Don’t know about you, but these days I peruse the papers in search of news items that amuse – not disgust, hector or scare.
These are possible to find, but you have to know where to look. I’ve found two such items, which I’m pleased to share with you in our new spirit of solidarity.
The first was kindly provided by Labour’s Kate Osamor, MP, the former Shadow International Development Secretary.
Now, whether Miss Osamor delivered a blow for parliamentarism or to it depends on your understanding of that concept. The facts, however, are unequivocal.
Miss Osamor’s son Ishmael was caught with £2,500 worth of drugs and was looking at a stint of porridge. Appropriately, his mother exercised her parental duty by writing a character reference for the upcoming trial.
Reports don’t say what exactly she wrote, but on general principle I doubt she suggested her son was the scum of the earth who ought to be locked up, with the key thrown away. More likely, Ishmael emerged from her prose as a public-spirited young man who never fails to lead an old woman across a busy street, whether or not she needs to go there.
Whatever Miss Osamor wrote, it was strictly her business. What went beyond her remit was the Commons stationery she used for that literary exploit. That suggested that the Mother of All Parliaments was throwing its weight behind Ishmail, which wasn’t the case.
The Commons Committee on Standards rebuked Miss Osamor for that breach of the code of conduct, and the incident understandably attracted reporters on the prowl.
One of them knocked on Miss Osamor’s door, hoping to get a statement. That he got, but not quite the kind he was expecting.
For Miss Osamor was irate and she didn’t care who knew it: “Don’t knock my f****** door,” she shouted. “I should have come down here with a f****** bat and smashed your face open.”
She didn’t specify whether the bat she had in mind was cricket or baseball. The former is native to these shores, but the latter offers better ballistic properties. That may be why British sports shops do brisk business in baseball bats, while selling next to no baseballs.
One way or the other, Miss Osamor was lucky that the hack was made of stern stuff. Since, according to the report of the above-mentioned Committee, he “showed no signs of alarm, fear or distress,” Miss Osamor got away with only having to offer an apology.
I’d say she upheld the fine parliamentary standards, if only those of recent vintage. But the reporter involved disappointed me: he definitely missed a trick.
Unlike Miss Osamor who acted in the spirit of the time, the hack ignored it. He should have claimed to have suffered a lifelong trauma resulting in insomnia, impotence, loss of appetite, uncontrollable fear of female MPs and other dreadful things.
That would have got Miss Osamor in trouble and him in clover. The eyes of any tort lawyer would have lit up had he been instructed to handle the case. A six-digit settlement, with the barrister claiming 40 per cent, was on the cards.
Still, I’m grateful to Miss Osamor for taking my mind off coronavirus. As I am to Vlad Putin for his earth-shattering announcement that 70 per cent of Russia’s population are solidly middle-class.
I must admit that at first my sense of pride in my birthplace was mixed with a touch of incredulity. After all, even Western countries can’t boast such a high proportion.
However, both pride and incredulity were then replaced with mirth. For Vlad defines as middle-class anybody making over €200 a month.
Vlad is on firm statistical ground there, for he’s going by the World Bank’s guidelines, according to which anyone getting more than 50 per cent of the minimum wage is middle-class.
There’ the rub. In France, the minimum wage is €1,521 a month; in Germany, €1,557; in the UK, €1,524. In Russia, however, we’re looking at a different order of magnitude: €133. Thus, true enough, a Russian making €200 a month is a proud, solid member of the middle class.
Now, Moscow is one of the world’s most expensive cities, but in the rest of Russia the euro stretches further. So let’s calculate that €200 euros a month is an equivalent of our €300 in purchasing power, £270 at today’s exchange rate.
That hardly buys what we’d define as middle-class life, does it? Things like a car, travels abroad, eating out, good schools for children? No, not quite. So much more can one appreciate Vlad’s humour.
It’s not quite on a par with Stalin’s slogan “Life has become better, life has become merrier” delivered at the height of the most murderous (and artificially created) famine in history, with millions starving to death and stacks of corpses adorning roadways. But I’m sure Russia’s impoverished populace found Putin’s announcement funny enough.
I certainly did. These days one should be thankful for laughter wherever one can find it. I’m sure those middle-class Russians will agree.