The Eglinton Tournament – a parable for our times

As the march of industrialisation progressed through the early 19th century many minds turned wistfully back to the long ago halcyon days of chivalry and men in tights doing noble things in discreet cod pieces – while women darned tapestries and looked wistfully out of windows.

Walter Scott’s romantic historical novel, Ivanhoe, appeared in 1820 and was an immediate Victorian blockbuster, sparking a lasting and heavily sentimentalized reimagining of the past. By the 1830s there were six theatrical versions in London alone and as the decade wore on, the general trend for looking backwards showed no sign of abating. As train-lines grew like splattered ink spills, the yearning for a simpler, better, happier, rose-tinted past grew with it.

Ivanhoe
Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

This Romanticism informed art, poetry architecture, nationalism, notions of identity and political thinking but then a 27 year aristocrat, Archibald Montgomerie the 13th Earl of Eglinton, decided to take things to the next level.

Archibald was an Old Etonian who would later go on to make a name for himself as a staunch Tory opponent of Jewish rights, Irish rights and ordinary people in general. The only things he seems to have been in favour of were the Corn Laws – and jousting.

Archibald loved jousting, the idea of jousting, the thought of jousting and had clearly read Ivanhoe not once, not twice but several times over. Archibald was also fabulously rich and lived in a big castle. And so it was – that Archibald decided to host a medieval tournament.

In late 1838, 150 chums, acquaintances and school friends were invited to “Pratt’s” – an antique armoury dealer in London’s St James’s that they might be fitted with suitable attire. Mr Pratt himself was put in charge of bunting, swords, tents, horses and those big chain things that have a spikey bit on the end. Unfortunately, given that there was only one expert and that the whole thing was being based on a book that had no actual grounding in historical accuracy, things at this very early stage started to go slightly awry. It was noted fairly quickly that medieval people appeared to be much smaller and thinner and despite the number of eager volunteers there wasn’t enough armour to go round.

eglinton castle 1900
Eglinton Castle ca.1900

Things brightened up slightly, when a dress rehearsal was held and the ‘very elite of the most elite’ turned out to watch – along with 2,000 casual observers – eager to satiate their curiosity. Despite only 19 Knights taking part the first tournament was a big success and the Victorians celebrated in classic Victorian fashion. Commemorative Jugs were made.

Anticipation grew. People who weren’t too busy starving could talk of little else. Queen Victoria wrote about it in her diary. Twice.

Predictably, the ‘usual suspects’ refused to get on board and started to moan. The Whigs, the reformers, those libtard Methodists and the relatively new Manchester Guardian adjudged it to be a ridiculous folly. The whole thing was a made up, unnecessary, silly, expensive, dangerous endeavour that would cost upwards of £40,000 (around £4 million today) at a time of desperate poverty and terrible economic and social uncertainty.

Archibald and his associates pressed the metaphorical mute button – and moved on with their preparations.

All through the spring and summer of 1839 they practised – putting on their armour, getting on their horses, falling off their horses, jousting and generally injuring each other and themselves. At Erlington Castle groundworks were in full swing – heavy thrones were carved and a regal stand that could accommodate 2,000 invited guests was erected.

The buzz grew. Cartoonists lampooned the Quixotic endeavour while The Tory press talked of little else. It would be fabulous. It would be splendid. It would be talked about forever. This was what Britain needed. We want our Medieval Splendour back.

As Friday 30th of August 1839 edged closer thousands of people began to journey to the castle – many in the trains the raffish young Earl hated so much. The actual attendance far exceeded estimates and as the day of the grand tournament dawned, as many as 100,000 people had descended on the fairly remote Scottish site – and found a spot to wait eagerly for the marvellous cavalcade that would transport them back to a happier more genteel Britain of old and make everyone forget about all that horrid progress.

There were early signs that things might not go off entirely as planned. The Earl knew a great deal about golf and thoroughbred horses, but it would seem he knew next to nothing about topography. The site he had selected for his splendid parade was effectively a flood plain – and it had rained almost solidly for a month. The crowd began to get wet feet.

Behind the scenes there was feverish activity. Putting on all that heavy armour was taking considerably longer than had been anticipated. Lunch came and lunch went and the 100,000 grew hungrier, wetter and colder.

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Contemporary depiction of the parade

The knights hadn’t practiced getting on to their horses more than they had had to on account of their always falling off when they did and by the time they had, there was a mock medieval traffic jam winding almost a mile down the narrow carriageway to the tiltyard.

Just at the point when groups of day-trippers were beginning to give up and break away, a trumpet blasted and Lady Somerset, The Queen of Beauty, emerged onto the balcony of Mr Pratt’s magnificent grandstand.

Cheers went up from the colossal saturated crowd and at that precise moment, the incredible spectacle of Knights strapped in full tournament armour and their ‘servants’ trotted down into the field.

For a split second it seemed that it had all been worth it after all.

And then, a bolt of biblical lightning – smashed violently across the sky, unleashing a preposterous deluge of rainwater as an enormous thunderstorm engulfed the landscape.

Terrified horses scattered left and right through the heavy mud as unwieldly toffs in ill-fitting armour were tossed like fairy cakes from their backs and dragged off rattling and whimpering through the mire.

The crowd – who had invested considerable expense, time and effort in getting there were now regretting ever having heard of the stupid fucking pageant and tried, in vain and as one, to make their way back past Lugton Water – which had now flooded. Thousands of cold, hungry, angry people were obliged to wade, waist deep through freezing water and then trudge miles through the torrential volley of rain and mud to nearby villages – only to be charged extortionate mark ups by wily locals who could sniff an opportunity when they saw one.

