This Week with Brian
Including the roll-call of shame, an absentee, point taken by the Mayor, interesting times, a crazy flame, poor old BoJo, the peers go to the polls, ULEZ, very small and very large, made in the ’70s, a wonderful series, orange notices, gender equality, nature recovery, Saudi sports-washing, a hot bear, Patsy’s best moments, Jagger’s first guitar part, community forums, two Henrys, two Edwards and a connected phrase.
Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).
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 [email protected].
• The roll-call of shame continues. Three by-elections were recently held, prompted by mendacity, drug-taking and sulking over not getting a peerage. A fourth will now need to happen, following a resounding recall by the constituents of Margaret Ferrier in Rutherglen and Hamilton West after she did some Covid-dodging on a train and got kicked out of the SNP. The Commons’ Standards Committee recommended in March that she be suspended for 30 days, enough to trigger a recall petition. Who might win and what it all could tell us will remain fairly opaque to most people south of the border as Scottish politics seems rather mysterious to most of the rest of us.
Your Local Area
• Yet one more by-election will follow at some point. Nadine Dorries said that she would resign on 9 June (also as a result of an epic sulk about a non-peerage) but so far has not. Sky News reports that Stephanie Stanley, the Town Clerk of Flitwick, the largest town in her Mid-Bedfordshire constituency, has written to Dorries urging her to go now, claiming that “rather than representing constituents, the council is concerned that your focus appears to have been firmly on your television show, upcoming book and political manoeuvres to embarrass the government for not appointing you to the House of Lords.”
The letter added that her recent conduct has not been in line with the seven Nolan Principles on Public Life. These are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It’s hard to see how Dorries is currently fulfilling even one of these, still less all seven. The Prime Minister agreed with this judgement, being quoted in The Guardian, as saying that she’s “an absentee MP who is not properly representing her constituents.”
There could be yet another by-election, with former Chief Whip Chris Pincher facing a possible recall petition in Tamworth. It was Pincher’s appointment that started the political avalanche that led to Boris Johnson’s resignation in 2022.
• And there’s more. The House of Lords is to have two by-elections in September, caused by the death of two of the hereditary peers. This means that the hereditary peers will be able to top up their number of representatives, although only hereditary peers will be able to vote in this. I don’t think this really counts as a by-election at all. It looks rather more like the process to select a couple of new members for a traditional Pall Mall club.
• The ULEZ fall-out continues, opponents claiming that the expansion of this zone by London Mayor Sadiq Khan not only cost the party the Uxbridge by-election but is also penalising people with polluting cars. That’s kind of the point. Emissions since the scheme was introduced have fallen, though opinions differ as to whether these are significant or minor. However, the direction of travel seems the right one.
Last week on my regular Kennet Radio slot (4.30 to 5.00 on 106.5FM) from about 31′, I suggested that this “polluter pays” approach was similar to that we’ve long been demanding from the water companies with regard to sewage in our rivers, the difference being that SO2 and particulates kill more people than do poo and pee do in our waterways. Glad to see, therefore, that Sadiq Khan had clearly taken my point in when he later said that “We don’t accept dirty water, why accept dirty air?” You heard it on Kennet Radio first…
• Anyone who watched the chaotic Capitol riots in the USA on 6 January 2021 must have thought, “well that’s got to be the end of Trump.” Seems not. The more he is indicted for offences, the greater his popularity appears to grow. No other Republican currently appears able to challenge him in the presidential election next year. If one were to be held now between him and Biden, the result would be close to a dead-heat. This seems staggering to me: but perhaps this is because I don’t understand how divided (and evenly so) the USA was and remains. It’s clearly a nation at odds with itself.
Mind you, so is the UK. Brexit – the vote on which happened in 2016, the year Trump was elected – has not been healed, any more than have the previously unfocussed concerns that Trump managed to stir into life. 2016 seemed to be the year of the outsider. (From a more centrist position than either Trump or Johnson and Farage, Macron could perhaps have claimed the same mantle in France.)
Looking just at Trump and Johnson, the moral seems to be that once you’ve established yourself as an outsider/maverick, you need to play out the hand for all it’s worth. In retrospect, Trump’s ousting in 2020 was exactly what he most wanted. Nothing else but a tight defeat using new technology could, in that febrile and divisive time, have produced the dividends of victimisation and exclusion that he has been able to garner. You have to go for it big time; and he has. Out of office, he has no constraints on his behaviour.
So now, we are once again fully exposed to his special brand of tempestuous invective. As The Guardian reports, he recently posted that “I hear that Deranged Jack Smith, in order to interfere with the Presidential Election of 2024, will be putting out yet another Fake Indictment of your favorite President, me, at 5:00 P.M. Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago? Why did they wait so long? Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign. Prosecutorial Misconduct!”
