A naked Corbyn? Politics today really is a weird dream…

EIGHT days to go and the political garlic hangs heavy on the nation’s breath. Don’t know about you but I am feeling all politicked out by a campaign which has said little in proportion to the noise that’s been made.

Let’s catch up with the overnight stories. Theresa May inserted a curious image into her dreary drone of a campaign. She said that Jeremy Corbyn would be “naked in the negotiating chamber” when the Brexit talks start next month.

This slight was presumably a dig at Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance and nodded to a statement famously used in 1957 by Labour’s Nye Bevan against unilateralists on the left of his party.

The thing is, Theresa, virtually no ordinary voter will know what you are talking about. Instead they will be left wondering why Corbyn would choose to go to a meeting without wearing clothes. That sort of thing only happens in weird dreams, but then politics now often seems like a weird dream.

And in this dream, Theresa May is our own Lady Godiva riding naked on a moth-eaten old cart horse. Or maybe she’s come to this dream in that story about the Empress’s New Clothes, because we don’t really know what she thinks about Brexit except that she wants a hard variety. She parades about the land in carefully stage-managed encounters with ‘ordinary’ folk wearing her Brexit suit – but she doesn’t seem to be wearing anything at all. In this she seems as naked as Jeremy.

In an increasingly personal campaign, Mrs Maybe’s robotic ramblings can be summed up as: “Vote for me or you’ll get him.” Not much more to it than that.

On the other side of the political divide, Jeremy Corbyn gave The One Show a jar of jam. And can’t you just hear Mrs Maybe heckling in the background: “He gives you jam but I will give you Jerusalem.”

I didn’t see the whole thing because watching The One Show is like drowning in jam. I did see the highlights and Corbyn came across quite well, for what it’s worth, which is not a lot.

Earlier in the day, the Labour leader got in a tangle on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour when he floundered over the cost of his party’s proposal for universal free child care. An “excruciating exchange” says the Mail today – a “car crash” says the Sun. Well, yes – but these traps laid for politicians are becoming tedious. The presenters get so excited about their ‘scoop’ that all sense of proportion is lost. Yes, Corbyn should have known that, but recovered well enough.

The bigger car crash would be for Theresa May to lose this election (still unlikely) or to end up with a hung parliament (still possible). For a while now, I’ve been wondering if there wouldn’t be a sort of justice in the Tories ending up with exactly the same number of seats they had before – and thus making a nonsense of this snap election.

In the Times this morning, a shock YouGov poll suggests that the Tories could lose 20 seats and Labour gain nearly 30. That’s hardly the Brexit-proof mandate Theresa May bet the house on, is it?

Political narratives like a twist, and the longer this campaign grinds on, the more likely it seems that the accepted script – Theresa May wins a whopping majority – might have to be rewritten.

Corbyn is certainly the more human proposition, and the more he is seen, the less ‘scary’ he seems. But that might not be enough, and maybe people don’t want human leaders. Maybe they prefer robotic drones with nothing much to say.

Whatever, we’ll find out in eight days.


Two years on from the day they pushed me out…

TWO years ago, I was ejected from the newspaper where I had worked for 27 years. A day or so afterwards, I started this blog and have now written around 380,000 words.

The idea in part was to record what it felt like to be made redundant and left without a job for the first time. I was standing on a ledge with my arms out, trying not to look down. It felt puzzling and bruising; bewildering and raw; in short, it felt like shit, but at least there was a modest cushion of redundancy money. But that cushion lost its padding eventually.

I doubt whether a single person alive has read all those words, although my wife has dutifully skated her eye over most of them. She’s lived those words, too. Heard me prattling on – a two-for-one offer denied ordinary readers of Man On Ledge.

Facebook sent me a reminder yesterday of what I posted on redundancy day. I didn’t share this again because those words from two years seemed, in retrospect, too buoyant. Sadness was expressed and new challenges were mentioned.

But I would write my way out of this situation. A hitman was going to help me.

The novel featuring that hitman has been written and re-written. It has seen me part company with my agent. And it has been re-written again. I sent the latest version to a publisher the other day, so we shall see.

Another new novel is being given a makeover as we speak. It’s a Victorian murder mystery with steampunk elements, and the writing is great fun, which is something.

Two novels, a slagheap of blog words – and not a penny from any of them. Sadly, you cannot live by words alone unless your name is Ian Rankin or JK Rowling.

