Pushing through the
So many of us sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years more to cry in.
Young girl came and
Earth was really dying
Cried so much her face was wet,
Then I knew she was not lying.
I heard flaming trees near the Opera House, raging memories I saw flash floods, dry river beds, electric storms and rising seas My brain hurt like a warehouse, such a gloomy stark nightmare I looked around for rays of hope, but they were just not there. And all the fat, greedy people, and all the poor, needy people And all the nobody people, mocked by somebody people I never thought I’d fear for so many people.
A girl at school
went off her head,
Hit some other children
No welfare staff are left to help
Austerity won’t fill them.
An old man with a broken
Fixed his stare to the walls of the A&E
A nurse came and told him he’d just have to wait,
And he thought this is not how it used to be.
I think I saw you
in an old folks’ home,
In a nightshirt cold and long
Crying and waving and looking so sad,
Don’t think you knew you were in this song.
And the PM took his
briefing pack and I knew he’d never read it
And then he laughed at all the people on Universal Credit
A disgrace, you’re racist, the way that you talk
I hate you, you’re contemptible, I want you to walk.
We’ve got five
years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, not a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, and look who we’ve got!
We’ve got five
years, not a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, just look who we’ve got!
No animals were harmed in the production of this blog post.
Following the disastrous result of last week’s election, here are a few preliminary thoughts on our current situation and on where we go from here.
Those of us with a progressive view of society have some very serious thinking to do. But first, it makes me think that our predicament for the next five years is very much like that of a dog dependent on its master for food, exercise and shelter. (Hence the title Dog Days.) Or, more accurately, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “a dog that’s been beat too much”. The harsh reality is that any crumbs of comfort, in terms of government actions of which we approve, will be like scraps on the floor for the dog off his master’s table. We hope or beg. Get used to it.
So, Leave It Is
At risk of stating the blisteringly obvious, any hope of the
UK remaining a member of the EU is gone. The same is true of the proposal for a
People’s Vote: gone in one blow. So we formally leave at the end of next month
and potentially crash out at the end of the transition period at the end of
2020. Johnson’s first pronouncement to make illegal any further extension to the
transition period is childish, petulant and irresponsible: a harbinger of worse
to come? And all this despite the fact the UK would now vote Remain: all recent
opinion polls give a clear lead to Remain voters. And in the General Election,
53% of electors voted for parties with either a Remain or People’s Vote policy
position. That’s called democracy – to some, anyway.
So the real battle on our hands becomes the nature of the partnership between the “sovereign”
UK and the EU27. For “sovereign”, read “totally subservient to Trump and the
USA and the weaker party in trade negotiations with the likes of China”. In the
kindergarten language we have become inured to, soft Bullshit or hard Bullshit.
So the fight is to argue for something least damaging to jobs and the economy:
something like Labour was promising to put to a second vote if it gained power.
It sounds a tough call, but we must try.
Reasons for Labour’s Worst Result
A letter writer in yesterday’s Guardian repeats a comment made by a coal mining colleague 60 years
ago: “The Tories can tell lies much better than Labour can tell the truth”.
Sadly, some things don’t change.
Many, many words have already been written and spoken about why Labour lost so heavily. The word “trust” has been repeated time and again. In no particular order of importance, factors include the distorting effect of the referendum aftermath, Labour losing touch with its traditional base in the North of England, the believability of the manifesto pledges, antisemitism and the Party’s handling of this and, of course, the character and background of Corbyn himself. If the party had stuck to its manifesto pledges (about which I got quite excited!) things would have been better. The extra policies that flowed were like throwing sweets from a moving van, in more and more desperation to be liked. It smacked of desperation and lost the Party credibility.
There is a case to answer for each factor: I will save any more detail for another time. One factor not listed above is the effect of the media. The “right-wing
press” have been with us since the “Zinoviev letter”
forgery and earlier. Grossly unfair that it is, nothing is going to change any
time soon. More worrying is the dreadful performance of BBC News – other aspects
of the BBC’s coverage have been better (Newsnight in particular: hail Emily
Maitlis and Emma Barnett!) Laura Kuenssberg must go! Repeatedly retweeting Tory
propaganda and lies without the most basic fact-checking is just one of several
sackable offences. Sinisterly, all the BBC’s “errors” seemed to help the Tories.
