Don’t turn around. The woman in the seat
behind is known to keep eccentric pets
– watch out for iguanas . Don’t repeat
this, but her husband’s run up massive debts
through gambling. No, I told you not to stare.
Natural to feel curiosity
about your fellow passengers, but there
is where it ends. Top level secrecy
must be maintained. The girl who’s just got on
might be a terrorist, but we can’t say.
Pretend you’re reading till the threat has gone.
You wonder how we know all this is true.
Don’t worry. That bus going the other way
has got a poem on it. About you.

October 2010

Renoir at Moulin Huet

Not Normandy this time. Guernsey is near
but warmer, with a golden August glow;
a mix of greens on granite greys that fall
incisive, slanting in the turquoise sea.
He finds this bay and stalks it like a deer.
Quick glimpses, as each twist along the track
unearths his prey, allows his sights to wheel
on to a different line, a fresh attack.
He loves the giggling girls, the way they squeal
galloping into waves, no hint of shame,
young creatures in the wild running free.
One month, and fifteen canvases. Some haul.
He drags his bulging bag of captured game
back to the kitchen of his studio.


for Edward Thomas

Don’t be afraid to let your feelings show
I tell the men. Although I have to read
your letters home, don’t let that make you cold
towards your loved ones. Tell them that you care.
I’m one to talk. What can I tell my wife,
my precious girls, the son I hardly know...?
is a clarity in army life
which even in this godforsaken place
gives me the sense of purpose that I need.
An end in view. At least I shan’t grow old.
I seem to be commanding. No-one knows
I write continuously, fill up the space
with only capitals to mark the moments where
my lines dive down, pretending to be prose.

“What about Michael Gove?”

Teaching friends were upset that I hadn’t been inspired by Michael Gove. I did try, but they weren’t published. Here’s a couple.

In the row over GCSE results, the Welsh minister wanted to order a re-mark, but Gove was determined to stop him.

The Welsh Labour minister’s dim
But our hero soon neutralised him;
It’s clear in the rules
That the whole nation’s schools
Must be governed by Michael Gove’s whim.


When Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was under pressure over the BSkyB bid, Gove toured the studios in his support, pointing out how well Hunt performed on the dance floor. “In particular, he is a superb Latin American dancer, and his lambada is amazing.” (Guardian 30.4.12)

Yet again Michael Gove has the answer.
As you wonder if Hunt is a chancer
And ask yourself why
He should turn a blind eye
Don’t forget – he’s a fabulous dancer.


And if that’s not enough, try my Gove poem,  The Confidence of Michael Gove.


Hugo ends up in Guernsey, forced to roam
because he can’t shut up. He’s on the run
with royalties enough to build a home.
“Three-storey autograph” - so says his son.
He raids the junk shops, finds chinoiserie,
commissions carving from a ton of oaks,
laying a trail of personality –
a lover’s secrets, Latin mottoes, jokes.
Up at the lighthouse top, he claims a den
where freedom’s champion can work all day,
then sleep. The mistress, and the family,
recede. Will Garibaldi come to stay?
Occasionally, he rests his busy pen,
stares out into the blue, where France must be.

The Morning After

We’re heading out of Europe
We never liked the smell
There’ll be English votes for English laws
And the Scots can go to hell.
We’ll tighten up the borders
The Welfare State will fade
The NHS will be sold off
There’ll be no legal aid.
The poor, the young, disabled
Will feel the sharpest axe
The banks will pay more bonuses
The rich will pay less tax.
To all you wealthy winners
Our thanks for your donation
You’ve five more years of Tory rule
- Welcome to one nation.


“Campaign in poetry, govern in prose.”
That’s how the cynic’s favourite motto goes
but not all leaders can be bought and sold.
There are idealists who break the mould
and offer us a chance we must not miss
to opt for better. D’you remember this?

This is a crucial moment, time to change,
to redistribute power, rearrange
control; remove it from the old elite
and hand it to the people in the street.
This government protects itself, holds back
the truth about expenses, or Iraq.
They’re secretive about themselves, and yet
greedy to know as much as they can get
about what you are up to. They can’t wait
to stretch the slimy tentacles of state
still further. Here’s how tyranny begins:
check e-mails, tap your calls, go through your bins.
Surveillance stretches anti-terror laws
to take in trivia beyond their rightful cause.
There’s hidden cameras, watching through the dark
school catchment cheats, dogs pooping in the park.
That officer who’s just come through your door -
can you be sure he represents the law?
We’ll change all that. We’ll let you know this time
the truth on government spending, rates of crime.
No bureaucrats will block transparency,
we have resolved to set the data free.
This government tried to make themselves look good.
They worked top-down, short-term. We’ve understood
clear purpose and consistent argument
provide the base for rational government.
No hedging, secrecy or dirty tricks;
what we need is a brand new politics.

