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September 14, 2017

AFTER the Paul Hollywood Nazi uniform storm and Jack Dee hitting out about DIM zealots policing comedy so much now that he is sick and tired of being told what he can NOT say, it was good to see that in the depths of the slaughter, grime and rat-infested British trenches occupied by privates and their officers in World War One these sensibilities didn’t really exist – when the chips are down you have to laugh or cry/die.

Nick Newman and Ian Hislop’s play the Wipers Times is at the New Theatre, Cardiff, the end of the week and on tour throughout the UK after that. It tells the story of how some spiky, spunky British troops had to fight two enemies – the Germans on the other side of no man’s land and the London-based military top brass, who understood that their joyous satire and subversive poetry and prose brought the weary warriors satisfaction and lifted morale but also carried explosive danger and offence by lampooning and lambasting (though the lambasting was very gentle in comparison to today’s tabloid terrors or internet warriors) those in power – a fantastic British tradition which Hislop’s Private Eye now very proudly continues.

The play is more of a string of comic sketches than anything else with some cheerful song and dance routines and a sharp acerbic script which concentrates on the humour rather than the blackness in the black humour necessary to survive in the senseless slaughter.

It is a wonderfully optimistic and zesty piece about how the British grasp irony better than their enemies and use it in dire circumstances to defuse tension and depression. The DIM zealots could learn a lot by seeing this.

The play is based on the true story of how officers and men came across a printing press in Belgium at the front and succeeded in publishing a satirical magazine which won favour among the troops, who looked forward to reading it on a regular basis.

It relieved boredom, gave them a useful outlet, brought upper and lower classes together on a level footing, encouraged creativity, and crucially, diverted attention from the gruesome horrors of war.

While the Germans sang songs of ire and hate against the English, our boys and men took to their typewriters to churn out some pearls of wit, wisdom and often poignant and tragic accounts of deep grief and loss and witty amateur wordsmiths eagerly and jubilantly sub-edited and laid out pages as the bombs and bullets flew in all directions nearby.

The cast of roughly eight men and two women interact well on stage in a carefully choreographed, action-packed two or so hours with an interval and it ends with a joyous routine involving them all.

This play highlighted how important the fact that it was a paper product printed by hand on an old-fashioned press was – perhaps paying tribute to Private Eye itself as it is one of the few print publications with a growing circulation in today’s mobile phone flickering screen world. In a week when I read that two former daily newspapers in Gloucestershire are now going weekly because the internet has hit printed products so badly, it seemed hugely significant.

“This war will be over by Christmas – but we don’t know which Christmas” was one of the many dry, sardonic jokes in this play. Perhaps the same can be said about print magazines and papers.





September 13, 2017

THE cost of leaving the EU without a deal in a chaotic Brexit would be a “political mess, a legal morass and economic disaster”, UK researchers warn.

The UK in a Changing Europe have published a pamphlet called Cost of No Deal to outline the risks of storming out of negotiations.

They identify at least four broad scenarios:

SMOOTH BREXIT. All goes according to plan and we manage to have both the Article 50 and trade deal signed, sealed and delivered by March 2019 and transition is smooth.

TRANSITIONAL BREXIT. The Article 50 deal is agreed and both sides agree on transitional arrangements to bridge the gap to a full deal.

CLIFF-EDGE BREXIT. The Article 50 deal is fixed but trade negotiations stall so there is nothing to transition to so the UK becomes a “third country” with no special relationship with the EU.

CHAOTIC BREXIT. No Article 50 deal and no extension. Talks fail over citizens’ rights, the role of the European courts, money or some other issue. There are two ways in which this might come about:

1, PREMATURE BREXIT where talks break down acrimoniously and the UK decides unilaterally to stop paying EU contributions and end supremacy of EU law in the UK with immediate effect.

2, TIMED-OUT BREXIT where the talks don’t completely break down but no agreement is reached within the two year period and there is no extension.

“If the Article 50 process comes to an end because of a unilateral British decision to remove itself from negotiations,” they warn, “the political recriminations would be even more heated.”

“In both cases, the incentive for the government to blame “Brussels” for it would be extremely strong. This might extend to blaming opponents in the UK (“Remoaners” or “Soft Brexiteers”) for weakening the UK’s position.”

They conclude: “No deal doesn’t mean the country would come to a stop. But even under relatively benign conditions and with time to prepare, the impacts would be widespread, damaging and pervasive.

“It is not possible to ex ante to quantify the economic impacts, but it is reasonably clear that they will be comparable to some of the worst-case scenarios presented before the referendum.”

The UK in a Changing Europe is funded by the Economic and Social research Council and is based at King’s College London.


September 12, 2017

WELSH Labour AM Eluned Morgan said today that the House of Lords can’t wait to “get their teeeth” into the controversial EU Withdrawal Bill and the Welsh government will actively oppose it, despite a decisive vote among Welsh people to leave.

