Tag Archives: Michael Gove

Travelling hopefully with Tony Green, Michael Gove, Princess Diana, lizards

Sometimes, to slightly mis-quote Robert Louis Stevenson, it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

It’s what happens along the way that is interesting – the diversions and the sidetracks.

It’s a book, not a hairdressing salon…

Celine’s Salon,” Tony Green said to me in the Soho Theatre Bar, back on June 9th, almost exactly two months ago.

“A hairdressing salon?” I asked.

“No,” said Tony. “Celine’s Salon, The Anthology: Volume 1. Poems, short stories, song lyrics, that sort of thing. 

“Celine used to run her ‘salon’ just round the corner from here. Celine Hispiche. That’s her name. I read a few short stories there. At Celine’s Salon. Now it’s going to be a book. Celine’s Salon, Volume One. The publisher phoned me up and said: Could you do a 600 word short story? One of the stories you read at the club? So I did.”

“What’s it called?” I asked. “Your short story.”

Shape-Shifting Lizards.

“Autobiographical?” I asked.

Tony laughed.

How very kind of him, I thought. But then he is an actor.

There are so many sub-cultures in Soho, let alone in London, that no-one can know them all. Tony Green, the comedy performer formerly known as Sir Gideon Vein, knows lots of sub-cultures and people I don’t.

He took me along to Torture Garden late last century dressed as a cricketer – HE was the one dressed as a cricketer – or maybe it was an homage to Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who – because he (Tony Green) knew Sophie Seashell who was organising the Berlin-Between-The-Wars-type cabaret performances amid the slightly self-conscious fetishism and kinkiness going on in the disused 3-storey warehouse up a back street in Islington.

Celine must have been right under my nose all the time…

I hang my head in shame that I had never heard of Celine Hispiche until two months ago. She started her career as a featured writer at the Royal Court Theatre, progressed to singing duets with Marc Almond on his album Bluegate Fields and playing support to the Human League with her band Nitewreckage.

Then there was touring down the US East Coast with fellow comedians from Saturday Night Live, playing the comedy stage at the Glastonbury Festival, supporting Harry Hill at the Hackney Empire, four consecutive cabaret years at the Edinburgh Fringe and starting Celine’s Salon in 2015 at the Society Club, described as “an arts and culture bookshop in the daytime and a private members Bohemian cocktail lounge in the evening.”

Tony Green in his mask outside Soho Theatre

“So,” I said, two months ago, “Shape-Shifting Lizards?”

“I got the idea,” Tony explained, “because some friends of mine who, at one time were quite well-balanced human beings, have gone… Well, they wouldn’t say ‘Conspiracy Mad’. They would say their eyes have been fully opened to this awful situation…”

“The Covid-19 situation?” I asked.

“Oh no!” said Tony. “Not that! I’m quoting Gilbert & Sullivan here. My eyes are fully opened to this awful situation…

“No, no, not the virus, although they know all about the virus, of course. That’s why none of them are having the vaccination.” 

“Because the world is run by an international cabal of Satanic paedophile cannibals?” I suggested.

“Of course.” said Tony. “I’m not saying this is the truth, but it’s what was told in a pub. You meet some strange people in public houses… So Lady Diana…”

“…was killed by the Cabal?” I guessed.

“Oh definitely,” said Tony. “But this is what was told in a pub… She was ‘nutted-off’ because she found out…”

“…about the Royal Family all being lizards?” I guessed.

“Oh definitely,” said Tony. Prince Philip told her: Whenever you want to see us about anything, always knock on the door first.

“So they have time to shape-change?”

“Of course. And, of course, there was that one unfortunate time she didn’t knock. She burst in and saw and was told If you say anything about this… It wasn’t the fact she was expecting a baby with Dodi Fayed or because the chauffeur was drunk…”

“Whenever you want to see us, always knock on the door first”

“It has to be said,” I suggested, trying to be helpful, “that, in his dying days, Prince Philip did look a bit lizard-like – Did you see that photo in the car?”

