It’s always heart-warming to see nominations for peerages and the latest crop is no exception.
There are Brexit-supporting former Labour MPs, including Kate Hoey and Vote Leave head Gisela Stuart (they must be very proud of themselves and I’ll leave that there). Brexit-supporting Ian Botham (salt of the earth, everyone says so! Don’t they?). Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born billionaire owner of London’s Evening Standard, which supported Boris Johnson’s mayoral bid (total coincidence!). Tory Remainer-rebels such as Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond and the prime minister’s brother Jo (let’s hope that makes Christmas easier this year). Scottish Tory Ruth Davidson and the DUP’s Nigel Dodds are in line for life peerages while Philip May, husband of Theresa, is knighted. The list sprawls on (and indeed on). So many reasons to feel proudly British and not at all queasy, despairing and disgusted.
It’s intriguing that Cummings/Johnson (it really is that way around now, isn’t it?) selected certain Remainers but not John Bercow, who, as former Speaker of the house, would customarily expect to be nominated. It’s almost as though this was about framing Bercow’s exclusion as wholly due to the bullying allegations against him rather than, at least in part, payback for how he stood up to the proroguing of parliament/rushed-through Brexit debacle. In short, their bullying. But that would mean Cummings and Johnson are petty and vindictive. Who could ever think that?
While you could ask what happened to reducing numbers in the House of Lords, nobody would have wanted to miss out on Baroness Claire Fox. The former Brexit MEP, of the erstwhile magazine Living Marxism, the Institute of Ideas thinktank and the controversialist online publication Spiked, has come far since her days as a leading light of the Revolutionary Communist party. Along the way – only allegedly, mind – there was some business about falsely accusing ITN of faking evidence about the Bosnian genocide (Was Living Marxism successfully sued, Claire? Did that happen?), and defending everything from child porn to the IRA. Were you misquoted, Claire? (Frantically mimes dialling phone). Call me if you wish to set the record straight before donning the ermine.
How fascinating though: Fox, once a regular on the BBC’s Moral Maze, is one of those anti-establishment libertarian/contrarian/freethinking types who just happen to accidentally come across as relentlessly rightwing and eventually get offered peerages. Isn’t it thrilling that avowed anti-establishment contrarians can end up cuddle up so closely with… well, the establishment. And seemingly vice-versa. Life’s rich tapestry and all that.
In many ways, it’s business as usual. These lists are usually foul belches of cronyism and Shakespearean roars of malice and revenge. However, this one has been particularly illuminating. Greasy rewards. Smirking nods. Nervy appeasements. Graceless reprisals. Odd connections that might have been best left hazy, at least for now, but here they are, delivered up like an Excel spreadsheet. How helpful and instructive to see it all come swirling out of the shadows. One could almost feel sorry for Cummings and Johnson. Subtlety was never their forte. Have they exposed their hand a little too much this time?
Taylor Swift’s superfans must learn to live with her critics
Taylor Swift should have a word with her more aggressive fans. Pitchfork’s senior editor, Jillian Mapes, was abused following her review of Swift’s new album, Folklore, which fans judged insufficiently fawning. During the social media pile-on of “Swifties”, Mapes was insulted, threatened and “doxxed” (her phone number and home address were freely distributed).
Mapes’s review wasn’t even a critical mauling: the album was respectfully assessed and the overall Pitchfork-rating was eight out of 10. However, even if a review is a bloodcurdling takedown, that would not justify writers receiving abusive phone calls, death threats or being made to feel unsafe in their homes.
So far, Swift hasn’t commented on all this. She isn’t the only artist with an overzealous fan base; however, this is not the first time her fans have behaved poorly. Pop stars also receive threats and abuse but, unlike Swift, journalists don’t tend to have bodyguards or gated mansions to protect them.
At a time when music publications are struggling or going under (as Q magazine sadly did recently), this is a particularly unedifying episode. Swift isn’t responsible for her fans’ behaviour but artists should make it clear they don’t approve of abuse and call off the dogs.
Please let plucky salons at least do eyebrows
I’m not one to argue with safety measures during a pandemic. Wearing a mask doesn’t bother me at all. Men who moan about “face nappies” need to get a grip and (irony!) stop acting like babies. However, it has to be acknowledged that what’s permitted and what’s not seems random. Where beauty businesses are concerned, it makes no sense whatsoever that some treatments (manicures) are permitted with masks, while others, such as eyebrow shaping (which could also happen with a mask) are still banned.
It’s sexist and unfair to make this all about vain, high-maintenance women who can’t bear to be seen looking less than perfect. Give women a break. They’ve done months of lockdown, laughing off their increasing dishevelment. They’ve been great sports. As have men, though one notes that beard trimming has been allowed.
Eyebrows aren’t an irrelevance. They frame the face. They can be an important part of grooming for the workplace, Zoom meetings or whatever tech nightmare is going on. They’re almost as important as hair, which can at least be tied back. Right now, with masks, unkempt brows are even more noticeable, as are badly (painfully) self-plucked ones.
Then there are the salons. Some businesses offer only, or mainly, eyebrow services and they’re in danger of going under, which will leave their generally young staff unemployed. Obviously, none of this matters in comparison with more people dying. However, what is the rational explanation for allowing nails and beard trims, but not eyebrows? A more logical rule, where faces are concerned, would be that everything that can happen with a mask is allowed. Beauty salons are vulnerable businesses like any other. They and their staff are not a joke and neither are the women who use them.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist