Westminster Watch: who's up? Who's down? A tongue-in-cheek take on another wild week in politics
At the end of another week in Westminster, the Independent’s political sketch writer charts who’s up, who’s down and who’s even further down
What better week could there be to launch a weekly fun feature, charting who’s down, who’s even further down, who’s hit rock bottom, and who, theoretically might be up, in the giddy world of Westminster?
Not since the secretary of state for Northern Ireland admitted she had not really known that in Northern Ireland, there is a tendency among Nationalists and Unionists not to vote for one another has there been such a busy week in the government’s own confessional booth, where its ministers like to confess, in public, to not having even the tiniest clue what their job is meant to be about.
As Donald Rumsfeld never quite said, if this is what they tell you they don’t know, just imagine what they don’t tell you they don’t know.
So, without further ado, here are this week’s big movers:
DOWN, 1,000: Dominic Raab – The Brexit secretary has found himself the subject of much ridicule over the last 24 hours, after he was bold enough to confess that he had “not fully understood” that his country’s “unique geographic and economic entity” – ie the fact that it is an island – made it dependent, for the importing of so much of its food, on a “small number of trade routes” – ie the Dover-Calais crossing. But we suspect Raab will have gained many a secret admirer in the Conservative ranks.
To be so small in stature as to be subterranean and still find little people to look down upon is arguably one of the great archaeological discoveries of the era.
Because what elevates Raab’s bold confession – which is the discovery, at the age of just 44, that Britain is in fact an island – to a thing of genuine wonder is the sudden concern that while he has recently become aware of the unimaginably blindingly obvious, the “average consumer may not have worked this out”.
We have the world of football punditry to thank for the evolution of the word “average” to in fact mean very much worse than average, but never before can the median human have been so savagely abused in this way.
I’m fine, says Raab, I’ve now finally got round to looking out over the English Channel on a clear day, and bugger me if that’s not France right there, over the water, and behind it the rest of mainland Europe, a vast landmass and our biggest trading partner. But it’s the average man in the street you need to worry about. What’s he going to do when he finds out about this?
That said, as a man who reportedly sends his intern to buy him an identical lunch from Pret a Manger every single day, when it comes to the “average consumer”, it’s not clear whether he is even part of the data range. If the field of reference does stoop low enough to gather up Raab within it, arguably he is right to conclude the “average consumer” is almost unimaginably clueless. How tall, by way of an example, would the “average” Harlem Globetrotter be if for reasons unknown they had Frodo Baggins on their books? Oh Dominic, truly the black swan of idiots.
Still, with only a few weeks now passed until what was once meant to be the last possible date for a deal to be agreed with the European Union, Raab’s discovery of the close proximity of France to England can only be a good thing.
In the meantime, as David Cameron once observed, it’s right that the whole Brexit thing should be delivered by true believers in it, and Raab’s credentials on that front can now never be doubted. We now know he believed in the ideological purity of Brexit long before he bothered to acquaint himself with even the tiniest details, and who of us is to say that a national diet of canned goods is not a tiny price to pay for his stubborn refusal to fess up to his own towering inadequacy?
DOWN, 150: Jeremy Wright – To be the secretary of state for the media, to accept an invitation to address a conference attended exclusively by media editors, and to then immediately take to the lectern to inform them that, guess what, you don’t actually read any newspapers, is an act of good manners traditionally reserved for the dinner guest that waits until they arrive to inform you they are in fact vegan. And then they spray paint MURDERER across your front door and go home to begin a dedicated nightly campaign of cold call death threats.
Until now, the only other class of people on planet earth who have considered it acceptable to appear in front of a room full of journalists and claim to never, ever read the newspapers are a long succession of England football managers, so maybe there’ll be an opening there one day, though traditionally they stop short of openly admitting to having absolutely no interest in sport whatsoever either. Not even Sven Goran Eriksson went that far.
