No man is an is­land, ex­cept a politi­cian ap­pointed by May

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - John Crace’s


Jeremy Wright, the me­dia and cul­ture sec­re­tary, used a speech to the So­ci­ety of Ed­i­tors to say he never read news­pa­pers. Pressed to name a fe­male colum­nist, Wright be­came de­fen­sive, say­ing he wasn’t go­ing to in­dulge in a “pub quiz”. As his de­part­ment also cov­ers dig­i­tal and sport, we can soon ex­pect him to ad­mit he doesn’t watch TV, read books, use the in­ter­net or go to the­atre, con­certs or sport­ing events. But then Theresa May has form for ap­point­ing peo­ple with no ob­vi­ous cre­den­tials. Chris Grayling’s lack of ap­ti­tude hasn’t stopped him be­com­ing trans­port sec­re­tary, and Karen Bradley is North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary de­spite be­ing clue­less about the re­gion be­ing di­vided along sec­tar­ian lines. This week, the Brexit sec­re­tary, Do­minic Raab, said he had not ap­pre­ci­ated “the pe­cu­liar geo­graphic eco­nomic en­tity that is the United King­dom”, ie he hadn’t re­alised Bri­tain was an is­land. Then there’s the strange case of the philoso­pher Roger Scru­ton. No one is sure whether it’s his work on aes­thet­ics and Kant or his ho­mo­pho­bia and Is­lam­o­pho­bia that qual­ify him to be hous­ing tsar.


YouGov has pub­lished a list of pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings for politi­cians – based largely on pub­lic recog­ni­tion. Top­ping the list are Theresa May with 32% and Jeremy Cor­byn with 30%. Cu­ri­ously, the sec­ond most highly ranked Labour politi­cian is Ed Balls, in spite of the fact he hasn’t been an MP for more than three years. There again, if most of the shadow cab­i­net can’t recog­nise one an­other then why should the pub­lic? The rat­ings also pro­vide some in­ter­est­ing guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion. If you know who Boris is, then you’re also likely to recog­nise Piers Mor­gan. Bizarrely, the as­so­ci­a­tions you get for May are Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley FC, Chris de Burgh and the Daily Ex­press. In­evitably, there’s as much fun to be had at the other end of the rat­ings with the Tory Mark Field com­ing last in 228th place with a rat­ing of just 2%. To which many would say: “That high?” There’s also bad news for Don­ald Trump. On the list of for­eign politi­cians he is in sev­enth place, lag­ging be­hind Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, An­gela Merkel, Bill Clin­ton, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Im­ran Khan. Call that the cat­e­gory of the world as we would like it to be.


Trump’s press con­fer­ence at the White House af­ter the mid-term elec­tions was an ob­ject les­son in an un­med­i­cated nar­cis­sis­tic break­down. For some­one who pro­fessed to be so de­lighted at get­ting a dead brothel owner elected to the Nevada state leg­is­la­ture while los­ing a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the pres­i­dent spent much of the twohour Q&A in a state of un­con­tained fury. First he had an­other run-in with CNN’s Jim Acosta, which led to the re­porter los­ing his White House pass, then he rounded on a black jour­nal­ist for ask­ing a “racist ques­tion”. It was grip­ping, if dis­turb­ing, po­lit­i­cal the­atre. Still, what­ever you might think of Trump, at least he puts him­self in the spot­light where his flaws can be ex­posed. May of­ten talks up her be­lief in the value of a free press but only gives press con­fer­ences when she ab­so­lutely has to – such as af­ter EU sum­mits – and would never let them last for two hours. She usu­ally lim­its her­self to four ques­tions at ab­so­lute tops, and even then in­vari­ably man­ages to give the same non-an­swer to each of them.


Iden­tity pol­i­tics has just be­come even more of a mine­field. Emile Ratel­band, a 69-year-old Dutch­man who de­scribes him­self as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, has be­gun a le­gal bat­tle to have him­self re­as­signed as a 49-year-old. He ar­gues that he feels 20 years younger than he is and that he is be­ing un­fairly swiped left on dat­ing apps by peo­ple who don’t re­alise quite how much love he has to give. Or to put it an­other way, he is upset at only at­tract­ing part­ners of his own age when ob­vi­ously in a less dis­crim­i­na­tory world 30-some­thing woman would be throw­ing them­selves at his love ma­chine of a body. It is al­most cer­ti­fi­able: Ratel­band would be bet­ter off try­ing to get a Dutch court to de­clare that we are all still liv­ing in 1998. Most peo­ple I know would much rather be de­clared 20 years older than they ac­tu­ally are. If I were to be­come 82 overnight, I could put in a back­dated claim for 17 years of un­paid state pen­sion while still do­ing a job I en­joy and stand a bet­ter chance of liv­ing to 100. Bet­ter still, peo­ple might say how young I look and mean it.


My in­sis­tence on a three-day di­ver­sion to visit the first world war bat­tle­fields in Bel­gium and France wasn’t the best of starts to one of the first hol­i­days my wife-to-be and I took. It wasn’t her idea of fun. Nor mine par­tic­u­larly. More a sense of a con­nec­tion I needed to make and on the cen­te­nary of the armistice to­mor­row my thoughts are sure to re­turn – as they do ev­ery Re­mem­brance Day – to the

rows of iden­ti­cal grave­stones in the im­mac­u­lately main­tained ceme­ter­ies. How and what we choose to re­mem­ber is a puz­zle. I’ve been read­ing Philip Larkin’s Let­ters Home 1936-1977 and he ob­serves that Ten­nyson’s gen­er­a­tion com­mem­o­rated those who died in the Napoleonic wars. No one re­mem­bers them now. It’s as if there’s only so much ob­ser­vance of re­mem­brance that any­one can take. Larkin finds him­self puz­zled that on an Armistice Day just af­ter the sec­ond world war, his thoughts fo­cused on those who died in the 1914-18 con­flict rather than on those – some of whom he must have known – who had died re­cently. The BBC web­site pub­lished a fas­ci­nat­ing story about how, in the years just af­ter 1918, many vet­er­ans – hav­ing ob­served the two-minute si­lence – would hold wild par­ties to cel­e­brate that they were still alive. The largest and the most glam­orous ones took place at the Al­bert Hall, Lon­don. It was only in the mid-1920s that the or­tho­doxy for solem­nity be­came es­tab­lished and the par­ties came to an end. A shame per­haps. Some of the most mem­o­rable and mov­ing fu­ner­als I have been to were those that ended in a party. There is no right way to re­mem­ber – all that mat­ters is that we do.

Digested week digested Break­ing news: Bri­tain is an is­land that is quite near to France


‘Will you two please stop squab­bling? You’re in church now’

‘It’s no good. I’m still bored sense­less’

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