Back by popular demand – mine. I have to do something to while away the time in my lonely barn halfway up a sheep-ridden hillside, wrapped up in scarves and mittens, pencil stub between my fingers, teeth chattering, the stormy wind howling outside, rain lashing the windows, like some minor character in Dr Zhivago or Jane Eyre with no-… (“Enough with the clichés! Get on with it!” Ed).
1. The Shami Chakrabarti Award for Trashing One’s Reputation – Of course, one has to have a reputation to trash and those following Ms Chakrabarti’s career knew long before her risible report that she was not quite as good as claimed. Still, she has not been heard of since going down in flames with Jeremy and we need another Richie Rich for our times. Step forward Suella Braverman – from a respectably dull planning law practice via a somewhat exaggerated CV (what is it with female Tory MPs?) to Attorney-General. There she gave much entertainment to fellow lawyers with her feeble understanding of international law and weak defence of the Internal Markets Bill just in time for it to be withdrawn in return for some mess of pottage somewhere in the Brexit Deal’s 1,246 pages. She capped it with some toe-curling nonsense before the Court of Appeal asking it to ignore the law to extend the sentence imposed on the killers of PC Andrew Harper. The Court’s withering dismissal of her “unusual submission” started with a reminder that courts have to follow the law not Daily Mail headers and that the government has the power to change it. Cruel of Suella to raise the hopes of his family when she was told the case was hopeless. Still, well done for giving us a splendid example of the Peter Principle in action.
2. The Most Creative Defence Award – For a long time it looked as if this would be won by Dominic Cummings with his eye test excuse. But he is now yesterday’s man. And, frankly he was not helped by the PM stating that he did what any father would have done, a defence which would have had far more plausibility had it not come from a man not noted – even by his greatest fans – for his devotion to family duties. Another lawyer who really does need regular eye tests pipped him to top spot. A round of applause then for Robert Buckland, Lord Chancellor, Justice Minister and author of that wonderfully elastic all-purpose phrase: “breaking the law in specific and limited way“. Well done that man! The Dictionary of Quotations will be in touch.
3. The Dido Harding Award for Knowing the Right People – Far too many people were eligible for this but an executive decision was taken to exclude anyone who knew anyone at, had ever worked at or was married to anyone at The Spectator. So arise Mike Coupe, former Sainsbury’s CEO (where Dido once worked) who on leaving got a 12-week contract from Dido on Test’n’Trace and then was put on the Board of the NHS. Deliciously, his previous claim to fame was being caught singing “We’re in the Money” while waiting to be interviewed about the proposed Sainsbury’s/Asda merger. It’s a song which ought to be the anthem for this government’s approach to public office.
4. Talking of which, a new award this year – The Slaughtering of Sacred Cows Award. Ethics – who needs them, fusty old things. From special VIP channels for friends of the government and MPs, to the tearing up of public procurement and appointment rules, disregarding the advice of House of Lords appointment commissions, ignoring the Ministerial Code or those appointed to advise on it, overriding civil service advice on the award of New Towns money, granting planning favours to donors, the government has been positively Berlusconi-like in its determination to diverge from previously accepted standards of good conduct. Robert Jenrick deserves a dishonourable mention here but there can only be one winner: Boris. All this and Brexit too! Truly a transformative Prime Minister.
5. The Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak – This goes to the Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds. Who? Quite.
6. The Michel Barnier Elegance Award – also sponsored by the NHS and Savile Row. This is shared by Michel Barnier and David Frost for showing in one photo the desirability – on both health and aesthetic grounds – of losing weight and dressing well, the latter being even more desirable if one has been a failure at the former.
7. Up and Coming Politicians – Another shared award, this time between Priti Patel and Liz Truss. Both useless at public speaking: one can’t read numbers, the other can’t say cheese. Never mind. Priti has dodged banana skins, passed an Immigration Act and been rude to lawyers – indispensable in the New Look Tory party. Not averse to kicking opponents either as her attack on Labour women lazily assuming that Indians should only vote Labour showed. Or the misogynists in her own party as the same speech also showed. She has the necessary cunning too, cannily avoiding tying herself to Cummings and criticising Jenrick too. One to watch. As is Truss – another ambitious blonde Tory woman, making trade deals and speeches designed to appeal to Tory party voters. Let’s have a Tory leadership contest just between these two – the political equivalent of a mud wrestling match. Throw in Kemi Badenoch and we can listen to the grinding of Labour teeth too.
8. The Brexit Deal Winners Award – Lawyers! Lots and lots of them, here and in Brussels. Who do you think wrote the bloody thing, came up with the drafting which allows both sides to claim that they are winners? It will be thanks to this fiendish group that all sorts of quirks, oddities, horse-trades and other unintended consequences will emerge over the coming days, weeks, months and years to provide hours of debate and argument and advice on interpretation, here and elsewhere. But not in Parliament. The very idea! Control is indeed being taken back – by the lawyers. Hooray!
9. Word of the Year – A bumper year for new words and phrases – furlough, social distancing, exponential, lockdown, shielding, self-isolation, tiers. Not new words of course but ones rarely used so frequently nor with such anxiety. But the prize must go to two others: sovereignty – usually only needed by members of the Royal Household and world-beating – never off Boris’s lips. World-beating sovereignty: it will have to sustain us as we head into whatever 2021 brings.
And finally a heartfelt thank you to the real heroes of 2020: the nurses, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers, care workers, supermarket workers, shelf-stackers, teachers, firemen, delivery drivers, postmen and women, binmen, cleaners and volunteers, and all the very many who have tried to keep society, their businesses and some modicum of normality – and even fun – going this last year and in anticipation – D.V. and thanks to the scientists and researchers creating vaccines – of the pandemic’s end.
Written in 1871 – but just as applicable now –
“for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Perhaps after this strange year we might learn to value and reward not just the “stars” and those who shout the loudest about their worth (which owes more to good fortune than they will ever admit, publicly anyway) but also all those doing well every day their unhistoric acts.
Happy New Year!