Boris Johnson

  • July 01, 2019 16:14
  • Sam Macrory

Chapter 22
 

What if... Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister in 2016?

Oxfordshire, 2019
Sweat dripping from his brow, the middle-aged man with the unconvincingly covered bald spot jogged slowly up the driveway towards his front door. Gasping for breath, he stopped to glance at his watch – and winced. He seemed to be getting slower by the week. Then again, the regular jogs through the Oxfordshire countryside kept him feeling healthy, and relatively happy.
Kicking off his well-worn running shoes, he padded through his tastefully furnished home towards the kitchen. No messages on the answer phone from anyone important – as usual. Turning to the mock art deco fridge, he dug out a carton of ginseng-infused water, poured a glass and then lit up a cigarette – a soothing habit which he no longer worried about hiding. Switching on the television, he impatiently flicked through the channels until he reached UK Fox, the twenty-four-hour rolling news channel which had dominated the airwaves since its controversial launch eighteen months before.
He strained his eyes in an effort to make out the images in front of him. A crowd had gathered on what looked like an unpromising pile of earth, with cameramen desperately clambering over each other for the best possible angle to film whatever it was they were watching. Their attention was focused on a rotund figure in a fluorescent safety jacket who was recklessly waving a garden spade around his head, apparently to the delight of his
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audience. As the cameras zoomed closer, a familiar shock of blond hair
could be spied escaping from beneath the hard hat on top of his head.
Back in the Oxfordshire kitchen, the man’s hand gripped his glass
tensely. He didn’t need the caption on the bottom of the screen to tell him
what was happening: ‘Prime Minister celebrates as work commences on
“Boris Island” Airport’. The cameras zoomed closer, revealing the grinning
face of Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the last four years.
Struggling to make his excitable gabbling heard over the cheering
crowd, the Prime Minister bellowed: ‘This is an historic day. Pat your
neighbour on the back. Shake their hand! Plan your holidays! This will be a
new airport for a new Britain. The Thames Estuary will never be the same
again, and neither will Britain! New jobs! New transport! A chance for all
of us to pull together for our … great British society.’
Staring into the Fox camera, the Prime Minister seemed to be locking
eyes with the man in the Oxfordshire kitchen. The glass narrowly missed
the TV screen as it smashed against the wall. Collapsing into the nearest
chair, David Cameron asked himself, as he did every hour of every day:
‘How on earth have things come to this?’
Eight years earlier
As 2011 drew to a close, David Cameron stood in the same Oxfordshire
kitchen and waited for his guests – Elisabeth and Matthew, Andy and
Eloise, and Bono and Ali – to arrive. The Christmas holidays could not
have come quickly enough he thought, as he stared out across the snowcovered
lawn. The feud over NHS reform – and it was bloody annoying
the way Nick claimed to have saved it! – had drained him, Ken Clarke’s
radio interviews had frayed his nerves, and, as every admiral and general
kept telling anyone who would listen, British involvement in Libya was
proving to be uncomfortably expensive. Then there was that rather awkward
thing with Andy and the phones – no invitation for Rebekah this
year. The backbenchers were hounding him, the Lib Dems were harassing
him, and the next three years of this wretched coalition seemed to stretch
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out interminably. Still, he thought to himself, he was the Prime Minister!
And only 45 years old! This was the mere adolescence of his premiership!
The ungrateful bastards would soon remember what he’d achieved: overthrowing
the Labour government, gaining huge local election victories,
bringing in tougher sentencing powers, and, of course, dealing with any
plans for electoral reform for a generation. The alternative vote was dead,
the constituencies were being redrawn, and the Conservative Party, with
Prime Minister Cameron at the helm, should be looking forward to a long
stretch in power. His mood considerably lifted, Cameron smiled – 2012
was going to be a good year.
~
The bomb went off at 8:57am on Wednesday 9 May, a few hundred yards
from Stratford tube station. Striking the heart of the Olympic village, the
message was clear: whoever planted the bomb could do it again, at any time
– perhaps when the Olympic Stadium was packed, as it would be in just
three months’ time.
With incredible good fortune, however, it appeared that the timing and
location of the bomb had been botched. David Cameron was in Germany,
invited by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make the second
speech of his ‘multiculturalism’ series, so Nick Clegg – the day started
with a series of ‘Don’t Forget!’ tabloid headlines – was in charge. After
digesting the news, the Deputy Prime Minister sensed the chance to flex
some muscle. Boris Johnson, the recently re-elected mayor of London,
had been dominating the airwaves, redirecting his early morning run to
make his way across to East London and condemn the attacks. In response,
Clegg quickly summoned a meeting of COBRA – one for the rolling news
cameras, he thought – and began to prepare for what he hoped would be an
easy opportunity to dominate that afternoon’s Prime Minister’s questions.
Initial briefings were encouraging: no loss of life had been reported. This
was a near miss rather than a catastrophe.
Then the call from MI6 was put through. Clegg’s facial features fell back
to their familiar setting of tired and grey. ‘You’re absolutely certain? I see.
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Thank you.’ The phone went down. Norman Lamb, his political adviser,
and James McGrory, Clegg’s press secretary, looked concerned.
‘Not good. Not good at all,’ Clegg told the anxious-looking pair. ‘Well,
obviously. But nobody was killed’, Lamb replied with an optimistic lilt.
‘That’s not the problem,’ Clegg replied, wearily. ‘Until yesterday,
the suspected bomber was being held – without charge – on suspicion of
involvement in a terrorist plot.’ A puzzled McGrory asked why the bomber
was on the streets. ‘Yesterday was his fourteenth day. By law, the police
couldn’t hold him any longer. He was released, and then met up immediately
with the cell that had plotted the attack’, Clegg replied, planting his
head in his hands. ‘We changed that law. That was our law.’ No one said
anything in return. The implications were clear. Life was about to get very
difficult for the Liberal Democrats.
~
PMQs were a nightmare for Clegg, as Tory and Labour MPs alike accused
him of putting British people at risk with his soft approach to terror.
That afternoon David Cameron, who had flown back from Germany,
announced emergency plans to increase to ninety the number of days that
a suspect could be held without charge. Given the public mood and the
frenzied response of the right-wing press, the protests of Liberal Democrat
MPs – and a rather half-hearted David Davis – were easily drowned out.
That evening, in a ferocious behind-closed-doors exchange, Clegg tried to
convince his MPs that he had been wrong: they should now back the new
anti-terror legislation and demonstrate that they could be taken seriously
as a party of power. His MPs stared back incredulously – the Rubicon of
coalition compromise seemed to grow wider still. Warning of the irreversible
effects of the ‘poison of power’, Charles Kennedy was the first MP to
walk out of Committee Room 11, while Sir Menzies Campbell, after a
short speech on the sad death of Liberal principles, followed suit. Vince
Cable just looked glummer than ever. Clegg was confident however – if he
could steer his party through the tuition fees row, then surely they would
come round on an issue of national security?
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He was badly wrong. Just three Liberal Democrat MPs supported the
measures: Clegg himself, Danny Alexander, and David Laws. By voting
no, every other Liberal Democrat minister had effectively left the
government.
Later that evening, Sarah Teather, the young MP who had once been so
decisive in the downfall of Charles Kennedy, was sitting in the Newsnight
studio, telling Jeremy Paxman why Clegg had lost the support of his party.
From the safety of the 10 Downing Street kitchen, the Deputy Prime
Minister watched with a concerned David Cameron. ‘That’s that. It’s over’,
Clegg declared, staring vacantly at the TV.
‘Come on – there must be a way through this? We could speed up the
timetable for Lords reform. I know, why don’t we get David Laws into
the cabinet? Nick, if you walk away, then you leave me horribly exposed,’
Cameron pleaded.
‘I’m sorry Dave. We did our best. Events, dear boy, isn’t that what your
hero Harold said?’ Clegg replied, as he stood up to leave.
‘Let’s talk this through in the morning – it isn’t over’, Cameron shouted
after him, but Clegg had already shut the door. Sam had prepared a spare
room so that he could avoid the media throng on his journey home to
Putney, but Clegg knew he wouldn’t sleep. He was already running
through the wording of a resignation statement in his head.
Twelve months later
After Clegg stepped down, David Cameron initially embraced the
opportunity to head up a minority government. His backbenchers were
thrilled by the new arrangement, with the 1922 Committee holding a
‘Not for Turning Again’ reception on the Commons terrace, and a string
of promotions to fill the Liberal Democrat vacancies triggering a second
honeymoon for Cameron as he wooed the disaffected in his party. Andrew
Tyrie succeeded Alexander as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Bernard
Jenkin took over the constitutional affairs brief, and Grant Shapps replaced
Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary. All spoke a rather different language
to that of their coalition predecessors, and so now did Cameron, with his
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talk of the ‘Big Conservative Society’, warnings of the growing ‘European
menace’, and speeches on the need to be ‘tough on crime – but tougher on
criminals’.
Cabinet government, ministers declared, worked far more successfully
without the need to kowtow to the demands of a minor party, and after
a summer of back-slapping, that October’s party conference, hastily rearranged
to be symbolically held in the nostalgia-packed Blackpool Winter
Gardens, took place against a back drop of Union Jack-waving triumphalism.
‘At last – it’s our party … back again’, a cheering Norman Tebbit
was overheard mumbling, while a misty-eyed Tim Montgomerie, whose
ConservativeHome website did its best to claim credit for reshaping the
government’s new direction, dominated the airwaves.
The traditional vision of Conservatism mapped out in Cameron’s
conference closing speech met with loud cheers, but the Prime Minister
left Blackpool feeling hollow. The party was pushing itself in a direction
which was, he believed, ultimately unsustainable, and on the train home to
London his mood plummeted. He hadn’t spoken to Nick in weeks, while
his strategy adviser Steve Hilton was spending ever more time ‘working
from home’. Ken Clarke, who appeared to have slept his way through
Cameron’s speech, seemed utterly detached, while Nick Boles, a one-time
Notting Hill set associate, was stirring up disquiet amongst disgruntled
modernisers.
Cameron’s mood was not misjudged. By December, the government
had suffered humiliating back-to-back Commons defeats, as hastily published
bills to make fox-hunting legal and set in motion a programme for
nuclear weapons renewal – red meat for the Tory right – failed to make
progress. Tim Farron, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats following
his defeat of Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes, had little difficulty
persuading his MPs to vote against the Conservative Party, with former
Lib Dem ministers jeered by Tory MPs as they filed through the no lobby.
The impossible mathematics of minority government began to bite, slowly
gnawing away at the electorate’s faith in the Prime Minister. When a crisp
and snow-free winter provided no excuse for the appalling economic
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figures of the last quarter, a harsh truth was made unavoidable at the start of
2013: Britain was sliding towards a double-dip recession. The increasingly
ragged Chancellor George Osborne refused to bow to demands to switch
to a ‘Plan B’ to fix the economy, however, and once Andy Murray fell in the
second round of Wimbledon the newspapers turned their attention on the
under-pressure occupant of 10 Downing Street.
‘For God’s sake. I gave him his sodding TV deal – this is ridiculous’,
shouted Cameron on sighting a particularly uncompromising Sun. On the
front page was pictured a mallard, with a top hat and full Bullingdon Club
tails photo-shopped on its feathered frame. ‘Quack off! Lame-duck Prime
Minister must go’, ran the headline.
A string of poorly attended Cameron Direct events failed to mask the
obvious: it was now clear that Cameron’s government was effectively unable
to legislate. The modernisers were disaffected and the right – Defence
Secretary Liam Fox to the fore – were grumbling. The reputation of Ed
Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, was steadily rising as the economy refused
to pick up, and even Farron’s Liberal Democrats had seen some of their
core support return. As Parliament returned that September, and with the
fixed-term parliaments unexpectedly bogged down in legal complications,
Cameron was left with no choice but to call a general election.
Standing on a ticket of ‘no more compromise,’ the Tory leader embraced
the campaign with gusto. The early public backing of Tony Blair – now
envoy to Tripolitania, the western part of the former Libya, ruled by Saif
Gaddafi – was mildly awkward, but he was pleased that Nick Clegg, not
contesting his Sheffield Hallam seat, was helping out behind the scenes.
The television debates were confusing. Tim Farron agreed with Labour
leader Ed Miliband, and Ed agreed with Tim too, but Tim also wanted to
claim credit for much of what Dave was bragging about, none of which Ed
wanted to praise at all. Dave just looked horribly isolated.
Away from the TV studios, the rush for selection had witnessed some of
the most unsavoury sights in recent years. The worryingly rapid reordering
of Parliamentary constituencies had seen 650 seats reduced to 600, an ugly
equation which saw sitting MPs given little time to reapply for seats and
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fight for the right to keep their jobs. In South London three seats turned
to two, with Chuka Umunna forced to intervene as Harriet Harman’s and
Tessa Jowell’s verbal spat threatened to turn physical, while up in Stoke a
teary-eyed Tristram Hunt found his political career prematurely ended as
his seat vanished from the Parliamentary map.
The result shocked politicians and pundits alike. Labour secured 293
seats, the Tories 261, and the Lib Dems 37. Chris Huhne’s Eastleigh seat fell
to the Tories, two UKIP MPs, from Essex and Kent, entered Parliament,
while the Greens gained two more MPs, in Norwich and Oxford, to join
Caroline Lucas at Westminster. Incredibly, there was no clear winner, so
despite Liberal Democrat losses a second hung Parliament once again saw
their leader play the part of kingmaker.
The thought of another round of coalition talks left Cameron feeling
exhausted. ‘I’m not doing this again. I can’t. I mean, do they really want
another referendum?’ he wondered. However, after Tim Farron and his
negotiating team of Steve Webb, Norman Lamb, and Duncan Hames had
spent three days scuttling between their Labour and Tory equivalents, a
referendum on the alternative vote is exactly what Cameron offered.
However, the stakes were now higher. With that promise in his pocket,
Farron forced Miliband and his deal-making unit of Ed Balls, Sadiq Khan,
and Chuka Umunna to raise Labour’s bid. A switch to the additional member
system (AMS) was offered without a referendum, and a deal between
the Liberal Democrats and Labour was hastily drawn up. David Cameron,
having failed twice to secure a majority for his party, was now officially the
least successful Tory leader in history, in electoral terms, but as a man used
to winning, he was not prepared to accept failure. The Saturday evening,
with the dustsheets not yet removed, he summoned his closest allies to his
old North Kensington home and began plotting for his survival.
~
At the BBC’s Millbank studios the following morning, Tom Bradby –
who had succeed Andrew Marr earlier in the year – was preparing for his
regular Sunday morning show. Post-election analysis would dominate the
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programme, but an upbeat interview with the Mayor of London should
provide some light relief. After all, it really had been an astonishing year
for Boris Johnson. After successfully distancing himself from the more
unpopular policies of the coalition government, Boris had comfortably
beaten Ken Livingstone in the previous May’s mayoral election. The
London Olympics followed, and after Boris’ defiant stand against terrorism
an entirely glitch-free Games took place, with the British athletics
team amassing a record medal haul. Spectators had made their way across
London on Boris Bikes – number 50,000 was cycled hands-free into the
stadium by Boris himself – and the new Routemaster bus was a hit with
London commuters, all of whom travelled for free for the duration of the
Games. Ever the showman, Boris ensured his place on the front pages as
he embraced the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on closing night at
the Olympic Stadium, with photographs catching Cameron looking on
awkwardly.
With his poll ratings soaring, Boris had every reason to look forward
to the next three years. So, he told Bradby, did London. But that wasn’t
all Bradby wanted to discuss. ‘It has been a terrible few months for your
party. What will you be doing to help?’ he asked. Without hesitation,
Boris answered: ‘The answer, of course, Tom, is whatever I can. I’m a
Conservative mayor and a member of the Conservative Party. I love my
party, and I want it to be in government.’ Naturally, Bradby then asked
the question which Boris had straight-batted away many times. ‘And could
you be the man to lead it there?’ Apparently off the cuff, Boris replied:
‘As I said, Tom, I’ll do whatever I can. Whatever my party asks me to do,
however my country needs me, I am merely a humble servant.’ Watching,
Guto Harri, Boris’ press chief, mouthed one word: ‘Perfect.’
~
Just one week later, on the back of a series of pleas from Tory associations
and MPs, Boris resigned as Mayor of London. ‘For the good of my country,’
he declared, ‘It is time to leave City Hall and return to Westminster.’
Conveniently enough, the general election count in Sheffield Hallam had
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been declared null after pro-PR campaigners had set fire to a pile of ballot
boxes. The courts demanded a recount, and to add to Boris’ good fortune
the Tory candidate stood aside to create a vacancy. ‘Don’t worry, Dad. This
will work out well for both of us’, Boris told his father, Stanley, who had
sacrificed his long-held dreams of becoming an MP.
As Cameron began to panic, his ever-loyal spinner Gabby Bertin busily
spread tales of Boris’s colourful private life, but nothing seemed to stick.
In homage to Alan Clark, Boris told hustings meetings that he had ‘whole
cupboards of them’ when asked about the skeletons in his private life. ‘I’ve
said this before: there will be the odd indiscretion, but then who can’t say
that? We’ve all done things which we wished we probably hadn’t.’
The threat to Cameron was clear. Boris, a former schoolmate and
Bullingdon Club drinking partner of the ex-Prime Minister, knew far too
much. As for Boris’ colourful CV, the blue-rinsers in the party loved him
for it. A bit of back-to-basics mischief was to be forgiven, and anyway, his
long-suffering wife Marina was always by his side. He narrowly edged
out Chris Huhne – still denying newspaper reports of alleged speeding
offences – to victory in Sheffield, and just twenty-four hours later the Boris
bandwagon rolled into Westminster. He didn’t wait to catch his breath.
‘I’m often accused of not being serious. Well, I’ve never been more serious
about anything’, he announced as he arrived on the steps to Parliament.
‘Some people write down their dreams on the back of envelopes. Well, I’d
decided in the womb before I could, er, write. How we failed – twice – to
beat a discredited Labour Party is beyond me. Do we want to win? If the
answer is yes, and I jolly well hope it is, then it is time to think again about
the journey we must take to get us to that green and pleasant land.’
The phone banks were firmly in place and the support had been
primed: that evening fifteen Conservative MPs published a letter calling
on Cameron to resign, including backbench rebel leader Mark Pritchard,
Boris’ brother Jo, Theresa Villiers – still smarting at failing to make cabinet
under Cameron – and Iain Duncan Smith, whose welfare reforms had been
repeatedly undermined by former Chancellor George Osborne. Boris led
the news bulletins and dominated the next day’s papers: ‘The Boris Factor!’
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shouted The Sun. ‘Time to get serious’, announced the Telegraph. ‘Better
late than never’, declared the Mail. Guto had been busy.
~
‘What on earth are you doing? You’re tearing the party apart. You had
a perfectly good job. Don’t do this to me!’ Cameron was screaming into
his mobile phone, Bertin looking on nervously. ‘Yes, you bloody well
are. This is about you, your ego, and getting one over me. Just stop it.’ He
resisted throwing the phone at the door – but only just – and turned to
his worried-looking aide. ‘What? What are you looking at?’ he shouted
at Bertin. ‘This isn’t about me. I am thinking about the bloody party.’ He
looked close to tears.
But as the grassroots membership flocked to Boris, and the majority of
the party’s MPs followed suit, Cameron was left with no choice but to call a
leadership contest. The voting was worse than he could have expected, with
Cameron forced to drop out after the first round, leaving Boris to romp to
victory against the unpopular pair of George Osborne and Liam Fox. At
that year’s delayed Conservative Party conference, Boris was unveiled as
the party’s new leader. Walking on to the stage to the strains of the Beatles’
‘Here Comes the Sun’ – Boris’ ‘fantastically optimistic’ choice on Desert
Island Discs seven years previously – he sent delegates into wild delight as
he declared: ‘Mr Miliband – we’re coming for you. Mr Fallen, er, Farron
– watch your step. The Conservative Party is back and ready for business.’
~
Over the next few years, Boris successfully dominated the media, outwitted
the earnest Miliband at PMQs, and prompted a rapid rise in party
membership. His reserves of energy surprised many pundits, but those who
knew him best recognised the same youthful Boris who would smash his
siblings at table tennis and repeatedly top the family general knowledge
contests.
Miliband and his team were at a loss. Class warfare didn’t work – Boris
felt no shame in talking about his happy days at Eton – and any attempts
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to paint the Conservative leader as a philandering cad were met with a
shrug of the shoulders. And if Boris ever strayed into un-politically correct
territory then he seemed to have little problem laughing it off. The
non-political classes loved him; the Tories felt indebted to him; and his
opponents were driven to despair. Ed Miliband was unable to make himself
heard, while Boris’ apparent inability to remember Tim Farron’s name had
the desired – humiliating – effect.
David Cameron, meanwhile, had slipped from view. Bloggers joked
that he was now living in isolation with Gordon Brown, who despite his
re-election in Kirkcaldy in 2013 was still rarely spotted in the Commons.
But the truth was that Cameron was in a state of shock: he simply could not
accept that his old rival had beaten him. But Boris didn’t give his predecessor
a moment’s thought. All eyes were set firmly on the next election.
~
It came quicker than he had expected. By the start of 2016 Ed Miliband
was in a precarious position. His inability to break through Boris’ wall of
sound had caused considerable disquiet in party ranks. The Labour Party
was increasingly split as the Prime Minister’s feuds with his brother David
Miliband, the Home Secretary, were played out via anonymous briefings.
Boris, meanwhile, had lost his clownish reputation. Osborne, Michael
Gove, and Fox were all denied roles in his shadow cabinet, with a welltimed
visit from his old friend Arnold Schwarzenegger, reputation restored
after the success of Terminator IV, leading to the inevitable headlines in
the tabloids. Boris seemed to be taking the reverse journey of a number
of his predecessors as Tory leader – the buffoon was now respected for his
seriousness.
Worse still for the government, the international situation had dragged
Miliband horribly away from his party. The great uprisings of 2011 had
seen unrest spread across the Arab world and the Middle East, and by
2016 Iran was on the brink of war with Israel. US President Romney,
desperate for re-election, was pushing for military intervention. Not on
speaking terms with France’s President Le Pen since calling time on the
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UK’s three-year-long involvement in the no-fly zone over the former
Libya, Miliband had led his government into near-global isolation, with
foreign leaders far more interested in spending time with the charismatic
new Tory leader. In a desperate bid – his ‘Falklands moment’, suggested
some commentators – to regain some international standing, Miliband
declared his support for Romney. Fifteen years since they had gathered
to register their opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the anti-war marchers
reassembled on the streets of London, holding aloft placards of the late antiwar
campaigner Brian Haw. Deputy Prime Minister Farron was quick to
resign, and Ed Miliband, having learned from Cameron’s inability to lead a
minority government, wasted no time in calling a general election.
~
The campaign, of course, was dominated by one man. Boris, preaching
a return to ‘good old-fashioned Conservatism’, flamboyantly dominated
the television debates as Farron and Miliband unconvincingly argued the
toss over the Lib-Lab coalition’s failings. The cameras loved him and the
right-wing press cheered him has he cycled his way across the UK, soapbox
never far behind.
His shadow team, containing the likes of Ken Clarke, Iain Duncan
Smith, Rory Stewart, Margot James, and his uncompromising Chief Whip
Mike Penning, provided an impressive mixture of youth and experience,
and while his policies were light – national Boris Bike roll-out, nationwide
crime-mapping, the revival of Green Line buses, and the creation of a wave
of so-called ‘Boris’ Grammars – the media were hardly exacting in their
scrutiny. Boris-mania had gripped the country, and there was nothing
anyone could do to stop it. Farron’s Lib Dems were increasingly divided
at Westminster, while Miliband and Miliband were barely able to share a
platform together. Boris seemed to be the only candidate leading a party
which was pulling in the same direction.
To the evident bamboozlement of the psephologists, the 2016 election
was also the first contested under AMS, as the 2014 Electoral Reform Act
had easily passed after Farron and Miliband had presented a united Yes
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front. Boris had seemed strangely calm during the TV debates, telling
interviewers ‘that he would play the ball, not the man’ – a nice line which
saw that clip of his famous popular footballing cameo replayed endlessly
on the rolling news channels. The result saw a tentative re-ordering of
the political landscape. Parliament now had 12 UKIP MPs, 7 Greens and,
depressingly, 2 BNP members. Boris, however, had secured a 53-seat
majority, defying predictions that nothing but first-past-the-post would
