CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Stephen Byers and the sad ghost of New Labour (Times)

Byers's fall from grace mirrors that of his party, writes David Aaronovitch. As New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich", it is not surprising that Byers sought to profit himself.

2. Little has changed since the scandals of the Nineties (Independent)

Meanwhile, in the Independent, Antony Barnett recalls the first "cash for access" scandal in 1998, and says that little has changed in the murky world of political lobbying.

3. Only America can end Britain's Trident folly (Guardian)

Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent" is neither independent nor a deterrent, says George Monbiot. Yet only when the US dismantles its own Trident missiles will the UK consider doing so.

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4. Britain has bigger problems than the unions (Financial Times)

The Conservatives' recent talk of militant trade unionists is a distraction from the real challenges facing Britain, argues Philip Stephens. The number of working days lost to strike action is a fraction of those lost during the 1970s.

5. Anyone got an idea for the Labour manifesto? (Times)

Labour is struggling to think of affordable manifesto pledges and there are growing tensions over which policies to include, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party must work harder to prove it has not run out of ideas.

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6. Labour's cupboard is bare, apart from the three rattling skeletons (Daily Telegraph)

Warming to the same theme, Mary Riddell writes that Labour could be finished off by this week. The lobbying scandal, a troubled Budget and industrial unrest form the triple onslaught that could destroy the party's election hopes.

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7. Darling prepares for his ultimate test (Independent)

Turning to tomorrow's Budget, Steve Richards says that Alistair Darling faces the biggest test in his long and extraordinary ministerial career. He must deliver an authoritative economic message but also keep his desperate party in the game.

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8. Obama's bounce changes the world (Financial Times)

President Obama's success over health-care reform will undermine the cartoon image of America as a country where big business ruthlessly exploits the poor, says Gideon Rachman.

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9. If this is modernity, let me stay in the public sector cave (Guardian)

New Labour's programme of "modernisation" in the public sector has marginalised the first-hand experience of workers, argues Joe Moran.

10. You've made a fortune -- now let it go (Daily Telegraph)

The example of Albert Gubay, who has given away all but £10m of his £480m fortune, should be emulated, writes Christopher Howse. There are positive social and religious reasons for giving your wealth away.

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Brexit confusion is scuppering my show – what next?

My week, from spinning records with Baconface, Brexit block and visiting comedy graves.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I am in the process of previewing a new live show, which I hope to tour until early 2018. It was supposed to be about how the digital, free-market society is reshaping the idea of the individual, but we are in the pre-Brexit events whirlpool, and there has never been a worse time to try to assemble a show that will still mean anything in 18 months’ time.



A joke written six weeks ago about dep­orting eastern Europeans, intended to be an exaggeration for comic effect, suddenly just reads like an Amber Rudd speech – or, as James O’Brien pointed out on LBC, an extract from Mein Kampf.

A rude riff on Sarah Vine and 2 Girls 1 Cup runs aground because there are fewer people now who remember Vine than recall the briefly notorious Brazilian video clip. I realise that something that gets a cheer on a Tuesday in Harrogate, or Glasgow, or Oxford, could get me lynched the next night in Lincoln. Perhaps I’ll go into the fruit-picking business. I hear there’s about to be some vacancies.



I sit and stare at blocks of text, wondering how to knit them into a homogeneous whole. But it’s Sunday afternoon, a time for supervising homework and finding sports kit. My 11-year-old daughter has a school project on the Victorians and she has decided to do it on dead 19th-century comedians, as we had recently been on a Music Hall Guild tour of their graves at the local cemetery. I wonder if, secretly, she wished I would join them.

I have found living with the background noise of this project depressing. The headstones that she photographed show that most of the performers – even the well-known Champagne Charlie – barely made it past 40, while the owners of the halls outlived them. Herbert Campbell’s obelisk is vast and has the word “comedian” written on it in gold leaf, but it’s in the bushes and he is no longer remembered. Neither are many of the acts I loved in the 1980s – Johnny Immaterial, Paul Ramone, the Iceman.



I would have liked to do some more work on the live show but, one Monday a month, I go to the studios of the largely volunteer-run arts radio station Resonance FM in Borough, south London. Each Wednesday night at 11pm, the masked Canadian stand-up comedian Baconface presents selections from his late brother’s collection of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s jazz, psychedelia, folk, blues and experimental music. I go in to help him pre-record the programmes.

Baconface is a fascinating character, whom I first met at the Cantaloupes Comedy Club in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1994. He sees the radio show as an attempt to atone for his part in his brother’s death, which was the result of a prank gone wrong involving nudity and bacon, though he is often unable to conceal his contempt for the music that he is compelled to play.

The show is recorded in a small, hot room and Baconface doesn’t change the bacon that his mask is made of very often, so the experience can be quite claustrophobic. Whenever we lose tapes or the old vinyl is too warped to play, he just sits back and utters his resigned, philosophical catchphrase, “It’s all bacon!” – which I now find myself using, as I watch the news, with ­depressing regularity.



After the kids go to sleep, I sit up alone and finally watch The Lady in the Van. Last year, I walked along the street in Camden where it was being filmed, and Alan Bennett talked to me, which was amazing.

About a month later, on the same street, we saw Jonathan Miller skirting some dog’s mess and he told me and the kids how annoyed it made him. I tried to explain to them afterwards who Jonathan Miller was, but to the five-year-old the satire pioneer will always be the Shouting Dog’s Mess Man.



I have the second of the final three preview shows at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre in London before the new show, Content Provider, does a week in big rooms around the country. Today, I was supposed to do a BBC Radio 3 show about improvised music but both of the kids were off school with a bug and I had to stay home mopping up. In between the vomiting, in the psychic shadow of the improvisers, I had something of a breakthrough. The guitarist Derek Bailey, for example, would embrace his problems and make them part of the performance.



I drank half a bottle of wine before going on stage, to give me the guts to take some risks. It’s not a long-term strategy for creative problem-solving, and that way lies wandering around Southend with a pet chicken. But by binning the words that I’d written and trying to repoint them, in the moment, to be about how the Brexit confusion is blocking my route to the show I wanted to write, I can suddenly see a way forward. The designer is in, with samples of a nice coat that she is making for me, intended to replicate the clothing of the central figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 German masterpiece Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.



Richard Branson is on the internet and, just as I’d problem-solved my way around writing about it, he’s suggesting that Brexit might not happen. I drop the kids off and sit in a café reading Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. I am interviewing him about it for the Guardian in two weeks’ time. It’s 1,174 pages long, but what with the show falling apart I have read only 293 pages. Next week is half-term. I’ll nail it. It’s great, by the way, and seems to be about the small lives of undocumented individuals, buffeted by the random events of their times.

Stewart Lee’s show “Content Provider” will be on in London from 8 November. For more details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage