As Leader of the House of Commons, it has fallen to oneself to smooth our return to Mother Parliament and one is resolved to ensure that as we do so, things are kept as straightforward as possible.
The last three months have been intolerable and tedious for us all. Trapped in our manor houses, unable to show off our knowledge of obscure historical precedents or debate even the most inconsequential of bills, many of us have been obliged to do little more than field tiresome correspondence from ‘constituents’ and affect an interest in their concerns.
For one’s own part, being cooped up in a pokey 18 bedroom country pile has very much tested the mettle. At times the tapestries in the East Wing felt as if they were closing in and it was almost impossible to ostentatiously catch up on the life of Livius Andronicus, as one’s concentration was frequently distracted by the sound of one’s children laughing merrily in distant out-buildings.
As with so many other ordinary people across the country, this ghastly pestilence has brought considerable personal tragedy to the Rees-Mogg household. For almost three weeks Cook was unable to get goose fat and we were obliged to furlough the under valet as one simply didn’t need the usual quantity of starched collars. Worse still, in March two shipments of Chateaux Margaux ’86 were delayed and on one desperate Sunday afternoon, we came perilously close to running out of sherry.
But we are through it now and with life returning to normal it is time for Westminster to lead the way forward before the hoi polloi start getting ideas.
Of course one does not wish, in so doing, to put the lives of one’s honourable friends at risk and so it is imperative that everyone is up to speed on the new guidelines.
Contrary to what you may think, one has long been an enormous fan of social distancing as one has been practising it for most of one’s life. The only difference is that these new measures apply to us all, regardless of our standing in the social hierarchy. Yes, even you Mr Blackford!
Officially we are being advised to remain (ghastly word) “two metres” apart but frankly one does not wish to sully the oldest and greatest parliament in the world with Napoleonic metrification. So MPs are politely requested to maintain a distance of six feet, five and three quarters of an inch from each other at all times.
Debates will continue as normal, but Labour and other opposition MPs fearful for their health and the risk of tipping us all into collective lassitude, are welcome to stay away.
The new system for voting is so simple that even members of the Liberal Democrats will be able to grasp it.
MPs will form an orderly queue of 60 chains from Westminster Hall, to the statue of Cromwell on the south side of Parliament Square. When everyone is assembled I shall blow my whistle thrice to get your attention and then eight times more to signal that it is time to move. Thence members will form in two lines, one quarter of a furlong apart and proceed at a speed of two knots towards the tellers. It is imperative that as you do so you maintain straight backs and a distance of 78 and a quarter inches from each other. If one has socialist inclinations – or a beard – I would request that you increase that measure to eight yards.
I have arranged for members of the household cavalry to position themselves two chains apart and beat a solemn marching pace on their drums as we proceed to our constitutional duty.
Having voted, MPs are asked to hop on their left leg to the nearest washroom wherein to cleanse their hands while singing all six verses of ‘God Save the Queen’ including the one about decapitating the Scots.
I have been repeatedly asked if the hopping and singing is really necessary, to which the answer is “Yes”.
One is very much looking forward to seeing you all during the new parliamentary term. If you have any questions do please pop them in one’s pigeon hole and I shall endeavour to deign to read them, but only if they have been correctly punctuated and written on vellum.
We eat a lot of chicken in this country. 95% of us have it at least twice a week. That’s nearly 900 million chickens bred and slaughtered, another 400 million imported (mostly from the EU) and a grand total of 6.3 billion portions served in British homes and restaurants every year. Between April and July 2017 nearly half of the population ate a take-away chicken meal and in 2011 Chicken Tikka Masala was famously judged to be the nation’s favourite dish.
We’re clucking mad for it and while that is unlikely to change any time soon Brexit will affect chicken consumption as surely as it will affect anything else.
