July in headlines

Above the Fold

3rd August 2018

Can’t stand the heat

Britain has gone through an uncharacteristically consistent heatwave throughout July. But while the month began with smiles and stay-cations, Brits quickly began to ‘feel the burn’ of daily life living in a country so unused to the perils of prolonged sunshine.

As temperatures soared to 33.9C, the national media went into panic mode. “The world’s on fire as Britain bakes in 95°F heat,” raged the front page of The Sun. “Britain’s in meltdown!” proclaimed the Daily Mail—next to a slightly less apocalyptic image of The Duchess of Cornwall and Dame Judi Dench enjoying an ice cream.

With temperatures almost surpassing the previous all-time high of 38.5C, and The Met Office issuing the first government heat-health alert of the summer, for once the tabloid headlines don’t seem so dramatic.

World Cup 2018: England backs its boys

Despite far exceeding the expectations of a nation, on 11 July a fiery England team was knocked out of the World Cup. But in a pleasing turn of events, our quick-to-blame nation stood by them in their defeat. Football wasn’t coming home, but Gareth Southgate’s boys gave us hope that one day it could.

Even the British media, which hasn’t been historically kind to the England football team in times of hardship, was singing the praises of the squad that got us to the semis. The Telegraph told the team to “Hold your heads high”, while the Mirror hailed them as “National Treasures.”

Perhaps it was the decent weather or the fact that Brits had been drinking 14 million extra pints during this year’s tournament, but spirits seemed to remain high as we watched France beat Croatia 4-2 in the final. After all, that is a lot of extra beer.

Thai boys rescued—no thanks to Elon Musk

Seventeen days after they had become trapped in a cave in Thailand, 12 now famous local boys and their football coach were safely rescued. A complicated three-day rescue mission was undertaken in which the individuals either swam or were transported, accompanied by a team of rescue divers, through the narrow cave to eventual safety.

The safe return of the trapped boys was a cause for jubilation. However, one outspoken tech mogul was less than impressed by the daring divers that navigated the boys to freedom. In a bizarre turn of events, Tesla co-founder Elon Musk weighed in on the subject not with praise, but with childish insults.

Having designed a mini-sub that could apparently free the boys from the cave, Musk appeared hurt that Vernon Unsworth, a British diver who participated in the rescue mission, thought his invention was a PR stunt—telling Musk to “stick his submarine where it hurts.” In retaliation, Musk baselessy referred to Unsworth as “Pedo guy”. Needless to say, his comments weren’t well-received. Musk later issued a full apology via Twitter.

Johnson and Davis ditch cabinet roles

What a month for British politics. Power plays, parliamentary pairing problems, and probably a few other things beginning with ‘P’.

Most high-profile were the resignations of foreign secretary Boris Johnson and David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—or ‘Brexit minister’ as he was better known.

Johnson, an odd choice for foreign secretary from the start, was always going to be one slip-of-the-tongue away from disaster. This is a man famed for suggesting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sex with a goat, and who wrote of “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles” in a column for the Daily Telegraph.

But he swung the axe himself, claiming in an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May that he could not support her Brexit plans. As a staunch ‘Brexiteer’, he said he “cannot in all conscience champion these proposals”.

Before Boris, May had already been undermined by Davis—who stepped down earlier the same day, saying he did not “believe” in her plans and could not deliver them. Dominic Raab, a Leave campaigner, has taken over from Davis, while “much-loved” health secretary Jeremy Hunt is the new Johnson.

However several commentators, including Guardian columnist Martin Kettle, have suggested the Brexit debate is merely a ruse. Instead, the suggestion is that Johnson in particular saw May’s increasingly precarious position as an opportunity for a leadership bid of his own.

Some rules aren’t made to be broken

There’s a rule in place to ensure the numbers are balanced for House of Commons votes: if an MP from one party can’t attend for any reason, they can request to be “paired” with an MP from another party, who also has to miss the ballot.

One such agreement was in place for a recent Brexit Trade Bill vote. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson, having recently given birth, was unable to vote—and had agreed with Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis that they would pair up.

But it was revealed that chief whip Julian Smith had allegedly encouraged Lewis to vote anyway, as the count was likely to be close—leading to calls for Smith to resign. He’d originally called it an “honest mistake”, but The Times found Smith had also told others with similar arrangements to vote, too.

Swinson tweeted calling the whole thing “nonsense”, and it’s hard to disagree.

Labour’s anti-Semitism woes continue

The Labour party’s battle with accusations of anti-Semitism has been well reported. But Labour MP Margaret Hodge hurled party leader Jeremy Corbyn into the spotlight once again by calling him a “fucking anti-Semite and a racist” during a House of Commons session.

Reacting to what she believed was a less-than-adequate new Labour code of conduct, Hodge told Corbyn “you have proved you don’t want people like me in the party”.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has claimed Hodge “misinterpreted” the new rules, saying she had simply failed to understand them. But Hodge has firmly stood by her criticism—while admitting she “blew [her] top” in the Commons.

Amid all the accusations, it’s been interesting to see how different publications have reported the full extent of Hodge’s fury—or not, as the case may be. While Above the Fold will always quote verbatim, most titles chose to soften the curse with asterisks – at least in their headlines – or by removing any reference whatsoever.

Hodge’s were serious allegations, delivered with passion and ferocity, and it could be argued that censoring her language fails to properly communicate the extent of her anger. Meanwhile, she’s facing a party disciplinary case—though Corbyn has urged MPs to resolve the issue “amicably”.

Brexit overspending

If we haven’t already mentioned the ‘B-word’ enough [Ed: just wait for “Everyone’s talking about”!], the Vote Leave campaign has been in further hot water. Lampooned for misleading the British public with falsehoods plastered across buses, it turns out the campaign also broke rules by exceeding the £7 million spending limit.

The Electoral Commission (EC) said £675,000 had been funnelled through a pro-Brexit youth group called BeLeave, in an attempt to mask the true total. BeLeave founder Darren Grimes was fined £20,000 and referred to the police, while Vote Leave was fined a further £61,000.

Ahead of the EC’s report, whistle-blower Shahmir Sanni – who helped run the campaign – had told Channel 4 News that BeLeave had been used as “a way to overspend”. It’s understood the majority of the money taken by BeLeave was then diverted to Aggregate IQ, the digital marketing agency hired by Vote Leave.

And Facebook – the platform already at the sharp end of plenty of Brexit-related scrutiny – has also released the ads Vote Leave paid to promote. Shown to a committee of MPs investigating fake news, the ads include headlines such as “the European Union wants to kill our cuppa” and “the EU blocks our ability to speak out and protect polar bears”.

As Brexit talks come to a head, with Britain expected to exit the European Union in March 2019, the Independent has launched its ‘Final Say’ campaign—a petition demanding the electorate is given a new referendum on May’s exit terms.

At the time of writing, it had broken the 400,000-signature mark—less than a week after going live. While it remains to be seen whether the petition will change much, it does reinforce the influence of the British national media.