inequality‘‘was that it? was that the Jupiter show?
Kinda wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, you know’’


This week, whilst the column returns to commentating on current events, we continue the 1980s theme through the film ‘Trading Places’.

For any of you that missed it, or have forgotten the storyline, it is about the Duke Brothers who own a commodities brokerage. Holding opposing views on the issue of nature versus nurture, they make a wager and agree to conduct an experiment, switching the lives of two people on opposite sides of the social hierarchy and observing the results.

The Duke’s experiment is little different to the Conservatives cynical manipulation of the electorate. Johnson is a clown, an experiment forced upon us as an experiment based on his perceived ability to attract voters.

Prior to the experiment, many Conservative MPs rightly regarded Johnson as unsuitable to be PM, seeing him as selfish, incompetent, and morally abject.

A former colleague of Johnson’s, the journalist Peter Oborne wrote, ‘I have never encountered a senior British politician who lies and fabricates so regularly, so shamelessly and so systematically as Boris Johnson’.

Michael Gove notoriously overturned the Johnson leadership bandwagon in 2016, declaring his Brexit brother-in-arms unfit to govern.

Despite this they held their noses, being in power is the sole raison d’etre. Tory MPs rallied around someone they knew was a charlatan because they believed he had the properties to defeat the twin menaces of Farageism and Corbynism.

The Telegraph declared the 2019 election result a ‘personal triumph for Boris Johnson’.

In many ways it was, but the electorate were just part of the Tory’s ongoing social experiment with this country.

Johnson governs with the omnipotence of an 18th century monarch believing he is better than the electorate and doing as he pleases. His breaking of his own lockdown rules by holding parties at No 10 last year is only the latest example of this. As Keir Starmer said, ‘It’s one rule for the prime minister and another for everyone else’.

In last week’s column, ‘A Life in Style’, I quoted Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 speech in which she disparaged the notion of society. This speech has subsequently become a cornerstone of Tory policy and was the basis for a speech in the Commons last week by Tory MP, Steve Baker’. The debate was about the need to wear face coverings and self-isolation, but, to Baker, it was about something very different, freedom and liberty. He said, ‘all of us are ‘people who deserve the dignity of choice and the meaning in our lives that comes from taking responsibility. It is possible that meaning in our lives comes from little else’.

He then told his colleagues that they were facing ‘a fundamental choice between heading towards heaven and heading towards hell’. 32 Tories opposed the self-isolation rules, and 20 voted against the new mask mandate. They are the untouchables, Covid is only for little people got.

These are the same Tory’s who formed the European Reform group that forced the hardest of Brexit on us. Many are now members of the Covid Recovery Group, and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group.


‘hostile towards the state being used to shape society and the economy, believing in the individual above common good’


They style themselves as libertarians, but only when it suits them. For example, their libertarian beliefs don’t extend to the right to protest, therefor they support the afore mentioned crime and policing bill, and its restrictions of civil liberty. In-line with Thatcher doctrine they are hostile towards the state being used to shape society and the economy, believing in the individual above common good. Basically, they just want to do as they please.

This attitude might have worked for Brexit, but it looks to be increasingly out-of-step  with the electorate when it comes to climate change, even amongst older voters.

Furthermore, before the latest Covid rules were introduced, YouGov found that 83% of us supported compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport. This ‘do as I wish’ attitude is increasingly the behaviour of cranks and fanatics.

This ‘do as I please’ attitude is at the heart of the Sleaze scandals that has given Keir Starmer such a lift.  According to YouGov, 80% think there is ‘a lot’ or ‘a fair amount’ of corruption in British politics, and only 1% think there is none. Since the corruption controversy took off, the Tories have dropped in the polls.

When he was elected Johnson promised to spread resources and opportunities more widely than the usual narrower circle of beneficiaries, however he soon reverted to type with the ‘VIP lanes’ for companies with Conservative links.

This behaviour is nothing new; according to George Osborne’s biographer, Janan Ganesh, it is part of a bigger Tory project. During Osborne’s time as chancellor, his ‘grand strategy’ was ‘the calculated use of [government] policy’ to change Britain in his party’s favour. ‘Austerity was intended to shrink one of Labour’s main bases of support: public sector employees. Under Johnson, patronage of certain firms is intended to create an even more Tory-friendly private sector.’

Each administration post-2010 has acted ‘as conduits for powerful forces, such as corporations wanting to run state services’.