The money I have earned from words lies in freelance feature writing, mostly for the Yorkshire Post, and a spot of copywriting.

Turns out the plan outlined in that Facebook post two years ago was the hopeful scrawl of a lunatic optimist, but never mind: you can’t help being the way you are. I have had features published and scratched together a few pennies, and the freelance penny-scratching continues.

The steady money comes from working for the Press Association for two days a week, part of a team editing pages for the Irish broadsheet the Sunday Independent. I like that work. It is based around words and it is still journalism, pretty much all I know.

The other element to my new life is where I have most surprised myself. Since September I have been, on and off, a visiting lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, teaching journalism.

I taught magazine journalism for a term and in the second semester other classes and responsibilities were added. No teaching at present, but I have been mentoring students on their work placements.

The teaching has been great – say both me and the seat of my pants. Most surprising was the day recently when I helped to oversee students on a work challenge day. Groups of employers came in to set tasks and the students divided into teams and went off to complete their challenges. After that they did their presentations to the employers and returned to the lecture hall for a summing-up.

At the front of that hall stood a balding man in glasses. He was surprised to discover that he had to address 95 students and then introduce the employers. Two years ago, that man may well have made his excuses and left.

But new Julian didn’t do that. New Julian stumbled through and learned a bit more.

The grimmest point in these two years was a month on Job Seekers’ Allowance, a hellish pause in my self-reinvention test. God, that did nothing for what was left of my self-esteem, although one day I did rush from the job centre to interview Jesus, so that was something. To elaborate, it was the actor Philip McGinley rather than the man himself.

What else have I learned? While you can take the boy out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the boy. So that’s why I edit a bit, write a bit, teach a bit. And blog more than is sane or sensible, but then I did write a column for 25 years.

Is the re-invention complete? Not according to my bank manager, which is to say my wife. Out of term times, pickings are lean as I am only paid when I teach. But survival is the name of this game I have just about pulled off

That achievement aside, I don’t recommend being made redundant in your late 50s, although there is a lot of it about. And how do I feel today? Oh, ask me tomorrow.

Privates on parade, and the stories they tell…

HERE’S a question for male readers: I know what mine looks like but how’s yours?

I only ask because of a rather remarkable page in last Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine which showed 100 penises. Those unkind sorts who say that the Guardian is full of pricks might on this occasion have a point.

The reason for this display of what normally remains hidden lies is a new book by photographer Laura Dodsworth. She previously interviewed women about their relationship with their breasts. On that occasion, the page in the magazine was filled with 100 breasts. I couldn’t help looking for the obvious reason of being an obvious male.

In a short accompanying interview, Dodsworth says that if talking to women about their breasts was a tender topic, talking to men about their penises was more delicate.

Before going any further, full marks to the sub-editor who came up with the simple headline “Members only” – and equal praise for the designer who arranged those words on the droop.

Dodsworth’s new book is called Manhood and each penis has a story to tell. This is one of those simple ideas that just works, so long as you can get over looking at other men’s penises. I do glimpse a few in the showers after squash, but mostly what other men hide in their trousers remains, if not a mystery, then a revelation thankfully unexplored.

I was going to throw in the word priapic around about now and feel pleased with myself. But I’ve just looked it up and although the word does relate to male members, it usually implies more than a degree of arousal.

The penises in Dodsworth’s photographs are not animated in such a fashion – and if they had been, her surprisingly sensitive study would have turned into pornography. How strange it is that a rush of blood can make such a difference.

Her photographs show only her subjects’ centre sections, roughly from above the knees to the belly button. That gives full attention to the members in this parade. What an odd bunch they are. Large and small, straight and curved, proud and shy. And all so very different: all the unusual suspects.

In her book, Dodsworth interviews men about their relationship with their penises. A selection of those interviews was included in the feature. Men talk with pride and sometimes with shame about their penises, about the pleasure they’ve had or the trouble they’ve caused. They discuss their sex lives or lack of such. A common theme lies in men who were teased as boys about the smallness of their penises, and then carried the shame into adulthood, fearing that they could never really be a man – “I’d look at other guys in the showers and feel ashamed,” says one 58-year-old man.

Another, aged 92 and suffering from dementia, says: “I couldn’t get an erection now.”

A 46-year-old black man confesses to being intrigued by having the opportunity to talk – but worries over what word to use, not favouring penis or cock. He decides to call his Rufus – “Rufus, yeah, Rufus. My penis, Rufus, is kind of a barometer of my health, my happiness and my fitness.”

He also talks being approached by white women who want to sleep with him because he is black – “A man’s a man. What’s that about? This is a fetish that makes no sense.”

A well-endowed gay man says: “I’ve found photographs of my penis on Tumblr.” Well, who knew that was even a thing? Not this clearly sheltered heterosexual.

So there you have it – a page of penises is much more interesting than you might have imagined. I am not sure how I would have responded to Laura Dodsworth’s questions, other than to recall teenage years when the excitable young thing could be reactive with embarrassing rapidity. Ah, those were the days. Then again, it would be socially awkward if that stage persisted throughout life.

Oh, and look, please congratulate me on getting this far without using the word “willy”. Until now.

Queasy arguments about terrorism…

THE Manchester bomb atrocity has entered the political arena, but let’s for a moment consider a related photograph that is being used widely this morning.

This image shows the sands of Scarborough beach. There are deckchairs and at least one donkey. The castle can be seen in the distance, the sea is a blue haze and over to the right a girl sits playing in the sand.

Mind you, it is hard to absorb those happy, commonplace details as most of the photograph is taken up with two heavily armed police officers carrying pistols and sub-machineguns (at least that’s my non-militaristic guess).

Two thoughts arise from this jarring image. One: it is still a shock to see armed officers out and about, especially on a traditional British beach. Two: does the presence of armed officers help or is it just for general reassurance?

A good photograph, but an unsettling one.

Many of today’s newspapers give prominence to Theresa May’s response to Jeremy Corbyn’s thoughts on terrorism. Before stepping across that tricky territory, here is a general non-party political point. We should always worry when people say that A caused B – and if you hadn’t done A, then B wouldn’t have happened.

The internet is awash with people saying that A caused B and we must be idiots for not having spotted this. This is where C comes into the equation, with C standing for conspiracy. All sorts of conspiracy theories are around, and sometimes it is possible to wonder if the internet might not be powered by conspiracy theories.

The leaders of our two main parties have in their different ways decided to place the atrocity at the heart of their election campaigns. Mrs Maybe snatched the baton from the Labour leader and launched a bitter attack on Jeremy Corbyn for saying that the Manchester terror attack had been caused by British foreign policy.

I confess to feeling queasy about both party leaders using what happened on Monday night in their political campaigns, but this was probably inevitable.

The trouble with Mrs Maybe’s vitriolic response is that she is, quite consciously, attacking a version of what Jeremy Corbyn said, rather than what he really said.

It is fair enough at least to ask the question: have we done something to cause this? That would seem to be Corbyn’s point, and he argues, as a spokesman says in a statement today, that we need to be “both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism”.

Theresa May’s response to her opponent’s views included this intemperate statement: “And I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, and there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

This is true, absolutely true: but the trouble is that May isn’t addressing what Corbyn said, but attacking her version of what he said.

With Corbyn – and I remain a sceptic in general – his opponents often attack a caricature rather than address the man himself. He wasn’t making excuses for terrorism but asking if we had done anything to prompt such an attack, while also condemning the atrocity and saying that the blame lay with the terrorists.

And he was pointing out that our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have created what he calls “huge ungoverned spaces” – and, as he said to Andrew Neil on TV last night, the parallels he was making and the links with foreign policy have been made by many others, “including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5 and of course the foreign affairs select committee”.

Fair points, although there is still something queasy about politicians using this atrocity only days afterwards.

Of all the shocking things in a shocking week, nothing upset me more than an item on Woman’s Hour, of all the unlikely places. There a contributor said that the Ariana Grande concert may well have been chosen because there would have been so many girls and young women in the audience. You must remember, the contributor said, that jihadists hate women.

The people who carry out these attacks are demented morons who twist and burn the Muslim faith to their own warped ends. So to that extent, saying that A caused B might not get us anywhere – because the terrorists are all the way down at Z, doing what they do for their own appalling reasons.

But it is still reasonable to wonder if we have done anything to cause any of this – a question so outlandishly left-wing that Boorish Johnson was making the very same point years ago.

What York can learn from Altrincham (part II)…

IF you want people to read your blog, write about food and not politics. That at least was my experience last month.

The blog in question was headlined “What York could learn from Altrincham” and the readership graph went crazy that day, attracting around 1,500 readers within hours, while another 200 or read the blog over the next few days.

