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Manchester

This morning I don’t want to read the newspapers, because I know what they’ll say. I know what the police will say, what the politicians will say, what the eyewitnesses will say. I know the kind of things families will say, ranging through grief, fear, blame and anger.

I am no more or less shocked than I was after the Bataclan, Sousse, Nice and the countless bombings in Baghdad. And I’m not surprised. How could one be, when the techniques and the materials for bombing are freely available, and when the motivation among the few is undimmed?

I am relieved that my daughters, and the daughters of friends (as far as I know) were not caught in the explosion – this time. Next time, it might be them, me, anyone. And there will be a next time. This is not going to end soon. I think everyone whose eyes are open knows this, even though we hoped that it wouldn’t happen again in our country. As did the French, the Germans, the Americans, the Turks, the Spanish and the Belgians.

The strange thing is that as the explosion was doing its work in Manchester, I was at home taking a second look at Tom Holland’s documentary, ISIS – The Origins of Violence.

Holland shows footage from the Bataclan. We watch the reaction on his face as he watches ISIS execution videos. As he walks through the ruins of Sinjar, where ISIS killed the men and the old women and enslaved the girls, and where unexploded bombs may be waiting among the rubble, he doubles over with nausea.

He interviews a Salafi sheikh in Jordan, a man said to encourage young people to fight in Syria. With a face devoid of expression and a voice devoid of tonal variation, Abu Sayyaf tells Holland why it is acceptable – and indeed an obligation – to put unbelievers and apostates to death, according to his reading of the Koran.

Holland’s documentary is unusual in that as the narrator he finds it hard to maintain the mask of objectivity that seasoned journalists assume in dangerous locations. Perhaps that’s because he’s not a journalist.

He’s a historian, more steeped in the complexity of this story than most others. As the author of In the Shadow of the Sword, in which he discusses the origins of Islam and comes to conclusions that did not endear him to many Muslims, he has reason to be fearful for his own safety.

He’s a brave man. He must have known that his new work would result in messages of hate or worse via Twitter, where he’s an active presence. And I suspect that this is already happening.

Courage comes in many shapes. The sad-eyed Christian monk whose monastery overlooks Mosul exemplifies the kind of courage that comes from faith. As one of only two monks left in what since the third century CE has been a flourishing religious community, he tells Holland that he is not afraid of ISIS, because they cannot do worse than to kill him.

For those of us in the UK, digesting the consequences and implications of the Manchester bombing, the monk’s words are worth thinking about.

They cannot do worse than to kill us. That’s a hard mantra to live by. But it implies that we will not die inside before our time through fear, hatred and anger. That we will continue to live our lives, mindful of risks yet not dominated by them. That we will think the best of people before we suspect the worst. And that as a country we will not exclude, marginalise or persecute the many because of the actions of the few.

Pious words, platitudes even. You will hear them today from pundits, politicians and priests. And rightly so in my opinion. But can we live up to them? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, life goes on. As it does in Lalish, the spiritual home of the Yazidis, considered by ISIS to be devil worshippers, and from where in Tom Holland’s film the smiling faces of the innocent shone out.

Peace in the skies – legal eagles find the answer

A couple of American law professors have been grappling with one of the most pressing problems of the modern age: how to stop people getting into fights over reclining seats on aircraft. According to the London Times, they claim that the most equitable answer is for people who wish to push their seats back into the precious space occupied by passengers in the row behind to offer them drinks or snacks.

I think they’re on to something, even if it would take some serious cultural reorientation for one passenger actually to speak to another on a flight unless it’s to complain about their behaviour or, worse still, to threaten to kill them.

Another angle the professors came up with was for the passengers to offer each other money for waiving the right to recline. This, apparently, would not be so effective, because the parties would be unlikely to agree on the financial value of not being squashed to death. I suspect that a 300-pound gorilla would probably demand an extremely high price for losing their precious few inches.

But I can imagine how passengers could profit mightily if they offered to refrain from a wider range of legal but antisocial behaviour.

For example, how much would you pay if the mother of a screaming child offered to silence the infant? She could probably collect from everyone within a ten-metre radius of the wailing monster. All she would have to do would be to forget to feed it for the first half hour, and bingo! The money starts rolling in.

Other commercial opportunities might include “ten bucks or I take off my shoes”. There could also be a flatulence levy, to be exacted by anyone brave enough to admit that they have a problem best relieved by a trip to the toilet rather than in the comfort of their seat.

Threatening to introduce exotic, rather than noxious, odours into the cabin is another possibility, especially if the flight is coming from countries where people like to bring their own food on board. A curry waiver perhaps?

And then there’s the durian, probably the foulest-smelling fruit on the planet. Airlines in south-east Asia ban passengers from bringing it on their aircraft. But as far as I’m aware, operators outside the region don’t even know what a durian is, so the extortion value might be extremely high, say, on an Air Canada flight. Best not to unleash a durian salad on a US aircraft, though. You might end up diverting the plane and being shot by airport security staff wearing gas masks.

But if you’re flying across America, you might well earn a few bucks if, after uttering a few sentences including words like jihad and Raqqa, you agree only to speak English rather than your native tongue, because your animated Arabic conversation with your mother-in-law makes your fellow passengers uncomfortable. That would give you plenty of latitude, since to the average American ear a good fifty percent of all world languages sound like Arabic. Again though, anyone trying this one should be aware that they run the risk of being terminated with extreme prejudice by an over-anxious sky marshal.

You might think that some of these scenarios are beyond ridiculous, and you’d be right – they’re the product of my warped imagination. But a recent developments in aviation opens the door for some level of passenger interaction along these lines.

American Airlines are removing video screens from their new Boeing 737 short-haul aircraft. Instead they will be providing wi-fi that will make flight entertainment available through streaming to the 90% of passengers they say have smart phones or tablets in the cabin. It’s highly likely that other airlines will end up doing the same, at least in economy. It’s not impossible that some bright spark will develop an application that will enable passengers on a flight to talk to each other and to every other passenger – a kind of closed-circuit Twitter.

You could therefore envisage on-line auctions for seat swaps, with transactions going through PayPal. So if you’re a seven-foot basketball player stuck in an ordinary seat, you might be able to post an offer for an exit seat occupied by someone who has no need for the extra space. It would also be useful for anyone separated from friends and family. No need for hard-pressed cabin crew to negotiate on your behalf. Just cut out the intermediary.

There are potential drawbacks of course, such as messages announcing “I have a bomb” or “we’re all gonna die”, that induce mass panic. But passengers can do that perfectly well without wi-fi. And any system that’s acceptable to the airline would be able to link the message to a seat number, thus bringing hell and damnation upon the perpetrator.

If our law professors are correct, there’s a price for everything. Provided the airlines themselves – impoverished by having to offer travellers large sums of money not to travel on their flights – don’t have to open their coffers, I should have thought that they would be delighted to see their passengers doing deals among themselves to make their journeys in flying sardine cans more tolerable.

This in turn, could open up new opportunities for the world’s oldest profession. Standard contracts between passengers, lawsuits for breach of contract – the possibilities are endless. Which is probably why the legal eagles came up with the research in the first place. Perish the thought!

Trump in Saudi Arabia – much to admire, even more to envy

It’s good to see Donald Trump enjoying the hospitality of the Saudis. The sword dancing must be a welcome change from the grim corridors of Washington, where knives seem to await the poor man at every corner.

Trump and Saudi Arabia are made for each other. I’m pretty sure the President is finding much to admire, and perhaps even more to envy.

The Saudis, for example, respect the elderly. At 70, Trump is years past the retirement age of the average Saudi, so he definitely counts as worthy of deference.

They love KFC and MacDonalds. They love big buildings. In their gilded palaces, the décor will make him feel as though he is in Trump Tower. The chairs are built for Trump-sized rumps.

In Saudi Arabia, women know their place in traditional society. When the head of the house goes shopping, his wives follow him several steps behind – a practice with which Melania Trump would be familiar, judging by the recent picture of her following him down the steps of Air Force One.

They have a respectful press. It is against the law to insult officials – even more so to disobey the King. When good things happen, it is because the King ordered them to happen. It’s therefore customary for ministers, officials and the general public to thank him effusively for all the benefits conferred upon the country. Trump would love it if that happened back home.

When the King decided to build a wall along the Kingdom’s northern border, it got built, with no need to seek congressional budget approval. The Saudis have an immigrant problem – too many foreign workers and not enough Saudis in jobs. They are able to deal with it unhindered by their courts of law.

Trump might also notice that there are only three golf courses in the country worthy of the name. If he’s smart, he should be able to rectify that by negotiating – at arm’s length of course – lending his brand to a slew of country clubs. Persuading the Saudis to take up golf en masse might be a little more difficult, but you never know what magic the President might be able to work.

I’ve no doubt that he will have a fund of stories with which to entertain his cronies back in Mar a Largo – if he can remember them. And the Saudis will no doubt look on the trip as an important step in re-kindling the alliance between the two countries. They too might have a few stories to tell, though more discreetly.

Sadly, the biggest favour they could do for America might be beyond their ability or inclination. They could persuade him to stay there.

Unmasked at last – dodgy Brits in America

The Yanks have copped on to us at last. For hundreds of years, we Brits have been exporting the slimiest, most opportunistic gold-digging toe-rags we can find from our decadent society to the pristine shores of the United States. We have been subverting, exploiting and ripping off our gullible American cousins, until finally they realise they’ve been had, and send our ne’er-do-wells scuttling back to whence they came.

All this from a journalist by the name of James Kirchick, who has written a stunning exposé for The Daily Beast. In The Brit Grifters and the Designated American Suckers he takes aim at four individuals whom he believes epitomise the species: Louise Mensch, former novelist, Tory MP and re-born conspiracy theorist; Milo Yiannopoulos, the would-be online media entrepreneur who became an alt.right hero of the hour – for just about an hour; Piers Morgan, former newspaper editor who took over Larry King’s slot on CNN and bombed; and finally, Sebastian Gorka, the sort-of Brit who made a name for himself as a counter-terrorism expert and ended up in the White House on the coattails of Steve Bannon.

To emphasise that our habit of sending our wrong’uns West is not a recent phenomenon, Kirchick quotes from literary figures such as Mark Twain and Scott Fitzgerald, who describe our con-artists and chancers in their novels. Even our own writers – Evelyn Waugh and more recently AA Gill  – he cites as having taken delight in satirising our dubious exports.

He could have gone further, of course. He didn’t mention the impoverished English aristocrats sent across the pond to secure wealthy American brides who would help to restore the family fortunes. Such unions produced people like the notorious British grifter, Winston Churchill, who pulled off the biggest con-trick of all by luring Roosevelt into the Second World War on our side. How Churchill managed to persuade the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbour has yet to be revealed, though no doubt the answer is lurking in an archive somewhere. Something to do with oil, no doubt.

He also doesn’t mention our nefarious scientists, whom we sent to America to help our allies build the nuclear bomb. Or, for that matter, the dodgy characters we sent to Hollywood – Alfred Hitchcock, (creepy sadist) and Charlie Chaplin (covert commie) being good examples.

Oh yes, we really have exported the worst of the worst. And it’s still happening on a scale Kirchick is too polite describe. People like Ridley Scott, whose latest alien extravaganza is causing movie lovers all over America to wet themselves with terror. Jony Ive, chief designer at Apple, whose products have steadily rotted the brains of the country’s youth. Simon Schama, historian and renaissance man, who has the temerity to counter every tweet by the rightfully-elected president with his own contemptuous counter-posts. And countless other scientists, academics, engineers and writers who have fooled their gullible hosts with second-rate talent.

Come to think of it, how much better off would America not have been right from the start without our cast-offs? What if we’d never come across the pond in the first place? Without those troublesome pilgrims insisting on the right to practice their own beliefs free of English tyranny, there would have been no pesky characters like Franklin, Washington or Jefferson. No Harvard. No English common law. No English, in fact. The lingua franca might have been French or Russian. Le monde nouveau would have been a far more interesting place, full of chefs, philosophers and intellectuals, instead of MacDonalds, Hollywood and Breitbart.

Let’s face it. We Brits have polluted, exploited and spoilt America from way back. And what have we received in return?

Nothing but good. Tech giants who grace us with their presence because they appreciate our rigorous tax regime. Benevolent big data firms who have nudged us on the road to Brexit – for free, of course. Bankers who put up with our miserable climate for negligible gain. And soon to come, the biggest joy of all – a state visit by Donald Trump.

America doesn’t deserve our cast-offs. We should send our best people. Theresa May, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson (who’s half-American anyway), Sir Philip Green, the editor of the Daily Mail, and as many of the cast of Made in Chelsea as are capable of taking a comfort break without dropping their mobile phones down the loo.

That would leave us with our lesser talents. Folks like Steven Hawking, James Dyson, Simon Rattle, Tom Holland, Mark Rylance, Andy Murray, Kate Winslet, Jessica Ennis and Mary Beard.

I’d settle for the stay-at-homes, thank you very much. America, please take our brightest and best. We’d be sad to see them go, but I have a feeling we might muddle through anyway. And those you send back? Well, I’m sure we can find some space for them in the Isle of Wight, where they can cause no more trouble.

