First, I want to thank all those people – the well-meaning ones, not the bots with lots of numbers after their social media names asking if I have gone insane – who have asked me to take care of myself, because I seem to be tired, and getting up too early to rant and rage at the world.
It is true that I have not been sleeping well; or rather, I have been sleeping well when I sleep but waking up around 4, on a good day 5a.m; and true also that I have had a couple of moderately manic spells in lockdown, and a couple of rather bad plunges. But some of my best work comes when I am either a bit manic, or emerging from a depressive episode, so that is all manageable. And I really am fine, promise!
As for the bots, sock puppets and paid abusers, I don’t know if they realise, but there is a personality type that is encouraged rather than intimidated or discouraged by keyboard warrior abuse, and I have it; so in so far the abuse has an effect, it is opposite to the one they intend. I sense Piers Morgan has the same characteristic; so does Joey Barton; so does Martina Navratilova, which is partly what made her the greatest woman tennis player who ever lived, and every time she retweets my tweets I get a warm and special feeling!
So I have been fairly busy on the writing front. I posted my first collection of Covid rants and rambles on April 13 , and my second collection on May 3
Now for part 3
May 4 – a piece for the Daily Mirror, on how Boris Johnson, who used never to talk about his private life (I think we know why) was talking plenty about his new son – it gave the right-wing rags something to cover other than how badly he was handling Covid. Their treatment of him as a celebrity rather than a politician helped him get as far as he has. Continuing to do so helps cover up the fact, in their eyes at least, that he can’t do the job.
May 6 – the longest piece I have written for anyone, for Tortoise, edited down from my original 31,000 words to 13,000, looking back over the crisis so far, and concluding that Johnson and his Cabinet are responsible for a national catastrophe.
May 7 – another lockdown podcast with Grace.
May 7 – I had a brief respite from Covid in my New European column, writing about memories of covering Miss World as a 1980s Mirror man, triggered by seeing the new Keira Knightley film, which I recommend.
May 7 – I don’t usually post radio interviews in these ramble compilations, but this one with Pat Kenny of Newstalk is worth it, not least for what he says about the way the UK is seen by the Irish.
May 8 – a piece for the Independent ahead of yet another attempt by Boris Johnson to show some leadership and direction.
The Okehampton Times in Devon, where Fiona and I trained as young journalists, ran a piece on my recollections of our time in Tavistock forty years ago!
Same day, a piece for the Mirror about why we desperately need a return of football.
May 9, for the Sunday Mail in Scotland, comparing Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon on crisis management skills. Fair to say Sturgeon wins.
Same day, for The Article, saying Johnson is running out of chances to show he is capable of serious leadership.
May 11, admitting defeat in the fight to go ahead with mid-May publication of my next book, on depression, here on my blog, and here for The Article, warning Covid will unleash a tsunami of pressure on mental health services. Still, Nadine Dorries is in charge of mental health … O … M … G!
May 14 – inspired by the Pat Kenny interview above, a piece for The Article on how the UK is being seen overseas.
Same day – another lockdown podcast with Grace.
And, The New European doing a 12-page pull out on my Tortoise piece. Tortoise and The New European have a collaborative tie-up, so I was pleased to get published by both.
May 18 saw the publication of one of the finest and most important pieces of journalism of recent decades, an article in Four-Four-Two on famous football fans. Modesty forbids etc … but I will put it in here anyway.
May 19 – Jewish News asked for a piece, and an interview on their podcast, on why I had learned to play Hava Nagila on the bagpipes.
May 20 – A piece for the Huffington Post on how Keir Starmer was clearly getting the better of Johnson at PMQs.
May 22 – a piece for the New European, on a French survey showing how UK standing was falling in the world.
May 23 – as the Cummings/DurhamFlit story breaks, a piece for the Article in which I set out why he should resign and (ever prescient of course!) the reasons why he won’t. And The New European coverage of a Sky News interview refusing to buy his ‘guff’ about exceptional circumstances.
May 24 – a piece for the Independent on a brilliant analysis in Der Spiegel, which named Trump, Johnson, Putin and Bolsonaro as ‘die vier Anführer der infizierten Welt’ (the four leaders of the infected world.) Populism is a deadly virus too.
May 24 – reflections on Johnson’s for once working on a Sunday, but only to fight for Cummings.
May 25 – my birthday, which I had hoped to spend watching a re-run on Burnley’s website, of the time, on this day in 2009, we secured our first promotion to the Premier League. But it clashed with Dominic Cummings’ press conference, on which I posted this for The Article, on how Johnson/Cummings were trashing the UK reputation around the world.
May 25 – New European piece on my Sky News interview on Johnson/Cummings.
May 27 – a blog on how Cummings/Johnson scandal was revealing deeper truths about the government’s failures on Covid (with an apology – from me, not them, they don’t do apology – for a selfie failure on social distancing.)
