A long, long time ago I wrote a blog criticising an Abi Wilkinson article, so it’s probably only fair that I now write one praising her.

I refer, of course, to her first piece for Esquire, ‘If you don’t like this article you’re a dick’ – that isn’t actually what it’s called, of course, but that’s the gist of it. And fair play to Abi, because I suspect that’s the not-so-hidden sub-title to every article that everybody writes.

What’s more noteworthy is what a transformation we see in this article because, whatever your opinion of Abi as a journalist, you have to admit that she makes an absolutely first-rate propagandist.

This is the watershed moment when the writers of the left, who have long since given up criticising Corbynism, find that they no longer have to even attempt to justify it. Corbyn is offering the only show in town that’s cool, support it wholeheartedly or you’re uncool.

While her male colleagues still flounder trying to explain that New-Old-Labour isn’t a cult, Abi has realised that debate doesn’t even need to happen. If she said nobody treats Corbynism like a cult then critics would find counterexamples. If she said that people are right to to make Corbyn a cult figure then she’d be called wrong or misguided. Instead she simply makes it uncool to mention cultism, and 70 years of teenagers as a distinct social group have done the heavy lifting for her…nobody argues with a younger person about what is or is not cool.

And with good reason

This is truly a brilliant piece of picking the right battleground and not taking on your enemy on their own terms. Make them a figure of fun, so that it no longer matters what they say, they are an idiot just for opening their mouth.

Abi is generous, though. If you don’t want to be an idiot the proscribed subjects are clearly laid out. You can choose to speak with Corbyn on them, or you can shut up about them, and perhaps people will still think you cool.  Your old road is rapidly ageing, the article seems to say, so get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand…this is a radical new thinking, not for the lovers of crusty old dad-ballads.

Ultimately propaganda wins hearts and minds, and political power and Abi has beautifully set the stage for Labour’s triumph. It’s not a political party’s place to debate issues, or win-over critics, the road to power lies in shutting them up, devaluing their contribution, making them unpersons and Abi should, rightly, be very proud of the groundwork she has done today in making that possible.

And, of course, if you don’t agree with this article you’re a dick.


Brexit: An optimist speaks out

I am one of life’s optimists; my glass is always half-full, every cloud has a silver lining, it’s an ill wind…and so on, ad nauseam. As a looker on the bright side I’ve been disappointed by how negative paintings of Britain’s post-Brexit future have been. Even the daily announcements from The Express, about how much richer we’re going to be when we leave the EU, are based on things like papers from Economists for Free-Trade (formerly Economists for Brexit, and against literally everything else), which boast impressive GDP growth, but also gloomily mention that UK agriculture and manufacturing are going to be wiped out.

Is that the British way? Is that patriotism? Is that what we want to tell our grandchildren when they pause from gnawing on their rats bones and, eyes wide and twinkling with faith in us, ask, “What did you do in Brexit, granddad?”

No. No it’s ruddy well not!

very british

Let us then be optimistic. We’ll start by throwing out all of the economics (which is nothing more than guess-work hidden under A-level maths) and politics (which is just economics without the maths) and, instead, look at the longer term.

We tend to think of evolution as a continuous process, happening all of the time, but at a rate too slow to be perceptible within a human life-time. However, some time ago, Stephen Gould – or possibly Elliott Gould – proposed an evolutionary theory called ‘punctuated equilibrium’, which suggests that evolution might do not much for ages, and then suddenly happen a lot when circumstances change.

Think of it like this; thousands of years ago lived a herd of things-that-would-eventually-become-giraffes. They didn’t have big long necks, just regular necks, and they ate the leaves off of trees. In times when there were lots of leaves a proto-giraffe with a slightly longer neck wouldn’t have a big advantage. Sure, they could eat leaves that were a bit higher up, but they’d also have low self-esteem, from people/giraffes-to-be making fun of their freaky neck, so wouldn’t be any more likely to breed.

Then, when times are hard and there aren’t so many leaves, suddenly Geoffrey’s freak neck is the thing to have, and the lady antegiraffes are all like, “Hey, Geoffrey, come over here and get me some leaves, and afterwards we can do hot sexing and have baby long-necked freaks.”