An awful lot of energy has gone into talking up the benefits Brexit will visit on our fishing industry but you won’t see Mr Farage near a poultry abattoir any time soon. And there’s a reason for that. Chickens aren’t sexy and slaughtering them even less so. As an island nation, the mythos of the noble weather-beaten fisherman in his yellow mac, steering his trawler into brooding seas to bring a little fishy, for a little dishy looms large. Nobody ever made a children’s book about the brutal process of bringing a drumstick to your plate. The mass rearing and mass slaughter of poultry lacks the essential romance of man pitched against herring.
Chicken farming is big business and an important contributor to the UK economy. Poultry supports £3.3bn of Gross Value to the UK economy (GVA) while fishing adds just £1.4bn. The industry employs 35,000 compared to the 12,000 who work dredging the sea.
The poultry industry already struggling with tight margins to meet the demand for cheap and available meat is dreading the coming of Brexit and lobbying hard against. The situation is compounded because many employees are EU nationals and that means disaster if they all go home. 60% of the entire industry’s workforce comes from the EU and in some cases 90% of workers in factories are from Europe.
“It’s a brutal and hard job,” one former owner tells me “and British people simply won’t do it. All of our workers come from Poland or other EU countries and a lot of them will just go elsewhere.”
With the government suggesting that only high skilled workers will be welcome post-Brexit the poultry industry is facing a very uncertain future indeed. Rearing chickens, killing chickens, plucking chickens, gutting chickens, chopping chickens up and packaging them is not ‘skilled labour.’ Once the migrant workers have gone it is very unlikely indeed that British workers will step up to take their place. Brexit could make even basic chicken prodcuts harder to get – and considerably more expensive.
But if you’re worried that your KFC is going to suddenly cost a lot more then don’t panic just yet – because help (of sorts) is on its way. The poultry farmers of America are coming. Or rather – they’d like to. US farmers have long objected to all that horrid EU legislation because it means they are unable to export their birds into the large and hungry European market. You see, in order to export into the single market you have to abide by the laws of the single market – and those laws are tough.
You up for some chicken regulations? Well good – strap yourselves in and let’s go.
EU council directive 2007/43/CE sets out the minimum conditions for raising broilers. Barns used for raising chickens must have adequate light, food, water, ventilation and space. Workers have to have adequate training and a certificate attesting they have attended an approved training course. Holding areas must be thoroughly inspected twice a day. Barns must have hard floors with adequate clean bedding and have to be thoroughly cleaned, sterilised and inspected on a regular basis. There are rules on handling chickens. Rules on what they can eat. Rules on what you can do before during and after a batch has been raised. Stocking density must not exceed 33kg/mg ……. etc. etc. etc…….. boring isn’t it. A lot of EU legislation is. That’s kind of the point. The EU is brilliant at the dull end of things – that’s why Boris Johnson made up all that guff about bananas up.
Like I said – chicken production is not sexy. There are no boats. No stiff breezes. No salty seamen.
But that dull old Directive 2007/43/CE ensures that the meat which reaches your plate has been reared to standards higher than anywhere on Earth – that the animals in their brief lives have been shown some dignity (and yes it could be better) and that you and your family are unlikely to die or be hospitalised as a result of contaminated meat.
In the US by contrast there are no animal welfare laws surrounding the rearing of poultry. Yes. That’s right. None. Zero. Farmers can shove as many birds as they like into the sheds and provide as little light and ventilation as they deem necessary. Chickens in the US live their short existence shitting and pecking in confined spaces on earth floors, packed as tightly as is feasible and when they are carted off for the chop there’s no incentive or law insisting that the crap is cleaned up properly. New straw is put down over the shit and dirt and the process renews. It’s filthy, it’s unhygienic and it’s a breeding ground for bacteria and disease.
Rather than bothering with all that pesky animal welfare stuff the Americans pack em high and then to ensure that the customers don’t all die, they sterilise the meat by washing the dead bird carcasses with chlorine.
Mmmmmm. Chicken bucket anyone?
