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As KGB agent George Blake dies, a plea from a man who heard the stories of those he betrayed 

At the weekend, as I read sentimental tributes paid to the MI6-agent-turned-Soviet-spy George Blake after his death on Boxing Day at the age of 98, my thoughts turned to his victims, people like Mr Koppel

One day in 2010, I travelled to Wokingham in Berkshire to visit a retired lathe operator called Alexander Koppel. 

He lived in a small, neat bungalow and was in every way an unobtrusive man but over the next few hours he told me an astonishing story of betrayal, resistance and patriotism.

For while living as a refugee in post-war Britain he had been recruited by MI6 and sent on a mission to Soviet-occupied Estonia.

But Operation Jungle, which was aimed at boosting the anti-Communist resistance, was doomed to failure from the start.

Koppel and his fellow agents were betrayed before they set off across the Baltic in a blacked-out speedboat.

They were captured by the enemy and those that weren’t shot were taken to the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow and home to an infamous jail where spies, political dissidents and various enemies of the state were imprisoned, interrogated, and tortured.

As Koppel described his ordeal, how he had been saved from execution by being included in the first spy-swap of the Cold War, and his return to Britain, his family listened with rapt attention. This was a story they had never heard.

At the weekend, as I read sentimental tributes paid to the MI6-agent-turned-Soviet-spy George Blake after his death on Boxing Day at the age of 98, my thoughts turned to his victims, people like Mr Koppel.

Many brave men and women risked, often lost, their lives in the cause of freedom. It was this cause, and their fates, that Blake and other Communist sympathisers betrayed. 

So when Josh Jackson, a self-professed Corbynite, tweets that the BBC’s obituary of Blake ‘makes him sounds like the coolest dude’, I despair. Koppel was one of the lucky ones. 

Born to a Dutch-Egyptian family, he arrived in Britain only in 1943 and it was at this point that his mother changed the family surname from Behar to the more British-sounding Blake. He is pictured above with wife Ida in 1961

Born to a Dutch-Egyptian family, he arrived in Britain only in 1943 and it was at this point that his mother changed the family surname from Behar to the more British-sounding Blake. He is pictured above with wife Ida in 1961

He lived to see Estonia regain its independence, and was belatedly feted as a hero. Others were less fortunate. In the flickering twilight of the Cold War, I tracked down other casualties of Western espionage’s failures.

Klemensas Sirvys, a Lithuanian half-paralysed after his ordeal in the labour camps, was living in a dirt-floored shack in Kybartai.

Then there was the saturnine former RAF man I met in Communist Czechoslovakia, who had spent years labouring in the uranium mines after his work for MI6 was discovered.

I quizzed these men about who had betrayed them. They did not know then. Neither do we now.

Which betrayals were due to Blake? Which to Kim Philby, the cynical charmer who vowed at Cambridge to dedicate his life to the eventual victory of Communism? 

What damage was done by the other pampered products of the British upper class who made up the rest of the Cambridge Five ring of double agents?

Amid so many mysteries, one thing stands out – missed by many on the illiberal Left in the comfortable West, but blindingly clear to our neighbours in eastern Europe. Communism was a failure. 

The economic system based on bureaucratic state planning did not work. Nor did the political system, based on lies and fear, enforced by the secret police, with decision-making ruthlessly monopolised by the Communist Party.

For all the talk of the brotherhood of man, any attempt by captive nations, such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary, to regain their freedom was ruthlessly crushed.

But by the time I was a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, the Soviet empire was collapsing. Blake understood nothing of this, or of loyalty to Britain. He had never betrayed his country, he argued, because he had never really belonged here.

Born to a Dutch-Egyptian family, he arrived in Britain only in 1943 and it was at this point that his mother changed the family surname from Behar to the more British-sounding Blake.

After a stint working as a clerk for the Dutch government-in-exile, Blake joined the Royal Navy and within a year had been hired by MI6. He was sent to Cambridge to learn Russian before being posted to Seoul in 1948.

Ironically, it was when he was captured by Communist forces during the Korean War that he switched sides. He later said it was the discovery that American Flying Fortresses were carpet-bombing local villages that made him throw in his lot with the Soviets. 

Though he conceded that imperfect people could not build a perfect society, he insisted that he was optimistic that humanity would ‘come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a Communist society’

Though he conceded that imperfect people could not build a perfect society, he insisted that he was optimistic that humanity would ‘come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a Communist society’

In the pressure-cooker world of the 1950s it is easy to see why Blake, like so many others of his generation, were seduced by the promise of a better, fairer future, and a chance to right the balance between an overbearing, imperialist West and a peace-loving eastern bloc.

On his release, his MI6 employers never questioned his loyalty, however, and gave him a prized job at the heart of operations in the espionage hotspot of West Berlin.

He passed countless secrets to the KGB, from the existence of a tunnel dug into the Communist-controlled east of the city, which tapped secret communications links with Moscow, to the identities of hundreds of agents. Their fate can only be imagined.

A former Soviet military intelligence officer who defected to Britain described how his induction to the service involved viewing a film of a man, strapped to a stretcher, being burned alive in a furnace. The price of treachery, the recruits were told. 

Some believe that the figure was Piotr Popov, a Western spy said to have been betrayed by Blake. No such barbaric fate awaited Blake himself when he was finally caught.

Once he confessed his treachery to the British secret service, he was spared the death penalty – still in force in Britain in 1961 – instead receiving an exceptionally long prison sentence of 42 years.

Yet thanks to an Irish petty criminal, Sean Bourke, and two Left-wing activists, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, Blake escaped from the supposedly secure Wormwood Scrubs barely five years later. The official story, put about by British spymasters, was that Blake’s exfiltration was masterminded by the KGB.

The truth was far more embarrassing. His prison escape was an amateurish affair involving a broken window and a home-made rope ladder with rungs fashioned out of knitting needles.

After two months hiding out in north London, Blake was smuggled to East Germany in a camper van. He retained his Marxist beliefs to the end – and beyond. Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, he remained a true believer.

Though he conceded that imperfect people could not build a perfect society, he insisted that he was optimistic that humanity would ‘come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a Communist society’.

For all the KGB’s triumphs in the spy wars, Communism failed. The ideology of Marx, Engels and Lenin lives on only in hellholes such as Venezuela and North Korea – and in the fetid corners of western academia and in the irrelevancies of Left-wing politics.

Even as we flinch at the murk and misery of that tortured era let us remember one thing. The West won. Hundreds of millions of people live in freedom as a result.

In that great contest, George Blake, the cynical idealist, chose to help the wrong side. We should rejoice in his failure, mourn his victims, and – above all – refuse to glamourise him.

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Delhi The Buzz

Rahul leaves for Italy amid farm laws debate


Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 27

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday left for Italy on a personal visit even as the debate on the usefulness of farm laws raged and the farmers’ agitation continued.

The Congress sources confirmed Rahul’s travel saying he would be away on a short personal visit.

Back here, BJP president JP Nadda posted an old video of Rahul where he is heard making a case to cut out middlemen from potato marketing.

The video from Lok Sabha shows Gandhi speaking of potato growers in Amethi wondering how a packet of potato chips sells at Rs 10 when the farmer gets only a paltry Rs 2 per kg for the potato he sells.

