Newspaper piece

Many of us have felt isolated over the last year but I had a taste of Reality TV “isolation” before lockdown. I never applied to be on “The Circle”. I simply received a call out of the blue on a wet day in Cambridge and I am still grateful for the experience and the deep friendships that I made both with other performers in that short time on the telly.

There was a downside as well. The underbelly of Reality TV is unattractive and, had I known more, maybe I would have turned down the show. Instead, as someone who has been inside Reality TV and has experienced, at first hand, the extreme stress of coming out of one of these shows, I am committed to talking and ensuring it gets better for all. Efforts to reform have been thwarted at the highest level and the “new” OFCOM regulations are a sticking plaster, a scab that endorses what is already common practice in the industry. This is a money-machine machine and one of the most powerful forces in media.

While I have been critical of the “Aftercare”, more a word than practice, “The Circle” itself remains remarkable TV and it is exactly what we need. It showed that isolation can be the foundation of friendship; it celebrated a deeper communication, whether performers were catfishing or genuinely themselves and it was both entertaining and nurturing. I speak regularly with my friends from the show.

Indeed, both Woody was there for me when, a week ago, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It is scary and I value his support hugely. As I am writing, I face imminent surgery. But I know I will get on better by talking, however tough that may be. Silence must be challenged. We do not live in a vacuum. We live in a Circle. It is not perfect but we are better for the reciprocity it fosters.

I reached crisis-point about 10 days’ ago when, what had been minor rectal bleeding, dismissed over the last couple of years, led to a haemorrhage in my office. As I have a blood disorder on the haemophilia scale, I am not afraid of a bit of bleeding-and I have embraced it as a badge of honour with its esoteric “factors” as well as the influence of the mad Rasputin over the Russian Tsarevitch. It is a disease that links me to Queen Victoria who passed it to the royal princes of Europe. But this, frankly, was the stuff of nightmare. So, with the greatest sang-froid we could master, my partner and I put my clothes in the washing machine and went to A and E.

In the hospital, late at night, with my trousers round my ankles, I found out just how much impact a brief appearance on TV can have. A nurse lent over and asked if I was “Tim from the Circle”. I wondered, for a moment, what must have given me away. But I welcomed the diversion to chat about the programme. “Did you really never meet?” “We really didn’t,” I gasped as the doctor said, “That’s just my finger.” That nurse had exactly the right approach- it was a point of contact and she neutralised the terror with the warmth of conversation.

The NHS moved with speed so, in a couple of days, I was ready for a colonoscopy. I was warned the preparation was foul and that the procedure uncomfortable. In the event, both were quite manageable. I was fascinated by the progress of the Doctor’s camera and he kept up a careful reassuring description. On the monitor, it was like a “Star Wars” journey and, lurking in my colon like a capsized asteroid or a badly mangled “Maltese Falcon”, was my own personal cancer. There was no mistaking it.

Far from feeling isolated by the diagnosis, I feel invigorated to reach out to others who may feel lost or frightened at this time. It is frightening, do not doubt, to face a serious cancer. It is something that many of us fear and that, sadly, half of us will experience at some time in our lives but no one is truly alone, no matter how isolated we feel, no matter how silent are those hours after 4am when sleep eludes us and darker thoughts press. It is at those times, in the last week, that I feel an alliance with those friends I cannot see, just as I felt a growing bond, even a telepathic connection on the show with Sy, Brooke and James even though we had never met. It is the same alliance when I gaze into the eyes of my beloved cat, Bey who reaches up to rub noses. This is the message of the Circle: an unspoken bond that we are together. Conversation, language, even honesty is secondary. I would very much prefer not to be in this situation but we must deal with the Reality we face, not the Reality we want, and at the same time, I am in good company- Lynn Faulds Wood, for instance, who campaigned so forcefully for screening and Bobby Moore, the English footballer who died after years’ of being mistreated for IBS. His wife said his death had been “unnecessary” and she called for more awareness of Bowel cancer. I hope we have moved on since then, but I realise that, as a face from the Telly, as someone who the public got to know over the month-long series of “the Circle” on Channel 4, it falls to me to carry on their campaign and draw attention to something that can be overlooked or even dismissed in the early stages. This is now my Reality. It is deeply serious and something we need to be more mature about and more open to discussing. Speaking about bowel cancer, encouraging scans and action, I believe, will save lives. Knowing we are together gives those lives meaning.

Matt Hancock goes

Thank God for Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, Tatton MP Esther McVey and Sir Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch and East Dorset who had all broken ranks to call for their Conservative colleague, Matt Hancock to go, which he has now done. Other rumblings continue but also, the unattractive sight of hoards of photographers led by the Sun trying to get a glimpse of Hancock’s abandoned wife Martha. This is sadly shameless. The sun should be celebrating its modest role in getting their hands on the photograhs that brought down a scoundrel. Instead, once again, they do not know when enough is enough and they demonstrate that they belong in the gutter and have little to offer.

