My Covid-postponed standup tour continues. Another Thursday morning; another hotel room; another opportunity to purloin branded shower caps and shoe-mitts that I will never use, yet which signify an indefinable victory over normal life, from which I appear to have fatally exempted my nomadic self. My stolen mini shampoo bottle supply will outlast my hair. Is this a win? Is anyone impressed?
Once more, I have the privilege of wrenching another thousand words out of another week of the same unchanging Tory lies and incompetence. It’s like Groundhog Day, Boris Johnson a fat, ceremonial rodent driven only by instinct, cunning and desire. Turds emerges each week from the prime minister’s questions burrow, blinking in the bright light of cold, hard facts, his corruption and dishonesty apparently unaccountable as the faithful cheer and the unconvinced stare on in nauseated disbelief. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? But somebody at central office sensed that, on some level, it might be expedient for the damaged Turds to put some distance between himself and last week’s bad news.
As the already Covid-crushed and Brexit-battered British public face the biggest economic hit since rationing, Rishi Sunak remains a non-corporeal digital duct for artfully airbrushed disappointments. The chancellor exists in a glossy slipstream of cynically staged publicity photos that place him at the exact centre of an imagined middle England of inconspicuous consumption and shared Sainsbury’s values. Sunak is one shutter-snap short of being posed on a Ricky Gervais’s commemorative After Life park bench, secretly snaffling an entire Colin the Caterpillar while wondering if the National Trust is now “a bit too woke”, the ultimate embodiment of our current collective shared national values.
On Wednesday, having cut a meaningless 5p from fuel duty, Sunak was systematically positioned and photographed – the poseable, single-mum-starving Ken Doll of the Downing Street Instagram account – by a government propagandist at a New Cross petrol station. Sunak fills up his calculatedly inoffensive Kia car (which, it later emerged, isn’t his car at all), making small talk with another motorist, shirt sleeves rolled up, artisanal wristbands offsetting sharp trousers, a Sainsbury’s storefront visible behind him, bland to the point where his uncomprehending and ignorant cruelty is almost invisible, as if smothered by a wall of ready-framed prints of Lake District jetties and umbrella-twirling lovers that his own home would never play host to.
On Wednesday lunchtime in parliament, Sunak balanced his £180 “smart” coffee mug on the halo of flies surrounding Priti Patel’s head, swallowed down his integrity and his empathy and announced that leaving the EU meant he was able to abolish VAT on insulating materials. I smelled a rat, unsurprisingly, as we are never more than six feet away from one and rats really stink. But nonetheless, I thought, “I bet it’s more complicated than that”.
And, of course, a swift Google revealed that EU finance ministers had already announced an EU-wide exemption on VAT for green products on 8 December last year. Similarly, the myth that the vaccine was only developed because we left the EU persists, sustained by Turds’s ability to cite it in answer to any difficult question. “Did you attend the bacchanalian revels of a KGB agent’s son, whom you later ennobled, having given your Foreign Office handlers the slip?” “The vaccine rollout was only possible because we left the EU.” Repeat to fade.
Sunak says the incoming economic crisis is the fault of a global conflict it actually predates, suggesting a mismanagement of the national purse so acute it has actually destroyed the laws of physics and enabled debts to travel back through time, like the Avengers in Endgame. Of course, the acknowledged long-term hit to GDP from Brexit, identified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, doesn’t get a look in, despite Jacob Rees-Mogg’s promises of cheaper food and cheaper footwear. Stamp on a pigeon in a £5 pair of slip-on shoes and maybe you’ll have something nice to spit-roast for your dinner! If you can’t afford the gas required to bake a potato, you can at least roast your flying vermin over some burning pallets. David Davies’s once-ridiculed post-Brexit Mad Max dystopia is here ahead of schedule!
And while the rest of us, doing the right thing by Ukraine, will feel the hit to our pockets from sanctions and shortages, the Indian tech company Sunak’s wife has a £430m stake in continues to operate in Moscow, despite his government’s calls for disinvestment. The wealth that sustains Sunak’s own £180 smart mug supply is in no immediate danger, no matter how long the war in the east continues. Sunak’s smart heated travel mug allows him to set an exact drinking temperature for up to three hours, so his coffee is never too hot or too cold. It is always just right.
Why does anyone even bother fact-checking anything the Brexit government say about the benefits of Brexit? Just save time by assuming everything Johnson and his henchmen say is lies and get on with your day. The rest of the world already has. Ukraine’s clearly exasperated former president Petro Poroshenko stands in combat fatigues in a bombed-out city and asks Johnson not to compare Brexit to his country’s fight against Russia, as if explaining the world to a stupid lying child.
Once I have filed this column, I will walk in to Nottingham town for my daily exercise. In Brian Clough Square, just along from the lace museum and the newly minted statue of Sleaford Mods, there is a 100 foot-high mural of local hero Robin Hood, tossing requisitioned rich man’s gold to a waiting crowd of starving peasants, a foundation myth of our nation that speaks, I think, to an enduring sense of fair play. But who is that in the background, glimpsed through the greenwood, filling up his Kia car while supping perfectly warmed coffee from his £180 smart mug and calculating those Russian dividends? Can it be the Sheriff of Nottingham?