Hopes for ‘the easiest trade deal in history’ have proved to be delusions.

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Further details about Privilege, Bercow and Bradlaugh

The spectre of being censured for bullying now hangs over the Speaker, Mr Bercow, and the Leicester MP Keith Vaz. Vaz was also in the news a while back for getting entangled with rent boys.

I find the bullying issue deeply disturbing, and, more so, because a man accused of bullying is supervising an investigation into its prevalence within the Palace of Westminster. When someone challenges a bully, they sometimes respond by saying they are the victim or asserting further power. It is odd, because it is the bullying behaviour that has become so inbred, so alot of people in power have no idea at all that this is what they have been doing. Many of these people would be quite shocked, I am sure, to be told that they are bullies. More than that, to recognise that it is a habit they have got into, and a nasty habit at that.

I am sure that both Mr Vaz and Mr Bercow, friends incidentally, would be the first to object to any suggestion that they were not in control of their actions, but moments of madness happen to us all. What is needed in this whole bullying campaign is to find a way to make people in power behave better without going to court and without recrimination. These people are in power because they do power, on the whole, rather well. Sadly, it goes to their head a bit, and they need to be reined in. This is a time to give them some serious life-changing help and to make sure that help is readily available for others further down the line who also have to learn how to manage power.

Of course, some government departments and high street offices are simply designed in the 21st Century to facilitate bullying. The whole security process on the end of a telephone help-line is institutional intimidation and needs to be called out for what it is.

I remember when the TSB was the “Listening Bank” sporting wonderfully inventive adverts. Not any more. Today, it is the bank that “is sorry we have not met your high standards and that”, because of the great backlog, “may be taking a while to process your complaints.”  It can take ten minutes to get through their security and even then, they do not function properly. Bullying masking incompetence. Shocking!

Mr Bercow’s problems lie in the alleged treatment of his private secretary, Angus Sinclair and Sinclair’s successor, Kate Emms. Mr Vaz’s problems seem greater in so far as when he posed as Jim, besides getting involved with rent boys, he also discussed buying them cocaine. His treatment of Ms McCulloch seems to be centred on the fact that she was from Northern Ireland and he had apparently suggested that she was therefore “a security risk”. Fairly shocking racism if true. She also criticises his hospitality expenses. Bluntly, much of this seems to be the sort of stuff that some timely guidance could have sorted out, but there was little of that and there looks likely to be little offered. A shame all round.

As for the abuse of parliamentary privilege, that is something that needs testing. There are astonishing stories in the last 300 years where privilege has been invoked, most notably when the MP elected to serve the constituents of Northampton, practically my own area, refused to take the oath of allegiance in Parliament. This was not disloyalty to the Queen but committed atheism. At one point, he suggested that, like John Morley who had taken the oath and kissed the testament, he might just say the words and not mean them: that was not good enough for the die-hard believers. It was God or nothing. Charles Bradlaugh was elected in 1880 and finally took his seat after 6 by-elections in 1885, taking over the India office and asserting the rights of Indians in the process. He died six years’ later, a spent man. Taking on the establishment bullies in this case as well as dealing with the intricacies of Parliamentary privilege must have “done for him”.

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The problem lay in the conflict between the courts and the House of Commons. What was acceptable in the courts was not deemed right in the House, specifically to affirm rather than swear. So there was one rule in Parliament and another outside. Absurd and yet defended by the principle of Parliamentary privilege. But I suspect there were other issues of snobbery, spite and a basic fear of the modern that were at play. Bradlaugh was a self-made man who advocated family planning and universal pension. He made enemies. He was lampooned by Churchill’s father. But after 6 elections, he won. In a way. And he has a statue in Northampton to prove the point.

Common sense finally won out against an abuse of Parliamentary privilege.

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Pork Chops

In Chapter 16 of Nicholas Nickleby, Mr Gregsbury is supposed to have a “Gammon tendency”.  He is “a tough, burly, thick-headed gentleman with a loud voice, a pompous manner, a tolerable command of sentences with no meaning in them, and, in short, every requisite for a very good Member.” He is an MP, and at this point in the book, his constituents have called on him to resign. (You are dissatisfied with my conduct, I see by the newspapers) When he hears what they are calling him, however, he says,

“The meaning of the term, gammon, is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark.”

It is worth noting Dickens’ punctuation here- he adopts two commas rather than interted commas to isolate the word. I was amused to hear today that the ubiqity of “like” in street-english is simply a vocal comma. Think about it!

Anyway, the word “Gammon” has re-appeared in print. The novelist, Ben Davis, was annoyed by the number of Brexiteers on Question Time and wrote that    “the Great Wall of Gammon has had its way long enough.”

The word “Gammon” was always about jingoism, describing now a right-wing white male who probably supports Brexit; it is clearly prejorative, but then there are many words that are abusive in the English language, and Gregsbury is positively proud of the insult. It does not make these words any the less authentic, or negative but it does mean we should be careful about how they are used. There is some debate about whether the word “Gammon” is today itself racist. I think not though I am sure that many “Gammon” may well be.

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Nicholas Nickleby meets Mr Gregsbury when trying to get employment as a Parliamentary secretary. Gregsbury thinks he is being generous when he offers him 15 shillings and goes on at length about his various duties; Nicholas thinks the job is beyond him and says so.

‘Good-morning, sir,’ said Nicholas.

‘Door, Matthews!’ cried Mr. Gregsbury.


Guy Fawkes and Hallowe’en

I intensely dislike the fact that people omit the apostrophe in “Hallowe’en”. It suggest they have no idea at all about the meaning of the word and the origins of the festival (Maybe, more on that later). Mostly, I find it a little sad that today Hallowe’en eclipses the thoroughly British festival of Bonfire night on 5th November.

By the Victorian period, 5th November was known as “Guy Fawkes night” and in the early part of the 20th Century, it was rebranded “Fireworks night” to promote the sale of rockets and catherine wheels.

This week, I am in Cambridge and chanced upon a huge Guy Fawkes celebration on Jesus Green with an enormous bonfire and about 10 minutes of spectacular, if moderately repetitive, red and blue fireworks. Having taken credit for staging the event, and listing their sponsors, the event’s dj promptly boomed across the speaker system to praise the annual “free” event, and ask everyone for a minimum donation of £3 which rather suggested the event was not free after all, or that someone planned to make a sizeable profit out of it.

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Today, there is the ubiquitous mask from V for Vendatta (2006), itself based on a book by Alan Moore, but that is really a rebooting of the old myth. And myth is the appropriate word because Guy Fawkes transcends historical events. Indeed, he was not the central figure in the conspiracy at all. He was simply the most exotic and the one caught in the cellar with the gunpowder.

Guido, Guy Fawkes was born in Yorkshire in 1570, befriending some of his fellow conspirators at school, but by 1593 he had left England for Flanders and from there joined the Spanish Army to fight protestants in the Eighty Years’ War.

When the Queen was dying, he was part of a mission to The Spanish court to gather support for a second Spanish invasion and when Elizabeth was succeeded by James I, another Protestant, the die was cast and in 1604, Guy Fawkes met up with this fellow Gunpowder plotters to hatch a plan.

The Plotters were Thomas Percy, John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Bates, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Robert Wintour, Humphrey and Stephen Littleton, Robert Keyes, Ambrose Rockwood, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, and Thomas Habington.

They were led by Robert Catesby and met in Ashby St Ledgers, just up the road from where I live. He devised the plan to blow up the Houses of Paliament during the reading of the “Gracious Speech” on 5th November 1605. This also involved kidnapping James’ daughter Elizabeth and marrying her off to a senior Catholic nobleman.

Percy rented a cellar under the Parliament which meant there was no need for the elaborate plan of tunnelling under the building. It was stacked with 36 barrels of gunpowder along with wood and sticks. Fawkes took on the role of looking after this cellar and its contents, under the assumed name of John Johnson.

The conspiracy was betrayed because on 26th October, Tresham, a person who was not part of the original conspiracy, wrote to his brother-in-law William Parker, Lord Monteagle, to warn him not to attend the State Opening. Monteagle passed the letter on to the spy chief, Robert Cecil and while this chain of events leaked back to the Conspirators, they, neverthless, decided to carry on with their plan.

The Lord Chamberlain along with Monteagle searched Parliament on 4th November and located the cellar. They reported back to the king who personally ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to enter the cellar and seize Fawkes red-handed, which, indeed, he did early in the morning of 5th November. The conspiracy was exposed, Fawkes tortured for details and along with Thomas Wintour, Rockwood and Keyes, he was hanged, drawn and quartered. The day before, Digby, Robert Wintour, Grant and Bates were similarly executed.

There are stories emerging that suggest that the whole thing was an inside job and that Fawkes was really working under Cecil in a fledging MI6. This seems unlikely, but what is certain is that the king knew of the plot the day before and that Guy Fawkes’ arrest was delayed, for maximum political capital. The story certainly played well for the crown, rallying support for an unpopular successor to Elizabeth and acting as effective propaganda against a revival of Catholicism.

On the evening of 5th November 1605, people around England and Scotland apparently made bonfires to celebrate the king’s deliverance. Later, effigies, often of the Popes were added to what became an annual festival. Back in the late 70s, I recall Political figures being burnt on the sands of St Andrews. Rather more dramatic festivals continue in Lewis. This year, Theresa May was burnt on the bonfire after being paraded through the streets.




Perhaps the most entertaining fact about the original Gunpowder plot, however, lies in general stupidity. Because the conspirators left their gunpowder in the barrels for so long, the gunpowder “decayed”; it separated back into its constituent elements and was, by 5th November, pretty well useless. Had Fawkes lit the stuff, nothing would have happened. The gunpowder might have still been more effective one month earlier when Parliament had originally been scheduled to meet, but an outbreak of plague in London had caused a delay.



Aaron Banks and Andrew Marr

The details about Mr Banks’ apparent deception of Parliament along with the opening of a police investigation mark a new stage in the misery of Brexit, but not really one we could not have anticipated. It is surely right to ask whether, if the Leave campaign was funded with dodgy money, it is time to call for another properly organised referendum. This would not be a second referendum or even a referendum about the preferred exit details, but rather an entirely new process as the previous efforts are rendered null and void by potentially criminal activity.

We could run the same question again, and see what happens this time. There is now good reason to rerun, and more than that, we now have enough evidence to know what both “Leave” and “remain” might mean in practical terms. Somehow, I suspect the result would no longer be in favour of Leaving. But if “Leave” is so confident it is right,(Farage says “Leave would win by a much bigger margin”) it should be prepared to be tested again, when the competition can be properly monitoring and judged to be fair.

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Indeed, before Banks, the Electoral Commission had already castigated the Leave campaign. It found that ‘Vote Leave’ officials were guilty of overspending £449,079.34. A criminal offence. More than that, the Facebook fiasco during the Referendum debate still threatens a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner. To cap it all, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ‘Fake News’ concluded Russia has engaged in ‘unconventional warfare’. So there are three strikes and all pointing to wrongdoing to secure a Leave vote.

When MPs and Councillors are found guilty of electoral fraud, they are suspended and  in the case of Bob Spink, for instance, given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended). In the case of the Leave campaign, no real action is taken.