At last, a manifesto with a plan
that sounds worth voting for. Who is this man?
(It made me want to shout out “Yes, we can!”
If we’d just had the nerve to back his line
and he had won, we’d all be doing fine...)
Cameron. 25th of June, ’09.


The politicians do their thing. they dance
between complete control and squeaky clean.
In opposition, they demand that we
play by the rules. But also, that we catch
each terrorist as they’re about to act.
In power, they switch. They love the secret stuff
until a crisis, when we get the blame.
Time was, we watched the preachers. Fair enough.
Now Facebook, war games or a football match
could link the suspects. When the phones are hacked,
connections made, we haven’t got a chance
of tracking all that traffic. What we see
is clouded overload, a poker game
where only half the players can be seen.

Austerity Carol

In the bleak midwinter
Good news is hard to find;
Cut back on the handouts
While the bankers rob us blind.
Swimming pools and libraries
Sinking through the snow;
Public sector spending
Has to go.

If they’re drowning leave them
Turn your heart to stone
Cut the ties that bind us
Better on our own
Stop them at the border
Say the answer’s no -
“All in this together”?
That was long ago.

Common Cause

They rustle anything that moves and what they have they hold.
The country’s for the taking, the plan’s divide and rule
A man who doubts self-interest is a deluded fool.
They tear the countryside to bits, they sell it, part by part;
If you can make a killing you don’t care about the heart.
They hound them from their hovels, they drive them from the gate
And by the time a protests’s made it’s over, it’s too late.
For peasants there is no defence, they’re fleeced and then they die.
If you’ve a sword and appetite constraints do not apply.
The raiders pay no taxes, they’re victors in the fight
So they are free to claim the spoils, enjoy what’s theirs by right.

And then the stormclouds gather, rebellion’s in the air.
The scent of freedom beckons those who are brave enough to dare
To ditch the deference habit they’ve carried from the past:
No more submissive, second-rate - a chance to count at last.
The parties and their leaders look round in disbelief
As apathy has been replaced by smiles of relief.
These people want things different, no more remote control;
The don’t knows practise saying Yes, the nation claims its soul.

This isn’t in the rule book. The raiders sally forth
As retaliation rumbles its way towards the north.
The merchants and the money men are worried for their trade,
Wise leaders hint at dangers, and patriots are dismayed.
They patronise the peasants with a mix of bribe and threat:
“You don’t know what you’re doing. It’ll only lead to debt.”
And as their banners are unfurled and the bands begin to play
The flags spell out their message – “Better Together” they say.

Today our prince has come

Hi, George! you finally made it,
I know that it’s been hard
With the paparazzi snapping
And no lightshow from the Shard.
Those yards of speculation
Who knows what it might mean?
They rang to check the Commonwealth
Would have you as their queen.
There’s precedents to follow –
The best is George the Third’s:
You sleep with Helen Mirren,
Say Alan Bennett’s words.
And, looking on the bright side
You’ve really got it made
You’ll never pay the bedroom tax
You won’t need legal aid.
You’ve bathed our lives in sunshine
It’s you that makes the weather
And everything you’re told is true:
We’re all in this together.

Sweetheart Deal

There’s a load of folk complaining that big firms don’t pay tax
For instance, twenty million quid is owed by Goldman Sachs;
George Osborne says it’s sorted, he’s clear there is no doubt
So the Revenue agree a deal just to help him out:
Dave Hartnett does the business, it’s a bargain, it’s a steal
And nothing’s quite so sexy as a secret sweetheart deal.
The department has a lawyer who says this can’t be right,
He thinks select committee could shed a little light
The Revenue are worried about how they’ll appear
The lawyer gets suspended and they feed the press a smear:
You try to help the government then someone starts to squeal
You’d think a lawyer’d understand a secret sweetheart deal.
Dave Hartnett worked his magic as the boss at Revenue;
“We don’t want confrontation, when tax is overdue.
I scratch their backs and when I’m due to leave HMRC
I know De Loitte’s accountants will have a job for me.”
A taxman’s not a dreamer, he has to keep it real
So he secures his future with a secret sweetheart deal.

The Ballad of Shaker Aamer

For Shaker there’s a duty to help your fellow man;
He goes to help the orphaned kids out in Afghanistan;
He’s in a school in Kabul, the planes are flying low
A thousand daisy-cutter bombs suggest it’s time to go.

He’s heading for the border, there’s a warlord with a gun
The Yanks will pay big money for a Muslim on the run.
He’s starved, in stress positions, nine nights he’s kept awake
And Shaker’s only human; in time he’s bound to break.

