This Week with Brian
Including and then there were five, a sense of purpose, scorched earth, a disgusting cover, an unhinged administration, shedding the pounds, the gooseberries’ revenge, an evil vicar, a freedom alert, two elephants in a hole, a year out, five cities and two Micks on guitar.
Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including a 3G pause, a political and financial football, vision definition, a green flag, not quite the last word, an invite from the builders, Hungerford’s cancellation, Kintbury’s rethink, Lambourn’s surgery, Shefford’s conditions, Newbury’s hedgehogs, Greenham’s art, Chieveley’s signs, Hermitage’s support, Cold Ash’s bench, Compton’s warden, Aldworth’s karate, Burghfield’s approval, Mortimer’s windmill, Aldermaston’s HGVs, Englefield’s donations, Wantage’s ghosts, Hanney’s news, Grove’s fish, Marlborough’s festival, Aldbourne’s carbon and Ramsbury’s bunting – plus our usual supermarket dash 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The 1922 Committee has announced its rules for the leadership contest for our country and there are eight runners. At the time of writing (when there were but five candidates left) there is only one white male left in the contest. By a process of elections amongst the 358 Conservative MPs the field will be whittled down to two by 21 July after which the 200,000-odd members of the party will decide which of the two will be PM until at least 24 January 2025, by when the next election must be called. It’s possible there’ll be a snap election to provide a personal mandate: Theresa May did this in 2017 (a disaster) and Boris Johnson did in 2019 (a success). Given the scandals of the last few years and the size of the majority the government currently has, this would seem unlikely.
Your Local Area
• This business of picking a new leader on the hoof, which has happened three times in the last seven years, is one of the few times when Conservative backbenchers get to exercise anything approaching real power on a national scale: suddenly, their political lives assume a palpable sense of purpose. To look at matters in a really simplistic way, normally the whips tell them which way to vote and they then trot off and do it. With a large majority it doesn’t greatly matter if a few of them break ranks and go through the other lobby. With about 350 MPs voting for, initially, eight candidates, each vote becomes very influential. Because of being secret, it’s also free of any later repercussions. The MPs are hardly representative of the country at large any more than are the Tory Party members who will make the final choice: but they’re the ones that get to make this call.
Moreover, under the system we have, our votes are cast not for a party or a leader or a manifesto but for an individual candidate to be our MP. Who the leader of the largest party, and thus the PM, actually is is not therefore something that is technically the electorate’s job to decide. There could be a different or better system organised but as it’s so far proved impossible even to reform the bloated anachronism that is the House of Lords, I’m not holding my breath. Boris Johnson tried to claim in his final hours that the mandate received in 2019 was his and his alone but this isn’t the case. I know it’s extraordinary to believe that our PM could be anything less than scrupulously truthful.
• As predicted, the outgoing PM seems to be indulging in a scorched-earth policy towards his successor, Rishi Sunak in particular; which Sunak has attempted to defuse. It seems both depressingly odd and depressingly familiar that two people who were previously speaking with one voice could now be anything but. I suppose the truth is that you say what you have to get power and say what you have to to retain it, even if you on both occasions do something quite different. I’m really not sure who I would want our next leader to be: but, as explained above, no one is asking me anyway.
• The most recent Private Eye has one of the most disgusting covers I’ve ever seen: mind you, it is dealing with quite a disgusting subject.
• All of this, and the heat, has left me slightly drained. Even more bizarre political craziness seems to be unfolding across the Atlantic with the congressional enquiry into the events of 6 January 2021 learning that the outgoing administration was “unhinged” at that time and perpetuating the idea that a vast conspiracy was responsible for its downfall. Trump and Johnson both share this stratospheric denial of any personal responsibility. Johnson’s attempts to prorogue parliament in August 2019, later declared unlawful, did not have as dramatic effect as did Trump’s rallying cry in January 2021 but they’re out of the same box. Fortunately, both the UK and USA have political structures which are strong enough to push back against this kind of behaviour. In many countries, total maniacs can and do assume and retain power with depressing ease. In some, like Russia and China, the system deliberately encourages the cult of the big man (for men they always are).
• Most of us want to get our hands on as much of the folding stuff as possible but one person who seems intent on shedding his wealth is Microsoft founder Bill Gates – you remember him, the bloke who was masterminding the plan to inject all of us with mind-controlling microchips during the pandemic. His ambition is currently to get himself off the Forbes magazine rich list by making further donations to the Gates Foundation charitable trust which is concerned with issues such as malaria prevention. He says that he has an “obligation” to return his resources to society and so far has donated about $40bn to the charity (which has been more or less match-funded by Warren Buffett). There’s still some way to go, however: he’s currently worth about $118bn, round about the same as Morocco.
• Spoiler alert: it’s going to get very hot next week). The Met Office has issued a red heat warning, its first ever. This seems pretty much what the Meteorological Office should be doing (the clue’s in the name). Absolutely not in the opinion of some, who have suggested that these warnings are an erosion of our freedoms and yet another sign of the heavy hand of the nanny state. My son Michael has written more on this strange idea, which you can read here.
• I don’t know if any of you grow gooseberries or blackcurrants but we do. About six years ago I planted three bushes of each slightly too close together, something which this year has become a thing because we have the harvest to end all harvests. Through no particularly different pruning or mulching methods, all the bushes have produced fruit in such abundance that many of the stems have collapsed on each other. The gooseberries in particular have their revenge as each branch is armed with long and strong spines that, this year, seem longer and stronger then usual. I came in from my latest harvesting exercise on Wednesday evening and was genuinely shocked to see in the mirror how lacerated my arms were. These are, I think, badges of pride. To be able to collect perhaps 40 pounds of fruit from six bushes, even if only through luck, makes me feel that I’ve accomplished something this year…
Across the area
• 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 area; Lambourn 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 email@example.com 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 Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• 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 are these two pachyderms from Thailand. Q: how many people does it take to get two elephants out of a hole? A: quite a few…
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of integrity, football grounds, international law, lidos, food banks and geese.
• 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. I’ve watched most of the four programmes about The Rolling Stones, available on iPlayer, which I think are pretty excellent. Keith Richards has always loomed quite large and this didn’t change my generally positive view of him; Charlie Watts remained, as he would probably have preferred, quite shadowy; Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger I felt more well-disposed to (like they care) as a result of watching these. The band has been around for the whole of my sentient life and the one time I saw them, at Wembley in 1990, is a memory that won’t leave me. So, it has to be one of their songs this week. Sticky Fingers is widely regarded as one of their great albums but this song, Sway, is perhaps not the best known. It’s notable for three things: the first time Jagger played electric guitar on a Stones recording; two lovely solos from Mick Taylor; and the fact that Mick Taylor was so pissed off that he didn’t get a co-songwriting credit for this that it helped confirm his decision to leave the band a year or so later. It’s also proof that three chords (E, A and B in this case) are sometimes all you need to write a great song.
• So that brings us to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. We all have to bite back our words sometimes and not say the first thing that comes into our heads. Priests are probably no exception. This one, however, decides not to hold back – Mitchell and Webb’s Evil Vicar.
• And to end matters for another week, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: In the 1960s, the location of Milton Keynes was chosen because it was roughy equidistant from which five English cities? Last week’s question was: In what year was the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Conservative MPs, formed? The answer is in 1923 (April). No, I’m not sure why it was named after the year before either. Why is May Week in Cambridge 10 days in June? I don’t know that either.