Phase two means phase two, as Tories tweet through Blue Planet II | John Crace

John Crace
David Davis upped the ante this week by coming up with a new line: ‘You don’t have to be clever to do my job.’ Photograph: Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock


After sending out more than 40 Christmas cards, my wife and I sat back and waited for other people to send theirs. We’re still waiting. So far we’ve only had four. A few years ago we would have had a whole pile of them, but people just no longer seem bothered. I even rang up my friend Simon to beg him to send one, but he refused point blank. Said he had given up sending cards years ago and even if he hadn’t he would have made a point of not sending me one. It’s also sod’s law that of the four cards we do have, three have come from people we didn’t send cards to. Including the prime minister. I did once get a card from David Cameron, but I am certain I didn’t get one from Theresa May last year. So it seems I must have done something right to make it on to her list this year. Though I can’t think for the life of me what that could possibly be. Maybe, as I have long secretly suspected, she really does yearn to get away from Downing Street and the shambles of Brexit and put her feet up in Maidenhead.


As I’ve always thought likely, it turns out man flu really does exist. All those years when I insisted I was at death’s door and my symptoms were far more severe than those of my wife, I was doing no more than state an objective truth when I said I had cancer. And all I got for my suffering was ridicule. The timing of this news could have come at a more opportune moment, though, as for a number of years my hypochondria appears – touch wood – to have been in abeyance. I’m at a loss to explain precisely why. Given we can rule out the possibility of my mental health having voluntarily decided to improve itself – why would it break the habit of a lifetime? – there can be only two possibilities. The first is that I have been in remission and have been fortunate enough not to have any symptoms that can easily be construed as fatal. More likely, though, I have just reached the age where there is no point worrying as no one will ever now get the chance to say that I died young.


A new sound is being heard around Westminster. That of Tory MPs remembering how much they care for the environment. It began with Michael Gove’s conversion a few months back – the environment secretary is in the process of turning his office into an otter sanctuary – and now everyone is at it. After years of not appearing to give a toss one way or the other, dozens of Conservative MPs simultaneously began tweeting their eco-credentials during the screening of the final episode of Blue Planet II. Oddly, many of them used almost identical language in their tweets. It was almost as if Conservative party HQ had sent everyone a template text of what to tweet. There’s been no let-up since, with Tory backbenchers using every opportunity in the Commons to make interventions pleading with ministers not to forget the impact of their policies on red squirrels and ancient woodlands. One hopes their interest in the environment lasts longer than Cameron’s brief foray to the Arctic.


One of the Brexit highlights to have made me wonder if I had slipped through the looking glass has been the saga of the impact assessments. Like many people I could have sworn I heard David Davis tell the committee that his department had conducted extensive analyses of the impact of Brexit on 58 different sectors of the economy. Only it later turned out we were all wrong and that Davis had only imagined them. An impact assessment was very different from something that assessed impact, and all he had done was a bit of rough blue-skies thinking. This week Davis upped the ante by coming up with the new line: “You don’t have to be very clever to do my job.” To which the obvious reply is: “Yes, but do you need to prove it quite so often?” Still, this excuse appears to have convinced the Speaker, John Bercow, who ruled that Davis had not been in contempt of parliament for misleading MPs. Presumably because he wasn’t bright enough to have been so incompetent on purpose.


According to some reports, the most wanted Christmas present this year is Alexa, the Amazon Echo smart device, which responds to voice commands to play music or update you on the weather forecast as required. The most wanted by everyone but me. I have enough trouble managing all the technology in the home – it took me a couple of days to work out how to fix the soundbar when it spontaneously decided it didn’t like the TV and unpaired itself – and the last thing I want is a device that wants to try to run my life for me. “Hi John, you seem to be running a bit low on tinned tuna. Would you like me to order some more?” As it happens, Alexa, I sodding well don’t. I’ll get round to it in my own time and take the risk that one day I’ll realise we’ve run out. And if I want to know the news I’ll switch on the radio. At my age, I need to have some sense of purpose.

Digested week: Phase two means phase two

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