IMAGINE you – or even, heaven forfend, I – had to be subject to scrutiny every week, made to stand up and answer insolent questions, not to mention being subject to intolerable abuse. That’s what happens at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, with a thankfully paler version also taking place at Holyrood.

This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (still feels a bit like saying Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jasper Carrot) faced his first PMQs, and reviews were mixed. He seemed out of sorts, floundering (admittedly his default position), rattled and even angry.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House, and normally calm and affable in a crisis, seemed similarly discombobulated. In late July, when Boris made his first statement as Prime Minister, and Moggy his despatch debut as L of the H, they’d both been assured, controlled, witty and clever.

In the intervening period, something has gone wrong, which is a good definition of being in power. Perhaps both men are exasperated. Stitched up left, right and centre with cunning procedural manoeuvres designed to delay the Brexit that they’ve staked their reputations on delivering, for Boris in particular there was the added humiliation of losing votes, not to mention MPs, with one walking across the floor of the House to join another party even as the PM was speaking.

Then his Remain-voting brother Jo announced with less than fraternal timing that he was leaving the Government, prompting the Sun headline “Bojo Bro Jojo Go Blow”. And all the time he stood accused of being a dictator staging a coup, even as he was trying to hold an election, which the democratic opposition opposed.

Everything was turning upside-down. It would be enough to send anyone doolally. In the end, Boris resorted to addressing the nation directly in a podcast, which again draws accusation of dictatorial or 1984-style behaviour. But I don’t have a problem with it.

I like to hear someone’s case put calmly and at reasonable length without all the hoo-ha and interruptions. It was something Sir Harold Macmillan used to do when British civilisation was at its height in the 1950s. These were not podcasts but Pathé News reels, and you can find some on YouTube today. I like nothing better than to settle down every evening with a box of Maltesers and a cup of cocoa to watch one. So warm and reassuring.

I had to laugh when that hacktivist woman from Channel 4 News wailed: “Boris Johnson is a lying threat to democracy. Why, oh why, will he not let us interview him?” Sir Harold would have raised one eyebrow at her in a distinctly marked manner.

In the meantime, Boris is set to go walkabout, having decided you meet a better quality of crank on the streets than in Parliament. Here, the sense of a world turned upside-down deepens, with people from once-stanch Labour families in England’s former mining and industrial heartlands promising to vote Conservative, seen now as a vote against the arrogant elite.

Yesterday, Boris even made it to Scotlandshire, where a bull he was manhandling in Banchory blundered into a plain clothes police officer, and the PM himself received an online walloping for paying way over the odds for a box of cod. Well, we’ve all done it. However, even a load of bull in Banchory is less of an ordeal than PMQs which, unlike interviews with the unelected but entitled on Channel 4 News, is an essential part of democracy. Before her departure, outgoing PM Theresa May endured the longest PMQs ever – over an hour – and performed well. But, then, Mrs May is a better woman than I’ll ever be.

Is Boris, though? The prolonged weekly grilling demands knowledge of detail and deep concentration, neither of these being Boris’s natural habitat. I don’t know how leaders do it really, either at Westminster or at Holyrood, but done it must be.

In common with other decent ratepayers, I wish proceedings were more polite and restrained, perhaps involving an exchange of gifts and the chamber liberally (in the nice sense of the word) decorated with flowers. But I am getting into the realms of fantasy now.


AS if he didn’t have enough on his plate, arguably controversial Prime Minister Boris Johnson was dragged into the debate about the Loch Ness monster, a phenomenon more easily explained than Brexit.

New research suggests the beastie who chooses to Remain in Loch Ness is a giant eel. Scientists, led by Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand, reached this conclusion after examining the fauna of Loch Ness through their DNA, the wee daft stuff that we all contain and that gives us our identity (wish I could get a refund on mine).

A giant eel would at least account for the looped shape. And it’s probably better than some previous theories, including that she’s a fallen tree, a circus elephant and, of course, an alien.

Speaking of which, Mr Johnson’s dramatic intervention came during a visit to Scotland, where he slammed the new research (he didn’t really; I’m just trying to sound like a newspaper) and said “a part of me” still believed in the monster theory.

The move led to fevered speculation about which part he meant and, regrettably, many otherwise decent ratepayers said it was his bottom. So the coarsening of discourse continues.


I CAN’T decide whether it’s a good or a bad thing that children are being given smartphones at the age of 11. On the one hand, these devilish devices are necessities of the future, and even arguably the present.

On the other, they’re full of nonsense, and encourage users to communicate indirectly, not to mention straining their necks gawping at them all the time. Research by Sky Mobile found that 11 is round about the “age of independence” and that children are growing up faster as a result of technology.

That’s a real shame. If any parents out there are irresponsible enough to have allowed their children to read this column, then I take the opportunity to address these young persons directly: Don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It comes with the realisation that we’ve been put on this planet to be mocked mercilessly by diabolical deities. But, apart from that, it’s all right.

Meanwhile, mark this: in my day, we were lucky if we got shoes by the age of 11. And even if you spoke into them, there was never anybody there.

++++ LET’S hope the makers of the new Carry On films aren’t about to get into hot water with a new subject for their mirth-making: Vladimir Putin.

Once, on another paper, I wrote a wee light piece that mentioned the Russian democratic (see other discussions of democracy on this page) leader’s pecs. Even though it was just satire – ken? – there was a high level complaint and, ever since, I’ve been afraid to leave the hoose.

The Russian angle is merely the subject of rumour, or news as it’s called in the Daily Star, and would also see a sustained mickey-take of Russian billionaires, dubbed the “McMafia” for some peculiar reason. Carry on Oligarch has been mentioned.

The new films’ spec includes poking fun at aspects of modern life, but I think our leading purveyors of bawdy humour ought to stick to constables, cabbies, cowboys and the Khyber (going up of).

I’m pretty sure Vlad himself doesn’t have a problem with jokes. I have – no kidding – been in the same room as him, and he seemed liked a nice boy. But I wouldn’t put pecs in any spec. As with Basil Fawlty’s war, I mentioned them once, and only just got away with it.

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