“Oh, they’re all lizards,” said Tony with a twinkle in his eye. Well, both eyes. There was more than one twinkle in more than one eye. “On one a occasion, a very well-spoken young actor said to me: Oh, I’ve just heard you’re a ‘Cockney’, aren’t you? I know why all of you Cockney chaps are all so ugly and stunted and stupid. You’re all inbred, aren’t you… And then somebody said: I think he must be confusing Cockneys with the Royal Family.

“You told me you also wrote a novella,” I prompted him.

“Oh – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – yes. It’s called that because the story came to me when I WAS halfway up Arthur’s Seat. In Edinburgh. I think it would make a great film, but it would cost a helluva lot of money. It needs 200 extras. It’s an homage to Edinburgh. It ends with what could possibly be described as a supernatural element. My partner read it and she felt it needed more explaining. I don’t think it does.

“A journalist friend of mine wrote a story about a certain notorious serial killer and he said to me: Do you think I made the ending only too obvious? I told him…”

“What?” I asked.

“Have you read any of Jake Arnott’s books?” Tony asked.

“I’ve seen the TV adaptations,” I told him, “but not read them. Have you read The Long Firm?”

“I have. When I wrote my story – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – it’s nothing at all like Jake Arnott – but I’d been reading a lot of Muriel Spark stuff. It was reading her stuff that prompted me – that and living in Edinburgh…”

Did I mention Tony spends a lot of time in Edinburgh now? Mostly, he says, “as a result of the bleedin’ virus and the lockdown’s etc.” I met him when he was briefly back in London.

Tony Green in Soho, London, not in Edinburgh

Thus the Soho Theatre Bar location.

I forgot to tell you.

It was two months ago. Other things have intervened.

Apologies.

“The hero of my story,” Tony continued, “is called T. Jellicoe Mungham. He wrote a book in 1902 called Dear Oscar, when he was at Cambridge. He was lauded for this book. He is a mischievous but loveable person in my book but also quite wise.”

“Autobiographical?” I asked.

Tony ignored this and continued:

“Muriel Spark is a hero of mine, like Andrew Marr and my idol Michael Gove. All Scots. All I can say about Michael Gove is that the horror film industry’s loss is politics’ gain. You know he was in a film, playing a vicar? Robert Hardy on one side and Christopher Lee on the other. 

Michael Gove: from movie minister to government minister

“Michael Gove was actually adopted and his parents were Socialists. I can only imagine someone said to him when he was quite young: Michael, you can’t keep backing losers. Conservative is just another name for Winner. You’re a Winner. Join the Conservatives and get rid of that Scots accent… Muriel Spark had no Scots accent either.

“Of course, she left Edinburgh when relatively young and lived in Camberwell in London, for years, virtually turning her back on her Scottish/Jewish heritage and becoming a devout Roman Catholic like her friends and admirers Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Funny that she wrote her must famous book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in Edinburgh in the early 1960s on an extended visit to her parents flat in Bruntsfield Place.

“I think my stories have a very Scottish ring… The reason I wrote Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat was because there is NOT a part in it for me. People accuse me of being up my own anus, but I’ve written a story where there’s no part in it for me at all… Did you know Jake Arnott wrote a book about Alastair Crowley?”

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

Fenella Fielding on her 90th birthday (Photo Etienne Gilfillan)

“Just before she died,” Tony continued, “I saw Fenella Fielding do a reading. She was over 90. The reading she did from her autobiography, for a woman of that age, was A1. It was a perfect rendering. The reading was only a few months before her departure. There was a Q&A afterwards and I said to her: It’s very refreshing to hear someone reading as you read. You don’t give the impression of being a luvvie. As an actor, was there anyone you ever worked with you didn’t like?

Oh, that’s a very naughty question, she said. I don’t think I could answer that here. She was a nonagenarian and a likeable one. She knew even months before her demise that she still needed to ‘play the game’.”

Tony Green has returned to Edinburgh now.

Celine’s Salon is published in the UK on 6th September.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t quite say at the beginning of this blog… Sometimes it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. It is the journey that is interesting. The sidetracks. And – hey! – Robert Louis Stevenson ended up in the South Seas Islands, which wasn’t too bad a place to end up at the time.

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Prime Minister enters pig and prize winning sex worker enters politics.

Yesterday's Daily Mail story online

Yesterday’s Daily Mail story online

Yesterday, the Daily Mail alleged that Prime Minister David Cameron, when at Oxford University, put his penis into a dead pig’s severed head as part of a Piers Gaveston Society initiation ceremony.

While trying to guess the source of this story, political blogger Guido Fawkes yesterday mentioned an allegation by the Cherwell student newspaper that Michael Gove (later Secretary of State for Education) participated in a “five-in-a-bed romp” while president of the Oxford Union debating society.

The connection between politicians and sex is long-established.

In June 2013, I blogged about Charlotte Rose when she had just won the Sex Worker of The Year title at the British Erotic Awards. Recently, she won another award – for Recognition to the Industry – from UKAP, the UK Adult Producers’ Network. So I Apple FaceTimed her yesterday.

“It all started last year,” Charlotte told me, “when I did the face-sitting protest. On 1st December, the government created amendments to the 2003 Communications Act so certain activities were now deemed illegal online and face-sitting was one of them. So, on 12th December, I got about 350 people outside Parliament singing Sit On My Face by Monty Python while sitting on people’s faces.”

“Fully clothed?” I asked.

“Fully clothed,” said Charlotte. “It was a cold day. And I did my William Wallace speech at the end: You can try and ban our liberties, but you can never take our sexual freedom. You can see the speeches on my YouTube channel.

We got support from lots of people. I’ve always had support from Lembit Öpik – and from Rupert Everett since I did the Channel 4 documentary Love for Sale with him.

“I did three porn protests. I did the face-sitting one in London; I did the spankathon in Manchester; and I did the whipathon in Brighton.

“I’ve got a new petition coming up which I’ve just started to allow two independent sex workers to be able to work together for safety in regards to brothel keeping. Brothel keeping is against the law. In 2010, Labour looked at allowing 3-4 sex workers to work together. 10,000 signatures would start the ball rolling. 100,000 signatures will hopefully get me a debate if I can get the right people on board with it.”

“You’ve run for Parliament in two by-elections, I said. “Did you decide to do that as a result of the face-sitting protest?”

“No. Clacton-on-Sea was in October last year. It was a great opportunity for me to really talk about sexual freedom of expression. Then, when the second by-election came up in Rochester & Strood in November, I thought Well, I may as well. I quite enjoy it. But that is when I actually realised it’s like standing on top of a mountain screaming what you know is right yet nobody is listening. Unless you’ve got a good wedge of money behind you, you’re nothing.”

Charlotte on FaeTime yesterday with her latest award

Charlotte seen via FaceTime yesterday with her latest award

“Did you meet Nigel Farage of UKIP?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What’s he like?”

“He’s just like a guy you’d get pissed-up with in a pub. There aren’t many people where I find there’s something I dislike, but he just has such a smarmy way about him. You don’t know if he IS coming across genuine or if he’s just a people-pleaser. I think it’s his mouth. His mouth doesn’t portray honesty. You know how some people have a wiggling corner of their mouth sometimes when they lie? It’s like horses.

“I don’t like horses because their eyes have no iris, so you can’t see where they’re looking. I’m just so wary of a horse – it’s probably one of the only animals where you would never know if it’s going to turn on you. Because it’s got no iris, you can’t read it.”

“Nigel Farage,” I said, “comes across as the man next door, but he was a commodity broker, wasn’t he?”

“Then he’d make a perfect hotelier,” said Charlotte, “because normally anyone who has stocks or assets or is an accountant goes into hotels but they lack the charisma. They probably have the same level of charisma as a caterpillar.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “Nigel Farage could become the new Basil Fawlty.”

“Mmmm…” said Charlotte.

“How did you do in the elections?” I asked.

Charlotte made a promotional reel for her Rochester election bid.

“At Rochester & Strood,” Charlotte told me, “Britain First got 13 votes more than me. I can understand that Britain First has got some very patriotic points of view, but the majority of it was a racist, damaging stab and I thought: People would rather vote for racism than the choice of sexual expression.

“Whereas I believe, if people were having more sex, the serotonin levels in their body would be fantastic and everybody would be happy. We wouldn’t have time to be vindictive or have hatred towards people. We would be smiling more.

