Sentenced to death: Pearson and Vine murder language in their latest Queen-bothering Covid columns...

... and inevitably they’re both still going on about Prince Philip

Allison Pearson of The Daily Telegraph and her ‘rival’ Sarah Vine at The Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday could swap jobs without readers noticing the difference. Both are paid six-figure salaries to have the most bad faith take on any given story while delivering maudlin encomiums to the powerful and privileged.

The only major difference is that while both regularly throw their hands up in the air about government decisions, Vine’s husband — haunted garden gnome and suspected pampas grass enthusiast, Michael Gove — is actually a senior member of that government.

Pearson and Vine’s interchangeability is never more apparent than on days like today when they have opted for the same topic (the Queen and Covid rules around funerals) and angle (it’s so sad and so cruel and the Queen is like a little pepper-pot angel). Their airless, deathless prose is also strikingly similar as both women are addicted to the kind of clunking similes and metaphors that would have made even Barbara Cartland think twice.

Pearson’s thoughts appear under the headline Can we stop this lockdown inhumanity and get our lives back? — which is effectively playing her ‘greatest hit’ given how many times she’s written columns on this topic during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Vine’s piece is trumpeted with a more ‘moral’ Daily Mail line — These cruel funeral Covid rules are the death of decency.

Imagine writing for The Daily Mail, having your columns appear beside the sidebar of shame on MailOnline, and still hooting on about decency.

Since the death of Prince Philip, Pearson has been filing copy that’s effectively a practice run for the utter maudlin meltdown she’ll have when the Queen herself finally goes to the great corgi shed in the sky. And while her prose is usually both overheated and underdone, it’s reaching ridiculous levels:

Her Majesty, who turns 95 today, is amazing for her age. Not only does the Queen still have all her marbles, she seems to possess a complete set of Scrabble, a mean hand of Gin rummy and some pretty nifty chess moves. (I’m still smiling at her “recollections may vary” response to the Sussexes’, ahem, imaginative interview with Oprah.) It has been wonderful to watch her chatting and laughing on Zoom calls during the pandemic like a person 50 years her junior. But on Saturday, petty officialdom allied to pathological societal paranoia contrived to leave a great monarch looking small, shrunken and unsupported.

It’s not enough for Pearson that she tortures a metaphor; she makes sure that metaphor kidnapped from its home in the dead of night, placed on a secret CIA flight to an unknown Eastern European location, subjected to special rendition, then waterboarded until it confesses that words are effectively meaningless.  

Don’t let it be said that Vine is any less committed to applying electrodes to the nipples of the English language and turning up the voltage. The opening of her Mail on Sunday column last week reveals how committed she is to submitting sentences, facts, and even the very fabric of reality to a range of cruel and unusual punishments:

As Shakespeare said, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.

Prince Philip was in a sense all three, a man born into the Greek royal family yet denied his birthright; someone who had to work hard to carve out his status in life; and a man who ended up, over the course of seven decades by the Queen’s side, earning a unique place in history as the longest-serving consort of any monarch.

She begins there with a quote from Twelfth Night, spoken in the play by the vainglorious Malvolio, but since stripped of its context and meaning by incorrect and arbitrary quotation.

Shakespeare wrote the line but he had Malvolio say it and the character’s intention is not to celebrate majestic royalty but to make a dirty joke. He thinks his employer, Olivia, reciprocates his feelings and the great thrusting he’s talking about is the sort you encounter in the bedroom rather than the throne room.

But Vine knows the quote and she’s doing what all lazy columnists do: Grabbing for an easy way into a piece that is nothing more than a grab bag of cliches and cheaply rendered emotional triggers.

Once she’s bastardised Shakespeare, she goes on to play fast and loose with history. Prince Philip was sixth in line to the Greek throne — the same position held by Prince Harry in the succession now — and his “birthright” would always have been to be married off to some princess of another royal house.

The question of whether the Duke of Edinburgh worked hard is a matter of opinion. In comparison to anyone who had an actual job, his life was an easy one and the notion that he earned a “unique place in history” is pure palace propaganda. Philip will be a footnote in the long term.

