Cummings to grips with reality

The problem is that in Politics, there will always be someone ready to blow a rasperry. That is partly what is happening to Cummings, and it is amazing that he has lasted so long. He is evasive, superior and rude. He is also, I understand, brilliant. None of those qualities would endear him to the Westminster crowd or to the media. Even the Conservative press has its knives out for Cummings – “No 10 svengali who flouted the PM’s own strict lockdown rules” is how the Daily Mail reports his actions.

There is another quality Cummings has- he is indispensable. He masterminded the Leave vote, he has a plan for the exit and a plan to whip the civil service into line. None of this can be done without him.

Boris has gone out of his way to support him.

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That tactic worked in the past. It is astonishing, really, that Priti Patel survived at all a few months’ ago but Boris supported her in the face of the odds, and she is still pottering about, misreading the auto-cue and muddling up basic maths. Of course, her comic highlight almost redeems her and at any other time than in a national crisis would make her a figure of fun-  that during lockdown, with the closure of stops, “shoplifting has gone down”. But otherwise, her performance at briefings has been likened to “a motorway pileup”. I suppose though that being thought a fool is better than being thought a bully.

Priti Patel is useful for the moment: her gaffes take the attention away from the real media headline- the huge number of deaths from COVID 19 in the UK.

The more we complain about her, the less we focus on the real issues. She is a distraction even if she might perhaps be a dunce, or she might be a bully.

There seems to be one thing worse than bullying though and that is deceit. While Boris was busy defending Cummings, the anonymous civil service tweeter wrote, “imagine having to work with these truth twisters”, then that message got speedily deleted. But it did its job.

In this case, it is deceit that is directly linked to COVID 19 and the lockdown. It is relevant deceit.

Cummings is not a maths’ dunce, or a clown.

Because he is so important to the Government project, his activities are not going to be bruished aside lightly. It was foolish, therefore, with hindsight, to ask Grant Sapps to fumble about the details. This is what Grants said to a question put by Sally Ridge and that he had been given in advance,

“I don’t want to disappoint you, I am transport secretary and I am expert in building our infrastructure, but I don’t know all the times and dates for you. I understand that he will have travelled there around the end of March, stayed there for 14 days and didn’t leave the property in isolation as per the rules in the guidance.”

The Government has moral and legal authority. It is entirely undermined by Cummings and, more than that, he has directly put our safety is at risk. Three issues scream for attention: (1) His disdain for the law is one thing and (2) his example that others may follow is another, but (3) he knowingly went out on a lengthy journey with the virus. On that trip, a minimum of 4 hours’ driving, 360 miles from London to Durham, did he never once pause for petrol, for a snack, or for a loo break?

The problem is that neither Cummings nor Boris understand the issue. It is very simple to demonstrate this with the headline over the weekend which claimed Boris thought his advisor had the right “intention”, that it was not as if “he was off to see a lover”. This would put him, of course in the same bracket as Professor Neil Ferguson. Ferguson resigned (such a dramatic fall indeed that the police decided he did not need fining).

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case, the policy is not Kantian but utilitarian in its essence. We do not even need to weigh up different “imperatives”. It is monumentally simple: one person who is infected and breaks the quarantine puts everyone else at risk. It is not about intent but action. Boris has misunderstood the philosophical base for the coronavirus lockdown. He has also misread the mood of the people.

As does Cummings. When asked by the press camped outside his house if he was “considering his position”, he said, “obviously not.”

OBVIOUSLY

Why “obviously”? I am always entertained by anyone who uses this word. I think Cummings has never attended my lectures- if he had, he would know that I believe this is an adverb that should never be used. If something is obvious, it does not need to be stated, and if something is not obvious, the word is misused. It is very simple. It is a word that can only ever be used to establish superiority. It is an arrogant word. It is a put-down. In the interests of developing a kinder English, this is one word that I think should be erased for ever from vocabulary (obviously).

BREXIT

He went on, “you are as right about that as you were about Brexit. Do you remember how right you were about that?.”

