Archive for December, 2017


This afternoon’s PB cartoon from Nicholas Leonard/Helen Cochrane

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017


The big one: Cyclefree announces her Political Awards for 2017

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

The “Did Somebody Really Budget for This?” Award

It is perhaps inevitable in a country with a government which thinks that the colour of its passport matters that the British Army should have spent money on trying to change its “Be the Best” motto. To what, one wonders? “Be Mediocre”, perhaps or “Best at Being Third-Rate”, maybe. Still, a workforce can only be regarded as sufficiently diverse if a significant proportion is unsuitable for the job.

So, despite the Defence Secretary’s last-minute decision to cancel the change, the Army Marketing Department wins this award for their courageous – if thwarted – attempt to move with the times and turn away from grand foreign concepts such as elitism. I’d say well done but that’s not the spirit at all.

The “Why Classics Matter” Award

This was previously known as The Ken Livingstone Award for Trashing One’s Reputation. Still, rebranding is all these days and university Classics Departments need a boost at a time when education, like much else, is viewed only through the prism of the financial rewards it brings.

Universities should be erecting statues (in place of all the ones being pulled down) in honour of the only possible winner of this one – Mrs Theresa May.

A big hand for the politician who showed us all, in so many ways and in so many locations (from Millom square following Trudy Harrison’s election in February to the lonely drive back to No 10 in June, the sacking of her two loathed advisors and the cough ridden speech at conference in Manchester), the meaning of “hubris” and “nemesis”. And all packed into 9 short months. Who says the Tories don’t understand how to appeal to the younger generation’s desire for instant gratification?

An honourable mention must go to Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s PM, who copied Mrs May’s example to the letter (willy-waving election, speeches before hand-picked audiences in closed venues and humiliating defeat followed by a tenacious hanging onto power). Britain’s influence on its European neighbours is not dead! Hurrah!!

The Chakrabarti Award For Not Understanding Your Own Principles

Only one winner here. Mr Nigel Farage. I know, I know: did he qualify by having any principles? Bear with me: from his remarks on Jewish influence to his interventions on US matters to his cosying up to Germany’s AfD, Nige showed that he utterly failed to understand that the British values he so loudly proclaims mean opposing fascism not imitating it. When Laurence Olivier was given an acting award late in life he acidly thanked the US donors by saying that it would give him great encouragement in his career. This award is given in the opposite spirit: in the hope that the winner will never be heard from or, at least, not taken seriously again.

The Great Escape Award

With one bound he was free! He may not have won the election but Jeremy Corbyn slipped the bonds which had previously held him back (his inability to manage his party, build a shadow Cabinet, inspire respect amongst his colleagues, come up with a consistent policy on the important questions of the day, ask a simple question) as deftly as any Houdini and showed unexpectedly attractive political skills.

A surprise to many (though not the estimable Mr Herdson, who wins the Electrifying Post of The Year Award) nor the poster who wrote this in December 2016 – “Maybe he will turn into the Tortoise of British politics.”

Still, Corbyn has yet to win a race. And his opposite number provides a good example of the perils of taking the result for granted. Less of the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” and more “Come On, Jeremy!” if he is to fulfil his promise.

The Empty Vessel Award

Three main contenders here: Donald Trump, David Davis and Boris Johnson. But some late legislative achievements by Trump disqualified him. So our Brexit and Foreign Secretaries jointly win this for their unparalleled ability to open their mouths and talk nonsense, tell untruths, distort the meaning of plain English words and casually insult others. A period of silence from them would be very welcome. Even better would be May copying Attlee’s dismissal of a junior minister by telling them “Afraid you’re not up to it”.

The No Grace under Pressure Award

Responding to questions from journalists is a pretty basic political skill. A smile and “l’ll get back to you” can’t be that hard, surely? So congratulations to Tulip Siddiq who, despite politics being a family business, spectacularly failed to deflect a question, made snarling threats and topped it all with a bitchy remark to a pregnant woman. (Members of the Women and Equalities Select Committee have to really earn their place after all) And all on prime time TV (well, Channel 4, but let’s not be fussy). What a girl! Someone should remove the reference to Ken Livingstone, the master in such matters, from the Labour Party’s Training Manual for new MPs.

