David Parkin wonders what the hell is going on

WHAT the hell is going on?

There must be very few people who haven’t asked that question in recent months.

Most probably say it several times a day.

It was the title of an event I went to in London this week.

When I got the invitation a couple of weeks ago, it seemed a very appropriate subject.

And then every day after that I just thought: they’ve nailed that title.

I always thought the quote: “May you live in interesting times,” was a Chinese proverb.

It turns out it was actually an ancient Chinese curse.

Well that definitely applies to the present circumstances we find ourselves in.

I’d settle for residing in eventful times, but not completely bloody barmy times.

And I think we’d all rather be counting our blessings rather than curses.

Two years of a global pandemic, war in Ukraine, rocketing energy prices, inflation going stratospheric, interest rates only going in one direction and then add in the pantomime that is British government.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they started fitting revolving doors at numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street and at the Home Office too.

In a bid to discover “what the hell is going on” I found myself in a lecture theatre on Wimpole Street in London where speaker agency JLA had brought together four prominent figures to address that question and another: “What can we expect of our politicians, and what does it mean for business and the cost of living?”

I invited my client Carla Stockton-Jones, the managing director of transport group Stagecoach, to join me at the event where we heard from serial Cabinet minister Michael Gove; former British ambassador to the USA, Lord Kim Darroch, whose posting came to an end when it emerged he had described President Donald Trump as “inept and insecure”;  Financial Times consumer editor Claer Barrett and Natalie Campbell, co-CEO of ethical bottled water brand Belu.

The breakfast event was chaired by BBC and LBC radio presenter Sangita Myska, who, when she introduced Michael Gove, asked him whether he was the “Marmite politician”.

Gove, the former Secretary of State for Education, Justice, The Environment and ‘Levelling Up’,.approached the lectern, neatly coiffed in a slim cut navy blue suit, white shirt and black suede Oxfords.

“I may well be the Marmite politician but I suppose the question is: who is toast?”

You will have your own views on Gove, a “big beast” of the Tory party who has held major Cabinet roles under three different Prime Ministers, but it was a brilliant line to kick off his short speech.

He has a fine line in self-deprecating humour too.

He said that during the important discussions over restrictions during the Covid pandemic he is the man who will be remembered for focusing the debate on whether a Scotch egg is a substantial meal.

“And of course, I will also be remembered for the fact that when 60 ministers resigned from Boris Johnson’s Government on the same day, I was the only one to be sacked that day.”

Gove referred to the title of the event and said Dante’s Inferno came to mind.

And he warned that Britons can expect “a hell of a lot of pain in the next two months”.

Dante’s Inferno says that after hell there will be purgatory and then paradise.

Gove said that clearly Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng had forgotten the purgatory bit came before paradise.

Gove indicated he thought that the Prime Minister was on borrowed time.

The only thing that kept her in a job is the method Tory MPs decide on to defenestrate her and who they can agree on to coalesce behind to replace her.

Well, yesterday answered one of those questions and we’ll find out whether they can sort out the other next week.

Gove said that he was once Liz Truss’s boss which he said now is “‘of course a role which is now a job-share between Jeremy Hunt and the bond markets”.

He said when she worked for him at the Department for Education she became known by his staff as “the human hand grenade”.

“You all now realise why she had that nickname…”, he told the audience with a deadpan delivery.

Lord Kim Darroch, former British ambassador in Washington, didn’t just have a grandstand seat for much of Donald Trump’s time in the White House, but his experience includes working closely with every British Prime Minister from Margaret Thatcher to Boris Johnson.

He also served as National Security Advisor during Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

He has been in the same room as Vladimir Putin a dozen times and he said the Russian president’s demeanour and approach changed dramatically over the two decades he had observed him.

He said he had seen it change from Putin sharing bottles of fine red wine with European leaders Gerhard Schröder, Jacques Chirac and Silvio Berlosconi in the hotel bar at a G8 summit to the scowling, angry leader of today who is growing ever more frustrated with his military’s lack of progress in Ukraine.