BABY

Grant Sapps defended Cummings’ trip with an appeal to his 4 year old baby. This is what Sapps said,

“This is somebody who followed the guidelines by going to lockdown in order to be in the best place to ensure that provision was made for a four-year-old, who would have not been able to look after himself, and as the guidance makes clear, you must do in this situation the thing which would look after children for their welfare in the best possible way.”.

As if to reinforce this image, today, Cummings took the self-same baby out to meet the press. It was not even a “no comment” moment. Cummings had lots to say before making a point about a boom microphone (which was actually quite touching- the man has more heart than I had expected).

PIERS MORGAN

Piers Morgan, the moral heart of tv-land, has therefore banned all Cabinet ministers from his show, unless they “didn’t publicly support Cummings breaching a lockdown that the Govt forced on the rest of us ‘to save lives’”.

The problem is that this appears to be cut and dried. It appears to be very simple.

BUT

Like Priti Patel, Cummings projects a far from favourable image. The rumour-mill is rife. Their big critics are the civil service who are targeted in new reforms. Whoever wrote about “twisted truth” may well be out of a job in a few weeks’ time if Cummings has his way. And it is no secret that Priti Patel had been squabbling with her own civil servants. So, the civil servant who leaked has respect from peers- “this brave heretic has already become something of a civil service legend”.

So far, we have judged Cummings without hearing his side of the story.

So far, he has yet to speak.

 

Philip Pullman is wrong

Today, the great Pullman has hit the news over the proposed new 50p piece. He comes in slightly late because Hughie Grant has already gone on record saying it should be boycotted. But Pullman points to the grammar and the absence of what is called “the Oxford comma”.

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The Guardian has run the story and it should know better.

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However, the “oxford comma” is now in the National curriculum. I cannot tell you how often I have fielded calls about this bit of grammar and how irritated it makes me.

Let’s be frank here: the oxford comma, even admitting examples cited in the King James’ Bible, is a modern invention. The KJV is obsessed with the comma, after all. Here is an example from the first edition with a comma that would never be tolerated today:

Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

Indeed, the only comma I would permit in that sentence would be AFTER the word “finger”, yet despite this omission, the KJV has two extra commas that, to me, seem unnecessary.

The KJV also, incidentally, has a tendency to use random italics (as instanced). I believe that any appeal to the use of the comma much before the mid-18th Century is an appeal to punctuation chaos. Much of the time, then, the comma was purely decorative, a typographic twirl.

We did not know about the “oxford comma” until 1978 when Peter Sutcliffe drew attention to it in a review of some of the idiosyncracies of the Oxford University Press (OUP). He suggested that its origins lay in the middle of the 1st World war and that it was introduced to suppress ambiguity when lists were being trotted off.

This seems unnecessary.

When we read aloud, I always assumed a comma denoted a potential breath. I always took a breath before I got to the end of a long list- it seemed appropriate and added drama. However, the older grammar-books all insist that there is never a comma before “and”. And with good reason. (Also, of course, they tell us never to begin a sentence with a conjunction- note TW!) Because the “and” simply signifies that the end of the list is coming. A comma before “and” is, therefore, superfluous because the breath before “and” is understood and assumed. The conjunction is signification enough of how the sentence should be read aloud.

I believe the oxford comma is actually the “Harvard comma” and is first promoted in the style guide for the New York Times. Many examples have been posted that are genuinely made less ambiguous by the insertion of the comma, but frankly a bit of re-phrasing would be better. Look at this example-

“By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

It is argued here that the Oxford comma saves Nelson Mandela from the suggestion that he might have been a dildo-collector.  However, with the comma added, he might also yet remain an “800 year old god”, which I think he was not. The only way to salvage this text is, therefore, to re-write it. The text is wrong. It is sloppy writing. The oxford comma, in other words, is about inadequacy and a lame attempt to fix an error. It is a desperate attempt to justify bad english. The Oxford comma is not ours, it is not necessary and the Royal mint is quite right to ignore it.

As for the proposed 50p piece, I certainly never wanted it, but if it promotes debate about perverse and frankly foreign punctuation, then it is a coin I will henceforth treasure.

Bring it on!

 

 

After writing this, I sent a brief letter to the Daily telegraph which they printed. I am reproducing it here-

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Just a final point here:

The text on the 50p piece is a variation on the speech delivered by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 at his inaugural address. Note that the “Harvard comma” is quite rightly in place as this is an American speech. The word “commerce” is replaced by the more alliterative “prosperity”, so it is a shame, given that the Royal mint was adapting the text fairly freely, that a third word beginning with “p” could not be found to complete a good tricolon (I can appreciate the problem, of course- partiality, predeliction – the greeks might have used “philotimo” – better to have started with another letter: accord, abundance and affection, for example). Tellingly, however, we have lost both the “comma” and the word “honest” in the process of developing and circulating the commemorative coin. No one seems to have remarked on the loss of that word, though. I would have thought that the loss of “honesty” was surely greater than the loss of a comma.

“I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;…”

Some recent pictures

I have been drawing pictures over the last few days. Here are some of them along with a link to my “Middle of the week” video. I shall try to keep up a mid-week vlog until Christmas.Agary Rhodes by TIM

There is a big debate about anti-semitism in the Labour party. It seems to me that this is really a debate about the quality of leadership that is offered by Jeremy Corbyn, and Miriam Margolyes, a committed Labour supported and of course a Jewish actor, yesterday on Channel 4 put it rather succinctly.

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The question remains whether the Chief rabbi is right to get involved in politics during an election. He talked about “a poison sanctioned from the very top – has taken root” but what he well knows is that this has been ongoing for a good few years. It is nothing new. So the newsworthy issue is the fact that the Chief rabbi has spoken out at a time that is judged to cause maximum damage to the Labour campaign. What is generally agreed is that Corbyn has not dealt with the underlying issue well enough and that there is a swelling and vocal group within labour that smudges the distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli. There is a distinction between the two and Miriam Margolyes makes it adroitly in her interview (she goes further in fact and says she is not a zionist and that there are many things about the current state of Israel that need to change. She emhasizes that she does not in any way question the existence of the state of Israel or its legitimacy. I would be more cautious than Margolyes and simply point to the impeachment of Netanyahu as a demonstration that the rot is now identified). It is about language and about the way anger can slip into prejudice, but it is also about mob mentality and Corbyn fails to understand this. When it comes to leadership, it is not enough to look at individual failings but to strike at the problem. The problem is a nasty use of language and a casual disregard for how it is perceived. In the end, it is about arrogance.

The Chief rabbi did not specifically tell people to vote against Labour. He urged them to vote with “conscience”. He also said that there were 130 cases of anti-semitism in the labour party that had not yet been processed. (There were 635 complaints at the beginning of the year)

To prove the point of his criticism, however, on 4 occasions today Corbyn has refused to apologise to the wider Jewish community for his failure to stamp out anti-semitism in the Labour party. He has admittedly, in the past, now apologised for calling Hamaz and Hezbollah “friends” back in 2009 and has eventually permitted labour’s definition of anti-semitism to be brought in line with that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Diane Abbott today, however, said she did not think Jewish people were “anxious and frightened”. I suppose she knows Jewish people better than the chief rabbi, or is this another instance of the “arrogance” of the labour leadership? To their credit, Labour MPs seeking re-election, Wes Streeting (for Ilford North) and Jess Phillips (Birmingham) have both apologised to the Chief Rabbi for the way this has been handled, saying they will do whatever they can to “win back trust” in the community. Again, their apology suggests the leader remains out of sync.

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Boris’ Gambit

Just got out of “the Circle” to find Boris in the middle of an extraordinary Saturday sitting of parliament! I worry that he has now decided to send a message to Brussels without signing it. What worries me most is that this supremely intelligent and confident man is potentially heading down the spineless path of his predecessor, Mrs May. I would urge him to avoid hiding like her behind bureaucratic nonsense and to do all he can to discourage his advisors and alies from embracing a Jesuitical approach to Brexit.