It’s basically the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, but with more prehistoric giraffe sex.

How does this relate to Brexit, I hear you ask (not unreasonably, it must be said)? Well, we currently live in a society where scarcity is, paradoxically, rare. With the invention of pizza delivery and Ocado (relatively recently, in evolutionary terms) it no longer matters how lazy or unfit we are, we can still survive and procreate.

Brexit is going to change all of that. By reintroducing scarcity into our lives, along with the long-missed daily threat of violence, we will be breeding a future British population that is stronger, fitter, more cunning and significantly rarer.

brexit giraffes

Not only that, but because the aims of Brexit are to keep the foreigners out and those of us already here too poor to leave, we will be massively increasing the level of interbreeding – almost to European-royal-family levels. This will make beneficial mutations quicker to establish, as we fight each other tooth and claw for the last cat with a bit of meat on its bones.

Obviously evolution is still a slow process, and it’s too much to hope that our children or grandchildren will be 12ft tall, bulletproof and able to breathe fire, but with only the modest level of optimism that Economists for Free-Trade use in their GDP forecasts, it’s easy to envisage our great-grandchildren being well on their way to those goals.

Then they – the next step in human evolution, Homo Brexitus – will fall upon a world weakened by 70 years of sloth and laughing at us, and claim it as their own. Although they will be a different species to us, and will view us as little more than lardy chimpanzees, they will still carry our genetics and the history we have taught them, and they will take these to all four corners of the world, driving Homo Sapiens to extinction before them. And that is how Brexit will be the making of the New British Empire.

Also, jam exports are likely to rise slightly.

Parc fer me

(or What I did on my summer holidays)


Today I have returned from my first ever visit to a Centre Parcs. My previous experience of Centre Parcs consisted of people telling me that they were going there, that they’d just been there, or that they went there every year. Often in that order, over a period of a couple of years. The progression seemed inexorable. Once you’d been it was only a matter of time before it became your sole holiday destination.

I have now been. If you haven’t then let me help out.

It’s a bit like the Green Party started designing a Utopia, but then out-sourced the economic policy to the Tories. Or maybe it was a white, middle-class UKIP dream, but they needed Lib Dem votes, so agreed that everyone would walk or cycle everywhere.

More likely the place was designed by a feral group of children who wanted to do all of the things that kids normally do – to swim, to shoot bows & arrows, to ride bikes or horses, to climb through trees – and they were sick of the adult excuses; it’s too far away, I tried to book but they’re closed, there’s nowhere to park, it’s not open today, etc.

These children set up the world’s slickest operation for removing these excuses. I have never seen commerce work as efficiently when it comes to separating people from their money. There is no air of malice to it, it simply removes every possible barrier between a child wanting to do something and an adult handing over money for them to do it. The only excuse left is that something it too expensive, and what kind of middle-class parent pleads poverty to their children under the gaze of other middle-class parents whose children are engaged in fun activities? It is the leisure-themed weaponization of keeping-up-with-the-Jones.

This slickness comes at a price, of course. The accommodation costs more than you’d pay elsewhere, the activities cost more than you’d pay elsewhere, the food costs more than elsewhere, the supermarket certainly costs more. You could, in theory, leave during the day and just go elsewhere, but the entry procedure – with the bay you drive your car into, automatics doors sliding shut behind you – seems to wordlessly inform you that if you should leave then getting back in will involve some modicum of hassle, and the car-park is so remote that even the thought of getting to and from your car is enough to dissuade you.

Plus, you’re paying a premium for the traffic-free roads within the parc…if your idea of traffic-free is roads populated entirely by people who seem to never have cycled before and are entirely unfamiliar with ideas such as cycling on a particular side of the road, giving way, looking before they change course or giving the slightest indication that they are, without apparent motive, about to come to a complete stop.

What you’re really paying for, the only gratuity in the whole experience, is limitless access to the swimming pool.

And swimming pools are dreadful, dreadful places.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against swimming. It’s way better than, for example, drowning needlessly, but I like to swim in the sea. The sea is interesting. It has unexpected waves. Mysterious things brush over your feet. There is joy to be found in floating on your back, letting the current gently bob you. There is tranquillity. There is endless space to choose to be near only the other humans you wish to be near (as I predominately swim in the North Sea the nearest they normally get is the shore, and that suits me fine).

The Centre Parcs swimming pool has none of these things. It has manufactured features – waves and rapids – that are carefully regulated. It has so many children per square foot that it feels like that old Star Trek episode about overpopulation. You cannot swim, because to do so would almost certainly involve giving another 3 or 4 holiday makers a hearty kick. You cannot float on your back, because 0.4 seconds into the experience a pre-teen child will cannonball onto your head.

They do have waterslides, of course; the sea doesn’t have them. This is because nobody has ever looked at a beautiful beach and thought, “Hmmm, what we need here is something that combines the joy of queuing, while cold and wet, with the thrill of being waterboarded”.  Not that I imagine Professor Alvin ‘Splash’ Waterslide was thinking that when he invented them. No, I imagine he was thinking, “What could I get swimming ladies to do that might make their boobies fall out of their costumes?”. How terrible, then, that morgue-chic sterile tiling and omnipresent life-guards should conspire to suggest that simply spending a whole day hanging around the bottom of the waterslide for that happy eventually will be frowned upon.

The worst part is that the hellish pool, the suicycling, the sensation of spending every waking hour shovelling bank-notes into a furnace, didn’t stop us having a lovely time. Before we were even two days into our stay my wife was making comments like, “A lot of the girls at work come here for winter breaks”, “I bet it’s lovely in the winter”, “They give you a discount if you book within 28 days of your last stay” (I assume 28 days is the median length of time it takes for Stockholm Syndrome to wear off).

So, doubtless, we’ll be back. Joining the throngs of people who go there every year. Well, at least it will give me a chance to improve my bowling score.


Interviewing Sir Humphrey


Sir Humphrey Appleby, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service during Jim Hacker’s premiership, has rarely granted interviews since his retirement. I was extremely fortunate to manage to arrange a short meeting with him at his club, to discuss his views on Brexit]

INTERVIEWER: Sir Humphrey, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. If I may I’d like to jump straight in.

SIR HUMPHREY: By all means.

INT: Obviously the biggest issue of the day is Brexit. What are your feelings about it?

H: I rather think I’m still in shock about the whole issue.

INT: Shocked that people voted to leave?

H: No, shocked that they were allowed to vote at all. I’ve no idea what Jeremy [Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary] was thinking, allowing that to happen.

INT: You don’t believe in direct democracy?

H: Good lord, no. The general public aren’t qualified to run a country. It’s bad enough that we let them interfere with our plans by voting for a new government every 4 or 5 years.

INT: It’s not valuable to ask the people for their views on major decisions about their country?

H: It’s absolutely fine to ask them their views. It’s agreeing to do something based upon them that is ruinous.

INT: But…

H: Opinion polls ask people their views all of the time, and are an invaluable way to steer truculent ministers. Isn’t that enough?

INT: But opinion polls don’t allow the public to directly control government policy.

H: Not directly, no. That’s the purpose of the civil service.

INT: To turn opinion polls into government policy?

H: [chuckles] No, to use opinion polls to turn civil service policy into government policy.

INT: I’m sorry, sir Humphrey, but you’ve lost me.

H: Look, it’s perfectly straightforward. The general population are completely unfit to govern. Most of them didn’t go to good schools, hardly any of them would pass the civil service entry exam, and most of them seem to be constantly drunk or stoned [pause] Vox populi, vox cannabis, one might say.

INT: I’m sorry, Sir Humphrey, I don’t speak Latin.

H: My point entirely, dear boy. [He sips his drink] Popularity is the enemy of the civil service. If a policy is good, but unpopular, then we can implement it terribly well and, if we’re questioned about it, we can say that it was the will of our political masters.

INT: Do you say that about bad policy as well?

H: No need. If a policy is bad and unpopular we can either stall it forever, or gradually change it until it’s good. Either way nobody really cares, because nobody really liked it anyway.

INT: What about popular policies?

H: Policies that are bad, yet popular, are where opinion polls are so important. Every good civil servant knows how to use opinion polls to make a popular opinion look unpopular. In practice, of course, it’s rarely necessary to do so.

