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The Friday Speed Read
Every week, The Friday Speed Read sets sail in its coracle upon the rising waters of Britain in June; its mission to hoik out the few surviving news stories before they sink beneath the waves never to been seen again.
And then the rains came washing all before them; the country shivering beneath leaden skies; riven, Brexit-weary and now soaking wet. Last year’s June seems less like a memory, more like a fantasy: the drunken ravings of a madman recounting tall-tales of sunshine, shorts and barbecues on the beach. It must have happened, you tell yourself, it must have happened because you were there, you were wearing those shorts, you were eating those vegan sausages at Jonny and Pat’s barbecue but no, maybe you are mistaken; maybe it’s been raining since the early years of the Millennium and all we’ve been doing, all of us, is sitting crossed-legged on window seats, singing mournful songs from ages past – “the rain it raineth every day and you can stand under my umbrella , ella . . . ella . . eh… eh” – and tracing the soft curves of rain drops as they plod endlessly towards the sodden earth.
Bloody hell it’s been rubbish hasn’t it? (Unless you’re a reservoir, in which case your cup, literally hath runneth over, a gag not quite good enough to justify the lazy personification of a large expanse of water). Well, just take a moment and think how Michael Gove feels. And yes we know it’s going to be something of a stretch to muster any sympathy for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but . . .. actually, it’s nigh on impossible to muster any sympathy for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but it’s got to have been a tough week for the guy. Forced to head-off a revelation in a forthcoming book about him (seriously, who buys these books?) that he had, on more-than-one-occasion, got all up close and sniffy with a line of Columbian marching powder (what’s your favourite cocaine nickname?) Gove found few friends in his ex-stomping ground of Fleet Street: “Gove the cocaine hypocrite must quit!”; “Gove’s bid for No.10 on the brink”; “Gove pleads for second chance after admission”.
Toot-revelations aside, the single biggest problem that Michael Gove has had to wrestle this week is the undeniable fact that he isn’t Boris Johnson. And yes, we are going to have to talk about this. But first, some ground rules. If Mr. Johnson is going be Prime Minister (and more of this anon) then there’s a “red line” (to quote the current incumbent of the job) that we refuse to cross. From now on, and we’re going to be fastidious about this, we don’t call him “Boris” unless it’s then to be followed by the name “Johnson”. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with mononymism if you’re:
A Brazilian footballer (Zico, Socrates, the other Ronaldo, Felix);
An 80s German pop star (Falco);
The son of a / the God (Jesus);
A character for children (Paddington; Bod; Leadsome);
A rapper (Eminem; Drake; Barnes)
. . . but definitively NOT OKAY if you’re a presenting yourself as a plausible and serious politician. Calling him “Boris” makes him into a loveable scamp, one that can liken Muslim women to pillar boxes and, as Foreign Secretary, suggest that Syria will be a great place to have a holiday once “the dead bodies are cleared away” but then just come up smiling because “ah, it’s just Boris . . . he’s so naughty and loveable isn’t he?”. So, no. It’s not Boris. It’s Boris Johnson or better still, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
With that in mind, what a week it has been for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, or at least this new version of him (where the old one has been stashed we shudder to think). This Boris Johnson has comprehensively smashed his opponents in the first round of the Tory leadership election without actually doing much more than being thinner, having better hair and sleeping with a younger woman than the original version of Boris Johnson. He’s made one policy announcement via the Telegraph (which loves Boris more than a tick loves the taste of flesh – “he can lift you heart”) promising to cut taxes for rich people and then took only six questions in his single appearance in front of journalists. That’s right, the man destined to be our next leader so likely to make some sort of terrible gaffe that his team have decided that it’s much safer for him to say as little as possible. Oh yes, he did take drugs when he was younger but it’s not the same as Michael Gove taking drugs because it just isn’t.
The Sun’s front page on Friday featured some his rivals in the leadership race and a large speech bubble saying “We’ve all been screwed by Boris”. Thankfully, this isn’t yet true for all of us but come back in six months and it may well be a very, very different story.
And it’s still raining. The weather knows, it just knows.
Away from all thing Boris Johnson, a few other things have happened this week. Getting many a tabloid hackle up was the BBC’s announcement that it was ending free TV licences for the over 75s (except those on pension credit benefits). This went down like the barometric readings for June with both the Express and the Mail pop-eyed with rage: “BBC betrayal of the elderly”, true to the demographic that still actually buys newspapers. Now, we’re not here to debate the rights and wrongs of this but what’s been missing in most of the coverage is the fact that this was a perk given to pensioners by Gordon Brown, it’s not some ancient inviolable benefit. What’s more it was George Osborne who latterly decided to make the BBC pay for it. Just saying.
Elsewhere, a Labour attempt to block a new Prime Minister leaving the EU without a deal failed to win the approval of parliament and therefore making No Deal significantly more likely despite, according to a leaked Cabinet report this week, the UK being “nowhere near ready”; Chuka Umunna has joined his third political party in less than six months (presumably he’s trying to complete his Panini UK Politics 18-19 sticker book?); Jo Brand said something stupid on Radio 4 and made a lot of people very cross “Jo’s acid tongue”; one in five of us have called in sick to binge watch TV shows; the USA won 13-0 against Thailand in the Women’s World Cup, which is just cruel, and two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The US blamed Iran. Iran said it wasn’t to blame. And this can only end well, can’t it?
Finally then, a chance to play out with some Radiohead for a better reason than “because Radiohead”. This week the band responded to the hack / theft (and a reported ransoming) of 18 hours’ worth of recordings made around the time of OK Computer (best album of the 90s – FACT) by releasing them online in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Very much for fans-only, the recordings trace the lineages of songs that went on to become masterpieces. Like this one: