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Wednesday 30 November 2022

The Wonder Of Momentary Interest

England 3 Wales 0. And that, apart from an occasional caution on the possible shortage of free range turkeys this Christmas, a new Alzheimer’s drug, and fewer than half the UK population now identifying at Christian, is almost all the front page news on offer today. Momentary Interest has replaced reality as news. Which suits our free and fearless press just fine.

Why Marcus Rashford, who scored two of those goals, is especially well known - advocating for free school meals - is not told. That would mean the press having to admit that there is increasing poverty, and especially child and food poverty, across the country (the Express gives more prominence to Phil Foden, who scored the other goal, but they’re not racist, honestly).

The identity of hacks writing up what was supposed to be a sports story was also interesting: The Murdoch Sun’s front page lead, with its banner headline “RASH BANG WALLOP!”, is attributed to chief reporter Nick Parker, he of handling a stolen mobile phone infamy. Parker has also featured on Zelo Street helping the Murdoch mafiosi stoking hate against the GRT community.

So readers Look Over There, including those few hardy souls who, for reasons best known to themselves, tune in to Gammon Broadcasting™ News (“Bacon’s News Channel”). So they won’t have seen Calvin Robinson, a host at the broadcaster, putting a photo of Enoch Powell in his Twitter bio, and quoting from Powell’s infamous 1968 “Rivers of Blood” Speech.

And, Looking Over There, they won’t see stories which even the Mail is carrying (but not on the front page) suggesting “Suella Braverman 'failed to act' on warnings about diphtheria outbreaks at migrant centres across mainland Europe … The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued an alert more than seven weeks ago urging governments to step up measures including vaccination against the infection

Nor will that vast majority of the population that has wedded itself to the motor car have seen the effects of rail operator indifference and ineptitude that leave those who commute by rail stranded, having to take taxis, and arriving home rather later at night than they had intended. But they will know that those taking strike action are the root cause of it all (they’re not).

Worse, they won’t know why people take industrial action, because not only has that been edited out of much press coverage of disputes in favour of demonising union leaders, but also that the press now has its own Squirrel! event to cover its tracks. England won - what’s your problem?

A winning national football team is like manna from heaven for most of the press, because most of the press backs the Tory party, and right now, all that the Tory party stands for is continuing infighting, a refusal to admit reality into any and all policy discussions, and a rather more serious refusal to take the blame for fouling up the economy on their watch.

Moreover, with most papers now just tabloids, a football photo can fill the entire front page on its own. Cuts out doing actual journalism, which, given decades of running down staff numbers, is another win. And not many churning out the football stories are willing to confront the obvious corollary: what happens when there is no more England football good news?

Because that would mean telling readers that there is a cost of living crisis - anyone who does their own shopping knows that a week does not pass when one or more items in the basket or trolley has increased in price, and often by non-trivial amounts - which does not affect all those obscenely overpaid star hacks and columnists. It would mean letting reality into the room.

They wouldn’t object to majoring on the “less than 50% identify as Christian” story from this morning, mind. Even though most of them would run a mile rather than behave in anything like a Christian manner. Like football, Christianity is something they love to talk about, but not practice.

But only football can be guaranteed to be the momentary interest by which the proletariat is diverted from its struggle. The country is truly screwed.

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Sunday 27 November 2022

Sunday With Laura K - Not Improving

Less than three months ago, Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, the much trailed and long awaited successor to The Andy Marr Show™, made its debut, and it was an inauspicious one, mainly because comedian Joe Lycett, by not taking the occasion as seriously as the BBC most likely intended, held up a mirror to the Westminster Media Bubble, and those inside that closed world did not like what they saw. So has the show matured, improved?

It's Sunday, it's 0900 hours ...

Sadly, it has not. And the impression is given that the Beeb’s management knows it hasn’t: otherwise, why would the BBC website carry, on its opening page, an item telling us “LIVE Harper and Nandy face Kuenssberg’s questions”? Is the Laura K show now being commodified in the same way as the latest outing for Strictly Come Dancing? Or is it just desperation?

Why there might be more than a little desperation is not hard to understand: the edgy aspect of panel guests who might react in, shall we say, an unpredictable manner has been swiftly excised, so today we got a Tory MP, the General Secretary of the TUC, and someone with their own show to plug. There would be nothing coming out of left field. It would be safe TV.

But it would be tedious TV: the only moderately interesting moment came not from Ms Kuenssberg, but from Frances O’Grady making, with some passion, the case for workers to be adequately rewarded for their efforts, especially those who work long hours for modest reward in and around the NHS.

We got Transport Secretary Mark Harper. Who he? He was tedious, the lines of questioning were tedious, and what was a nailed-on certainty was that his presence was not going to be balanced by an interview with Mick Lynch of the RMT, or Mick Whelan of the ASLEF. No, the balance came from Sunday morning politics show regular Lisa Nandy. Who was not in the studio.

The interview of Ms Nandy demonstrated superbly why the Laura K show might be shipping viewers: it was the usual utterly predictable litany of lame Gotcha questions, which anyone with brain plugged in and a hole in their backside instinctively knew that Ms Nandy would bat away without a problem.

Would Labour hand out inflation busting, or at least inflation matching, pay rises to nurses, rail workers, teachers and lecturers, and any other group now threatening or taking strike action? Would she stand on a picket line? What about the Single Market and Customs Union? What about Free Movement? How many houses would Labour commit to build? At least we’re no longer getting the ultimately trivialising “Can a woman have a willy?

... and the audience is suitably enraptured

You knew what Ms Nandy was going to be asked, even before the interview started. The only moderately interesting input from the panel, apart from the urging to understanding from Frances O’Grady, was that Tory MP Jake Berry was not coming out with guns blazing. There was no “yah boo lefties” from him, but instead, more circumspection, a more listening mode.

Otherwise, it was a singularly pointless hour’s television. There was none of the light relief one might have expected from the Marr Show in the form of human interest or entertainment news and interviews, or of course the musical interlude to close the show. And if there is so little point to it, the question has to be asked: is there not a better use of licence payer funds?