INT: Why?

H: One can normally rely upon the average cabinet minister to make the popular unpopular simply by speaking in support of it. Referendums are different, however. Opinion polls change all of the time. If an opinion poll doesn’t show the result you want then there’ll be another one along in a few minutes which does. A referendum is like a trump in bridge; it can only be beaten by another trump.

INT: So what would happen if a policy was both good and popular?

H: Do you know, the question has never arisen.

INT: You don’t think Brexit is a good idea then?

H: I think the idea of Brexit is excellent, a truly marvellous policy. The girl [The Right Honourable Theresa May, MP, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland] handled it so well to start off with; two new government departments created, expectations of massive civil service spending, decade’s worth of planning and strategy papers to be written…

INT: I sense a ‘but’ coming here.

H: But she’s letting the politicians run things, and run them to their timetable. A measured civil service approach would have allowed time for the options to be considered, the ramifications to be measured, the risks evaluated and the rewards quantified.

INT: How much time are you talking about here?

H: Hardly any time at all.

INT: But, how much?

H: Well, I’m a classicist, not a trade expert, but from my experience we’d be talking about being ready to leave in no more than 25 years…30 at the absolute outside.

INT: You feel that Mrs May is rushing things?

H: I feel that all historical evidence suggests that it’s folly to have government policy dictated by the leaders in The Daily Mail.

INT: Would you rather see Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?

H: Yes. Yes, I think he’d make a very good PM.

INT: Really? He doesn’t seem like your sort of person.

H: Naturally I wouldn’t want him running the country…

INT: But you just said that he’d make a good prime minister.

H: Yes. Why do you imagine that’s the same as him running the country?

INT: Ah, you think that the civil service could ‘manage’ him.

H: I learned long ago that nobody is easier to steer than an ideologue. They’re so obsessed with the carrot that they don’t see you making the stick longer.

INT: But Mr Corbyn’s supporters say that he’s principled and determined. Perhaps he wouldn’t be as malleable as you think.

H: Nonsense, just look at him when he became leader of the opposition; scruffy suit, no tie, refusing to sing the national anthem. That was the authentic ‘him’. Since then somebody’s told him that he has to “play the game” if he wants to reach his goals. The idiot children he surrounds himself with have already made him a completely different person, and he hasn’t even met the civil service yet.

INT: Finally then, Sir Humphrey, can I have a simple yes or no answer. Do you think Brexit is going to be good for Britain?

H: I think that when all of the relevant factors are taken into consideration, including the factors that we do not yet know are relevant, and the factors which we considered relevant which may, on closer inspection, turn out to be irrelevant, and giving due consideration to the matters in hand, the handling of the matters due, and the unduly underhand manner in which some of the matters have been handled, my feeling is that not all that matters has been handled, not all that has been handled matters, and that that, on consideration, more consideration should have been given to the handling of what matters most and less to our dues.

INT: Is that a ‘no’?

H: Yes

INT: Thank you, sir…

H: …and no.

INT: Thank you, Sir Humphrey. It’s been an education.

H: Who knows, a little more of that and we may end up with a policy that’s popular and good.


Managing your finances

With Professor Patrick Minford*

*Well, you know, not really


It’s not for nothing that it’s said that the happiest people are those with lots of money, and one only has to look at contemporary celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe or Howard Hughes, to see how undeniably true this is. For ordinary people, of course, grabbing that joy-inducing wealth can seem like just a dream, but it needn’t be that way. As Professor of Appalled Economics at Cardiff University, and front-runner for the lead role in the forthcoming straight-to-VHS mini-series Douglas Hurd: Dam and Blast, I’m here to tell you how a few simple drastic changes to your life can make your household a wealthier place.

Reskill your partner

If we think of household income as being equivalent to the GDP of an independent nation, with the in-work productivity of the members of the household equating to the total value of finished goods produced within a given period, then the Minford Principle states that H is directionally proportional to E, where H is household income and E is the combined earnings of everyone in the household.

