From David Maughan Brown in York: What are they thinking?

14th January

One of the problems associated with trying to preserve what is left of one’s sanity under lockdown via a high degree of selectivity where the news media are concerned is that it is extremely difficult to get a handle on precisely what the great British public is thinking.  Reading the Independent, Guardian and New European, and watching or listening exclusively to the BBC and Channel 4 news, doesn’t help very much when it comes to gauging just how much support there is for current government ministers or their policies.  One assumes that a populist government would be anxious to run its policy proposals past focus groups representing ‘the people’ in the interest of maintaining its popularity, but can it be doing so in present circumstances?  Or is it having to look for affirmation from the dwindling numbers of members in the Conservative Party whose average age was estimated by the Bow Group, a Conservative think tank, in 2017 as 72 (although others suggest the rather lower figure of 57).*   Now that Brexit is ‘done’, for ill or even worse ill, does Boris Johnson keep the likes of Gavin Williamson and Priti Patel in key posts in the cabinet, in spite of the levels of embarrassment they occasion, because he thinks the Tory-voting public like their policies, because he thinks the Conservative Party likes them, because they know too much about him, or just because he is beyond embarrassment?

Having kept Priti Patel at a safe distance from the 10 Downing Street press conferences since May, in spite of the fact that she is Home Secretary and thereby ultimately responsible to Johnson for the explaining and policing of lockdown measures, Boris Johnson absent-mindedly allowed her to front the press conference on Tuesday evening.  In response to questions about how the lockdown rules should be interpreted, Patel confidently assured the nation that ‘The rules are actually very simple and clear’, and went on to elaborate on what is permitted: ‘And then of course outdoor recreation but in a very, very restricted and limited way, staying local.’  Given that the point of the questioning was to ask what ‘local’ is supposed to mean, and given that ‘recreation’ is explicitly ruled-out in the government guidance – ‘It is against the law to … leave home for recreational or leisure purposes…’ – this was less than helpful.  Unsurprisingly, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick appears not to think that the rules ‘are actually very clear and simple’: she recently told the BBC’s Today programme that, ‘Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing.’

John Rentoul, The Independent’s chief political commentator, claims that Patel is popular among Conservative Party members, which raises the question as to whether there really is wider support beyond that very limited (in several ways) group for the short-sighted and xenophobic viciousness of Patel’s policies on asylum and immigration.  So, to take just two examples this week, in The Independent on Sunday 10th  Rob Merrick reported that, in line with Patel’s crack-down on immigration, our government had refused the EU’s offer of the ‘standard’ reciprocal visa-free exemption for performers and then, predictably, lied that it was the EU that had refused the UK’s request.   This had been greeted with outrage from the music industry, which stands to lose a significant portion of its annual income as a consequence.  On Wednesday 12th The Independent carried an excoriating critique of Patel’s ‘brutal’ approach to asylum-seekers which risks ‘whipping up an unpleasant reaction to some very vulnerable people’ by no lesser figure than Caroline Noakes, Priti Patel’s Conservative predecessor as Home Secretary.** Where asylum-seekers are concerned, Noakes suggested that commitments to change the Home Office following the Windrush scandal had been ‘torn up, disregarded and rendered clearly completely irrelevant’, citing a camp for asylum-seekers being set up on Ministry of Defence land in her Kent constituency that has no electricity or water mains and will not be provided with healthcare.  Noakes concluded that asylum ‘is an incredibly hard nut to crack, but I don’t think you crack it by being inhuman towards people; I don’t think you crack it by being brutal and muscular in your policies.’

So we find two markedly contrasting approaches within the same Conservative Party: the one brutal and inhuman – and one could cite reams more evidence against Patel in that regard; the other compassionate.  If Rentoul is right about the Patel being popular with the membership of the Conservative Party, it seems reasonable to suppose that Caroline Noakes probably isn’t.  But the critical question for me, in the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol in Washington by white supremacists, is just how much support the Tories have among the great British public for their brutal and inhuman approach to immigration and asylum.  One has to assume that, at the very least, Johnson and Patel must be confident that support for their brutality extends well beyond the limited membership of the Conservative Party.  I would like to think that, despite the best efforts of the Sun and the Daily Mail, the majority of the British public would, if it came to it, disavow a policy of calculated brutality and inhumanity towards exceptionally vulnerable people seeking refuge in our country.  But I could be wrong.  As I acknowledged at the outset, I don’t have a finger anywhere near the pulse of the general populace.  If I am wrong, it really does matter.  Because if I am wrong that would suggest that England is nurturing a hard core of white supremacists and assorted extremists who might well be capable of the violent storming of the Palace of Westminster at the behest of a maverick political leader, just as their counterparts in USA stormed the Capitol.   

