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Best in Show
Each week, The Friday Speed Read weighs anchor in the middle of the news lake and casts its net wide to pluck from the watery depths the choicest stories for your perusal.
There’s a change in the air. After weeks of flat-out sunshine, stories about how the UK is hotter than (insert arbitrary choice of usually very hot place here) and at least a few fleeting moments of national unity, your author returns from a cheese odyssey around the European Union to find russet-flecked leaves, morning dew and the unmistakable hint of cold in the air. Yep, things are definitely on the turn and we’re not just talking about the milk in the office fridge here at Speed Towers.
Fans of the forced yoking-together of utterly unrelated subjects (which to be honest, is pretty much this column’s raison d’etre) will enjoy the fact that as the shifting of seasons begins to gather pace, the past week may well be looked back upon as a pivotal moment in two of our unshakably regular preoccupations: the presidency of Donald Trump and the UK’s exit from the EU. Maybe you’ve heard about these?
But before we tuck into this particular news buffet, let’s go back to the start of the week and the widespread coverage of one Kay Longstaff’s rescue from the sea, 10 hours after falling from a cruise ship 60 miles off the coast of Croatia. For students of media this was an excellent example of how the tone of a story can shift radically over just a couple of days. On Monday, the focus was squarely upon Longstaff’s near-miraculous survival after 10 hours adrift in the sea: “Cruise a lucky girl!”, punned the Sun (weakly) which reported that the secret to her survival was “singing” and “yoga”. However, a day later the verbs used by the media had shifted: Longstaff hadn’t “fallen”, she had “jumped” and done so after a “drunken row with her boyfriend”. She was no longer a plucky survivor she was, well, let’s hand over to Geoff Campbell, 52, for his thoughts, as reported in The Sun:
“She was made out a hero but as far as I’m concerned she’s just a nuisance”.
Also at the start of the week, the government’s decision to take back control (we’re sure we’ve heard that phrase before somewhere) of Birmingham prison from private firm G4S after an inspection found a litany of unchecked horrors inside its Victorian walls (“Emergency takeover of chaotic jail” – The Times amongst many others) vied for media coverage alongside the gradual reveal of this year’s line-up Strictly contestants. Some of the big names vying for the coveted glitter ball trophy this year include That Woman off that Thing, I Recognise Him, Girl Band, No Idea, Nope, Oh That’s The One Who Was In … Oh No It’s Not, and (if you can remember the 90s) Susannah not Trinny and That Bloke from Red Dwarf Who isn’t The Two Famous Ones.
Okay, shall we talk about Trump? Yes we know you’d rather not but this week genuinely could be one of the most significant of his pantomime presidency (disclaimer: it might not be). So to summarise, Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight separate financial crimes and, more significantly, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen agreed to a plea bargain in which he admitted that he’d made hush payments to two women “at the direction of and in coordination with a candidate for federal office” (who’s name rhymes with Flump). Which is, as you’d imagine, wildly illegal.
That Trump is a liar and a cheat is no surprise to anyone but amongst certain corners of the UK media there was a still a certain amount of lip-smacking at the thought that his demise may be imminent. Even the right-wing press can’t be seen to be standing too close to a man whose morality is clearly toxic (and, significantly, will be proven to be so) so most of these titles relegated the story to later pages. However, as more than one columnist pointed out, either one of the week’s revelations would have ended a “normal” politician’s career but Trump is not even a politician, let alone a normal one and you get the feeling that this is a very long way from being over. As ever, the Trump story is a horrific, scarcely credible and utterly compelling watch.
Back in the UK, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson drew a lot of flak this week for suggesting ways that our cash-strapped armed forces could save money while still being really good at wars and killing and stuff. His ideas, including strapping guns to tractors and ferries, were damned by the Sun on its Thursday front page as being from “The Ministry of Silly Wars” (7/10, good, if requiring some cultural context from the 70s to make it work). Ever-willing to help out its nation in times of need, The Friday Speed Read offers the following suggestions of cut-price military hardware and tactics:
Oh man, 842 words already and we’ve not talked Brexit. Well, guess what? It’s still happening (just) and on Thursday Brexit Sec and Cleaner of TM the PM’s office Dominic Raab published the first of a series of papers on the implications of an increasingly-likely “no deal” Brexit. Short summary: it’s all going to be absolutely fine, honestly and we definitely won’t run out of sandwiches. With non-coincidental timing, a letter from chancellor Philip Hammond to the chair of the Treasury select committee was released in which Chuckles Phil warned that no deal would mean another £80bn of government borrowing.
The reaction? “WHAT DOES HAMMOND THINK HE’S PLAYING AT” (The Express); “EEYORE HAMMOND LAUNCHES PROJECT FEAR PT.2” (The Mail); “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Jacob Rees-Mogg, yes really).
Not much room for the “other news” roundup this week so VERY quickly: booze is bad for you and UK women are 6th on the list of the world’s top drinkers; a new treatment for dicky prostates will help millions of men; a naked man ‘tackled’ someone trying to nick his Range Rover; Bake Off’s going to have a vegan week; Danny Boyle didn’t even live once after resigning as the director of the new Bond film and the National Trust is “sorry” for letting some strange types dress up as Nazis and gad around one of its stately homes.
Finally, in that way that content from years ago is suddenly resurrected on Twitter, this moment of Alan Partridge-esque triumph from Philip Schofield was doing the rounds this week. And it is quite extraordinarily brilliant.
Enjoy your three day weekend and see you next week.