The corollary of this theory is that if earnings increase then household income as a whole will also increase. The easiest way to increase those household earnings is to abandon your old career and move into a more lucrative one. Obviously, I can’t do this personally, as I’m unlikely to find another job that pays me to regurgitate the same old nonsense for 40+ years, so the smart move is to push your wife into retraining and bringing in those big bucks.

I know from bitter experience how reluctant your partner can be to give up their job, but they must understand that it’s for the greater good of the household. Encourage them to see it as a great opportunity to either improve their exiting skills or learn whole new ones. Perhaps they can get a job in a whole new industry that doesn’t even exist yet! I’m sure there must be many things like that, perhaps involving these new-fangled computers.

I have regularly encouraged all of my wives to periodically quit their jobs and retrain and, excluding the sad, oven-related, death of the 2nd Mrs Minford, following a long period of unemployment and depression, I remain confident that if I checked the figures it would show a net gain to my household income.

Regulation is the enemy of wealth

Increasing your net income isn’t the only way to make yourself richer. You can make what we economists call a real gain by spending less. Spending less can seem difficult, but what you won’t realise – unless you’ve worked in academia since the mid-70s – is that government regulation is effectively a stealth tax on all households. Think about it; who says you have to insure your car…the government, who sets meaningless standards for gas and electric installations…the government, who says that you can’t send your children to work cleaning chimneys…the government!

By drastically reducing these draconian and unnecessary regulations the average household can make savings of up to £40 per week. This means that, since the 1980s, my household has increased its real income by over £5 million! Even allowing for the unfortunate deaths of the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th Mrs Minfords (respectively, electrocuted in the shower, faulty brakes, broken heart and damn shower again) that’s a staggering net gain for me and my household.

Shop smarter, not better

Another great way to increase real income is to recognise that from moving away from markets controlled by the protectionist EU there are vast savings to be made.

For example, are you still paying those ridiculous Radio Rentals prices for your TV? Dave, down at The Dog-Fighters Arms can do you a top-of-the-range, full colour, 28” TV for a fraction of the price. And why throw away your money at premium stores like Lidl, when Dumpster Dan is selling perfectly edible food at knock-down prices?

Quality is rarely an issue, and only the 6th Mrs Minford has ever actually died as a direct result of food-borne parasites. Plus, of course, the benefits of the free market are that if, like me, your tastes are more refined you can still choose to shop at Waitrose or Harrods.

Gamble your way to prosperity

When many people think of becoming rich their thoughts immediately turn to a big lottery win. Of course the odds against winning the lottery jackpot are literally hundreds-to-one against. What many non-economists don’t realise is that you can half your odds of winning simply by buying two tickets. Buy three and your odds are thirded, etc.

The logical conclusion of this is what economists have known for decades – always put absolutely all of your eggs in one basket. The household that puts absolutely everything it has into buying lottery tickets is the household that triumphs over those run by short-sighted conservative policies.

Those naturally risk-averse, such as the 2nd Mrs Minford (shot by her loan-shark) and the 7th (won jackpot and ran off with a mathematician), will try to argue against this bold approach, but while they’re the ones gambling and I’m the one getting what I want it’s hard to see them as anything more than economic luddites.

That’s all for the moment, budget busters, but look out for my new 8-page column in The Daily Express and you can still catch me in repeats of Who Wants to Marry an Economist on the Dave digital TV channel.

And the crowd went…why?

The stupidest thing I’ve seen today is this video, from last month.

If you can’t be bothered to click – and I’d argue that that’s the right position to take on this – a couple of Trump fans (both young white men, you’ll be surprised to learn) thought it would be fun to turn up at an anti-Trump demo and read out a speech made entirely of Hitler quotes, to see if the crowd would cheer.

Because the speaker did manage to achieve a smattering of what can only be called polite applause, the right have been gleefully sharing the video to prove…something.

Quite what the “something” is I’m not sure. That, deep down, everyone’s a fascist, maybe, or perhaps that people who oppose Trump are innately stupid. I’m sure it must have, at some point, seemed to prove something like that.