Eglinton had promised his personal guests a sumptuous banquet and ball but both were cancelled. The whole thing had been a colossal waste of time – and money.

Holding such a tournament in Scotland might be considered dicey at any time given the unpredictability of the weather. Choosing to do so, on a flood plain, so late in the summer, without any contingency plan might be measured reckless.

But incredibly – so much faith had been invested in the project by so many people in the press and upper echelons of society that despite all evidence to the contrary – it was hailed a success. Sure – a lot of people had nearly drowned and the whole thing was essentially a comedy of errors – an unnecessary waste of good money – but these were minor drawbacks. Details. No – the main thing was that it had happened and should thus be celebrated.

A local pub, the Tourney, was named after the event. A bridge was built in its honour. Grand fabric panoramas were created and sold. A hundred years later Royal Doultan brought out another commemorative jug set and in 1989 a tribute tournament was held on the same site.

Lord Eglinton himself went on to be the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland before dying at the age of 49, no doubt feeling very pleased with himself indeed.

If this is all bringing back painful memories of Prince Edward’s superlative butt clencher “Royal Knockout Tournament” then I can only apologise.  The Eglinton fiasco was on a far grander scale.

Indeed, in its absurdity, its hubris, its purposelessness and its outlandish futility in a catastrophic pitch at turning back the hands of time – it reminds me much more of something else. Something a little more recent……if only I could….. think Otto….. think.

Lord Eglinton in his forties

 

Hitler, Hopkins and the ‘alt right lit’ phenomenon

Katie Hopkins’ book ‘Rude’ comes out today. Published by Iain Dale’s Biteback, it promises to take us through her rise from reality TV runner up to being the “go to” basher of Muslims, fat people, children, Alzheimer’s sufferers and drowned refugee toddlers. The gushing blurb assures that she will be “as honest in the book as she is in life” which is candid at best. I haven’t read it, but I imagine it will be full of her usual views and particularly heavy on Muslim women in veils and the ‘snowflakes’ who don’t think we should bully them or lock them up.

‘Rude’ is but the latest addition to the growing canon of “alt-right lit” – an anti-Islamic, misanthropic, polemical genre, that has spewed from the laptops of Britain and America’s most familiar right wing bigots over the last couple of years.

Former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) has been out and about just this weekend, signing copies of his reasoned and no doubt rigorously academic endeavour, entitled “Why Muslims Kill for Islam.” Having now written two books more than he has ever read Tommy is able to add “Islamic scholar” to a CV which is otherwise most notable for those fraud convictions and that time he got arrested trying to illegally enter the US on a fake passport.

Not to be outdone, UKIP’s eternal bridesmaid, Raheem Kassam, very much the “third member of Bros” in the alt-right movement, has penned “No Go Zones: How Sharia Law Is Coming to a Neighborhood (sic.) Near You” (foreword by Nigel Farage)and managed to accrue an impressive 35 reviews – on Amazon.

And so it goes on.

The eager student of hate could pop these works on their shelves next to books by peroxided bore Milo Yiannapoulis, laugh a minute journalist Melanie Phillips(Londinistan)and former Breitbart editor at large Ben Shapiro whose niftily titled “How to debate leftists and destroy them” sounds like something someone might say on twitter just before deploying the block button.

Iain Dale is a successful publisher and a canny businessman who has also knocked out books by such lovable figures as Nigel Farage, Conrad Black and the “Bad Boys of Brexit.” No doubt he knows his market well and senses a hunger for the Hopkins tome. Katie Hopkins after all has not simply built a career out of being hated. There are many, many people who admire her and genuinely believe that she is some sort of alternative voice. No doubt the book will sell well.

My question is this. Will anybody actually read it and if not – what is the point of this publishing phenomenon?

Buying a book is not the same as “reading a book.” My own shelves creak under the weight of words I haven’t got around to digesting and probably never will.

Unread Books, particularly unread political books, aren’t necessarily intended to be read. They are more a bold statement of identity. A prominently placed tome by a well-known author on a living-room shelf can be an act of intellectual validation. Academics have done this for years and it seems that the idea has now filtered down to the “alt right social media sphere.” It is one thing to make meritless xenophobic remarks on Facebook, quite another to make the same comments and then back them up by pointing at a book by Tommy Robinson and saying “it’s all in there have you read it? I have. He’s researched it and everything.”

That is one reason why the market for ‘alt-right-lit’ exists. It is confirmation bias in bound form. These ridiculous books, with their provocative titles, give weight and credibility to the authors and justification of their unrighteous bigotry to the dolts who buy them.

There’s nothing new in this of course, Adolf Hitler’s unreadable Mein Kampf sold millions – not least because – like Tommy Robinson’s latest  – it was also given away free. It made him very rich indeed – around $12 million a year in today’s money – despite very few people ever making it to the end.

Hitler’s derisory book gave him ‘intellectual credibility’ and it worked while making him bundles of cash.

The same thing is going on today. The alt-right isn’t just a movement, it’s an industry and it needs content, product and packaging. The publishing arm is a key promotional tool and I suspect we will see a lot more of these “books” in the coming months.

Hopkins meanwhile will no doubt be on our airwaves and sofas this week flogging her tome. The Sunday Times carried a lengthy and unduly soft interview with her last week in which she reiterated her belief that the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the little 3 year old Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach was “set up” before going on to imply it was all the fault of his father anyway because he “wanted new teeth in Canada.”

There was a time – when saying things like that might rightly finish your career and diminish your circle of friends. In modern Britain, sadly, a toddler’s tragic death is now but a tool – used to sell books that nobody will read. There is a case that the best thing to do is to “ignore her” and hope she will go away, but if you ignore Japanese knot-weed it rarely decides to retreat respectfully from your home.

