in grey suits” rather than “turned on by men in grey suits” (though she might have been, I suppose: it takes all sorts). 

• As many of you will be aware, this column (and the local news sections referred to above and below relating to the Penny Post area) is often concerned with planning matters. This is not through any intrinsic interest or pre-existing knowledge of mine in the subject but because, on a local level, these can cause a vast amount of unrest and discord and so its impossible to cover local life without referring to the matter, usually several times each week. Like sewage, planning is something you don’t normally think about: when either of these are likely to affect you, however, it’s difficult to think about anything else.

The planning system in this country is in urgent need of reform, perhaps even broken. The minister responsible but one, Robert Jenrick, proposed as white paper two years ago that seemed to me to be insane in some of it assumptions. His successor Michael Gove – who was sacked on 6 July, as he earlier had been by the two previous PMs, perhaps a unique achievement – had other plans. Due to the various resignations in this febrile week, there is I think only one junior minister who has not resigned, or been sacked, to lead all the work of the Department for Housing, Local Government and Levelling-up. So: what happens now? Ditto for just about every other department, I imagine.

• Congratulations to England’s women who got their European  Championship campaign off to a good start with a 1-0 win against Austria. Even more encouraging than the result, perhaps, was the attendance at Old Trafford: nearly 69,000.

• In other news, the Russians continue to advance, prices continue to rise, Covid cases and hospitalisations continue to do likewise, BA has cancelled over 10,000 flights between now and the end of October and the Pound has slid to a two-year low against the Dollar (I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not but suspect the latter: either imports or exports are more expensive as a result but I can’t work out which). Then there’s the polar bear in the room of climate change, which has hardly had a look in recently. Glaciers melt more quickly than they used to, but still too slowly to be interesting. Our attention is constantly taken away from this by more eye-catching but transient distractions elsewhere. As most of the above has been devoted to an immediate political crisis in one tiny island, I’m guilty as charged along with all the rest of us. Our reptilians brains have programmed us to deal with immediate, fast-moving things: something larger and perhaps more serious advancing very slowly towards us will generally be ignored.

• I’d therefore like to conclude this with a brief letter of apology to my four sons, aged between 20 and 29, and all others of their generation. When I was in my 20s, I really thought that things could only get better and would continue to do so. I wanted, and of course, still do want a world that was better than the one in which I grew up. I hoped that this would somehow be provided by some kind of magic and that, in a tiny way, I would help contribute to this. I now see that – partly through ignorance, partly through indifference and partly through electing leaders who promise either short-term or localised benefits, or both, and who generally fail to provide either – things have actually got badly screwed up. Much of the world is alternately in flames or under water. We’re increasingly competing for increasingly scare resources. We’re wedded to a system of power generation that is in danger of killing us all and to political systems that once seemed to work well enough but which now seem mainly to propel lunatics into power. We’ve become enslaved by an all-pervasive technology which both empowers and controls us. Most of what I can do about this is too little and too late. There’s still something that can be salvaged but it’s not the world I expected or hoped that you’ll be inheriting. I’m really sorry…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area

Click here for news of summer events and activities for families and children in West Berkshire.

• A programme of activity to help the district recover from the pandemic has, West Berkshire Council has announced, provided “mental health support, distributed millions of pounds of funding to businesses and supported children and young people across West Berkshire.” A Recovery Strategy closure report is due to be considered by the Executive on Thursday 7 July.

• The latest round of members’ bids (by which local councillors can bit for projects in the ward they represent) has been announced by West Berkshire Council.

• One of the reasons why we turn up heating in our homes is because of draughts so eliminating these is a good first step in reducing both our heating bills and our carbon emissions. A new group, Draughtbusters, is being created to help tackle draughts and poor insulation in the homes of the district’s elderly and vulnerable residents. More details can be found here.

• West Berkshire Council has recently launched a survey about bus travel in the area and how the services could be improved. You can click here to complete this. Responses must be in by midnight on Sunday 3 July (so not long now).

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBCl.

Click here for the latest Covid newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West BerkshireVale of White HorseWiltshire and Swindon.

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

Click here to visit the website for West Berkshire Council’s Community Support Hub. You can also call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animal of the week is this Van cat from Turkey. Cats hate water, right? Think again…

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of a defence of Monks Lane, in criticism of Monks Lane, property investments, picking on Boris and polio.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So, it’ the moment for the Song of the Week. We’ve run through the rock royalty over the last five weeks, going from a Queen down to a Count, so let’s open the field for the rest of us. One of the people who wrote this song is now a Sir. The person who really wrote it is a Sir too in my book: step forward Sir Keef Richards. A documentary about, and largely narrated by, the Stones has recently been released in . Part 2, which is mainly about Sir Keef, kicks off with one of the great opening guitar riffs of all time, the one from the start of Can you Hear me Knocking?

• So that brings us to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. BoJo has always espoused the “dead cat” distraction technique – if things are going badly, throw a dead cat on the table and everyone will start talking about that instead. The Distracting Boss from the excellent Big Train sketch series has some good angles on this as well.

• And to end matters for another week, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: In what year was the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Conservative MPs, formed? Last week’s question was: How much were the tickets for the first Glastonbury festival in 1970? This event, on 19 September 1970, featured acts including T Rex (or Tyrannosaurus Rex as they were then), Stackridge, the Pink Fairies and Al Stewart – not a bad line-up – and cost £1. Around 1,500 people turned up. Tickets for the 2022 event, attended by over 142,000 people, cost £285.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area please click on the appropriate link

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale