JAN MOIR: Hey, Steve Coogan, get down off that moral high ground!

JAN MOIR: Hey, Steve Coogan, get down off that moral high ground!

Steve Coogan is the latest rich celebrity to use the furlough scheme for his own ends. The comedian, who has a personal fortune of around £10 million, has furloughed the gardener and housekeeper at his £4 million country home in Sussex.

His gardener and housekeeper! Surely this is not what chancellor Rishi Sunak had in mind when he announced the scheme at the beginning of the pandemic?

The Government prioritised protecting jobs and incomes — and so far the furlough scheme has been largely effective. However, we all know it can’t go on for ever, and is it right that rich people such as Coogan should use taxpayers’ money rather than their own to pay their domestic staff? Particularly if they could well afford to do so themselves?

No it is not. It’s outrageous.

Steve Coogan, with a personal fortune of £10 million, has reportedly furloughed his gardener and housekeeper at his £4 million country home in Sussex. Pictured: Feb 4, 2020

Victoria Beckham did initially use the furlough scheme for her fashion business, then changed her mind under a storm of criticism. Stella McCartney, Rick Stein, Richard Branson and Philip Green have all applied for their staff to be furloughed, despite having sizeable personal fortunes.

This all pales in comparison to the Hinduja brothers. Their wealth (around £20 billion) makes them the richest men in Britain, yet they too are using the scheme to pay some of the 360 employees at a Yorkshire bus firm they own.

And could anything be more morally bankrupt than the behaviour of Lib Dem frontbencher Lord Fox, who furloughed himself despite having a £100,000 cash pot in his company and claiming the House of Lords allowance during lockdown?

Not all furlough cases are without merit. Large firms with shareholders, thousands of employees and knee-buckling pension pots could and would drain the reserves of any millionaire very quickly.

And the principle behind the furlough scheme is to stop major businesses collapsing and leaving millions unemployed, with the calamitous knock-on effect that would bring to suppliers and communities. Yet some manage. 

Simon Cowell and Duncan Bannatyne are among those moguls paying the payroll out of their own pockets. James Timpson of The Timpson Group has also dipped into his own pocket, topping up the 80 per cent furlough so his staff are still earning 100 per cent full pay. It is costing him £500,000 a week.

‘It’s worth every penny to help our colleagues and their families through some tough times,’ he said this week. His generous attitude is not one shared by Coogan, who is the worst kind of champagne socialist, one who has often used his celebrity to campaign for Labour. He even supported Jeremy Corbyn, which takes party loyalty to foolhardy extremes.

For decades, Coogan has presented himself as an absolute darling of the Left; the kind of raging lefty who cares more, understands more, feels more and simply knows more than you do.

During the election last year, from his entrenched position on the moral high ground, Coogan was one of the luvvies who urged the electorate to vote tactically to oust the Conservatives — well that went well, darlings! He also went on national TV to describe Conservative voters as ‘ill-informed and ignorant’, which was a bit rude, to say the least. In the same Channel 4 interview he suggested that the Tories deliberately underfunded schools in order to win votes from badly educated people.

His sneering dismissal of those who disagree with his political views is painful to witness, but he now exposes himself as a hypocrite, too; one who is happy to embrace Conservative policies if they happen to suit his pocket.

Coogan recently starred in the film Greed, which was loosely based on the life of Philip Green. In interviews to support the film, the star droned on about ‘the huge imbalance between the rich and the poor’, giving the impression it was something he cared about.

Steve Coogan, pictured in 2002 as Alan Partridge

In his 2015 autobiography Easily Distracted, he wrote about how he was brought up to be ‘respectable, to be kind to people, to take personal pride by contributing to society in a traditional way’.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, he wants you and me to fund the wages of George the Gardener and Mrs Hughes the Housekeeper in his own private Downton Abbey.

The public are right to be furious about this, particularly when they have been making so many sacrifices themselves, both personally and financially. It seems morally wrong, in many cases, to further burden the British taxpayer.

All those mentioned here are no doubt legally entitled to use the furlough system — but does that mean that they should?

Some are calling for the scheme to be means tested, but that seems an unworkable target.

Instead, people like Steve Coogan should have the bloody good sense just to pay up themselves.

And how very telling it is that they don’t.

Like many of us, I have my misgivings about the new opt-out organ donation scheme introduced in England this week. The fact that the state can take control of your body the second you have gasped your last is chilling. But let’s not be squeamish, let’s embrace the opt-out future with a good heart, if we are lucky enough to have one. Consider that this week, 2,772 people are on the UK organ waiting list; people living half-lives, decimated by ill health, stuck in the shadows of existence, not really living. To give them the years you don’t have a use for any more? Surely that is the humane way forward.  