*https://fullfact.org/news/how-old-average-conservative-party-member/

** https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-immigration-caroline-nokes-priti-patel-uk-b1776208.html

From David Maughan Brown in York: School is out

January 5th

So, another year, another lockdown.  One day last week – it doesn’t much matter which, they are all the same – someone, probably our exemplary Prime Minister (in the Concise Oxford’s enigmatic second-choice meaning: ‘serving as a warning’), switched our Secretary of State for Education on and pointed him in the direction of the BBC’s Today studio.  Once he got there, it transpired that he had been programmed by mistake to audition for the BBC’s ‘Just a Minute’ programme by talking non stop, without pause or hesitation, for the full ten minutes of the interview on the subject “Education is our nation’s top priority”, digressing only to complain without hesitation that the Today presenter who had drawn the short straw kept interrupting him by trying to ask questions.   His programmer appeared not to have been told that one of the rules of the game was that he was supposed to avoid repetition.  It became apparent very rapidly that whoever is responsible for robotics in Downing Street hasn’t yet got on top of programming Williamson to voice his repetitive message in something other than a monotone.  The gist of what he had been programmed to say was, you will have gathered, that education is a national priority, and that schools would most certainly reopen on schedule on 4th January.

On December 30th the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (the SAGE that scientific experts decided they needed to establish when it became apparent that Dominic Cummings was trying to exert his malign influence on the official SAGE) warned that a third national lockdown, was “vitally necessary”.  On 18th December the Office of National Statistics had calculated that the rate of Covid19 infection in children was much higher than that in adults: the proportion of the 2-6 year-old population in England infected with Covid19 was more than twice that of those who were over 50, and that of the 7-11 year-old population more than three times that number.  A study released by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 23rd December had concluded that the government would have to close primary and secondary schools and universities if the infection rate was not going to continue to worsen.  

On Wednesday 30th the Government yielded to pressure and postponed the start of the Spring Term for all secondary, and some primary schools in London, to mid-January, in spite of education being a national priority.  By Saturday 2ndthe government had performed another U-turn, telling primary schools in London not to open the following Monday, generously allowing parents almost the whole weekend to make childcare arrangements.  This was somewhat ironic given the same government’s threat to take legal action against some (Labour) London Councils for trying to ignore the fact that education is a national priority by closing their Covid-hit schools for the last week before Christmas.  On Sunday 3rd it was reported that the National Association of Headteachers was urging all schools to move to home learning and that it was taking legal action against the Department of Education, demanding to know the scientific evidence on which the insistence on keeping schools open was based.  At the same time the National Education Union reminded its members that they were not obliged to go to work if the conditions they were expected to work in were unsafe.

All of which was a slow and painfully protracted lead-up to the moment on Monday 3rd when Johnson, hair half-brushed and spasmodically jerking clenched fists for once kept more or less under statesmanlike control, announced our third national lockdown – despite the fact that education is our national priority. At our resurrected Downing Street daily news conferences that afternoon, when Johnson was asked in effect why he had waited until millions of potentially infected children had been brought back to infect others at school for just one day before closing all schools, colleges and universities as part of a national lockdown, he replied: “We wanted to keep schools open but, alas, it became clear that the data wasn’t (sic. – and he prides himself on his Latin) going to support that.”  Given that the day before he had baldly declared that “schools are safe”, the implication was that the data from 18th December had only become known the night before.  Telling the entire nation such a bare-faced lie on such a critical matter would not have been regarded as particularly statesmanlike in the pre-Trumpian era.  So the classrooms were empty today while over 62,000 people in UK tested positive for Covid; 30,000 people suffered in hospital with Covid; over 1000 people died From Covid; and our official underestimate of Covid-related deaths in UK rose to over 77,000.   The wheel has come full cycle and “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” has once again trumped education as the national priority.  One just has to hope it isn’t too late to save the NHS