Here is my earlier video and a picture of Gina Coladangelo’s brother

The depth of hypocrisy here is staggering. I have not mentioned the episode just over a year ago in May 2020, when the health secretary, Hancock, claimed to have been left “speechless” by what he called Prof Ferguson’s “extraordinary” behaviour, or more specifically, Ferguson’s own attempt to break social distancing rules with a lover- and Ferguson, like Hamond was directly involved in setting up the rules.

At the time, Hancock said he would back the police if they decided to prosecute Ferguson. Surely, Hancock should now not only be resigning but handing himself over to the police to see if they want to prosecute him for the same overall offence?

As for the appointment of Gina Coladangelo to her executive position in the Department of Health, it now appears there is no record of that appointment or indeed of the procurement or appointment process that must have taken place. It casts a further shadow over other arrangements. Grant Shapps, another Cabinet minister is now on record, despite the apparenet and acknowledged absence of evidence, saying, “In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government.” Either there is some serious loss of paperwork going on, or the department is in chaos.

I fear this will have a more serious effect on morale than anything Cummings did in the rosegarden or on his trip to test his eyesight.

Matt Hancock

Poor hopeless Hancock

I made this video this morning and within minutes of my posting it, we learn that Matt Hancock has the support of the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson accepted Mr Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”) and, moreover, the support of other ministers.

Labour Chair Annaliese Dodds is on record saying “If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office – whom he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role – it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”.

There are many ifs and Buts (butts?) but I suppose Matt Hancock can now become the figure of fun he always aspired to be. Grant Shapps defended Matt Hancock this morning and Matt says “I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic-” cetainly, though some of his focus appears to have strayed towards Gina Coladangelo. Some ministers need to focus more than others I think.

We must thank Gina Coladangelo for all the hard work she is doing as an Executive director, and thank Matt Hancock for the example he is setting the nation and the entertainment he is generating across the world.

Religion and Boris

A few days’ ago, in the wake of the wedding to Carrie Symmonds in Westminster Cathedral, someone asked me whether Boris was the first Catholic in number 10.

It is an interesting question and there is not a simple answer as, indeed, is the canon law that does not recognise his earlier marriages as sacramental because they did not take place in a catholic church and, so, permits a twice married and twice divorced man to marry a third time in a church while other catholics are denied.

Boris is not alone, however, in being a world leader to marry in a catholic church after a speedy divorce but the optics are not great. The Emperor Napoleon, after all, did this when he married Princess Marie-Louise and dumped Josephine. More recently, Newt Gingrich -not quite a world leader but- married his third wife Callista (Greek= most beautiful or best) who was later appointed as US ambassador to the Vatican.

Firstly, Boris’s religious background is complex. His maternal Great grandfather, Elias Avery Lowe, was Jewish and, to his credit, this has led him to give short-shrift to anti-semitism in any form. In 2007, Boris said this, “I feel Jewish when I feel the Jewish people are threatened or under attack, that’s when it sort of comes out,” Johnson said. “When I suddenly get a whiff of anti-Semitism, it’s then that you feel angry and protective.”

Secondly, however, if on the one hand, his maternal line is jewish, his paternal line, on the other hand, is muslim. His father’s grandfather, Ali Kemal, was a minister in the Ottoman empire and was murdered by a mob during the Turkish war of independence in 1922. As a result of the assassination, Osman Ali Wilfred (Stanley Johnson’s father) was educated and raised in the UK by his english grandmother Margaret and took her maiden-name. I wonder at what point, if ever, he abandoned Islam?

Boris’s mother, however, is catholic as is his wife and his godmother is Lady Rachel Billington, the daughter of Lord Longford, a formidable catholic matriarch.

He will, therefore, be able to greet Pope Francis who is attending the Glasgow UN Climate change summit as the nation’s first baptised catholic leader since the reformation.

Of course, Michael Gove claimed that Theresa May was actually the first catholic to inhabit number 10: he was wrong, of course- she was an anglo- catholic and the daughter of Hubert Brasier, a vicar. Gove might as well have pointed out – with more justification- that Tony Blair was a communicant in Westminster cathedral (a catholic, in other words in all but name) before, on quitting office, he was formally recieved into the Catholic church in 2007. Blair’s casual inter-communion caused some trouble and, despite receiving communion directly from Pope John Paul II in the pontiff’s private chapel, the then Cardinal Hume was obliged to (publicly) tell Blair to stop. Communion is a sign of belonging which is why inter-communion is seen to be such an issue in the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Indeed, the pope’s private secretray, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, said, at the time, that the Pope understood Blair was a Catholic in his heart.