The opening chapter of her book is entitled “I am not a twat” – I for one – would prefer to keep an open mind on that.20171106_105208

Brexit expert and twitter user “Dave in Chingford” explains why Brexit will be “easiest thing in the world.”

Twitter user and self-professed “Brexit expert” Dave Fowler, 57, of Chingford in Essex explains how leaving the EU is the easiest thing in the world.

The EU Divorce Bill:

Problem:

The EU member states jointly pay for billions of pounds worth of infrastructure, social programs, scientific projects and pensions and salaries. The UK is committed to this and our share might run as high as £50 billion.

Dave says:

When my first wife discovered I was sleeping with her sister and her other sister and her cousin Nanette, I was so disgusted that she’d been checking my phone behind my back that I just left her. No discussion. No second chances. I was out of there. And next thing you know I’ve got the Child Support Agency on my back telling me I have to pay £200 a week for the kids and that and I told them where to shove it. Also – she always had the TV remote and I never watched what I wanted and so I stopped the payments and then I got put on a credit blacklist and we hadn’t had sex in years but did that matter? No. Theresa May should tell Juncker to go fuck ‘isself. He can send the bailiffs round – whatever – we’re not paying nothing. Get this Jean Claude son – bang on the door all you like mate: “WE’RE NOT ANSWERING.” Problem solved.

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The rights of migrants.

Problem:

Around 3 million EU citizens live in the UK and a further million Britons live in EU countries. Freedom of movement will end officially in March 2019.

Dave says:

Good riddance. Can’t happen quickly enough if you ask me. I can’t just go and live in my neighbour’s house can I? I wouldn’t want to mind as he and I don’t get along on account of my Staffie, Muffin, biting him. Now Muffin is about the most docile dog you ever saw and he sees this fella in his garden and wants to play – and goes bouncing over – he’s naturally curious – but the fucka starts running and screaming and that and Muffin bites him on the leg. And this nonce calls the police. Nark. He’d know our ways if he could speak English. I mean he can speak English but he isn’t English. Pakistani fella. Or Greek. Never asked him to be honest. It’s all changed round here since I moved in three years ago – unrecognizable. Nobody asks their neighbours their names. You used to know them all – in my case it was my brother Andy – but he moved out. Then these Greeks come along. If he goes I’ll be glad to see the back of him. People say there’ll be a problem with all the English in Spain but I don’t see why that should be. Send them to Gibraltar. They can live in Gibraltar. Problem solved.

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Dave’s beloved dog “Muffin”

Trade and tariffs

Problem:

The EU is the largest free trade bloc on Earth with access to a huge tariff free market. The EU is our biggest trading partner accounting for 44% of all exports and 55% of imports. Crashing out of the EU could mean tariffs on UK exports of up to £6.5 billion a year while imported items could cost 22% more.

Dave says:

It’s easy. We fall back on WTO rules. I heard that on the radio. Everyone else trades with Europe don’t they – without any trouble. I mean America isn’t a part of the EU is it and they don’t seem to be doing too badly. When I left T mobile I got a contract on a pay as you go tariff and it worked out cheaper so I don’t know what the problem with tariffs is. Go to one of them price comparison websites. Problem solved.

Border Controls

Problem:

The UK shares a land border with The Republic of Ireland. Introduction of customs checks at Dover could create a bottle-neck with Tim Waggott, the head of the port of Dover, warning they faced a possible “Armageddon scenario.”

Dave says:

I live off the A1069 in Chingford and like any road it gets busy at different times of the day. If you go down there at 3 a.m. it’s empty. The solution to that Dover thing is to turn the docks into a 24 hour a day operation and not have everyone going at the same time. As for the Northern Ireland thing I’ve never been to Northern Ireland on the road and I don’t know anyone who has so what’s the problem? I’ll tell you the answer in five words. There isn’t one.

Dave’s final thought.

Nothing gets on my tits like media scum on MSM saying people like me don’t understand Brexit. For ninety years the UK was governed directly by the faceless Marxist unelected bureaucrats in Berlin. Nigel Farage got elected President on a promise of ending that and he now has. We have taken back control from the USSR and done it just like we done at Dunkirk – without a single drop of blood being spilt. My great uncle Barry was in the British army in the 1970s in Cyprus and his sacrifice for our todays and tomorrows cannot be forgotten – as I often tell him when we have a pint. Britain can be great again and it will be the envy of the world for escaping the clutches of a foreign power what has ruined our way of life. The EU will no more impose on us the transgender community’s demands for Sharia law in the work place and windfarms and that. God save the Queen.

windfarm

The consolations of truth

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Don’t wear a frown, try positive thinking

When I suggested to fellow Remoaners in a pub last year that instead of going around handing out uninspiring pamphlets about mobile phone tariffs in the EU we should simply give out pie charts showing how little membership cost, more than one of them said to me words to the effect of:

“People don’t like graphs. It reminds them of school. Don’t hand out graphs for God’s sake – you f*cking idiot.”

I might have added the last bit for dramatic effect.

So anyway a warning. This blog contains statistics, a couple of graphs and some wild unsubstantiated speculation.

Let’s begin with the wild unsubstantiated speculation. If you were to go out onto the street now and ask twenty random people whether our roads were getting safer – how do you think they might respond? My guess is that a good number would say that they were getting worse or even a lot worse. Half? I reckon half. Possibly more.

The facts – which we have thanks to meticulous records kept since the 1920s – tell a completely different story.

I hate to break it to you but our roads are getting safer. A great deal safer.

