The Intercept has an article called the ‘10 Worst Americans of 2021.’ There’s some obvious names, like Trump, Musk, Biden, Manchin et al. So I thought it might be a good idea to nominate my 10 Worst Brits of 2021. Errmm, can I even think of 10? We after all have a constitutionally genetic heritage which means whether you’ve come through Eton or even a comprehensive like Harrow you are unlikely to put a foot wrong. And even if you do, you know somebody will clean up after you. So yes, it’s a bit of struggle to find the 10 Worst Brits of 2021, but in classic reverse order, here they are!!!!!
No.10 Pritti Patel. Pritti comes from immigrant stock, but like an ex-smoker has the convert’s eye on everybody who follows in her footsteps with insufficient zeal. She’s a complete failure of course, but she knows she’s Pritti. And a bully and a dimwit to boot.
No.9 Sir Simon Stevens. Nobody’s heard of him. Which is not bad for somebody helping to privatise the NHS.
No.8 Prince Andrew—frankly Andy struggles to get onto this list, since apart from royal correspondents nobody gives a flying ***k what he does, but his attempts to wriggle out, purely though legalistic formalities of the case he needs to answer are pretty crumby. So crumby he’s letting the Queen down. Our Queen! (Not just his Queen)
No.7 Jacob Rees-Mogg—an unsurprising choice, he deserves his position in this list for unwittingly signalling all the virtues of the Conservative Party as it exists today. To explore these would require an essay in itself, but not to worry, one can always give Squiffy (or whatever public schoolboy nickname suffices) a bit of your chocolate to come up with something on your behalf, essay-wise.
No.6 Sir Keir Starmer—’Shorty’ as he is known in some professional circles, Keir has played a critical role in casually demonising the Labour Party, unwittingly making it unelectable although some suggest that that was always his intent. As if a Bilderberger would ever seek to do that!
No.5 Well, it’s not a sign that I’m struggling, but yes there is space for Nigel Farage, who appears very much (I’m sorry to say) as a wet fart from the past. I believe he still has some ‘pull’ (mainly with die-hard Tories) and could yet wreak more havoc on the UK. So this listing is pretty conditional (whilst recognising his historical contribution to our proud sovereign history).
No.4 Ursula van der Leyen—yes, I know she’s not British, but for the remaining few readers of the Daily Express she pops up every time they tap their boiled eggs for breakfast and prepare to don their Union Jack stab-proof vests. In this sense Ursula is an honorary Brit-enemy-within-without, a kind of alter-ego essential to the maintenance of our precious bodily fluids. I guess the inclusion of her name in this list could be a bit controversial.
No.3 Richard Beeching, Baron Beeching, commonly known as Dr Beeching. For God’s sake get over it, this is 2021! But we can’t! We want our branch lines back!
No.2 You’ve waited patiently, so here he is: Boris—who played Frankenstein’s monster so well. And he’s still stalking the land, terrorising innocent villagers with his attempts at humour. Grrggghhhh!
No.1 First and last, we have the Maskless Individual. The epitome of all that is proudest in our proud island’s proud history. The English lad (and lass) who can boldly stride around the supermarket completely clueless about any concept of public health awareness. Were it not for idiots like this you can take it from me we wouldn’t have won the battle of Agincourt. They’re so brave! But Agincourt was a long time ago, I admit. And no, these lads weren’t in it.
So there you have my list of the 10 Worst Brits of 2021. I notice there is a preponderance of males in the list. That’s not my fault!
+My post on shoes brought a response from an international reader who alerted me to www.batashoemuseum.ca, a museum devoted to footwear based in Toronto. It looks like a fascinating place. They currently have an exhibition online called Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels. It looks like there is a long history of men wearing high heels, if not of the stiletto variety. They must have discovered they didn’t like tottering around too much. I wonder if anyone does?
+The human rights group ‘International Memorial’ which has been closed down by the Russian Supreme Court investigated crimes committed during the Stalin era, when 20 million or so were sent to the Gulags. It’s a good job there isn’t a branch of International Memorial in the UK, where if it had looked into the slave trade it would have been shut down by the Tories pronto. It would fall foul of their version of ‘cancel culture.’