May 27 – podcast with Grace on Cummings
Same day – A piece for GQ on the reason the Johnson/Cummings scandal was cutting through to the public all over the UK. And talking of GQ, someone dug out this old interview I did with Matt Hancock, in which he made clear his views of the then useless Foreign Secretary, now useless PM, Johnson.
Fair to say of all the interviews I have done in lockdown, the one I did with the BBC’s Simon McCoy, in which he asked me to set out what I thought the government should do differently, is the one that went most ‘viral,’ if we still use that phrase in a Covid world. You can see the clip in this piece I wrote for the Mirror on the ten points I made, on all ten of which the government is failing.
And this, the same day, for the Independent, on some of the advice notes I had sent to ministers and civil servants at the start of the crisis, at their request – all, sadly, not followed by the hapless Johnson team.
The Daily Star put the Cummings story on the front, hilariously, allowing me to relive the only political story I ever managed to get the Star to splash on as an exclusive, about Britney Spears.
May 28 – Another example of people like me being willing to admit mistakes, unlike the clowns and charlatans. This was during one of the mildly manic phases, when I was posting moderately amusing songs I was writing about Johnson and Cummings. This one went a bit far, not the lyrics, but the decision to wear my brother’s military medals. It was interesting, mind you, how many serving soldiers were egging me on in the row with the defence minister Johnny Mercer. But once Help for Heroes asked me to delete the offending video, I did.
Piece for The New European on how the Durham Dom scandal was more about Johnson than Cummings.
May 29 – the government briefings, both because of the politicians but also the so-called experts, were becoming less and less productive or illuminating, and Cummings having shown, as Trump, Merkel, Macron and others had throughout, that it was possible to do briefings with media physically present, I wrote a piece for The Article urging the media to boycott the Number 10 daily briefing unless the format changed.
May 30 – revisit the theme for The Independent of the Four Leaders of the Infected World, and how it shamed Britain that Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro was the league that Johnson was in for populism, lying and failure on Covid.
Same day, having asked social media followers to send me the letters they received from Tory MPs in response to complaints about Cummings, I began to publish my analysis of those letters. Time-consuming, painful, depressing. More evidence that venality runs deep in the Tory Party, with some honourable exceptions. I was very pleased to see this morning that politics professor Tim Bale thinks I am performing a valuable service for historians. I hope so, but I hope they also serve a more immediate purpose – to show just how uniquely this government and this Tory Party combines incompetence with really bad values. A lethal mix.
So here is Part 1.
Part 6. And as they are still coming in, no doubt Part 7 to come.
And here is one on Matt Hancock’s winning the least empathetic stock letter award (in a large field of strong contenders.)
June 4 – my latest New European column, inspired by a piece my former Number 10 colleague Jonathan Powell and Emily Benn wrote in the Times, on what is needed in politics post-Covid, and how Johnson is incapable of providing it.
Meanwhile, with the UK now leading the world in Covid death and destruction, I have decided to go global with my criticism of this awful government. I started with Der Spiegel in Germany, partly because I have doing a German refresher course in lockdown, but also because of that brilliant analysis they ran on ‘The four leaders of the infected world.’ And here is one from Il Foglio in Italy, with the excellent headline ‘Il Coronafiasci di BoJo.‘ Stand by for many such pieces to come from elsewhere.
I sensed from Johnson’s feeble attempts to push back at Keir Starmer on Wednesday that their defence in increasingly going to be that it is unpatriotic to challenge, question and criticise them. My feeling is that they are doing so much damage to lives and livelihoods that it is unpatriotic not to fight them with everything we have.
And on Labour, Keir Starmer is definitely getting the better of Johnson at PMQs, as he did with Dominic Raab. But I wish the party was in general more active, more on it, more taking them apart piece by piece, given they are screwing up so regally. Keir is taking the right approach as leader, but the team needs to be more high profile, and the Party as a whole more active. I can’t help thinking that my little exercise on Tory letters should have been done by a team of backbenchers, with a press officer, and maybe a paper like the Mirror, and that they should now be making sure all the many really bad ones get properly covered in local media around the country.
Just in, as I write, a piece in the Independent today, which I wrote a couple of days ago, on a happy ending for a story about my Albanian barber, but with a bigger story about the difference between competent and empathetic government and leadership … and Johnson and his team of clowns.
Of course I have communicated vast amounts on twitter (I dread to think how often I was tweeting when I was manic) and instagram, most happily my Tree of the Day contests. Yesterday, as I posted earlier, I climbed one. Happy days!
And, back on Covid, I was pleased Talk Radio clipped and posted the part of the interview I did thos morning where I explained that government departments can be liable under current legislation on corporate manslaughter. Their negligence in recent weeks, added to their failure, puts this into that league of scandal.
All the best, and thanks for all the kind messages of support and encouragement. And yes, I do relax, and indeed have been putting this together while watching a terrific documentary, narrated by the head coach Andy Roxburgh, on Scotland’s Euro 92 campaign.