Dan Hannan MEP is the son of a Peruvian chicken farmer and he doesn’t see a problem with chlorinated chicken. He’s not alone. Lots of Brexit voices from the guys at Guido Fawkes to Jacob Rees-Mogg have ‘no problem’ with it. And do you know why that is? Well it’s because they won’t be eating it. Because if America manages to import this stuff into the UK it will go to the bottom end of the market and end up in fast food restaurants and frozen meals. I doubt Jacob Rees-Mogg steps out at the KFC much. You rarely see Dan Hannan down the Ladywell kebab house. Good news for young ‘Octopus’ and the other kids because while everyone insists that chlorinated chicken is perfectly safe, the statistics tell a different story.
Take salmonella. In the US there are 1.2 million cases every year, 23,000 hospitalisations and 450 deaths. In the EU as a whole (and bear in mind there are 150 million more EU citizens than Americans) there were 1,766 hospitalisations in 2016 and just ten deaths.
So in essence something as mundane as your chicken nuggets, or your Balti, or that nice lunch time chicken wrap is affected by Brexit. If the EU migrants quit and the domestic industry suffers that’s not just a hole in the economy but a massive hole in your bank balance if – of course – you want a roast on Sunday or an M and S chicken sandwich. It will cost more. Probably a lot more. If the USA gets in on the action you’ll be eating an inferior product raised in unsavoury and unsanitary conditions. But hey – at least you’ll be able to cuddle up to your precious fucking sovereignty huh.
Since the UK gave up being a major power and opted to be a live action sitcom instead it has faced many problems familiar to those who love the classic comedy format.
The term “Jumping the Shark” refers to the moment when great series go bad. That is when writers run out of ideas, or the material goes stale, or a key character leaves or dies or does something they wouldn’t normally do. Or when the whole cast up and move to a different location – like when Friends came to London and Joey met Fergie, or when the Tories decided to back Brexit and hold their conference in Birmingham.
The Tory Conference Special started promisingly. The gang booked The ICC, a venue that had been built with £49.7 million of EU funds and whose foundation stone was laid by Jacques Delors. Then there was the app thing and the Festival of Brexit thing. All good material, but then – is it just me or does nobody’s heart seem to be in it anymore?
You get the feeling that most of the cast are just sitting it out and waiting for reruns on Dave and the occasional royalty cheque.
Most – but not all.
With break-out star Boris Johnson off pursuing solo projects, hitherto minor character “Jeremy Hunt” has been given the Foreign Secretary gig and seen his chance to shine. True, the Foreign Office under Jeremy Hunt has become much like The American Office after Steve Carrell, or Les Dennis post Dustin Gee but one time remainer Hunt sees an opportunity. So he’s switched sides and hired his own gagman and tried to insert some of his own lines into the script –
“The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving. The lesson from history is clear!” Hunt told conference yesterday, “if you turn the EU club into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish – it will grow … and we won’t be the only prisoner that will want to escape.”
And splash. Headlines grabbed. Shark jumped. Series destined to be cancelled sooner or later but Jeremy has his eye on the sequel and Jeremy doesn’t care.
Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016 and for better or worse (currently) Britain is leaving the EU. Nobody is stopping the UK leaving the EU. How the UK leaves is a matter of negotiation and not a matter of intimidation. The EU is not the EUSSR. So when Hunt suggests otherwise he’s making himself a laughing stock to get some headlines – and as Foreign Secretary he’s pulling us all under with him.
The USSR killed millions of its own people, sent many millions more into labour camps, locked up dissenters and forcibly relocated millions of Kulaks to Siberia. The Soviet Union was a dictatorship. The Soviet Union crushed neighbouring countries, threatened to annihilate the West with nuclear weapons, interfered in the affairs of sovereign nations and murdered, tortured and bullied anyone who got in their way. There were no democratic elections in the USSR. Yes there were elections – but only approved members of the Communist Party could stand. There were no opposition parties. There was no UKIP or Five Star.