There are those who’ve made wistful observations about how jolly it might be to have a secretary of state for culture, media and sport with even the faintest demonstrable concern for culture, the media or sport, but I think Wright should be praised for his consistency. Last week, he made clear the principle job of a secretary of state for culture, media and sport isn’t to know even the tiniest thing about culture, the media or sport, it’s to be able to stand at the despatch box and defend the transparently indefensible, to argue that black is white, like for example how delaying the introduction of the reduction of the stake on fixed odds betting terminals isn’t actually a delay at all. And to that end, a semi-accomplished barrister is, as so often in government, naturally the best man for the job.
If you actually are burdened with any knowledge or interest in, say culture, or media or sport, it couldn’t have been made clearer your job in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is to resign from it, like sports minister Tracey Crouch. Unfortunately for her, while Wright was training to be a lawyer, she was merely training to be a football referee, and so, sadly, she found herself unable to grasp the subtleties of how a delay isn’t in fact a delay, and doing something you said you wouldn’t do isn’t after all a resigning matter, but merely the stepping stone to getting to go to big conferences where you tell all the newspaper editors you don’t read their newspapers.
He’ll go far.
UP, 5: Edgy Bonfires – It’s not often some hilarious bonfire night japes draw condemnation from the prime minister herself, so the ingenious pranksters who filmed themselves burning a cardboard model of Grenfell Tower and have since been arrested must be feeling especially proud of themselves. To find oneself arrested for the burning down of a tower block is evidently no easy thing to do, not least as no one in any way connected to the burning down of an actual tower block, in Kensington, has managed it. So to be in police custody merely for burning a cardboard replica of one is quite the achievement.
That those responsible for the actual disaster have thus far escaped criticism from the prime minister intimates at a clever solution for common criminals. Just ensure someone reproduces your crimes in diorama format in good time, and everyone, right up to and including the prime minister herself, can be outraged by them instead of you.
Which is not to say that our South London bonfire-makers did not make some rookie errors. When it comes to the real Grenfell Tower, we’ve now heard that the government wisely spent vast sums of public money on gagging orders to prevent criticism of Theresa May – a remarkable tactic they really should have thought of themselves. Oh well, chaps, you’ll know for next year.
DOWN, 5: Eye-roll lady – Before Channel 4’s latest Big Brexit Debate on Monday night, only the Red Arrows were considered capable of the kind of manoeuvres performed in tandem by both eyeballs of a 21-year-old student from Birmingham called Harriet Ellis, while standing behind Nigel Farage.
Thanks to Ellis, the “double axel eye-roll” is now a thing, and, with the country about to have to face up to difficult choices on public spending, we predict a bright future for her. Will there be any need for costly fly-pasts at royal weddings and the like, when Ellis could instead be positioned at the front of the Buckingham Palace balcony for an equally enthralling but far better value for money spectacle?
Others may try to compete but we suspect Ellis’s skills are vanishingly rare. Rotating your eyes simultaneously in both directions, like patting your head while rubbing your tummy, requires a particular cognitive focus achievable only by the kind of person who can utterly despair of Nigel Farage and vote for Brexit all at the same time, as it has now unfortunately emerged that Ellis did.
DOWN, 2: John McDonnell – To simultaneously be responsible, according to surveys this week, for fully 20 per cent of the entire Labour Party’s press coverage, yet remain unknown to 51 per cent of the population is troubling. But mainly the shadow chancellor you are statistically likely never to have heard of was chiefly saddened by reports that he’s been arguing with Jeremy Corbyn, including one claim, made in The Independent that over the summer, he and his best friend didn’t speak for an entire week. “It’s the gutter press,” he said, “doing what they always do. Trying to divide and rule.”
“We are all of us in the gutter,” as Oscar Wilde once said, in remarks continually misquoted by the gutter press. “Some of us are looking up at the stars, while others are faithfully reporting stories that are, according to every source investigated, entirely true.”
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