“We need to weed out the middlemen,” says Gandhi in the video which Nadda posted with a swipe at the Congress leader.

“What’s this magic Rahul ji? Today you are opposing what you were advocating yesterday. You have no concerns for national good or the good of farmers. Your interesting is in playing politics. But your hypocrisy won’t work now. The farmers and the people know your double standards,” Nadda said.

Responding to the tweet, Congress media chief Randeep Surjewala said: “Mr Nadda, before misleading, you should have known there’s no MSP on potatoes. We are farm reforms but the current laws attack the livelihoods of farmers. That’s the question. And also tell us why are you importing ten lakh tonnes of potatoes from abroad while ignoring your own local farmers?”





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Headlines UK

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Happy Christmas, the Brexit war is over!

The best way to assess Boris’s trade deal with the EU is to look at who’s for it and who’s agin it. Despite the bad blood between the two of them, Nigel Farage has given the agreement a magnanimous, if cautious, welcome.

While Farage is wisely reserving final judgment until he’s read the small print, he can see the big picture and grasps the historic significance of what has been achieved.

‘The Brexit war is over,’ declared the man who has devoted the past three decades to campaigning for Britain to cast off the shackles of Brussels.

With commendable grace conspicuously lacking in die-hard Remainers, the Brexit Party leader freely conceded that the Prime Minister would be remembered as ‘the man who got the job done’.

Meanwhile, the ferocious federasts at The Guardian and The Independent are apoplectic in their condemnation, despite the fact that the agreement has been hailed by the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. They have only succeeded in exposing their desperation and the paucity of their argument.

Having lost all the big battles, opponents of the deal are now reduced to clutching at straws, carping about the status of Scottish-grown sprouting potatoes and something called Erasmus, which sounds like a brand of shaving foam.

The best way to assess Boris’s trade deal with the EU is to look at who’s for it and who’s agin it

Nigel Farage (pictured) has given the agreement a magnanimous, if cautious, welcome

Nigel Farage (pictured) has given the agreement a magnanimous, if cautious, welcome

Turns out Erasmus is a European student exchange programme, which is being replaced by a new scheme, named after British Enigma genius Alan Turing, and will give students the chance to attend the best overseas universities not just in Europe but anywhere in the world.

So no great hardship there, then.

And speaking of graceless, Labour leader Max Headroom demonstrated his irrelevance by slagging off the deal before announcing that he would tell his party to vote for it in Parliament. What a complete and utter lawyer.

Like Boris, Starmer is clearly in favour of having his cake and eating it, at least when it comes to Brexit — which he opposed vehemently but now pretends to support in a cynical ruse designed to win back Labour voters in the North and Midlands who deserted to the Tories in droves at the last election.

My guess is that provided Boris can put this Covid nightmare behind him, they won’t get fooled again.

Of course, as with anything involving the EU, the devil is in the detail — 500 pages of it up front, with another 1,500 still to come. Every British Chancellor’s Budget contains hidden nasties, such as the pasty tax, tucked away on page 94, paragraph XI, which only become apparent days later.

So, too, can we expect this trade agreement to throw up a few unwelcome depth charges, planted by EU lawyers practised at the art of deception.

But unless we’ve been sold a Christmas pup riddled with ringworm, there should be nothing to prevent the deal receiving the Commons seal of approval next week. Even Farage has admitted he’d vote for it in principle, were he an MP.

Caveats aside, that’s something recalcitrant Brexiteer-ultras in the Tory European Research Group should bear in mind if they are considering opposing the deal in pursuit of absolute ideological purity.

They should also look at how far we’ve come. Little over two years ago, the deal Boris has now sealed was beyond our wildest imagination.

In October 2018, given the nightmare of Mother Theresa’s abortive Chequers surrender — which would have condemned us to EU vassal status in perpetuity — and the disgraceful efforts of a Remain Parliament and partisan Speaker to overturn the referendum result, some of us were in despair. Here’s what I wrote back then: ‘Even diehard ‘no deal’ Brexiteers like me have to accept, as Mick Jagger said, that you can’t always get what you want.

Like Boris, Starmer (pictured) is clearly in favour of having his cake and eating it, at least when it comes to Brexit — which he opposed vehemently but now pretends to support in a cynical ruse designed to win back Labour voters in the North and Midlands who deserted to the Tories in droves at the last election

Like Boris, Starmer (pictured) is clearly in favour of having his cake and eating it, at least when it comes to Brexit — which he opposed vehemently but now pretends to support in a cynical ruse designed to win back Labour voters in the North and Midlands who deserted to the Tories in droves at the last election

‘The best we can probably hope for at this late stage is a Norway For Now deal, which would get us out of the EU with no barriers to frictionless trade. It wouldn’t be ideal, but we could try to pick the bones out of it later.’

What we’ve ended up with is Norway Plus Plus Plus Plus — minus, for now, everything we wanted on fishing.

Unlike Norway, we won’t have to pay a penny to Brussels in exchange for access to the single market. We’ve negotiated the first no-tariffs, no-quotas deal the EU has agreed with any other country.

There will be no freedom of movement and we will cease to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

As the Leave campaign promised in 2016, we have regained control of our money, our borders, our laws and, yes, our traditional waters. We are once again a sovereign coastal state.

At last, Brexit finally means Brexit.

I fully understand the disappointment of those in the fishing industry, unhappy that foreign vessels will still be allowed to trawl our waters and take the lion’s share of the catch.

But it’s only for five and a half years, after which we assume full autonomy over fisheries. Given that it’s four and half years since we voted Leave, that will pass in a heartbeat.

It will also give us time to rebuild our fishing fleet, with the help of generous grants from the Government.

By 2026, too, our negotiating position will have strengthened still further as we trade more widely with the rest of the world and our reliance on doing business with the EU shrivels.

Those four and a half years should also be placed in perspective alongside the five decades that have passed since former Prime Minister Grocer Heath sold out our fishing industry in exchange for a place at the lobster supper banqueting tables in Brussels.

From a personal point of view, in January it’ll be 50 years since I started work on a now defunct local weekly newspaper. Throughout my entire career in journalism, Europe has been a running sore, never far from erupting.

As a young hack, I was against joining. In 1975, I voted against our continued membership in Harold Wilson’s referendum.

The early Nineties found me presenting my own shows on LBC Radio, railing daily against the Maastricht Treaty, with regular guests Bill Cash and a young MP called Iain Duncan Smith.

I was on air the afternoon of Black Wednesday in September 1992, when then Chancellor Norman Lamont frittered away billions trying in vain to keep the pound pegged to the ERM, the dress rehearsal for the euro.

LBC’s financial editor kept rushing into the studio every five minutes as Lamont hiked interest rates, eventually hitting an astronomical 15 per cent.

That was the day I decided our membership of the EU was doomed, however long it would take to implode. It was also the day a certain Nigel Farage, then a City trader, resigned from the Tory Party, joined UKIP and devoted his life to the lonely pursuit of getting Britain out of the sclerotic European superstate.