Write about politics and you’ll be lucky to get 50 people along to your party.

To briefly recap, a visit to Altrincham’s now acclaimed food market made my mind up in favour of the Spark:York plan for Piccadilly, where the aim is to use old shipping containers to house a collection of shops and food outlets on the old Reynolds Garage site.

It was pointed out by some that I wasn’t playing fair, as Altrincham had a head start by being able to repurpose its old wooden market. A fair criticism, but my point was more to do with the entrepreneurial boost that a trendy foodie market can bring.

York has so much going for it as a beautiful old city. Most of our Airbnb guests fall in love with the place, and it is rewarding to be an impromptu guide, if only from the breakfast table.

But here’s the thing about being a famed old beauty (York, not me, you fool): sometimes you don’t have to try as hard as others to attract attention. Flutter your medieval lashes and the tourists come running.

This is something to celebrate, but York also needs to stay vibrant, and to encourage one-off local businesses. To my now converted eye, Spark:York offers just such an opportunity – a chance, as in Altrincham, for young people to set up fantastic food businesses to compete with all the national franchises hogging every other corner of this city.

I kept an eye out for news of this development, and was heartened to see that backers of the food complex had been given planning permission for a temporary development.

I was less heartened to read earlier this week that the architect Matthew Laverack was threatening to take this planning decision to judicial review. While wishing to offer no further opinion of Mr Laverack, it is fair to say that he has a long history of being an irritant to City of York Council.

In my old newspaper, it was stated that a council spokeswoman banged her head on the wall and said: “Oh, not him again!” All right – I made that last bit up. What the supplier of quotes to the council reportedly said was: “We are confident that we followed all stages of the planning application correctly. We will respond robustly to defend this decision if there is a legal challenge.”

I truly hope this proposal won’t end up bogged in the legal mud. York needs something like this – an exciting, young and different development. It is fair to say that not everyone will be happy, and equally fair to point out that grumpiness is an art form for some.

Well, we all feel dyspeptic on occasion, but I am raising my half-full glass to the success of Spark:York, whatever temporary impediment may be put in its way.

Important footnote: moods can go up as well as down, and pessimism is not obligatory.

Misunderstanding Lou Reed and the over-amplification of small sins…

WHAT on earth could link Canadian students getting in a tangle over transphobia with the unguarded words of a local Labour councillor in Stroud? The hyper-connectivity of modern life, that’s what.

In the past, a local indiscretion or splash of stupidity would stay local, but now such stories fly around the world at the tap of a finger.

As students at the University of Guelph in Central Ontario have just discovered. They held a campus event at which they played the Lou Reed song, Walk On The Wild Side, and then got their over-sensitive knickers in a twist and issued an apology for having exposed people to such a transphobic song. The layers of misunderstanding in this affair are many, not least the fact that this song is a hymn to acceptance and a celebration of people.

Sadly, the students didn’t see beyond their thin sensibilities and published a Facebook apology (later deleted) for having played a song with the lyrics: “Holly came from Miami, FLA/Hitchhiked her way across the USA/Plucked her eyebrows on the way/Shaved her legs and then he was a she/She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’.”

As Jenni Muldaur, a friend of Reed, told the Guardian, the song was about: “Everyone doing their thing, taking a walk on the wild side. I can’t imagine how anyone could conceive of that. The album was called Transformer. What do they think it’s about?”

Well, precisely. What a shame it is that we are bringing up a generation of young people who are so afraid of causing offence that they can’t just enjoy a great song.

In case those students still have any doubts, Holly Woodlawn, the trans actress who inspired those lyrics, was thrilled with the song – “Lou Reed made me immortal,” she has said.

Reed was confused about his own sexuality at a time when homosexuality in America was still classed as a mental illness, and he often expressed his love and affection for trans women.

And, on top of all that, the song came out in 1972 – it’s been pleasing all sorts of people for 45 years, so pipe down with your ridiculous apology.

After the over-amplification of one small local incident, here is another. Debbie Hicks, the vice-chair of the Labour Party in Stroud, was suspended after making comments on Facebook and Twitter that the Manchester terror attack was “wonderful timing for Theresa May”.

Unwise words said too soon, for sure. And Hicks has since apologised. Here was another small local incident made too loud in the social media echo chamber. I first noticed the story in a Facebook post being used as evidence of the vileness and unsuitability of the Labour Party to govern. Oh, come off it – whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, that is just ridiculous.