The Catholic Relief Act of 1829 allowed catholics (but not priests- until the law was ammended in 2001) to sit in the commons and Rees Mogg is a good example of this as was Norman St John Stevas, both entertaining leaders of the house and the latter responsible for introducing the committee system. But Section 18 of the same act made it impossible for a Catholic or, indeed, a Jew (like Disraeli who was baptised into the Anglican church at the age of 12) to advise the monarch on appointments to the established church. In principle, this prohibition about advising the Queen on new bishops – a matter on which she is formally responsible but since the 18th Century, has seen her powers to appoint bishops transferred to the Prime minister, has not been repealed and is, therefore, still in force so Boris should take care. The current practice, a custom and not a law, allows the Crown Nominations Commission to nominate a bishop who is then nodded through by the PM and recommended to the Queen, but there is nothing, in principle, and in law to stop Mr Johnson interferring in the process of episcopal appointment should he wish to do so. It could cause a constitutional crisis!

This is the text of section 18:

It shall not be lawful for any person professing the Roman Catholic religion directly or indirectly to advise his Majesty, or any person or persons holding or exercising the office of guardians of the United Kingdom, or of regent of the United Kingdom, under whatever name, style, or title such office may be constituted, or the lord lieutenant of Ireland, touching or concerning the appointment to or disposal of any office or preferment in the Church of England, or in the Church of Scotland; and if any such person shall offend in the premises he shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown.

There is a getout option which would require legislation but the principle of that getout option is already on the statute books in the form of the Lord Chancellor (Tenure of Office and Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions) Act of 1974 which allows “another Minister of the Crown” to carry out the Lord Chancellor’s ecclesiastical functions if the Lord Chancellor’s office is held by a Roman Catholic.

What makes it a bit more complex is that, while he was at Eton, Boris was confirmed into the Anglican church. So he is also, by virtue of the Anglican sacrament, a communicant member of the Anglican church unless he has been since chrismated in Westminster cathedral in preparation for his wedding.

Had Ed (Ted) Miliband won his election in 2015 , then he might have been caught by another comparable law drawn up in 1858 which, after a ten-year struggle, allowed Jewish MPs (and specifically Lionel de Rothschild) to take their seats in the commons but, as with the catholic emancipation laws, also banned Jewish Prime ministers from advising the crown on matters linked to the appointment of bishops:

Rights of Presentation to any Ecclesiastical Benefice possessed by Persons professing the Jewish Religion to devolve upon the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Time being.

Where any right of presentation to any ecclesiastical benefice shall belong to any office in the gift or appointment of Her Majesty, and such office shall be held by a person professing the Jewish religion, the right of presentation shall devolve upon and be exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the time being; and] it shall not be lawful for any person professing the Jewish religion, directly or indirectly, to advise Her Majesty, or any person or persons holding or exercising the office of guardians of the United Kingdom, or of Regent of the United Kingdom, under whatever name, style, or title such office may be constituted, or the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland], touching or concerning the appointment to or disposal of any office or preferment in the Church of England or in the Church of Scotland; and if such person shall offend in the premises, he shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown.

Finally, while it is only Jews and Catholics who are specifically banned from advising about these appointments, the Appointments’ Secretary must, by law, be an Anglican.

Inconsistency

While libertarian principles might be laudable, they come at a price and they come in a package. One is either fully committed to libertarian views or one is not- it cannot be a pick and mix deal. Woolworths is a thing of the past!

This is why the present government is in a mess. We cannot have an imposed lockdown and then go on and offer a vaccine as a choice. It makes no sense at all and it is inconsistent. Our liberties were compromised by the lockdown and when we need universal take-up of the vaccine to ensure that it is fully efficacious, we should not be pussy-footing around and thinking of our what others will say about us.

In this respect, though in probably no other, Dominic Cummings’ instinct towards dictatorship is right, albeit utterly repulsive. These half measures we have embraced as a nation, and indeed globally, are nonsensical. We went into lockdown late (and without a proper shut-down of our borders) and suffered as a result. Our economy has been hit badly by the double-whammy of brexit and covid, but also by the indicision and arrogance of those in power. We are now bizarrely over-zealous about the “rights of individuals” to refuse the vaccine and this pandering will also be calamitous. We will all suffer as a consequence. At its worst, a new variant may emerge, incubated by those taking a stand against vaccination, and any further boosters will prove useless against it. We need to wipe this disease out once and for all and we need to set upo a solid response about pandemics in the future. Much of our stupidity over the last 18 months can be put down to a lack of preparation. That must not happen again.