If something must be done, then it must be done clearly and not fudged. We must take proper responsibility for whatever we do. My own wish, of course, is that the Brexit referendum should never have happened at all and that, had it done so, the Remain team should have presented a better case and a more united front.

But having had the Referendum, and having seen the lacklustre efforts of Cameron and Corbyn to rally support for the status quo, I feel we should still have made more of an effort to press ahead against the Brussels’ bullies and show, firstly, that what was done to Greece by the Bureaucrats will not be done to Britain and secondly, that life beyond the EU was viable. Sadly, no one could have forseen the May premiership- all evasion and weeping, a sorry state and Boris must pick up the pieces.

The latest defeat is a noble first stab towards doing something.

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David Cameron

 

 

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Why Cameron is wrong

I was annoyed by Gove a few months’ ago and now it is Cameron who makes me mad! Astonishing! Conceited and determined in like manner but in this case just to sell books, Cameron dishes the dirt and in the process finally fesses up to his schoolboy demeanours, just about, that saw a serious number of older boys expelled from Eton, and the whistle blower blacklisted and forced to move out of his house and bunk up with one of the beaks because of the bullying presumably orchestrated to support Cameron who has always been able to wriggle out of a tight spot and has always been able to charm friends in high places. Till now. The problem with charm though is that it is a form of magic and in the end, it masks something hollow or just plain wrong and dirty. This is Morgan le Fey not Merlin we are talking about and for the record, for all his cleverness at the dispatch box, I think Cameron is hollow. He is also demonstrably a bad loser.
Now he says that the leave campaign “left the truth at home”. That may be so and we may also have got the wrong result but the reason is because Cameron and his cronies put forward a weak and uncharismatic campaign where greed and an arrogant image of what this toff thought we wanted eclipsed any talk of duty and responsibility.
Across the channel Europe is tearing itself to pieces and Cameron’s response was to invite us to do the same to ourselves! What madness! If the leave campaign was appalling, and so was the remain campaign and Cameron must shoulder that responsibility. He played the game by rules laid down by Farage. This is why people often said they could not make up their minds. More than that, he gambled twice with other people’s lives and twice risked “the uncertainty and division that followed” a referendum. What madness and what conceit. Now when a gentleman would keep mum he rakes up this mud again and dirties the pond with more excrement of his own making. and as for the cannabis’ admissions- about time and probably the thin end of the wedge but for now, time for Cameron, to hang his head in shame, hoard the cash from the gutter-press memoir, come out of the garden shed and join Gove in the list of smug hypocrites who had the experience and opportunity to do better. This is not a man who deserves any future office or honour. As Bercow once said, “he can take it from me that he is finished.” The exit door opens – time to make good on his promise to go.

Nigel Farage deal

Deeply concerned to read of potential deals with Nigel Farage as the way to secure a Conservative victory in any General election.

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My concerns go beyond the issue of “deal or no deal”, a mantra that seems to come from a TV game show anyway. I am much more concerned about what bothered me in the past and that has never been properly addressed- specifically, the way the debate over Europe was hijacked by extremists who wanted to promote a racist agenda of their own. In many ways, they succeeded, partly because it suited Mrs May to continue her “hostile environment” and partly, because it was so popular, but it was still racist at its core.

Three moments spring to mind that highlight the racism- the first is the event in 2015 which led to my resignation and to a small moment on TV sparring with Mr Farage – who claimed I was out of my depth- not at all, Nigel! The story was about a nasty racist slur cast by the UKIP MEP David Coburn who confused the name of the Scottish Minister for Europe, Humza Yousaf, with the name of a convicted handless terrorist serving time in a gaol in New York, Abu Hamza. There was never any apology because Farage insisted it was “just a joke- can’t you take a joke?”

No amount of massaging words can disguise the casual racism of the original remark and, moreover, the savage cowardice of doing so, when Humza was actually late and, therefore, not in the studio to respond. This was cheap and nasty and needed to be called out.

