A few years ago, I got a bit fed up with receiving Christmas cards from my friends designed to show off just how well they were doing. A typical card consisted of five or six blonde children on ponies or quad bikes with a massive country house in the background. The caption would be something like: “Greetings from Shropshire.”
So I came up with an idea. Why not create my own version? I’d get my four children to strike a variety of delinquent poses. One would be outside QPR stadium, fag in mouth and can of beer in hand. Another would be doing an impression of Lord Coke with a rolled-up £10 note sticking out of his nose. My daughter would be pushing a double buggy containing two snotty babies and sporting a Croydon facelift. This is when they were all aged eight and under, which would have added to the joke. The caption would have read: “Greetings from Acton.”
I didn’t do it in the end, partly because I haven’t ruled out standing as the Tory candidate in Ealing Central and Acton. It’s exactly the sort of thing that would be reproduced on a leaflet by the sitting Labour MP, illustrating just what a heartless Tory bastard I am. But I was reminded of it earlier this week when I got a round robin email from the chair of the local residents association about a murder that had taken place on the corner of our road. (To read more, click here.)
The Prime Minister isn’t recommending that sickness benefit should be cut. Rather, he’s asked Dame Carol Black, the Chair of the Nuffield Trust, to assess a range of different strategies for reducing the level of obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism, including withholding benefits from those who refuse to seek treatment.
The economic case for tackling these problems is overwhelming. A recent study by McKinsey and Company estimates that obesity and its related medical conditions costs the British economy £47 billion a year, while the government puts the cost of alcoholism at £21 billion. Much of that cost is borne by the NHS, so reducing the scale of these preventable diseases will create some much-needed savings.
Then there’s the human case. (To read more, click here.)
Is this my Groucho Marx moment? Harriet Harman said earlier today that my application to become a “registered supporter” of the Labour Party had been turned down. I was “bogus” and had been “weeded out” [http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/28/harriet-harman-we-are-weeding-out-bogus-labour-leadership-voters?CMP=twt_gu]. Looks like I won’t be able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn after all [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/politics-blog/11680016/Why-Tories-should-join-Labour-and-back-Jeremy-Corbyn.html]. This is a club that doesn’t want me as a member.
Harman’s comment was in response to the news that up to 140,000 people have signed up to vote in Labour’s forthcoming leadership election [http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/07/ed-milibands-legacy-140k-new-hard-left-members-sign-up-to-back-corbyn/]. She said the party would be employing a battery of tests to check the bona fides of these new members and supporters, including listening to two-thirds of the recorded phone calls that union members are required to make in order to register to vote. “We are policing the integrity of this process,” she said. “The system is designed to give people that are supporters of the party, but not necessarily a member, a say in choosing the leader of the Labour Party.”
Harman’s in a tricky spot here. (To read more, click here.)
Is the #ToriesForCorbyn campaign politics at its most infantile? As one of the few conservative commentators willing to defend it in the media, I’ve been doing my best to rebut that charge.
The most frequent line of attack is that there’s something dishonest about it. The Labour leadership election isn’t an open primary. It’s restricted to members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters. Okay, you can become a registered supporter for £3 – one of the changes brought in by Ed Miliband to reduce union influence – but only by pretending to be a Labour sympathiser. And that’s just wrong.
The short answer to this is that no such pretence is necessary – at least, it wasn’t when I signed up via the Party’s website. In response to the question “Why did you sign up?”, I wrote “To consign Labour to electoral oblivion”. Nothing fraudulent about that. (To read more, click here.)
Forget about the countryside. When is the government going to do something about the vulpine creatures wreaking havoc in Central London? The situation is now so out of control, it’s time the Prime Minister convened a meeting of COBRA to discuss the ginger menace.
I’m talking, of course, about the horde of SNP MPs who’ve invaded Westminster. Actually, I’m not, but I couldn’t resist that gag. No, foxes are the problem. I don’t actually keep a chicken coop in my back garden in Acton – and, for that reason, I’m spared the site of my beloved poultry lying in a pool of blood with their heads bitten off. But I still have a long list of complaints.
First, there’s the appalling sound they make, particularly during the mating season. When I first heard one of these vile beasts at full cry, I ran upstairs in a panic, convinced that an intruder had broken into my house and was now torturing one of my children. The noise of a howling fox is uncannily like that of a human child in pain. It’s guaranteed to produce a momentary spasm of reflexive alarm even when you’ve heard the same bloodcurdling shriek every night for the past 10 years.
Then there’s the threat they pose to domestic animals. (To read more, click here.)