I have spent a couple of satisfying hours repairing a pair of old shoes with new soles and heels. Some creativity had to go into it, but the result is that they’ll last for quite a while yet, which is quite important when they are so comfortable. Co-incidentally I was watching series one of The Bureau, the French spy thriller, in which an Algerian general whom the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE – the French version of the UK’s MI6) want to secretly track with a GPS device, and fits one in a replacement pair of his shoes. Of course, he immediately knows that these are not his original shoes. The DGSE must have been in cloud cuckoo land if they thought he wouldn’t know his shoes had been swapped, even with an identical pair. Shoes become very personal things. Unfortunately, the general’s secretary, who was persuaded to do the swap was executed.
Somewhere there’s probably a good history of shoes. It would have a whole chapter on fetishes, with a special section on Imelda Marcos. We would learn more about why Arab culture features shoe throwing (remember George W. Bush’s humiliation?) as an insult. We would find out exactly who has made the best use of Cuban heels—Tom Cruise perhaps? Keir Starmer? Prince Charles? And of course, with a nod to The Bureau, let’s hear more about hollowed out heels and their use in espionage, etc. A chapter on the class history of shoes wouldn’t go amiss. The book’s centre colour plates would feature the shoes of famous people down the ages. I remember seeing a picture of Ronald Reagan sat on the front row of some campaign event, with a big hole in one of his soles. What this picture said, according to his PR people was that a) he was a humble man of the people and b) he was a tireless campaigner. Subliminal shoe messaging. And what about the role of the shoe in fiction? The only examples I can think of offhand are Cinderella’s glass slipper and Rosa Kebb’s poisoned shoe blade in From Russia With Love.
Whoever writes this book—perhaps called ‘If The Shoe Fits’ - will be onto a best seller.
Yes, today Christmas Eve 2021 is my last day as a subscriber (or ‘supporter’ as they call it) of the Guardian. With the closure of my newsagent, getting it has become too much of a hassle. I will now have to rely more on the internet for my news. I suppose this may encourage me to dwell more on what suits my prejudices, although the Microsoft story selection which comes with their browser page always carries a good selection of crap from right wing rags like the Express, the Mail and the Telegraph. But with the best will in the world, none of these are capable of broadening one’s mind, quite the opposite. The Express, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before is probably the worst. Not a day goes by when it isn’t running an anti-EU story, always (without fail) illustrated with a picture of Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President. They also, almost daily have an anti-Nicola Sturgeon story, illustrated similarly. I wonder if the Express isn’t just a tad misogynist?
What was in today’s special Guardian? I learned from a story about Harry and Meg’s Christmas card that infant Archie has ‘curly hair’ and baby Lillibet has ‘ginger hair’ just like her dad. I wonder if they’re allowed to say these things? People in the media are often in the media (an insightful tautology) so we learn that veteran Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow (74) is hanging up his clogs (but not quite) and BBC News At Ten chap Huw Edwards (60) has suffered from severe depression; a New Zealand cat called Keith is a kleptomaniac; Vlad the Impaler ‘fails to calm nerves;’ Stanley in the Falkland Islands wants to be granted city status (I don’t think any town without a railway station should get this); Covid rumbles on: “PM invokes Jesus to ‘love they neighbour’ and get jabs;” the UK is still contemplating new coal mining despite COP26. And much more besides, every page a serendipitous soupçon of our perilous passage on earth.
Time then to wish you a peaceful Saturnalia and a sublime 2022!
According to a BBC report this morning Russia is trying to maintain its ‘sphere of influence’ hence Putin’s aggressive looking military build-up on the Ukrainian border. It seems Putin is unhappy about the loss of Soviet territory and fancies getting a bit back. There’s nothing new there then. But perhaps he feels he’s being unfairly treated. He’ll be aware of such things as this: “According to David Vine, professor of political anthropology at the American University in Washington, DC, the US had around 750 bases in at least 80 countries as of July 2021.”
(Infographic: US military presence around the world | Infographic News | Al Jazeera) That was in answer to the question how many military bases does the U.S. have around the world? Ask ‘How many bases does Russia have around the world?’ and Wikipedia comes up with this: “The majority of Russia's military bases and facilities are located in former Soviet republics; which in Russian political parlance is termed the " near abroad". Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the early-warning radar stations ended up in former Soviet republics. As of 2020, only the radar in Belarus is still rented by Russia . In 2003, Kommersant newspaper published a map of the Russian military presence abroad . In 2018, it was reported that Russia operates at least 21 significant military facilities overseas.” ( List of Russian military bases abroad - Wikipedia)
This comparison rather sheds a different light on Putin’s paranoia. I’m not saying he’s justified in ramping up forces on the Russian/Ukrainian border, but when one considers, for example a century and more of American military adventures in Latin America one should not feel too much sympathy for the West’s mocked-up outrage either. Not least since Joe Biden seems determined to give the U.S. military a bigger budget than even the Pentagon asked for. There’s too much posturing on both sides, but the only thing we need to remember is that Joe Biden is a Good Man and Vlad the Impaler Putin is a Very Bad Man, well, according to the BBC anyway.
Who, many people must be wondering, is Joe Manchin? The Democrat Senator from West Virginia seems to wield more (destructive) power than Joe Biden, whose huge ‘building back’ budget in Congress has been stymied by Manchin’s opposition. I’m sure that if Manchin had had to deal with LBJ he may have had to take a different path, for his own welfare. Manchin is a creature of the fossil fuel industry, and despite all the row-backs Biden has made for the benefit of said industry, they don’t seem in the least bit grateful. Manchin does have a personal agenda (apart from earnings from coal, etc): he’s up for re-election next year. His fellow senator from the state is a Republican. Perhaps he’s feeling a bit vulnerable and thinks out-Republicking the Republicans will help save his skin. One wonders why he doesn’t just cross the floor. But if he did, his power would be lost overnight, as the Republicans would take control of the Senate and Manchin’s bargaining power with Biden would evaporate. So his chosen path is to glory in his own nihilism. In the meantime, even with nominal control of both Houses of Congress Biden’s party still looks powerless, and any direct benefits of Biden’s administration to the electorate will not be felt without that huge injection of cash. His popularity ratings are low, midterm elections tend to favour the President’s opposition anyway and other factors such as Covid will almost certainly linger well into 2022. Doesn’t look good does it? I wonder if a war with Russia could turn things round? Perhaps Putin should be careful not to get what he wishes for. For moviemakers this could be called ‘Joe Manchin’s War.’
The trial of those in Bristol who pulled down the now infamous statue of slave trader Colston and dumped it in the dock continues. I’ve not yet read whether the defence will cite precedent for their action, that is precedents which were much lauded by everyone at the time, not least rightwing goons in the Tory Party. Remember the jubilant scenes when that statue of Saddam Hussein came down (with American help)? I dare say Colston destroyed nearly as many lives as Saddam (but that’s OK, it was in the name of the British Empire). And who on the right will have lamented downed statues of Lenin or Stalin? None. This tells us something. Some of these Tories aren’t all that bothered about the slave trade. There is another way of course, which doesn’t involve pulling down statues. It’s ridicule. I love the statue of the Duke of Wellington in Glasgow, which has been topped by a traffic cone for many years. It is now an iconic work in a new guise. It probably helps that it stands outside the modern art gallery. Perhaps it’s time for many more statues to to be topped by traffic cones. Perhaps John Major could set up a new service called the 'Traffic Cones Hotline.'
The LibDem’s victory in the North Shropshire by-election might worry Kier Starmer more than it does Boris Johnson. On the bright side for Johnson, he can stagger on for a while yet, but if he doesn’t he is more or less guaranteed to start earning more money as an ex-PM than he ever dreamt of. Look at Blair. But for Starmer if this result does lead to Johnson getting the old heave-ho, we could see a more competent Tory replacement, in which case Starmer’s contrasting his alleged competence against Bonkers Boris will no longer work. The result for Labour in the by-election, in a seat where we have come second the last three times it was fought was abysmal. Labour’s revival under Starmer has yet to materialise, and his options are narrowing, just as he morphs into a bland, struggling for something to do manager. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for the centrists. Perhaps the centre ground in politics resembles a Polo mint.
It's not been unnoticed either that Starmer's recent support for the latest round of government Covid measures came with no price tag. Starmer gave Johnson a free pass. Some more cynical than I might suggest he ought to be given a little office in 10 Downing Street.
+I’ve just been to London for a couple of days’ art gallery hopping. There’s no better time than during a pandemic. Largely deserted galleries encourage lingering looks at things normally shrouded behind groups of tourists with selfie sticks. But one wonders how long galleries will survive if this goes on much longer. I have written more on my visits to Whitechapel, Tates Modern and Britain, the National Gallery and the ICA (all reports appearing soon) under their respective headings in ’Perambulations.’ There is a common theme of these reviews and it is ‘Black art.’ Some phenomenal stuff.
+I also chanced across an event in the Conway Hall. This was dedicated to the ‘Heroes of Labour.’ Naturally I assumed that this would be a celebration of the lives of Ramsay MacDonald, Hugh Gaitskell and Peter Mandelson, comrades who never flinched in the face of capitalists’ calumnies. But sadly I was sorely mistaken, it turned out that this was an evening devoted to people who had been expelled or suspended from the party in recent years for what the victims outrageously described as ‘specious reasons.’ What a disappointment. Some of these so-called comrades, who were so fairly identified by the party's beaks as bad ‘uns were astonishingly Jewish anti-Semites! One was even the infamous film director Ken Loach, whose films are regularly cited by Kier Starmer as classic testimonies to the shame of unequal, unjust Britain. After two hours of this ‘celebration’ I had to leave, vowing never again to innocently walk into Conway Hall off the street. Just as Sir Kier’s dynamism and charisma is beginning to drown out Johnson’s wiffle-waffle, taking the party to record leads in the opinion polls, we don’t need people organising events questioning what it’s all about.
+About once a year along with 359 other former members of parliament I get a letter from the House of Commons advising me that they are duty bound to release information under the FoI Act in response to a request regarding how many times our former member’s passes have been used. These passes give limited access to the Westminster estate. I assume that these FoI requests are press fishing exercises to see if the passes are being abused, and indeed it appears that in the past some former MPs have abused the privilege. I have to confess: I have used mine two or three times to have a pint in the Strangers’ Bar. This is an offence because it is often said that every drink and bag of nuts in the HoC is subsidised by the taxpayer. All I can say in my defence is that if that is so, I’d be better off staying in Yorkshire where pints are so much cheaper. My pass expired last year and I can’t say I’m much bothered about renewing it. Judging by a story in today’s Guardian the press should keep their focus on current MPs – their particular story considered allegations that a Tory MP was chasing Saudi employment to top up his MP’s poverty wage (school fees are such a burden).
The lesson here is that once an MP, always guilty (mainly by association).
+According to High Court justices, U.S. government assurances that Julian Assange will be treated fairly once extradited are sufficient for him to be now extradited. These assurances it seems are to be considered ‘facts’ which if they had been known to a lower district court judge would have allowed the lower court to grant the extradition request. Since when was an assertion a fact? It was a fact that Obama pledged to close down Guantanamo but it never happened. It was a fact that an American warship was targeted with torpedoes in the Bay of Tonkin until it was proven not to be a fact (but LBJ wanted an excuse to ramp up the war in Vietnam). It is a fact that no Christmas parties were held in No. 10 last year. But it is a fact that Assange is a hate figure for the establishment, as is Craig Murray. The net is closing in. Not to worry, in two or three month’s time we’ll all be sent a message from Davos that this is the best of all possible worlds. Don’t disturb it! Turn on the artificial snow blowers!
+My Guardian subscription’s end draws ever closer. As it does, I can see myself writing a leader, in just one line: ‘Johnson doesn’t take his job seriously.’ There’s only so many ways you can say it, and Guardian writers have explored every version at length. But nothing comes of it without a suggested course of action.