Hopeful Development of the Year

IS can still inspire others to kill, sadly, but the loss of its lands in Iraq and Syria was a long time coming and all the more welcome for it. Christian and other minority communities in those benighted lands have long been shamefully ignored by the West (being seen, in Regis Debray’s words, as “Too Christian for the Left and too foreign for the Right”) but are, very slowly, starting to return. Peace may still be far off. But perhaps there will be less unimaginable cruelty. We can but hope.

Hero of the Year

PC Keith Palmer and Tobias Ellwood MP win this. The former showed us what public service can, at its most extreme, mean. The latter demonstrated what real character is. Both men an implicit rebuke to some of their sleazier and less scrupulous colleagues and an example to others. Both were trained by the Army. Maybe aiming for the best is not so pointless?

But that is where I came in. So time to say goodbye to 2017 and wish everyone a happy, prosperous and fulfilling 2018!



This could be the start of a Stop Gavin succeeding Theresa move

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

The Times is reporting this morning that during the intense negotiations to bolster the minority government after the general election the then chief whip Gavin Williams offered the DUP a cabinet post.

We all remember how long it seemed to take for the negotiations with the DUP to provide supply and confidence went on. According to the Times report, linked to in the Tweet above, the man sent out to secure the deal, Gavin Williamson, went well beyond his brief and is said have offered the DUP a cabinet place.

Apparently the DUP’s Nigel Dodd was being lined up for Liam Fox’s International Trade Secretary job. This didn’t go down well at Number 10 where people were said to be horrified.

    The question we should ask, of course, is why this story should be coming out 6 months later?

It seems like an effort to discredit Williamson who, of course, replaced Michael Fallon last month as Defence Sec. This appointment was highly controversial at the time given Williamson’s lack of any ministerial experience.

As has been reported he is now being called “Private Pike” by his detractors. The source of the story is said by the Times to be “a former senior official”.

Williamson, who played a big part in TMay’s leadership campaign in July 2016, is one of my long shot bets to succeed her.

Mike Smithson


Christmas Day on PB wouldn’t be Christmas without the St. John Christmas Crossword

Monday, December 25th, 2017


1 Isn’t a rotten borough firstly one that favours a politician? (10)

6 War intelligence protects soldiers (4)

9 Former Tory MP Gilmour opposed such squalid conditions (10)

10 Bute for example had his lead cut (4)

12 OK to spoil then invent urban regeneration? (6,3,5)

14 Black out resulting from left wing legislation (6)

15 Poll contest before each point of government (8)

17 Built on a Latin state (8)

19 In May she was here (2,4)

22 Socialist Blair half knew in Scottish village as Prime Minister (9,5)

24 Art gallery abandoned by toothless politician (4)

25 I once chased a maiden over to pass the cricket test? (10)

26 Principal candidate for the Presidency once (4)

27 Dangerous driver in a former Irish system of government (10)


 1 Present day church welcomes a rebel (4)

2 King Henry drowned in alcohol (7)

3 Type to cover disturbance involving European Member of Parliament (6,6)

4 Mad monarch half heartedly supported in Sweden (6)

5 Political group still drinking gin before a reversal (3,5)

7 Hold back minister again (7)

8 War as Ascot’s race takes off (5,5)

11 Lincoln for instance drunk one during a blessing; it’s ridiculous (12)

13 Open department for politician (5,5)

16 A film society hosted by academic Tory (8)

18 In that case it’s May (7)

20 Bush’s unfashionable following (7)

21 Tusk oddly omitted extra description of Brexit voting area (2-4)

23 Roosevelt’s only self-referential term (4)

Thanks to StJohn for once again producing his Christmas Crossword. It has become an excellent tradition.

Happy Christmas to all PBers.

Mike Smithson


Reviewing 2017: The polling that made me think 53% of the electorate should be denied the vote

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

The UK seems divided on the major issues.

Reviewing the polling of 2017 I thought I’d focus on the polling that shocked me the most in 2017.

Forget Mrs May’s collapsing ratings during the election campaign, a dash for the cliff that would have left lemmings panting for breath, it was the polling by YouGov in February that showed 53% of the public like pineapple on pizza.

The polling was commissioned after ‘Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the president of Iceland (the country, not the supermarket) made international news…..when it emerged that he wanted to ban pineapple as a topping on pizza.’

