It is a privilege to be in on the birth of a thrilling new trend, and never more so than with Graeme Swann’s mid-Ashes series retirement from Test cricket. Let no one make the lazy assumption that Swanny has flounced away in rank umbrage at recent criticism of his bowling.
It cannot be long before he offers a justification every inch as persuasive as the one he gave after a positive breath test in 2010 (he was later acquitted on a technicality) when driving away from a party in Nottingham. The England off-spinner pointed out that he was making a mercy dash to buy the screwdriver required to remove the floorboard under which his cat had contrived to bury itself alive. Futurologists believe the trend will catch on at Westminster, with 2014 featuring these bombshells from the three stand-out political liabilities of the age:
- Midway through George Osborne’s Budget in March, Ed Balls storms out of the chamber, telling a hastily convened press conference of his retirement. “This has nothing to do with ruining the party’s electoral chances with my flatlining obsession, or the fear of being sacked,” a crimson-cheeked Balls explains. “I just remembered absent-mindedly using one of the kids’ hamsters as the lasagne filling while fretting about the structural debt this morning, so I have quit with immediate effect to rescue it from the oven, where it is cooking slowly at gas mark 2.”
- “My government will henceforth be bereft of the services of the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions,” declares Her Majesty during May’s Queen’s Speech. “Mr Iain Duncan Smith is retiring to redecorate the 11 spare bedrooms of his father-in-law’s Tudor mansion in Buckinghamshire, where he lives rent-free, and also intends finally to finish colouring in his favourite book. He wishes to make it absolutely clear that this decision is wholly unrelated to the mounting calamity of Universal Credit.”
- Nick Clegg stuns the Liberal Democrat conference in October by announcing his resignation in his keynote address. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mr Clegg tells traumatised delegates, “I’m so, so sorry. But in politics timing is everything, and six months before an election campaign is the perfect time for me to move on to new challenges. Let me make it clear that this has no more to do with current polls putting us on 7 per cent than my accepting an offer from Strictly Come Dancing has to do with winding up Vince.”
Anna’s Soubry-quet could be ‘the next Tory leader’
I must say, I do like that Anna Soubry, of whose memorable contribution to yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show you will have read elsewhere. Pompous blowhards like me are forever bemoaning the coarseness of modern political debate, and this spirited Tory’s proctological reference to Nigel Farage did wonders to redress the balance. Besides, as a former public health minister, it is Anna’s mission to remind us that men pushing 50, like Nigel, should be checked for early prostrate cancer – and while the PSA test seems likely to remain the gold standard, she cannot be criticised for highlighting the benefits of the auto-examination method.
Small wonder Anna is tipped as a future leader, and we hope to hear far more from this engaging front-bench presence (assuming she remains there after this) in 2014.
Mandy’s mischief towards Mr T knows no bounds
Before dissolving into a fit of the giggles at Anna’s intervention, Peter Mandelson dwelt on graver topics than the Ukip leader’s alleged prostatic merriment. Asked by Andrew Marr what Labour should fear in 2014, he referred to the interminably delayed Chilcot report into the war in Iraq as a minefield. This seemed odd, since the person for whom Chilcot is expected to be a personal calamity is not Ed Miliband, but Mr Tony Blair, who is believed to be fretful and depressed at the prospect. Sometimes you wonder how close Mandy and Mr T are these days, and whether the former was yielding to his sense of mischief by raising the matter on telly.
You’re really in trouble if Mad Mel tries to rescue you
Following his Newsnight mash-up with the former Friends actor and recovered drug addict Matthew Perry, Peter Hitchens receives support from the voice of common sense. Melanie Phillips takes to her blog to back the Hitchens line that drug addiction is not an illness, but a sign of moral fecklessness, and that the proof is the deterrent value of shooting people for taking illegal substances.
Mad Mel insists that majority public support for Mr Perry, who reprised his Chandler Bing to Peter’s oddly convincing Joey Tribbiani, is due to a refusal to follow evidence. Here she writes with the authority of one who rigorously studied the evidence before proselytising the phantasmal link between the MMR triple jab and autism that led to measles epidemics, and the Daily Mail’s decision to remove her from her column becomes more bemusing than ever.
If you want detail, then Louise Mensch is your woman
Once again, it is both a duty and a pleasure to celebrate Louise Mensch’s grasp of detail as she turns her laser-beam mind to Barack Obama’s travails. Apart from the troubled online introduction of Obamacare, she writes in the Sun on Sunday, “nobody likes his nuclear deal with extremist Iran either – or his failure to act in Syria.” The most recent US polling on these matters found a) a dead heat between those for and against the Iran deal; and b) that seven out of 10 Americans support the decision not to bomb Syria. The Murdoch empire’s great gain remains the House of Commons’ most painful loss.