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Speed Read: Boris Johnson has never been to Newton Abbot and other truths

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The Friday Speed Read

Every week, The Friday Speed Read, straps on its stab-proof-vest painted with a picture of Philip May and begins to rap the week’s biggest news stories until someone asks it to stop. The average time spent rapping each week is 14 seconds which, given everything,  feels is pretty decent. 

It’s a little too early on a Friday morning for anything much more than a strong black coffee and a glance at the Daily Star (“You’ve bin shamed – Star finds MOD secrets chucked in the rubbish”) so the following attempt at sub-GCSE sociology is going to seem as fumbling as some nocturnal horseplay in a cheap tent at Glastonbury when everyone else is cider-eyed and delirious and watching Kylie. But in the fine British tradition of confident blagging and hoping we get away with it we’re going to take a running jump at this: as Boris Johnson and the Other One glide around the country in long black cars, stopping in the various hot-spots on the heat map of the only demographic that matters to them (wealthy old white men), both have been falling over themselves to lay out their “vision” of Britain. Fair enough; one of them is going to be Prime Minister (and the other one is Jeremy Hunt) so you’d expect them to be grandstanding; you’ll take a bit of running ideas up the national flagpole and hoping that we all salute (with flat hand adjoining your temple or with two extended fingers depending on your point of view).

However, as the “race” for the Tory leadership / Prime Minister “hots up” (and we know you can think of little else right now and are barely sleeping such is the high-grade adrenaline rocketing around your arteries) it’s clearer than ever that there is no single United Kingdom. There’s no unifying vision under which we can all gather to look at each other and nod, muttering phrases such as “yeah, good” and “I like this” and “that millionaire leading our country really speaks for all of us”. And yes, it was ever thus: nations have always been artificial constructs; they’ve always been expressions of hope (for good and for bad) rather than reality but right now on this island, post-referendum, pre-Brexit, the UK of the Tory leadership race and the UK of, say, Stormzy’s set at Glastonbury last Friday night (which even to the eyes of this middle-aged Blur fan was clearly extraordinary) seems not so much like two different countries but two different planets.

What all this means we’re not sure. But when Friday’s Telegraph front page quotes Boris Johnson’s speech given in Yorkshire yesterday, “This (i.e. the UK) is the greatest place on Earth” we have three reactions. One, that Boris Johnson has clearly never gone for a post-pub wee around the back of the multi-story carpark in Newton Abbot at twenty to midnight on a Friday night. Two, that living in the greatest place on Earth would be really quite good and three, but greatest for whom?

Anyway, the two candidates said a lot of stuff this week with scant regard for plausibility: bring back fox hunting! (Jeremy Hunt, appropriately enough); pay public servants more! A bridge to Ireland! Less Sugar Tax! More police! More army! More trees! More, better sex for all! More roofs on more courts at Wimbledon! More lists of things we’re going to have more of! And that thing I said about fox hunting, it turns out I didn’t mean it (Jeremy anti-Hunt after all).

How many of these aspirations will come to pass when Jeremy Hunt isn’t Prime Minister? Answers on a postcard to: Anna-Jane Brexit, 45 Anglepoise Lane, Lower Scabbard, Dorset. (Anna-Jane is genuinely keen to hear your views).

Shall we move on? It’s been a grim week in Hong Kong as the “umbrella” protests against a new (and currently suspended) extradition law imposed on the ex-UK territory by Beijing reached a violent new level. After several weeks of protests that drew a million people into the streets, on Monday a group of pro-democracy activists broke into the parliament building, occupying it and covering it with graffiti. This would be a brave act in most countries but in Chinese-controlled territory, in the 30th anniversary year of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it’s tantamount to suicide.

It’s been another trying week for the BBC as the hornets’ nest of axing free TV licenses for the over 75 was given another almighty thwack by the now-annual publication of top salaries at the corporation. Gary Lineker was, once again, the highest-paid “star” with a not-too-shabby £1.75M a year for saying things like “Gosh! Van Dyke’s really good at tackling opposing players isn’t he Alan? and “Did you like that goal scored by Harry Kane who plays for Spurs?” (we’re certain we made this gag last year so sorry to long-term TFSR fans). There was a small breakout of the “what could you buy with Lineker’s pay?” game: 88 nurses’ salaries; 19,509 subscriptions to Angling Times, 1,750,000 packets of Twiglets at Tesco (sharing bag, 105g) but what really got the dirty wind in the sails of the right wing press was how the BBC could be paying so much when they are scrapping the over-75 free licenses? The Daily Mail hates the BBC even more than it hates Jeremy Corbyn (which is A LOT) and alongside its sometime allies The Daily Express and The Sun, took the opportunity to dish out a right kicking to the national broadcaster.

Pedants’ corner: BBC salaries have increased by roughly £10M this year; the cost of funding TV licenses for over 75s is £735M a year. That’s not to say that the BBC’s policy is correct (although it was government that provided and then removed the money for subsidising it) but it’s just frustrating that one issue is conflated with another, reduced to the most simplistic (and incorrect terms) and then inhaled by newspapers in order to fuel their ire. Not that there’s ANYTHING new about this of course.

There’s lots of sport around this week. Wimbledon is back. Princess Meghan went to Wimbledon (which was literally front-page news) and, also front-page news, 15-year old Coco Gauff beat the woman who inspired her to play tennis – Venus Williams –  by playing with the fearlessness of youth (and considerable talent). A new star is very much born. In France, England’s women’s football team lost in the semi-final of the World Cup to the USA in a game watched by 11.7 million viewers. The debate about the appeal of women’s football is over; this was just a great match (albeit sad to see England lose) in which the gender of those playing was entirely irrelevant.

Argh! Hardly any time for other news! So VERY quickly – Trump went into full crazy despot mode with a military parade on the Fourth of July; some bosses are banning UK workers from using their phones in the office and (some) people are angry; molecules in fruit and veg have been found to fight cancer and Morris Men are up in arms (with hankies waving) about the shift of next May’s Bank Holiday which they will mean they’ll lose loads of bookings. Remember, hell hath no fury like a Morris Man shorn of an opportunity to knock sticks with a colleague while stepping in time to a man playing an accordion.

Music! And apologies to the many thousands of readers last week (Kerry) who complained that their mobile version of TFSR was missing a third of its span along the right-hand side rendering it (only a little) less coherent than normal. This was caused by YouTube changing its code and means that if you want to see this week’s musical offering (Maverick Sabre – who we didn’t know existed until last weekend’s Glasto coverage but now love) then you’ll have to click on the picture of a small horse below.

See you next week.

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