We are being told, for the most part, what the political and media establishment thinks of itself regarding the issues du jour. And it’s downright boring. Small wonder the new channels peddling what Jon Stewart called “Opinutainment” are finding a niche for themselves, albeit minor and as yet unprofitable. And the rest of BBC politics output is often little better.

The supposedly flagship debate show Question Time has been bedevilled by accusations of audience stacking in favour of right wingers, bias and poor handling of debates by host Fiona Bruce, and the over-representation of those Astroturf lobby groups and their hangers-on who are invariably described as from “think tanks”, rather than the hard libertarian right.

This matters: the mood among the public is slowly but surely darkening, as realisation dawns that living standards are going to get worse for the next two years - maybe longer - while across the Channel, EU member states just get on and continue their journey of steady economic growth.

The BBC needs to inhabit the real world. And make more worthwhile TV.

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Saturday 26 November 2022


The BBC report was unenthusiastic about the latest news from London’s Mayor. “London's Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is to be expanded to cover all of London, the mayor has announced, despite ‘overwhelming’ opposition. From 29 August, drivers of the most polluting cars will have to pay £12.50 a day to enter to the Greater London Authority boundary”.

There was more. “A public consultation found 80% of people in the affected areas were opposed the expansion of the zone. But Sadiq Khan says five million more people will benefit from cleaner air”. He added “there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the health of young Londoners and leading to thousands of early deaths every year, with the greatest number of deaths in the outer London boroughs”.

No prizes for guessing what the Mail thinks about that. “'Will YOU pay for my new car, Sadiq?': Fury as London Mayor confirms ULEZ expansion comes into force on August 29 next year - forcing 200,000 drivers of older vehicles to pay £12.50-a-DAY just to 'drive five minutes down road’”. Do go on.

Motorists have been expressing their outrage at the prospect of having to pay thousands more a year to commute into London, as Sadiq Khan confirmed today that the ultra-low emissions zone will be expanded to cover all of Greater London from next August. Hundreds of thousands more drivers face a daily fee of £12.50 for using London's roads after the mayor announced he will expand the zone to boost air quality. It will now stretch more than 30 miles from Uxbridge to Upminster”. Well past Barking, then.

The Mail asserts “The ULEZ expansion is only the latest action in Sadiq Khan’s war on motorists”, but admits he has introduced “measures such as a £110million scrappage scheme to support Londoners on lower incomes, disabled people, small businesses and charities to scrap or retrofit their non-compliant vehicles. There will also be a major expansion of bus services”.

And there will no doubt be more of the why-oh-why brigade moaning “what about knife crime”? Look Over There. But the Mayor has one unexpected ally: an editorial in today’s edition of the Murdoch Times. “Big Smoke-Free … Sadiq Khan is right to extend the capital’s ultra-low emission zone”.

You read that right. “Dirty air is a killer. Every year an estimated 40,000 lives are cut short in Britain as a result of air pollution, costing the economy £20 billion in healthcare and sick days”. Is this a purely altruistic conclusion? “That is why The Times launched its Clean Air For All campaign”.

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't

Even so, the inmates of the Baby Shard Bunker are right: more than 9,000 people die as a result of respiratory disease in the London metropolitan area each year, and as the Times editorial notes, “of the estimated 4,000 premature deaths from air pollution in the capital every year, the highest numbers are all in ten outer boroughs now outside the ULEZ”.

Any names? “Bromley, Barnet and Croydon”. Ah, the London Borough of Bromley - the one that scuppered Ken Livingstone’s “Fares Fair” policy in the early 1980s. As with all those Brexiteers frothing about the possibility of the UK rejoining the Single Market and Customs Union, though, there is no excuse for the Tories playing yah-boo politics just to attack Mayor Khan.

And those wanting to Look Over There at knife crime - London had 133 homicides recorded in 2021, and just under 100 were attributable to “Knife or sharp implement”. That’s not to say there should be no action on knife crime, just to point out that the numbers for premature pollution deaths are larger.

The 70mph speed limit was unpopular. Mandatory wearing of seat belts was yet more unpopular. Drink-drive laws were, too, especially when the hated breathalyser was ushered in when the minister was a woman (Barbara Castle, for those not of A Certain Age). Banning use of hand-held mobile phones is highly unpopular. Parking restrictions are also unpopular.

But, guess what? Being able to taste the pollution isn’t exactly popular, either. Nor is the prospect of lives cut short by respiratory disease. That is all.

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Thursday 24 November 2022

Tories Cash In Singing Mone-y Mone-y

The tens of billions expended on a test and trace system that seemed not to work may have been the tipping point: that moment when the wider public became unmoved by the scale of waste from alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his pals. We may have been dismayed and disgusted at the largesse, but we were no longer surprised.

Phwoar! What a bank balance!!

That lack of surprise extended to the revelation of the so-called VIP Lane, whereby Bozo’s Government gave priority to companies with, shall we say, appropriate political connections, when it came to awarding contracts for PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic. And, as the Guardian has now revealed, one beneficiary appears to have been Tory peer Michelle Mone.

It had been suggested that she had lobbied repeatedly for a company called PPE Medpro, which then secured substantial Government contracts to supply PPE after apparently being placed in the VIP Lane. The value of those contracts was over £200 million. But what was in it for her and her second husband, billionaire financier Douglas Barrowman? Ah well.

The answer to that one shows just how much troughing the Tories and their pals have been enjoying, while most of the population languishes in an increasingly parlous financial state. “The Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts after she recommended it to ministers, documents seen by the Guardian indicate”.

HOW MUCH?!? But there’s more. “Documents seen by the Guardian indicate tens of millions of pounds of PPE Medpro’s profits were later transferred to a secret offshore trust of which Mone and her adult children were the beneficiaries”. Tens of millions moved in their general direction. As you do.

Do go on. “Asked by the Guardian last year why Mone did not include PPE Medpro in her House of Lords register of financial interests, her lawyer replied: ‘Baroness Mone did not declare any interest as she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity’ …The leaked documents … appear to contradict that statement”.

The nuances of VIP Lane membership are explained to a wider audience

So from whom was the transferring done? “They state that Mone’s husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, was paid at least £65m in profits from PPE Medpro, and then distributed the funds through a series of offshore accounts, trusts and companies”. What did she see in billionaire financier Douglas Barrowman? The ultimate Mrs Merton moment.