Hicks showed poor taste and timing, but it is reasonable at least to ask if the handling of such an appalling atrocity doesn’t play well to the sitting prime minister during an election. Jon Snow of Channel 4 News was asking a similar question about putting troops on the street, and in today’s Guardian, the former editor of the Times, Simon Jenkins, argues that in her public statement about the atrocity in Manchester, Theresa May “seized the megaphone for herself, and thus inevitably politicised the event”.

As for the previously unknown Debbie Hicks – unknown, at least, to those outside of Stroud – she has discovered that a moment’s lack of caution can see you paraded through the social media streets as a public disgrace. If nothing else, that mauling shows a lack of perspective.

Poet holds the moment for Manchester…

WORDS spit and struggle. Words say everything and words say nothing. Yesterday as we learned the news from Manchester, it was difficult to find the words, yet a man of words carried the day for many.

The Manchester poet Tony Walsh, also known as ‘Longfella’, read his poem This Is The Place to thousands of people gathered in central Manchester for a vigil. He had written this gritty hymn to Manchester for another occasion, but his words resonated; good granite words pulling through the smog of history, and conjuring the spirit of a great city.

If you have only seen the snippet shown on the news, seek out the full version online. Walsh earns his living as a performance poet and he knows how to perform. His emotional recitation fits the moment, even if that moment should never have been.

Walsh ended with a line improvised for the moment – “Choose love, Manchester – thank you.”

Choose love, choose hate. On Facebook this morning people are sharing a column by Piers Morgan in which he refuses to stay calm and carry on, and instead spits out his hatred. I stopped reading because his column didn’t help and felt like emotional grandstanding, but that hatred is understandable.

This morning’s newspaper headlines run from “Young lives stolen by terror” (Guardian) to “Evil beyond belief – How could jihad barbarian murder our beautiful and innocent children?” (Daily Express), with much in between. The simple words of that Guardian headline seem more moving and effective, although it’s a matter of taste, I suppose. The trouble with piling hatred on hatred is that it doesn’t change anything and doesn’t get you anywhere. But you can see the reason why.

Choose hate: Katie Hopkins being vile on Twitter (more or less her job description) and Manchester singer Morrissey having a right-wing meltdown on Facebook. Or choose to ignore the pair of them.

There is nothing easy here and you take your comfort where you find it, in hope or hate. The Mayor of Paris, a city which has seen more than its share of lives lost to terror, sent a message to Manchester. Anne Hidalgo recalled painful memories of the carnage she witnessed at first-hand in 2015 when 89 people died at the Bataclan music hall. She said that a common sense of “fraternity” helped the people of Paris put aside hatred and fear of others.

“We had to show we were stronger than that,” Hidalgo said. “I know Manchester is a city that already has a lot of character, I know the inhabitants of Manchester will find in their pride and strength a way to stand up together and it is essential to show that life, that friendship, that solidarity is stronger. This is the message we have to send to the terrorists.”

The Mayor also recalled the words of Antoine Leiris, whose wife Helene died in the Bataclan attack. In an open letter to the killers he said: “You will not have my hatred… no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”

Those words went around the world, as good words do.

Words and music. At this moment it’s a side issue, but how sad that people could be put off going to concerts for life by this atrocity. My early concert-going was all done in Manchester, which has always been a music city. Words and music are part of who we are, and they should be part of our armour against those wish to destroy our lives with their demented ideology.

Words spit and struggle, but sometimes words are all we have.

A few thoughts on Manchester…

THIS is how the world connects nowadays. The first I know about the dreadful news from Manchester is when a friend from Sweden shares a report on Facebook. Since then, the radio has been on. There is something about the radio at such times.

The spoken words offer a shocked commentary on what is known about the explosion at the Manchester Arena, where the young American singer Ariana Grande had just finished performing.

That someone should choose a concert crowded with children and young people seems too difficult to grasp. The death toll now stands at 22, with children among the dead. Again, too difficult to grasp. But we have no other choice.

The headlines roll on, too appalling for words, but words are what we have. Or all we have from this distance. You listen because you want to try to understand.

Words help perhaps, but deeds are more important. And as the news breaks, there are stories of people helping. Taxi drivers heading over from Liverpool without being called. People in Manchester opening their doors to the shocked survivors. Others coming in off the streets to help search among the injured and the dead. And a distressed young woman on the radio just now, who gave out put her mobile number on social media so that worried parents could contact her.