suit the Tories. Second-choice votes fell almost unanimously for the Tory
leader. ‘Tory? Well, of course. But not in some ghastly tribal way. I’m
British, I just happen to be a politician. That’s the main thing, isn’t it?’ Boris
had famously declared on the Today programme as the election approached.
His party flinched, but the opinion polls soared. London’s doughnut, the
ring of suburbs which had flocked to him in the 2008 mayoral elections,
filled out nicely across the central boroughs, while a record number of
Labour constituencies showed their anger at Miliband’s foreign policy by
noting their support for Boris, a man who every house in Britain was aware
of. The country’s most recognisable politician had reaped the benefit of a
system in which everyone could vote more than once.
Following a visit to Buckingham Palace and a meeting with the recently
crowned King George VII, Boris skipped down Downing Street in front
of the waiting media. ‘Floreat Patria’, Boris declared, modifying his old
school motto, with his triumphant victory cheer picked up by an ITN
microphone as he bounded through the front door of Number 10. For
some reason Gordon Brown, the recently appointed Greenspan chair of
economics at Harvard, had still refused to submit a photo for the famous
Downing Street stairwell gallery, but Boris didn’t care. He had done it.
A Conservative Prime Minister with a majority government, the first in
nearly twenty years. Life had always been rather interesting, he thought,
but this was something else.
~
Cabinet appointments followed. Clarke became party chairman, IDS
was handed the Home Office, while his old schoolmate Rory Stewart
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was made Foreign Secretary despite some last-minute lobbying from
Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Philip Hammond was made Chancellor, Zac
Goldsmith was handed the energy brief, Margot James was fast-tracked
to Business Secretary, and Jo Johnson, Boris’ younger brother, was
promoted to Chief Secretary to the Treasury. A series of policy announcements
followed. Lords reform, which had progressed no further than
the abolition of a further forty-two hereditary peers under the Lib-Lab
government, was thrown out, work on the controversial High Speed 2
rail project was stalled as Boris ploughed resources into speeding up the
completion of Crossrail, a promise for ‘all of Britain to fly where they
want to’ was issued, and a referendum on the UK’s membership of the
EU was casually talked up. Boris then exerted his authority in the most
extraordinary of ways, declaring that to ‘be elected is to be given the
power to decide’, after King George had called for the construction of
a Poundbury in every county. Boris’ chiding somehow managed to be
deferential, playful, and authoritative all at once, and across the board, the
remaining newspapers – 2015 had seen the closure of both The Independent
and The People, with The Guardian becoming an entirely online operation
– declared their admiration.
The Lib Dems, shell-shocked after securing just 40 seats under the new
system, endured their most fractious autumn conference in living memory,
with a split between the party’s left and right wings ending a torrid week.
Farron remained in charge of the Liberal Democrats, while David Laws
and Danny Alexander left conference vowing to establish the New Liberals
as Britain’s realistic alternative. From his position as EU Commissioner for
Trade, Nick Clegg expressed his support for the latter.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, was far from happy. David Miliband had
been elected to lead under the slogan of ‘New Labour – the Only Way’,
but Lord Prescott had been aggressively beating a drum for a Real Labour
Party to represent honest working people. Ed Balls, left out of a job after
the abolition of Labour’s shadow cabinet elections, was notably supportive.
So along with the four Irish parties, Plaid Cymru, and the SNP, as
well as Liverpool Wavertree’s Socialist Labour MP Ricky Tomlinson,
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the Palace of Westminster was now officially home to fourteen parties, all
jostling for attention.
~
Some Tory MPs, however, were not so comfortable with Boris’ nationwide
appeal, and on May Day 2018, Penning broke the news to him. Three senior
government figures had resigned: Ken Clarke, Caroline Spelman, who had
been reinstated as Environment Secretary by Boris after her 2012 resignation
over the sensational badger-culling U-turn, and Stephen Dorrell, the
Tory Health Secretary – then spokesman – since Andrew Lansley’s stressrelated
retirement from front-line politics in late 2012.
For the past three months the Conservative Party had been at war with
itself over the issue of Europe. Egged on by the old Maastricht rebel Iain
Duncan Smith, and further supported by the influential junior ministers
Chris Heaton-Harris, Andrea Leadsom, and Mark Pritchard, Boris had got
dragged into the tedious legalities of how to hold an in/out referendum
on the EU. The party was not as supportive as he might have hoped, with
77-year-old father of the House Clarke continuing to make persuasive
speeches in support of the EU and rumours of splits in the cabinet eagerly
seized on by a media looking for a way around Boris’ dominant personality.
The triple walk-out came as little surprise, with poverty guru Michael
Heseltine, nearing his ninth decade, praising their boldness, and Sir David
Cameron, in California for the latest leg of his lucrative global lecture tour
with Tony Blair, declaring himself ‘intrigued’. Anything to knock Boris of
his perch must be good, though, he privately thought, as he headed off for a
set of doubles with Tony, Silvio, and Cliff.
Boris laughed off the resignations as ‘irrelevant piffle – just three people
who are out of touch with the country’, and moved quickly to replace the
grumbling trio.
Perhaps it was five years of media adulation. Maybe he had been
encouraged by the splits amongst his rival parties. Could his majority
have left him feeling invulnerable? It was, according to The Times, the ‘the
most embarrassing reshuffle in history’, while The Sun, with a woefully
365
… Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister in 2016?
politically incorrect picture of Boris in President Mobotu-style headwear,
announced the reign of ‘Tin Pot Boris’.
Stanley Johnson, Lord Johnson of Exmoor, had been named as the new
Environment Secretary. At 77, he was the oldest man ever to be appointed
to the cabinet for the first time, the great Sheffield Crucible Pact paying off
at last. Just as unexpected was the elevation of Kit Malthouse, Boris’ former
mayoral deputy and now MP for Witney, to the policing brief, while Ray
Lewis, MP for Hammersmith and another former City Hall colleague,
was handed a job in the Cabinet Office. His opponents screamed cronyism
– ‘Who next? Darius Guppy?’ snarled Danny Finkelstein in The Times
– while the London-focused leader’s circle left many in the party deeply
concerned. Boris declared himself uninterested. ‘I was elected to save this
country, whose people share my vision, and that is what I am doing – with
the best possible people I can work with.’
But alarm bells in the party were set ringing. With Boris’ local
government reforms passing slowly through Parliament, 57 Tory MPs,
the majority of whom represented rural constituencies, were led by the
restless – and jobless – Liam Fox into an informal voting bloc with the
Commons’ UKIP MPs. Though agreeing with Boris’ European plans,
they were in opposition to his proposed council tax reforms which, following
a deal with Mayor of London Lord Coe, were designed to favour a
capital ‘still paying the price for hosting this country’s perfect Olympics’.
Noting the shift in influence, the 23 members of the Liberal Democrats
quickly stitched up a cooperative pact with Caroline Lucas’ growing
Green Party, with David Laws’ New Liberal grouping, the last rump of
Nick Clegg’s coalitionists, now effectively operating as Westminster’s
fifth largest party.
~
A week before Christmas, Boris and Guto were reclining in the Prime
Ministerial den with plates of bangers and mash and Dijon mustard and a
bottle of red wine. ‘Don’t worry about Liam and those UKIP loons. He’ll
come back – they always do. The party needs me more than I need them’,
What if …
366
Boris declared through a mouthful of food. ‘But the time seems right,
wouldn’t you agree?’
Guto nodded. ‘Jobs, money, national pride, and named after you. Not
bad. Incidentally, the latest polling has you as pretty much every non-Tory
supporter’s second choice – again.’
Boris smiled. ‘Good-o! Need to win an election? Appear on TV a lot
then slap your ugly mug on every election pamphlet and the undecided
or the uninterested tick the box. This additional member thing is bloody
brilliant.’
Guto chuckled, and replied: ‘And when the election comes around, just
build an airport, eh? Now, let’s get to work on that press conference.’
He set off to break the good news to Lord Branson of Kidlington, the
new transport envoy. ‘Guto, hold on’, Boris shouted. ‘Will you sort a meeting
with Rachel while you’re at it? I never really agreed with the need for
a women’s minister, but she’s been nagging me for ages. Seems a harmless
enough thing for her to do once we get the second term sorted out. And
shall we take a look at this voting systems green paper again? There might
be something that will do me even better than this current arrangement,
and this really is such terrific fun. I’m only 54 after all – and up for another
decade of this …’.

