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Speed Read: Speaker Bercow and The Popinjay’s Revenge

Every week, The Friday Read strips down to its PE kit, does a few star-jumps and then runs around like someone desperate to shed a few post-Christmas pounds in the search for the best news stories to blend into a vegan smoothie that it then asks you to down. In one.

Is it too late to wish you a happy new year? Where are we? 11 days in to the frankly sci-fi-sounding year of 2019 (weren’t we all meant to have flying cars and robot bottoms by now?) and either you’re still pulsing with new year fervour (less meat, less flab, less Brexit) or you’ve already sunk back into all of your old habits and you’re reading this while chain-smoking a packet of Marlboro Lights listening to your Best of All Saints CD. Either way, you’re all welcome; we’re a broad church here at The Friday Speed Read, although a little less broad than we were on December 29th thank goodness.

So, what’s been happening since anyone last paid any attention? Well, fans of the beguiling variety of life’s rich pageant are going to be disappointed given that as we open our collective eyes to the freshly-minted year we find that everything is EXACTLY THE SAME as it was when we closed them, only with an added sheen of hysteria. Oh goodness, the madness is just going to continue isn’t it? Come on. We can get through this. Hold our hand; it’s going to be alright.

Let’s kick off the new year with the reassurance of familiarity and the latest instalment of the never-ending series called “Famous people getting drunk on planes” (which surely should be a podcast if it’s not already). In the drunk-seat this time was football man Wayne Rooney, who following his arrest in America last weekend, stuck firmly to the script for these things and blamed sleeping pills. “Rooney US Booze shame” (The Mirror); “Wait till I get Roo home” (The Sun, obviously). In more edifying early-week news, the TM announced that the NHS is going to save half a million more lives over the next year by focussing on early detection and prevention instead of Brexit. Good news surely? “NHS faces £1bn budget hole despite cash boost” (The Times). Oh well, at least we’ll be able to see a doctor via Skype:

(**Skype ringtone plays**)

Doctor:               Hi! You’re through to SkypeDoc! How can I make you better?

Patient:               I’ve got some chest pains and a funny rash downstairs.

Doctor:               Okay that sounds (indistinct buzzing) andddddddddddddddddd . . . .(more buzzing) .       … probably going ttttttttttttt . . . . . . ..  not good . . . . (silence) . . . . mortality and breakfast so here’s what you should  . . . . . . (picture freezes. Windows crashes).

Patient:               God bless the NHS.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Donald Trump remains president of the United States of America and democracy continues to hide its face, murmuring repeatedly that “you can’t put this one on me”. There’s not been so much media chat about walls since the halcyon days of Changing Rooms (ask your parents) as Trump refuses to back down on his desire to keep out armies of drug-toting foreigners by building a physical barrier along the US’s southern border. You know this already. The Democrats, newly empowered by their majority in the House of Representatives, are refusing to sign-off the cash required and thus large parts of the US government are in shutdown. Millions of federal employees are not being paid, services are shut and toilets are overflowing.  American carnage indeed. Trump this week made a television address from the Oval Office in an attempt to win wider support for his position and once again he reached for the dark rhetoric of fear and isolationism. By the end of the week, he was threatening to declare a State of Emergency, using the powers therein to secure funding for the wall regardless of Congress.

But hey, we’ve got our own problems.

On Friday, the Daily Star published a Brexit update on its front page: “it’s still boring”, it harrumphed like a sullen teenager. Would that it was. But no, this week witnessed the next chapter of the increasingly ludicrous novel that is “A 100 Years of Brexit”. A chapter filled with absurd changes of pace and tone, wild, scarcely credible plot twists and all whole lot of bile. But none of it, absolutely none of it boring.

If TM the PM didn’t spend the Christmas break in a haze of gin, mince pies and repeated, moist-eyed viewings of Call the Midwife then she probably should have done because she’s had another bad week. As the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit heaves ever-closer, the Prime Minister suffered a one-two blow of Commons amendments that weaken her already tissue-like grip on power. The first, engendered from a cross-party alliance led by Yvette Cooper limited the government’s ability to raise new tax revenues in the event of “no deal” (and as such making no deal less likely), the second, well, the second amendment was a little more explosive to say the least.

Few of us, we suspect, are well versed in the arcane rules of parliamentary procedure but, in short, the Speaker of the House of Commons has the ability to select what is put before MPs for discussion and voting. Usually this power is uncontroversial. Not this week. On Wednesday Speaker John Bercow selected an amendment proposed by Dominic Grieve that would force TM the PM to return to parliament only three days after the expected defeat of her Brexit deal next week; well, he may as well ripped open his Speaker’s gown to reveal a “Brexit Sux” t-shirt such was the outcry amongst Leavers. That the amendment was then passed made things even worse: Andrea Leadsom almost exploded. Literally.

The right-wing press were similarly foam-mouthed with ire. After a few post-Dacre months of being rather more nuanced, The Daily Mail rage-ometer was hoiked back to 11: “This egotistical preening popinjay . . . is a disgrace to his office”. And The Sun, well, the Sun went one further; “Speaker of the Devil” it screamed. And yes, it was chasing the pun but, pun or not, this was a national newspaper likening Bercow to Satan. This is where we are now. This is what we are.

What next week will bring is anyone’s guess.

No room for the “other news this week” paragraph (which is clearly John Bercow’s fault), although we did enjoy the story about a cruise for Flat-Earthers setting off for a voyage presumably being careful not to sail close to the edge of the disc that is our planet.

But there is room for a massive nod to tennis man Andy Murray who announced his retirement this week. Understandably not wanting to be forever in pain from his knackered hip, Murray walks away from the court as not just Britain’s best tennis man but as one our greatest ever sports people.

Here’s the moment he won Wimbledon. Seems like a world away doesn’t it? See you next week.

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