From David Maughan Brown in York: The Light Thickens

December 19th

It feels as though we in UK are on the cusp of an historic moment of enormous significance, as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, tells us that there is still a chance of a free trade agreement with the EU, but emphasizes that the path is narrowing very fast.  Will our portly and lumbering Prime Minister manage to squeeze himself along that narrow path above a cliff-edge, whose dangers he has been warned about ad nauseam for the past four years, without either stumbling or throwing himself over the edge, taking us all with him?  Does he even want to try?  Boris Johnson, the supreme opportunist, who only decided to support the ‘Leave’ side in the referendum because he thought that was the best route to becoming Prime Minister, is rumoured now to be the most extreme Brexiteer of them all.

We have saddled ourselves with a government that is capable of threatening to bring legal action against the Labour Councils of Greenwich and Islington for having the temerity to close their schools for the Christmas break a week early and do their teaching online one week, because ‘Education is a National Priority’, and the next week of instructing schools to open their doors to only a minority of their pupils for the first week of term after Christmas and do their teaching online so that they can roll out an entirely unfeasible coronavirus testing programme.   It won’t have been coincidental that the legal threat was directed at Labour-run Councils.   So schools that had up to 21 members of staff away, either with the virus or self-isolating because of it, were forced to stay open, and teaching staff who desperately need a break after a very difficult and demanding term will have to spend their Christmas and New Year preparing for the logistically extremely complicated roll-out of the testing, that includes the training of hundreds of volunteers to administer the tests before the start of term.

Responses to the Tories way of handling their ‘National Priority’ have been vitriolic.  Paul Whiteman, the leader of the National Association of Headteachers has called it a “shambles” and accused the government of having ‘handed schools a confused and chaotic mess at the eleventh hour.’  The National Education Union has told Gavin Williamson, our adolescent Secretary of State for Education, that his plans are ‘inoperable’: “Telling school leaders, on the last day of term [for many schools], that they must organise volunteers and parents, supported by their staff, to test pupils in the first week of term, whilst Year 11 and 13 pupils are on site for in-school teaching, is a ridiculous ask.”   Both unions have, as one might expect, been too polite to put it more bluntly and say that, once again, our government has shown itself totally incapable of distinguishing its collective arse from its elbow or, in more northerly terms, of ‘knowing t’other from which’.

Meanwhile the key sticking point in the post-Brexit trade negotiations appears to be the fishing industry which represents 0.12% of our national GDP and employs less than 0.1% of our national workforce.  What remotely sane government is prepared to hole its entire Covid-hit economy below the water-line for the sake of ensuring that its fishermen can rule its waves, even if those fishermen will still have to try to sell the majority of their newly-tariffed fish into a justifiably unforgiving European Union?

It is difficult for pessimism not to outweigh optimism when looking to the new year, and four more years of a shambolically incompetent and dishonest government, elected, as much as anything, on the strength of lies and populist xenophobia.  The ‘Home Office’ label suggests that that particular disgrace of a government department can be taken as representative of the country that is our home.  Leaving the issue of immigration entirely on one side, recent figures have shown that, under the auspices of the Home Office, black people in UK are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, than white people; five times more likely to have force used against them by the police; and four times more likely to be arrested.  With memories of apartheid South Africa still all too vivid, it is perhaps unsurprising that pessimism should from time to time find its way into one’s poems.

Light thickens
 
Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
(Shakespeare: Macbeth)
 
Light thickens.  Hope – hollowed to husks,
unsettled by stirrings in the air, 
whispers from the long grass –
waits for the wind to blow it away.
 
Dark shapes circle.
Hatched on the fringes of our rooky woods,
gorging on hate and fear,
they devour to husks the seeds of hope.
 
Their hate and fear is of the other, 
easy to sight, eagle-eyed, 
in the clear bright light of day,
but colour fades in the thickening light.
 