The highest rate in any year for UK traffic deaths was 1941 when a staggering 9,169 people died on UK highways and byways. Given petrol rationing and the considerably lower rate of car ownership in the 1940s this presumably had much to do with the blackout and a spike in military vehicles being driven by inexperienced drivers, but it’s a surprising number. Indeed I’d be astonished if anyone who wasn’t an expert in the matter could get within a decade of it if asked to speculate.

car deaths
Source Wikipedia

Scroll forward twenty five years and in 1966 we get the highest peacetime figure, when nearly 8,000 people perished in fatal collisions. Again – this seems surprising. Surely you would imagine that with faster cars and busier roads the figure would be generally up year on year – but no. Despite car ownership nearly doubling since the 1960s, by 2016 the number of fatalities had plummeted to 1,792 – almost a third of the total deaths for 1926 when records began.

The reasons for this are very simple. Cars are safer, drink driving laws are stricter, the roads are better, people are more aware of the dangers, drivers are tested more thoroughly and we all – by law – have to wear seat-belts in the front and back of our cars. That massive reduction in the mortality rate is a direct and visible consequence of “‘elf and safety gone mad.”

There – that wasn’t so bad was it. Now let’s look at terrorism.

The airwaves are full of it. The internet buzzes with it. This is understandable. I live in London and have done for more than twenty years and big, eye catching murderous rampages naturally scare the shit out of me; that’s why terrorists do it – it’s effective scaremongering. In the UK however the likelihood of your being actually killed by a terrorist is generally lower than at almost any time since 1970.

deaths by terrorism

Indeed, statistics show that the chance of being killed by a terrorist in the UK is 1 in 964, 531. You are far more likely to drown in your bath (1 in 685,000) or be killed at work (1 in 43,500) and many times more likely to be murdered by a loved one than to die at the hands of a crazed terrorist. Oh and you of course still stand a far greater risk of death in a traffic collision (I in 43,500) than you do from a fanatic despite all that health and safety.

These statistics are so at odds with the wailing fear-mongering in the media that you would rightly be forgiven for going “yes but that doesn’t make me feel any better” – though frankly – it should.

The sad truth is that while things in general improve, people imagine that it is all getting worse.

In spite of all the travails of our current political turmoil this little corner of Europe is generally safer, better provided for and wealthier than at any time in British history.

If you are lucky enough to have a baby that baby will almost certainly survive its childhood and will, with all likelihood live a further seven or eight decades.  In the 1890s your child’s chances of dying between birth and their fifth birthday was around 20% – today that figure is 0.37%. This is not simply a change over a century and a bit – since 1984 child mortality rates have dropped by some 64%.

You think you work hard? Well I’m afraid that is as nothing compared to the hours your grandparents and great grandparents put in. In 1870 the average British production worker turned in a 56.9 hour week. In the 21st Century that figure is around 40. If you were a domestic servant in Victorian times you would probably have worked a 16 hour day on a six and half day week – only getting Sunday morning off – that you might go to Church.

In 1870 you got just 4 days of statutory holiday a year which mostly went unpaid. Today if you are working in full time employment you are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday a year – plus maternity leave, sick leave, paternity leave, unemployment benefit and your solidly protected employment rights under UK and EU law. Yes those benefits are now under attack and yes they must be protected – and yes real wage growth has slowed in the past decade but the picture overall is very progressive in a very short space of time.

Happier? Of course you’re not. You’re worried about that Crimewatch related YouGov survey aren’t you! Yes. The one that asked whether “you” thought Britain was safer now than it was 33 years ago. Some 47% of respondents thought that the UK was less safe than it was in 1984 and predictably Westmonster and the rest of the stupidest media leapt on this with glee. It isn’t true. In fact the rates are roughly similar but over a longer period of time they have fallen significantly.

You think the UK is getting more murderous with every passing decade? Well great – feel free to think that – but you are wrong.

murder
Murder rates in Europe over time (Source: Our World in Data, Max Roser & Manuel Eisner)

But what of mass uncontrolled immigration that will sink our island nation once and for all? Well for a start population growth is a good thing in an ageing nation – and secondly the population is only growing by 0.8% year on year. That figure is high in comparison to say France (0.4%) but eminently sustainable as long as we keep building houses.

Bad news sells. It sings to the basest human instincts that created apocalyptic religions around the Bronze Age Camp fire – it may even be hard wired into our evolutionary capacities – the fear of the predator. Humans have been awaiting the end of days ever since we crawled into caves. That’s why you never see 1980s Sci-Fi movies set twenty years hence in which everyone is walking about with smart-phones in their pockets and eating nice food in gastro-pubs.

There is also very little political capital to be gained from telling folks that “everything isn’t actually that bad if you bother to look it up.” Our entire political system is rigged towards both sides propagating the idea that everything is either shit or will be shit if the other lot gets in and only they can fix it and get it back to how it was when it was all better.

That said, in the UK at least we are currently facing a situation where everything does genuinely risk getting a whole lot worse for the very reason that the country has decided to buy the bullshit and turn its back on 40 years of progress. A big part of the negativist Leave campaign was a playing upon primitive fears of immigration and terrorism and the mistaken belief that everything was better in the past.

I hate to wreck a lovely narrative but the past was not better. I personally quite like living in a country where polio has been consigned to the history books, where I haven’t had to fight in a bloody world war, where paedophiles are arrested rather than given prime time TV shows and where everyone doesn’t die in stupid accidents. Twenty First Century Britain, despite all our travails, is better than it has perhaps ever been. Let’s keep progressing.

Mind you – I do quite miss Morecambe and Wise

My DIY: this week Donald Trump talks about his favorite Home Improvement projects

Are you an active DIY-er?