Of course he knew Bin Laden. And Richard Reid? Oh yes.
Then there’s the 9/11 guy - he’s happy to confess.
The man from MI5 explains: Fancy Guantanamo?
Or would you rather spy for us? But Shaker tells him no.

Guantanamo’s a nightmare, loud noises, flashing lights;
You get no sleep if you’re a Brit who thinks he’s still got rights.
It takes the spooks six years to see that Shaker’s in the clear
But does that mean he’s going home or will he disappear?

His family in Battersea still want the life they had
But Faris, aged eleven, has never seen his dad.
The inquiry into torture could use his evidence,
He’d make a brilliant witness – it’s only common sense.

Good reasons to release him, a lot that we might learn -
Who is it that’s decided that Shaker can’t return?
Down in a concrete bunker there’s people we don’t know
Who say which body’s on the plane and where it needs to go.

They’re doing hush-hush business and they’ve got what it takes,
But nobody must ever know they sometimes make mistakes.
A British man was tortured with our agents by his side
And that’s the dirty secret they’ll do anything to hide.

Now Shaker’s on a hunger strike, he could die any day
So do we say he’s one of ours - or do we look away?

One Mo Time

Mo never had it easy, he moved when he was eight,
Took refuge from Somalia with nothing on his plate.
A champion needs one teacher, and then he can begin,
But changes would be needed if Mo was going to win.

Salazar runs a bootcamp where the rules are very tough,
There’s a treadmill in the bedroom, you’re never good enough;
He says Mo’s running like a girl, his shoulders aren’t in place
And the last four hundred metres is where you win the race.

A dumb reporter wonders if Mo would change his call
“Would running for Somalia be preferable at all?”
“Look mate, this is my country. I’ll say it clear and loud
When I put on Great Britain’s vest it makes me feel proud.”

Five thousand is the hardest, the third time he’ll appear,
There’s ten guys in the field with faster times this year;
He’s knackered from the interviews but Mo’s not going to fold,
‘Cos Saturday’s are magical and we want one more gold.

So many laps they’re jogging; with less than two to go
A hero needs to take his chance – would you believe it’s Mo?
Those spindly legs keep driving, how can he go so fast?
There’s challengers all round him but none of them get past.

It seems as if he must be caught, one man against the rest,
He’s fuelled by his training, believes he is the best;
He wins with guts and effort, intelligence and style
And we are all included in that gorgeous winning smile.


Sundays. Who wants mainstream news?
The world is gagging for The Screws.
Forget the economic gloom
You need to know who’s screwing whom.

Remember Charlotte? What a voice.
For Murdoch’s wedding she’s the choice.
How will he pay? You’d never guess:
A hundred grand – or decent press.
She’d pick the cash, but Charlotte’s told
Murdoch’s approval’s solid gold.
Later, she’ll wish she’d had the cheques.
Her dad’s involved in three way sex,
Repeated orgies, with cocaine,
Enough to drive his wife insane.
We wrote how Charlotte’s mother cried
And then attempted suicide.
Fast forward. Litigation’s due.
And Charlotte’s mad, she plans to sue
Until we say: “Now here’s a thought.
D’you want to see your Mum in court?”

Clive Goodman’s royal column spills
The inside dirt on Harry’n Wills.
Just how did he get hold of that?
Buckingham Palace smells a rat.
It’s not a case to please the Met
Who’d much prefer a terror threat.
Still, hack the princes? Who would dare?
A Screws researcher, Glenn Mulcaire.
There’s reams of notes in Mulcaire’s flat
And that, you might suppose, is that.
But powers that be aren’t what you’d think
And even policemen like a drink.

Just as machinery needs grease
So police need press, and press need police.
They look at porn, they have affairs.
In fact, your average copper scares
Just like the rest. That’s why we dine
the senior ranks, feed them a line
they need to take. Shit hits the fan.
Surprise, surprise, they choose our man
to investigate. We have a laugh.
He clears our name. Then joins the staff.

What killed us was the Dowler case.
You’re in a very nasty place
The day a dead girl’s parents know
You hacked her phone. It’s time to go.
They closed the paper. Now it seems
The hacking’s over. In your dreams.

I’ll leave you with the hacker’s prayer
A masterpiece by Glenn Mulcaire.
The man who hacked a thousand phones
Knew that the press would pick his bones
But as the hacks besieged his door
He’s pleading: “Guys, I know the score."
You’re sceptical, but strike me dead
These were the words that Mulcaire said.
“I’m guilty, and I should atone.
But leave my wife and kids alone.
It’s not their fault. It’s down to me
So please, respect their privacy.”