In a week that brought the return of football (again), a possible Tory rebellion over Europe (again) and coronavirus begun a resurgence (again), let’s look (again) at just what happened last week.
Do as we say, not as we do
Mask firmly attached, I tried to go into a local shop yesterday. But upon arrival, my progress was halted by the enforcement of a strict one in, one out policy. Despite the frustrations that come with being held up by inefficient and wholly moronic shoppers, it’s a fairly common sense, practical and reassuring policy.
That is until the government apply it to the law.
Leaving the proverbial legal shop this week was Northern Island Secretary Brandon Lewis, who carried with him a freshly-produced, international law-bashing Internal Markets Bill.
Fast running out of U-turns to make, the government has finally decided to renege on its own ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal by ripping up its own treaty — which in no more and no less than a ‘specific and limited’ manor, breaches International Law.
Taken aback by the prospect of the government openly breaking the law, many Conservative MPs looked for comfort from above, bundling into a Friday evening Zoom call that gradually decayed into a farce. With party loyalists hanging over the rebellion volcano by a thread and facing the prospect of a Lords blockade, Prince Blondie of Brexit set out to counsel his backbenchers and reassure them that rules are made to be broken.
Except his Wi-fi cut out, leaving MPs staring at a blank screen and — terrifyingly — able to unmute themselves.
This played out in cringe-inducing fashion, with third-rate Boris Johnson lookalike Michael Fabricant singing Rule Britannia from a lyrics sheet (nobody joined in), Brexit-proponent Steve Baker offering to pick up where the Prime Minister left off (to which Theresa May interrupted with a ‘firm no’), leaving Justice Secretary Robert Buckland open to a political beating as Conservatives demanded to know the legal basis for the planned treaty subversion.
Finally, Johnson re-emerged onto the call, but may not have done enough to prevent yet another PM getting caught in Europe’s web. Don’t just take my word for it; one Tory MP WhatsApp group has rechristened itself 2020 style, and is now called ‘What the **** is going on?’ That might be a good question.
And in a textbook case of ‘do as we say, not as we do’, the newly-coined ‘rule of six’ — launched to stall the rise in Covid infections — effective since Monday, enforces £100 fines on anyone caught daring to defy the regulations.
But if government advisers and the government itself can break the law, how many already disenfranchised youths will feel obliged to follow?
The difference from March is already staggering. We were told it was a national effort — one that required everyone to pull together for the good of the nation. So why the sudden blame game? In truth, many young people, who have already watched their jobs, careers and uni places vanish, have been thrust back into work in close contact sectors such as shops, pubs and gyms — as opposed to older groups who are more adept at working from home. To spin the blame on the young only spins Hancock into a twist with other government advice. Just weeks ago we were told to get back to work, eat out for half the price, move to university and ‘enjoy summer safely’. This was one big, economy-fuelling patriotic act of virus defiance. Yet when the predictable consequence of greater social activity occurs, the pin drops solely on the group most likely to take up Sunak’s ‘SpoonsAid’.
It can only be 2020 when saying the government shouldn’t break their word on treaties is enough to trigger a threat to the whip, but it feels like one law in for the people, another law out for the government. And if that really is the strategy, this nation needs a professional: the corner shop queue manager must become PM.
Meanwhile, across the swamp
Is it Trump vs Biden or Trump vs Trump? For the first time ever, a candidate might be running against his own administration.
Four years ago, within the confines of candidacy, then-businessman Donald Trump had virtually unlimited license to say whatever he pleased. And he used it. In a few short months, he labelled Mexicans ‘rapists’, President Obama the ‘founder’ of ISIS and notably mocked a disabled reporter. Did he care? ‘I could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue’, Trump reflected; ‘And I wouldn’t lose any voters’.
What he had done so successfully was stoke hatred in the American people: against immigrants, against the media and even against the government itself. Once the fire of hatred was at a boiling point, Trump made it clear through preposterous campaign promises — such as making Mexico pay for a border wall they didn’t want — that he was the only possible solution to the problems he had convinced Americans actually existed. Problems which in reality were minuscule.