When I later graduated to Sky, I was about the only television presenter who would give Farage a platform. He has subsequently admitted to me that there were times when he, too, wondered whether the effort had been worth it, given the abuse — physical and verbal — he has suffered and the financial sacrifices he has made.

But he was vindicated spectacularly in 2016, when Britain voted to Leave.

Without an optimistic Boris leading the official Leave campaign, Project Fear almost certainly would have prevailed. But Farage made the referendum happen and worked tirelessly for victory.

Perhaps now the Prime Minister can reciprocate Farage’s magnanimity and reward him belatedly with a knighthood or peerage.

After all, if the Lords is to continue as a revising chamber, there’s no one better qualified than a man who has spent his life sifting through European directives and defending British interests.

Boris is rightly enjoying the moment, but the credit also belongs to the British people.

As Farage says: ‘This victory is a tribute to the ordinary men and women who stood up against the Westminster establishment — and won.’

However we voted in 2016, today we can all breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief. As the Mail put it on the morning after the referendum: ‘Take A Bow, Britain.’

And as Ursula von der Leyen quoted Paul McCartney: ‘It’s been a long and winding road.’

You can say that again. And if the deal is good enough for Farage, it’s good enough for me.

Or as another Beatle might have concluded: Happy Xmas, the Brexit war is over.

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Headlines UK

MOLLY KINGSLEY: Shut the school gates again, Prime Minister, and you will ruin young lives

Prime Minister, if I could say just three words to you this morning, they are these: ‘Don’t shut schools.’

That’s it. The message is that stark, that simple. Britain cannot afford another lockdown that closes our classrooms.

We cannot afford the devastation to ten million children, to their education and their future opportunities, to their mental health and to our economy in decades to come.

Prime Minister, if you allow the school gates to shut, you will be inflicting untold damage on the country at a time when we need more than ever to protect our most precious resource — the emerging generation.

To squander their prospects for the sake of rash political expediency would be unforgivable.

I was shocked to hear Home Secretary Priti Patel refuse yesterday to pledge that schools will reopen in the new year, giving substance to the unattributed statement from a government source on Monday that many children will be barred from returning until February.

Sacrifices

We already knew that the beginning of term would be ‘staggered’, though the science behind that seems shaky at best. What is a staggered opening if not closure for many by another name? The stakes could scarcely be higher. Britain already has a generation of children whose education has been grievously disrupted.

Back in March, when the pandemic first struck, we were glibly assured that pupils could learn from home for a few weeks.

Few parents really believed that: most, like me — a mother with two children under ten — have got far too much respect for teachers to imagine that we would be able to step in to oversee meaningful lessons for long.

But we were facing an unknown, unprecedented health threat. Everyone was being asked to make extraordinary sacrifices.

Prime Minister, if I could say just three words to you this morning, they are these: ‘Don’t shut schools.’ That’s it. The message is that stark, that simple, writes Molly Kingsley

Nine months later, the situation is very different. We now understand that the direct danger to children who are infected with Covid-19 is minimal.

Even Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser, has said that ‘the chances of children dying from Covid-19 are incredibly small’.

The danger is to the elderly and the vulnerable, who must be helped to shield themselves until the vaccine can be administered to all who need it.

But the direct threats to children who are kept away from school for months on end are very real, irreparable and lifelong.

Hundreds of thousands have been struggling with their mental health, terrified by the daily news, haunted by disinformation spreading on social media and fearful of what their adult lives will be like if this continues.

To force more mental suffering on children by separating them from friends and daily routines is simply wicked. It’s indefensible. All children should have a cast-iron right to education, which is critical to the future of this country.

The psychological damage of denying education cannot be overstated. Report after report has highlighted the catastrophic academic, social and mental health effects on children.

Young people have even killed themselves, because the uncertainty and the loneliness have become unbearable. Those deaths should have been so easily prevented.

Of course, if the landscape dramatically changes and hospitals do become overwhelmed, then I accept the Government might have no option except to rethink its strategy. But we’re nowhere near that point.

To force more mental suffering on children by separating them from friends and daily routines is simply wicked. It’s indefensible. All children should have a cast-iron right to education, which is critical to the future of this country. Pictured: Pupils in Doncaster

To force more mental suffering on children by separating them from friends and daily routines is simply wicked. It’s indefensible. All children should have a cast-iron right to education, which is critical to the future of this country. Pictured: Pupils in Doncaster

It is ultimately a question of balance of harms, one that takes into account the fact that the average age of a patient who dies from Covid is over 82 — about 12 months more than the average lifespan in the UK.

I understand that the Government strives to save every life but we must not ignore the damage lockdowns inflict on children.

In fact, I believe that few octogenarians would want the prospect of an entire generation’s hopes to be flushed away, or to know that children were suffering and, in some cases, even killing themselves, as a result of a policy to protect the elderly.

That is why, Prime Minister, you must not cave in to the politically charged agendas of the teaching unions, who have shown little regard for the wants and needs of schoolchildren and seem intent on treating this pandemic not as an educational crisis but as a political opportunity to embarrass the Government.

I believe the great majority of teachers do not subscribe to their agenda. After all, no one should be playing politics with children’s lives.

If anything, like most parents, my admiration for teachers has only increased during successive lockdowns. Helping children to learn requires dedication and skill, drawing on an array of talents. Teachers have to be wise, patient, innovative, entertaining, well-informed and quick-thinking.

Ludicrous

The notion that they can be replaced by a laptop and a busy working parent is ludicrous.

Laptops are tools, not teachers, and working parents now need to be contributing to the economy as never before.

There is no doubt in my mind that a day spent in front of a computer is in no way a substitute for the learning and social interaction of a classroom. It also creates huge problems for working parents.

Only recently, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, stated what every teacher and parent now knows: remote learning is no replacement for a face-to-face lesson.

Younger children are unable to engage with it, and older ones are bereft of the essential social experience of learning.

Although some children may have managed well enough, in most cases they were the ones who were thriving to begin with — and to be doing ‘well enough’ is an underachievement in real terms. They are the children who should be aspiring to be exceptional.

Others will be drifting — or worse. At most risk are the children from underprivileged backgrounds, broken and even violent homes — the ones for whom school was often a sanctuary.

I was shocked to hear Home Secretary Priti Patel refuse yesterday to pledge that schools will reopen in the new year, giving substance to the unattributed statement from a government source on Monday that many children will be barred from returning until February

I was shocked to hear Home Secretary Priti Patel refuse yesterday to pledge that schools will reopen in the new year, giving substance to the unattributed statement from a government source on Monday that many children will be barred from returning until February

Chasm

By the end of the summer term, 94 per cent of these vulnerable children had not been in school. Who is looking out for them now? A laptop does not see bruises or deeper emotional problems.

That’s if they have access to a laptop at all. At the start of the year, we were talking about a worrying ‘attainment gap’ between children from different social and economic backgrounds.

That gap is now a chasm. The damage is done, and will last for years. To worsen it would be wilful destruction, and unforgivable.

It’s a fact of life that our children are the future engine of Britain’s economy. Another schools shutdown will take a wrecking ball to that engine, as well as to the futures of millions of young people. It would be one of the greatest political crimes of our lifetimes.

If it was inhumane of the Government to cancel Christmas, cancelling schooling is even more egregious.

Prime Minister, you were elected because voters thought you were brave. Now is the time to do the brave thing, the only right thing for children, and do whatever you possibly can to keep schools open.

Molly Kingsley is the co-founder of UsForThem, a campaign group for children’s welfare.

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Headlines UK London

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Tier 4 Is Not Enough… Covid-19 sounds like an elite snatch squad from a movie

They love their NATO-style acronyms, don’t they? How many times during this pandemic have we been informed ominously that the Prime Minister has convened an emergency meeting of COBRA?

Back on March 3, as coronavirus was coming to be seen as a clear and present danger, I observed in this column: ‘COBRA sounds like something out of a disaster movie, conjuring up images of West Wing-style hotlines, war games and giant TV screens linked by satellite to a high-tech bunker on some remote Pacific island. The reality . . . is more mundane. COBRA actually stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.’

Mind you, as I pointed out at the time, given Boris’s Churchillian sense of showmanship, I was surprised the Government hadn’t immediately relocated to Winston’s old war rooms under King Charles Street.

Given that the premiere of the latest Bond movie has been postponed because of corona, perhaps Dishi Rishi could bung Pinewood a few hundred million quid to come up with a hybrid homage to the original. Pictured: The famous laser beam scene in Goldfinger

Now ‘the science’ has come up with a scary new name, NERVTAG. It could be the initials of a secret Kremlin death squad responsible for the Salisbury novichok nerve agent poisonings.

You can just imagine NERVTAG agents being behind the murder in London of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko and the suspicious death of exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky at his home in Berkshire.

Nothing so exciting, I’m afraid. The banal reality is that NERVTAG is a bunch of boffins advising the Department of Health on corona. You may be surprised to learn that one of its leading lights is Professor Neil Ferguson, aka Professor Legover, or the Angel of Death. 

Ferguson, you may recall, is the so-called ‘expert’ who spooked the Government into locking down Britain in March after producing a doomsday report predicting 510,000 dead.

Quite why ministers took the slightest notice of him is a mystery. He’s the man who was behind the slaughter of millions of perfectly healthy cattle, and destroying the lives of countless farmers as a result of Labour’s panicked response to the foot-and-mouth scare in 2001. 

Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the Two Ronnies of Doom

Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the Two Ronnies of Doom

He was also the architect of the stay-at-home order issued in March, only for it to be revealed subsequently that he had been breaking his own rules by indulging in non-essential naughties with his married mistress, a Bavarian milkmaid lookalike called Antonia Staats.

She was travelling across South London from her family home to Ferguson’s drum in Clapham, giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘Super Spreader’. 

Yet even though Ferguson was forced to resign, he’s now back centre stage advising the Government and being welcomed on to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as an honoured guest, with no mention whatsoever of his earlier transgressions. Why?

In the alphabet soup of the COBRA war room decision-making process, NERVTAG now joins SAGE, the outfit headed up by Whitty and Vallance, the Two Ronnies of Doom, which has been thrusting a poison-tipped umbrella into our economy and civil liberties for the past nine months.

They could be the baddies from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series — a sinister organisation bent on world domination called THRUSH.

(Stop sniggering at the back.)

Come to think of it, Covid-19 itself sounds like an elite, special forces snatch squad from a Hollywood blockbuster starring Sylvester Stallone.

And given that the premiere of the latest Bond movie has been postponed because of corona, perhaps Dishi Rishi could bung Pinewood a few hundred million quid to come up with a hybrid, no-singing, no-dancing 007 homage to the original. NERVTAG could take the place of SMERSH.

But what would they call it? I’m sure they could think of something appropriate, given that ‘the science’ has spent months trying to scare The Living Daylights out of us.

You Only Get Vaccinated Twice? Long Covid Is Forever? Tomorrow You’re All Going To Die? From Wuhan With Love?

No, I’ve got it. Seeing as they’re always holding a Walther PPK to the Government’s head, demanding longer and tougher lockdowns, it has to be — Tier Four Is Not Enough.

The scene is the NERVTAG underground bunker.

Blofeld and Goldfinger are played by the Two Ronnies of Doom. Ferguson is Scaramanga and his frisky Frau Antonia Staats co-stars as Rosa Klebb. Agent Double-O BoJo, played by Boris Johnson, has been captured by NERVTAG.

Blofeld strokes his trademark white cat, while Goldfinger taunts Boris, who is strapped down and spreadeagled on a table.

A laser beam, strong enough to cut through metal, is advancing towards BoJo’s crown jewels.

‘Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Johnson, it may be your last.’

‘Do you expect me to order another pointless lockdown?’

‘Yes, Mr Johnson, I expect you to do as you’re bloody told or we’re all going to DIE!’

The French look like abandoning their cynical blanket ban on cross-Channel freight movements after they realised it will hurt them as much as us.

Perhaps they’ll now stop playing silly beggars over a free trade deal. It’s time we stopped obsessing over the alleged damage No Deal would do to Britain and realised we are negotiating from a position of strength, not weakness.

Or, as a 1930s’ newspaper headline is alleged to have put it: ‘Fog In Channel: Continent Cut Off.’

Merry Xmas, mind how you go next year

Goodbye and good riddance to 2020. Readers have written in droves again this year telling me this column reassures them they’re not alone. Trust me, the feeling’s mutual.

Sorry I can’t reply to everyone individually, but I do read and appreciate your letters and emails — especially your wonderful contributions to regular features such as You Couldn’t Make It Up and Mind How You Go.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. This column really wouldn’t be the same without you.

A word of heartfelt thanks, too, to my Daily Mail colleagues in the engine room who have toiled under extremely difficult circumstances to bring you this newspaper during the pandemic.

And of course, to Gary, whose brilliant cartoons are such an integral part of this page every Tuesday and Friday.

To all of you, a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

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Headlines UK London

Add some magic to your mantelpiece: With this ingenious trick

Deck the halls with boughs of holly? If you must, but mantelpieces are where it is at this year.

Cheryl had one and so did Mariah Carey. Ivanka Trump decided to go completely wild and did hers with green baubles and ostentatious ribbon.

Of course, hearthside decor is nothing new. Pagans decorated with branches on the winter solstice to remind themselves that spring would come, while Christians used evergreens as a symbol of everlasting life. Perhaps that’s not what Kate Hudson was thinking when she went for blue bows and plastic globes, but you get the snowy drift.

On Saturday, the Duchess of Cornwall appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, beamed in from Clarence House, London, in front of her own decorated fireplace. I know it’s considered posh not to make too much of an effort, but what a mess!

Jan Moir reveals how to create a Christmas mantelpiece (pictured), as celebrities including Cheryl and Mariah Carey reveal they’re fond of the decorations

I’m no florist, but many years ago my American friend Susan showed me how to create a Christmas mantelpiece, and I have been making them for friends and family ever since.

And, as I am going to tell Camilla at the first opportunity, it is pretty straightforward to make yours look beautiful — instead of a shipwrecked load of greens chucked up there by a passing tornado.

Note, this is not a definitive guide. It is merely how I make my ‘Jantelpiece’. All you need for an effect that looks as if it cost hundreds (when it cost just £80) are supermarket flowers, a small tree and a little knowhow . . .