As someone who finds pineapple on pizza as appealing as being stuck in a lift with Piers Morgan I wholeheartedly support the views and policies of the President of Iceland, this poll was a bit of a shock. It made me doubt the competencies & tastes of my fellow citizens and research about emigrating to Iceland.

If the public can make such a bad decision on such an important matter like pineapple on pizza, they may make similar misjudgements in the future on other important matters.

The public did redeem themselves earlier on this month when they said that Die Hard, a film released in July 1988, is not a Christmas movie, so I have hope for this country.

Merry Christmas everybody.



This must be the Troll of the year

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017


The dangers of reverse-reasoning: a Christmas parable

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

Beware starting from a conclusion and working backwards

“This time next year, we’ll be running the country”, as Jeremy Corbyn didn’t quite say a few days ago in his interview with Grazia. It’s a near-repetition of his prediction at Glastonbury this June – except that there he was talking about Christmas 2017 rather than 2018 – and for those not favourably inclined towards him, might bear a passing resemblance to the unsubstantiated optimism of another Christmas staple. Admittedly, Del Boy did eventually become a millionaire but it took him 15 years and an extraordinary slice of luck. Corbyn may also end up being right but if he is, it too will be more down to luck than judgement. The error in his prediction is in starting with a conclusion he wants to be true and working backwards from there.

Not that this is anything new. The original Christmas story should be warning enough of the dangers of reverse-reasoning, if we discount heavenly interventions.

The Sky At Night broadcast a good Christmas Special two years ago, investigating what the real Star of Bethlehem might have been and considering six astronomical options. Three stood out: a triple-conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a nova, and a comet. All three have solid evidence behind them (though the nova and the comet are an either-or as the historical reference, from the Chinese, is to a ‘broom star’, which could be either).

If we transport ourselves back a little over 2000 years, a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn would be astrologically significant: the planets representing the gods of kings and of change. A rare triple-conjunction – where the pair followed each other through the sky for some months, as they did in 6BC – would re-emphasise that significance. But how to apply that knowledge? The appearance of a nova or a comet the next year would provide that answer. The rarity of the conjunction, the astrological nature of the planets involved and the sudden appearance of a guesting celestial body shortly afterwards would be exactly the sort of thing that would send wise men – as those who studied and interpreted the heavens would be – scurrying west.

Would it be enough to find a specific child? Herein lies the problem of having already reached the conclusion. If you follow the stars west and then south, as the heavens might well have guided the magi, you could indeed end up at Bethlehem and, having so arrived, would no doubt be able to find a child born at the relevant time, after local enquiries. The biblical story may well be true in as far as the visit of the wise men is concerned (and if it was, it’s the sort of thing that would have been well-documented as well as being remembered locally – particularly if Herod’s response is as the Bible records – so could well have formed the basis of a Gospel written 70 years later), but just because they set off to find a child and were successful in so doing, that wasn’t necessarily of any greater significance.

Put another way, on a purely rational basis, the logic suggests that extraordinary astronomical events did not appear because of the birth of Christ; instead, Christ was born (or identified) because of extraordinary astronomical events.

We could take this further and suggest that given the paucity of historical evidence for Christ’s early life and the likelihood that if the Bethlehem story is grounded in fact then it would have been remembered thirty or so years later, then it wouldn’t be too difficult for a would-be prophet of about the right age to assume the identity of the child the magi found: why not harness the power of the prophesy? But here we enter controversial and speculative territory.

The relevance to today – or to any time – is simply in the message that it is all too easy to start with a conclusion you want to be true and then rationalise the supporting analysis and logic; for the wish to be father to the thought. Mostly, that just ends up with bad bets. Sometimes though, it changes worlds.

David Herdson


Young voters are much more opposed to blue passports being brought back than older ones in favour

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

A smart electoral move or not?

Above is based on YouGov polling from last February when the specific question of the post-Brexit reintroduction of the blue passport was asked. This is something that ministers have just announced will happen. The figure shown is the net one. The total opposed is subtracted from those supporting for each segment.

As can be seen from the chart this will please some older voters but in the overall sample there were more opposed than in favour. This is because the youngest age groups feel a fair bi more strongly about it than those who are older.

Now this polling is from last February but it should be noted that support for Brexit was stronger then that it is now.

No doubt we’ll see some new polling after the holidays.

Mike Smithson