The Guardian has been doing its homework on this one, hasn’t it? “The ultimate recipients of the funds, the documents indicate, include the Isle of Man trust that was set up to benefit Mone, who was Barrowman’s fiancee at the time, and her children. In October 2020, the documents add, Barrowman transferred to the trust £28.8m originating from PPE Medpro profits”.

And the timeline? "That was just five months after Mone helped PPE Medpro secure contracts to supply masks and sterile gowns for use in the NHS”. So what say Baroness Mone of Mayfair in the City of Westminster? “A lawyer for Mone said: ‘There are a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues and she is under no duty to do so’”. Max Sniffy speaks.

Jo Maugham of the Good Law Project mused “There are, I fear, many dozens of stories like this, implicating powerful Tory politicians, that the police will never investigate” before warning “The evidence is starting to emerge - there will be much, much more - of huge undisclosed financial benefit to Tory Peers from VIP PPE deals”. Bozo partied. Others made a lot of money.

Tory sleaze made the headlines in the 1990s. Now that so many in and around our free and fearless press are desperate to keep them in power, everyone bar the Guardian is saying nothing about the latest revelations. The Mail is so desperate to get its readers to Look Over There that its front page lead is about parking fines. The Express is revisiting dementia miracle cures.

And even though the story is now known, we are still not surprised.

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Wednesday 23 November 2022

Ian Byrne’s Reselection Mystery

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected - twice - as Labour leader, we were told, especially by the right-leaning part of our free and fearless press, that for insufficiently left-wing Labour MPs, this would mean Soviet-style purges, mass reselections, and whatever it took to remove the ideologically impure from power. It was a pack of lies. It didn’t happen.

Ian Byrne

But now that Labour has a leader more to the liking of the Westminster media bubble, there are indeed reselections, one of which has already seen Sam Tarry removed as the party’s candidate to fight Ilford South at the next General Election. Then came a series of “trigger ballotsprecipitating a contest in the ultra-safe seat of Liverpool West Derby.

We were not told what the problem was with Ian Byrne, the sitting MP, who has campaigned relentlessly for the less well-off: indeed, he founded Fans Supporting Foodbanks, an initiative to address food poverty in Liverpool. But he was also an unswerving supporter of Corbyn’s leadership.

Also, it seems that there was resentment at Byrne’s selection as Labour’s candidate to replace Stephen Twigg. Then, as the shortlisting of those wishing to challenge Byrne was undertaken, it got dirty. The sitting MP was denied access to Labour’s Campaign facility, whereby party members can be contacted en masse. He was reduced to campaigning by social media.

Why was he shut out? Ah well. As with the reason for reselection, we don’t get to find out. But right on cue, someone appears to have contacted the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who proceeded to publish a characteristic slice of selective nudge-nudgery.

Labour Dismiss Nepotism Claims After MP’s Daughter Wins His Old Council Seat … LABOUR KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY” leered The Great Guido, going on to wibble “Congratulations to the newest member of Liverpool city council, 22-year old Ellie Byrne, who claimed her own stonking majority in the by-election for the Everton ward seat on Thursday - raking in 925 votes on a 62% share. A seat which, until January, was held by Ian Byrne … her father”.

The Fawkes massive also sneered “Byrne held the council position alongside his Westminster seat for over two years, presumably because he knew he was the best person for the job”. No mention that Byrne had been asked to continue in the role, nor that he had been donating his Councillor’s allowance to Vauxhall Law Centre, which provides free legal advice to those facing problems with debt, housing and the benefits system.

Who's behind the reselection waste of money?

But the post did talk about “An anonymous email from furious Labour activists leading up to the election” of his daughter. No citation. No surprise. Then there was Byrne’s opponent, Anthony Lavelle, who had previously been deemed acceptable to be shortlisted for Liverpool’s Mayoral election, after the candidate first selected was removed, as Zelo Street noted at the time.

He was a relative newcomer. He did not get the nod to stand as Mayor, so now he was standing to replace a sitting MP. But there was another hopeful, Kimberley Whitehead. Except that, on the morning of the vote that would decide who would stand as Labour’s candidate for West Derby next time round, she withdrew from the contest. Was that of her own volition?

When the contest came, it was clear that those “in the room” were mostly supporting Ian Byrne. The 2021 Overall MP of the Year, backed by Angela Rayner and Andy Burnham among others, won that vote easily. Then came the postal votes, which favoured Lavelle. But despite barring him from the party’s own systems, Byrne won. This deselection attempt failed.

But the questions will not go away. Why attempt to deselect an excellent campaigning MP? Why deny him access to the Campaign system? Why did Ms Whitehead withdraw her candidacy at the last minute? And why back Lavelle, against whom serious allegations of bullying and hate speech against a disabled fellow student have been made and apparently not rebutted?

Moreover, one further question enters: who is organising the deselection attempts? Is it David Evans? Someone on his behalf? Or was the Skwawkbox right when it claimedLabour has allocated shortlisting for local by-elections in Liverpool … to right-wing NEC member Luke Akehurst”? Who was so popular as a Councillor that his voters binned him in favour of the Greens.

Akehurst hardly dispelled the claims when he later sneeredAnyone remember the dire prophesies that Labour would lose loads of votes to the far left because the NEC had taken charge of shortlisting candidates for 3 Liverpool byelections? All 3 won by huge margins by Labour yesterday”. Taking a special interest, Luke? What about deselection attempts?

We may never find out. But this whole episode has done Labour no favours. And that is no fault of Ian Byrne. Control freakery did not work during the Blair years. It won’t work now. So how about Labour stop wasting resources on this lamentable practice and consider taking a leaf out of Ian Byrne’s book?

Like putting the poor and vulnerable first. Just a thought.

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Sunday 20 November 2022

Sunak Makes Tories Face EU Reality

Who said these words: “Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers - visible or invisible - giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world's wealthiest and most prosperous people”? And, while you’re mulling over that one, here’s another quote suddenly relevant to the economic debate.