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The Gunner who fired a century at Lord’s and dazzled at Wembley

  • June 28, 2019 12:54
  • Jon Henderson

Long gone are the heady days when many professional footballers, too skint to take the summer off given their tightly controlled wages, made their livings in the summer playing cricket...

 

When the break between the football and cricket seasons really was a break and players needed to find a nice little summer earner, all-round sportsmen such as the Compton brothers, Denis and Leslie, would commit themselves to playing both games at a professional level.

In the case of the Comptons, it was county championship cricket for Middlesex throughout the summer before reporting back to Arsenal for the football season.

Denis Compton was probably the most accomplished of the many cricket-football all-rounders. A brilliant, attacking batsman for his country as well as his county, he and his brother were FA Cup winners with Arsenal.

After he played his first full season of Test cricket in the English summer of 1938, Denis Compton turned down the chance to tour South Africa that winter to concentrate on playing football. At this stage, though, he was not good enough to secure a regular place in the Arsenal first team.

But skipping the South Africa trip did no harm to his cricketing career. He was back in England’s Test side for the 1939 home series against West Indies. He marked his return with an innings of 120 at Lord’s, during which he and Len Hutton added 248 for the fourth wicket in 140 minutes.

The Comptons are among a fairly extensive group of professional footballers who played first-class cricket. They gained their FA Cup winners’ medals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Liverpool in the 1950 final.

Denis’s performance in that final was a game of two very distinct halves. He played ‘a stinker’, his own assessment, in the first half; but, fortified by a hefty slug of whisky at halftime, dazzled in the second.

Since 1964, though, when Jim Standen and Geoff Hurst, he of the 1966 World Cup final hat-trick, played in the Cup Final for West Ham, no one else has achieved this distinction.

Standen, a goalkeeper who appeared 178 times for the Hammers, played as a dependable medium-pace bowler for Worcestershire from 1959-70, while the details of Hurst’s first-class cricket career are beloved of pub-quiz compilers. It consisted of one match for Essex in 1962 in which he batted twice and did not score a run, nor did he bowl a ball. He is described as having been an outstanding fielder and an occasional wicketkeeper.

In the 1980s, Ian Botham was one of the last people to play for a Football League club and be a professional cricketer at the same time. But Botham’s 11 appearances as a defender for Scunthorpe hardly qualified the cricketing giant to be regarded also as a colossus of football.

While still a Bolton player, Terry Allcock turned out for Blackpool in Lancashire League cricket matches for five years. ‘I played against some great Test players,’ he says, ‘Australia’s fast bowler Ray Lindwall and the West Indians Ramadhin, Valentine, Walcott, Weekes and Worrell. I played against them all. I made 67 not out against Lindwall.’