WHAT YOU NEED 

THE EQUIPMENT: Oasis trays, Oasis Fix, Oasis floral foam blocks, three florist frogs per single block tray, pin holders or floral tape, a packet of moss pins, a packet of stub wires, scissors and secateurs. All are available from garden centres, florist suppliers and Amazon.

Jan said a Christmas mantelpiece can be made for just £80, using supermarket flowers and a small tree

Jan said a Christmas mantelpiece can be made for just £80, using supermarket flowers and a small tree 

THE GREENERY: A 4ft Christmas tree. I prefer a Nordmann, but any will do. Ask for damaged or misshapen ones, which will be cheaper. You’ll also need a bag of wet sphagnum moss, or two sheets of moss; two bunches of eucalyptus; holly or other greenery to fill; and dried pine cones. Trailing ivy is nice, too.

THE BLOOMS: A bunch of red roses from any old where, or poinsettias to be traditional.

THE BLING: Battery-operated fairy lights and assorted decorations, or go au naturel with dried orange slices.

HOW TO DO IT

Before you start, measure your mantelpiece. It will need to have a depth of at least 12.5cm for the trays. Work out how many trays and blocks you need. My 160cm-long mantelpiece needed six single block trays. Put down a groundsheet for any mess.

Jan said it's important to measure your mantelpiece before beginning, it needs to have a depth of at least 12.5 cm for the trays

Jan said it’s important to measure your mantelpiece before beginning, it needs to have a depth of at least 12.5 cm for the trays

Step 1: Soak the blocks in water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, spread the trays on the mantelpiece. They can have gaps between them. Affix with Oasis Fix and press down on each corner. (Museum putty, White Tack or — at a push — Blu Tack can be used as substitutes.) Stick three frogs onto each tray, or use green florist tape. Take the wet blocks and push them on top of the frogs to secure.

Step 2: Cover each block with the moss, using mossing pins to secure.

Step 3: Trim your tree. Wear rubber gloves, as pine sap is harsh on skin. Snip down the branches, arranging into large, medium and small frondy piles as you go. Save any nice curving bits for the sides.

Jan (pictured) revealed she used mistletoe in her Christmas mantelpiece

Jan (pictured) revealed she used mistletoe in her Christmas mantelpiece

Step 4: Now mark out the parameters by pushing some branches into the wet blocks. I put a big one in the middle, one at each side and a few small ones at the front. Be bold — make it slightly bigger than feels seemly. Put the heavier branches at the back to keep the structure secure. Spear in some eucalyptus to add height.

Step 5: Fill in the gaps with more pine, being sure to keep it symmetrical. If yours is a working fireplace, keep the overhang in the centre to a minimum.

Step 6: Add some clumps of holly or other greenery at either side of the centre — I used mistletoe. Wire the pine cones and stick them into the blocks. Add any extra decorations. Spear in the roses, twirl in the fairy lights and you’re done. Water carefully every few days, directly onto the blocks, using a long-spout can.

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Headlines UK

MARK HARPER and STEVE BAKER: We need to know how many lives lockdown is destroying 

For those who are vulnerable to it, Covid is a dangerous disease. So it is vital we control it effectively. That’s why we set up the Covid Recovery Group in early November.

Our response must be rational and balanced, not driven by panic. It should be based on informed scientific, economic and health data, and it should take full account of the health and economic consequences of lockdowns and restrictions, which are serious.

First, we want to know for sure that the restrictions announced yesterday are serving their primary purpose of slowing the spread of Covid-19.

We want to know for sure that the restrictions announced yesterday are serving their primary purpose of slowing the spread of Covid-19

If they are not, we would be failing in our duty to protect people from the disease, to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, and to protect our economy rather than grinding it needlessly into the dust.

We had a full national lockdown in November. Since early December, 99 per cent of the country has been living under the heightened restrictions of tiers 2 and 3. New rules which were announced on Thursday, forced four to five times as many people across the country into tier 3 than before the November lockdown.

Yet this strategy is clearly failing to break the transmission of Covid-19.

If it really was succeeding, we would be talking about an exit strategy from repeated lockdowns or about areas moving down the tiers. Right now, the only way is up.

There is no logic in having a lockdown when millions of people and businesses who endured it are forced to live and operate under increasingly severe restrictions afterwards.

It is even harder to stomach when there is no transparency or logic from the Government about how it has taken its decisions.

There is no logic in having a lockdown when millions of people and businesses who endured it are forced to live and operate under increasingly severe restrictions afterwards

There is no logic in having a lockdown when millions of people and businesses who endured it are forced to live and operate under increasingly severe restrictions afterwards

These restrictions cause immense social and health damage and have a huge impact on livelihoods.

People are prevented from seeking the medical treatment they need. Mental well-being declines. Young people find their education, job prospects and life chances diminished. Lockdowns and restrictions cost lives.

The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.

That’s why we have repeatedly asked Government for regional cost-benefit analysis showing the impact on people’s overall health and livelihoods.

It must be our duty to protect the economy, not grind it into the dust 

Are these restrictions saving more lives than they cost? It’s a fair and reasonable question for any of us to ask.

And this call for data and evidence should have applied to the rules for Christmas too.

Earlier this month, the Government legislated to allow for festive ‘bubbles’ without social distancing over the Christmas period.

And now there’s been a last minute ditching of these plans and a cancellation of Christmas for swaths of the country.

Of course we would all like to see restrictions eased but again our call is for the data. What does the evidence suggest we should be doing, not least given we’ve been told that Covid case numbers will increase with even a minor relaxation in the rules.

That’s why we have repeatedly asked Government for regional cost-benefit analysis showing the impact on people’s overall health and livelihoods

That’s why we have repeatedly asked Government for regional cost-benefit analysis showing the impact on people’s overall health and livelihoods

Of course we would all like to see restrictions eased, but again our call is for the data.

What does the evidence suggest we should be doing, not least given we’ve been told that Covid-19 case numbers will increase with even a minor relaxation in the rules? We cannot expect our citizens to tolerate living under a system of laws that changes so frequently, which avoids the usual democratic checks and balances, and which is riddled with so much complexity and uncertainty.

Parliament must not be bypassed, with rules made and broken by a narrow group of ministers.

The best Christmas present the Government could give the nation is a different, enduring and sustainable strategy for living with Covid-19 that lasts beyond Christmas, which doesn’t ask people to pay a heavy price for their freedom.

We need a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish cycle 

It’s great news that a vaccine is being rolled out to the most at-risk groups around the country. But as this work begins, it is imperative that the Government sets out how this will translate into a return to normal in 2021 for us all.

In early December, the Health Secretary said that once we have protected vulnerable people, lifting restrictions ‘obviously’ becomes safer to do.

The Government should be clear about exactly how it will lift restrictions as the vaccine is rolled out and it should be clear when our freedoms will be fully restored.

Cycles of lockdowns and restrictions have failed.

The public and Parliament must be trusted with the data and analysis about the full impact these rules are having on people’s lives.

We need a clear exit strategy and offers hope and optimism for 2021.

It is time to lead the UK out of the Covid crisis and into a positive future.

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Headlines UK London Manchester

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: 2020? Even I couldn’t have made it up! 

