Even if it was primarily intended as a diversionary tactic to stop people asking her about Brexit for a few days, it was good to hear Theresa May talking about making mental health a priority. Though I couldn’t help thinking her words might have sounded a little more sincere if she had offered a little more than the £1bn for mental health services that David Cameron had promised, but never delivered, in an almost identical speech the year before. Under the Conservative and coalition governments there have been 4,000 fewer nurses and 600 fewer doctors working in mental health. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to pay for my all-too-frequent visits to psychiatrists and therapists over the past 30 years; without that ability, I dread to think what would have happened to me. Or if I would still be around. But I’m all too aware that many people aren’t that lucky, and either have to struggle on alone or wait a long time to get help. By which time for some it will have been too late.
The last that I – and most others – saw of Dominic Cummings, the eccentric former special adviser to Michael Gove and passionate advocate for Brexit, was at his remarkable appearance before the Treasury select committee during the EU referendum campaign. He got things off to a bad start by telling the chair, Andrew Tyrie, how busy he was and that he had to get away early. He then refused to engage with the committee’s concerns about the accuracy of Vote Leave’s figures. “It’s only a couple of decimal points,” he shrugged petulantly. “There’s quite a few decimal points between £33bn and £16bn,” Tyrie observed. At which point Cummings started muttering about Tyrie chatting to his wife in his slippers, just in case he hadn’t been offensive enough already. But now Cummings has partially re-emerged, having written a detailed blog about the Vote Leave campaign. Much of it is very entertaining but, perhaps not surprisingly, some of it doesn’t ring entirely true. He insists that both Boris Johnson and Gove could barely contain their excitement the morning after the referendum. That doesn’t quite square with the impression left with those of us who attended their joint press conference. Johnson acted like a mute zombie while Gove looked like someone who had come down off a bad trip to discover he had murdered his best friend.
Fifa has come in for a lot of criticism for expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 countries from 2026. Having just under a quarter of all the world’s countries qualifying for the finals does seem rather excessive – though maybe not if you’re Scottish as your team will probably still struggle to make the cut. I suspect the increase in numbers has more to do with lining Fifa’s pockets than making football more inclusive. But at least one good thing should come out of it – the 2026 Panini sticker album should be the biggest yet. Panini began making sticker albums for the 1970 World Cup and it was rather a low-key affair. For a start only 16 teams appeared in the finals and Panini didn’t even bother to print stickers for all the players; teams like Israel and Peru were designated a squad of just 11 players. Still, if you’re like me, you’re sitting on a completed 1970 album your nerdiness has paid off to the tune of about £1,500. By Rio 2014, the number of stickers had expanded well into the 600s and for 2026 we might even get past the 1,000 mark.
What with the coalition, the Scottish referendum, the 2015 general election and Brexit it’s been a good few years to be a political sketch writer. Scarcely a week has gone by without at least one politician managing to embarrass themselves. This week we had Theresa May slagging off the Red Cross and Jeremy Corbyn contradicting himself at least three times on the same day of what was supposed to be his relaunch. But part of me would love to be in the US right now. Donald Trump may not be great for the US but he’s a gift to satire. The president-elect’s Twitter feed is a goldmine in itself. With Trump there is no filter; he just wakes up in the night and tweets the first thing that comes to mind. No British politician would dare having a pop at Judi Dench the way Trump went for Meryl Streep. More’s the pity. Then there was THAT press conference. If a British politician was caught up in a sex scandal – made up or not – he or she would first try to ride it out in silence and when pushed make a brief two-minute statement with no questions. Trump went for it big time. On and on he went, shit-bagging any member of the press who happened to have upset him and trotting out “germaphobe”’ – a word that once heard can never be forgotten. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
There’s no part of an MP’s life that goes unrecorded these days. A new organisation, Polimonitor, has taken to counting the number of swearwords used by MPs on Twitter. Excluding retweets MPs swore 256 times in 2016, with Labour taking up six of the top 10 places. Perhaps that’s a sign their opinion poll ratings are getting to them. The sweariest MP was Jamie Reed, who has already announced his resignation, with 20. Mike Dugher was second equal with 17. The top Tory was Nicholas Soames, also with 17. It was Brexit that did it for him. Labour’s Jess Phillips – the only woman on the list – will be disappointed to have only made it to fourth place, but not many would bet against her making a concerted effort for top spot in 2017. Perhaps the most surprising entrant was Douglas Carswell who finished in seventh place: the Ukip MP is one of Westminster’s more sensitive souls and usually takes to blocking anyone who doesn’t understand his brilliance rather than swearing at them. I got blocked by him long ago. Still, Carswell’s language might be severely tested if Nigel Farage contests and wins the Stoke byelection following Tristram Hunt’s resignation to become director of the V&A. Carswell and Farage hate each other far more than they do the Tories or Labour and won’t be pleased at having to sit next to each other in Westminster.
Digested week: Snow and showers.