Allcock says the best way to make money playing cricket for Blackpool was to do well in front of a big holiday crowd. ‘I wasn’t paid very much and we didn’t receive bonuses,’ he says, ‘but if you scored 50 or took five wickets for less than 35 runs they took a bucket round the crowd making a collection. You could make quite a bit this way.’

When Allcock moved south to join Norwich, he played cricket for Norfolk in addition to coaching at Gresham’s Scool. Between 1959-75 he made 45 appearances in the minor counties competition as one of the team’s most consistent batsmen. He often batted with Bill Edrich when the veteran opening batsman returned to his native East Anglia after an outstanding first-class career with Middlesex and England.

Allcock made one appearance against a first-class county when in 1965 Norfolk played Hampshire in the Gillette Cup, the first major one-day competition for counties. The match was on Saturday 1 May, the day of the FA Cup final, but with Norwich having failed to repeat recent Cup heroics Allcock found himself clad in white flannels and cast among cricketers. These included Henry Blofeld, aka Blowers, the Old Etonian who would become an eminent commentator on the game.

Allcock has fond memories of Blofeld. He recalls the day when they were both dismissed cheaply playing for Norfolk in a match at Lakenham. To while away the time they walked together round the boundary, Blofeld wearing the newly awarded blazer that distinguished him as a Cambridge University cricket Blue.

Telling the story now, Allcock is amused that at the time he was the one, being a Norwich City footballer, who was recognised. ‘Every 15 yards or so we were stopped so I could sign autographs,’ he says. ‘When we got back to the pavilion Henry, pretending to be upset at being ignored, took off his blazer and hurled it into a corner.’

In more recet times, the talented all-round sportsman Keith Barker has played in the Football League and has represented Warwickshire and Hampshire in the county cricket championship, but not as overlapping careers.

Initially he chose professional football over cricket, joining Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and playing for Rochdale in the Football League while on loan from Rovers. In 2009 he switched to playing county cricket.

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback 

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Daily Mail | Cleaning Up the Mess by Ian Kennedy

  • June 11, 2019 10:36
  • Tony Rennell, Daily Mail

by Tony Rennell

 

THE MUTTERED abuse was coming thick and fast – choruses of ‘b***ocks’ and ‘f***ing liar’, all directed at Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, one of Britain’s most distinguished and experienced public servants. And the rabble handing out these crudities? A coterie of MPs, venting their venom in the most un-parliamentary of language – their bullying behaviour unrestrained, it should be said, by the Speaker, John Bercow, who was chairing the meeting.

Kennedy’s dignified response was typical of the man. ‘I did what any person who is rather deaf would do,’ he recalls. ‘I took out my hearing aid.’

I warmed to him instantly when I read this. How many of the rest of us wish we could, with the flick of a switch, tune out the unedifying rantings of our elected representatives over the past couple of years in the increasingly rancid Brexit debates in the House of Commons?

But what had drawn down the curses on Kennedy’s head was a different matter – his attempt, as chairman of IPSA, the Independent Standard’s Authority, to set up and implement a system of control on the high-octane matter of MPs’ expenses.

This was desperately needed after newspaper revelations of parliamentary snouts firmly in the trough provoked explosions of public outrage in 2008-9.

Cover ggggggggggggScandalous stories filled the front pages - of duck houses and chandeliers, moat-cleaning, hedges around helipads, flipped second homes and the like, all claimed by some of our elected representative as legitimate expenses in pursuit of their duties and paid, seemingly without question, out of taxpayers’ money.

MPs were popularly seen as on the make and on the take, crooks the lot of them.

Their reputations on the ropes, MPs voted to set up IPSA as an independent body to regulate their expenses and their pay, and Kennedy, approaching his seventies and a highly respected academic lawyer of impeccable credentials who had chaired inquiries and been head of the Healthcare Commission which regulated the NHS, was an obvious choice to run it.

His job, and that of the team he gathered around him, was to bring some order, rationality and accountability to MPs’ expenses.

Given the contempt they were held in by large swathes of public opinion, with all trust gone, he expected them to welcome his brief to clean up the mess by putting their personal finances on a firm and fair footing.

And most did.

But a small number resented the very idea of regulation and were determined to oppose it and him. He was shocked by the reception he got. ‘As someone who'd spent decades in public life, I'd worked with some quite challenging groups, but they'd retained a basic courteousness.

‘MPs were different,’ he says revealingly in a new book describing his experiences. ‘They clearly felt they didn't have to observe any of the normal standards of behaviour. I copped almost ceaseless flak.

‘In an orgy of self-flagellation, they'd agreed that things couldn't go on as before. But afterwards many sensed they'd been unwitting midwives at the birth of a monster. They saw IPSA as the enemy.’

In what he calls the daily uphill grind of dealing with some MPs, the attacks he came under were personal and vicious.

‘Playground bullies, smart-alecks always ready with a clever put-down honed from their days in university debating societies, the eternal plotters and the just plain nasty were routinely in my face.’

Only rarely was he given the protection he deserved by senior politicians, who too often seemed happy to see him hung out to dry. As for the very many decent MPs who deplored the silly railing against IPSA, to his dismay they chose to keep a low a profile.

Reading his account is to realise, with disgust, how loathsome, self-serving, arrogant and downright offensive far too many of our MPs had clearly become and how much they resented being made to do their job according to normal standards of business and behaviour.

Under the previous culture – the one Kennedy was brought in to end - they felt entitled to ‘allowances’ (as they preferred to call them, rather than ‘business expenses’) and claimed for such things as mortgage costs and rent as a matter of right. Hence those mysterious bills for a duck house and moat cleaning which so appalled the nation.

Now IPSA came along and insisted on accountability and transparency.

New rules were laid down. First-class travel was curtailed. Public transport was preferred to unlimited taxis – and the MP who insisted on taxis because he couldn’t take his two dogs on the Tube was reminded how bad this would make him look to a public now insisting on getting value for money.

The practice of putting family members on the payroll as ‘staff’ was policed.

Crucially, all expenses now had to be justified. Kennedy’s mantra was simple: ‘No ticket, no laundry.’ Moreover, proper receipts were expected, and not just a scribbled note saying the word ‘Taxi’ and the sum, as one MP thought he could get away with.

In May 2010, after the general election (which ousted Gordon Brown’s Labour Party and installed a Tory-LibDem coalition government under David Cameron), IPSA opened its operations, initiating the new system and offering MPs guidance with how to use it.

There was immediate resentment from a minority – perhaps 75 or so out of the House’s  650 members - who felt that ‘jobsworths’ were telling them what to do and undermining their parliamentary privileges.

‘I don’t do administration,’ one pompous MP declared. He and others like him wanted to be given what they saw as ‘their’ money to spend as they saw fit and be left to do their job unsupervised.

Kennedy would point out to the peeved that their job included accounting to the public for the £160million MPs received from the taxpayer. He argued that it was in their interests to support IPSA because it was the bulwark against accusations of corruption.

‘We could demonstrate month after month that MPs were complying with the scheme and managing taxpayers’ money with proper care.’

But this was apparently too much for them to stomach. IPSA was not only a ‘bad thing’ but some MPs continued to believe that the expenses scandal had been blown out of all proportion and that the public had been brainwashed by the media.

