Great Britain

Digested week: Nicky Morgan's 'surprise' peerage and Christmas drinks at No 10 | John Crace

Monday

Under normal circumstances, it would be considered a huge breach of etiquette to let you know that yet again I have been overlooked in the New Year’s honours list before its publication. An astonishing omission, I agree, but there you are. But with the announcement of Nicky Morgan’s peerage, I feel that the rules have already been broken and I might as well come clean now. Because exactly when the once and present culture secretary first discovered she was going to be made a baroness is now a matter of some confusion.

It’s fair to say Morgan has been on a bit of a journey. Shortly after the referendum she was one of the loudest voices for remain on the Tory benches, then about a year ago she almost overnight became a passionate leaver. But it was when she, having overseen the internal review into a grant awarded to Boris Johnson’s friend Jennifer Arcuri, concluded – after almost no investigation – that the prime minister had behaved with total propriety, that I wrote in a sketch that the only possible explanation for her transformation was that she had been offered a peerage.

Morgan insisted otherwise. She said exactly the same at an election poster campaign launch I attended in late November. Asked outright if she had been offered a peerage or some other job in government in return for being the only woman allowed out to face the media – despite having told her constituents that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election as an MP because she wanted to spend more time with her family – Morgan categorically said no on both counts.

So she must be more amazed than anyone to find that her peerage has been rushed through in what would otherwise be record time, and for her to find herself part of the people’s government as an unelected cabinet minister. The Lords move in mysterious ways.

Tuesday

The election has had a disastrous effect on the haul of Christmas cards from MPs the lobby team has received this year. Theresa May always used to send one to all of us – even me – but this year Johnson has not bothered to put any of us on his list. Maybe he spilled wine on our batch of cards. The only party leader to have bothered to send out cards – though not to me – has been Jeremy Corbyn.

But as he sent two to one of the team by mistake, I have claimed one for my desk. Otherwise it has been incredibly thin pickings, mostly from MPs who should know better. Liz Truss’s card is a picture of ... Liz Truss, dressed in a Santa hat standing in front of a few casks of whisky. In what parallel universe was that ever a good idea?

Still, no one can beat the Tory MP Nigel Evans for narcissism. His card features a Christmas tree with 21 baubles on it. Each one of which features a different picture of Nigel Evans. And that’s just for starters. On the inside there’s another photo of Nigel, this time with the anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray – Nigel the Brexiter single-handedly uniting the country – and on the back there are four more photos of Nigel. Three of him with other random MPs and one of him on his own. I’d suggest that what Nigel really needs for Christmas is several sessions working on his low self-esteem with a therapist.

The classiest card came from the chancellor, Sajid Javid, who has a lovely photo of his dog on the front. A dog is always a good substitute for not having a personality. My wife’s and my best ever Christmas card was of our dog looking miserable in a blue Santa hat below the words “Happy Fucking Christmas”. Even my Mum loved it.

Wednesday

I’ve always given a swerve to the Christmas drinks for lobby journalists at No 10. I don’t drink, I am going deaf, I am socially gauche and find parties an ordeal at the best of times. And one where I’m trying to avoid a prime minister I’ve spent most of the year satirising comes with an added government health warning. But this year I relented. I was curious to see the inside of Downing Street – I’ve only previously been allowed in through the tradesmen’s entrance for joint press conferences – and wanted to observe Johnson up close in his natural habitat.

Having dumped my coat and phone and been ushered to an upstair reception room, I milled around happily nattering to friends and colleagues, while rather wondering if Johnson was ever going to show his face. The first sign of activity came about half an hour before the party was due to end, when Dominic Cummings appeared in a shirt that was unbuttoned almost to the waist – think a latter-day Adam Ant, only without the hair or the looks – and swaggered across the room. He then lounged against a wall and held court, as a swarm of hacks buzzed round him. For someone who has always said he prefers to lurk in the shadows, he gave a good impression of loving the attention.

Johnson bumbled in shortly afterwards and gave speech. It was meant to be funny, but was laced with passive-aggression. His real message was that he didn’t need any of us any more. Cheerleaders would be rewarded and critics frozen out. The media was now just another arm of the state. The people’s lobby for the people’s government. He then mingled for a bit, but he didn’t pull nearly as large a crowd as Classic Dom. It wasn’t hard to see where the real power lay.

Thursday

How much is too much? What is the tipping point between merely earning an acceptably large amount of money and having an income that is clearly excessive?

This, I should point out, is an entirely academic question for me – it probably makes me a bad person, but I could happily earn a lot more without feeling too guilty – but it might just be one that keeps Denise Coates awake at night. And if it doesn’t, then maybe it should. Coates is the boss of the gambling firm Bet365 and this week it was revealed that she is the UK’s largest earner with an income for the last year of £323m. Or £37,000 per hour.

I wouldn’t know where to start with that kind of cash. I don’t want to move house, the car works just fine and once I’d bought a few ceramics, some rare books and a new TV I’d be pretty much done.

But apart from the staggering sums involved, there’s also the manner in which Coates earns her money. For some of Bet365’s profits will have been generated from problem gamblers. People will have ended up in debt, marriages will have been destroyed and some may have even have taken their own lives. To assuage any guilt the company may feel towards its customers, Bet365 last year donated £868,000 to gambling charities. So we now know that Coates spends about one day a year worrying about the devastation her business can cause in order that none of her employees ever have to give it a second thought. Leading from the top. But I guess it’s her money, she’s earned it and she can do what she likes with it.

Friday

So that’s just about it from me. Once I’ve finished today’s sketch I will be off on hols. The last year has been pretty much full on and I could do with a break. I’m also hoping that my flu jab keeps doing the business as my wife has been laid up in bed feeling wretched for a week now; if it does, it will be the best £12.99 I’ve spent all year.

It will also be the first Christmas we’ve ever spent without our daughter – her flight back to the US was not without incident as not only did the airline lose her bags, we also managed to drop her at the wrong airport: not our finest hour – but our son and his girlfriend are coming to stay so we can’t moan too much. Mostly, though, I intend to do as little as humanly possible. Just spend time reconnecting with those I love and watching Spurs. I regret to say that after recent results I can already feel myself being drawn to the José Mourinho dark side. I’m becoming the fan I despise. Whoops. I clearly am that shallow.

The best present I could receive, though, would be to be given a break from the nightmares that dog my sleep almost every night. This morning I woke from a long dream about trying to bury bodies that kept rising up from the ground. Much more of this and I will turn into Dominic Raab. It’s been months since I’ve seen my therapist due to work mania: I think we’re going to have a lot of work to do in the new year. So thanks for reading me this year. Your interest, feedback and support means a lot to me. And if you’d like to talk to me in person and donate to the Guardian’s charity appeal, I will be on the phone desk between 10am and 12pm on Saturday. In the meantime, see you on the other side and have a fab Boris-free Xmas.

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