There has been a revolving door between the BBC news departments and Press
Office / PR jobs in CCHQ. Deeply troublesome!
The jury is still out on the overall effect of social media,
other than to say that the Tories’ posts, tweets and advertisements seemed to
be mostly lies and their opponents’ mainly pointing out inconvenient truths.
All this implies the need for a new Labour leader with the character to survive
in this hostile landscape and build a believable position of trust. Another
Corbyn and Reflection
I don’t feel strongly about whether Corbyn stays on as
leader of the Labour Party during the 3 months it takes to elect a new one. On
balance, I would prefer him to go now
and appoint a clearly neutral caretaker leader. Unlike Johnson, I believe
Corbyn is an honourable, if stubborn, man. The necessary reflection must be
carried out diligently, with active involvement of all wings of the party. Listening,
including to ex-Labour voters, is a key part. Of more importance, if he were to
stay in the interim, Corbyn must shed himself of the “comfort blanket” of his
clique of immediate advisers and sycophants. Seamus Milne is an obvious
example. Otherwise, any lessons learnt from a review will be tainted with the
accusation that the conclusions will be biased by the current leadership.
Tories Old and New
There are many ways to classify the current batch of Tory
MPs, new and old. Here are two of them.
Firstly, having got rid of the more sensible (i.e. reasonable)
MPs in the last parliament, we can assume that we now either have Tory MPs who
are “true believers” of Johnson’s far-right project – swivel-eyed lunatics like
Gove, Rees-Mogg, Raab and Patel – and a rancid majority who throw away their
principles for power. A dispiriting thought, but almost certainly true.
Secondly, Tory MPS can also be classified as those serving
long-standing Tory-voting areas, mainly consisting of the better off and skewed
to the home counties and those in former Labour seats in the Midlands and North
where the anti-Labour swing was highest. It will be interesting to see how this
latter group (a) will relate to their new constituents and (b) how, if at all,
this affects Johnson’s policy stance.
The “Real” Johnson
After the 2016 Party conference, I wrote a post about Theresa
May, Who May She Be?
She was still something of an enigma, having revealed little about herself.
Reading this post again, I find that it is about 80% correct but an important
omission is any explicit reference to the “hostile environment”, a quintessentially
May policy. In fact, it was not until my Hostile Means
Nasty post nearly two years later when I first use the phrase. It’s
easy to forget how quickly certain ideas pass into common usage.
And so to the man who will be Prime Minister for the next five years, barring unforeseen events: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. He still remains something of an enigma, but not because of any low profile. Rather, it’s mainly because of his pathological levels of narcissism. With his habitual lying and his “concern horizon” beginning and ending with himself, we have few clues as to predict how he will act when clearly no longer in campaign mode.
It is said that Johnson’s childhood ambition was to be “World
King”. More realistically, as an adult he has aspired to be Prime Minister and
his every move in recent years has been to that effect. He has now got what he
wanted – and so, it would seem, have 29% of the electorate. (29% is The Tories’
vote share of 43.6% multiplied by the turnout of 67.3%.) Sadly, a third of us
don’t seem to care.
So, what can we expect in this week’s Queen’s Speech? (We
will know soon enough, but how much of it we believe is another matter.) Even
his economic policies are unclear, as the manifesto’s back-of-the-fag-packet
calculations (where they exist) give no clue. It all looks unsustainable:
apparently higher spending in focus-group friendly areas combined with lower
taxes. It doesn’t add up without borrowing at the levels spelled out in detail
in the Labour manifesto. (Tory borrowing would be higher than Labour’s manifesto
plans if we leave the EU with no deal at the end of 2020.)
“One Nation” or Divisive?
Johnson made some conciliatory noises on Friday about “One-Nation
Conservatism”, suggesting a different approach from the pre-election version.