“Did you read that story about judges in the court system who got sacked for watching pornography at work? I would rather have my court judge watch pornography before my court case. If he’s just had a wank, I know he’s going to be level-headed, very happy and I’m not going to have a problem. I think I would specifically ask that, if I was up in court for anything, I want my judge to go and have a wank before he listens to my case.”

“Now there’s a project for you,” I said.

Charlotte & Erotic Award as Sex Worker of the Year

Charlotte with her 2013 Sex Worker of the Year award

“I’ve got a new project,” replied Charlotte, “called The Sex Avengers. That’s up-and-coming for January. I want to build an army of support – not a hierarchy – activists, then industry, then the public. A huge directory: a one-stop shop that people can go to.”

“If you are an Avenger,” I asked, “what’s your super-power?”

“I think to deliver strength and positivity in my speech. I’ve done a lot of speeches now and I love sharing what’s happening. But, rather than being a speech that moans, I build positivity, I build energy, I build unity. I think that’s my strength: to be able to share energy and build on positivity.”

“You have moved to London recently,” I said. “Why?”

“Well, I was already involved in The Sex Workers’ Opera and the travel time from the West Country…”

“Opera?” I interrupted.

“Yes,” said Charlotte. “The Sex Workers’ Opera. It’s an award-winning show. We’ve been running it since 2013. We put it on at the Arcola in Dalston last year and won the Pioneer Award at the Sexual Freedom Awards which used to be called the Erotic Awards. We are hopefully doing a documentary for Channel 4.”

“Do you perform in it?” I asked.

“Yes. You can see a video of me performing The Dom Song on YouTube. That was in the first ever production.”

“It’s a proper classical opera?” I asked.

“No. It’s more like a hip-hopera. It’s a bit more funky. Two hours. We’ve got scenes about prohibitionists, the Soho raids, the porn laws. It’s 50% sex workers and 50% allies.”

“Sex and music?” I asked.

“I’m also going to be putting on events to promote the Sex Avengers. Ben Dover is a good friend of mine and he plays the drums for a tribute band called Guns 2 Roses. It would be absolutely fantastic if I could find people in the sex industry who play an instrument and we actually form a rock band and go round all these events promoting sexual freedom through music. That would be great.”

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How British Government finance works – by the stand-up comic who worked for Education Secretary Michael Gove

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Stand-up comics tend to have odd and interesting backgrounds.

Gareth Morinan’s university degree was in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics.

Yesterday at Bar Italia in Soho, he told me: “I started in the Civil Service in late 2008 because I wanted to see how government works and I was there until around mid-2011.

“Most of the time I was there, I was in the Education Department although, for the first six months, I worked in this dodgy department called The Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is the only department other than the HM Revenue & Customs that makes money. It’s basically like a government-run insurance firm.

If some big British company wants to export, they’ll always have an insurance deal. But, if they’re exporting to some dodgy country – if they want to export fighter jets to some dodgy country – no private insurance company is going to insure that: it’s too risky. So the government has this entire department purely set up for supporting dodgy deals. I was really curious, so went to work there for six months and then left. I was an analyst there. As an analyst, people take your word as Gospel.”

“That’s because your art is a science.” I suggested.

“Yes,” Gareth laughed, “even though, when you look at the spreadsheets, it’s very dodgy. I had situations where I would e-mail someone a figure saying This is a very rough figure. This is the best figure I can get. And it got sent round the department and would eventually come back to me as fact and I’d say: I know that’s not fact. I came up with that figure. Don’t put that out on a press release. But they did. This happened a lot in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.”

“That was under the Labour Party?” I asked.

“Yeah. You had these figures – especially around the time of the financial crisis, where some analyst somewhere in some bank had come out with some figure he’d plucked out of the air on the back of an envelope and, as soon as it became public, that figure became ‘fact’ and it could not be changed and everyone had to work from those figures.

“All politicians really want is a number: Give me a number. Don’t tell me anything else. The less I know about how dodgy this number is, the better it is – It’s that plausible deniability thing.

“I started in the Education Department about a year before the General Election so, when I started, Ed Balls was the Minister and then, about a year later, it was all-change because the Coalition came in and what we were doing changed somewhat.”

“Changed?” I asked.

“Well,” Gareth told me, “the key thing Michael Gove did when he came in was – on the first day – a big picture of the Queen was put up in Reception. And there were some formality differences.