Doctor, doctor – my echo chamber is sending me deaf!

 

This is serious. I’m worried that the political echo chamber I live in is starting to give me tinnitus. Or perhaps I should say, turning an existing condition into an intolerable one. But I won’t say that, because then I’d be admitting I had an existing condition rather than a new one, which would invalidate my health insurance cover, wouldn’t it? Or would it?

Ever since early 2016, I’ve tried to disrupt the harmonics of the orchestra of opinion that reaches me from my wishy-washy liberal world. Therefore I read the Daily Mail occasionally (but only occasionally – it has a low overdose threshold). I started following Trump on Twitter. And Farage. And even Boris Johnson. For goodness sake, I even visited Breitbart from time to time.

I wanted to try and understand where the other guy was coming from. I failed. I just got angry. Because it’s easy to get angry from afar. That’s what trolls do. And what Trump does.

So I decided not to get angry any more, if I could possibly avoid it. No more shrieking at the TV. No repeat of the omnidirectional, plate-smashing fury with which I greeted the Brexit result. No matter that the effort of restraining myself brought me out in boils. Keep Calm and Carry On started feeling like sensible advice rather than a commercial opportunity.

But since Trump became president, the echo chamber, full of the sweet sounds of reason, has started to feel like a pressure cooker. The voices of reason were sounding like angry wasps trapped in a fish bowl. Over the past couple of weeks, since the Comey firing, the wasps have turned into buzz-saws. And now, with the allegations about Trump playing fast and loose with America’s most sensitive intelligence, the buzz-saws are morphing into swarms of shrieking harpies.

Before I lose my hearing altogether, I should break the chamber. I should try going out a bit more.

Maybe I should seek out a few hominids bearing tattoos of the cross of St George. I should sit down with them over a pint or two, and try to understand them as human beings rather than symbols of extremism. I would discover that they love their mothers. That they have nothing against blacks personally (or for blacks, substitute effing foreigners, Muslims, Jews, Pakis and so on) – it’s just that they think we should send the bastards home.

After all, these are the kind of conversations journalists have, especially at election time. So why not a humble member of the public like me?

Perhaps I should re-engage with my Brexit-voting neighbours without accusing them of betraying the country I love – the same accusation they made against me when I voted for Blair in 1997.

Or perhaps I should take a trip to some of the less-visited parts of the United States, where I can commune with pussy-grabbers, believers in redemption, purveyors of fake news, wall builders and tax cutters. I should bask in our common humanity.

And who knows, after a few weeks with all those whom my echo chamber tells me I should deplore, the harpies will stop. The righteously indignant will go away. I will no longer worry about Trump handing out secrets to visiting Russians like chocolate chip cookies, or about billionaires subverting British democracy.

I will have learned to love the bomb. I will have become comfortably numb. And finally, I will love Big Brother.

On the other hand, probably not. I should just get hearing aids.

Brexit, Trump and the role of big data – one conspiracy theory worth investigating

I’m not someone who flies around peddling conspiracy theories. Most of the stuff I encounter is baseless, even more so since politically-motivated websites started deliberately seeding the internet with their creations.

But I make one exception. I believe that there’s enough evidence to make at least a prima facie case that a group of right-wing American billionaires used their money and technology to subvert Britain’s EU Referendum. They then went on to use the same techniques to win the US election for Donald Trump. I also believe that the UK’s election laws are incapable from preventing the same techniques from being deployed again – specifically in the current General Election campaign.

You might think that as a fervent Remainer who despises everything Donald Trump stands for, I’m just another gullible fool who believes what he wants to believe on the basis of the thinnest of evidence.

If so, read no further.

But if you’ve followed my blog over the past months and years, I might have convinced you that I’m reasonably rational, and that I’m not a “true believer” in anything. As for conspiracy theories, here’s a piece I wrote three yours ago that sums up my scepticism about the wider shores of human belief: Conspiracy Theories – the truth isn’t out there, it’s right in front of us (if we care to look).

I don’t believe in the grassy knoll. I don’t believe that the neoconservatives brought down the twin towers. I do believe that we went to the moon. I don’t believe that George Bush Senior is a member of a reptile elite running the world. And I don’t believe that a bunch of clapped-out politicians known as the Bilderberg Group is running it either. Roswell, alien abductions, X-files? Not convinced. And sadly, I don’t believe that the passengers of MH370 are hunkered down in a remote Pacific island waiting to be rescued from the clutches of a demented pilot.

