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The Friday Speed Read: Centenary Edition

For one hundred editions, the Friday Speed Read has sifted through the week’s headlines, talked about them in overly-long sentences and then ended with a song. And none of that’s going to change now. 

After two and a half years of a liquid diet Brexit being pumped into our veins and arteries via a malfunctioning intravenous drip (or so it feels) then we’re sure you’ll have shared our huge relief this week as the whole big mess was finally revealed to be a poorly-scripted dream. Yep, we’ve all been asleep this past two and half years and the constitutional, social and economic precipice on which we’ve been teetering is not actually a precipice at all but just the subconscious meanderings of David Cameron’s brain after too much gorgonzola. (It’s like a Tory Party Matrix).

Among the most grateful to be woken from this nightmarish slumber will of course have been TM the PM, who’s giddy with excitement to discover that she’s not PM at all but still Home Secretary and therefore free to get on with both the baiting of immigrants and slow dancing with Jacob Rees-Mogg at the Tory Christmas bash, each without a hint of awkwardness  . . . . . . . .

Okay stop. We can’t do it. As much as both your friends here at The Friday Speed Read, and indeed our Prime Minister, wish beyond all measure to indeed have spent the time since June 2016 inside the cheesey synapses of everyone’s second-favourite Bullingdon Club alumnus (which just goes to show how bad things have got) then we’ve got to face facts. If we can touch it, feel it and read about endlessly in every newspaper (except the Daily Star which is still angry about Snowflakes) then the unprecedented political dung heap into which we’ve all been upended is our reality. It’s happening Reg, something’s actually happening.

But before we reflect on another terrible week for Theresa May let’s take a swerve towards some of the other stories troubling the headline writers these past few days. And there’s none more serious than the catastrophic failure of 02’s mobile data for a whole 18 hours yesterday. 1080 long, barren minutes during which time, if you were beyond the reach of Wifi, you were cast back to a time before smartphone ubiquity and forced into a number of primitive responses such as looking up, thinking about dinner and remembering how to get to places. Just to give a sense of dark things got, here’s an ACTUAL conversation from yesterday afternoon on BBC Radio 5 Live:

Radio Man:        How’s the outage affected you?

Caller:                 My maps don’t work on my phone.  I could have been late for picking up my kids.

Radio Man:        Were you late?

Caller:                 No, the traffic was quite good actually. But I could have been. I’m really cross.

Elsewhere, David Attenborough addressed a UN Climate Change summit in stark, simple syllables lest anyone misunderstand the severity of his message: time is running out for our planet. The Mirror’s Tuesday front page repeated the phrase alongside a full-page photograph of the Earth from space as if reminding us all what’s at stake. The Guardian has spent the week investigating racism in modern Britain and drew some fairly depressing, if unsurprising, conclusions about life for non-white UK citizens. The Times carried an exclusive interview with the British academic Mathew Hedges who was sentenced to life imprisonment (and then pardoned) for alleged spying in the United Arab Emirates and, on Friday, it emerged that Donald Trump is to appoint an ex-Fox news presenter as America’s ambassador to the UN. Which is a bit like Huw Edwards trying his hand at heart surgery.

In one of the week’s more arcane moments, Hollywood’s Tom Cruise appeared on the internet to tell you that you’ve been watching telly all wrong. Apparently there’s a setting on modern televisions that makes films look rubbish and you need to turn it off otherwise your enjoyment of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” may not be as world-alteringly glorious as it could otherwise have been. So now you know.

Okay, so we’ve got to go there I’m afraid. We’ve got 350 words left of our “don’t drone on” word allowance and we’re going to have to fritter them away on Brexit. As the countdown towards next Tuesday’s Commons vote on TM the PM’s deal continued this week, it was becoming not so much “Mission Impossible: NI Backstop” as “War of the Worlds / Eyes Wide Shut / Risky Business” (pick your favourite Tom Cruise movie title that doesn’t quite work well enough for the joke to land).

As the Brexit debate (Interview with a Vampire?) began in the Commons on Tuesday, TM the PM lost three votes in just over an hour, all of them in some way significant. Perhaps the most significant (although being held “in contempt of parliament” ranks pretty highly too) was an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve that will give MPs a say in what on earth happens should (when) TM lose Tuesday’s vote. Wednesday’s papers didn’t hold back:

“The day May lost control” (The Telegraph); “63 Minutes of Mayhem” (The Mirror); “ Brexit on knife-edge” (The Mail); “Sabotage Brexit at your peril” (Express) and “PM’s darkest May” (The Sun, whose pun team were clearly having a bad day after a big night out).

So what will happen? No one has any idea whatsoever. TM still seems to believe she can win. No one else agrees with her. The right-wing press are, for the first time, getting nervous: “Wrecksit – MPs have stolen Brexit” (The Sun) but that’s not to say that there’s any sort of coherent opposition to suggest an acceptable alternative. Aside from the most mouth-frothy of anti-Europeans, everyone agrees that “No Deal” would be catastrophic for the UK but how this is avoided while not alienating millions of Leave voters remains the stuff that dreams are made on. Even Tom Cruise can’t help us. And he’s Tom Cruise.

What next Friday will look like is, quite frankly, anyone’s guess. But we’ll be back to pick up the pieces the best we can. See you then.


A mini indulgence:

This week marks the 100th edition of the Friday Speed Read. Its longevity is testament to the crazy times we’ve been living through but also to the many readers who get in touch to say that they’ve enjoyed it. It’s good to know that I’m not babbling into a void.

Thanks very much to the various colleagues who’ve picked up the Speed Read pen in my absence and special thanks to Kelly Pepworth, MD of Speed, who sorts out my grammar, removes the worst of my jokes and whose support for the whole endeavour is the real reason The Speed Read has lasted this long.

Here’s to the next hundred.


7th December 2018

Oh yes, here’s my favourite song in the world. Just because. 


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