Yet the swamp isn’t drained. It’s brimming. According to Public Citizen, 27 clients of Trump-connected lobbyists have been awarded contracts totalling more than $10.5 billion to provide services in America’s botched response to the coronavirus pandemic. The wall isn’t built either — and Mexico hasn’t paid anything.
Despite this, here we are again, four years on, as the Trump campaign seeks to rewrite the old adage that once you become the establishment it is impossible to fight against it. Despite being president for three and a half years and failing on almost every non-economic campaign promise, Trump still paints himself as the underdog. Once again, hatred is being stoked against his own establishment for problems that either do not exist, or have been caused by his actions.
Without the ability to sell voters success stories of the first four years, the lack of good news means a shift back to negative campaigning. The many insults of Donald Trump have become substitutes for the actual names of political opponents: ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden, ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton, ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz, ‘Mini’ Mike Bloomberg and ‘that woman from Michigan’ referring to Gretchen Whitmer. These nicknames have become common parlance when describing the President’s political opponents. And it works.
Through Trump’s self-portrayal as a champion of the ‘silent majority’, it feels like the President is punching up at the portrayed ‘elite’, and not down at his subordinates.
It’s almost as if he isn’t in charge but happens to merely be the dissenting comic; the outsider; the state-censored iconoclast. It is as though, Trump is his own opposition.
In essence, Trump’s desire to play to his strength as the underdog means he is running a presidential campaign that we have never seen the likes of before. He’s running for president, but against his own presidency.
When I opened TikTok for the 49th time yesterday, the last person I expected to grace the prestigious ‘for you’ tab was parkour expert and full-time badge collector Matt Hancock. ‘No matter what your age’ he told TikTok’s overwhelmingly young demographic , ‘we must all follow the rules’.
Hancock has history with the Chinese-owned app, amassing almost 8,000 followers with reminders of basic hygiene, NHS claps and strange poses outside corner shops in the same style as a deputy headmaster trying to catch the Year 8s who shoplifted two drumsticks and a fun bag of Haribo.
Yet Hancock insists on starting the majority of his videos with a solemn ‘as your health secretary’ line, which is delivered so insecurely it’s almost as if he doesn’t believe it either.
This is the latest in Matty’s attempts to engage with a younger audience — whom last week he blamed for the rise in Covid-19 cases — having already tried his hand at karaoke, football, and scarily, the freeze frame challenge.
But can Hancock really make it as a TikTok star? Well, every trendsetter needs a trend, but any #MattHancockChallenge would presumably need to involve buying faulty PPE, giving Tony Abbott a dinosaur pass and appointing Dido Harding into another public health job.
This week’s Whoops! award has been firmly snatched by Labour’s Dianne Abbott, who managed to inadvertently coin a new nickname for her boss: ‘Steer Calmer’.
And it may be Keir Starmer’s calmness that becomes his unravelling. Everyone has a favourite ‘vintage Bozza’ moment, whether it’s yelling at liberals, yelling at the French, rugby-tackling a German, reciting ‘Mandalay’ in Myanmar or smashing the dispatch box so hard in PMQs that aides were worried it would break, revealing the hidden letters he hadn’t bothered to answer.
Yet nobody seems to have a favourite Starmer moment.
Despite his short tenure, Starmer is yet to do, say, or even indicate anything that would stick in the minds of voters. Just three years ago, the fields of Glastonbury rang out in Corbyn-admiration, but following his departure looked more like the party of north London than the north of England. Despite a pickup in polls, Labour is yet to mount a serious challenge to the party that humiliated them 10 months ago — with the only silver lining being that Labour have no pressure to deliver Brexit and retain the anti-Corbyn voters who just wanted certainty last December.
That said, in the same way that over half of Americans are prepared to vote against Trump instead of for Biden, maybe a lawyer’s peace and quiet can ‘Steer’ Labour back into No. 10.