This is now the world connects these days. Our daughter messages her brother from Australia. The middle boy used to work at Manchester Arena until a year or so ago. He still knows people who work there. She wants to know that he is all right. He then texts his mother, saying that he thinks his friends had all left by the time of the explosion.

It is believed that a suicide bomber walked into the foyer as the concert ended and detonated an explosive device filled with nuts and bolts. If this was a terrorist attack, as seems highly likely, thoughts will turn to what could have been done by way of prevention.

We had a family outing to the Arena once, to see Counting Crows and the Hold Steady. Our bags were checked on the way in and we were told we couldn’t take our sandwiches inside. It’s fair to say there would have been security in operation last night.

But security goes beyond a bag-search or a scanner. It stretches into our communities. Were there signs that the bomber had been acting strangely, signs that could have been spotted by his friends and family? These and many others are the questions that will be asked.

The radio rolls on, words running into words.

‘It is raw, isn’t it? Parents and children…’

Those young people who died or have been injured would have been so excited. Some would have been attending their first concert. Did the bomber know that the singer has a strong following among teenage girls and children? Was that why he chose that event on that night?

Anger and dismay are all we can feel today. After that there will be a slow and painful healing. The great city of Manchester will pull together, and our society will become stronger. Some will say society is broken or shattered, but that cannot be allowed to be so.

Thoughts this morning can only turn to those who have died and those who have lost loved ones. Does saying that help? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes emoting from a distance seems to be a strange indulgence, yet what else do we can we offer but our humanity?

Ariana Grande tweeted her own message, articulate in its inarticulacy – “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

Who should we believe on the NHS?

WHO should we trust on the NHS? The people who work in the health service would seem to be the best place to start, the doctors and the nurses and all the others on the frontline.

This morning I have just shared two videos about the NHS on Facebook. This is not something I do often, as all those exhortations to share this, like this or sign this petition can be wearying – even when you agree.

The two videos are political in a broad sense rather than party political, although each argues the case against voting Conservative.

The first video is organised by the NHS Roadshow, a group of NHS doctors, nurses and campaigners that is urging people to “vote NHS” – or, in other words, to vote in a way that keeps the Conservatives out. At the time of writing, the video has been seen 2,124,121 times, although that will doubtless have risen even when I put the final full-stop on today’s blog.

What the video does is pose statements about the NHS as made by Mrs Maybe and Co (although without directly attributing these statements) – and then provide the NHS context.

In terms of money, Theresa May always insists that her government is spending more on health and education than ever before. Such statements are meaningless for the simple reason that everything costs more than it used to.

The relevant figure is the percentage of GDP that we spend on the NHS – and, according to Dr Louse Irvine, a GP seen in the video, we are experiencing the largest drop in that percentage since the NHS was founded. A massive cut, in other words.

Registrar Dr Fiona Martin talks about the issue of ‘health tourism’, often touted by the unscrupulous as the sort of problem that is bringing the NHS to its knees. So how much does this cost? According to Dr Martin, the figure is £200m a year – the same as running the NHS for 15 hours. In other words, it’s a distraction rather than a real strain on the NHS. (Incidentally, running this hasty election is said to be costing us around £150 million).

Another GP, Dr Jackie Appleby, points out that the inefficiency in the NHS is mostly down to the internal market – and if that was abolished, “we could save billions”.

The medics in the video roll on, sticking up for the NHS and pointing out that they believe the Tories threaten what so many people cherish, either through under-funding or through a hidden wish to privatise as much as possible of the NHS.

Underfunding a service makes it look inefficient – and lays the ground for more privatisation, which then muddies the waters further, and leads to more inefficiency. This is how the madness goes on.

The other video sees Dr Jonny Coates urging people not to vote Conservative as “they can’t be trusted with our NHS”. Dr Coates points out that he is not a politician, just a doctor who is worried about the NHS. He offers examples of the difficulties he sees, including – “The emergency ambulance I call for you takes six hours to arrive.”

His video has been viewed 23,591 times – much more modest, but still impressive.

Although those two videos are propaganda, they represent a more honest sort of propaganda than that put out by the political parties.

Another health issue of this election lies in the Conservative manifesto pledge to introduce what critics are calling a “dementia tax”. The party wants to include the value of someone’s home when calculating how much they must pay towards care at home. This bill would be settled after the person with dementia had died. The costs would rise until, according to the BBC website, “they were down to their last £100,000”.

