January in Headlines

by Matt Gray

1st February 2018

Scrimping, saving, strange diets and Tupperware. Luckily, the headlines weren’t quite so austere.

We’ve had a cocktail of bumbling politicians, shambolic reshuffles, crumbling construction firms and explosive exposés to keep us fired up through the cold.

The Long Winter Crisis

It wouldn’t be January without a reported winter crisis for the NHS, and things got off to an early start when 55,000 operations were postponed, helping beleaguered doctors and nurses tackle the most brutal bout of flu in recent years. The H2N3 strain is known to have originated in Australia, and it’s a pity it couldn’t assist England’s woeful Ashes team – simply by keeping some their Aussie counterparts in bed.

Shuffling the deck, dropping the cards

With chaos gripping the hospitals, commuters up in arms over hiked rail fares and the faces of Brexit – Boris Johnson and David Davis – continually slipping off message, it was time for our Prime Minister to assert her authority. And what better way than by an early 2018 reshuffle? A chance for Theresa May to clear the cobwebs and set her government on the path for a successful year.

 She probably wishes she never bothered. The Tories may well have signed up Queen of the Jungle Georgia Toffolo to share some lessons on social media, but she clearly has her work cut out. Events were brought to a marvellously muddled start as Conservative HQ mistakenly tweeted that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had been made Tory party chairman.

The great white sharks of the political press had their first taste of blood, but they hadn’t seen anything yet. Health Minister, and scourge of junior doctors, Jeremy Hunt had been thought to be losing his brief on stepping into 10 Downing Street but emerged some time later with a beaming smile and an expanded remit after, as the Mail put it, digging in his heels and shouting “No, Prime Minister!”

May’s indignity doubled when Education Secretary Justine Greening chose to take the sack over a move to Work and Pensions. Cue political desks going in for the kill, with even those sympathetic to May’s Government joining the hunt.

“Accident-strewn” came the verdict from the Financial Times, The Times went with “shambolic” and the Guardian gleefully reported “disarray”. The Daily Mail may have later claimed that this was “the massacre of the middle-aged men” – on account of 10 of the 11 outgoing ministers being white, male and all-too-stale – but May’s reshuffle will forever go down, as the Telegraph coined, as: “The Night of the Blunt Stiletto”.

A very stable genius

The above phrase has joined the likes of “alternative facts” and “covfefe” on the prestigious list of sayings that simply didn’t exist before Trump took office. For that, I’m obliged to give him a shred of credit; when he leaves office by 2021 (and please, for the love of god, let it be 2021) there’ll be at least a couple of new pages in the Merriam-Webster dictionary of American English thanks to him alone.

This was, of course, Trump’s reaction to the release of Fire and Fury, a salacious account of the President’s first year in office by Michael Wolff. While neither biographer nor subject has the greatest grasp of the truth, the media was enraptured—preferring in most cases to forgo some of Wolff’s questionable journalistic practices to dine out on his book’s cheeseburger-related revelations.

Not content with trying to convince us that he was “like, really smart”, January was also the month Trump caused international condemnation by calling Haiti, El Salvador and a number of African countries “shitholes”, and spectacularly pulled out of opening the new US Embassy to the UK.

While the official reason given was his unhappiness with the new embassy’s location, having moved from Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square to the Nine Elms development in Battersea, the media agreed the more likely cause was the threat of mass protest and a deteriorating relationship with Theresa May.

It’s always the ones you least expect…

Quick, someone grab Brenda from Bristol. Give her a peppermint tea and a nice sit-down. Someone’s been calling for a second EU referendum. That’s right, no less than senior snowflake and remoaner-in-chief Nigel Farage himself. Wait, hold on a second…

Never one to pass up on the chance to thrust his name into the limelight, Nige made the call during an appearance on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, claiming it would end the “whinging and whining” of anti-Brexit campaigners. The Guardian reported the “glee” this was met with by the 48%, but the seven-time general election failure has clearly taken some lessons from his friend in the White House, decrying the story as “fake news” to Good Morning Britain.

Carry on Carillion

The biggest business story of the month came with the collapse of Carillion, Britain’s second largest construction firm. The firm employed 20,000 workers in the UK, owed money to 30,000 small firms, and keeping its public-sector operations open could potentially end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds. A serious headache for May as almost every front page ran a story on Carillion’s demise, highlighting the extent to which public infrastructure projects rely on private sector companies – often companies no one has heard of.

Boris bundles on

He may now be destined to go down in history as the answer to the pub quiz question: “name the lesser-known relative of reality TV stars Stanley and Rachel Johnson”, but Boris has had a busy month by even his own inimitable standards.

Who could forget the ‘Boris Bridge’, his proposed cross-channel link with France that was met “unenthusiastically” by Downing Street – maybe because it would intercut the world’s busiest shipping route? – or his attempt to troll readers of the Guardian by claiming that the infamous £350m figure on his red bus was indeed wrong. “It should have been bigger!”

However, his call for a £100 million a week “Brexit dividend” for the NHS proved a step too far for his cabinet colleagues, who proceeded to give him a “humiliating slapdown”, as described by the Daily Mirror. Of course, Boris can always count on his fans in the Mail to get him through such embarrassment, with columnist Peter Oborne writing that Johnson holds “the moral high ground”.