MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Better things to worry about than wallpaper

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Almost everyone in this country has better things to worry about than Boris and Carrie’s wallpaper

The real divide in modern Britain is not between Tory and Labour. It is between the metropolitan elite and normal men and women. One side is snobbish, largely state-employed, liberal in manners and views. The other side live in the real world, relying on hard work and long hours to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads.

One side is scornful of Brexit and nostalgic for the cloudy bureaucracy of the European Union. The other is tired of remote government by distant and insulated elites. It is quietly patriotic and full of common sense. It sees Brexit – rightly – as a chance to bring the country closer to the ground, and government closer to the people.

One side gets its views and its idea of the world from the BBC and Twitter. The other derives its opinions from experience.

They are as different from each other as a pub in Derby is from the Groucho Club in Soho, and the gulf between them has been growing mightily in the past few years.

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Almost everyone in this country has better things to worry about than Boris and Carrie’s wallpaper 

Old Labour, a party of trade unionism and old-fashioned working-class socialism, has little to do with the new, slick, hair-gelled world of Sir Keir Starmer and his revived Blairism, and even less to do with the burned-out, bigoted Trotskyism of Jeremy Corbyn. But this is the unwelcome choice between equally unappealing menus which New Labour has offered to its voters in recent years.

The Brexit referendum liberated such voters from their old allegiances, and it looks as if millions of them will never come back.

The old landmarks have gone. The old loyalties are broken, because the Left’s leaders were not loyal to their rank and file. The old slogans do not work.

The voters will no longer troop out obediently to vote according to obsolete class divisions which belong in a dead age of clogs, coal miners and cotton mills. Britain just is not like that any more, and those who believe that it is, or act as if it is, are much like the Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda, lost in the Philippine jungle, who refused to surrender until 1974, 29 years after the war had ended.

That is not to say that there is not a new war going on, for there is. The country is emerging from its long series of lockdowns. We are starting to take our pleasures again as free people should. Education, in schools and universities, is likewise getting ready to restart properly. Our hospitals and care homes are feeling their way cautiously back to normal. Trains and buses are starting to fill up again, and the prospect of holidays abroad seems real at last.

Life, as we used to know it, is beginning again and the economy must be revived to pay for what we have done and for what we need to do. The Union must be held together. Almost everyone in this country has better things to worry about than the Prime Minister’s wallpaper.

Sir Keir fell well below the dignity of the Opposition Leader’s high office, making a leaden attempt at humour by going on a well-publicised expedition to the wallpaper department of John Lewis (pictured)

It is in fact very odd that the spokesmen of the new metropolitan elite, who loathe Dominic Cummings for his creditable role in bringing Brexit about, are prepared to take the same Dominic Cummings’s side in his silly vendetta against Boris Johnson, his former boss.

The very people who derided him for his wild lockdown ride to Barnard Castle now delight in the non-event of Wallpapergate, and the portrayal of the Premier’s fiancee as Carrie Antoinette, a heedless plutocrat mocking the poor with the richness of her soft furnishings.

How foolish this all is. Prime Ministers work 24-hour days, never knowing when officials will burst in on them with urgent demands for decisions. Living above the shop is a burden, not a convenience. There is no proper boundary between work and life. It really is not unreasonable for heads of government to make their private space as pleasant as possible, and all civilised nations recognise this. Seldom has there been so much fuss about a non-issue.

Sir Keir fell well below the dignity of the Opposition Leader’s high office, making a leaden attempt at humour by going on a well-publicised expedition to the wallpaper department of John Lewis.

We might ask: ‘Has he nothing better to do, or anything more to say?’ But the answer might well be that he has not.

He has so far failed to develop any convincing idea of an alternative government, and clearly yearns deep inside for a return to the EU which is politically impossible. He showed this with his absurd defence of the EU’s medical bureaucracy, which would have prevented Britain’s vaccine success if we had still been under its thumb.

He has also waded into the other empty controversy – about what the Prime Minister did or did not say about a renewed lockdown in a private meeting with close aides.

The Mail on Sunday was aware a week ago of these claims, and reported them responsibly, as an allegation being peddled by enemies of Mr Johnson, rather than as a fact.

We should not forget that the Prime Minister flatly, personally and publicly denies them on the record (by contrast to the anonymous whispers from the shadows which are used to spread such charges).

Mr Starmer, who aspires to high office, should have more sense than to paddle in these murky waters. He knows perfectly well that unrestrained, uninhibited debate is essential to reach wise conclusions on policy. Despite his dapper and unruffled exterior, he must also have lost his own temper in private, and said things which he would not wish repeated in public. For who has not?

By pursuing this issue, and making veiled threats about it in Parliament, he is laying a trap for himself. What if his own aides start to leak his secret thoughts about – say – his Shadow Cabinet colleagues?

Professional life could simply not survive if confidential private discussions cannot be held with some hope of secrecy.

This is even more the case in Government, where matters of national importance are involved. In any case, does anyone think it a good idea to have a Prime Minister who likes lockdowns? Boris’s obvious loathing of the whole idea is a great reassurance that he will not use methods such as this unless they are truly needed.

Boris Johnson has shown in his time in office that he is skilled in using the levers of power. He has turned the Tory Party from a fractious mob into a united Government.

By force of personality he liberated the country from the succession of Groundhog Days which were Theresa May’s premiership. He got Brexit done. He reached out to the decent Labour voters whose party has abandoned them. And now he has brought us safely through the pandemic.

He deserves, and should receive, the continuing support of the British people.

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