I love Home Improvement. It’s a beautiful thing to paint a door or build a cabinet and then look at it and think I did that. I built that. It’s a cabinet I built and it’s a beautiful cabinet.

Do you build anything else other than cabinets?

I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve never built a cabinet. I never said that. If you look at your notes. Fake news! Fake interviewer. You have sensational legs by the way and that isn’t sexist. It’s OK to tell someone they have good legs.  If I told a giraffe it had good legs would that be sexist? Of course not. I have a cabinet. It’s a solid – it’s a teak cabinet which by the way also has sensational legs. Is that sexist? No. I have it and it goes everywhere with me. But I did not build the cabinet. I was given it by Steven Seagal – who by the way also has terrific legs. I can appreciate his sexuality even if I am not attracted to him just as I can a giraffe. When two powerful individuals who have made millions out of their respective careers meet – you can expect a sexual dynamic. Unless you’re an asexual of course. I can tell you that Steven Seagal is not. He’s so un-asexual. Terrific guy. Big personality. Huge star. Loves to build cabinets.

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A complete shutdown of muslin

What is the biggest Home Improvement Project you’ve worked on recently?

I moved to the White House and you know the problem with the White House is that literally everything in it is white. White walls. White busts. Lovely white busts. I love white. White is under threat. Have you heard about “white genocide?” It’s a thing. But I believe in diversity as well. And there are all these curtains – drapes – very long and I kept tripping over them and I said to Steve Bannon who was my Strategist when I moved in – great guy Steve by the way – philanthropist and humanitarian but the best thing about him is he stands very straight. Beautiful posture. I said: “Steve what is all this white fabric? I keep tripping over it.” And he goes: “Muslin Mr President” and I said “I want a complete shutdown of muslin until we’ve decided whether it is safe..”

Who are your biggest design inspirations?

Melania is an incredible designer.  She’s got an eye. Two eyes in fact. One on either side of her nose. Incredibly talented woman and my wife and she has two eyes. You don’t get much better than that. Although you’d never see that in the Washington Post by the way.

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Great writer Genesis – talented guy – should have written more.

What is your favourite period in architecture?

Las Vegas. I don’t know what that period is exactly, but the architecture is incredible. Built by the Italians of course. A lot of people might say Roman architecture but when you’ve been to the Strip you can see immediately that the Italians are better. Good people. A great, great people. The Romans on the other hand were terrible at construction. I was in Scotland, where I have a lot of business and a lot of friends and I heard about this Hadrian’s wall on the border with England and so we drove down there and the way they had done it – just very disappointing and literally falling down. Whole sections missing. I said to the folks I was with: “that has to be the worst wall I ever saw.” When you’ve been in construction as long as I have you can tell instantly whether the quality is there. I said there and then: “one day I will build a better wall than this – and I will make Mexico pay for it.”

What is your favourite building?

A lot of people might expect me to say Trump Tower but actually it’s the home where I grew up. It was a modest place in Brooklyn. Just 9 bedrooms and a six acre garden but we made up for what we didn’t have by filling the place with love. Not love between family members which by the way is something which is illegal. I’m really rich now but back then we were just an ordinary rich family. We had books. We had a Bible. The Bible is the most special book of those books and I would often read the Bible. Great, great book. Fantastic read. You never hear the guys in the MSN talk up the Bible. Never hear about that on CNN.

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Is there any Home Improvement skill you wish you had?

There was this one story. I think it’s by Genesis. Great writer Genesis – talented guy – should have written more. Anyway one of the stories is about the Tower of Babel. You know that story? These folks build a tower – I don’t know where – somewhere in the Mid-East I guess and God gets very angry. “Why have you built that Tower without my planning consent?” You know – and the little guys just get on with it – these downtrodden blue-collar people who just want a break and a job and to make a few bucks building a Tower. And you know what God does? He destroys it. Knocks it down and then makes everyone dumb and speak a load of languages. A lot of people ask me why I went into politics. Read Genesis and see. Great writer. Incredible guy. I want to help the little people build those towers and walls. And not have God knock them down. That’s my DIY philosophy.

Mr President – thank you.

Kidz ASK: This week children from St Justine’s Primary, Deptford put their questions Theresa May

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What is your favourite cake? (Tom Year 2)

I don’t think it is helpful for me to name my ‘favourite’ cake. As we move through the Article 50 process it’s important to remember that the UK is a major player in the global baking industry. Whether it be Kiplings, Tunnocks or indeed any of our other industrialised cake makers let’s “talk our buns up” rather than do that very British thing of “talking treats down.”

Where do you like to go on holiday? (Kezia – Year 6)

The Peak District is a firm favourite but like many people I also go abroad, to seek to build partnerships with different holiday providers and explore networking opportunities with fellow tourists.

What is your favourite colour? (Daniel – Reception)

Goodness me. What a difficult question Daniel. Rather than choose one specific colour I want to see a nation where all colours work together for everyone and I think it would be extremely unhelpful and divisive to start picking favourites.

Were you ever in trouble at school? (Princess – Year 5)

As a government we have sought to ring-fence spending on children with special behavioural needs.

So……were you ever in trouble at school? (Princess – Year 5)

On one occasion I do recall forgetting to put my tray on the side after lunch. I remember the teacher telling me to go back and get it – so I did – but I did so a little sulkily.  It’s one of those awful childhood memories of rebelliousness. I think we all get one chance though don’t we. Certainly, I am very ashamed of my behaviour.