But beware: Johnson’s past habitual lying and Tory right wingers’ past form
should mean we take all this with a mighty pinch of salt. “Where there is discord, may we
bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt,
may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” (M Thatcher, Downing Street 1979, on taking
office). She then went on to become the most divisive PM of my lifetime, so
If we do get a more conciliatory Johnson now that he doesn’t
need to kowtow to the DUP and the ERG, I guess we are expected to be grateful
and submissive. Which takes us right back to the dog begging for scraps from
But I do have one question. If Johnson crashes the UK out of
the EU next December against the wishes of the majority of us, denies the Scots
their vote and drives a wedge between GB and Ireland (in the form of border checks
in the Irish Sea), how sustainable is that?
Cunning As a Fox
Finally, back to the Dog Days. Except, of course, we the
people of the UK are not dogs. The masthead to my blog clearly shows that I do not have big, brown, pleading, doleful
eyes! (Compare photos at the top!) More importantly, I hope, is that we, as
people, have some self-respect.
So – changing animals rapidly – what do we need from a new Labour leader? The Guardian yesterday lists seven contenders (six women, one man): Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Yvette Cooper. My instant gut reactions are as follows: my head says Keir Starmer, my heart Jess Phillips. But first we need a proper period of reflection, as mentioned earlier. For me, this includes doing proper research on all of the contenders before casting my vote – I might change my mind!
The combined forces of the Opposition Parties fall far short of the Tories’ MP count. But much can be achieved – or resisted – by the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. This means we need an Opposition leader who can think on their feet, stand up to the bullies and call out the liars. Perhaps someone with the hearing of a bat, the roar of a lion and the cunning of a fox – but not Liam, of course!!
Two news items in the past week have given me a faint hope that we may finally begin to put this country on a better, by which I mean a fairer, way of running things. But both also provoked in me the reaction “about bloody time!”
The first news item broke about a week ago, when my wife and
I were out of the country on a short break but the repercussions have rumbled
on all week. It gives me hope that one key part of what I call “feudal
detritus” may, at last, be beginning to crumble. The second item has already
been misrepresented in the right-wing press as a “return to the 1970s” but may
more accurately be described as a return to the spirit of the immediate
post-war period in 1945.
The Banned Old Duke of York
It comes at something of a relief to see that many more people are waking up to the reality of the true character and skills of Andrew Windsor, second son of our current Head of State. People who know me can confirm that I have been banging on for years about two – previously inconvenient – truths about the man. One is that he is extremely stupid intellectually. The other is that he is morally reprehensible, arrogant and lacking in any self-awareness or concern for others. He reminds me very much of another pampered, spoiled son, over-indulged by his ever-loving mother: Mark Thatcher (of “lost in the desert” fame).
A decade or so ago, Andrew had a “job” ludicrously entitled
Britain’s “Special Trade Envoy”. This entailed him jet-setting around the globe
at taxpayers’ expense, staying in posh hotels and dining in expensive
restaurants with some of the worst dictators and Human Rights abusers on the
globe. And its purpose? To flog them British arms. In the end, his lack of
intellect and self-awareness made him a diplomatic embarrassment and the role
was quietly dropped. My favourite quotation from this period was from an
obviously exasperated senior civil servant who was involved in these
publicly-funded jaunts. Speaking of our envoy, he said “there is no evidence of
any cerebral activity upstairs”. I just love that use of the word “upstairs”.
Anyway, a combination of a “car crash” TV interview (which
Windsor thought had gone quite well!) and close association with a sex offender
has finally woken people up to the man’s true character. He is now “suspended
indefinitely” (sort of, it looks like) from his public “duties”. His big
brother seems to have had the final word on this.
This “I told you so” moment is all very well. But the real
significance is in the wider implications for the future of the monarchy as an
institution. This is spelled out more fully in an interesting
article on Friday by Gaby Hinsliff. As she says: “If the monarchy cannot
put its house in order, it should not be surprised if the nation ultimately
seeks to do it for them”. Republicans like me can only hope this is the
beginning of the end.
The Labour Party Manifesto
A lot has already been said about the Labour Party Manifesto, launched this week. The usual hostile suspects in the press have used words like “unaffordable”, betraying their lack of understanding of economics and the damage done by 40 years of free market fundamentalism. Funding sources have been identified by Labour to explain how the policies in the manifesto will be paid for. It’s evident that Labour has learnt the lessons of the false basis of economic thought over the past four decades; the Tories plainly have not. The Overton Window is shifting back in Labour’s direction.
For the first time in decades, I feel genuinely excited to
see a set of priorities which chime well with my own thoughts. Here are just a
few of the details which provoked in me an “at last!” reaction:
The prospect of rescuing the struggling NHS with
a stable, above inflation increase in funding for the next few years.
All schools brought back under democratic
control. (I was at a briefing session for Governors earlier this week: there
was much complaining about the confusion of responsibilities and lack of
control introduced in the Gove / Cummings era.)
Closure of tax loopholes for private schools:
educating only those who can afford to pay is self-evidently not per se a charitable objective.
Higher tax contributions to the common good from
the wealthiest 5% (a figure fact-checked and confirmed by the BBC on Friday).
The proposed “green new deal” to create
high-skill jobs and tackle the greatest threat of all: that to our planet and
Re-humanising the welfare system by removing its
most vindictive policies (sanctions, benefits cap, bedroom tax) introduced in
the Cameron years.
A public health approach to drugs policy –
hopefully one which is finally evidence-based.
Renationalisation of the natural monopolies of
energy, water, railways and the 21st century sine qua non, broadband supply.
Last but not least, building many more genuinely
affordable homes, including a target of 100,000 new council houses a year.
(From the 1950s to the 1970s, Labour and Conservative government oversaw up to
300,000 new homes a year, so it can be done, if Tory dogma doesn’t get in the
There’s more to like, but that will do for now. One
economics editor has described the manifesto as “radical, populist and worthy
of Attlee”. High praise indeed!
Living in Hope
One lesson to be learned from the Andrew affair is that the
Establishment always looks after its own. Labour’s manifesto paints a bold
vision of how it doesn’t always have to be this way. Maybe, just maybe, there
is finally some room for hope to
replace frustration and despair for our future political landscape.
A century ago, in The
Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell wrote these lines:
“..All who live under the present system
practice selfishness, more or less. We must be selfish: the System demands it. We
must be selfish or we shall be hungry and ragged and finally die in the gutter.
The more selfish we are, the better off we shall be.”
One hundred years ago, income and wealth inequality were at
a peak. In the 20th century, it took two World Wars to reduce that
inequality significantly and to remind ourselves of our common good. (Part 3 of
Thomas Piketty’s 2013 book Capital
in the 21st Century explains this in some detail.) In the
past 40 years, the false economic policy choices introduced by Thatcher and
Reagan resurrected the moral sanctity of selfishness. “Greed is good” was the
takeout line from that approach. As a result, over those 40 years, inequality
levels have returned to levels last seen just before the outbreak of the first
World War. No wonder Tressell’s words seem so fresh and relevant to today.
Labour’s manifesto offers an opportunity to move
economic policy in the UK to a healthy position, in line with how humans actually
think and behave. (See my 2015 posts Being
Human II: the Four Cs and Why
George Osborne is Only Half Human for an explanation.) We can but hope.
When I was a child, the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” was a kind of word challenge. With its 28 letters and 12 syllables – count them or see Wikipedia if you don’t believe me – it’s claimed to be (one of) the longest words in English. For much of my life, it’s just remained as a kind of freakish part of our language and I never thought much about what it actually means. Actually, you can find a brief definition in Wikipedia, too.
So what brought the subject to my mind? It was the coincidence of two things. The first was a timeline in the preface to a book I’m reading, summarising key events in progressive politics with their dates, from the 1832 Reform Act to the early 21st century. The second was number 11 in a list of 11 items which the National Secular Society is lobbying to be included in political parties’ pledges for the forthcoming election. The 11th pledge is “separate church and state”, a constitutional reform woefully overdue in England.
The 19th and Early 20th Centuries
The term “antidisestablishmentarianism “ came to prominence
in the mid 19th century as a resistance movement to the progressive
reforms of, naturally enough, proponents of disestablishmentarianism.
The latter idea had been floated early in the 19th century by
Radical thinkers including Jeremy Bentham, “godfather”
of utilitarianism. Following the aforementioned 1832 Reform Act and the
emancipation of Catholics, the idea was further spurred on by nonconformist
The Liberation Society was founded by Edward Miall in 1844
to press for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Many MPs in the
Liberal Party were supportive of the change but – you’ve guessed it – the Tories
were opposed. Plus ςa change. And
there, 175 years later, it remains stuck, in England, anyway.