Those who believe in conspiracies often do so because the theories chime with their world view. In other words “they sound right”. And if they read about the theory from a source they trust, they’re even more likely to believe it. So if you were a Breitbart reader before the US election, you would be well primed to believe that Hillary Clinton was the devil incarnate.

Three months ago I wrote about an article by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer newspaper. In my piece – Are we really Bannon fodder in an information war? – I summarised Cadwalladr’s article thus:

Robert Mercer is a billionaire hedge fund owner who has bankrolled several organisations in order to promote his right-wing, libertarian views. He is a former IBM employee with a deep understanding of Big Data.

He’s a buddy of Steve Bannon and an investor in right-wing news site Breitbart. Another of the companies in which Mercer has invested is Cambridge Analytica, who have amassed profiles of over 220 million Americans based on data hoovered up from Facebook. Using artificial intelligence and working with information gathered from the likes we click on a daily basis, CA is able to help politicians tailor messages that tap into and manipulate the emotions of targeted voters.

Cambridge Analytica worked for Trump, and also provided support for Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign – the latter for no charge. It is basically, according to Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina, a propaganda machine.

The company inherited a number of its techniques from another company in which Mercer is involved – the SCL Group, from which it was spun off in 2013. The two companies retain close links.

According to Cadwalladr, the relationship between the two companies is thus:

“Emma Briant, a propaganda specialist at the University of Sheffield, wrote about SCL Group in her 2015 book, Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change. Cambridge Analytica has the technological tools to effect behavioural and psychological change, she said, but it’s SCL that strategises it. It has specialised, at the highest level – for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others – in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs.”

Since then, Cadwalladr has discovered more about the companies that Mercer controls, and about the relationships of the various pro-leave campaign groups to his companies.

If you are interested in the future of democracy in your country – and not just in Britain – I urge you to read her latest article, The Great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

You might find it disturbing. As with her previous piece, I had to read it twice before I got a proper grasp of what she’s saying.

And in case you’re not familiar with the UK media landscape, the newspaper she writes for is one of the oldest in Britain. It was first published in 1791. It has a reputation as a responsible publication that holds its staff to rigorous journalistic standards. Which is why I wrote earlier about trusting the source.

I can’t know for sure whether Mr Mercer and his crew were responsible for tipping the balance in favour of the Leave campaigns, or whether any laws were broken in the process. But I do believe that the British Government should set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to find out, and also to report on whether Britain’s election laws are still fit for purpose.

And if it was legally permissible to do so, I would be happy to see certain individuals put in a darkened room and asked some very hard questions in the harsh glare of a spotlight.

Common sense says that the government would go to any lengths to avoid such an inquiry, since it could quite possibly undermine the legitimacy of the referendum, and therefore of the government’s subsequent acts.

But it’s conceivable that as more information emerges about the possible subversion of the US election, and especially if that information also relates to the British referendum, the government might find itself forced to react, no matter how traumatic the consequences.

The Conservatives will then have the same choice as the Republicans should they be asked to impeach Donald Trump: do we act in the interests of the party, or of the nation?

A courtier’s life is not a happy one – ask Nick Timothy, Fiona Hill, Reince Priebus…..and Sejanus

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How galling it must have been for Rome’s first century aristocracy to have had to bend the knee towards Lucius Aelius Sejanus, commander of the Emperor Tiberius’s Praetorian Guard. While the emperor himself spent his days indulging in pederastic pursuits at his villa on the island of Capri, Sejanus, a middle-class upstart, effectively ran the empire from Rome.

He gradually acquired more and more power until Tiberius, whether at the instigation of others or thanks to his own paranoia, had him arrested and condemned for treason. He was strangled and thrown down the wonderfully-named Gemonian Stairs, where the Roman mob, who only days before had revered him as a surrogate emperor, ripped his corpse to pieces.

After his death, the Senate passed a motion of damnatio memoriae, though which he was reduced to a non-person. All mentions of him were erased from the official records. His name was even rubbed out on coin of the realm (as in the pic above). Think Stalin, and the numerous comrades whom he airbrushed out of history.

Such are the risks of being a creature of the powerful.

I thought of Sejanus when I read an article by Dominic Lawson in the UK Sunday Times, in which he describes the disgruntlement of senior Conservatives at the power of Theresa May’s two senior advisers – chiefs of staff as they would be known in America.