If you could invite either Miley Cyrus or Ed Sheeran to dinner who would you ask and what would you cook them? (Savannah – Year 6)

At a time when the whole country is pulling together it would be very inappropriate for me as Prime Minister to sow more division. I would invite both Miley and Edward for supper and then seek to focus on delivering the very best shepherd’s pie I could – one that would meet the needs of both celebrities. Unless of course one of them turned out to be a vegetarian, which is quite likely isn’t it, in which case I suppose we could cook more vegetables (coughs) sorry. Or provide a suitable vegetarian option.

Pewdie Pie. Sick or dank meme generator? (Kyle – Year 5)

I beg your pardon?

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Pewdie who?

What do you like about being Prime Minister? (Amelia – Year 4)

I want Britain to be a place where everyone can succeed. I have confidence that through dialogue and concerted effort we can build a country that rewards every citizen in these isles. A nation everybody can get behind – an inclusive Britain. An outward Britain. An inward Britain. A Britain going forward while not forgetting the Britain that we have left behind. Together. Forever. And if not forever (coughs) for a jolly long time.

What does that mean? (Amelia – Year 4)

I’m very sorry Amelia but I have answered that question (coughs) as clearly I think I can and there are other children with questions to answer – so let’s move on.

Is Brexit deliverable in the time-frame set and would it not be better to put the final deal to the people in the form of a second referendum? (Muhammed – Year 6)

Oh gosh. Look – I’m focusing on delivering Article 50. Your parents and their parents and indeed all the Mums and Dads have spoken (coughs) and they have said – very clearly – that they want a Britain outside of Europe but also one that delivers all of the benefits, security and happpiness that the EU has given us. For free. The people have given me a clear mandate to deliver that and there is no need for a second referendum.

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Unicorns?

Do you believe in unicorns? (Zac – Year 4)

I am not prepared to answer hypothetical questions.

Will I be repatriated with my parents to France? (Fabienne – Year 1)

If you are an EU citizen we currently cannot guarantee the rights of you or your family. Brexit wasn’t about racism – it was about getting the very best deal for the British people. So yes – most probably. Look there’s no need to cry. There’s “What’s Up” and “Facebooked” nowadays and I’m sure all of your chums will stay in touch. All of us have an uncertain future so there really is no need to cry like that. Oh dear. Every single one of us doesn’t know what will happen next week, next year or next month. Even me! We all….. all of us …. have an indeterminate future. Learning that as a six year old girl might be no bad thing!

Thank you Prime Minister –

Hopkins, Trump and the Resistable Rise of Stupidism.

I know nothing about football. I know what a football is and I did watch a game once, honest, but try and engage me on who scored what in the last Milk Cup and I will stare at you blankly.

The idea that all opinions are equally valid is palpable nonsense. My knowledge of the beautiful game could fill the inner circle of a pin-head. Should it therefore have as much merit as Gary Lineker’s? Of course not. When it comes to football, chemistry, micro-biology and the economy of Tuvalu I am very happy to admit that I’m ignorant.

Nowadays – that makes me an expert.

Over the last decade, the stock in stupidity and uninformed opinions has risen exponentially. Writing in his classic 1992 treatise The Flanshaw Infants* on the potential of the World Wide Web, futurologist Dr. Terence Dobson wrote: “with too much information at their disposal, people (might) choose to take facts as given rather than question sources or open minds to the endless possibilities of knowledge and truth that the internet will provide.”

Seven years later in 1999 social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger carried out a study into the phenomenon of “illusory superiority” wherein people of low ability imagine themselves to be very good at something. The results were astounding. They concluded that:

“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

The study was inspired in part by the case of a criminal who went around robbing banks with lemon juice on his face – because someone told him it made you invisible to surveillance cameras. Laugh if you like – and then type “flat earth” into Youtube.

1999 saw a huge growth in global internet usage and the theory was timely. Look around – the Dunning-Kruger effect is in evidence everywhere.

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“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As You Like It)

Tune into any talk radio shows any day of the week and you will have presenters inviting ordinary members of the public to opine on complex issues like global warming, or the crisis in Catalonia, or the best way to solve Brexit, or the ethics of genetic engineering. Sometimes of course a real expert might phone in – or someone may give a powerful testimony born out of personal experience – but a great deal of talk radio could be summarised as:  ‘people who know very little reinforcing other people’s prejudices with unreasoned arguments, based on hearsay in an unchallenged environment.’

On social media things are a whole lot worse. Twitter and Facebook have both made stars out of stupid. Donald Trump might be the first reality star President, but he is also the first Twitter Political Superstar. That is where his supporters meet; it is where they concur it is where they look for validation of their idiotic viewpoints from other absurd twitter celebrities like Alex Jones.

If the 1930s was the age of Communism and Fascism we are now living in the era of ‘Stupidism’. As with those movements it has its Karl Marx figures, its evangelists and its exponents. The Uncle Jo Stalin of Stupid sits in the White House firing off ignorance in 140 character decrees while his Pravda-esque Breitbart and Fox News Network spread the creed. Truth was the first victim of the internet age – and every week facts and accuracy are carted off to the labour camps to join it.

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Twitter – a rich hunting ground for collectors of stupid

Stupidism in its most populist form is a simple credo to understand. It has its slogans, its terms for enemies of the state of stupid, its own imagery and iconography.

pepe crying

Why bother with the reasons behind immigration into the United States when you can say “let’s build a wall and make Mexico pay!” Why trouble yourself with understanding the EU and Britain’s intricate relationship when you can brand the whole thing the “EUSSR” call all those who support it “snowflakes” and add a crying emoji.

Stupidism is liberating. Stupid is easy. You don’t even have to read a book. In fact it is the first doctrine in history in which never having read a book is a requirement. Years of pent up rage bent double under that chip on your shoulder because you failed history GCSE can be washed away with the aid of 700k twitter followers reinforcing your witlessness.