The situation was rather different elsewhere in the British
Isles. The Irish got there first, with disestablishment of the Anglican Church
in 1869. Agitation for disestablishment started earlier there, in the previous
century. This was hardly surprising as the Irish established church was
especially corrupt, being disproportionately rich in a country full of poor
Catholics. Gladstone was the Liberal Prime Minister at the time of Irish
reform, via the Irish Church Act 1869.
The Welsh had to wait until 1920 for disestablishment there,
following the long tradition of non-conformism (principally Methodism) in
Wales. As is often the case, things were a bit different in Scotland. First,
there was the famous “schism”
of 1843 when Evangelicals split to form the Free Church of Scotland. The
1921 Church of Scotland Act formalised the reconciliation of the factions and
can be seen as a sort of de jure
disestablishment, even if the modern Scottish Church sees itself “in terms of
service not status”. More information can be found in the section The 1929 Settlement in the Church
of Scotland website history page.
The Present Day
So here we are now. In England, we still have an “Established” Church with 21 bishops in the House of
Lords and the Head of State also head of that church. Positively mediaeval, I
About a decade ago, you may recall, constitutional reform was again being discussed, mainly in relation to the reform or replacement of the anti-democratic House of Lords. It’s now 108 years since the Parliament Act which restricted the Lords’ powers. Those alive then would be aghast that no progress has been made since 1911.
So, I suppose – if asked – I would call myself a
disestablishmentarian. But I would also sign up to the other 10 items in the
NSS list. Full details are on the NSS website. In
summary, along with disestablishment of the CofE, the other 10 items are:
No more faith schools
End religious discrimination in school
Abolish the collective worship requirement – but
note this brilliant new website, Assemblies For All, a great new
resource for schools
Promote free speech as a positive virtue
End non-stun slaughter
Review laws on assisted dying
End all forms of non-consensual genital cutting
Outlaw caste discrimination
End “the advancement of religion” as a
Guarantee secular public services.
Oh, and one more thing: back to the heady days of the Tory /
Liberal Democrat coalition under David Cameron. In 2014, as Deputy Prime
Minister, Nick Clegg – remember Cleggmania? – advocated the separation of
Church and state “in the long run”. Just as in the mid-19th century,
this was still too much for the same-old enemy of reform. David Cameron said
things were just fine as they are, responding to Clegg that disestablishmentarianism
is “a long-term Liberal idea, but it is not a Conservative one”.
Oh, and coming even more up to date, I wonder what our
current Prime Minister would make of the word. Probably, very much like I would
have done as an eight year old. Some of us just never grow up.
As I said earlier, plus ςa change, plus c’est la meme chose. Or, as we might say in
English: same old Tories, defending the establishment few.
There’s an awful lot of bollocks being written and spoken about the UK leaving the EU with No Deal. The most misleading idea is that of a “clean break”.
No Deal exit appears to be the only declared policy of the Bullshit Party, my name for the private company set up by a certain N Farage which is masquerading as political party. (As regular readers may have noticed, I refuse to use the other B word.) This private company, to the best of my understanding, is set up as one-man, autocratic institution where whatever the leader says goes. There is no resemblance to any form of democratic processes found in normal political parties.
A Dental Digression
But first, a small digression. The relevance should become clear shortly. Let’s talk about dental implants, a significant advance in dentistry and which have become more popular in the last decade or so. I have three. Implants are usually made of titanium, and the reason is this. Titanium has the property that it allows osseointegration. At the molecular level, bone growth forms a close bond with the metal in such a way that the jawbone tissue and the metal implant fuse together, becoming as one.
I’m taking good care of my implants because, if poorly managed, they can develop gum disease rather like that which occurs around actual teeth. The thought of needing the surgical removal of any of my implants makes me shudder. This is because, in a sense, my implants have become a part of me.
Forty Six Years
The UK has been a member of the EEC/EU since 1973. For my children and grandchildren, that means their whole lives.
