It’s never the big things: small scandals in British politics

The real scandals aren’t the ones that bring politicians down. It’s the little ones that get them. The stupid ones. The ones we understand. So Suella Braverman, Britain’s home secretary and my nominee for this year’s Wicked Witch of the West Award, isn’t likely to lose her job over abusive treatment of immigrants and refugees or for cranking the national racism dial a few notches higher. Instead, it’s her handling of a speeding ticket that’s put her job in danger.

Braverman got nailed for speeding last summer, and if you’re not too far over the speed limit the law allows you to take a speed awareness course instead of paying a fine and getting points on your license.

Points? You don’t want those. If you rack up twelve, your license disappears in a puff of smoke, and if you try to drive after that you disappear in a much larger puff of smoke. 

And your car turns into a ham sandwich.

Irrelevant photo: A neighbor’s flowering bush. No idea what it’s called, although more than one person has told me.

Braverman was eligible for the course but didn’t want to rub shoulders with the kind of lowlifes who show up at a speed awareness course. People might confuse her for one of them, and that would have been politically embarrassing. So she allegedly asked civil servants to see if they could arrange a personalized course for her own important self.

They (allegedly) replied with the diplomatic version of, “Fuck, no,” so she asked a political advisor to see what sort of wiggle room could be made for her. When the answer (apparently) was “none,” she paid a fine and got three points on her license instead of taking the course. 

In case you need help with this, three is several points short of twelve, so no smoke and no ham sandwich.

What’s the problem? Ministers aren’t supposed to involve civil servants in their personal lives. Civil servants aren’t there to pick up ministers’ dry cleaning, park their cars, or mediate between them and the speed awareness course people. 

The flap has only recently emerged into the light of public disapproval, and Rishi Sunak, our prime minister of the moment–we burn through them quickly these days–is having to answer awkward questions, like whether he’ll launch an investigation into what happened. Initially he said things like, “I know she’s expressed regret” and that he’s “availing” himself of the information.

I’m not sure what you do when you avail yourself of information. Is it like when I buy the paper but don’t read it? It’s available on my kitchen table. It’s not available in my brain, but it could be. Easily. 

Braverman’s said things like, “[I’m] content that nothing untoward happened.”

After the requisite amount of dithering, Sunak decided he was also content and the issue didn’t need investigation. So for the moment, officially speaking, nothing untoward happened. Watch this space, though. Watch several other spaces. In one of them, surely, something interesting will happen.


Okay, what’s my problem with Braverman?

I’ll refrain from the full-blown documentation my Wicked Witch nomination requires. Sorry. I did include in when I sent in the paperwork, but for the purposes of this blog–well, she’s beyond anything I can be funny about. I will say, though, that she seems to be  positioning herself as the rightest of the right wing candidates for next leader of the Conservative Party.  Political gossips–at least the ones who don’t like her–hold that she’s not known for her competence, but as recent history demonstrates, that doesn’t disqualify her for a top job.  A former and carefully unnamed minister who worked with her provides the best quote: “I don’t often say people are completely useless, but if her desk had not been occupied I wouldn’t have noticed.” 


And from the Department of Marie Antoinette Reincarnated comes this

Ann Widdecombe–once a Conservative MP, once (in the full spirit of irony) a Member of the European Parliament for the Brexit Party, and now a member of the post-Brexit creation Reform UK–was asked, on a BBC politics show, what she’d say to people who couldn’t afford the ingredients for a cheese sandwich. 

“Well, then, you don’t do the cheese sandwich,” she said. Compassionately.

She went on to remind us that we had no right to simply expect prices to stay stable and that if wages rose they’d only add to inflation. She didn’t advise people not to eat until prices come down, but it is the logical conclusion.


Meanwhile, the Diplomacy Department’s been busy

In a precedent-setting move, Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, showed up at the coronation–that’s the recent coronation, in case I haven’t been clear–bringing along his partner, Matt Barrett. So make that two precedent-setting moves: Ireland shows up at the coronation of a British king and a political leader brings his same-sex partner.

Not content with that, though, Barret–that’s the partner, in case you got lost in the last paragraph–set a precedent of his own, posting throughout the show to the 350 followers on his private Instagram account.

“Holy shit,” he wrote from the car before they got to the abbey, “I think I’m accidentally crowned king of England.”

During the ceremony itself, he posted about Charles’s crown, “Was genuinely half expecting it to shout ‘GRYFFINDOR.’”

About the Right Rev. James Newcome’s title, Clerk of the Closet, he said, “Had this job until my early 20s.” 

Of course, private account or not, it all went public. 

The taoiseach said, ““We’ve spoken about it and it won’t happen again.” 

He has not confiscated Barrett’s phone or grounded him for six months. In fact, his response is refreshingly sane: Barrett’s a “private individual and [whether he apologizes] is obviously up to him.”

Barrett has apologized. Unreservedly. 


Lost any luggage lately?

Have you ever wondered how many pieces of luggage the aviation industry lost, delayed, or damaged last year? We’re talking globally here, and the answer is 26 million, or 7.6 bags per 1,000 passengers. That’s not quite double the year before, but it’s close enough for a numerophobe like me. 

Covid’s getting the blame, which works well since it’s in no position to defend itself.

That may explain why James Cleverly, our foreign secretary, chose a private jet for his eight-day tour of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Okay, maybe political honchos all fly private jets. They need room for their briefcases and their aides and their security details. But Cleverly cleverly chose “the creme del la creme of private business jets,” which rents for more than £10,000 per hour and comes with a master suite that includes a queen-size bed, a private toilet, and a shower. Anyone who’s left to suffer in the lounge area at least has a big-screen TV. 