The first fatal flaw in this cunning plan is that Hitler was a populist. He didn’t pop up on the German political scene with a list of atrocities he wanted to commit and have everyone say, “Yeah, alright then”. He got into power by telling ordinary people what they wanted to hear, irrespective of whether those things happened to intersect with what he planned to do once in power.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Farage speaks during an interview with Reuters in London
A populist, pictured yesterday

He was also, and this may be controversial, not a nice person, and sometimes said things that he didn’t mean. Fortunately he’s dead and can’t sue me for this terrible defamation of his character, but you can easily see it for yourself. The Internet argument “Was Hitler a Christian/atheist” is so old that it not only pre-dates the Internet but also Hitler himself. If you find one of the 20-or-so billion threads where it’s been discussed you’ll be shocked to learn that there are a wealth of Hitler quotes supporting both sides. He said what he needed to say to get him what he really wanted. The absolute bounder!

The upshot of this is that you can’t just grab a Hitler quote and claim, “This is what he believed”. The corollary of that (and, to be fair, basic common sense) is that you’re on logically shaky ground to claim something is bad just because Hitler said it. None of the selected quotes particularly relate to fascism; none of them are about racial superiority, or any of the core attributes you’d associate with the Nazi regime.

As if that wasn’t already mild enough one of the quotes was altered by being prefixed with “Donald Trump seems to think that…”, which obviously changes the sense entirely.

1,000 year Reich, you say? Let’s see if we can get to 1,000 days first, eh?

The stupidest things of all, though, is that these trolls didn’t even have the intelligence to see their stupid idea through.

The first Hitler quote they picked isn’t a Hitler quote, and as it’s one widely used by the right to claim that Hitler was a socialist, and therefore socialism is the real evil, they must have seen it debunked before now.

The rest of the speech is then just a collection of contextless quotations. Hitler wrote and spoke extensively[citation needed], so if their goal was to get a reaction from the crowd why not present a coherent speech? People don’t cheer for a string of unconnected age-old quotes, unless they’re at a Frankie Boyle gig.

I suspect that, deep down, they knew that this wasn’t really a gag worth putting any effort into, and that those on the right would laud it anyway.

That’s pretty depressing, and even more depressing that they seem to have been right.

Depressing and deeply, deeply stupid.

Spannergate 3: The reboot

three monkeys

Film reboots are a tricky business. They must walk the line between changing too much (“Why didn’t they just make a brand new film?”) and changing too little (“What was the point of that?”)

Today’s Sunday Herald piece, Revealed: The unionist Twitter trolls who shame Scotland, sadly leans too far towards the latter.  Given the byline of the piece, and the Herald’s call this week for an interview with Brian Spanner, fans were surely expecting that this article would be the grand unmasking, so far missing from the Spannergate franchise.

sunday herald spanner

Instead they were treated to the mildest possible reheat of the original Spannergate outing. The same old, old tweets, the same insinuation that J K Rowling is somehow the property of Scotland, and is therefore not allow to make her own judgements about who she befriends on-line. the same weary determination to make this a unionist problem, rather than a social media one.

The new cast do little to disguise the reheated nature of this outing. Jill Stephenson’s cameo as Historywoman could have added some intellectual weight, but her brief appearance, in amongst the other new-comers – all of whom have more digits in their usernames than their follower counts – reduced her to just an out-of-context tweet.

All this article really has to add to the series it seems are a few typos that a good editor would have spotted and, coming as does a year and a half after the story it repeats, the mystery of whether The Herald is employing slow readers, slow typists or merely slow thinkers as its columnist.

The brief allusion to the original theory that there may be more than one person behind the Spanner account even makes it in, although it is so hackneyed now that one wonders if it was meant as a sly backhanded compliment, implying that Spanner’s output is too diverse to be the work of a single man.

That certainly isn’t a problem that Brian’s “counterpart” on the independence side, Wings Over Scotland, has, as virtually everyone who reads his pieces thinks, “This was written by a single man”.

Which brings us, finally, to the main problem with this reboot. Reboots work best when there is a solid reason for their existence, but this one is a transparently thin attempt to distract from in-fighting in the independence camp by trying to interest them in settling their differences and re-fighting an old battle instead.

That Spannergate III is so weak that it can’t even entice pro-Indy supporters to fight pro-Union ones is surely the most damning condemnation it can be given.