This is what happens as a rule: four people were jailed and a fifth person was given a suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud after a local by-election in Maybury and Sheerwater in Surrey in 2012: Shaukat Ali, Parveen Akhtar, Shamraiz Ali, Sobia Ali-Akhtar and Abid Hussain, from New Haw, were charged over claims that postal votes were being fraudulently submitted. They were all convicted of conspiracy to defraud at Reading Crown Court. Shaukat Ali was jailed for 15 months, Parveen Akhtar and Sobia Ali-Akhtar were both jailed for nine months, and Shamraiz Ali was jailed for six months. Abid Hussain was given a six-month prison term suspended for 18 months.

In other words, in normal cases of Electoral fraud, there are consequences for the people who tried to benefit from criminal activity. The electoral result that was skewed by their malpractice is voided, the people involved punished and the election run again.

Not so with Brexit. Not so for those involved in damaging the integrity of the Leave Campaign.

One might argue, of course, that there were only a few “bad boys of Brexit”…

But so far, nothing is emerging about naughty Remainers. Their campaign, which was almost successful was not dogged by suspicions of outside interference, the abuse of facebook, or proven overspending. Now, finally, at the 11th hour, the Banks’ stuff emerges.

Now is the time to act.

Today the Observer ran an article exposing what seem to be dodgy dealings in the Banks’ empire. Allegedly, Eldon Insurance employees were made to work on the Leave campaign, some against their will. Together with the racism that invaded the campaign, some of it apparently printed by Rock services, and much of it informed by the darker forces allied with UKIP, the questions surrounding Mr Banks at least demand a proper debate before it is too late and we are fully committed to Europe in the half-way house peddled by Mrs May’s Chequers’ agreement.

As for Banks’ performance on Andrew Marr, well- the question was asked: “Where did the 8m come from?” and the answers that emerged were a mixture of obfuscation, aggression and arrogance that had Marr floored (“this is what you do, you smear other people” was what Marr was left to observe).


But Banks says he would have voted remain if he had known what a Leave vote might mean. This from the man who is alleged to have bullied his staff into working for the Leave campaign. If there was another vote today, in other words, the leading Leave campaigner would be voting to remain. That beggars belief!

Banks is a great puzzle. A former vacuum machine salesman, he amassed a fortune quite suddenly and then bankrolled UKIP. His CV needs a good deal of explaining- he may or may not have worked for Norwich Union or Warren Buffett and he may have made £100 million out of his sale of Brightside, though records suggest the figure was closer to £22. His mother-in -law, Olga Paderina, says today that he has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a cloud hangs over him.

If Banks is dodgy, and it remains to be seen- any trial will be too late to repair the damage he has done.

The risks of Brexit alone, with or without Banks, as they have emerged, might make it expedient to hold another public vote.

In any other situation we would have called time. Instead, we persist with a charade that we are doing “democracy”. We are not even doing that.

There are a number of ways to analyse the events of 23rd June 2016. the Brexiteers might cite the 263 that voted to leave in contrast to the 119 that voted decisively to remain. That would be a 68.85% majority vote. But this is never the figure put forward. Instead, people concentrate on the overall percentage of voters throughout the kingdom who voted to leave. That is just 17,410,742 votes.

In other words, with 51.89% voting leave out of a 72.21% turnout, that is not even a 50% majority. This is hardly decisive.

My friends in the Leave group, particularly from UKIP, tell me that should the Leave vote be ignored, there will be riots in the streets. I suppose that is a threat and we should not give in to that sort of thing. Maybe they will turn on Aaron Banks now he has said he would vote to Remain.

But much more than all that, the possibility that there was major wrong-doing behind the campaign makes the strongest case for pulling the plug now. We cannot do so after March. Stronger than expedience, stronger even than resisting bullies who threaten disorder is we do not do what they want. No. If we do nothing about electoral mal-practice, we condone it. That means the integrity of our political system is under threat.


Teaching English

below are some tips and vocabulary for writing and especially for getting through the IELTS exam


Everyone talks about grammar. At least they do in Russia!

I think this is maybe to miss the real problem in learning English.