A statement on 1 August, after his indictment into trying to overturn the 2020 election was confirmed, he added that “this is nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election, in which President Trump is the undisputed frontrunner…”
These are resonant phrases and could only have come from someone with an ego the size of Nebraska and a skin as thick of that of a double elephant. Phrases like “respect” or “admiration” for his tenacity would be used by his supporters. What can’t be denied is that he’s managed, once again, to avoid being ignorable or boring, two of the worst crimes a politician in a democracy can commit. He’s also elevated his transgressions, in the eyes of his many supporters, to a titanic philosophical battle for the soul of America. He’s got everyone’s attention once again.
It appears that there’s no law that would prevent him becoming President even if he were jailed. If elected and jailed, he could pardon himself. May you live in interesting times, Americans: and therefore the rest of the world as well.
• Poor old BoJo, by contrast. Brexit was his big thing and he became unstuck because he involved in trying to “get it done” which involved a steady descent into legalistic detail and lack of clear achievement which became boring to him. Then Covid struck, which produced its own problems for the PM, leading (via an unwise appointment) to his resignation.
There then followed a humiliation from the Privileges Committee, which he first tried to undermine with the help of his cronies and then fled from. Trump has far more effectively raged against the dying of the light; indeed to the extent that he’s actually re-kindled it.
So, do we what BoJo back? Politico reports that in a survey carried out in June 2023, 25% of the population would welcome his return as an MP (but not necessarily as PM). This is in many ways remarkable but a long way from Trump being neck-and-neck in the race for the White House.
I’m not sure what it is that Trump believes in but he has a wonderfully simple disregard for everything that stands in his way. He also still plays the “outsider”card to great effect, as Farage did. This is harder when you have Eton, Oxford, The Times, the Telegraph, and The Spectator on your CV, but you can always fall back on “maverick”. BoJo has never believed in anything, except himself. Nor has Trump in all probability, but he’s kept his crazy flame alight to better effect.
• Deep space
• Any article or discussion involving very large or very small things like the universe or atoms leaves me fascinated, light-headed and confused in roughly equal measure. Oh, and also things that happened a long, long time ago, like trilobites or the Permian extinction. The Voyager 2 spacecraft is not that old in cosmic terms, having only been launched in 1977, but I was staggered to learn this week that it’s still out there and still working (well, sort of: it’s been in the news as the comms have broken down as it was accidentally sent an incorrect signal earlier this year which resulted in it tilting its antennae a couple of degrees the wrong way).
The thing that blows my mind is that we’re still able to communicate with it at all given that it’s now over 12 billion miles away, a distance that’s increasing by about 825,000 miles a day. Voyager 1 is even further off, about 15 billion miles, but that still seems to be talking to us. I’m sure some of you can explain what forces are making these travel so fast but I doubt I’d be able to understand it.
What gets me is how anything electronic or mechanical that was built in 1977 and which ever since has been hurtling through space in temperatures of minus whatever can still be working at all. Clearly built-in obsolescence can be avoided if we try.
• The sports section
• One of the best-ever Ashes series – which is saying something – has just finished. If anyone who followed even part of it says they don’t get test cricket then I can’t see what else can be offered to change their mind. It had absolutely everything (although some better weather would have helped). The series ended 2-2 which meant that, as Australia had won the last time out then they retained the Ashes, rather than winning it (an important point). As even most of the Aussies accepted, the series really belonged to Stuart Broad who announced his retirement on the eve of the last day of the last match. He then scored a six from the last ball he faced and took a match-winning wicket with the last ball he bowled, which I think isn a unique achievement.
This follows an equally compelling women’s series that finished a couple of weeks ago, something that was spoiled only by the decision to have just the one test match.
• Following the test series, the month of August is given over to the Hundred, a fairly new competition. This is utterly brilliant and as different from test cricket as you can imagine while still being the same sport and played by some of the same players. It’s fast and glitzy and has the advantage – or disadvantage, depending on how much work you have to do – of generally being live-streamed. This can wipe out most days from 3pm until well after nightfall. The most heartening aspect is that all the games are double-headers, the women playing in the afternoon and the same two men’s teams playing in the evening.
One fascinating innovation is that one of the fielders is mic-ed up and from time to time chats with the presenters, commenting on what’s happening and sharing a few jokes. It’s a short and condensed competition, taking place within four weeks. The organisers have got pretty much everything right. I do urge anyone who feels they might need converting to this amazing sport to check this format out.
• Moving on to the only other sport which I recognise, the football season is only just round the corner. Manchester City remains the team for everyone in England and Europe to beat next season after their treble-winning performance last year.
The big story, though, is the rise of the Saudi Football League. The amount of money invested in this by the Saudi Wealth Fund has attracted not only players in search of a final big payday but also those closer to their prime. Here’s Sky News’ list of some of the major transfer deals. The organisers’ hope is that one of these clubs will soon win the soon-to-be-expanded World Club Championship. There is also, of course, also a massive piece of sports-washing going on. There do not, however, seem to be any similar moves to attract the major and manifest talents from the women’s game – whose World Cup is currently taking place – to play in Saudi Arabia. Why on earth can that be? Clearly, the Hundred has something important to teach football…