Can we spaff some more money up the wall, please?

Boris Johnson and his motley crew lying around on the front bench in parliament

I’d forgotten, after the blandly destructive Cameron days and the robotically dysfunctional May days, just how it feels to be viscerally repulsed by one’s Prime Minister.

A suffering nation

Over Christmas, I re-read Alexander Masters’ biography of Stuart Shorter. Shorter taught Masters how to write it. He wanted the story to be “like what Tom Clancy writes.” Meeting a lack of comprehension, he added, “something what people will read.”

Cover pic: Stuart: a life backwards by Alexander MastersA rare alliance

Masters rose to the challenge. After four years of growing friendship, fuelled by the two men’s participation in street activism, they produced the harrowing story of Shorter’s life. As we all know now, it became very famous. By the time the book was doing the rounds, Shorter’s chaotic, tragic and mysterious life had ended as it was lived.

Reading it now cannot help but lead me to re-read, in my mind, the story of our own Brian Charles Harding, a “street character” in Hastings, also now departed. Both men were mavericks. Both were brought low by the drugs or alcohol fuelled chaos of a life thrown into disorder before they’d reached adulthood.

Suffer, little children

One of a million memes about the cruelties of Ian Duncan Smith

We all know, with a grief that runs quietly behind the daily political and social aggravation, behind the endless tales of more easily fathomed injustices, that a considerable proportion of our street drinkers, prison population and ‘criminal underclass’ are victims of early deprivation, alienation and abuse, often kicked off by similarly deprived parents, usually made worse by a cock-eyed response to early offending from cash-strapped or wrong-headed authorities.

Chaotic genius

Mughsot of Stuart, published with his obituary

Occasionally, one of those fated-from-birth chaos-merchants has the energy, the heart and the imagination to break through clearly enough to make a mark on society. It’s a stupendous achievement against (for most of us) unimaginable odds. That’s why I can’t recommend these two books highly enough (links at the end of this article).

Brian on a street corner with his books on a table, and a poster of the play about his life, "Down Bottle Alley"
Brian Charles Harding selling his book on a street corner in Hastings

If you haven’t encountered either of them, please pick one and read it – then come back and read the other one, until the lesson really hits home.

Via poverty, deprivation, abuse and their attendant chaos, we create our outcasts, our “anti-socials”, our “addicts” and our “criminal underclass”.

A truly terrible Prime Minister

And now we have a Prime Minister who, having spent years as part of a government that cut public services to the bone, says spending money sorting out historic child-abuse cases is “spaffing money up the wall”. I was going to say that his revolting choice of words takes us back to that eternal question about wealthy establishment politicians – are they stupid or are they evil – but this joke (if only) Prime Minister with his uncertain number of children and his highly audible dust-ups with partners is a reminder that poverty is a long way from being the *only* source of the chaos and violence that ruins young lives. It makes me want to ask whether we should treat all ex-public school politicians as potential abuse survivors and chaos creators, and steer them away from power, and stop them spreading that chaos and misery down the years.

Please read those books. Please tell everyone. This is not a small part of our problems.

My Wretched Alcoholism: This Damn Puppeteer by Brian Charles Harding

Buy direct from the publisher – delivered free to UK addresses.


Click here to buy Stuart: a life backwards by Alexander Masters

2 responses to “Can we spaff some more money up the wall, please?”

  1. The books were written in the Blair/Brown years and refer to people who don’t have any connection to Boris Johnson’s time in office.

    Boris Johnson’s “spaffing” comment was made in March 2019 and referred to historical allegations of child sexual abuse promoted by Labour’s Tom Watson and subsequently found to entirely false.


    • I stand by my words. It’s true that in the last decade, many people pushed into destitution by Universal Credit failure and other austerity atrocities have joined those who are homeless or otherwise fallen into chaos but there remain vast numbers who are disabled by traumatic early years, and are desperately in need of politicians who take a serious and responsible line whenever the issue comes up.

      That means always taking allegations seriously, as Ben Emmerson QC did, when he said “Mr Watson was quite open, and told me that it was not his role to assess the credibility of the individual allegations he had received, but merely to ensure that they were properly investigated.”. It means understanding that a tangle of allegations and retractions is par for the course, particularly when dealing with historic cases, and it means never making revolting, sweep-it-all-aside comments like Mr Johnson’s, which maintain an attitude of neglect.


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