Their head-in-the-sand attitude reminded Kennedy ‘of the Japanese soldiers found in the jungles of the Philippines in the 1950s - unaware that the war was over’.

Meanwhile, he and his team of regulators found themselves under siege in what was developing into an unseemly private war. IPSA staff were routinely bullied, shouted and sworn at by MPs, leaving some in tears.

He logs a shocking series of shameful incidents in which the F-word was hurled with abandon.  ‘You’re all effing idiots,’ one member told his IPSA contact. ‘This [new] system is an effing abortion,’ another declared.

Courteously (but irritatingly for the reader), Kennedy edits out the names of the culprits, clearly being more of a gentleman than the people he was having to deal with.

 His unit was handling 250 queries a day – often demanding to know if this or that was allowed under the new rules rather than decide for themselves - yet MPs wanted an instant response and complained at being put on hold for as little as 20 seconds if there was a queue or no simple answer to their question.

Their pomposity knew no bounds. One e-mailed, in capital letters no less, ‘Don’t you know that I have the most important job in the western world.’ (He didn’t.)

There was much whinging that IPSA was bureaucratic, slow, ineffective and not customer friendly. The irony was that incensed MPs would routinely condemn it as a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy while at the same time urging that more staff be hired to deal with their own telephone calls.

Many failed to grasp the essential point that IPSA was not there to serve MPs but to serve the public interest.

No wonder that Kennedy describes his job as ‘part mud-wrestling, part pioneer frontiersman and part voyager through Dante’s Inferno’. He felt like a Christian thrown to the lions to be savaged to death.

Among those ‘lions’ who roared, clawed and mauled him, he names Labour MP Phil Woolas, who told a senior IPSA staff member, ‘I hate you.’ Even more vehement was the Liberal Democrat, Bob Russell, for whom, says Kennedy, ‘a cheap point was never too cheap’.

At one meeting he declared he had a mandate from the people who elected him and asked how IPSA, by regulating ‘his’ money, could presume to dictate how he ran his affairs. Kennedy riposted that IPSA had a mandate from Parliament, which it was fulfilling.

Tom Brake was another LibDem who ‘was never slow to show his antipathy’.

Conservative Chris Grayling, then Leader of the House, tried to browbeat Kennedy over the demand that MPs’ receipts should be open to public scrutiny, a development he opposed.

‘I’m not trying to threaten you,’ he told Kennedy, before adding that it was, of course, open to the government to close down IPSA.

Commendably Kennedy stood his ground. ‘Mr Grayling was of the old school: a magnet for hostile tea-room gossip and unsympathetic to the expenses system we'd introduced.

‘I realised that I was in the presence of a bully. But I am used to bullies and so I said  I didn't give in to threats easily.’

He found Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory 1922 committee of backbenchers ‘enigmatic’. ‘It was clear he would have preferred the old ways and always put in a pitch for greater freedom of action for MPs over the money they received.’

Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor, ‘did not hide his contempt for IPSA and his desire to return to the good old days when MPs got “their” money and spent it, with little or no accountability.’

As for Speaker Bercow, who chaired the body responsible for allocating IPSA’s annual budget, Kennedy thought him ‘riddled with ambivalence’. He was in favour of an independent regulator, yet ‘as a self-styled champion of backbenchers, his was a ready ear for the many complaints and horror stories about IPSA and he indulged members in their feeding frenzy.

‘If he supported IPSA in principle, why did he throw us under a bus?’

When Kennedy complained that Bercow had unfairly criticised a member of the IPSA board by saying rather snootily that the man didn’t understand parliament and was biased against MPs, a meeting was held in the Speaker’s ‘grand office’.

‘I was seriously unimpressed. He did not so much talk as declaim rather loudly and in orotund phrases. It was clear to the Speaker that we needed to be taught a lesson and reminded that we were lesser mortals.’

Offended, Kennedy left after telling Bercow his comments were unwarranted and out of place.

At another meeting in an attempt to clear the air, Kennedy ‘found the Speaker in declamatory mode again. I was particularly struck by his remarking that I was “too clever” on occasions. Not knowing what he meant, I ignored it. I reflected later that it was better to be thought too clever than not clever enough.

‘I was sometimes taken aback, indeed shocked, by his aggressive dealings on occasion with his staff. He was always an inch away from dropping into performance mode.’

Kennedy himself proved a canny observer of Westminster life. He notes that the LibDems ‘didn't appear to have a consistent view on anything, and argued as much among themselves as with me’.

As for his first meeting en masse with members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, ‘their behaviour, I regret to say, was acrimonious and nasty. The Scottish contingent was the most vociferous and bitter.

‘Most were veterans who'd been elected time and again - and seemed to take their membership of the House, and the perks that went with it, as an entitlement.

‘One particularly aggressive Scottish MP told me that if he were a trade union leader presented with the package of pay and conditions I'd been talking about, he'd bring the workforce out on strike.

‘It wasn't surprising when they were all swept aside in the 2015 general election.’

Hilary Benn, on the other hand, was ‘one of the few MPs who understood that the rules of the game had changed and that, rather than wishing IPSA away, it would be more productive to try to make things work.’

Kennedy’s perseverance and his determination not to be thrown off course by insults and aggression proved successful. He is confident that the system he introduced works and that MPs, for all their carping, are toeing the line.

Nonetheless, it peeves him that the media hasn’t got the message and persists with the narrative that MPs are all fiddling the books.  Newspapers still react, he says, with faux outrage when MPs are seen to claim for paper clips and the like. Yet surely paper clips count as a necessary business expense?

But generally he counts it a success to have taken the issue of MPs’ expenses out of the headlines. The boil of 2008-9 was pretty well lanced, the mess cleaned up. He also sorted out the thorny issues of MPs’ pay and pensions.

Not that he got any thanks for any of this. On the contrary, what he faced as his time at IPSA came to an end in 2017 was a deliberate act of revenge.

He applied to fill a vacancy on the Electoral Commission, which oversees the democratic process. With widespread fears about cyber interference, vote rigging and the funding of parties, he believed he could make a valuable contribution.

He went through the selection process and his appointment was approved by the Speaker and the leaders of all political parties. Then, as a matter of routine, it was put to the House of Commons to be nodded through.

Unusually, voices from the backbenches objected.

Outside the chamber, one senior MP was reported as saying that ‘he threw bucket-loads of s*** over us after the expenses affair. And what does he know about elections anyway? He’s just a quangocrat.’

The objections meant that a full debate had to take place, during which, says Kennedy, ‘pettiness plumbed new depths’. When it came to a vote, his appointment was vetoed by 77 votes to 46.

Kennedy comments: ‘This was just a display of power. The MPs were getting their own back because they could.’

Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne took up his cause, denouncing this ‘revenge attack’ on Kennedy. Vindictive backbenchers, he wrote, ‘cannot forgive the way he stopped them feathering their own nests’. He described their behaviour as contemptible, cynical and sordid.

Kennedy was understandably bitter. As he saw it, he had saved MPs from themselves and come up with a system that went a long way to rescuing their tarnished reputations. Yet he remains philosophical.

