Johnson might like to play the fool, and think it funny to impersonate the original ‘wally with the brolly’ Steve McClaren, but he’s Prime Minister and expected to show respect when the occasion demands it.
He’d already had one umbrella malfunction on Tuesday, appearing both rain-soaked and dishevelled while undertaking interviews at Surrey Police HQ, before heading to Staffordshire the next day for an occasion of great solemnity.
Here Johnson – and the Prince of Wales – were representing the nation at the unveiling of a stunning monument at the National Memorial Arboretum to honour the 5,000 police officers who have all fallen in the line of duty.
And while Prince Charles sat with great dignity under his umbrella when a shower interrupted proceedings briefly, Johnson became a laughing stock when his brolly threatened to take off.
The PM’s brolly then turned itself inside out – Johnson was helpless by this point as he laughed it off with great jocularity while Charles cringed with embarrassment – before an aide came to his rescue and took control of the umbrella.
Writing as someone who has, in the long past, had to attend the funeral of a distant relative who was a police officer who was killed while responding to a major incident, I found Johnson’s behaviour to be insulting. Even though he did speak quite movingly, and I acknowledge that, his presence was a distraction when the focus needed to be on the stunning memorial and what it means to the police family.
It was, frankly, insulting at a time when the PM – and Home Secretary Priti Patel – seem more interested in being pictured with police dogs who can’t answer back than engaging with rank and file officers over contentious issues like pay.
There’s a pattern emerging. On July 30 last year, Johnson and Patel went all gooey-eyed and posed for photos with police dogs and their handlers during a joint visit to North Yorkshire Police’s HQ in Northallerton.
Now, one year on, it was the same at Surrey Police – the PM and Home Secretary preferring the company of canine cops, and their handlers, for pictures rather than a televised Q&A session with frontline officers.
And while there was a reception of sorts in Downing Street this week for a very select group of police personnel, it had all the hallmarks of a token gesture rather than a concerted push to understand why the Police Federation has lost confidence in the Home Secretary.
As such, these crimes against politics – and policing – cannot go unacknowledged, even when the offender is the Prime Minister.
ON the one hand, it is comforting that pressure is growing for Paula Vennells – the disgraced former Post Office chief – to be stripped of her CBE after dozens of subpostmasters were wrongly convicted of fraud in one of the UK’s biggest ever miscarriages of justice.
The Cabinet Office and the Government are looking to see if Vennells – and other Post Office bosses who have been honoured in the past – should lose their titles, an issue I have highlighted in previous columns in order to preserve the honours system’s integrity.
Yet why is not possible for disgraced individuals to hand back their honours if they feel they’re no longer meritorious – or do such people have no moral conscience? After all, what makes the Vennells case even more galling is that she was ordained in the Church of England as a deacon in 2005 and as a priest in 2006.
ANOTHER Grade F for Failure for Gavin Williamson – the country’s worst ever Education Secretary (and there’s no shortage of contenders). It comes after a primary school in Walsall won a landmark ruling in the High Court to stop Williamson forcing it to become an academy outside the auspices of its LEA.
The High Court described Williamson’s stance as “irrational” while the school concerned has continued to make significant progress in the wake of the critical Ofsted report that prompted the legal battle.
Three questions. Why did Williamson and his officials even allow this dispute to end up in the country’s highest court? Who is footing the legal costs? How is his position still tenable after such a humiliating ruling?
FORMER BBC political correspondent Carole Walker’s polemic Lobby Life offers a fascinating insight into how past governments have tried to manage – and even manipulate – the media.
Her best anecdote was when Clement Attlee’s press secretary Francis Williams wanted a telex machine in Downing Street to ensure access to the latest news reports.
Attlee’s resistance to the simple request cracked when it was suggested that it would enable him to receive up-to-date cricket scores.
A week later, the-then PM went to his press chief: “Francis, you know my cricket machine at the Cabinet door? When I checked it out just now for the lunchtime score at Lord’s, it was ticking out the decisions and subjects discussed at the Cabinet meeting this morning. How can it do that?”
Attlee was unaware about that media briefings even took place – a gentle naivety that was indicative of the post-war years rather than today’s politics where opinion polls rather than principles dictate policy.
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