John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: December 21, 2017 Last modified: December 21, 2017

Supermassive black hole
Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, left reality TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and asked if his son was still foreign secretary. He was the fifth “personality” to leave the show after a public vote, a fate yet to befall the younger Johnson. Another question being asked is whether hapless Boris’s diplomatic standing can plummet further? Sky News investigators came up with evidence he is being actively undermined by officials in his own department over Brexit negotiations. The officials told the Irish government “not to listen to whatever he had to say” ahead of his visit to Dublin last month. He met Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister and deputy premier, for Brexit discussions ahead of the critical European Council summit in Brussels. The two publicly disagreed at a press conference over when Irish border issues should be settled, while Johnson claimed he was unaware of Ireland’s call for a transition period lasting four to five years.

In the wake of the Donald Trump stramash, a new report by Hope Not Hate showed that the social media presence of anti-Muslim individuals and groups – through Twitter bots, fake news and image manipulation – has grown by over 100% in the last year. They found that, for example, former head of the English Defence League Tommy Robinson saw his Twitter following increase 17 per cent in the days after the Manchester arena bombing, andthat tweets by one of the world’s most prominent anti-Muslim figures, Pamela Geller, are spread by 102 ‘bots’ – accounts that automatically retweet content put out by Geller. Overall, there was a 117% growth in followers for key anti-Muslim activists in the UK and USA between March to November 2017. Hope not Hate said: “The global reach, low price and lack of regulation on these platforms clearly present new possibilities for independent, single issue and extremist viewpoints to gain audiences. It is time that social media companies woke up to this fact and did more about the spread of fake news.”

The majority of the public think social media companies aren’t doing enough to vet extremist content online – 76% of respondents to a Demos-Opinium poll said they thought Twitter, Facebook and other companies weren’t devoting enough resources to removing extremist content. The poll also found 89% were concerned about extremists using digital platforms, 70% were concerned about online abuse, while 67% said they were concerned about the spread of fake news on social media.

Unintended blogged: “One of the axioms of politics is that the DUP will never make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, but I remember the DUP went into coalition with Sinn Féin at Stormont and made the reputed former second-in-command of the IRA in Derry the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. If the DUP can do that they can make Corbyn Prime Minister, directly or indirectly. As Stephen Bush notes: ‘The DUP are also virulently opposed to anything which weakens the connection between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. As for which they care about more, the clue is in the title: it’s the maintenance of the UK, rather than the frustration of one sixty-something political leader.’ So what are the betting implications? Potentially bad news for those of us who have been laying Jeremy Corbyn as next Prime Minister. We’d also have to re-evaluate our betting position on the year of the next general election. I’d probably want more than 11/4 on 2018 being the year of the next general election. Who would have thought the Tories might be the facilitators of the weakening of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland and making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister?”

Hate this and I’ll love you
More evidence of greed in the corridors of learning: the vice-chancellor of Southampton University was awarded a pay package of £424,000 last year – £72,000 more than the previous year. Sir Christopher Snowden was paid £352,000 in 2015-16, during which he was in post for 10 months. The university said the extra reflected a full year’s salary and the national higher education pay award of 1.1%. But Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, criticised his decision to accept the pay rise, saying it shows “once again how out of touch university vice-chancellors can be”. She added: “To accept this kind of rise, while saying he must axe 75 academic jobs because money is tight, beggars belief.” The university also paid £9,000 into a pension scheme from which he had opted out.

Falling down
The revelations above came just days after the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, Dame Glynis Breakwell, stepped down from the University of Bath after becoming the focus of criticism for her £468,000 salary. Unsurprisingly, given the featherbedding culture that rules amongst the higher echelons, she will remain on full pay during a sabbatical that will take her into 2019. Her chief harrier, former Education Minister Lord Adonis, says the terms of the departure are “outrageous” and symptomatic of an excessively cosy culture at the top of universities. He is turning his sights on other institutions, listing Exeter, Southampton and Birmingham among more than 50 universities paying their bosses more than £300,000 per year. Lord Adonis is particularly scathing of what he sees as the conflicts of interest in the bodies at the top of higher education, where cheerleaders, lobbyists and regulators can seem interchangeable. The representative body, Universities UK, has nothing to say on that. Its board includes – you really couldn’t make this up – Dame Glynis. There are no plans for that to change.

Feeling good
Even more evidence of the academic gravy train then emerged with news that the severance package for Christina Slade, outgoing vice-chancellor of the small Bath Spa University, means she will have trousered £808,000 in her final year, including £429,000 for losing her job for unspecified reasons, a job that paid her £250,000 plus massive perks in 2016-17.

Unnatural selection
Mind you, media networkers, including Guardianistas, also seem to be dominant in the Oxbridge Mafia. Alan Bookbinder, the former BBC head of religion, is to become Master of Downing College, Cambridge, while former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer runs St Peter’s College, Oxford. Ex-BBC correspondent Bridget Kendall is Master of Peterhouse, and former Radio Five Live controller Roger Mosey is master at Selwyn College, Cambridge. One-time Observer editor Will Hutton is principal of Hereford College, Oxford. The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger is principal of Lady Margaret Hall. And former Guardian columnist and New Statesman political editor Jackie Ashley is president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

Guiding light
Jeremy Corbyn won a spat with the Morgan Stanley investment bank after it warned a Labour election victory could pose a bigger threat to British business than Brexit. In a new video, the Labour leader branded such bankers as “the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008” as his party pledged to regulate finance “to serve the public”. He insisted Morgan Stanley are “right” to view Labour as a threat, claiming his “government-in-waiting” will target “a damaging and failed system that’s rigged for the few”. Labour have highlighted meetings between Tory ministers and Morgan Stanley over recent months, as well as donations to the Tories from individuals linked to the bank. Accusing Morgan Stanley of seeking to keep the Tories in power, Corbyn said: “They want to keep the Tories there, because their rigged economy and their tax cuts for the richest work for them.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.