It sometimes happens that the same Government, the same Party have to execute this volte-face. It may be their duty to do so because it is the sole manner of discharging their responsibilities, or because they are the only combination strong enough to do what is needed in the new circumstance”. Now consider the lead story in today’s edition of the Murdoch Sunday Times.

Under the headline “Britain mulls Swiss-style ties with Brussels”, readers are told “Senior Government figures are planning to put Britain on the path to a Swiss-style relationship with the European Union … The move, intended to forge closer economic ties, is likely to infuriate hardline Conservative Brexiteers”. There was more. Rather a lot more.

Last week, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, signalled that Downing Street intended to break from the approach of Boris Johnson and remove the majority of trade barriers with the bloc … senior Government sources have suggested that pursuing such frictionless trade requires moving to a Swiss-style relationship over the next decade … However, they insist that this would not extend to a return to freedom of movement”. Like heck it wouldn’t.

As Hunt’s Autumn Statement made crystal clear last week, the UK will be short of the economic growth it needs, and for several years to come. The Tories have hemmed themselves in by shouting the odds over migration, only to realise that, without those new workers, the country will be worse off.

What should also be focusing minds within the Tory party, but won’t be any time soon for the headbanger tendency of the so-called European Research Group, is that they face almost certain, and most likely catastrophic, defeat at the next General Election. But there is an issue on which Rishi Sunak, and his sidekick Hunt, can outflank Labour - and that, perversely, is the EU.

Yes, the EU, where Kier Starmer has resolutely and consistently, to the dismay of many of his supporters, set his party against not just rejoining the trade bloc, but even signing up to the Single Market and Customs Union. Because a “Swiss-style deal” is code for joining both of those. And the Swiss have to accept free movement. Also, we would not get a Swiss deal.

Those movers and shakers within the EU know not only that the Swiss’ arrangement was messy, complicated and above all time consuming, but also that the UK, and especially the Tories, don’t have the luxury of time on their side. So they can play hardball and direct any enquiries from the Westminster Government to the sign that says “Single Market and Customs Union or nothing - do you want it or what?” They know our Government would want it.

Yes, the Brexiteer fringe, exemplified by the mildly anti-Semitic outburst overnight from former Brexit Party Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, who rantedRishi Sunak is a Goldman Sachs globalist, so this sellout of Brexit is not surprising. The Tories must be crushed” (jackboots at the ready, apparently) will froth and moan. But they have no plan to offer.

Sunak and Hunt know this all too well: the Tories’ own anti-European headbanger fringe can’t see beyond giving Johnny Foreigner the finger. At every meeting where the PM faces frothing, beetroot-faced Europhobes, he simply has to respond “OK, I hear you - now what’s your alternative?

And no alternative worth the name will be ponied up. You want better economic growth - here’s a single market of 500 million people. You want to redeem yourselves in the minds of the electorate - admit you messed up and show you’re working to sort it. Which brings us back to those two quotes at the beginning of the post. From Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill.

Brexiteers revere Churchill and Mrs T. Maybe, just once in a while, they should listen to what the two of them actually said.

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Saturday 19 November 2022

Daily Mail Pays Off Koo Stark

The real world as inhabited by the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker, striving away under the less than benign direction of the Mail titles’ editor in chief, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, includes the frequent calculation as to whether those they smear and defame will take legal action as a result. This week revealed another case where they miscalculated.

Koo Stark

Showing that, when it comes to the Royals, it’s not just Haz and Megs that the Dacre Doggies go after, the Daily Mail targeted the Duke of York in late 2019, and the resulting article, along with its nudge-nudge headlines, but either without the basic research that would have shown it to be defamatory, or the possible decision to publish anyway, got through the entire editing process, and was presumably legalled. Its target was one Koo Stark.

Those of A Certain Age will remember Prince Andrew’s friendship with Ms Stark, a model, actress and photographer, in the early 1980s. What can also be discovered without too much trouble is that, while she starred in at least one film categorised as “erotic”, she was not a porn star.

That did not stop the Mail telling its readers “Embarrassing stunts. Shocking misjudgements. And VERY shady friends. Photos that prove Andrew's always been a … Duke of Hazard” and photos of the Duke with Ms Stark alongside the caption “The Prince and the porn star”. So with the inevitability of night following day, Ms Stark instructed lawyers, with the equally inevitable result.

Two years after the article saw the light of day, the Mail has caved, possibly at the door of the court. “We accept that Ms Stark is not a 'very shady' porn star and has never participated in any pornographic enterprise, nor would a relationship with her be a 'shocking misjudgement'. In fact, she was a professional actress appearing in film, TV and on stage. We apologise to Ms Stark for the distress caused and have agreed to pay her substantial damages and her legal costs” is the grovelling apology.

What also comes clear from nothing more than a perusal of Ms Stark’s Wikipedia entry is that, one, she has had no compunction in instructing lawyers in the past, including against the Mail titles, and two, she has successfully sued at least one publication that called her a “porn star”.

What the f***'s wrong with press freedom, c***?!?!?

Here’s the Wiki entry on the latter claim: “In another libel action in 2007, Stark won an apology and substantial damages from Zoo Weekly magazine, which had described her as a porn star. She commented ‘I am relieved that my name has been cleared of this false, highly damaging and serious allegation which has been proved to be completely untrue’”. And the Mail titles?

Here it comes: “In 1988, Stark brought a successful libel action against The Mail on Sunday over an untrue story headed 'Koo dated Andy after she wed’”. Which strongly suggests that the Mail titles knew full well that their article was libellous, and knew that Ms Stark would sue. But they still published. That article went through all those hands. And they all approved it.

Why? Because the penalty imposed by the courts, or in this case the cost of settling an action before it gets to the court, is deemed worth it: the Mail titles carry on defaming their targets in the knowledge that what ordinary people would find ruinously expensive is mere petty cash to the Dacre doggies.

As to the level of harm and distress caused, the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker - and those at other papers - long ago ceased to care. For them, freedom of speech means freedom to say what they want, when they want, about whom they want, whether or not it is true.

The only interest the Mail serves is its own. Any claim otherwise is bunk.