Nobody opted to join the Soviet Union. Nobody wanted to. Nobody could vote to leave. At times the people starved. Ordinary food and goods were in short supply. You waited a decade for a shit car – which probably didn’t work. Censorship banned anything and everything not approved by the State – from the pop music stylings of the Village People to Beatles mop tops. Unemployment was a crime. Independent thought got you locked up in the insane asylum. There was a Ministry of Jokes that censored humour.
The Soviet Union did not prosper. It stopped the free movement of people and in particular its people. If you tried to leave it or one of its satellite nations – they either locked you up – or shot you as you ran away.
Migrants fleeing wars didn’t want to go to the USSR because the USSR was the very opposite of the EU in every meaningful way.
Nobody perhaps knows this better than Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, who in the 1980s, while Mr Hunt was Head Boy at the exclusive Charterhouse public school, was a member of the anti-Communist student solidarity movement in Warsaw.
Jeremy Hunt is wholly out of order. Jeremy Hunt should apologise. He won’t. Because Jeremy Hunt knows what he’s doing – he’s reading from the script.
We’re in “After Mash” the M*A*S*H sequel. And if you’ve never heard of it – there’s a reason for that.
Heard that lately? I am sure you have. If you didn’t catch Nigel Farage chipping in with it on GMB this week, then you will have heard Johnny Mercer MP say it, or Jacob Rees-Mogg or any number of MPs, MEPs, Brexit backers and twitter accounts repeat it. I’ve read it on Facebook, I’ve heard it on LBC and the BBC; I’ve seen it in letters to The Metro and been told it by Brexit backing family members and Brexit backing friends. And yet – two years on from the EU referendum currently the most Googled Brexit questions in Britain are: “what is Brexit” and “when is Brexit?”
When you consider that the governing party itself is currently in open civil war about what sort of Brexit we are going to have and what it will actually mean the idea that “people knew exactly what they were voting for” does seem to be – well – preposterous.
But surely Nigel Farage and that nice Jacob Rees-Mogg aren’t lying. They can’t have just made it up? There must be some basis of truth in the idea that ordinary Britons understood the multifaceted nature of our relationship with the EU and solemnly cast their votes carrying this weight of knowledge and the implications of leaving. I mean wasn’t simply everybody talking about the CU and the WTO for decades prior to June 2016?
My faith in both men is a matter of record on these pages and so to help prove Jacob and Nigel right I’ve devised a little test.
Fifteen fairly basic questions about the EU and our relationship (or possible) future relationship with it; get more than 60% right and you can probably quite rightly claim that you knew what you were voting for in June 2016. less than that and you should probably have stayed home with a nice mug of gin.
Can you explain in one or two sentences what the Customs Union is – and what part Britain currently plays in it?
What is a common external tariff?
What are WTO rules?
What is the CAP? How does it work?
What proportion of our food is imported from the EU?
What does “the single market” mean?
How much – as a proportion of GDP expenditure – does membership of the EU cost the UK?
What percentage of our trade overall do we conduct with the EU?
True or False – the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement.
Is the ECHR part of the EU? What is the ECHR?
Which body decides on the design and shape of our passports?
What is a Norway style deal?
What is the EEA?
What is EFTA?
Can EU nationals be barred from entering the UK if they have a criminal record?
I’ll be honest. I would probably have failed to get 60% even in 2016 and so should most definitely not have been allowed to vote on something as complex as our membership of the European Union. How did you do?
A survey has found that only 45% of 18-24 year olds are proud to be English. Here 17 year old Vlogger and Facebook sensation Steve Bellington tells Otto English why they are wrong.
Ancient English history today is completely controlled by the PC Brigade. Trendy lefty Remoaners have infiltrated our secondary moderns and are teaching kids that the Romans didn’t speak British, that Adrian’s wall was not built by a man called Adrian and that Craig David neither invented popular music, nor was the best rock and pop star who ever existed.
I recently asked my friends what they thought about patriotism and he didn’t even know what it was.