I wonder how many Scots who voted “Yes” in last year’s referendum are watching events unfold in Greece and having second thoughts? It’s not quite a “there, but for the grace of God” moment, but it’s not far off.
This analogy depends upon two big assumptions, both of which will be disputed by the nationalists.
The first is that Scotland would not have automatically been allowed to remain in the EU following a “Yes” vote, but, as a new state, would have had to apply for membership and, as a condition of joining, would have been forced to join the euro.
How questionable is this assumption? (To read more, click here.)
I took my three boys for a cycle ride in Richmond Park on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a good way to relax, but I had to be back home in Acton by 2.15pm for my daughter’s 12th birthday party. Given that we didn’t leave the house until 11am and were relying on public transport we were slightly up against it.
We got to the Park at Noon, which gave us about 75 minutes to complete a seven-mile circuit, allowing for an hour to get home. Just about doable, but only if all three boys went flat out and resisted the urge to get off and push when we were going uphill. The weakest link was seven-year-old Charlie who still has the same bike he had when he was five. No gears and tiny wheels, so he has to peddle twice as quickly to keep up. There was something both heart-warming and comical about him as he powered forward, his little legs pumping like pistons. From time to time, I would swoop up behind him on my bike, place my hand in the small of his back, and give him a “turbo boost”.
He managed to keep going on some of the shallower inclines, but when we came to the really steep hill in the final stretch he slowed to a snail’s pace. By now it was 12.45pm and we only had 30 minutes to complete the circuit and get back to Richmond station. (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, it’s difficult to feel a huge amount of sympathy for the striking tube workers, particularly if you’ve had to walk to work this morning. The drivers, who have rejected a two per cent pay rise and a £2,000 bonus for working on the all-night service, start their working life on a salary of £49,673, which is more than some hospital doctors earn. They then see their wages increase to between £50,000 and £60,000 a year in the first five years. Doesn’t appear to be an absolutely terrible deal. After all, doctors have to train for an average of 10 years, whereas you can become a tube driver having left school at 16 with just two GCSEs.
But as a conservative, I think there are plenty of reasons to support the strike. I know that sounds absurd, but bear with me.
1. It’s an opportunity to remind people that Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT who died last year, lived in a council flat in a Labour borough in spite of being paid £145,000 a year. That doesn’t reflect well on the Labour Party and its allies in the trade union movement. The Chancellor put a stop to such abuses in yesterday’s budget. From now on, those living in subsidised housing who earn more than £40,000 in London (or £30,000 outside London) will have to pay the full market rent. (To read more, click here.)
This weekend will see thousands of people flocking to the Henley Regatta, many of them resplendent in stripy blazers. If previous years are anything to go by, we’ll also be treated to a barrage of complaints about Henley’s archaic dress code. “Jeans, shorts, denim or trainers are NOT acceptable,” says the official website. [Itals] No shorts?!? [itals] Many people think this is ridiculous stuffy in the 21st Century, particularly in weather as sweltering as this.
I’m a great believer in dress codes. Not because I have a particular reverence for the sartorial traditions associated with the English social season, but because they provide a perfect excuse for a pastime that is even more quintessentially British than donning a cravat to watch a boat race – namely, whinging. Defenders of dress codes can mutter about falling standards each year, particularly at Ascot, while sceptics can condemn the “golf club mentality” of the “petty martinets” who see it as their job to enforce them. A true Brit is never happier than when complaining about something – and ‘How to whinge’ should really be taught as one of the “British values” that schools are now required to include on the curriculum. (To read more, click here.)
Two months ago, I set myself the target of losing 11 pounds in time for the Spectator’s summer party on 1st July. To help achieve that, I swore off alcohol and, had I succeeded, my plan was to start drinking again at the party. Well, I managed the weight loss, but I didn’t make it to the party because it clashed with a Board meeting of the educational charity I set up five years ago. The upshot is I haven’t started drinking again and I’m now debating whether to remain tea total for the rest of the year.
Temperance has its advantages. I’ve experienced almost no headaches or stomach aches since I gave up the booze, although that may also be connected with my diet. I’ve cut out bread, biscuits, crackers, potatoes, pasta, ice cream and chocolate and tried to limit myself to about 1,000 calories a day. I’m permanently hungry and often gagging for a drink, but the upside is a sense of moral superiority when seeing my less abstemious friends, particularly when they’re washing down carbohydrates with copious quantities of wine. In his autobiography, Keith Richards relates that one of the few compensations of giving up heroin was watching the different emotions flitting across the faces of his former drug buddies when he declined to partake. First they looked shocked, then angry, then hurt, as if he was passing judgment on them – which, of course, he was. I know what he means. (To read more, click here.)