All sentinels who sound alarm
are othered now with stiff salutes,
as crosses are raised on distant hills
to await their time for burning.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Of lights and tunnels

3rd December

“The beginning of the end,”  “the light at the end of the tunnel”, the clichés roll out towards Dover today to greet the ‘unmarked’ lorries as they emerge from the Channel tunnel bringing the UK our first batch of the newly approved Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.  ‘Unmarked’, presumably, lest anyone have the bright idea of hi-jacking the tens of thousands of vials of vaccine to do a bit of do-it-yourself vaccinating, sell them on the black market, or ransom them back to Boris.  Good luck with that: I would have thought that freezer boxes of a vaccine that needs to be kept at minus 78-80 degrees centigrade would be about as difficult to shift as the Mona Lisa. 

This is, of course, extremely good news.  Having just scraped over the 75 year-old bar, I find myself in the fortuitous position of being in priority category number 3, a poor but eager third to the medical staff, carers and retirement home inhabitants in category 1, and the over-eighties in category 2 – not that that will be much use to us, given that Susan remains languishing in the over-70 category 4.  But there does seem to be a realistic hope that we might both have been able to receive our two doses by Easter and be able to start living a rather more ‘normal’ life again.  But, inevitably, the good news had to be soured for most of us by our cringing embarrassment of a government’s having felt compelled to leap on the opportunity for some of the jingoistic competitive crowing one might expect to hear in the playground of an independent prep school.

The fact that the UK just happened to be the first country ‘in the world’ (as distinct, presumably, from on Mars, Venus or Jupiter) to approve the roll-out of the vaccine has been held to be evidence that Boris Johnson’s regular claims that the UK is ‘world-beating’ have finally been proved true.  It matters not that Pfizer just happens to be an American company and that the vaccine is manufactured in Belgium: we approved it first.  This, according to the wholly inimitable Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, lest we forget, was ‘because of Brexit’ which unshackled us from the pedestrian ‘pace of the Europeans who are moving a bit more slowly.’   

Not to be outdone in the jingoist stupidity stakes, Gavin Williamson, our overgrown schoolboy of an Education Secretary, who is even further out of his depth in his portfolio than Hancock is, if that is possible, went further in an interview with LBC this morning.   His imperishable words in response to a question as to whether Brexit could be really held responsible for this world-beating achievement deserve to be quoted in full:  “Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators.  Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them, aren’t we.”   I’ve listened to the clip; I can vouch for the fact that that is exactly what our Secretary of State for Education really did say.  There we have it in a nutshell:  Brexit was necessary because we didn’t want to be held back from our glorious destiny by that inferior lot across the channel.  As we have always believed, even if political correctness has got in the way of saying it, Worthy Oriental Gentlemen start at Calais. 

Leaving Brexit and the question of whether our glorious destiny lies in the 21st or the 19th century aside, the immediately self-defeating stupidity of the playground boasting about being world beating lies not with the offence it will have given to the French, the Belgians and the Americans, but with the open invitation it provided for doubt to be cast on the credibility of the approval process.  If it was the fastest approval process in the world might it have been the least thoroughgoing?  After all, Boris was the fastest and first person in the world to approve of a twenty-five mile drive to Barnard Castle as a good way to test one’s eyes, but that didn’t say a whole lot for the credibility of the approval process.   Why would that matter?  Because the main obstacle to achieving the ‘herd immunity’ to Covid-19 across the population as a whole that is essential to the return to a ‘normal’ life, lies with the anti-vaxxers who are looking for reasons to persuade their social-media followers not to accept the vaccination, and appear already to have recruited a significant number of people to their cause.

Hancock’s and Williamson’s juvenile bragging invited the inevitable responses from the countries they were demeaning.  The most telling of those has probably been the one from Anthony Fauci, Donald Trump’s least favourite Director of the USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is on record as stating that the UK ‘really rushed through that aproval’.[1] Fauci compared it to running ‘around the corner of the marathon’ and joining it in the last mile, and then touched on the anti-vaxxer issue in suggesting that if the U.S. “had jumped up over the hurdle here quickly and inappropriately to gain an extra week or a week-and-a-half, I think that the credibility of our regulatory process would have been damaged.”  Fauci went on to be even more damningly specific: “… they just took the data from the Pfizer company. And instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, ‘OK, let’s approve it. That’s it.’ And they went with it.”