Pam looks like a porn-again star

What next for my friend Pamela Anderson? The darling girl is at a loose end following her fifth marriage, which ended after only 12 days in February.

I’ve got yoghurts that have lasted longer than some of her husbands, but age hasn’t withered her impulsive streak when it comes to love.

She wed her first husband, rock musician Tommy Lee, after knowing him for only four days. She then married singer Kid Rock, followed by poker player Rick Salomon (twice) before tying the knot with Hollywood producer Jon Peters in January.

 Pamela Anderson, pictured in an image shared on her Instagram, will act as ‘creative director’ for a webcam-based social media platform

In a romantic coincidence, it was the fifth marriage for both of them. Pam admitted she had made a mistake and blamed an Ayurvedic cleanse in India, which had left her emotionally ‘very open’.

That can happen. I once had a steam bath and a salt scrub, then agreed to marry Brad Pitt, even though he hadn’t asked. One open pore and I’m anyone’s. Poor Mr Peters claimed he had paid Anderson’s personal debts of £163,000, and told the New York Post: ‘There’s no fool like an old fool.’ Indeed.

Now, 52-year-old Pamela has climbed back into her creaking waspie to launch herself as the ‘creative director’ for a webcam-based social media platform — which is affiliated to an adult webcam service.

Pamela Anderson is at a loose end following the end of her fifth marriage in February, after just 12 days

Pictured on her Instagram feed lying on a bed in her scanties, Pam says she will discuss topics such as fashion and dating with users. Altogether now: hmmm.

I am disappointed in Pamela. Despite her past as a Playboy centrefold and the leaking of her sex tape 25 years ago, she has always been against online porn and dating apps.

‘The best sex is in a committed relationship. You must be brave enough for intimacy,’ she told me two years ago. And now this! I am wondering how low Pam can go. Watch this space.

Harry’s missing a mentor 

Music mogul David Foster is a fascinating character. He is one of the most successful producers in the world, and practically invented the power ballad.

He has worked with everyone from Celine Dion to Michael Buble to Madonna, but he had some of his biggest hits with Whitney Houston. He laid the bombastic production onto I Will Always Love You.

Whitney Houston pictured performing at Muhammed Ali’s 50th birthday celebration, which was a special that aired March 1, 1992

Handsome, vain and with a taint of lounge lizard about him, Foster, 70, is still fabulously rich — despite being married five times. He has been called the new father figure in Prince Harry’s American life. His 36-year-old wife, actress Katharine McPhee, went to school with Meghan. And it seems making good marriages is not all they have in common.

‘My husband has a beautiful relationship with Harry,’ McPhee recently told Access Hollywood. ‘They’re so cute, like father and son.’

The question is not whether Foster is a suitable mentor for Prince Harry, but whether Harry, a father himself, still needs a father figure today. Tragically, I think the answer is a very needy yes.

You think you’ve got it bad? A new variety of frog has just been discovered — but has already been classified as critically endangered. The tiny stump-toed Stumpffia froschaueri lives among tree litter in north-west Madagascar and harms no one. Yet it is struggling to survive in a landscape plagued by fire, drought and forest clearance. Poor little Stumpy! His reputation is over before ever really starting, while it seems doubtful that he was ever kissed by a passing princess. His usefulness and the reason for his existence remain a mystery. In one short hop, he has become the Rory Stewart of the amphibian world. Bless him!

Disgrace of council that allowed abuse to happen

As if to remind us that the horror of the real world grinds on relentlessly while we obsess over death rates and Covid-19 tests, the endemic failures of Haringey social services slip back into the news again.

Social workers from the local authority — which has the worst reputation for child protection failures in the country — allowed a mother of two boys to develop a relationship with a paedophile.

High Court judge Mr Justice Hayden said that staff had put their sympathy for the woman before the needs of her children — one of whom was severely disabled — whose lives have been seriously damaged as a result. He added it was the worst failure by social workers he had ever come across.

The constant failure of this council and its departments is a badge of shame and suggests institutionalised problems. Who could ever forget its other victims, such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie? They are modern horror stories of neglect and cruelty, allowed to flourish under the noses of officials.

Sometimes there is a tendency to blame social workers instead of the perpetrators of these vile deeds. Yes, too often they are up against cunning deviants; people who are determined criminals, prepared to commit offences against the children of their lovers, against their own flesh and blood.

But not in this case. Vulnerable children were put in harm’s way — because of the entrenched thinking that encourages social workers to leave a child with its mother if at all possible.

Does the crib have to be on fire before the baby is snatched to safety?

And in this instance the father was cut out of the picture because the social workers did not like him.

What an utter disgrace. Baby P, the untold harm done to these boys? The nameless social workers did not abuse any of these children themselves, but they allowed it all to happen.   

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