In this edition:
Richard Branson’s rebirth as an enemy of the people, Piers Morgan’s rebirth as a tribune of the people, and Keir Starmer’s tie
First a confession. Though I do share the public revulsion and detestation of Richard Branson’s attempt to have the British treasury bail out his airline, while swinging in his hammock on his sun splashed tax exempt private island, I cannot in good conscience touch on the subject without offering up my own experience of Virgin as a lifesaver rather than public money taker.
After breaking my neck in a car accident in northern Mexico in the early 1990s, and with the British government refusing to foot the bill for an air ambulance to get me home after six weeks and two operations in a San Diego hospital — and being the product of a family whose poverty was life long in duration — Virgin stepped in to provide two free first class tickets for me and the nurse who was required to minister to my medical needs on the journey home. I don’t claim that Richard Branson was himself responsible for making the decision that allowed me to get home, but as the owner of the company there’s no doubt he was responsible for establishing the culture within Virgin that was.
This exercise in throat clearing out of the way, what is abundantly clear is that coronavirus has exposed Richard Branson and others like him as yesterday’s people — billionaires and multi millionaires who rose to prominence during the ‘get rich or dying trying’ Blair years. Back then Branson was anointed with the unofficial title of ‘The People’s Capitalist’. He was a man who with his flowing blonde locks, perfect tan and glow-in-the-dark teeth, seemed to just want us all to have as much fun as he was having, inviting us to follow his madcap adventures and shenanigans around the globe. Virgin as a brand, carried that all-important stamp of cool, a corporate symbol of that Cool Britannia age, when life was presented to us as one big party.
Now all has changed and changed utterly. The financial crash of 2008, followed by a global recession, the damage of which was compounded rather than alleviated by austerity in service to the god of neoliberalism, has been joined by a global pandemic to turn our world upside down. In just a few short months Covid19 has left no doubt that it is our key workers not billionaires, celebrities, hedge fund managers or CEOs who are the salt of this earth, responsible for keeping the wheels of society moving.
Branson, once a totem of everything supposedly beautiful about capitalism, is currently its ugly face. His rebirth as an enemy of the people charts a morality tale more compelling than any produced by Dickens, with the result that now he appears about as cool as, well, a virus. His failure has been to so catastrophically misjudge the public mood with the result that he’s found himself pitched into the ranks of the sinners.
If Richard Branson has travelled on the down-escalator into the land of sinners, Piers Morgan has passed him on the up-escalator into the land of saints. His transformation from bumptious right wing tabloid mouthpiece into tribune of the public’s righteous rage and disbelief at the government’s outlandish incompetence, dissembling and borderline criminal negligence, has been one of the few positives to emerge in the course of this pandemic. His championing of NHS and care workers, lambasting of rich celebrities and rogue royals, Morgan has gained thousands of new fans and followers, evidenced in a Twitter feed littered with posts beginning with ‘I usually can’t stand Piers Morgan, but…”, and so on.
For weeks on end on GMB he placed some hapless Tory minister or government functionary in the stocks and ripped them apart, exposing each as the second raters and bungling wing nuts they are. It resulted in the Government boycotting his show, which in itself is unprecedented. It’s almost not hyperbole to claim that in the midst of the crisis, Piers Morgan emerged as the de facto leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Which is just as well, because Keir Starmer certainly isn’t if going by the quite staggering lack of vim and vigour he brings to the job in the midst of the most serious to engulf Britain since 1940.
If a leader is to succeed in politics, he must possess convictions or charisma, and ideally both. Starmer has neither and appears less the leader of the Labour Party and more the manager of a local bank in Nether Wallop, with his tie the most interesting thing about him.
Not that his shadow cabinet is much better. A cabinet of shadows rather than a shadow cabinet, it comprises a rogue’s gallery of foaming centrists whose qualification for membership is a personality bypass. Presently it is opposing one of the worst British governments we’ve ever been cursed with not with the roar of a lion, but with the squeak of a mouse.
But then maybe I’m being overly unkind. Maybe Keir Starmer and his shadow cabinet are operating to some cunning plan.
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