Over the course of nearly half a century, the lives of people in this country have become progressively integrated with those in other EU countries. The Tory government has banged on and on about getting a trade deal with the EU (and the world). But there’s much more to life than just trade.
Here are a few examples. People have fallen in love with someone from other EU countries, married, visit relatives, go on holiday. Elderly relatives are brought to the UK (and vice versa) when they reach the stage where they need care. Parents working in one EU country bring their partners and children here one they’re settled (and v.v.). Healthcare is available across national boundaries. Young adults cross EU borders freely to go to university, study and learn more about other cultures. Artists and performers travel freely, sharing experiences and enriching cultures to mutual benefit.
Most of the above benefits – and more – have been possible thanks to free movement. Businesses have developed integrated supply chains: modern technology has enabled “just in time” delivery for parts in areas such as motor manufacturing. Foodstuffs and medicines pass freely around the EU, tariff free and without the need for bureaucratic quality and customs checks, because standards have been harmonised. The EU is the only institution in the world to have the size and desire to curb monopolistic abuses by companies such as Microsoft. Roaming charges for mobile phones have been abolished. Peace in Northern Ireland is built upon the foundation that both the Irish Republic and the UK are EU members.
In short, millions and millions of decisions, some small, some large, have been made, by individuals and by companies, based upon the – often unconscious – assumption that the UK is part of the EU. Just like the bone tissue and titanium implants, our lives and livelihoods have become inextricably interwoven with our European neighbours.
No “Clean Break”
Anyone thinking there is such a thing as a “clean break” for the UK from the EU hasn’t thought it through properly. Leaving with No Deal would be like taking a pair of pliers and ripping out one of my implants without anaesthetic or antiseptic precautions. The resultant wound would be ghastly and would fester. No Deal is the same – or worse – but, this time affecting the whole country.
The division, bad feeling and tribalism we see now is a mere walk in the park, compared with what might follow a No Deal exit. People who should know better, including our Prime Minister, are already using the language of war – the vocabulary of the far-right thugs. Women (including MPs) are fearful for their safety and worse. People will die. Lots of people seem to favour No Deal – and soon – on the assumption that all the nastiness will stop. Think again: it would make everything worse, a lot worse. The UK’s negotiating position would weaken considerably, prey to the whims and fantasies of Trump’s USA.
There is no such thing as a clean break from the EU, only pain, death and division. There is no “taking back control”.
Bullshit Means Bullshit
Which brings me back finally to the Bullshit Party (which Johnson’s gang of thugs and delusionists are trying to ape). Their leader has stated that the only acceptable, “true” version of Leave is No Deal. That argument, as I have attempted to point out above, is based upon the lie of “clean break”. There is no logical reason for the Bullshit Party to exist.
Lives, jobs, family relationships, civility itself are all at stake. Get real. And, for all our sakes, think!
It’s been four weeks since I last posted to this blog. Events in the world of politics have moved so fast, and with such horror, you could say I have been lost for words.
My original aim was for the blog content to be reflective, rather than a running commentary on events as they occur. The past four years have been so extraordinary that many – perhaps too many – of the posts have been on the subject of politics. I never for a moment expected matters to take such a dark turn as they have done in the six weeks. By this I mean since our current Prime minister was selected from a shortlist of two by some of the most reactionary people in our land. These are the Tory Party members, representing 0.2% of the electorate, 0.13% of the population, but highly unrepresentative of our views.
It is tempting at this time to point out how the UK’s ramshackle, Heath-Robinson, cobbled-together “constitution” is not fit for purpose. I came to the view quite a while ago that some form of Public Enquiry to inform constitutional reform was needed. The damage to Britain’s international reputation is crumbling fast and is on the brink of being destroyed. A priority for later, but not too much later. We can’t keep kicking this can down the road.
For now, it suffices to quote from a leader article in today’s Financial Times, which says all that needs to be said in commendably few words:
The FT’s “until now” could not be clearer. The clear and present danger is our “unscrupulous leader”, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. He needs to be removed from office as quickly as possible, ideally before he can do more harm. But it is important that all reasonable methods, in line with those ramshackle constitutional conventions, are followed, if at all possible.
From where I sit, the only body in a position to carry this out is our Parliament, imperfect creature that it is.