80% think there is ‘a lot’ or ‘a fair amount’ of corruption in British politics, and only 1% think there is none


Another example of Johnson’s inability to understand a situation, was highlighted in the recent deaths of 27 asylum seekers in the channel, which was a humanitarian disaster. Johnson saw this as making a mockery of his boast that Brexit would allow him to ‘take back control’ of immigration. He then used the disaster to grandstand sending what amounted to demands to the French president, Emmanuel Macron. This included the stationing of British forces on French soil and the immediate return of people back to France. Proposals he knew would be unacceptable.

To add insult to injury Johnson released his letter on Twitter before it was even delivered through diplomatic channels. Clearly, he was playing to his audience, the electorate, a fact that wasn’t missed in the Élysée Palace.

The result of this posturing was that Priti Patel was disinvited from the meeting of EU migration ministers Macron had called to deal with the issue. This means that any solution to ongoing European migration will be EU-based not bilateral Anglo-French.

Relations are now ‘so bad that some candidates for next year’s presidential elections have suggested the Le Touquet treaty on border controls should be scrapped, saying that if the UK really wants to ‘take back control’ of its borders, it can do so on its own soil’.


‘Whatever the government might think Brexit has diminished us as a nation’


The truth that we hate to see is that France has more than twice as many asylum seekers than the UK.

Johnson’s aims are transparent, once again playing the Brexit/anti-French card that he knows appeals to his followers and media. It might be a diplomatically disaster, but it works every time as the troops rally to the ‘cause’.

This cynical tactic brings out the worst in some of the electorate as, a few weeks ago, people stood on the beach in Hastings trying to prevent a lifeboat crew from going into the sea to rescue a group of refugees. According to a witness, they were shouting at the RNLI: ‘Don’t bring any more of those, we’re full up, that’s why we stopped our donations.’

A RNLI spokesperson confirmed to the Guardian that the incident had been reported to police, that the lifeboat had been able to launch, and the Hastings lifeboat station remained in service. In July Nigel Farage accused the RNLI of facilitating illegal migration, a claim they strongly rebutted.

Previously, far-right supporters have turned up at the beach to hear from figures such as Nigel Marcham, known as Little Veteran, whipping up hostility towards people arriving in small boats.

Mercifully, some residents understand the true situation, and have responded generously to appeals from Hastings Supports Refugees to buy £5 Primark joggers, tops and underwear for people to change into on arrival so they can get out of clothes sodden with sea water. Restaurants and cafes have cooked trays of piping hot chips along with hot drinks and rushed them down to the beach.

The beach response team has a box of emergency supplies at the ready and as soon as the phone pings to say there are new arrivals coming ashore, volunteers hurry down to the beach.

Migration, along with other issue is make our relationship with the rest of Europe more fraught. Brexit has not, as Johnson bragged, made it stronger, but made it weaker.

Yes, Europe needs to urgently find a way to deal with persistent migration. It is in our interests to help not sabotage everything with bombastic symbolism.

Brexit already has much to answer for. Businesses, especially SMEs are being forced to absorb unwanted costs, paying hidden tariffs, checks on exports, having to move factories, depots and offices to within the EU, shedding workers, and loosing orders. Our science remains outside the EU’s Horizon programme, the biggest international science programme in the world.

Whatever the government might think Brexit has diminished us as a nation.

Even David Frost, the Brexit minister, felt the need to stress that success would requires Britain to overcome ‘the forces of entropy, of laziness, of vested interest’. The ‘vested interests’ are the businesses suffering the rising costs and diminished opportunity. ‘The Spectator’s editor, Fraser Nelson, who had earlier chaired a debate between Vince Cable and veteran Brexiter Daniel Hannan, admitted in a Telegraph column entitled ‘Was I right to support Brexit?’ that he found himself challenging Hannan more than Cable.’

Keir Starmer at the recent CBI conference started to see positives for him to exploit; Labour had a plan to make Brexit work, which the government evidently hadn’t, he argued.

The numbers speak for themselves; in the first six months of this year, exports to the EU were down 13.1%, imports down 24.8%, according to Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’.

Another Tory hobbyhorse guaranteed to rouse the faithful is law and order. This column has commented previously on the new police, crime, and sentencing bill that has been progressing through the Commons. The bill always smelt of a ‘police state’, a fact fully endorsed by an extra 18-pages sneaked into the bill after it had passed through the Commons.


‘requires Britain to overcome ‘the forces of entropy, of laziness, of vested interest’


Obviously, the government suspects that these new powers are illegitimate, which is why they are trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny This is precisely the behaviour you expect from police states. The fact that most of the media has ignored this outrage only shows how much they are in Tory’s pockets.

‘Among the new amendments are measures that would ban protesters from attaching themselves to another person, to an object, or to land. Not only would they make locking on – a crucial tool of protest the world over – illegal, but they are so loosely drafted that they could apply to anyone holding on to anything, on pain of up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment’.

In addition, it will also become a criminal offence to obstruct in any way major transport works from being carried out, again with a maximum sentence of 51 weeks.

Other amendments would greatly expand police stop and search powers. The police would be entitled to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any article that could be used in the newly prohibited protests. Also the police will have the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur ‘in that area’.


‘The Johnson experiment will soon end as his replacement is parachuted in and another era in the overall experiment begins’


This is only the latest in a long line of this governments attacks on democracy. There is also the proposed requirement for voter ID, which could deter 2 million potential electors, the planned curtailment of the Electoral Commission, the assault on citizens’ rights to mount legal challenges to government policy, and the proposed ‘civil orders’ that could see journalists treated as spies and banned from meeting certain people and visiting certain places.

We finish this week with another Tory experiment, privatisation, as the energy company Bulb became the latest and largest victim of rising prices that has seen 25 energy suppliers go bankrupt. Emergency procedures for ‘special administration’ have been used for the first time, meaning that Bulb was effectively bailed out by the taxpayer to avoid leaving its 1.7 million customers without power.

Privatisation was supposed to introduce free market competition to the sector, solving all of the problems of our broken energy system at a stroke.

The supplier of electricity and gas are only middlemen, buying energy on the wholesale markets and trying to sell it on to consumers at a profit. Only a few of the ‘big-6’generate any power or run the networks that supply our homes. In their case the law requires them to run these activities through separate entities from the ones we pay our bills to.

This is just another ideological Tory experiment. The energy sector was a natural monopoly which didn’t sit well with Thatcher’s commitment to privatisation and her  doctrine of efficient markets. To overcome this she created the new, separate function of ‘energy supply’, whose sole purpose was to turn a monopoly into an artificial market.

The solution to this mess might not be renationalisation, but as Lisa Nandy said during the 2020 Labour leadership contest: ‘Disrupting them by setting up municipal energy companies and energy co-ops around the country is a much better route.’ This is inspired by the progress made in Germany and Denmark towards local, democratic renewable energy, and thought the UK could emulate this through municipal firms such as Nottingham’s Robin Hood Energy.

Much of the last 50-yrs has seen the country lurch from one Tory experiment to another. All of which have delivered only one thing, a succession of Tory governments.  The country and the electorate deserve better than being the victims of experiments designed only to maintain a grip on power.

The Johnson experiment will soon end as his replacement is parachuted in and another era in the overall experiment begins.


‘Your light fingers threw the dark
Shattered the lamp and into darkness it cast us’


A return to normal service this week from Philip with a walk through recent events, as each only serves to confirm his belief in the inadequacies of the Johnson government.

He has long voiced his opinion that the Tories’ sole desire is to hang-on to power at any cost; for Philip it calls to mind the movie Trading Places, except that the experiment is with the whole country’s thoughts and emotions rather than just two people’s.

If it is one big experiment, Philip believes the Tories understand the buttons to press, promising in equal parts prosperity and austerity, playing on people’s aspirations, cynically manipulating our natural islander racist mentality; all the time helping themselves and a narrow group of their mates. Certainly this week’s events and further details of the VIP list confirm the latter.

Philip believes that ‘levelling up’ is the latest in the long line of experiments, and he is aghast that voters believed that the same people who caused the imbalance are going to change it; he believes that ‘red wall’ MPs are sincere, but they are in the minority, although their allegiance is what gives Johnson his majority.

Many will have cringed watching events unfold this week as it appears that Christmas ‘gatherings did take place at No10 last year but no rules were broken, apart from the one about not being allowed to gather. It seems likely that something will inevitably trip Boris up before too much longer, Philip’s point is that the party will parachute in his replacement and the experiment will continue.

Musically, Philip begins with the Cure who, despite the protestations of some of his friends, failed to make last week’s festive-50 – ‘Jupiter Crash’ and on a more up-to-date note, the Libertines with ‘Can’t Stand me Now’. Enjoy!



Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s

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