OF all the tasks set out in To Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Keats neglected to add the digging out of woolly jumpers and thick socks.
Not a problem for the host of Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday, who added the lines about woolly items by way of an introduction to an interview with Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business and Energy Secretary. Like poets, anchors of Sunday morning politics shows have a licence to roam if it makes for a tastier intro.
Staying warm was a theme across the politics shows and the Sunday papers. In the case of Boris Johnson the matter was personal. The Sunday Mirror said the Prime Minister and his family had gone to Costa del Sol for a break. Citing soaring energy bills, slashed benefits and record fuel prices at home, the red top asked: “What costa living crisis?”
The Mail on Sunday was in a more relaxed mood. Critics who claimed the Prime Minister had deserted his post in the midst of a crisis should remember what he had been through in the past 21 months, including nearly dying from Covid, and “give the guy a break”, the paper argued.
Phillips and The Andrew Marr Show had other matters to raise with the Minister, including the energy price cap for domestic users. The Sky man did keep on about sweaters, though. “Are you advising people to wear another woolly jumper and get the socks out?” he asked Mr Kwarteng.
“It’s amazing how people’s cold threshold can be very different,” said the Minister. “People should do what they feel comfortable with.”
“Ah,” said Phillips, jumping in again. “Would comfortable mean the Energy Minister says, ‘Why don’t you turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees and put on another woolly?’”
Mr Kwarteng, presumably imagining the negative headlines, was not biting. “My job as an energy minister is not to tell people how many layers of clothing they should wear. My job is to ensure security of supply, which I’m doing, and also to make sure that the rising costs, which we see globally, are minimised.”
The message from the Minister was that the domestic price cap was safe for the next six months, but he would not commit to a similar deal for industry.
Marr asked if Mr Kwarteng was “absolutely sure” the lights were going to stay on this winter, the spectre of the 1970s never being far from any discussion of power cuts. “Yes I am,” said the Minister. Straight question, straight commitment, job done. The rest, we shall see.
Mr Kwarteng was not born when Michael Heseltine served as a Minister in the Heath government of 1970-74. Speaking to Phillips from his home in Northamptonshire (one lamp on), Lord Heseltine was a blast from the past who came bearing warnings for the future. Industry crises would come thick and fast in the ensuing months, he predicted, and every time there would be a demand for more taxpayers’ money. “We’re already running on borrowed time in economic terms,” said the politician whose long blonde locks and Mace-swinging antics once earned him the nickname “Tarzan”.
Marr had the real deal on movie stars in the form of George Clooney. The double Oscar winner was in London for the film festival premier of his latest movie as a director, The Tender Bar, a coming of age tale set in 1970s (them again) America. As on previous visits he sat down with Marr to talk about politics in the US as well as his current film.
Marr brought up the new President’s poor poll ratings and asked what had gone wrong. In a survey last week by Quinnipiac University the Biden approval rating was just 38%.
Clooney, a Democrat and friend of Joe Biden, said a lot of things had to be repaired following Donald Trump’s presidency. “There’s a lot of healing that has to happen and it’s going to take time.”
Mr Trump was in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, once again hinting that he would run in 2024 but still not saying explicitly.
Clooney said it had been difficult to take Mr Trump seriously at first. “It’s so funny because [he] was just this knucklehead. I knew him before he was a president. He was just a guy who was chasing girls. Every time you went out he’d come over and be like, ‘What’s the name of that girl?’.”
Of another run by Trump, Clooney said: “He’s going to play this out for a while and we will see where we go with it as a country. My hope is we have a little better sense than to do that again.”
There has been long been speculation that Clooney would like to run for office himself one day. At 60, he is a relative youngster compared to Biden, 78, and Trump, 75.
Clooney said it was because of his age that he would not want a role in politics. He told his wife, Amal, recently that they should look on this time as the halcyon years.
“In 20 years I will be 80 and that’s a real number. Doesn’t matter how much you work out, what you eat, you’re 80 and so I said we have to make sure we enjoy and live these years in the best possible way.”
He was thinking of cutting his workload, doing one job a year instead of three. Not working at all would be “a bummer” he added. His famously hard-working Scottish interviewer agreed.
“Always good to see you, man,” said Clooney, words you almost never, if ever, hear a politician say to an interviewer.