Sure you were wrong – but if enough groupies say you are right then frankly who cares.

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Even a stopped clock is right twice a day

Inveterate tweeter Paul Watson may be the Trotsky of Stupid but in Britain at least – Katie Hopkins is its Lenin.

Katie Hopkins is tongue-tied. Katie Hopkins is uninformed. Katie Hopkins is not gifted with a sense of humour or an ability to write. She claims to be a patriot but works tirelessly to undermine the country. Is that what she thinks she is doing? Probably not. I suspect Ms Hopkins imagines herself to be of very high ability indeed.

And yet – here I am writing about her. Katie Hopkins has prospered and continues to do so. She, along with Stupidism’s fellow travellers, has indeed got rich on the back of it. Stupidism is profitable because it reinforces and articulates the base ill-informed opinions of a very large segment of society. There is an eager market for it.

What can be done?

I was talking to a bloke in the pub about this on Saturday and we both agreed that critical thinking should be taught as a compulsory core subject in schools. Neither of us are experts in the field and we both broadly agreed with each other so our opinion matters.

Until the children come and save us from this nightmare, it’s up to us all to fight it. Call out the stupid when you see it. Fight stupid and we will defeat it. There is a prevailing attitude that people like Hopkins or the ridiculous Paul Watson should “be ignored and starved of oxygen” or worse that we should listen to everybody – no matter how ill-informed they are. Do that and Stupidism will prosper.

*If you want to read more about The Flanshaw Infants (and trust me you do) by  Dr. Terence Dobson – it’s here

Interview: Robert Hurren – legendary Downing Street Policeman who guarded 9 Prime Ministers

To meet Robert Hurren is to encounter an extraordinary piece of living British political history.

“Sarge” as he was known to generations of staff, civil servants and the inhabitants of Downing Street itself, was first a beat constable and later beat Sergeant responsible for guarding the most famous door in politics for more than forty years. Between his first assignment in the spring of 1960 and his retirement in 2003, he claims to have worn out 32 pairs of boots, three whistles and seen nine Prime Ministers come and go. In the process he also met many of the most famous people of the last century.

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Robert Hurren – centre – meets HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother 1957

The sprightly 90 year old has been retired for nearly two decades and though he might not be quite as nimble on his feet as he would like,  his memory for detail remains as sharp as ever. As he welcomes me, a little warily, into his Croydon home with a firm handshake and the offer of a cuppa, I am immediately taken aback by the contrast between the everyday appearance of his ordinary semi-detached bungalow and the astonishing array of memorabilia that assaults me in his front room. Above the grand mock-tudor fireplace, an entire wall is covered with signed photographs of Robert  with a veritable Who’s Who of late twentieth century celebrities and politicians. In one he is joking with an impossibly young looking Queen Mother, in another he is wagging a finger at Ringo Starr while in yet another – TV chef Ainsley Harriott has somehow procured his hat and is wearing it with both thumbs up.

Robert was born in Stepney in 1927 the son of Arthur a retired docker who was eeking out a precarious existence as one of the East End’s last ‘knocker uppers.’

“He’d be up at about 5 most mornings and go about the local streets waking everyone up with a long stick. What you young people might call an alarm clock nowadays!” He laughs.

His mother Elizabeth, the daughter of a Rochester shop-keeper had “married beneath herself” in the parlance of the times and it was very much a love match. In those pre-contraceptive and pre television days, there wasn’t much else to do and young Robert was the twelfth of fourteen children.

Money was tight. When the war broke out he was shipped off to the West Country like many evacuees.

“I loved Devon. The rolling hills. It was like paradise to a boy of 13. When it was time to come back in 1944 I barely recognised my parents.”

The war ended before he got into uniform but through contacts of his Uncle he managed to get a job with The River Police and it was there, in 1957, that he first met the Queen Mother.

“She came round one day and was having a bit of a joke. She said to me: ‘What do you do here?’ And I said: ‘well you know Ma’am – a bit of this and a bit of that.’ And she said to me: ‘do you ever get sea-sick?’ And I said to her: ‘funnily enough I do Ma’am’ and she turns to me and gives me a lovely smile and says:  ‘you should go and work on the land if you don’t like the water.’ I thought it was wonderful she felt she could talk to me like that but it was the friendship we had I suppose. So that’s what I did.”

While the Queen Mother was clearly a favourite, his most treasured photograph is a grainy, informal snap, of him sharing a joke with First Lady Jackie Kennedy, shortly after he had taken up the Downing Street beat in 1961.

“I remember her asking me how long I’d worked there and I said ‘Just a few months Miss!’ And she said: ‘well we are fairly new on the job ourselves!’ And we both laughed. Lovely sense of humour Mrs Kennedy.”

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Hurren chats to Jackie Kennedy on her visit to London in 1961

It was the height of the Cold War and the tension was palpable as Ministers and delegations scurried up and down the Street.

“Of course it was open to the public back then and it was possible to have anyone come along on any given day you know. We saw the lot. World leaders, school-children – even the Teds – all hoping to get a peak of Harold Macmillan. Saw quite a few of the youngsters off I can tell you!” He laughs, miming a swinging truncheon.

In 1963 The Profumo Affair broke and Robert had his first glimpse of a major political scandal.

“It was a terrible stress for Mr Macmillan. SuperMac had put his trust in the Minister for War and he just let him down so very badly. Mr Macmillan was a gentleman – so he never spoke to me at all as I was well beneath his social status – but then Mr Douglas-Home came along and he was the new kid on the block so to speak.”

