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The Friday Speed Read
Every week The Friday Speed Read dons a full protective suit and plunges its hands into the news beehive to pull out only the finest honeycomb of the biggest stories which it then lathers on toast and humbly presents to you to accompany a cup of tea perhaps.
Of all the arcane vocabulary that the ever-jolly Brexit adventure has introduced into the notes and rhythms of our everyday English (“Article 50”; “backstop”; “oust”; Rees-Moggery”) then perhaps the verb to prorogue will prove the most useful. We’ve been conjugating it all week and it’s been something of an eye-opener. The (necessary) return to a programme of regular exercise and sensible eating post-holiday has been prorogued; we’ve prorogued our decision to watch only edifying documentaries about medieval art on BBC4 instead of more episodes of Queer Eye; when asked about our intention to pay for a supper of expertly-seasoned shellfish washed down with a crisp bottle of Muscadet in a local brasserie we calmly told the clearly-irked manager that although payment was forthcoming we were proroguing it until sometime in mid-October. And he may not like it (he didn’t like it) but this prorogation was both legal and constitutional.
In fact, all this prorogation is such high-octane fun that we’re going to prorogue more chat about prorogation until later in this column. Because we’ve got to talk about Ben Stokes. My goodness. Ben. Stokes. Monday’s bank holiday front pages were filled with photographs of the England cricketer, arms splayed, head-tossed back in ululations of joy, who did something near-miraculous (in cricketing terms) to drag England to a seemingly impossible victory over Australia at Headingly on Sunday afternoon. We could easily blow this week’s word count on the glory of his reverse sweep for 6; the fumbled run-out attempt, his unlikely accomplice in Jack Leach wiping his glasses between overs, but if cricket leaves you cold then one, we can never kiss and two, you may stray to other vaguely-satirical reviews of the week’s news so we’re not going to bang on any more. But if you know your silly points from your David Gowers then yes it really did happen and yes, it really was that good . . . . . “it’s either out or it’s six . . . . IT’S SIX”.
On Wednesday morning this week, the Prime Minister announced a prorogation of parliament of nearly five weeks before a Queen’s Speech on the 14th of October (as if the Queen hasn’t got enough to deal with right now). In these bizarre and uncharted times, hyperbole has been generally rendered mute; there are no hysterical reactions anymore because every day is hysterical reaction in some way or another. But we’re going to have make an exception for the prorogation because it let off a box of fireworks inside and outside Westminster bigger than any seen since 1605.
A few pesky facts before we get any further. A prorogation of parliament by a Prime Minister ahead of a Queen’s Speech is both legal and normal. Furthermore, Parliament never sits for the majority of September in order for the political parties to go to seaside towns, get roaring drunk and announce policies to rooms full of people who love policy announcements. Normally we don’t call it a prorogation (we call it conference season) but that’s what it is.
However, this prorogation has caused such an outpouring of equal joy and of horror because it is longer than any since the Second World War and because it has clearly been precision-engineered to do exactly what the Prime Minister said this week it wasn’t designed to do: ensure a likely-no deal Brexit occurs on October 31st by denying parliament any opportunity to stop it. We’re not stupid (except for the myriad times when we are). We may love it. We may hate it. But this is what is happening and for all the Moggian bumblings on the radio yesterday that this was “routine” and “actually quite boring”, we imagine that all sides would be grateful for a spade to be called a spade. Whether this spade will dig us out of the mire or help us dig our own graves, it’s still a spade.
The right-wing press on Thursday were beside themselves with knee-trembling excitement; the image of Johnson stuck on a zip-wire with the safety harness giving him a massive wedgie have been replaced by Romanesque profile shots of a Prime Minister spoiling for a fight – literally, with fists raised. “Boris takes the gloves off!”, shouted the Mail; “Hey big suspender! Ballsy Boris comes out fighting!”, panted the Mail; “The die is cast” whooped the Express. In contrast, The Guardian reflected the uproar on the other side of the Brexit fence: “Outrage as Johnson suspends parliament”.
And outrage was the very least of it. People took to the streets; more than 1.5 million signed a petition to present to parliament to tell it not to prorogue parliament (which isn’t going to work for many reasons!) and commentators took to the airwaves to lament the death of democracy. Which of course is EXACTLY the claim made by Brexiteers about parliament’s refusal to countenance a no deal exit from the EU, thus contradicting the hallowed and nebulous “will of the people”. It’s all so exhausting.
There are forces lining up against Johnson; labelled by the more-sneering of Telegraph columnists as the “luvvie Remain establishment”, the Daily Express, showing scant knowledge of even basic Star Wars lore, has decided to brand Corbyn and his growing band of malcontents, the “rebel alliance”. Who is going to tell the Express that these are the goodies? Luke Skywalker. Han Solo. Princess Leia? All members of the Rebel Alliance. Which makes Boris Johnson Daft Fader and makes Dominic Cummings the Emperor who, let’s not forget, completed his decent into galactic tyranny by proroguing the Galactic Senate. JUST SAYING.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Prorogue One: A Brexit Story. Let’s hope that Admiral Ackbar’s over-reacting again when he leans forward dramatically and shouts through his fishy features that “It’s a trap!”
A quick fist-full of other news finds the Amazon rainforest continuing to burn; temperatures of 22C recorded 700 miles north of the Artic Circle; Bury FC going out of business expelled from the football league after 134 years; Bake Off back on the telly; Bear Grylls being stung by a wasp ; someone finding the face of Freddie Mercury in a PORK CHOP and THANK THE LORD red wine being declared by (drunk) scientists as being good for us again.
Finally, two quick “This is Good Pun” pun certificates to give to the Sun this week for:
“Fungirection” – Harry Styles says he takes magic mushrooms.
“I want choux back for pud” – Paul Hollywood attempts to woo former lover (with cake presumably).
Twenty-five (!!) years ago, a group of blokes from Manchester calling themselves Oasis released an album called Definitely Maybe. As well as launching a trend for exposed floorboards, the album contained a host of masterpieces, none more masterful than this (please click on the album cover below):