This is the season when newspaper columnists are expected to pull on their Old Moore outfits and have a stab at predicting the year ahead.

Forgive me, but I opted out of this hackneyed tradition years ago, even though I’d never really taken it seriously.

No matter how outrageous or spectacularly silly my forecasts, they rarely came anywhere close to anticipating what fresh madness the next 12 months had in store.

This year the Butterfly Effect has been working overtime. Chaos theory holds that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can trigger an unstoppable chain reaction which leads to a tornado on the other side of the world.

In 2020, it wasn’t a butterfly but a bat that caused global meltdown. A diseased bat allegedly infected a pangolin bought from a wet market in the city of Wuhan, China, which has been blamed for sparking a pandemic which would impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Pictured: People throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Bristol on June 7, 2020. Four people have since been charged with criminal damage over the toppling of the statue

That is, of course, if you don’t buy into the perfectly plausible explanation that Covid-19 is a biological weapon manufactured in a secret Chinese military laboratory. Whether or not China released it deliberately to inflict maximum economic damage on the West is one for the conspiracy theorists. But just because you’re paranoid, etc.

Whatever happened, to adapt the old saw: coronavirus was halfway round the world before Western governments had got their boots on. None was as slow to act as Boris Johnson’s Conservative administration, which initially treated Covid as a faraway virus of which we knew nothing and was unlikely to pose any imminent threat to our shores.

At the end of January, when the pandemic was already starting to stretch its tentacles as close to home as Italy, Boris was celebrating Getting Brexit Done.

All that remained was the simple business of concluding a trade deal by the end of the year. That was the plan, anyway, and with the exception of die-hard, ultra Remainers most of the country breathed a sigh of relief, however we had voted in the referendum.

In these pages, I expressed the sincere hope that a line had been drawn under the bitter divisions of the past few years and we would rediscover the innate spirit of magnanimity and solidarity which had brought us together before, most notably after the Civil War.

With an 80-seat Tory majority and Brexit finally done, I wrote: ‘We can now look forward, fingers crossed, to five years of stability.’

What was I saying about not coming within a country mile of what was about to unfold? Just as well I crossed my fingers.

After a year of mayhem, of stop-go lockdowns, of economic devastation, of social unrest, of politicians and so-called experts making it up as they’ve gone along, Britain is about as stable as a three-wheeled Reliant van in a Force Nine gale.

Pictured: A police officer goes to one knee in front of Black Lives Matter protesters in London on June 3, 2020

Pictured: A police officer goes to one knee in front of Black Lives Matter protesters in London on June 3, 2020

It didn’t have to be like this. When Boris announced in March a brief three-week shutdown to ‘flatten the sombrero’ we complied willingly.

If we exercised restraint and stayed home we would save lives and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. Most people were happy to obey the Government’s temporary restraints, although that didn’t prevent deranged panic buying and bog-roll banditry.

Even lifelong sceptics like me went along with it at first. Frankly, we knew too little about the virus so we simply couldn’t be sure what to think. When Boris went down with Covid and hovered at death’s door, we were all spooked.

As far as I was concerned, if this really was a ‘war’ on corona, I was happy to play the ENSA concert party and perform a song and dance act aimed at keeping up morale.

But as three weeks turned into three months, doubts began to creep in. It soon became apparent that we were in for a long haul. The Government was hiding behind ‘the science’ and had no idea what to do next.

Worse, vested interests had started to capitalise on the Covid confusion to advance their own selfish agendas.

One of the few predictions I did get right was that ‘green’ fanatics would co-opt social distancing to launch a vicious anti-car campaign.

Councils have been carpeting the country with idiotic, gridlock-and-pollution-generating cycle lanes — thanks to a £225million bung from XR pin-up Grant Shapps, who is supposed to be a Conservative transport minister.

I also told you that once the restrictions were eased, the Warden Hodges tendency would draw up a whole new series of curbs on individual freedoms. There would be nothing normal about the so-called ‘New Normal’. Temporary measures have a nasty habit of becoming permanent. And so it has proven.

Pictured: A man leaves a Costco store in Manchester with a trolley full of toilet paper amid panic buying by people concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Pictured: A man leaves a Costco store in Manchester with a trolley full of toilet paper amid panic buying by people concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

What no one saw coming was the social upheaval another event thousands of miles away would rain down upon us. The gruesome death of George Floyd on the other side of the Atlantic allowed the miniscule, neo-Marxist Black Lives Matter movement to import American-style race-baiting identity politics to Britain, ushering in a Summer of Stupidity.

Bored students and others genuinely concerned about racism took to the streets, alongside hardened troublemakers.

What do we want?

Revolution!

Why do we want it?

Dunno.

At one stage, privileged, largely white and middle-class demonstrators marched towards unarmed British bobbies chanting: ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!’

Patently absurd. But the powers-that-be were running scared, sometimes literally.

Who can forget the demeaning sight of Metropolitan Police officers running away from BLM thugs along Whitehall, the epicentre of government?

On June 12, the headline on my column read: ‘Britannia teeters on the brink of anarchy’. There was an End of Days atmosphere abroad, as police and our civic institutions surrendered to widespread, sometimes violent, BLM demonstrations.

Ambitious senior coppers anxious to advance their careers thought it opportune to take the knee, both literally and metaphorically. Petrified by the prospect of allegations of racism, they stood back and watched BLM agitators attack Churchill’s statue and the Cenotaph.

Sadly, the Old Bill had no such reservations when it came to enforcing the haphazard, back-of-an-envelope Covid restrictions against non-violent members of the public. Drones were launched to spy on dog walkers in the Peak District and innocent sunbathers were threatened with fines.

In a scandalous abuse of power a 72-year old woman was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a patrol car for the heinous ‘crime’ of taking her 97-year old mother out of a care home for a cup of tea and a cream cake.

Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins resigned yesterday after his force was placed in ‘special measures’ by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary which expressed ‘serious causes for concern’. He even sent officers to measure pizza slices to determine whether they constituted a ‘substantial meal’.

This at a time when GMP failed to record a fifth of all crimes.

Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, administered by nurse May Parsons, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history on December 8, 2020

Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, administered by nurse May Parsons, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK’s history on December 8, 2020

Fortunately for them, as a result of the pandemic, I have had to cancel this year’s prestigious Mind How You Go Awards, which are awarded for outstanding examples of police incompetence, stupidity and excessive abuse of power. Otherwise, GMP would have been a shoo-in.

It was bad enough the police capitulating to BLM, worse still when virtually all our institutions, from government departments and the universities to the National Trust and the British Museum, decided to take the knee.

Statues have been toppled, streets renamed, works of art removed and the education curriculum ‘decolonised’, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

Not even The Queen is immune. Her painting of Rorke’s Drift, one of the great British military rearguard actions, immortalised in the film Zulu, is the latest national treasure under assault from the woke revisionists.

It only goes to prove how every pillar of civic society has been captured by the Left, which wants to trash British history and falsely portray our proud, tolerant nation as a racist hellhole, riddled with oppression and founded exclusively on the slave trade.

Worse still has been the way the pernicious woke agenda has been cynically embraced by the corporate world, advertisers and shameless bandwagon hoppers like Sky TV and professional football, now the official knee-bending partners of BLM.