“Boy, can those lords talk,” she joked, intimating that the controversial bill to speed up Brexit would be blocked in the second chamber.

Baroness Morgan, who claimed expenses during her years as an MEP – she was elected for mid and west Wales in 1994 – and now also sits in both the Welsh Assembly and the House of Lords, astonishingly claimed that opinion polls in Wales say voters would not vote for Brexit if the referendum was held today.
But voters turned up in large numbers last year in Wales – 71.7 per cent, dwarfing the number which turned out for the devolution vote in 1997, at just over 50 per cent.
The majority to leave the EU was more decisive too, 854,572 votes (52.5 per cent) to leave the EU compared with just 559,419 votes (50.30 per cent) for devolution.

I asked if this meant that Wales, which is often artificially grouped together with Scotland and Northern Ireland in a devolution context, is in a different position democratically as both of the others voted to remain (Scots 62 per cent with a turnout of 67.2 per cent and Northern Irish 55.8 per cent with a turnout of 62.7 per cent) but I did not get an answer.
Instead, Baroness Morgan, who was pressed by another member of the audience to defend Welsh Labour’s stance on Brexit, said that the Welsh government “understands that people did vote for Brexit” and added that they had produced a “whole series of documents”.
She was sitting on a panel alongside veteran anti-EU Tory campaigner Sir Bill Cash, who voted to enter the EU in 1975, and Hilary Benn, Labour chair of the House of Commons committee on exiting the EU.
Labour Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer’s bid to block the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was defeated by 318 votes to 296 in the House of Commons earlier this week and a later vote to give it a second reading passed by a majority of 36 with the help of some Labour MPs, who defied their whips.
Theresa May said after the vote: “We can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”
But there are widespread fears that it gives too much power to the Tory government and removes parliamentary powers at Westminster and the devolved governments, including the Welsh Assembly, and controversial Henry V111 clauses would allow ministers to “rule by decree”.
Professor Mark Elliott, Cambridge University legal adviser to the House of Lords constitution committee, said that UK judges could intervene. “It may be that the courts come in and, to some extent, provide a correction to some of these things. They could look askance at them,” he warned.
The Hansard Society – which co-hosted a debate about the bill funded by the ESRC UK in a Changing Europe initiative in London today – has called for a new pariamentary scrutiny system which they say would “give MPs a meaningful role and voice” in Brexit and help safeguard democracy.
“It will require amendment of the Bill and could also be applied to powers in other Brexit legislation that follows,” according to their summary.
They want:
1, Scrutiny to be in the control of MPs not whips.
2, Them to be supported by a set of sub-committees.
3, Have administrative, legal and research support via a committee secretariat.
4, Sift and scrutinise both negative and affirmative statutory instruments.
5, Any concerns would have to be debated and voted on.

Baroness  Morgan mentioned that the 2011 referendum in Wales delivered a decisive vote in favour of law making powers for the Welsh Assembly – nearly 64 per cent in favour and nearly 37 per cent against – but the turnout was even lower than in the 1997 referendum at nearly 36 per cent.


September 7, 2017

I FOUND myself filling in a curious Cardiff University questionnaire yesterday on what practical barriers – including financial – prevent me from standing as a prospective candidate for the Welsh Assembly or of even thinking of doing so in the future.
Today, I found myself feeling furious about a report telling me that bespoke credit cards had been used by civil servants at Cardiff Bay on fine dining, chocolates, limousines and even sexy lingerie when there are homeless people on the streets of our cities begging for food and drink.
Welsh Conservative finance secretary Nick Ramsay said: “The bill for Welsh Government credit cards is out of control, with staff spending more and more each year.”
He claims that £7.5 million had been spent on the authority’s cards, known officially as procurement cards, in the five years since 2011 including £103.91 at lingerie store Victoria’s Secret, although that had been repaid after a presumably “undercover” investigation found that the silk scanties were bought fraudulently.
Items put on expenses included:
1, More than £200,000 on flights.
2, More than £5,000 on Uber.
3, More than £3,000 on yachting and boating.
4, More than £8,000 on wining and dining including at a swish Dubai venue.
5, More than £350 on bespoke chocolates.
6, More than £350 on whisky.
A spokesman for the Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government said the cards were used by civil servants for “official business reasons”.
The official told the Western Mail: “The issue of procurement cards is tightly controlled and there are strict rules in place to ensure every transaction is logged and accounted for.”