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Friday 18 November 2022

Tufton Street - Cry Me A River

And so the day came for the Autumn Statement, that event which, this year, meant the current Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer cleaning up the financial mess bequeathed them by the mercifully short tenure of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, which had worsened the UK’s finances, meaning that taxes would have to rise, if only to restore the country’s credibility.

Jeremy Hunt (the former Culture Secretary) did not disappoint in bringing pain to many taxpayers, and indeed many taxpayers who work for our free and fearless press. It was another of those dead giveaway moments, in the same vein as the media class claiming that £85,000 did not put one in the top 5% as a means of attacking then shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

That showed how obscenely overpaid all those hacks and pundits were; the howls of anguish at Hunt reducing the top rate tax threshold show that those higher up the press pecking order are similarly overpaid. When the Daily Mail claims “TORIES SOAK THE STRIVERS”, it means people at the Mail, and other titles, who churn out piss-poor opinion pieces, will pay more tax.

Echoing the Mail line, and demonstrating that it is a title leaning heavily on its past reputation, the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph uses a quote as its main headline (Bill Deedes would have spiked that one), and tells readers “Welfare bill rises by £90bn as Hunt protects pensioners against inflation but clobbers workers with tax rises”. The Tel of old would never, but never, use a word like “clobbers”. Nor would it call pensions “welfare”.

But the press moaning about increased taxes for Themselves Personally Now was a mere Hors d’Oeuvres for the more substantial Entrée delivered by the denizens of Tufton Street and the surrounding area, those Astroturf lobby groups who would have been best advised keeping silent.

We know that the alphabet soup of right-wing Government bashers have thrown a collective mardy strop over Hunt’s budget as their pals, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, have dutifully relayed the pearls of very little economic wisdom to a wider audience, telling “Free Market Wonks Recoil At Hunt’s Tax Rises”.

The post includes priceless lines such as “The [so-called] TaxPayers’ Alliance Chief Executive John O’Connell slammed the Chancellor for whacking up taxes on working families”. As if O’Connell and his fellow propagandists know anything about those in our society who make a positive contribution to the economy, unlike himself and his pals at the TPA.

The whining was equally loud at the Adam Smith Institute, that museum of outdated economic thought that has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics: “Head of Research Daniel Pryor declared the statement ‘a return to managed decline’”. And then came the IEA.

There, The Great Guido notes “Director-General Mark Littlewood was similarly unhappy”. Well, excuse me for not giving a rat’s arse about Littlewood, anyone else at the IEA, or indeed anyone at the ASI or TPA. Because it was their advocacy - and especially that of the IEA - that landed the economy, and all of us, in deep shit in the first place.

What the Truss and Kwarteng interlude has demonstrated superbly is that the medicine prescribed by the Tufton Street mafiosi is utterly poisonous to real world economies. As the wider public becomes wise to this detail, they may not take too kindly to the press slavishly recycling all those press releases, all those claims of “research”, all those “reports”, all those talking heads.

It’s time to put the alphabet soup of right-wing Astroturf lobby groups where it belongs - in the bin. We will all be poorer thanks to their quack doctory.

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Thursday 17 November 2022

GB News Replatforms Actual Fascist

Still the search for any potential path to profitability goes on among the management at Gammon Broadcasting™ News (“Bacon’s News Channel”), and such is the desperation to entice the public to tune in, the broadcaster’s choice of guests has resulted in some of questionable principle and, indeed, extreme stance being given a platform to air their views.

And the latest example of GB News inviting extremists to participate in their particular brand of what Jon Stewart called “Opinutainment” is especially inexcusable, given that the presenter responsible, junior motormouth Patrick Christys, had previously given a platform to the same extremist, Jack Buckby, who has a grim record of backing, and indeed fronting, far right campaigns.

The GB News Twitter feed told yesterday that “'The topics that the far right groups prey on and weaponise are things that a vast majority of Brits agree on... most people aren't woke’ … Counter-Extremism researcher Jack Buckby discusses the growing number of right-wing extremist ‘influencers’”.

Quite apart from yet another deliberate misuse of WOKE, calling Buckby a “counter-extremism researcher” is total tosh. It was Buckby who, after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, stood in the Batley and Spen by-election, representing Liberty GB, “an ‘Anti-Islamisation’ party that calls itself a ‘radical patriotic conservative’ organisation’”. Bunch of racist bigots, more like.

Buckby told his followers at the time “if #BritainFirst Jo Cox shooting rumour is true , it’s either moronic BF damaging our cause as always, or false flag from #Remain campaign”. “Our cause”. Blaming the Remain campaign for the murder of an MP. He ranted at a fellow guest on Channel 4 News “Take in a Syrian refugee, I hope you don’t get raped”. Some “researcher” he is.

Spot the difference

Buckby was also in the BNP: “I initially got involved with the BNP in high school. I wasn’t very political, but I had my opinions, as everyone does. I saw Nick Griffin and the real bias that he was facing on the television and I thought, 'That can’t be right.' I did my own research and thought, 'Shit, I agree with him. He actually seems like a good bloke.' I started supporting it and went through college being the notorious BNP guy. It was later that I met Nick and started talking about these culturist ideas”. “Seems like a good bloke”.

All this was known the last time GB News gave Buckby a platform, as was his equally known endorsement of Jack Renshaw, who is now serving life imprisonment for conspiring to murder a Labour MP, and a Police Officer. They knew who he was. That was no problem to giving him an invite.

The last time Buckby appeared with Christys, he was bleating “People on the right are so scared of being smeared as being far-right extremists to the point where they say the far-right doesn't exist”. This time, it’s “The topics that the far right groups prey on and weaponise are things that a vast majority of Brits agree on”. See? He’s just a mainstream pundit. Nothing to see here.

This is where fascism inevitably leads

And so it was that GB News legitimised an actual fascist, not once, but twice, presenting Buckby as some kind of genuinely concerned “researcher”. This is not about FREEZE PEACH. GB News can invite whoever they want to dispense their punditry. It is about mainstreaming actual fascists, and actual fascism. Buckby, as I told previously, is a fully paid-up member of The Fash.

Something for advertisers to consider, no doubt. Over to Stop Funding Hate.