He ends his account of those seven turbulent years of trying to get MPs to toe the line by quoting George Bernard Shaw: ‘I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and, besides, the pig likes it.’

It’s a sorry and embarrassing commentary on how low some of these we elect to Parliament have clearly sunk.

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George Eastham gave up playing, became a cork salesman – and changed the lot of professional footballers forever

  • June 04, 2019 12:25
  • Jon Henderson

The retain-and-transfer rule was more accurately described by its alternative name, the slavery act. It lasted until the 1960s when Eastham and the Professional Footballers’ Association took legal action...

 

‘When you think about it,’ George Eastham says, ‘it was a silly sort of situation. All I was looking for was a job in the afternoons because footballers did nothing in those days. You finished at lunchtime and then the rest of the day you became a good snooker player or whatever, a good golfer – but you didn’t have anything to do.’

From his home in South Africa, he is talking about his time as a Newcastle United player from 1956-60.

An England under-23 international, who would be a member of England’s World Cup winning squad in 1966, Eastham was approaching his twenty-fourth birthday. His wedding was coming up. It struck him that rather than potting snooker balls all afternoon it would make more sense to find a second job and save some money.

‘In those days, when you married they gave you a club house to reside in, you paid your rent and that was how it worked. There was no buying your own house because you couldn’t afford it.’

The house he had been given was on the shabby side. If he could earn a little more he might be able to do something about it.

‘But I couldn’t get a job and I couldn’t come to any agreement with Newcastle,’ he says. ‘They told me, “Oh, we’ll get you a job, no problem, no problem.” But nobody ever did anything.’

So one day he told them: ‘I’m off to London to find a work.’

In London he went to see Ernie Clay, an army friend of his father’s, who had a firm in Reigate, Surrey. Thanks to Clay, later the chairman of Fulham football club, Eastham started work as a cork salesman. His career as a footballer was placed on hold because Newcastle had withheld his registration.

The club were entitled to do this under football’s retain-and-transfer rule – aka the slavery rule – despite Eastham’s contract with them having come to an end. What is more, in accordance with the rule, Newcastle stopped paying him and refused to release him to play for anyone else.

The upside for Eastham was that everyone wanted to buy cork off the man whose photograph and story were all over the front pages. ‘Everywhere I went was an open door,’ Eastham says, ‘nobody said they didn’t want to see me because I was in the newspapers. So I sold a bit of cork and I was getting more money selling it than I was playing football.’

Eastham hung on for seven months before Newcastle relented in October 1960 and allowed his transfer to Arsenal.

But Eastham wasn’t finished yet.

It was around this time that the players, threatening a strike, forced their employers to scrap the maximum wage, which by 1960 had reached £20 a week. This successful show of player power emboldened the Professional Footballers Association. With Eastham’s help, the association now resolved to carry on and remove the scourge of the slavery rule.

‘Newcastle were probably hoping that after I eventually signed for Arsenal the dispute over the retain-and-transfer system would fall away,’ Eastham says. ‘But the PFA were looking to me to be the man to take the fight forward, to bring an end to the system.

‘They were coming to the end of their resources – they weren’t a big PFA in those days, they were a small PFA, the money wasn’t coming in like it does now – but they offered to pay my expenses if I carried on.

‘I said, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go the whole hog.” I wasn’t happy with the way things had gone with my transfer. So the case went to High Court and that broke the retain-and-transfer system.’

It was an historic triumph that could hardly have been concluded by a more appropriate figure. The judge appointed to try the case in 1963 was Mr Justice Wilberforce, whose great-great-grandfather, William Wilberforce, led the movement that resulted in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

It seems almost too neat to be a mere coincidence that 156 years on Richard Wilberforce would be the one to abolish football’s so-called slavery rule.

Little could Richard Wilberforce or anyone else have known that his landmark decision, even though loudly hailed at the time, would eventually transform the game by quite such a multiple.

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.

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For the outstanding Danny Blachflower it was ‘the greatest emotional experience of my life’

  • June 03, 2019 10:41
  • Jon Henderson

Saturday’s defeat by Liverpool must rank as Tottenham’s harshest European disappointment since 1962. That year, after a memorable win over Polish side Gornik Zabrze, Spurs suffered a bitter loss in the semi-finals of the continent's premier competition...

 

If there were an English team who might have won European football’s premier club prize in its earliest days it was the Tottenham side operating under the enlightened on-field leadership of their greatest captain Danny Blanchflower.

Spurs qualified for the 1961-2 European Cup and it all began so well with a thrilling second-leg victory in their preliminary round tie against Polish side Gornik Zabrze.

Cliff Jones was a member of that side and has vivid memories of the match at White Hart Lane.

The Welshman had played with distinction for his country at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, where visiting teams received limited support. But a home tie against foreign opposition in a club competition was of a completely different order. He describes the second leg against Gornik at White Hart Lane as the ‘one match that stood out for me during my time at Spurs’.

The away leg, Tottenham’s debut in Europe, was dramatic enough. Spurs came back from 4-0 down soon after the break to narrow the deficit to 4-2 with Jones’s goal the first by a Tottenham player in Europe.

‘We were in with a shout, but Bill Nicholson wasn’t impressed with us, he wasn’t pleased,’ Jones says. ‘The press, they weren’t pleased with us either, they gave us quite a bit of stick. It was because of this, I think, that for the second leg we were really buzzing, we just couldn’t wait to get out there.

‘As we came out onto the White Hart Lane pitch with the Gornik side the noise from the 62,000 crowd was just incredible. They were amazing, they lifted us.

‘We were looking at the Gornik players and straightaway they were on the back foot. In Gornik the atmosphere hadn’t been great. There was the ground, then there was the running track, and then there was something else – so the crowd was well away from the playing area. But at White Hart Lane the crowd was on top of them and you could see they were in trouble.

‘Right from the off we just got at ’em. Bobby Smith had a shot, the goalkeeper tipped it over the bar and from then on the noise was just one complete roar.

‘I was fortunate to get a hat-trick and I would say I have never experienced an atmosphere like it. The final score was 8-1, 10-5 on aggregate.

‘It was the start of the glory nights as they were called, and that night we played… I don’t think there’s any team who’s been or will ever be – and I’m including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man United – who could have lived with us. That night we would have beaten anybody, I don’t care who they were. We just slaughtered them. And Gornik, they were a top side. The majority of them were Polish internationals. But they just never stood a chance. We overran them.’

Tottenham also swept through the next two rounds, against Feyenoord and Dukla Prague, victories that put them into a semi-final against Benfica, the defending champions.

Two towering contests followed. Benfica won the first leg in Lisbon 3-1 in front of 86,000. Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith had goals ruled out for offside. Unconfirmable reports have it that Smith’s was disallowed despite two defenders being posted on the line.

Benfica went 4-1 up on aggregate in the second leg at White Hart Lane, where 64,448 spectators jammed the stands. Spurs then hit back with two goals, the second a Blanchflower penalty, but in a desperate finish in which the post twice saved Benfica and Dave Mackay’s header landed on the crossbar the visitors held out.

Blanchflower observed later of the European Cup that it was hard to imagine ‘a more potent or popular soccer competition’ and described playing in it as ‘the greatest emotional experience of my career’.

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.

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