According to Lawson, Nicholas Timothy and Fiona Hill are the “second and third most important political figures in the land”. “As one Tory frequently in and out of No 10 put it to me: “try and imagine how powerful Nick Timothy is. Now multiply by 400. You still haven’t got it.”” Wow.

I imagine Lawson’s source nervously whispering these words from the corner of the mouth, looking anxiously around for informers who might scuttle gleefully back to the Ministry of Truth. Or perhaps sitting on a park bench, as spies and whistle-blowers are wont to do.

Timothy, by some accounts, is the scarier of the two. His wrath is said to be terrible to behold and painful to endure. He certainly looks intimidating. From afar he bears a distinct resemblance to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the chronicler of the gulags. Though he would probably prefer to be compared with the Marquess of Salisbury, the magnificently bearded 19th Century Tory Prime Minister.

But the quiet animus of May’s senior colleagues in Parliament for these two “advisers” suggests that their lives might not be a bed of roses.

Resented by many who feel that they should not be denied unfettered access to the supreme leader, the deadly duo are likely to be flattered by sycophants and condescended to by those who feel confident enough to take pot shots at them. Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently described them as “economically illiterate”. Which apparently sent Timothy into one of his rages and led him to direct a volley of negative briefings against the mild-mannered Hammond.

They go their merry ways enforcing the will of the leader, making enemies here, there and anywhere. They know they are protected until such time as May loses faith in them, or until they make a mistake so toxic that she feels it necessary for them to fall on their swords.

A recipe for paranoia and insecurity, I should have thought. And yet for them, it might well feel like the best of times as well as the worst. The excitement at reaching the peak of politics on the coat-tails of a leader must be intoxicating.

Unlike senior civil servants, who are required to pass rigorous entry exams and endure endless challenges from their peers as they rise up a rigid hierarchy to the top, there’s no formal qualification required of a political adviser beyond the security services certifying that they’re not fraudsters, perverts or Russian spies.  And unlike Members of Parliament, who have to endure the indignity of facing the electorate every few years, advisers are unelected.

Of  course, Timothy and Hill are not the only sidekicks to acquire the reputation of overweening insolence in recent years. Tony Blair’s henchpeople were a pretty robust bunch, not least the fearsome Alistair Campbell. But the current duo seem to have come under the cross-hairs fairly early in their careers.

Perhaps this is because they are perceived to be serving – not to say manipulating – a relatively passive boss who relies on them more heavily than her jealous colleagues think appropriate. So much so that it’s tempting to wonder how many of the bright ideas that emerge from Downing Street are the result of May’s own philosophy as opposed to those of her flunkies. Not a question you would have asked about Margaret Thatcher, I think.

Still, whatever the relationship between queen and courtiers, it seems to work for now.

But if Timothy and Hill might occasionally bemoan the insecurity and isolation of their place at the top, perhaps they should look across the Atlantic and ponder the lot of the hired hands who work in the White House.

Imagine a day in the life of the unfortunate Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff. Surrounded by a web of poisonous relationships between scheming courtiers who hate each other. Walking corridors where staff nervously eye their mobile phones, occasionally muttering “POTUS is tweeting again…Jesus!” Constantly dealing with outrage and confusion over Trump’s utterances, and fending off lawsuits triggered by his flawed executive orders. Bombshells to the left and tantrums to the right.

How calm the waters of Downing Street must feel in comparison. But Timothy and Hill will have their crises too, especially when the Brexit negotiations start unravelling. And Theresa May will not be content to be seen as a pliant plaything in the hands of two ambitious ideologues.

At some stage their Sejanus moment will surely arrive.

At that point I won’t feel too sorry for them, or for the hapless Priebus floundering in the White House. After all, when the end comes they will not be thrown unceremoniously down the Gemonian Stairs to be dismembered by the mob and eaten by wild dogs. The British duo will be loaded with gongs, and most likely will be given seats in the House of Lords. Lucrative gigs on the boards of public bodies await, though unlike their predecessors, they won’t be able escape to the comforts of a nice little earner in Brussels.

And if all else fails for them and for Priebus, there’s always the backstop of a healthy advance for their memoirs – the more spiteful, snarky and revealing the better. In fact, Preibus is in a particularly good place – whoever is the first to hit the streets with the story of Trump in the White House is likely to earn a fortune.

Which would be more than Sejanus had to show for a career living by the sword in the service of his emperor. But at least his name has lived for two thousand years, despite Tiberius’s best efforts to ensure otherwise. That’s far longer than is likely to be the case for today’s zealous enforcers. I give them thirty years, tops.

Will they care? I doubt it.

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