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Sunday 13 November 2022

The Message Of Remembrance

In the midst of political turbulence, one November event remains a constant, that being the act of Remembrance in London’s Whitehall. The monarch has changed, there are now seven former Prime Ministers, the number of veterans from World War 2 and the Korean War has dwindled further, but we in the UK still lead the world when it comes to putting on the ceremonial.

The Cenotaph in London's Whitehall

That much stands unchallenged: what does not is the explanation, the understanding of what we are remembering and why. As with so much nowadays, the answers vary, depending on which side one chose when voting in the 2016 EU referendum. Brexiteers may favour the argument that this shows the world that the UK is still a world power, a global player.

But this is complete bunk. It isn’t about flag shagging, it isn’t about giving Johny Foreigner the finger, it isn’t about How We Won Two World Wars (mainly because the UK was, increasingly, a bit-part player in those victories), it isn’t about putting one over on anything defined by our free and fearless press as WOKE, and it certainly isn’t about rabid nationalism.

It is, however, about remembering all those who went off to war on the say-so of a variety of Governments (Liberal in 1914, Tory in 1939, Labour in 1950), and never returned. It is about giving thanks to those from Empire, and later Commonwealth, countries, who volunteered in their hundreds of thousands to fight for the UK, men of many races, and many religious faiths.

That is why those war graves cemeteries contain so many headstones not only bearing the Christian cross, but also the Star of David, and the crescent moon and star, or Arabic script. Yes, many of those Scary Muslims™ fought and died for this country, and scant respect is given to their memory from all too many, including politicians and other opinion formers.

All those High Commissioners, all those Ambassadors, all those religious leaders attending the service at the Cenotaph, their presence should be a starting point for those who don’t understand why they are there to find out, to learn, to understand. We didn’t win any of those wars on our own; even the Falklands conflict depended on co-operation from other states.

What too many people in the UK will also not learn from that service of Remembrance is what happened to this country in the process of engaging in so many wars: an Empire in 1914 was, by 1945, so weakened that it was almost bankrupt. It took far too long for our politicians to learn that they must join the European club in order to retain any credibility as a world power.

That should have been glaringly obvious after the Suez débâcle, yet here we are 66 years after Suez, bad faith political actors still swaggering and sounding off, and having recently imposed sanctions upon ourselves by leaving the European Union. The most notorious of those bad faith actors never do show up at the Cenotaph, do they? Just a thought.

No, those bad faith actors will carry on telling that dwindling band willing to listen to them that it was NATO that kept the peace in Europe, not the EU. But this, too, is a basic misunderstanding of both history and geography: NATO was about collective defence against the then USSR and it satellites. It was the EU that brought economic cooperation, and with it, peace, within Europe.

All those Empire realms are no longer tied to the UK. They aren’t about to come running to our aid any more. Yes, they will remember with us all those who went to war and did not come back, because their people suffered losses too. Remembrance is about respecting those lost people, those lives cut short, those families and relationships that never were.

But it does not mean the UK is better than A N Other country. That penny may never drop in the land of the Brexiteer right-wing, people who got the legacy of Empire wrong, got our relationship with the Commonwealth wrong, got the understanding of all those wars wrong, got the EU wrong, got Brexit wrong, got the economics wrong, and are now getting Remembrance wrong.

We remember and honour the dead. But too many do not get the message.

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Saturday 12 November 2022

Daily Mail Woke Story ISN’T

Many years ago, Larry Lamb, at the time editor of the Murdoch Sun, sent a memo to staff outlawing the use of what he considered unnecessarily crude language. “Do not use words like BOOBS, KNOCKERS, SCREW and FANNY … do not use BLOODY unless the context requires it … Use English” was his message. If only today’s Mail titles were so hot on language misuse.

Under the less than benign leadership of their editor in chief, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, those titles have been gorging orgiastically on misusing one word merely to dog-whistle their readers. Which means we’re talking about the W-Word, as in WOKE. Today’s Daily Mail has produced a superb example of how our free and fearless press misuses this term.

As is usual with the Mail, the headline tells readers what they are expected to think before actually bothering to read the supporting article. “Thought policing couldn’t get more farcical? Now mail officer dons jacket to experience menopause … WOKE STUNT ROW OVER MET TERROR CHIEF’S ‘HOT FLUSH VEST’”. Misuse of WOKE. With another misuse waiting in the wings.

Britain’s anti-terror chief was accused of going woke last night after wearing a menopause jacket at work … Matt Jukes donned the garment, which has heat pads to simulate hot flushes, in a meeting to mark Menopause Awareness Month”. Misuse of WOKE again. With a retired former senior cop also misusing WOKE, probably because his comment was written for him.

So far, so Daily Mail Slow News Day. And so pretentious, with the article being claimed as an “exclusive”, most likely meaning that no-one else wanted to run it, and there is a strong possibility this means it is merely editorial propagandising. But what it tells us best is that the Mail wants to embed the equivalence of WOKE and SOMETHING BAD in its readers’ consciousness.

That requires language misuse, as WOKE has two definitions, neither of which fits the Mail’s rant. One, the more minor definition, means “well-informed, up to date”, while the other, more major definition, is “alert to injustices in society, especially racism”. What the man from the Met was doing was neither of these things. The Mail meant Political Correctness.

I'm not f***ing racist, I employ blacks and Jews, c***

So why say WOKE? As Jon Stewart might have said in response, two things here. One, the Mail is seeking to implant WOKE as a catch-all term to tell their readers something bad is happening. As a result, providing enough instances of WOKE in very large letters are put before those readers, future uses of the word will induce an almost Pavlovian reaction of hatred.

And Two, by hijacking the term, the real definition of WOKE becomes lost, papered over, hidden from reader view. Worse, correct use of WOKE induces a hate reaction - against those who are concerned about societal injustice and especially racism. It’s a win-win for the Mail titles - they get to demonise whatever they choose, while downplaying injustice and racism.

That is why the Mail, and other right-leaning papers, keep on misusing terms like WOKE. This is not a mistake, not an accident, and most certainly not some kind of blundering and howling at the moon from the Vagina Monologue and his unfortunate underlings. Being able to keep their readers both frightened and ignorant, while demonising awareness of injustice and racism, are the equivalent of a new Holy Grail among the authoritarian right.