They’ve been getting away with it in a vacuum as democracy and accountability have been put on hold. This totalitarian insanity has been visited upon us without any consultation or consent, largely against the wishes of taxpayers and charitable donors.

Still, I’ve tried to see the funny side, too. The daftest development of the BLM tyranny was when a council in Devon had to take down posters advertising a clean streets initiative because they read ‘Dog Fouling Matters’ and were thus deemed to be a racist hate crime.

There was also a serious suggestion that frogmen be sent down the sewers to examine human waste to determine the extent of the Covid virus.

What’s the worst job you ever had?

Crazy days: A collection of some of Richard Littlejhon's headlines from 2020's Summer of Stupidity

Crazy days: A collection of some of Richard Littlejhon’s headlines from 2020’s Summer of Stupidity

Much of the hilarity has been provided by the Government’s incoherent, inconsistent rules. If we didn’t laugh, we’d be phoning the Samaritans.

One minute Dishi Rishi is pumping £500 million we don’t have into his Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free bonanza, encouraging us to Eat Out To Help Out. The next minute, the Government is forcing all pubs and restaurants to close their doors again.

There’s no rhyme nor reason. A few weeks ago, 32 coppers raided a North London gym, open in contravention of Covid rules. The owner was hit with a crippling £67,000 fine. Now, under Tier 3, gyms can open. Go figure.

Bizarrely, sauna parlours can stay open too. So you can sit in a boiling hot wooden box with any number of other sweaty men or women, but you can’t eat a socially distanced steak and chips at the Covid-secure cafe next door.

And as things stand — I think I’ve got this right — you can meet up to six friends in a garden (in December?) but not in a Wendy house. As if you’d want to.

This madness will pass, some day. But who’d have thought that when someone in China tucked into a dodgy, bat-infused pangolin stew, it would lead to anarchy on the streets of London and a deadly serious debate about whether a scotch egg is a substantial meal or a criminal offence?

You couldn’t make it up.

For what it’s worth, 2020 is the Chinese Year Of The Rat. I had to check that wasn’t a spelling mistake. If you ask me, as Al Stewart almost sang on his brilliant platinum-selling album from 1976, this was The Year Of The Bat.

Sadly, my hope that the country would unite has not materialised. Now we’re split into two new camps. On one side there’s public sector staff guaranteed full pay whether they do any work or not, and those lucky enough to ‘work from home’ — all of whom would like lockdown to last forever.

On the other, there’s the desperate private sector, already reeling from pay cuts and large scale job losses.

I wonder if the smug WFH brigade, selfishly boasting about their quality of life and how much money they’re saving, ever spare a thought for the thousands of small businesses going bankrupt.

Or for redundant shop, airline and hospitality trade staff facing a bleak future. Thought not.

What comes next? Your guess is as good as mine. Our frightened-rabbit Government hasn’t a clue either. More lockdowns by the sound of it.

But there’s one prediction I should have made back in January. With Christmas a few days away, and 11 months after we officially left the EU, I really ought to have known we’d still be arguing about Brexit…           

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Canada

The air quality debate is skewed, says Roberge

While Quebec is criticized for having been slow to worry about air quality in schools, the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, affirms that the debates surrounding the relevance of equipping classes with air purifiers are colored by commercial and political interests.

“I have a feeling that there are actors who have interests in the matter,” he dropped in an interview with the Newspaper recently.

“When we sell systems, we are happy when people buy them, same thing for the people who install them”, he added.

In recent weeks, the minister has been manhandled in the public square, accused by the opposition and experts of dragging his feet on this issue.

Private schools and English-language school boards have not hesitated to equip their classrooms with air purifiers as the risks of COVID-19 transmission by aerosol are increasingly recognized.

Recommendations from a committee of experts looking at air quality in schools are expected in January.

“Political capital”

However, Minister Roberge deplores that “people are trying to gain political capital” “by saying the opposite of what public health experts say”.

“I find it doubtful to say ‘we’re going to install [des purificateurs d’air]”Before you know if it’s good or before you even know if it’s dangerous,” he said.

In parliamentary committee at the beginning of December, Dr Richard Massé, strategic medical adviser to the public health directorate, said air purifiers in classrooms could increase the risk of the virus spreading if the devices were not installed correctly.

This analysis is not unanimous in the scientific community, however.

Germany, for example, started in September to equip all its classrooms with air purifiers that are not adequately ventilated.

Mr. Roberge assures him that the money will be there if the committee of experts finally comes to the conclusion that the purchase of these devices is necessary.

“We will follow the recommendations,” he said.

Categories
Headlines UK

JAN MOIR: Why Harry and Meg are the new Smashie and Nicey (shame it’s not all for charidee) 

They left the utter torment of royal life behind them, upsetting the Queen and falling out with Prince William in the process.

They moved across an entire continent to find freedom, which we read about in a liberty-locating book called Finding Freedom (£20) based on their freedom-finding expedition.

They spent months in different but lavishly appointed mansions before settling down in their own £11 million Californian enclave, complete with log fire in the master bedroom. And all for what? To make a podcast.

I know, I know. They have done so much more than that, including a Netflix deal and delivering gluten-free sandwiches in downtown LA. But what the world really doesn’t need right now is another podcast from another couple of thrusters convinced of their own delightfulness — although when has modesty ever stopped the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from doing exactly as they please? ‘Hi guys! I’m Harry.’ ‘And I’m Meghan,’ they burble after some godforsaken cheesy bantz to introduce their new Archewell Audio enterprise.

Harry and Meghan have reportedly been paid millions by Spotify to regularly air their bien pensees to a breathless world

It’s agony from the get-go. My toes have yet to uncurl. If the international wokerati are looking for the new Smashie and Nicey, let me tell you, they’ve found them.

Older readers will remember these spoof DJ characters created by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse; a couple of self-important buffoons always talking pop-a-doodle-doo rubbish into their Radio Fab FM microphones.

In their radio double act, Smashie always let it be known that he did a ‘lodda work for charidee’ — but he didn’t want to talk about it, yeah right. Nicey had a troubled side to his nature but he didn’t want to talk about that either. Ring any Christmas bells?

Harry and Meghan have reportedly been paid millions by Spotify to regularly air their bien pensees to a breathless world. This must be hugely irritating for the recording stars who, on average, receive just £200 a year from music streaming services such as Spotify for regularly playing their songs.

Harry promises that Archewell Audio will ‘bring forward different perspectives and voices to find our common ground’.

I can think of some common ground that Mr Bachman, Mr Turner and Mr Overdrive — as Smashie and Nicey would say —might have with the couple right now, specifically about how much Spotify is paying them versus how much it’s paying the Sussexes.

I can think of some common ground that Mr Bachman, Mr Turner and Mr Overdrive — as Smashie and Nicey would say —might have with the couple right now, specifically about how much Spotify is paying them versus how much it’s paying the Sussexes

I can think of some common ground that Mr Bachman, Mr Turner and Mr Overdrive — as Smashie and Nicey would say —might have with the couple right now, specifically about how much Spotify is paying them versus how much it’s paying the Sussexes

However, don’t expect that to be on the agenda any time soon. In the meantime, H & M promise the usual guff; talking to ‘amazing people,’ sharing memories that have ‘helped shape’ 2020 and — says Harry — ‘connecting through the pain and endless acts of compassion and kindness’.

