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Off The Fence: Britain's Hardest Politician
A definitive answer to a question we've all wondered about.
Hello again, and welcome back to Off The Fence, the Tuesletter to end all Tuesletters, thoughtfully compiled once more by the team behind the UK’s Only Magazine.
By the time you read this, Issue 18 will be finalised and off to the printers, and my word, do we have an issue for you. When we promise something, we deliver, and we can say without qualification that Issue 18 will be our coming of age, with a star-studded roster of contributors that you will not want to miss.
We’ll reveal more in due course, but move today to get your copy at the earliest opportunity: a subscription is only £24.99 for the year, and there’s a button here below that will get you on that mailout list in thirty seconds or less (depending on how quick you are with your card details).
This week, however, we have a little present for you. Prompted – as things so often are around these parts – by a pub-table conversation some weeks back, we’ve spent the last fortnight polling the entire lobby commentariat, to answer a question we’ve all pondered at some point or other: who, pray tell, is the hardest politician in Britain?
Let’s Have It, Then
As the old saying goes (we think, and for the purposes of this, we’re not going to check): two weeks is a long time in politics. Since we first started asking this vitally important question to anyone who’d text us back, the mad bastards of Westminster have reshuffled themselves somewhat. Smokey-eye enthusiast Suella Braverman is out, hoodie hugger David Cameron is back in. Suffragette movement expert Esther McVey is ready to take on our wokest snowflakes.
Only time can tell whether the newbies and returning characters will disturb the delicate ecosystem of hard men and women at the centre of power. But the world they enter is a treacherous and aggro one, according to our anonymous lobby sources. With them, we’ve scientifically ranked the Commons from weakest to hardest. There has never before been an awards ceremony for Britain’s Hardest Politician*, but if the events of the past week have proven anything it’s that we need one. The Fence is happy to provide that service. Here’s who made the running, who fought valiantly to get on the podium, and who we crowned in the end.
*For the purposes of this award we have chosen to separate mainland Britain from Northern Ireland, where by definition all of the politicians are hard and mad bastards, and thus cannot be included as they would skew the data.
An innumerable amount of Tory weirdos received nominations that while not quite carrying them to first place, are worth honourable mentions here:
Natalie Elphicke: ‘Found out her husband and incumbent MP Charlie was cheating on her and also had sexually assaulted his aide, so she got him deselected and then ran and won in his former seat. She is a mad bastard.’
Priti Patel: ‘Would win any fight, fair or foul,’ says one nominee. ‘Has a death stare, and will just glare at you mid-conversation,’ says another.
Gavin Williamson: ‘I heard a great story from when he was at defence where, instead of flying commercial to Afghanistan, he went for the military cargo plane all the way from the UK with all his staff, made them sit in the cargo nets, and then asked the pilots to do a combat landing, where you basically nosedive like 20,000ft to land. He was just like madly grinning throughout.’
David Davis: ‘He’s ex-SAS, I'd go for him. He's very good value in person, and I can imagine him doing a kung fu chop.’ (NB: David Davis technically has three nominations when included alongside David TC Davies, who received a nomination because he ‘does kickboxing under the name “The Tory Tornado”’.)
Stephen Crabb: ‘Has a good mix of physique and psychopathy.’
Chris Heaton-Harris: Received two nominations with the following notes: ‘does weight lifting’ and ‘does power lifting’.
Stuart Anderson: ‘He’s thick as shit’, wrote one panellist, ‘but also worked as a security contractor for US forces in Iraq, and did an ultra marathon.’
Penny Mordaunt: ‘She just doesn’t take any shit.’
Mark Jenkinson: ‘Has a real old-world blockhead quality. The sort of guy who’d be stripped to the waist in a castle dungeon and have prisoners tossed to him to mangle.”
Steve Baker: ‘I doubt Steve Baker is hard, but he does seem like the kind of guy who has a display cabinet full of samurai swords” and “as well as a cross around his neck, Steve Baker also wears a parachute release clip, to reflect his deep interest in skydiving”.
Gillian Keegan: ‘She would eat Lee Anderson for breakfast.’ (NB: Nobody nominated Lee Anderson.)
James Sunderland: ‘I reckon he could kill someone with his bare hands.’