All those years ago, even at the Murdoch press, editors like Larry Lamb wanted to use English. Dacre and his wretched editors have dispensed with such minor inconveniences. Other titles are following suit. But they would do well to remember who said “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean”. That was Humpty Dumpty, in Through The Looking Glass.

He ended up having a Great Fall. The Dacre equivalent will be worth the wait.

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Thursday 3 November 2022

A Farewell To Lisbon

It’s not just the weather: the other week, the rain lashed down across Lisbon, out came the umbrellas, and tourists took cover under a gloomy dark sky. Yet here was a capital, and a wider country, that gave the impression of being more at ease with itself, happier, and more optimistic than the UK.

View over Lisbon from O Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte in Graça

As I settled into my seat and the Intercidades rumbled across The Bridge on its way south, the question kept asking itself: what brings that difference? Is it something easily quantified? What follows shows why much of what we are fed by our print and broadcast media, so much of that informed by bad faith actors, means that countries like Britain get it badly wrong.

It’s Not About Low Taxes Portugal levies taxes on almost everything; one example is IVA, or what we call VAT. Exemption? You jest. Bottle of still mineral water? 13% on that. Legal services? That’ll be the top rate of 23%. Everything in your supermarket shop takes a hit. VAT is a highly effective tax raiser. There are also local taxes, like on your hotel bill - €2 pppn.

They Remember Life Without Democracy Less than half a century ago, this was a totalitarian dictatorship. The fear of arrest, imprisonment or worse was real, as was the censor’s red pen. Pretence of democracy was a sham: the Estado Novo knew how to get the poll result it wanted, and always got it.

Praça do Comércio, seen from O Arco da Rua Augusta

Politics Is Taken Seriously
The transport minister suggesting that Lisbon’s new airport will be across the river at Montijo, before being slapped down by the PM, was a major political event. The health minister resigning over the state of the SNS (roughly equivalent of the NHS) was moreso. Politicians are more in touch with reality and tend not to lie for kicks. Membership of the EU is not seriously challenged. A proportional voting system helps.

There Is No Monarchy Portugal became a Republic on the 5th of October 1910. There is a President, but his is an elective office, with real powers, like being able to dismiss a Government and call new elections. Sure, the press gave wall to wall coverage to the death of Isabel II, as they called Brenda, and also Carlos III, but they don’t want one of their own, thanks.

Home Ownership Need Not Mean Houses Most people, especially in cities like Lisbon, live in apartments, some of which are Very Exclusive Indeed. Many less well off people rent, and as The Big City is increasingly pricy, they live in areas like the south side of the river, commuting often by ferry. Cacilhas to Cais do Sodré, and Barreiro to Terreiro do Paço, are routes that move serious numbers of people across the water. Every day.

Catamaran Fernando Namora about to depart the Terreiro do Paço ferry terminal for Barreiro

History Is Not Optional
England, in particular, serves up a highly selective subset of the country’s history; many bad faith actors misinterpret it while denouncing those who advocate for a fuller understanding of what was done in their country’s name. In Portugal, every town has a street commemorating April 25, October 5 and December 1, alongside figures from the age of discovery to the 20th Century. Being knowledgeable about history is not difficult. It’s all around you, good, bad and indifferent.

Cities And Towns Look Cared For Outside London, even within it, the impression of post-2010 neglect is inescapable. Not so in big city and small town Portugal: yes, there is broken infrastructure (the Lisbon Metro has a grim record here), but green spaces are mowed, squares swept, litter picked. The constant grind of austerity has been eased. But not in the UK.

People Interact Congregating at cafés, meeting for dinner, conversing over a bifana, that most Portuguese of fast food (or, yes, while enjoying the ubiquitous Pasteis de Nata), just talking to one another on a train journey - while so many in the UK shut themselves away, don’t move outside their own crowd. Maybe the weather does have something to do with that one.

Part of the start-up scene: the LX Factory in Alcântara

There Is No Delusion Of Empire
The increasingly desperate and pointless colonial wars died with the expiry of the Estado Novo; former colonies became independent; most are happy with the place of Portugal on the world stage, as a medium sized country within the European Union.

Migrants Are Welcomed Sure, there are fringe politicians peddling hate, but successive Governments in Lisbon have known the value of inward migration. Hence the city being a magnet for digital nomads and start-ups. When the first plane load of refugees from Ukraine arrived, the President was first up the aircraft’s steps to welcome them personally.

There Is No Rupert Murdoch Here As with many European countries, the malign influence of the Murdoch Mafiosi is absent, so none of Rupe’s troops sticking their bugles in, telling the voters who to support, who they should like, and who they should hate. And no subsidiary of Associated Newspapers either. Trust in the written press in 2019 was 58% in Portugal; in the UK it was 15%. Media bad faith actors have poisoned the English speaking world.

Portugal, and other European countries, have much from which the UK could learn. But the largest part of the UK - England - will not listen. Sad, really.

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Wednesday 2 November 2022

Dover Petrol Bombing WAS TERRORISM

As if the problem of overstaying and overcrowding at the Manston detention centre, and the behaviour of Suella Braverman, reinstated by Rishi Sunak to the role of Home Secretary, a role for which she appears manifestly unsuited, were not enough of a distraction, Sunday brought the further divertissement of a petrol bomb attack on another refugee transit facility in Dover.

Andrew Leak

The Western JetFoil site, now disused as the jetfoils have long ceased operation, was being used to temporarily house refugees. They have now been moved to Manston (thus making the overcrowding worse) after a man driving a Seat Terraco SUV threw two or three improvised petrol bombs at the facility. He was later found dead close to a nearby petrol station.

Before anyone had even identified the man, or asked why he had mounted the attack, some were taking to social media platforms to praise him. The assembled ranks of the Gammonati wanted to give him a medal. But they soon went quiet after he was identified as Andrew Leak, a 66-year-old whose social media history showed significant evidence of radicalisation.

So it should have surprised no-one when the BBC reportedCounter-terrorism police have taken on the investigation into a firebomb attack at a Dover immigration centre … Police who identified the man as Andrew Leak, 66, from High Wycombe, said it was likely the attack was sparked by ‘some form of hate-filled grievance’ … A search warrant at a property found ‘a number of items of interest’”. Yesterday’s Guardian report went further.

Andrew Leak, the man suspected of Sunday’s firebombing of a Dover migrant centre, had a history of sharing far-right content and posting racist comments online, prompting questions about why it took police two days to treat the attack as an act of terrorism”. And there was more.

In October last year, Leak, 66, wrote that he had sent a parcel ‘to the British government’, warning it that ‘I will end illegal immigration into this country within one year from the French boat side’ … Leak, from High Wycombe, who was found dead after Sunday’s attack, made no secret of his admiration for Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League”. And more.

He pictured himself online wearing a union jack face mask, and frequently shared posts by Robinson and conspiracy theories by several far-right groups, including New World Order, the Traditional Britain Group and Turning Point UK … In a post in July, Leak claimed ‘all Muslims are guilty of grooming … they only rape non-Muslims’”. And yet more - a lot more.

Last year he wrote: ‘A message to the UK government: if you dare come for our children we will come for you. If I can not have freedom, then I will choose death’ … He also “liked” a number of far-right groups on Facebook, including Enoch Powell was Right; Close UK Borders; God Hates Islam; and Patriots party … He also posted conspiratorial and racist theories about China and Covid vaccines”. He had been radicalised by the far right.

As it was with Darren Osbourne, so it was with Andrew Leak. They get radicalised online and end up indulging in acts of terrorism. They profess their admiration for Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, and who will no doubt deny any responsibility for what happened in Dover - and, indeed, what ultimately happened to Andrew Leak.

That the Police did not immediately class as act of terrorism as it should have been suggests that Leak was not on their radar. But his Facebook wall was full of far right imagery. And he had posed with a number of face coverings - balaclavas, union flag lower face covering, grotesque masks, for instance - just to give them a clue, along with occasional outbursts of hatred.

And just to put the lid on it, as calls were being made for politicians to show a little restraint, exercise a bit of common sense over the incendiary rhetoric, Jonathan Gullis, who is at present a Tory MP, had, within 48 hours of Leak’s attack, named a hotel which was to accommodate asylum seekers.

This was a terrorist act. The Tories appear to have no problem cheering on a repeat, or maybe worse. That’s another reason for a General Election. Now.

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Tuesday 1 November 2022

Suella Braverman - In Hole, Still Digging

Like a grotesque game of whack-a-mole, the attempts by Suella Braverman, unwisely reinstated as Home Secretary by incoming Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to cover over her serial ineptitude only result in one hole being temporarily plugged, only for two more to open up. This was illustrated superbly by her singularly ill-advised Commons performance yesterday.

Ms Braverman had used her personal email account to send classified documents, on occasion to recipients who should not have seen them. This she admitted. Then she admitted it had happened six times during her first spell at the Home Office, to the suspicion of those who wondered how many times it had happened when she had been Attorney General, or elsewhere.

That put her closer to the exit door: what happened in the Commons yesterday put her yet closer. She had appeared before the inquisition of MPs to answer questions about the Manston detention centre, now housing around 4,000 refugees, though its maximum capacity is around 1,600.

She could have block booked hotels to take those having asylum claims processed; she did not. Conditions inside the Manston centre were bad, and getting worse. She was questioned; she had no credible response. And then it happened, the moment when a brown person threw rather a lot of people like her under the bus. She came over all far right and intolerant.

Adam Bienkov of Byline Times noted the outburst: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast and which is not … Let's stop pretending they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows this is not true”. The House of Commons Library briefing note on asylum claims suggests otherwise.

It notes the recent refusal rate for asylum claims of 28%, and that “In the period from 2004 to 2020, around three-quarters of applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal and almost one third of those appeals were allowed”, which suggests around 80% were indeed refugees.

Then came doubling down on the bigotry, as singularly unpleasant Lee Anderson had his 30p worth. “We’ve got Albanian criminals leaving Albania, which is a safe country, the same criminals setting up shop in France. They’re then leaving France, which is a safe country, and coming to the UK across the Channel. And then when they get into accommodation, we’ve got the opposition parties saying the accommodation is not good enough”.

Let’s have another look at that House of Commons Library note, shall we? “In 2021, 43% were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, 28% of asylum applicants were nationals of African countries, 18% were nationals of Asian countries, and 12% were from Europe”. But Ms Braverman had used Anderson’s intervention to play the victim and suggest that almost all asylum applicants were being put up in hotels. They were therefore ungrateful.

This, together with her protesting that she was the victim of a witch-hunt, that “some people want to get rid of me … let them try”, was accompanied by her declaration that the system for processing asylum applications was “broken”. She may be yet more shocked to know which party has been in power for the past 12 years and not fixed it. And as for “invasion”, well.

The annual number of asylum applications to the UK peaked in 2002 at 84,132. After that the number fell sharply to reach a twenty-year low point of 17,916 in 2010. It rose steadily again throughout the 2010s and then sharply in 2021, to 48,540, which was the highest annual number since 2003” tells the House of Commons Library briefing note. And there is more.

In 2020, there were around 6 asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU27 there were 11 asylum applications for every 10,000 people”. Perhaps those EU member states are bing invaded a little bit more. Oh, and that second hole opening up? Here’s Charlotte Lynch at LBC.

Senior Home Office source tells me Home Sec refused to sign off on hotel bookings for migrants at Manston last week ‘because they were in Tory areas’ … Source close to Manston claims Suella Braverman only approved three hotels last week which were in Labour constituencies. Priti Patel accused of doing the same when she was Home Sec and ‘they saw this coming’”.

Whoops! And the fact remains that Manston is supposed to accommodate asylum applicants for no more than 24 hours, but some have been there more than 30 days. Refugee numbers are not historically high; there are more small boat crossings of the Channel because other routes have closed.

Suella Braverman has resorted to the language of the far right, and very soon after a refugee facility in Dover was petrol bombed. The problem for her is that, once the mob is whipped up, it will not be in her gift, nor that of her press cheerleaders, to pacify it. But one example can be made: her dismissal.

Ms Braverman was for a time, but not for all time. Just rejoice at that news.

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