People who own their house like to feel that they are passing something on. It please me to think that our three will receive a share in the house (pretty much the only thing of value we own), and I would hate to think of that money going to the government instead.

Feelings run high and mixed on this matter. Writing today in the Times, Libby Purves describes the proposal as bold but necessary – “If an old person needs home care, then for heaven’s sake let the damn house contribute,” she declares.

Social care is hugely costly and deeply complicated, it is true. But I reckon that Libby is wrong on this. I want to live in a country where people who are unfortunate enough to suffer from dementia can be treated at home and have their costs met by the government. Isn’t that what a National Health Service should be about?

We’ll throw untold trillions at useless missiles, but won’t pay for people with dementia to be treated at home. If that’s not a disgrace, I don’t know what is.

A letter not to love from Theresa May…

HAVE you had yours yet? Mine dropped through the letter-box yesterday. Just fancy – a letter from the Prime Minister just for me. Sadly, this letter will not be going into the old tin box where treasured items are placed. It wasn’t a love letter so much as a letter I didn’t love, so it will be joining all the other rubbish in the bin.

An elderly woman interviewed for last Sunday’s Observer was thrilled with her new pen-friend. “I had this lovely letter the other day,” said 86-year-old Brenda Firth from Halifax. “I think she is the new Margaret Thatcher. I’ve never had a letter from a prime minister before.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. Last time round – in that period of ancient history known as two years ago – David Cameron sent everyone a letter and a copy of a glossy brochure with the title: “An invitation to join the government of Britain.”

Will Brenda be so chuffed with her new friend and her cynically personalised letter after learning that the Tory manifesto, launched yesterday, could force her to pay for her own social care until she has less than £100,000 to her name (including her house)? Or that the triple-lock on pension is going – and along with it the universal winter fuel allowance?

Launching her manifesto in Halifax yesterday, Mrs Maybe urged voters to “join me on this journey” as she whipped the covers off a manifesto that spurns free-market Thatcherism in favour of “country and community” (whatever the rubbery hell that means).

While it’s tempting to say that all manifestos are barely worth the hot air with which they are delivered, the one Theresa May brandished in Halifax yesterday does aim to break with the free-market liberalism that has defined her party since Thatcher. Yet does this un-costed pitch for middle-England really add up to a coherent philosophy?

Labour’s manifesto is at least costed, but it contains plenty of old-style Labour policies, and isn’t all that different to the one published by Ed Miliband two years ago – and that didn’t exactly win voters over.

Anyway, back to my letter from Theresa. It begins with a bit of chitter-chatter in bold type: “MAKING BREXIT A SUCCESS IS CENTRAL TO OUR NATIONAL INTEREST.”

Once she has stopped whispering nothing sweet in my ear, Theresa carries on with her plea – “If we don’t get the Brexit deal right, your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk, and the opportunities you seek for your family will simply not happen.”

Then she turns all personal again – “But with your help…and your votes locally in the York Central constituency, together we can get it right.”

The letter carries on like this for quite a while, throwing in a few of Theresa’s greatest hits – “Strong and stable leadership with me… or a hung parliament and coalition of chaos with Jeremy Corbyn.” Now remind me: who was in that last coalition of chaos we had?

Corbyn is unlikely to be in a coalition with anyone other than his fans – and that won’t hold a government together. This is just another bit of empty scare-mongering.

But I can’t leave without passing on another of Theresa’s barbed blandishments – “If Jeremy Corbyn wins in the York Central constituency, his position is strengthened and my negotiating position is weakened.”

It is easy to agree with that. You can just see Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, saying: “York Central’s stayed Labour so Theresa is in the shit now.”

Tellingly, the world ‘Conservative’ appears once in this letter, right near the end. Everything else is the usual me-me-me hurricane from the presidential Mrs Maybe, who seems to become increasingly giddy with self-belief with every new, stage-managed day.

There are many reasons to regret such a presidential election, but one is surely the damage this does to local democracy. As I live in Central York, I shall look at the ballot paper and choose the candidate who has done the best job locally.

In Rachael Maskell, York has a good and hard-working sitting Labour MP. If I vote Labour, it will be for reasons that have nothing to do with Theresa or Jeremy, but all to do with Rachael. And that’s how it should be.

“So Julian, please give me your backing and your vote. Together we can get on with the job of making life better for all of us.”

No thanks, Theresa. You’re heading for the bin.