So there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, however hard our esteemed cabinet ministers try to extinguish it with their rancid hot air.  But I’m not waiting with bated breath for my two doses to speed through the Channel tunnel to rescue me from self-isolation.   It will have taken the lorries a few hours to get here from Belgium today; my two doses won’t be coming until after the 31st December, by which time the queues of lorries could be taking many days.  If it was seriously stupid to claim that Brexit had speeded up the approval process for the vaccine, it would be manifestly insane to imagine that Brexit won’t slow its delivery down immeasurably.


[1]https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/03/fauci-uk-pfizer-vaccine-rush-442588

From David Maughan Brown in York: No better way?

August 13th

I hope regular readers, if there are such, will bear with me if I ride another hobby-horse off in pretty much the same direction as I did in my last entry, and write about exams again.  My excuse would be that having spent 12 years at high school and university being expected to write them, and my entire 43 year working life at universities either setting and marking them or dealing with the copious fall-out from them, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about them.

So, half-listening to the Today programme yesterday, I sat up and took notice when our callow Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, who always manages to look like an adolescent rabbit in the headlights when interviewed on TV, articulated his (and by implication the government’s) key principle of educational faith when questioned by Nick Robinson:  “There is no better way of doing assessment than exams.”   In case we hadn’t been listening properly the first time, he reassured us later in the interview, not once but twice in successive sentences, that we had indeed heard him correctly: “No system we put in place is going to be as good as exams.  Every system we put in place is going to be second best to that.”  So lots of equal seconds, then, but no question whatever about what gets the gold medal.

However imperfect exams are, it has to be admitted that they will in many instances be better than assessing students via an algorithm that can somehow manage to increase the proportion of pupils achieving A* and A grades at private schools by twice as much as that at comprehensives.  Just as racist computers don’t programme themselves, so algorithms aren’t self-generating.  Our Prime Minister has declared the system to be ‘robust’, which his minders should know by now would fatally undermine any lingering confidence any half-intelligent observer might have had in it.  But anyone who has ever been involved in education knows that three-hour examinations, which is what Williamson is talking about, are a very much less than perfect way of assessing much beyond a student’s capability at writing three hour exams. And three-hour exams tend not to be one of the frequently encountered hazards of working life.  In an examination in the humanities, for example, if what you are looking for is a student with a disposition not prone to nervousness and the ability to spew large quantities of verbiage, much of it memorised, onto paper in a wholly arbitrary three hours, then examinations are your bag.  Quite what that ability is supposed to be useful for is not entirely clear.

Many parents would be very happy to let Williamson know that some children are very much better suited to the peculiarly artificial exigencies of sit-down examinations than others.   My own siblings are a case in point.   I was relatively good at exams because I enjoyed the challenge, had worked out how to work the system, particularly with regard to what was likely to come up in an exam, and in those days had a half-decent memory.   As an undergraduate I devoted about as much time to honing my bridge skills as to covering the extensive lists of set books (which I didn’t), and good results were in no way an accurate reflection of my knowledge of the curriculum as a whole.  My sister, who is no less intelligent and capable than I am and was vastly more diligent, has a brain that functions in a different way from mine, never came anywhere close to completing any exam paper, and consequently came out with consistently lower results, which didn’t stop her from becoming a successful computer programmer.  One of my brothers is dyslexic, was at school in an era when teachers had no idea how to identify or respond to dyslexia and assumed, wholly incorrectly, that he just wasn’t very bright.  He was petrified by exams and, unsurprisingly, didn’t get good results, which didn’t stop him from having a successful career as a primary school teacher.  And our Secretary of State thinks there is no better way of doing assessment than exams.

On top of their artificiality, the stress and anxiety they occasion, and the questions they raise about what they are supposed to be testing, exams also have unintended and pernicious consequences in encouraging both a narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’ (see nesta link below).  Continuous assessment would be a vastly ‘better way of doing assessment than exams’ if one could be sure precisely who it is one is assessing.  The only thing sit-down exams have going for them, pace their full-throated endorsement by the likes of Williamson, is that with proper security you can, at least, be quite sure who is responsible for the answers.   In that single respect they are the least-worst of all the many alternatives.  But, as I suggested in my last entry, the current A-level shambles is forcing people to confront exam and assessment-related issues in a way they haven’t had to before, and there may be hope for a revisiting of continuous assessment on the horizon.   It has been suggested that developments in Artificial Intelligence may eventually make sit-down exams obsolete (https://www.nesta.org.uk/feature/ten-predictions-2019/beginning-end-exams/). One can only hope so.  In the meantime our Prime Minister and our Secretary of State for Education, among others, might be well advised to start praying that continuous assessment via AI is never applied to their performance. 