September 7, 2017

THE FUTURE Lord Lineker of Leicester, our respected and virtuous patron saint of crisps, does not confine himself to sporting matters in his Twitterings – he has lashed Jacob Rees-Mogg for opposing abortion so obviously now feels capable of speaking on spiritual and religious matters. Perhaps he will soon also be considered to set a moral (or should that be amoral?) lead as next Archbishop of Canterbury.
I remember Gary – who once said “I don’t mind making a fool of myself as I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously” – best for his appearance on Chris Morris’s excellent Brass Eye comedy spoof on paedophilia when a delightfully duped Lineker believed a hilariously nonsensical script he was asked to read warning people about a secret code used only by paedophiles
“Baltimora. This means I’m running at them now with my trousers down,” he said straight to camera in a deeply sincere tone of voice and expression as if petrified that a plague of paedos might be at his front door about to attack his own children.
So any offerings of his on matters even remotely to do with morality I tend to view with some derision.
Besides, would David Coleman, Jimmy Hill or Des Lynam have opined in any way about such matters? Definitely not.
Lineker, I think you will find, has some business interest in Twitter and they like him to keep his name in the public eye.
Why newspapers like today’s Metro see fit to repeat his inane Twitterings in stories repeatedly I find less easy to fathom.


September 6, 2017

“I DON’T know why you bother with the NUJ – it’s full off blacks and lesbians,” were the words a long-standing regional newspaper editor who will remain nameless once said to me when I presented at his office as father of chapel for the National Union of Journalists to negotiate the annual pay round.
I thought of his words after reading a report of the conversation between new Evening Standard editor George Osborne and Andrew Marr at the London Press Club recently
Comments like that – I doubt that George would ever be reckless enough to speak his mind anything like so candidly, even in private (is anything ever private when you are Osborne?) – are now actionable but they were not entirely uncommon back in the dark and dangerous eighties in typewriter and cigarette smoke-filled offices peopled by macho larger-than-life rogues, rebels and renegades (but none quite as bad as politicians).
I think I prefer offensive outbursts from openly racist, homophobic bigots (at least you know where you stand with them. He asked me if I had served in the territorial army at the job interview and I always sensed deep disappointment when I told him I had not) than the carefully chosen, circumspect, slippery nonsense that emanates out of Osborne’s mouth.
I noted that Osborne was pressed on whether or not he has had to fire journalists not whether or not he has or still does fear being fired himself, a question many editors today are preoccupied with on a daily basis.
But then, of course, Osborne is no ordinary editor.
His tenure is secure for as long as he likes and he is, apparently, enjoying learning the ropes with no pressure from above and, significantly, he isn’t even a properly trained journalist and has many other jobs he can go to if this one collapses. Lucky old chap.
It is unlikely that he will have to negotiate an annual pay round with NUJ officials either (salaries are more likely to be negotiated individually and probably by other people in the chain of command so he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty) but you can be certain that he would not begin by saying anything about skin colour or sexual orientation in trades unions even if he did have views on such matters.


September 6, 2017

A WOMAN called BBC Radio Five Live’s Afternoon Edition today to tell presenter Nihal Arthanayake (previously rapper Dj Nihal) that she was proud to be English but complained that saying that meant she was too often perceived as racist in modern Britain.
“Most people I know don’t want to be multicultural,” she said, sounding like an axe-wielding barbarian gatecrasher lugging a freshly killed sheep’s carcass dripping with blood over her shoulder into a meeting of committed Quakers.
“Look out,” I thought. “Here’s trouble.”
Nihal, Essex-born to Budhist Sri Lankan parents who previously broadcast on the Asian network, asked her if when she used the word “English” she meant white.
It was a totally irrelevant question (the woman never mentioned colour) which showed his personal oversensitivity to perceived slights, automatically trying to portray the woman as a swivel-headed right-wing extremist who discriminates against non-white people (a knee-jerk defensive manouevre he and many other English born people of colour are fond of using to silence opposition and control debate from an artificial moral high ground).
“I am English, I was born here,” he told the woman defensively, as if anticipating some attack on his family heritage in a dangerously off-colour Peter Hitchens-style polemic contradicting mantras from the BBC’s pseudo-religious DIM diversity, inclusivity and multiculturalism zealots deep in unholy communion high up on the fifth floor.
The woman, however, was more than a match for Spurs supporter Nihal – whose journalistic credentials seem broadly as impressive as his rapping credentials but who is currently in vogue at Broadcasting House – and she held her nerve and maintained her course despite his failed attempts to butt in and aggressively control the discourse, as he usually does with callers who lean even gently against the prevailing wind in the politically biased corridors of power.
Earlier, Nihal, a cultural ambassador for the London Olympics bid so very right-on metropolitan, had been speaking to an official from Cardiff Metropolitan University – where gender stereotyping in written work is being actively policed by the zealots – about the Government’s Prevent strategy in the wake of recent news about far right extremists in the military
Is it any wonder that extremism is rearing its ugly head when our national broadcaster assails callers in this biased way and forces them onto the back foot?