I’m not sure who I’m quoting on that creme de la creme comment. It was unattributed in one of the articles I read, and I know I could’ve stolen the accent marks along with the quotation, but as a writer I have strong feelings about plagiarism. 

In the interest of accuracy, I should mention that a second source lists the cost as £12,000 per hour, including fuel, and that when one source asked the rental company for a cost estimate for a similar trip, it came out at £348,000. 

I’m reasonably sure Cleverly’s luggage, aides, and security entourage were not lost in transit.

34 thoughts on “It’s never the big things: small scandals in British politics

  1. If my English father (he knew Lloyd George!) were alive he’d probably emigrate.
    Can’t give you or Westminster any help on the Braverman debacle, but your irrelevant flower photo looks like Weigela. I am dead envious, I am!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Weigelia! That does sound right. Or at least it sounds familiar. I don’t know why I have a block on it.

      Sounds like your father got a jump on emigrating. The problem is, so many countries are going nuts, and so few welcome immigrants, that as a solution it’s becoming problematic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. >When the answer (apparently) was “none,” she paid a fine and got three points
    >on her license instead of taking the course.

    And here I was, thinking she was pointless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Braverman seems a good candidate for – what did they call it when they sent criminals off to Australia ? Transport her to The Former Colonies here – she’ll barely be noticed.

    I had a friend from high school who, when she was in college, existed at times on a diet of mustard sandwiches (that was it – mustard on bread), and only that because she had a part time job at an A&P. But she didn’t have any student debt either .

    How does one correctly pronounce taioseach ? ( I haven’t figured out Tuatha De’ Dannan yet and I’ve had it spoken to me by a person who could pronounce Gaelic correctly.)

    Is Cleverly his real name, or just how he refers to himself ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cleverly is his real name. Or at least, it’s the name he goes by. Let’s not get into a discussion of what constitutes real when it comes to names. It’d be interesting but long.

      The closest I can come to pronouncing taoiseach is to think of a tea shop, then change “shop” to “shock.” I’m fairly sure I have it wrong, but I think I’m somewhere in the neighborhood. Gaelic spelling baffles me. I’m comforted by knowing that a friend whose parents were Gaelic speakers doesn’t understand it either.

      Braverman’s trying the transportation-to-other-countries thing–maybe you know this–by promoting the idea of transporting refugees to Rwanda. So far, it’s been blocked in the courts. She really is a horror show.


        • Possibly, but I think she’d hesitate at how appealing the British (stereotype alert there) find Florida, or at least the idea of Florida, even if it was only step one on an unwilling journey. What she really wants is a rock in the ocean where people could be exiled and drop out of public consciousness forever.


  4. The bit no journalist commented upon, too busy braying one way or another, is that that course can be taken online (I know, I did it) and the only requirement to avoid cheating is to keep your camera on. Surely that would not have bothered the Minister, she is on camera all the time.
    So I suspect she did not want to spend the time, that must be the real explanation, but nobody aired it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the articles I read, and by now I can’t remember which one, did mention that. Apparently, even being seen in a postage-size box on someone’s Zoom screen was more public exposure than she thought her reputation could withstand, and as a result she did her reputation a lot more damage than being known for speeding could possibly have done.

      It’s seldom the crime, it’s the coverup.


  5. Thank you for this witty and hillarious take on what’s going on in the UK, I used to live there about a decade ago and it looks so different there now! I am shocked by how quickly stuff unraveled there since Brexit, I hope the Tories go and they return to the EU 🙈

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope so too, but as far as I can see it’s a lot more than just Brexit. Remember that old right-wing slogan, You can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it? Well, since they started saying that, they’ve demonstrated that you can definitely make the problem worse by withdrawing money from it, which they’ve been doing for ten years or more, so public services and infrastructure really are falling apart and the NHS is barely holding together. And food banks, which I was used to seeing all over the US, were rare or nonexistent when I moved here. Now they’re everywhere and can’t keep up with the need. And then there’s good ol’ Maggie Thatcher, who privatized everything but the hairspray she used, so the railroads are a mess and the water companies are dumping raw sewage into the seas and rivers. Because privatization was going to be more efficient.

      Somehow I find it all a little hard to be funny about. I just want to throw things. But what I really meant to say was thanks and glad you enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been amazed (or depressed) by the sheer lack of talent/ability of many Tory ministers but Suella tops the lot. Apparently her mum was a fan of Dallas but I dont know why she didn’t go for the full SueEllen. It’s the only slightly interesting thing about her.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The Braverman story sounds like a left-wing parody of a right-wingnut. Dame Edna Everage, offstage.

    People who can’t afford bread and cheese *can* still go out and pick something quite satisfactory in their yards, in May. Assuming that they have yards. Assuming that the said yards have not been monocropped for indigestible, chemical-poison-dependent, non-native grass. It’d be a reckless politician who made those assumptions for any electorate in the English-speaking world, today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our current crop of political leaders are nothing if not reckless. They seem to have taken the slogan “Run fast and break things” literally, and they’re leaving a lot of smashed stuff behind. Your summary of the Braverman story hits it right on the nail.


  8. I know after all this time I shouldn’t be scratching my head and thinking ‘Surely, she’ll have to go after this, at least?’ Obviously, the Tory party like ’em nasty and obnoxious. If she does have to go, I suppose the Reform party might become a new home for her since it seems to be welcoming the viler ex-Tories at the moment.

    I never thought I’d yearn for the days of the Tories under John Major, I really didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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