Damian Collins: ‘He might be handy if he was allowed a run-up: that’s a man with a lot of mass. And he always looks very hot and red-faced so I have a suspicion that he might in fact be pulling a juggernaut act and slamming into his many enemies routinely.’
A less innumerable number of Labour weirdos were nominated, presumably because they have more out-and-out nerds in the party. Nonetheless, here are our honourable mentions:
Sadiq Khan: ‘I once was sent to report on a block of flats in East London that burned down two years after Grenfell,’ one panellist recalls, ‘and saw Sadiq Khan get yelled at by some residents, and he took it very well – although it didn’t scream hard so much as an inner toughness, more like Atticus Finch than Vinnie Jones.’
Dan Jarvis: ‘Was in the Paras and looks severe.’
Ian Lavery: One panellist put it simply: ‘He would glass you.’ Another came with the story of Lavery ‘throwing a stone at a bull in Ukraine, to stop it attacking [MP for Gateshead] Ian Mearns, then accidentally hitting said bull in the bollocks and angering it further.’
Sam Tarry: ‘Plays for the party rugby team and has got a bit of a fight-in-a-takeaway, fists swinging in All Bar One vibe.’
Steve McCabe: ‘Looks like he’s tortured a few rabbits.’
Ian Bristow: Nominated for taking part in a wrestling match. Here is the simply astonishing footage.
Angela Rayner and Clive Lewis
Although the hardest politicians list is dominated inevitably by Tory men, there are Labour women who are mad bastards too; notably Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the party and our bronze medal winner. ‘She’d definitely be a head-butter’, said one ex-spad. Rayner smokes Vogues, which only adds to the non-gender specific hard bastard mystique that surrounds her like a miasma of fag ash. She is undoubtedly the hardest person on the opposition benches – although next to Starmer it is not hard to cultivate this vibe – however she is tied for the third in line spot with reformed squaddie Clive Lewis.
Clive Lewis received one less nomination than Rayner. But he also, according to one nominator, ‘punched through a wall over the Trident vote at the Labour conference’. Which is the kind of psycho behaviour that warrants a bronze if nothing else.
Dominic Raab and Johnny Mercer
There is one obvious candidate for the UK’s hardest politician, and he’s so obvious that it’s a little too easy just to hand it over to him: The Rt Honourable Dominic Rennie Raab. Former Warwick University calendar boy, MP for Esther and Walton, and, to quote directly from one nominator: ‘does martial arts and is clearly a psychopath.’
It’s not just the martial arts, nor is it the whole formal investigation into bullying thing he had going on for a time, there. Rather, it is Raab’s general vibe and appearance (as another panellist said, ‘Looks like a thumb. Thumbs fight.’) that garnered him a sweep of nominations and a coveted silver hard bastard medal. ‘Raab used to make eye contact while at the staff gym,’ one lobby source told us. ‘Apparently he could hold it for a very long time. Strong thighs.’ Insane. Sadly, though, too obviously insane to actually win the thing, so he shares the medal with another Westminster hardman: Johnny Mercer.
Much like Raab, Mercer is such an obvious vibes-based hard bastard that it feels too boring to give him the gold. There’s a reason why, for many panellists, he was the first person to spring to mind: ‘I’m sure he would kick my head in if it came to it, but I cannot really bring myself to admit that.’ Or, as another told us, ‘Johnny Mercer could not have been quicker to take his shirt off when we went surfing. He is hard, though, his best friend died in his arms.’
Johnny Mercer, then, is the boring answer. He is hard. But, as with Raab, the obviousness of his hardness somehow detracts from the overall effect. A true mad bastard politician does not hide in plain sight. Step forward, our winner.
‘I wouldn’t wanna mess with him,’ said one of the lobby. ‘He's very nice but I imagine he could be brutal. Got a smirk, always. Also, have you seen his wife’s name? Because you’d have to be hard to stop people taking the piss.’ Stephen Flynn’s wife’s name is Lynn Flynn. You can’t have a wife named Lynn Flynn and not be a hard bastard. Not only that, but Flynn received more nominations from insiders than both noted hard men Raab and Mercer.
It’s possible that he has been flying under the radar of mad political bastardry for years now, biding his time. He’s a worthy winner, with ‘a combination of henchness and actual karate technique’ as one panellist put it. Conversely, another told us that ‘this is pure vibe but I could see him chinning someone in a pub.’ So, congratulations Stephen Flynn, Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South, and – as far as The Fence can determine – the Hardest Politician in the UK.
What’s in a Name?
As mentioned above, David Cameron cemented one of the most astounding political comebacks in recent years yesterday, swapping his former post as a chain-smoking Cotswolds pub bore for the more prestigious title of Foreign Secretary. If you have no inclination to read more about that David Cameron, turn instead to the scaffolder David Cameron, a ‘big hairy Scottish man with a ginger beard’ who boasted to John Phipps in Issue 7 of being David Cameron ‘years before he was’.
This piece remains one of our very favourites, with Phipps speaking to a dozen or so people with unfortunate names: a Jimmy Saville with two Ls, a New York production assistant called Madeleine McCann, and a Scouser by the name of John Lennon who ‘always liked Paul McCartney more’. Read it today, and spare a thought for those poor folk who find themselves confused with ruddy-cheeked ex-PMs.
Returned to Sender
The good folk of AirMail, our brothers-in-arms in the fine art of newslettering, have returned to these shores with their London issue, and were kind enough to ask us for a little contribution on the new tribes of London. Our contention that the old stereotypes – your Shoreditch Hipsters, your Chelsea Hoorays – are now so rote as to be ungagworthy, is buttressed by seven new clichés that you might’ve spotted populating the capital of recent years.
Think of the Guinness Cops of Islington, mooning over their incorrectly poured pint of plain, or the Camberwell Authentocrats taking their Hinge dates to grotty noodle shops in the barren south east, and you’ll get the picture. Have a wander over their way, and read up on the unchic cliques that characterise this fair city in 2023.
Mags Out the Wazoo
Should you be enjoying this Tuesletter of ours, we’re running a little deal which we hope will get you over the line to join our throngs of beloved subscribers. If you get yourself a print subscription today, for the low, low, low low low price of £24.99, you’ll receive not only our last issue, and the four to follow, but a free Zest of the Rest: our bumper bundle of #1, #2 and #4, all on your doorstep to keep you occupied through the winter. It’s an astonishing deal, full of gags and goodies, but it’s only on for today. Move quick, and snap up a sub right away.
In Case You Missed It
Miles Klee on the internet community driving itself insane in its attempts to track down a mystery pop song.
Patrick Maguire wields a sharp hatchet on Nadine Dorries’ ‘very long and very strange book', The Plot.
Alex Blasdel profiles Andrew Wylie, the literary agent who made highbrow writers very famous, and very rich.
Rusty Foster on the collapse of digital media platforms, blogging as capital, and the Awl Inflection Point.
Daniel Storey takes a trip to Bohemians FC in Dublin, the fan-owned club that champions universal inclusion.
This past few weeks marks 21 years since the BBC first broadcast Look Around You, Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper’s seminal parody of BBC science programming.
For the uninitiated, each episode of the first series is structured around one topic – Calcium, Maths, Ghosts, Music - although only in the broadest possible sense. Outwardly normal pronouncements on each theme soon give way to increasingly unhinged tangents and sight gags, all delivered with the tone and rhythms of vintage BBC.
Everywhere, the production values of schools programming’s 70s and 80s golden age are recreated, with washed-out colour and pitch-perfect clipped diction from narrator Nigel Lambert. The result is one of the greatest achievements in absurdism, and parody, this century. A second series dispensed with the Schools Program format and retooled itself into a Tomorrow’s World-style magazine show. While perhaps marginally less consistent, it does contain the single greatest song ever recorded for television broadcast.
Look Around You was well-liked on release, but has only grown in stature since. 21 years later, this send-up of the programming of half a century ago, seems years ahead of its, or any other, time.
We’d strongly recommend that anyone who hasn’t watched it yet, do so now, since it has recently been uploaded, in its entirety, by the dauntless worker ants over at BBC iPlayer.
To that we can only say, Thanks Ants. Thants.
Aha! Another Tuesletter done & dusted, and a sterling one if we say so ourselves. As ever, if you would like to speak with us about anything you’ve read, anything you’ve seen, anything at all, we’re reachable at email@example.com and would love to hear from you. And don’t forget — if you sign up today, you’ll get Issues 1, 3 and 4 as well as 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21, so get yourself onboard.
Stay out of the rain, keep warm and we’ll catch you at the same time next week.
All the best,