Nowadays, the lefty mob that controls our state wants pupils to learn that Africa was invaded and plundered by the British Empire rather than ‘discovered’ by Captain Cook. Fact. Africa did not exist before English people turned up there in the 1980s and named everything. That’s why South Africa is called ‘South’ Africa and not whatever the African word for ‘South’ is. A lot of countries were named after the English people who got there first. That’s why Zimbabwe is named after Gary Rhodes. Same with Kenya. I don’t know who invented Kenya exactly but have you ever met an African called Ken? Thought not. But tell that to Mr Rogers or indeed anyone else in my history department and you will be met with confused stares.
It’s not racist to hate foreigners and think that anyone born in England is in every way better than anyone else. That is not racism. Political correctness is. Yet if you listened to any of my peers you’d think that voting for Brexit, or wanting everyone deported and suggesting that England reconquer the Globe and install the Queen as head of a world government was somehow ‘wrong.’
The reason for that, as with so many things that are at fault with our world today is our education system. Decades of teaching children that slavery, oppression and the stealing of natural resources from other countries is ‘theft’ – have inculcated in them a deep suspicion of our past and of our glorious future outside the globalist, failing EU project which somehow still manages to have us by the throat despite them needing us more than we need them.
I’m doing a history ‘A’ level at the moment and it is a constant battle against the forces of darkness. Rather than just writing down what I think, leftist so called teachers like Mr Rogers insist I ‘question sources’ apply ‘critical thinking’ and ‘seek a range of different reference points’ in order to ‘back up my argument.’ ‘Apparently’ my twitter feed does not count because it ‘might be biased’ i.e. it does not conform to the lefty insanity that Mr Rogers teaches us about ‘the death of millions through the use of the slave trade.’ I follow a lot of accounts that question the MSH (mainstream history) version of events. Anyone who follows ‘Ironwand3’ or ‘HimmlerWasGr8’ or ‘Stalag467’ knows that most slaves ‘wanted’ to be slaves. That is a historical fact because there are Jpegs to back it up. Slavery was seen by many as a good job opportunity, with the chance to travel to America and meet white people. But dare to put these ‘facts’ in an essay and Mr Rogers and the PC mob will descend on you like a ton of bricks.
Ask yourselves this! If England was so evil in the past then why have so many countries from India to Pakistan to Wales to Gibraltar adopted our language? Because it was forced upon them? I think not! They chose English because that is the language that most Netflix series are in – and most Youtube channels also.
But of all the insults to our history – it is the teaching of World War One that is most upsetting. The fact is that most people who fought in it enjoyed the Great War – a lot. It was basically a four year camping holiday in which the British Tommy interspersed bayonetting the ‘OK Huns’ (English for Germans in those days) with football games (another English invention) and nice piano singsongs by the campfire. Is this the version of history we are taught? No. Instead Mr Rogers goes on endlessly about the casualties and the ‘waste’ of human life. Question this narrative by suggesting that without the loss of some life we would not be able to get angry about celebrities not wearing poppies in November and Mr Rogers just stares at you aghast – before grading you with a D.
I have a Youtube channel – and I have met Iain Dale (twice) and I think I thus know a little bit more about history than Mr Rogers.
Those English inventions in full:
England has invented a lot of things
Fish – not many people know that the English invented fish. That is why they are internationally known as ‘fish’ and not whatever the foreign word for fish is.
Biscuits – Nobody had ever heard of the Bourbons, or Nice, or Garibaldi before the English invented them.
Paper doilies – it was a 17th Century London Drapier “Stan Doiley” who first came up with the idea of making little holes in paper napkins. His invention would go on to change the world.
Circular trays with pictures of cats on them. The rectangular tray may have existed for centuries, but it was the English who realised that by making it circular and putting a picture of a cat on it – it was better.
Other food. Danish pastries, falafel, rice, soy sauce, chickens, Indian curry, Frankfurters, Satay Chicken and Russian standard vodka are just a few of the delicacies invented by the English. After Brexit we will hold these as a bargaining chip and say ‘if you do not trade with us you won’t have these things’ and then everyone will be sorry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.