Darroch said that Putin cannot afford to lose in Ukraine – his presidency won’t survive it – and the territorial gains made by Ukrainian forces would make him more likely to use tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict.

On Trump, he said the former president was keen to run again in 2024 and while the mid-term elections are likely to end in a stalemate for the Republicans and Democrats, the biggest hurdle that lies in the way of The Donald running again are the lawsuits he faces over secret documents he kept at his Mar-a-Lago hotel complex in Miami and his actions surrounding the storming of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

“And as much as Donald Trump thinks he can do many things, I doubt that he can run the United States from a prison cell,” said Lord Darroch.

Claer Barrett is consumer editor at the Financial Times and presenter of the Money Clinic podcast.

While many of the pages of the pink paper are taken up with the machinations of global markets and how the wealthy spend their money, her work focuses on the impact of the markets on business investment as well as personal finance and the effect of inflation on household bills.

While she said that consumer champion Martin Lewis should be knighted, she also campaigns herself and started a movement for an energy bank to get FT readers to donate the savings paid for by the Government on their energy bills to those who are facing having their power cut off.

Claer Barrett told the audience that maths should be changed so it can be related more to important areas of personal finance and said everybody in this country, regardless of their wealth, should raise their hand when asked if they are worried about their finances.

Revealing that she’s still on Economy 7 in her London flat where she puts a wash on first thing in the morning and puts the clothes out to dry before she goes to work, she said not enough is being done to get us to conserve energy and the Government had focused on supporting people paying bills but had taken no action to encourage householders to reduce energy consumption.

Natalie Campbell was at the event to give her views on how business is coping with currently events.

When she stood at the lectern she joked that we might have a new Prime Minister or Chancellor before the event was over.

The audience laughed but would not have been surprised if that had happened, such are the turbulent times we live in.

Her business, Belu is a leading social enterprise that gives 100% of its profit to WaterAid.

Selling mineral water, filtration systems and refillable bottles,  it is a growing enterprise with sales of £6m and 26 employees.

She told the audience that people, including her team, are tired.

“Not, have a good sleep, tired but fatigued, dazed and discombobulated in a way that sleep can’t fix.

“As businesses we can help by giving work purpose and meaning beyond a financial P&L. A Purpose P&L…where people and the environment come first.”

I think we are all hoping that the next occupant of Number 10 has a clear purpose too.


A text arrived yesterday morning.

“I see your friend Craig Whittaker is in the news this morning…”, it read.

You might remember that earlier this year I had a contretemps with the Conservative MP for Calder Valley in a London restaurant.

I argued that the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a dishonest man and Craig disagreed.

It led to him describing me as “vile” and me using a word that can be described as industrial language in reply.

If you didn’t read about it at the time, you can read my account of it here

Whittaker was appointed Deputy Chief Whip and Treasurer of the Household on September 8 by Liz Truss.

He was in the news this week due to a fracas over a fracking vote in the House of Commons that was widely seen as one of the final nails in the coffin of Liz Truss’s time as Prime Minister.

It was widely reported that Whittaker and Chief Whip Wendy Morton had resigned from their posts after disorderly scenes, with MPs alleging ministers physically pulled some wavering Tories into the voting lobbies.

One Tory backbencher told the Guardian it was “the most bullying, screaming and shouting” they had seen in the voting lobbies, with Morton and Whittaker being engaged in a “full-blown shouting match”.

And The Spectator reported Morton as being “as mad as thunder and is saying ‘unbelievable’. Craig Whittaker has just come out of the lobby and said ‘I am f***ing furious and I don’t give a f**k anymore.’”

I have to say it doesn’t surprise me.

Because if he lost his cool debating politics with the likes of me, then trying to influence the voting choice of Tory MPs in the feverish atmosphere of Westminster was always going to be a challenge.

What did make me smile was the way his words were repeated by a political commentator on German TV.

You might like to watch the short clip here, although don’t do it when small children are present or if you are in a library.


Have a great weekend.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top