Wot? The poor little prince’s Californication seems almost complete. ‘It’s free, all you have to do is click right here, go ahead,’ he beseeches on the audio clip; this man who is the son of a royal house in Europe, now little better than a Malibu disc jockey urging you to book him for your next pool party. Altogether now, cringe.

But hold it right there. I don’t always want to sound like a great aunt screeching with horror and clutching my cultured pearls every time Harry and Meghan try something new. And Christmas is almost upon us, so please bear with me while I try to be positive instead. A podcast, you say? How marvellous! It is certainly something that will appeal to the Sussexes’ younger fan base, who still find the couple relatable and interesting, despite everything. And it is important to acknowledge that people cannot complain about the Sussexes taking money from the Sovereign Grant then continue to complain when they try to make money of their own. Or can they?

My problem — that was a short amnesty — is that very little Harry and Meghan do could be described as proper work or honest effort, something dependent on talent or skill. It’s all just preachy pie in the sententious sky.

Nothing is real. Everything is an opportunity to trade in on the royal connections they once found so onerous — but now realise that without them they would be nothing. Companies such as Spotify and Netflix would certainly not be recruiting the couple for roles they are neither experienced enough nor qualified for — and furthermore, haven’t earned the moral authority to undertake. Whoops! There I go again.

But it’s not just me. Will those who disagree with these views — or indeed anyone five years down the line — really want to tune in regularly to listen to the Sussexes and hear their latest freshly baked views? These empty words from privileged kids which, under closer examination, are almost entirely meaningless.

For example, Meghan says: ‘One of the things my husband and I have always talked about is my passion for meeting people and hearing their stories.’ A passion for meeting people? Very nice I am sure, even though it doesn’t seem to include her own father.

Anyway, what with this and the vegan superlatte coffee company investment made by Meghan —which her good friend Oprah then plugged online to her 19 million followers — we are entering new Sussex territory.

From now on, it will become increasingly hard to match up their ‘we were bullied out of the Royal Family’ rhetoric with the launching of these highly professional operations which ultimately profit from their royal fame and titles.

‘But we literally are the world’s most caring celebrities, so tune in to our humongously megatastic holiday special coming soon,’ said the couple. Meghan and Harry or Smashie and Nicey? Already it is hard to tell.

Good to hear that Simon Cowell is on the mend.

The music mogul broke his back in a horror electric bike accident, and was almost paralysed.

Now he is back on a jetski in Barbados, enjoying the sunshine and thinking of suing the bike company, so clearly he is on the mend.

Meanwhile, I loved the cheery, comfy, big pants bikini his partner Lauren Silverman (left) was sporting this week.

Those big wide shoulder straps! That thick and steadfast fabric!

If only Simon had been wearing something similar when he was on his bike.

He would have bounced straight back up again.

Lockdowns take their toll on even the happiest relationships. And it’s the little things that drag you down, isn’t it? Pretending to listen when they are not, bringing back unripe avocados, using the last of the milk and not saying. Don’t get me started.

Denise Van Outen’s pet peeves about her partner, commodities trader Eddie Boxshall, are that he leaves wet towels lying around even though they have a heated towel rail (I hear you, sister), he takes forever to tell a story and leaves little piles of his beard trimmings in the sink, scream.

For his part, he hates that she only makes tea for herself and won’t take golf advice from him — but will from a complete stranger on the course.

This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby says that her husband drives her mad working from home because he types too loudly on his computer keyboard, while Ruth Langsford regularly has to chide husband Eamonn Holmes about his loud chewing.

Jamie Oliver says wife Jools drives him mad in lockdown because she is always cleaning. Of course she is — they’ve got five children for heaven’s sake. I am on the side of the long-suffering women in all these domestic disputes — aren’t you?

Rules are rules — but the way they are enforced depends on who you are rather than what you do. For it seems very unfair that Covid rule breakers Dominic Cummings and Kay Burley remain at liberty, while the romeo from Scotland who jet-skied to the Isle of Man to see his girlfriend has been sentenced to four weeks in jail.

Dale McLaughlan, 28, was banged up for making a four-and-a-half hour journey to visit his girlfriend — despite having never driven a water scooter before and being unable to swim. No one approves of rule breakers, but it is hard not to be swayed by the salty, drenching romance of it all.

Dale shouldn’t be in jail — he should be auditioning for the next James Bond film. Or delivering Christmas boxes of Milk Tray at the very least.

Worst of all, his wee Scottish mum didn’t even know he had gone.

‘He could have killed himself,’ she said. Now he’s really for it.

It seems unfair to compare royal couples, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Take the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent low-key tour of the UK, which found them shivering on railway station platforms and being sneered at by Nicola Sturgeon for making the effort to visit Scotland. 

They made a little podcast, too — but theirs was about raising £400,000 to buy toys for poor children at Christmas. Something real. Something that helped, something constructive — instead of that vapid, self-aggrandising nonsense pumped out from California.

It seems unfair to compare royal couples, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Take the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent low-key tour of the UK, which found them shivering on railway station platforms and being sneered at by Nicola Sturgeon for making the effort to visit Scotland. 

They made a little podcast, too — but theirs was about raising £400,000 to buy toys for poor children at Christmas. Something real. Something that helped, something constructive — instead of that vapid, self-aggrandising nonsense pumped out from California.

Can we pause for a moment to salute the genius of Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, whose television shows are much missed. 

Smashie and Nicey were my favourite characters on the Radio Fab roster, but shout outs to Noel Tidybeard, BLT The Hairy Sandwich and the world’s youngest man, David Kid Pension. Great times, great guys, as they would say themselves.

How I miss them, for there is nothing nearly so funny on television at the moment — nothing even in the same league! The reason is obvious, for Paul and Harry would not pass the woke censorship of today.

And there is nothing funny about that.

Jesy Nelson is leaving Little Mix, the pop group which won X Factor in 2011.

‘The truth is, recently being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health. I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard,’ she said in a statement.

I’m sure it is — but who ever said that fame, fortune and being in a pop group were going to be easy?

Yes, it is particularly difficult for stars today, who must deal with the online onslaught as well as with the more traditional pressures of fame. Yet with great rewards come great hardships — that is always the way it has been.

After selling more than 85 million records, Shania Twain went into early retirement because she just couldn’t cope with the business any more. Karen Carpenter and Janis Joplin had their own demons which made their lives very difficult. And male celebrities suffer, too. This is not an easy path to choose, for either sex.

Staying at the top, being under constant scrutiny? Not everyone can shoulder the burden. Jesy also said this week: ‘I need to spend some time with the people I love, doing things that make me happy.’

I wish her all the best. But the Little Mix star has had a terrific nine-year run in showbusiness, which is longer than most pop careers.

And there is a distinct strain of victimhood running through everything she has said and done recently.

Fair enough that she feels bad, but it makes me feel uncomfortable because it encourages young women to think of themselves as the victims, rather than the heroines, of their own lives.