The point is that the same joke has come up more than once in UKIP, and, because it was tolerated then, even celebrated by Farage and his cronies, it was taken then as acceptable and remains so in their eyes. Its latest outing was to confuse Sadiq Khan with the leader of the 7/7 bombers. The person who made this joke, the new leader, Richard Braine apparently takes offence when people mock him with the name “Dick-Brain”. Double standards? But again, he does not get it at all.

Whether we accept what elected ministers and Mayors are doing or not, we cannot deliberately confuse these elected leaders in a democratic country with common convicted terrorists and certainly not because we think it funny to mix up one Muslim name with another. This is not Islamophobia or a “fear of Islam”. It is pure hatred and contempt. The fact that Farage did not join me in condemning Coburn tells me that he did not see this as wrong, and the fact that it continues in the party he led, tells me that he must, therefore, continue to take responsibility for something he started.

Beyond this, yet another UKIP leader, Gerald Batten said that Carl Benjamin’s racist tweet to Labour MP Jess Phillips, was also a joke, specifically “I think that was satire” and an example of “free speech”. Batten went on to identify Islam as a “death cult” and to forge greater links, or rather more open links, with Tommy Robinson and the DFLA.

I have always conceded that Farage is a consummate politician and one of the greatest orators at work in politics today.

But, it would be wholly wrong to give a national office to a man who has sired this sort of racist nastiness. To have an election pact is the first step to granting ministerial office. If a pact is necessary, then it must be on the clear understanding that ministerial office will not be an outcome. To see Farage in a British Cabinet would be worse than seeing Corbyn leading it.

 

 

Jo Swinson on EU nationals

 

 

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Articulating the problem of getting through horrendous home office bureaucracy that has been ill-fit for purpose for many years now and that has led me to encounters including a unpleasant hectoring from Andrea Leadsom and an exchange with Theresa May before she became Prime Minister. We must stop this nonsense of parading bureaucracy as a fix-all, esp when the assurances we give in public are contradicted by the paperwork people are required to fill out and the opaque “investigations” that then take place which effectively cannot be challenged. Too much money and respect is wasted on this sort of nonsense.

What we promise, we simply need to deliver. No ifs, no buts, and no mindless pen-pushing.

Rt Hon MICHAEL GOVE MP and IVAN GOLUNOV (Иван Голунов) contrasted

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Simply appalled that following the news about Ivan Golunov’s dreadful arrest on a street I know and imprisonment on cooked-up cocaine charges, today one of our Cabinet ministers admits cocaine use and is interviewed as a potential leader of the party and consequently our Prime Minister.

It beggars belief that this dreadful hypocrite, Gove, has not withdrawn from the leadership race and resigned. We know, from the way he stabbed Boris in the back, that he has no honour and this confirms it. It is made even worse, as Marr pointed out that, under his tenure, the education dept launched a principle that teachers caught in possession of a class A drug would be debarred; Gove countered by saying this principle was introduced by someone else, and that of course he had never lied about his own drugs use, as indeed he had never been asked. Marr pressed him about whether he had lied in filling out the declaration to enter the US. Gove did not think he would be debarred should he become PM.

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He cannot even claim that this was some silly thing he did when he was at school or in university. No, in Gove’s case he was 30 and he should have known better. However, we also know Gove makes a great play about his own Christian belief and practice – here was an opportunity for a man to do the decent thing and point to the great injustices elsewhere in the world. Like Gove, Golunov has been working as a journalist but unlike Gove, Golunov says he has not been playing around with Cocaine. Ironically it is Gove and not Golunov who thinks he is, therefore, destined for the top job!

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Simply astounding.

This is on a day, incidentally when the Russian government starts to block VPN’s in Russia. This effectively stops voices from the West getting through to the locals in Moscow and elsewhere. We know that Russian TV censors and distorts what they publish, and soon there will be no alternative source of information. Incidentally, Kaspersky is all in favour of the VPN ban. Russian-owned Kaspersky, an almighty office-block that I pass every time I am driven from the airport into central Moscow, is one of the major internet security providers around the world. It is all very worrying.

WHAT GOVE wrote in 1999

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