All governments try to control by giving access to favoured journalists, but Johnson is taking it to new levels
It had felt like something of a no-brainer when the Premier League changed the kick-off of Spurs game against last seasons champions, Manchester City, to suit the Sky TV schedules. Why would I want to put myself through the pain of watching my team get annihilated when I also had tickets to see Ermonela Jaho give her debut recital at Wigmore Hall on the same day and there wasnt enough time to do both?
But watching the match on TV (well, all but the last 10 minutes) before we headed off into central London, I began to have my doubts. This was the game in which Spurs managed to concentrate their entire seasons good luck into 90 minutes. Man City totally dominated the game, while Spurs, despite playing just as indifferently as they have for most of the season, scored from the only two shots they had in the first 89 minutes. It was the jammiest 2-0 win you will ever see and Spurs now only need another three points to be sure of avoiding relegation. Surely even they cant screw this up?
But once at the concert I knew I had made the right call. Two hours of the most sublime music making. Jaho is the worlds finest soprano. End of. Her ability to inhabit the roles she sings is astonishing, as is her vocal range. No one can break your heart with a floated note while tears stream down her face quite like her. For anyone who has never heard of her, make time to check her out on YouTube. Your soul will be refreshed.
There was open laughter in the Commons as the junior minister Chloe Smith, who had been sent out to answer an urgent question because Michael Gove wasnt feeling quite brave enough to take the hit, declared that the previous day had been a good example of the governments commitment to openness with the press and the principles of media freedom.
A quick recap. At a lobby briefing on Monday, No 10 had divided the journalists into two sections on either side of the carpet and told one lot that they were being kicked out. After a brief row, every journalist present walked out. No 10 then tried to spin the walkout as a misunderstanding: the briefing had been for specialists only but the only specialist present was among those who had been refused access.
Earlier in the day I had found myself on the wrong end of a Downing Street exclusion order when I was banned from attending the prime ministers Brexit speech in Greenwich. The official version was that it was strictly one journalist per media outlet and the Guardian already had someone going. Only the Times was mysteriously allowed two journalists. A colleague who was there took a photo of several rows of empty seats.
All governments try to control the media agenda by granting special access to favoured journalists who they trust not to question their side of the story, but Boris and Classic Dom are taking it to new levels. Even when her government was imploding Theresa May never tried to exclude me from anything to which other sketch writers were invited.
Preparations to host COP 26, the UN climate change conference, in Glasgow later this year appear to be in total disarray following the sacking of former Tory minister, Claire ONeill, as head of the UKs organisation team. No 10 has claimed ONeill was not up to the job, while she has told the media that the government was hopelessly disengaged from COP26 and Boris Johnson didnt really understand the realities of climate change. Since then it has emerged that David Cameron was offered ONeills job but turned it down on the grounds he was a bit busy. Maybe, too, the money on offer just wasnt enough for him to rearrange his diary. Its now emerged that Cameron has made at least 1.6m probably a great deal more from various well-paid gigs that appear to have required little effort between leaving office in 2016 and April last year. Brexit has certainly been extremely kind to his bank balance. As it has to May. For the current register of interests shows that since stepping down as prime minister in July last year, May has earned 400,000 in addition to her MP salary. Bizarrely, the bulk of that money has come from public speaking. For one speech to JP Morgan Chase in London that would have taken up a maximum of five hours in preparation, travel and delivery time, May trousered a mere 75K. Since there cant be anyone who hasnt heard her give a speech, one can only assume the former PM was hired as a comedy or curiosity act. There are few people who can lose an audience quite so quickly as May. So, as someone who has done as much anyone to publicise Mays difficulties with sentence construction and absence of meaning, Im now waiting for my 15% commission. It would be my own Brexit bounce.
Don Powell, Slades drummer for the best part of 60 years, claims he has been fired from the group by email. Youd have thought the frontman, Dave Hill, might have at least chosen to end such a long relationship by FaceTime but perhaps he only does that for people he has known for 75 years. Presumably, Dave still considered Don to be a relative newcomer to the band. Bizarrely, for someone who was pathologically unreliable and totally disengaged throughout my 20s while doing a series of jobs in which my employers clearly regretted my existence almost as much as I did, I have only ever been sacked once. And that was totally deserved and done face to face. It was during the heatwave of 1976 and I was working an ice cream machine, that would have failed all current health and safety legislation, outside a souvenir shop in Leicester Square. After a couple of months my time-keeping had become increasingly erratic principally because I was up most nights taking large quantities of every drug on offer and was finding it harder and harder to fit in a job around my antisocial life. One afternoon I was startled to get a tap on my shoulder. My boss had been doing his rounds he owned numerous concessions in the West End and had found me passed out while propped up against the ice cream machine. He didnt even bother to shout at me. He just gave me a weary look of resignation and politely told me it was time I went home and didnt come back. I could only agree. Im not sure who was more relieved, him or me.
It seems hard to believe that it is still only early February as the year seems to be dragging by. Not that I have managed to achieve that much while time has slowed down. Rather, my inner world has been dominated with feelings of acute anxiety, depression and a sense of futility. On many days it has been a real battle to get out of bed. Things that should provide pleasure have felt increasingly transient and out of reach while even my dreams have given me no respite from a feeling of dread. At times I have felt as if I was doing little more than existing. Going through the motions of being John. Or a barely remembered version of John. Ive been too depressed even to worry about getting the coronavirus. As ever, my family have done more than their fair share of holding me together. As have friends and work colleagues, and seeing the garden coming to life each day always gives me a moments buzz. If the bananas, palms and echiums can survive the winter, then so can I. But Ive also had so much support from so many readers. Some have sent random gifts, such as old Spurs photographs from the 60s and 70s, others have written emails of encouragement. Just last week I had dozens of emails telling me where I could find a red squirrel. Come the spring, Im off to either Brownsea Island or the Isle of Wight and will report back. Only last night at a book event in Haslemere, a reader gave me a pot made from the clay under the old White Hart Lane pitch more than 100 years ago. The gift couldnt have been more perfect, combining my passion for football and ceramics. So a big thank you to all of you for helping keep me sane. Ish.
Digested week, digested: Become more accountable, the unelected Baroness Morgan of Turncotes tells the BBC.