As Alec Douglas-Home struggled to control a changing Conservative party in a changing world, he struck up an unlikely friendship with the keeper of his gate.

“I think it’s a matter of record that Mr Douglas-Home was a very needy individual,” Robert confides, “in times of real crisis he would go a bit peculiar. Start accusing others of taking his pens. I’d get called up to his office at all hours and he’d be ranting and raving about Reginald Maudling taking his slippers – on account of their having the same sized feet. On another occasion he accused Selwyn-Lloyd of breaking his furniture. Fortunately on that occasion the Lord Privy Seal was out of the country and had a cast iron alibi.” Robert pulls a cushion under his leg and smiles at the memories as the years roll back: “Loved his dancing Mr Douglas-Home. It was the era of the twist– and he had this record on with all the big twist hits of the day – Twistin USA …. Twistin round the Christmas tree… Twist Twist little senora – that were a favourite of his. To be honest I hated the twist.”

Robert shows me a letter penned to him by the former PM – years after he left office – and shakes his head. “Tragic fella really.”

During the tenure of the next Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, Robert was to meet his wife Eileen and get promoted to the rank of Sergeant. But despite his new found wedded bliss things did not go smoothly at work.

“Mr Wilson was fine. I liked Wilson very much. He was a fair man and a good Prime Minister. It was her that was the problem.”

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Hurren (right) with Harold Wilson in the late 1960s

Mrs Wilson was forging a successful career as a poet at the time but she had an unlikely literary rival in the street in the form of the new beat Sergeant.

“I’d been writing poetry since my days on the Thames and with so much going on around me and quite a bit of down-time in the sentry post I took to penning verse.”

It is those poems ultimately that are the reason for our meeting, for Imprint Publications has just brought out his first collection “A Fair Cop” which includes many of the lines which he wrote while working in Whitehall.

“When Mrs Wilson heard I dabbled in verse she invited me over for coffee one day and after a bit, with Harold sitting there smoking his pipe – we exchanged lines in what my grand-kids might call a  ‘rap battle’ I suppose. She was all friendly and everything but then when I started giving her advice she started taking notes. That was in late 1968 and when her “Selected Poems” came out in 1970 I realised that she’d plagiarised a lot of my darker stuff. I was happy to see the back of her. I was advised I could have taken her to court but who’d believe a policeman?”

Heath came and went: “Terrible practical joker. Used to tip my hat from behind every time he left the front door and laugh about it all the way down the street. Little shit really though I probably shouldn’t say that – but I still preferred him to her. Then ‘she’ (Mary Wilson) came back with him and I tried to keep a low profile. She knew. I knew. We all knew what she’d done. Eventually in ‘76 we reached a sort of truce and she invites me in again for biscuits and coffee and we get to chatting and she asks me to read out some of my stuff and guess what – whizz bang – five years later she’s got another compilation out and once again she’s plagiarised all my best lines.”

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Heath ‘an inveterate practical joker’ – who had a habit of flipping policemen’s helmets

Jim Callaghan proved a ‘bit of a handful.’

“What people don’t realise about Callaghan is that politics was more of a hobby for him than anything else. His main interest was darts. This was the height of British darts mania and all through that difficult winter of 1978 with the mining thing, he would talk of giving it all up and just going head to head with Conrad Daniels. He had an irrational hatred of Daniels on account of his being American and it was that preoccupation that ultimately lost him the election in 1979 if you ask me.”

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Margaret Thatcher entered the famous house that year as the United Kingdom’s first woman Prime Minister and Robert immediately took her under his wing.

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Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands War letter to ‘Bert’ thanking him for his advice (1982 IWP)

“She was always asking for advice. I remember when the Argentines invaded The Falklands in 1982 and she said ‘what do you think Bert?’ She always called me that. So I told her what I thought as I saw it. Requisition some ships. Send down a task force and get those islands back. Sure – nobody had ever heard of them before but if Johnny Argie thinks he can have a crack at our homeland in the South Atlantic then let’s make him think again.” He takes a breath: “that Vulcan Bomber raid? That was my idea. She sent me a letter at the time and said as much in her autobiography but I ddin’t want recognition; just pleased to have done my bit.”

The Major years were ‘forgettable’.

“My only real memory of those years is Norma. She always said in the press about how she wanted a quiet life up in Cambridgeshire but it was just an elaborate smoke-screen. Loved her big game fishing Mrs Major and was often to be found off in Alaska hunting giant salmon with celebrity friends Tony Hart and that violinist in The Corrs.”

 With Tony Blair’s tenure everything seemed to change.

“He wanted me to call him Tony but I felt very uncomfortable with that. So I called him Anthony instead. He was terrible at names Mr Blair. All smiles and laughs on the surface but mistakenly thought I was called George and continued to call me that for the remainder of my years there, though he was always keen to hear my views on international conflict resolution.”

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Tony Blair: “a paranoid man – constantly worried about the birds getting at the milk.”

Robert retired in 2003. Does he miss it?

“Not really. I left my wife in 2004 and married a much younger woman from Bangkok and have been much happier since. It was a joyless marriage to be fair. She didn’t understand my drinking.  If I wasn’t promoting this book I probably wouldn’t feel the urge to talk about it at all.”

He shifts in his seat and opens a can of lager. Our time is up! As he ushers me to the door I ask him if he has any advice for Mrs May. He pauses and looks off wistfully into the distance: “No” he says abruptly – and shuts the door behind me.

Lines on the night Thatcher was betrayed – by Robert Hurren.

One by one they came and displeased her

Like the Roman Senators done to Caesar

Oh that terrible Ide of March – that atrocity

He was a great man in a dress and so was she

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