Policies changed with Michael Gove

Policies changed with the arrival of journalist Michael Gove

“The most interesting thing was that the Permanent Secretary told us – these are not his exact words, but he basically told us – This new government – specifically Michael Gove – doesn’t care so much about the details or the facts. He cares more about ‘the narrative’. 

“When we were doing White Papers, whereas before it was very much We’ve got to have these details; this is the headline figure, Michael Gove, because he’s a journalist, just wanted the story to read well.

“He was a local journalist, then a journalist for The Times, then a TV commentator… then suddenly he’s in charge of national education policy, which makes a change from cracking jokes on A Stab in The Dark with David Baddiel.”

There is a clip on YouTube of him presenting 1993 TV satire show A Stab in The Dark:

“Most of the financial projections in Education,” Gareth told me, “are based on how many kids there are going to be and those calculations are based round the Office for National Statistics’ population projections. But Michael Gove was quite keen for a while on trying to replace them with projections done by somebody he knows at Tesco.

“At Tesco, they have all this Clubcard data and they have projections which help them decide where to open up a new store. And, for quite a while, he was arguing we should start incorporating those – or replace the official national projections with ones done by Tesco. It didn’t go down well in the department.

“I actually had to lie for Michael Gove once.

“During the big Comprehensive Spending Review where (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne works out how much money he’s going to give to all the departments, I was basically the guy working out the headline figures of how many billions we needed. I would hand those numbers to someone who then had a meeting with Michael Gove – There was always a buffer zone between me and Michael Gove. Maybe I was too scruffy.

“Our department did quite well in the budget review – basically they decided to give us extra money at the cost of other departments. So we had a nice little champagne reception to thank everyone and the look Michael Gove gave me when I stood there listening to his speech was like How did this one get in? I was just wearing a shirt and cardigan and looking very scruffy with uncombed hair. He was like Oh God! What is going on there?

“But, basically, in the spending review, we were negotiating and there was a strategy department. I provided numbers and we would go into meetings with all these senior Treasury people and I was the person having to justify all the numbers.

“Over the course of several months, while this was happening, the Office for National Statistics came out with a new projection of pupil numbers, which underpinned all our financial projections… and their projections were basically lower. So, overnight, our projection of how much money we needed went down by about half a billion pounds.

Michael Gove at Westminster in 2008

Michael Gove looking contemplative in Westminster in 2008

“Michael Gove’s opinion was that this had not happened and that the projections we believed were the ones that were higher. That was the official line.

“We were about to go into this meeting and I’m the one who has to explain the actual numbers to all these senior Treasury people who were probably better negotiators than the people in our department and better analysts than me. And I was told before I went into the meeting: Well, just come up with something.

“So I was pinned down in this meeting by the Treasury people: What’s the difference in these numbers? Which ones are the correct ones? The higher ones? Why? I basically just stuttered for a while and gave a very unconvincing performance.”

“Did you get away with it?” I asked.

“No,” said Gareth. “After that meeting, I went to my boss, who was an analyst, and he was like Well, this is outrageous. We shouldn’t be lying. And my boss spoke to the other person’s boss and eventually they decided that we were going to go with the lower numbers… But here’s an interesting example of how analysis works in the government.

“The thing you learn when you work in any government department is how little information we actually have. There are entire swathes of the education budget that no-one really knows the cost of.

“The biggest mystery black hole is kids who have special needs. There are more of these kids every year – especially ones with serious medical problems who require like £100,000 a year – because, as health technology improves, more kids get saved and live longer.

“There’s no way of predicting how many of these kids there’s going to be and medical costs keep going up, so there was this line in the budget which was The 1% Assumption. It was a long-standing assumption: We don’t know how much it’s going to be, so we just assume it’s going to rise by 1% every year.

“My brainwave was to ask: Well… Could we make this The 2% Assumption? That was thought to be a genius idea. We put it into the calculations and suddenly the gap was closed and we were back to the higher figure we had originally wanted.

“That was probably the one thing I did which made the biggest actual difference when I worked for the government.”

* * * * *

Gareth Morinan has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/gmorinan, to which he will be adding over the next couple of months.

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