“A very British way” of saying no: It’s the news from Britain
Our most recent ex-prime minister, Liz Truss, may not have outlasted that famous lettuce, but she hasn’t dropped out of the news.
In spite of being prime minister for only 44 days, she and the loyalists who stayed in place around her insisted she had the right to draw up a resignation honors list–a list outgoing prime ministers create to nominate supporters, donors, and hangers-on for knighthoods or seats in the House of Lords.
I’m not sure if a knighthood’s worth much, financially speaking, but a member of the Lords can collect £323 for any day they bother to show up, which a lot of them don’t. And they get bragging rights and can get people to call Lord or Baroness Whatsit and wear a very nice ermine robe on dress-up days.
At least it’s very nice if you go for that sort of thing, although it’s a lot like a bridesmaid’s dress: Where can you wear it once the wedding’s over?
That may be why they’re lent to the Lords, not given.
Sorry, did I go off topic there?
Other than the money, the robe, and the bragging rights, I’m not sure what a person gets out of being in the House of Lords, but who’s there matters to the rest of us because they have a political impact. The more of its loyalists a party packs in there, the better. For it, if not for the country.
There’s a certain irony in a party–the Conservatives–adding to the House of Lords after it argued for slimming down the Commons needed because it was too expensive, but that was a while ago and it’s okay because we’ve all forgotten about it.
But we were talking about our most recent ex-prime minister, Liz of the Lettuce. There was a lot of push and pull over whether she should get to submit an honor list–or for that matter whether Boris Johnson, who lasted longer but left office in disgrace and is surely still hoping to bumble back in, should. Rumor has it that the word honor filed a lawsuit at being associated with either of them, but I haven’t been able to confirm that in the responsible press.
Now Buckingham Palace has stepped in to handle the situation in what an anonymous source (this is from the responsible press) described as “a very British way,” telling Truss that she can’t submit a long list. That apparently means she can submit a short one, but at least someone’s setting limits.
How will they do that?
“It will be a case of . . . you don’t want to embarrass the king, do you?” No formal rules govern the system of resignation honors (that may in itself be very British: This is a country with an unwritten constitution, after all) but tradition dictates that the new prime minister doesn’t object to the former prime minister’s nominees. So “don’t embarrass the king”? Tradition allows for that.
As an ex-PM, Truss is also eligible for the £115,000 per year that former prime ministers are allowed to collect in order to fund a private office to handle the public role that’s at least theoretically involved in being a former prime minister, and there was, briefly, a flap about whether 45 days in office justified the money. No one seems to be arguing that she should get the money, but we’ve all gone on to new outrages since then.
We have the attention span of a lettuce lately.
There were (and still are) assorted rumors that the money was a pension. It isn’t.
When Boris Johnson dropped out of the latest contest for prime minister, leaving the way open for Rishi Sunak to waltz in without Conservative Party members voting on their–and our–new leader, speculation was that he did it because he didn’t have enough support.
Not so. It turns out he did have enough support, and he also had some advice (or so people in the know believe) that if he lost to Sunak it would cut into his potential earnings on the international speaking circuit. So to hell with leading the country. Let’s make cash.
Johnson still hasn’t submitted his list of resignation honors. We may have some outrage left when that happens or we may be tapped out by then.
Now that Truss is safely out of office, a former aide’s come forward to say that when she was justice secretary she avoided appearing on BBC’s Question Time by claiming family members had died–ones the aides described as “minor people like aunts and cousins and things.”
Forgive me for getting personal about this, but I’m an aunt. Also a cousin. And a thing. So if you happen to be one of my relatives, please understand that I do not appreciate being killed off, even fictionally, no matter how minor I am in your life or how badly you want to avoid some commitment you made. I’m surprisingly central to my own life, thanks.
Eventually she either ran out of relatives or it all got too obvious and she had to appear on the show.
In his first day or so as prime minister, a photo of Rishi Sunak appeared, looking crisp and tailored and being stalked by someone with a lettuce (complete with googly eyes) on his head. The humor there strikes me as particularly British, although I’m damned if I can explain why. If anyone else can, I’d love to hear it. Sadly, I’ve lost the link. It was on Twitter, I think, which is another way of saying I’ll never find it, and googling Sunak, lettuce, and googly eyes got me nowhere.
And here I thought I had such a good relationship with Lord Google.
Speaking of very British ways…
The 1960s Profumo scandal involved British cabinet ministers, a Russian spy, and a young woman who was involved with all of the above. Newly released files note that MI5 pegged the Russian as a spy when he arrived at the London embassy as an assistant naval attache because he didn’t know much about ships and because he carried an umbrella.
“Russians who frequently carry umbrellas are more likely to have an intelligence function,” someone noted.
Keep that in mind. You never know when it’ll prove useful.
In other political news
A while ago, Jeremy Hunt, currently the chancellor of the exchequer–a.k.a. the guy who’s in charge of the government’s money and on a good day is expected to make taxing, spending, and borrowing match, or at least not set each other on fire–set up a charity (if you’re American, that’s a nonprofit) called Patient Safety Watch to research preventable harm in healthcare. In the year that ended in January 2022, it spent two-thirds of its income–that’s something more than £110,000–paying its only employee, who’s it’s chief executive and who just happens to be Hunt’s former advisor, Adam Smith.
Smith lost his job as Hunt’s advisor in a 2012 lobbying scandal but is now Hunt’s parliamentary aide because we have the attention span of a lettuce.
Hunt set up the charity in 2019 and part-funds it himself. So far, it’s produced zero papers.
Sorry–”appears to have produced” zero papers.
And in the nonpolitical news
Since this is a roundup of the British news, let’s go to some art news from Germany, which for the sake of clarity I should remind you is not in Britain, it’s in, um, Germany.
A painting by Piet Mondrian that’s been hanging in a museum in Dusseldorf since 1980 turns out to be upside down.
Why couldn’t anybody tell? Mondrian was an abstract artist–so abstract that he painted nothing but grids–and he never got around to signing this one, so they didn’t have much to go on, but a photograph of his studio shows it hanging the other way around, so presumably that’s what Mondrian had in mind.
But you know what? In a new show of his work, they’re going to hang it the way it’s been anyway.
A study reports that unborn babies grimace when their mothers swallow capsules packed with powdered kale 20 minutes before an ultrasound. They don’t grimace when the mothers swallow capsules filled with powdered carrots.
Use that information in whatever way suits you.
A study estimates that 20 quadrillion ants live on earth.
How many ants in a single quadrillion? Lots. Enough that there are 2.5 million ants to every human now living.
Use that in whatever way suits you as well.