Returning to today’s column though, we find Vine opening with another classic of the columnist’s arsenal — the rickety premise delivered as uncontestable fact:

Even the most ardent Republican could not have helped but be moved by the sight of the Queen at Prince Philip’s funeral. She looked so vulnerable and forlorn, her face hidden behind her mask, the pew empty beside her.

Take it from this “ardent Republican” but I didn’t feel moved by the sight of the Queen. I felt mildly sorry for her as any human would for another person who has lost a loved one. But she looked fine in the circumstances and the idea of the country’s richest woman, with a phalanx of servants and hangers-on behind her and a large family besides, being “vulnerable” makes a mockery of the word.

Over at The Daily Telegraph, Pearson tries to push the reader’s emotional buttons in almost exactly the same way. She begins her column saying:

If anything was going to bring home the revolting, arbitrary and un-British cruelty of the ongoing lockdown rules, it was the sight of our Queen, masked and sitting quite alone, in St George’s Chapel during her darling husband’s funeral. Millions will have been distressed to witness the Royal widow as she bore her sorrow in brutal isolation. It brought me to tears, and I bet I wasn’t the only one.

It’s the same trick Vine played — attempting to present your personal feelings as a columnist as an echo of the opinions of the nation. And if Pearson thinks cruelty is “un-British”, she really hasn’t read any history.

Both Vine and Pearson classlessly use the funeral as a means to grind their axes about Covid rules — something they’ve been doing long before Prince Philip died and the Queen had to sit alone on a pew for a short while. Vine writes:

… it does, in many respects, feel like a punishment. While the rest of the country more or less goes about its business, returning to work and school, planning outings, beginning — slowly but surely — once again to enjoy all that life has to offer, those who are already suffering the most must somehow suffer even more. It is cruel beyond belief.

If only she knew someone heavily involved in the way government sets and applies rules…

Pearson meanwhile cranks up the outrage way past eleven — surely she must be close to a Scanners-style head explosion — writing:

I’m sure that the late, much-lamented Duke of Edinburgh would have had something splendidly rude to say about the fact that, while only 30 relatives and friends were allowed to attend his funeral, on the same day, at the Sheffield Crucible, 300 spectators were permitted to watch the World Snooker Championship. It’s balls, isn’t it? Complete and utter balls.

Our Prime Minister, who used to have balls, has just cancelled his visit to India, a move he described as “sensible”. Well, that’s a novelty, common sense being in notably short supply among Boris’s Health Secretary and scientific advisers.

I almost enjoy that she seems to have got stuck on the word ‘balls’ and just ploughed on regardless. Balls, indeed.

Inevitably Pearson finds space to praise the angry landlord who shouted at Keir Starmer but not before she argues that “lockdown has crushed this nation’s spirit. We have all learnt to keep our heads down and meekly obey many nonsensical rules.”

Secretly, Pearson — a Telegraph columnist, which is about as establishment as you can get — has enjoyed pretending to be a rebel. It’s like a stormtrooper scrawling graffiti in the Deathstar toilets, but never joining the Rebels because look, whatever you say about Palpatine, those Imperial Pension benefits are just too good to lose.

Of course, Vine railing against the government has been ludicrous for years. She plays it both ways; using her connection to Gove to drip tidbits about what’s happening in the corridors of power into her columns while stomping around in high dudgeon when anyone mentions who her husband is and why her writing about politics is a bit weird.

She ends the section of her column today on the funeral rules by howling:

If the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, then what we are witnessing is the death of decency.

If that’s so — and I think decency has been shambling around in a zombie state for decades — then Sarah Vine shares a bed with one of the pallbearers.

Pearson, meanwhile, concludes her take with a plea to the Queen:

It’s too late for our beloved Queen, but a relaxation of the cruel and unnecessary restriction on funerals would make a fitting present. Happy Birthday, Your Majesty, long to reign over us. As long as possible, please. I’m not sure how much more trauma we can take.

I don’t believe a word of it. Pearson can’t wait. The prospect of writing ludicrously lacrymose dispatches day after day is just far too delicious for her to wait very long; look how much copy she’s got from the Duke’s demise.

The big question is how will we tell Vine and Pearson’s tear-stained contributions apart when the Queen’s time comes?