From David Maughan Brown in York: Smoking guns

July 25th

So the Intelligence and Security Committee’s long and eagerly awaited Russia report did not contain the ‘smoking gun’ our cliché-loving journalists might have been either slightly apprehensive about (the right-wing majority) or hoping for (the very small proportion who don’t like Boris and the Tories one little bit.)  A ‘smoking gun’ was always unlikely at both a literal and metaphorical level.  At the literal level the Russians moved on from six-shooters long ago: their preferred author when it comes to getting interesting ideas about how to kill people is much more likely to be John Le Carré than Stephen King, and the preferred method for whacking the target more likely to be a scent-bottle full of novichok, or a few drops of polonium in a cup of tea, than a Smith and Wesson.  It was unlikely at the metaphorical level because unearthing a weapon of any description that has been used with ill intent tends to involve wanting to find it, and that means having to look for it.   The Intelligence and Security Committee is not in the business of hunting for weapons; its job is to analyse what they were being used for once they have been found.  So someone else has to find them and it has been transparently obvious ever since the Brexit referendum that the last thing the Conservative government wanted was an investigation into how the fraction of the electorate that voted to leave the EU was persuaded to do so.

Nobody was tasked with finding out if Russia had been trying to meddle in our democratic processes, and a blind eye was turned to all pointers to what might have been happening, such as the odd 145,000 or so anti-EU messages allegedly posted on social media by Russian bots in the 48 hours leading up to the referendum, so the committee’s report was always bound to have been unable to come to any substantive conclusions.   Boris and company, having engineered it, obviously knew that.  They knew precisely what was in the report and knew that it didn’t contain a ‘smoking gun.’  Which raises the interesting question as to why they should have bothered to stop it from being published before the General Election, in the face of considerable noisy flak from their parliamentary opposition.   And, following-on from that, why would Boris have deliberately delayed the Intelligence and Security Committee from holding any meetings at all for more than six months after the general election?  Could that delay have been deliberately designed to generate enough of a Brexit-related furore around the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report to distract attention from whatever else was going on that they really did need to cover up?   Was the ISC report just a decoy?

Even by the government’s own analysis, leaving the EU can only be seriously damaging for the UK’s economy.  It will, equally obviously, threaten the integrity of the UK which the Conservative and Unionist Party pretends to hold so dear.   Our cabinet cannot be so stupid that they don’t recognise those facts, or appreciate that trading under World Trade Organisation terms will make just as much of a nonsense of their cherished ‘independence’ as they claim trading on hated EU terms does.  So I can only conclude that what this is all about is personal wealth aggrandisement from Brexit in general and, more immediately, from the flow of Russian money into UK in particular.   The way the  ‘Leave’ campaign was conducted made it abundantly clear that the people now leading us into an economic wasteland wouldn’t recognise an ethic if it took its face-mask off, ignored social distancing, and introduced itself to them at a cocktail party.

If Robert Jenrick’s dinner side-dish of £12k into party coffers was a down-payment on a  £1 billion housing agreement with Richard Desmond, what was the value of the deal for which the wife of the former Putin minister, Lubov Chernukhin, was prepared to pay £160k, ostensibly just to play tennis with our fat (by his own admission) prime minister?  Boris was clearly seen for some reason to be likely to be more susceptible to female than male charms.   Ms Chernukhin was clearly so ready to take one for the team that she was also prepared not just to endure a dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, a less than enthralling prospect, but even to pay £30k for the experience.   The same question needs answering there , and was it just coincidence that it happened to be our Defence Secretary who was the lucky beneficiary of her company? 

Boris and his already wealthy chums were bound to welcome any help they could get, from any source however shady, where the referendum and election were concerned, but is it possible that anger at the blatant failure on the part of government to take any interest whatever in whether external forces had influenced the outcomes was deliberately fomented to divert attention from, and investigation into, precisely whose pockets Russian money is flowing into even as it goes to swell the Conservative Party’s coffers?