We start episode 74 of the Small Data Forum podcast – or “1 AB” as Thomas christens it; the first after B*ris – in what many are calling “the era past peak podcast”.
Things haven’t worked out as well for our medium of choice as Spotify predicted and gambled, and that includes the platform’s not-so-conscious uncoupling from the Sussexes. But we – like the relentless grind of British politics – carry on regardless.
Thomas recalls the halcyon days when democracy meant the executive, legislature, and judiciary: three, interlocking, interdependent branches that worked with checks and balances, each branch (or arm) keeping the other in its proper place.
In banana republics (like the US and UK), this breaks down when – usually – the army takes over; what was termed Gleichschaltung or a system of coordination or total control in Nazi Germany. There have been more than shades of this under the Johnson and Trump regimes from 2016 onwards.
The terrible two
Sam surveys the carnage in British politics in the past month.
Since we three last met, the House of Commons Privileges Committee has published its findings into the Partygate affair. Getting wind of a pre-publication draft, Johnson clearly saw the writing was on the wall for his political career inside Westminster, pronounced the Committee (and the report) a “witch-hunt”, and resigned as an MP.
He’d have been out on his ear when the report was published – recommending a 90-day suspension, triggering a Recall Petition and a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – so rather than be pushed, he jumped. His pre-publication Trumpian rhetoric added to the severity of the punishment, and yet still Johnson didn’t care.
When the report was debated in Parliament, Tories – including leader and PM Sunak, described by Sam as “the spineless puppet of the ERG” – stayed away in their droves. And despite a desire for there to be no vote to ratify (or reject) it, one was forced and carried by 354 to just seven.
Johnson not only was no longer an MP, he’d also been proven guilty of wilfully and recklessly misleading the House – of being a bit fat LIAR, liar, pants on fire – and he lost his former member’s pass and access privileges to boot.
It was Tony Blair’s former spindoctor (and now superstar podcaster) Alastair Campbell who described the disgraced, proven liar (and former Prime Minister) Boris Johnson as “a turd you can’t flush away”, speaking on the TV programme Politics Live. Sam believes Johnson truly has been flushed politically, though Neville believes his presence will lurk and linger on for many years to come. His new, £1m-a-year Daily Mail column will surely see to that.
Tories in peril
Sam notes that veteran pollster Frank Luntz told the 1922 Committee that any Tory MP with a majority of 15,000 risked losing their seat at the next General Election, meaning 187 out of 380 are at risk. This includes “Sir” Jacob Rees-Mogg, party Chairman Greg Hands, and cabinet ministers Grant Shapps and Michelle Donelan.
“This is what CCHQ are not telling you,” said Luntz, a friend of Johnson who observed he was “behaving horribly” and in a “Trumpian manner”. With friends like that …
Things are rather different for Johnson’s bloviating twin the other side of the Pond, Bloatus 45 Trump. Stealing, hiding, and secreting top secret documents in his Florida country club may have led to another, formal indictment.
But unlike the Conservative Party ditching Johnson – not just because of his massive unpopularity – the Republicans seem to love Trump more and more with every proven misdemeanour and mendacity. He may well already be President again by the time this case comes to court, which would be – shall we say – interesting. In a banana republic sense.
Chaos in the UK at apogee point
In an excellent recent blog – to which we are treated to the live version – Neville Hobson dot FYI says that “The recent chaos in the political landscape in the UK reached an apogee of sorts”. He is particularly agitated by the sheer arrogance and COVID rule-breaking at the heart of Number 10 at the 2020 “Jingle and Mingle” party, a video of which surfaced recently.
Though he – and we – and many others find wry amusement in the pastiche of popular artist Jack Vettriano’s Singing Butler to commemorate the “dancing” of Tory apparatchiks at what very clearly was not a work event. Thomas is amazed that the video took more than two years to come out.
Thomas goes on to describe Johnson’s pre-report flounce as a tantrum, and we all agree that he has been excommunicated by The Establishment, revealing yet again – as if we needed reminding – that he has only ever been interested in what he can achieve for himself and everyone else go hang. Including the party.
A broken system
Neville believes that the Tories should be shown the door – post austerity, the Brexit fiasco, and the mishandling of COVID – and “the other lot given a shot”, but he’s not keen on the prospect of tactical voting.
Thomas points us – as we knew he would – at the inequities of the first-past-the-post electoral system and the need for electoral reform. But he wonders where – with no Johnson or Faragiste party – the pro-Brexit voters will go.
It’s the great paradox of proportionally representative electoral systems that the more extreme fringes do get a voice – like the AfD in Germany (up from 10% to 19% across Germany, almost half in the former DDR), Vox in Spain, Marine Le Pen in France, and Italy’s PM Georgia Meloni.
“Where will the Brexit-loving voters direct their anger and resentment?” wonders Thomas. And what about the younger progressives, flocking to Glastonbury, and swayed before by the false dawn of Corbynism?
Neville – as often before in our musings – believes both that things can’t stay the same AND that actual revolution won’t happen in the UK, despite the dire state of affairs. Sam – a perennial believer that things can, quite suddenly change, despite no hint of a violent revolution in hundreds of years of relative stability – isn’t so sure.
With Sunak also proven to be disconnected from the actualité with his one-of-five pledges to halve inflation, interest rates continue to skyrocket. Variable-rate mortgages are through the roof on top of 19% food inflation. Something’s got to give, and it might not just be via the ballot box.
The Late Review meets Front Row
After thoroughly depressing ourselves, we spend the last five minutes of our full hour making some cultural recommendations – books, films, and TV programmes we’ve enjoyed recently. From we Podnosticators three, however, there’s more than a hint of dystopianism about them. They include:
- Neville – the post-apocalyptic World Quake trilogy by Mark (“no relation”) Hobson, and the Ralph Fiennes celebrity chef ‘horror’ story from Succession director Mark Mylod, The Menu
- Sam – Jay Rayner’s My Last Supper and the brilliant reprise of Columbo by Natasha Lyonne in Poker Face – which we’ve all loved – created by Rian “Knives Out” Johnson
- Thomas – Poker Face again and the dystopian fact-tract in The Last Drop
The next episode of the Small Data Forum podcast will be our 75th, and after an early morning recording, we’ll be getting together for some “podcast extras” at our favourite South East London pizzeria, Ristorante Olivelli.
Join us for some midsummer madness towards the end of next month.
Listen to episode 74:
Due credit: the image at the top of Trump and Johnson as the twins from The Shining was tweeted by @SimplyRedHQ on 15 June.