One of the most difficult things for english learners is to master vocabulary. Most text-books focus on grammar, because that is something that can be tested and taught in a very formalistic way, but, actually, there is very little grammar in modern English.

The hard work comes from learning and using synonyms correctly. In terms of listening, that mastery of vocab is expressed in a knowledge of collocations- how words stick together. This means that we can anticipate the sort of things we hear because we are used to the way one word naturally attaches to another. Instead of listening to every single word, we listen to the sense of what is being said and anticipate which words will be used.

In terms of the two essays, the graph essay (1) needs to be clear and precise. The second essay needs similar clarity but evidence of development. Idiomatic vocabulary throughout as well as “linking words”

Here are some valuable


linking words


at the moment

at present

right now

these days


in the past



at that time

years ago

when I was younger




I think one important thing is

I guess one difference is

I suppose the main difference  between A & B is


Causes and Solutions

I imagine it’s because

it appears to be

I guess it’s because

the main reason is

it is caused by


I suppose the best way to deal with this problem is

I reckon the only answer is

the best way to solve this is

**there are three important points: firstly (A), secondly (B and thirdly, finally, (C) (this is my preferred option always- the tricolon) This can often come across as very formal so be careful!


Giving examples

For example

for instance

such as

like (use in speaking, not so much in writing. Do not over-use this word)


Being clear and precise

What I mean is

What I want to say is

As I was saying


contrasts and concessions


on the one hand (remember two hands) on the other hand







even though




in spite of


by contrast


in comparison


another option could be/ might be



Linking words for writing

in addition






not only… but also

as well as




in that case

under these circumstances


Because of this,

thus, therefore, so



in that case

this implies that

if so, / not


giving examples:

to illustrate

to clarify

in other words,

such as


for instance






in addition


in the same way that

not only… but also




in particular



obviously (be careful- if something is obvious, there is no point in saying it, and if it is not obvious, then you have the wrong word!)

of course








on the whole,

as a rule



in brief

to summarise,





Here is a rough speaking test:

Speaking test


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– Where are you studying or working?
– Do you like your school or your company?
– Do you want to change your school/company?
– Do you usually drink water?
– Do you prefer to drink bottled or tap water?
– Is bottled water expensive in your country?
– Why is that?
– Do you like shoes?
– How often do you buy new shoes?
– Have you ever bought shoes online? Why / why not?

Cue Card

Describe a part of your country that you find interesting. Please say

– What and where is it?
– How do you know about it?
– What activities do people usually do there?


– Why do you think this place is interesting?
– Why do people love to visit some parts of the country?
– Why do people want to settle in certain places?
– What are the main differences between places to visit and to live in?
– Why are people different in different parts of the same country?


Next time: vocabulary for Pie charts and graphs (Essay 1)

Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan drew the connection between words and violence in “ANY QUESTIONS”. The old nursery rhyme “sticks and stones make break my bones but words will never hurt me” is actually complete nonsense. Words can be as damaging as punches. They are the favourite tool of the bullies, used often against people they regard as “different”, who do not conform to their own narrow measurements and restricted sense of “right”. More than that, words may often be the first wave of a campaign of violence and so, to ignore verbal abuse is to invite, permit or tolerate something stronger. We cannot avoid or shelve the problem. It should be confronted and documented. Well done on this!

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I am inclined to think that once the genie is let out of the bottle, though, there is no getting it back, and while Trump, for instance, may not be directly responsible for all the various expressions of violence in his country, his own brand of rhetoric gives the crazy a feeling that they now have a special licence to give vent to their anger. It is time for the moderates and the kind in the Republican party to step up, because the party will not go away- it needs to be transformed ideally from the inside. We need to take responsibility for the words we utter and we need be very careful about how they might be interpreted. As the man who is running for Mayor in London, Shaun Bailey, has found, words from the past can come back and haunt us. A world where everything is digitally recorded and stored is a very dangerous place. We need to be particularly vigilant.