My instinct, however, is with Lord Sumption and libertarianism, but once the rubicon is crossed, it seems to me that we cannot mess around worrying about our reputation (as he alleges the Prime Minister does). Boris needs to wake up and take the responsibility he has been given.

We must be mindful of others. That is the purpose both of lockdown and of vaccination. Government must recognise its duty is not to itself or its own srvival but to the others it serves.

Should the vaccine be mandatory?

In an ideal world, any vaccine should be a matter of choice (our “inalienable rights”), but this is about checking the spread of a potentially dangerous disease and one that oddly seems to become worse with each new variant. The vaccine may not be mandatory at the moment but maybe that was a bad call by the Government- if lockdown was mandatory, and if social distancing is mandatory, than the vaccine should be too- it makes no sense otherwise, and yes, I know about “informed choice” and our “inalienable rights” but we cannot pick and choose where we exercise those rights- these rights were suspended in lockdown and it seems absurd to worry now about allowing those rights to be exercised over vaccination. The rule has already been broken and pussy-footing about the vaccination is crying over spilt milk.

What about young people and children?

Lord Sumption points out as do others that the disease affects very few healthy children and that, because of that, there is no reason to close schools. This misses the point that schools are run by adults who are certainly susceptible to the disease and seem also to be able to catch it from children who act as unwitting carriers. Again, the language is at fault.

There are educational systems on offer that might work well in any future pandemic but to assume teachers trained in classroom technique can automatically adjust to teaching on line is to live in cloud cookoo-land. I have been working for the past 5 years, on a system where information can be generated on line and used as a resource in classrooms and for home-schooling. Essentially, lessons can be stored and used much as library books and text books are used. Versions of this are certainly being trialled in universities but the project, as we imagined it, was really planned for schools. As a result, we have seen many schools and children struggling with courses and with basic education while some teachers have found themselves teaching live lessons to a handful of children and being filmed for others stuck at home- once again, a half-way solution that fails absolutely for want of preparation. We have the resources and the ground-work/preparation has been done but a good deal of chaos in education, I believe, generated by the Secretary of state and his team, has left students of all ages -and their parents- without proper support.

Trials and legal issues

The various vaccines on offer are enswamped in chaos – some of it genuine and some fake news. The variety of vaccines on offer do not generate confidence. The Russian and Chinese vaccines seem to be of limited value while other vaccines seem more robust. I was disturbed by the side effects I experienced after the first vaccine, but, at this stage, it is the only route forward that I can see.

The future

I have now had 2 vaccines: I hope this means that I shall be able to interact with others, even those who have spurned the vaccine. I do not intend to take the same draconian steps as Ryan Mark Parsons, but I think that, as a society, we need more commitment to this vaccine innovation – we can think of Napoleon’s efforts to vaccinate his troops against smallpox: there was initially a choice but it led to a limited rollout and vaccination became mandatory in all public spaces by 1812, guanteeing success and the elimination of a disease that killed 90% of all the children it infected. By 1958, the smallpox vaccine was routune across the world and by 1980 the disease was eradicated.

Cost

A third or fourth lockdown will be catastrophic to our economy. In contrast, a proper vaccination rollout is cheaper and its benefits longer-lasting. The lockdown is something out of the middle ages- venice was saved by quarantine but at a cost (think of the work of the wonderful Veronika Franco!). The vaccine is a modern and much more targeted solution. We would be silly to spurn the modern for the older solution, but be in no doubt, if the vaccine is not taken up or remains voluntary and is often rejected, our only other line of defence is a speedy and efficient lockdown. Every time lockdown is invoked, it gets more aggressive because we are learning how to best implement it and quickly enforce it. It can only get worse, and our hard-won liberties will be lost, if this is the solution we eventually favour and this is, as far as I can judge, the only solution available if we reject the vaccine.

We may still achieve the elusive “herd immunity” if most people take up the vaccine. But Kant’s categorical imperative lurks by the door- if I benefit from the selfless actions of others who have the vaccine, why should I decide that it is not right for me?

The problem with mandatory vaccination programmes, of course, to the Goivernment’s credit, is that they do not actually work. (and there are still people who defy the smoking bans indoors as well as the phoning and seatbelt laws currently in force in cars). There is, for instance, some evidence of past vaccination programmes particularly in the Baltics that have found as many people evaded the jab as would have done so had it been a voluntary affair. So there is some purpose to giving out information and presenting the vaccine as voluntary- just as we could have made the lockdown voluntary. Information and encouragement is reasonable but perhaps the illusion of freedom and choice sends out the wrong message.Living in a world where we are only ever guarenteed the ILLUSION of choice is rather like living in a world ruled by Virgin media. We can do better than that.