The Immediate Task
The immediate task is to stop a No Deal exit from the EU dead in its tracks. There is just about time for that to happen next week: we can only hold our breath and hope. Those opposed to Johnson’s tricks seem reasonably united around using legislative means to pass primary legislation to block No Deal, a catastrophic course of action opposed by around three-quarters of the UK population.
All those who care about the future of this country and who are in a position to effect a change of course must focus unrelentingly on this task.
And if this fails?
There are two routes to a possible General Election, one via Johnson and one via Jeremy Corbyn. Both are risky, as only a fool would predict the outcome in these frenzied times. Johnson may call an election himself, thinking a mixture of populist (and unbudgeted) spending plans, together with the lottery that is our first-past-the post voting system may win enough English seats to give him victory. The other route, via Corbyn, involves a successful vote of no confidence in the Commons, which, frankly, is looking far from assured.
We can be reassured that the Scots won’t put up with Johnson’s antics and, especially with Ruth Davidson gone, we could hope that the number of Tory MPs in Scotland will drop from 13 to a figure close to zero (ideally, equal to zero). This should enhance the chances of the Tories being unable to form a government after an election. But, with 80% of the press rabidly rooting for him, Johnson may fool enough English voters to get him over the line. I really hope not. As a bonus, perhaps the DUP archbigots may lose some seats to more rational, and less hate-filled, politicians in Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s No Deal plans are so risky and egregious that there has even been talk of divided loyalty in the Civil Service, raised by its former chief back in the less troubled times in March: “The civil service have a loyalty to the government of the day but they are also servants of the crown and the country. Normally there isn’t a conflict because you expect the government to act on behalf of the country but in the situation we are now in, where the interests of the Conservative Party are not necessarily the same as the interests of the country and the consequences are so grave, I do feel that their responsibility to crown and country needs to play in.” Yesterday, he had hardened his position: “We are reaching the point where the civil service must consider putting its stewardship of the country ahead of service to the government of the day.” Alas, tactically, this would likely play into Johnson’s “people v. elites” gambit. We are indeed in unprecedented times.
If all else fails, there is a case to be made for civil unrest. Not of the “beat-’em-up” type advocated by the thuggish wing of the Leave supporters. I’m referring rather to a whole variety of creative ways of making the country ungovernable.
A striking feature of the various pro- and anti-Leave marches (apart from the violence of the former and its absence in the latter) was the wit and imagination that went in to some of the hand-made pro-EU posters. Compare this with the sterile flag-waving and twattish phrases for the Leavers. It’s surely not beyond the wit of us to devise clever ways to frustrate government policies and actions without unduly inconveniencing others. Perhaps it can be done in some cases without breaking the law: a last resort option with an honourable history (Chartists, Peterloo, Suffragettes, etc.)
So, anyway… Think up some ideas whilst those who have the power focus on the immediate task in hand. To stop No Deal. Dead. The rest can wait, for now.
For nearly the whole of my life, I never imagined it would come to this. I find myself today arriving at a stark conclusion: my government is now my enemy. The Age of Endarkenment is upon us.
The gang of zealots, far-right extremists, bigots, thugs and unthinking believers that we laughably call the Cabinet share not one reasoned thought among them. From everything we know about them so far, there is no reasoned argument to support their beliefs and ideas. The actions we can expect to flow from this will be unreasoned and unreasonable. Nothing reasoned or reasonable happened yesterday. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson first staged a purge and then a coup: a coup for unreason.
Let’s do a quick pen-picture of the mob now ruling our lives.
Many words have been written about our new PM, so it’s very hard to find anything new to say. He’s known to be a serial liar (and the 92,000 Tory members who voted for him knew that already, were too stupid to notice or just didn’t care). Fantasist, racist, misogynist, et cetera et cetera: the list goes on. Most obvious characteristics: lazy, poor on detail, extremely narcissistic. Basically he’s a mini-Trump who speaks a bit of Latin. His social development skills stopped developing when he was four. Think four-year-old with a dagger (and now keys to the nuclear codes). (Trump, by contrast, is a three year old.)
The new Chancellor is a former investment banker. This makes him part of the gang who brought us the 2008 crash and subsequent austerity policy and the rise in inequality and poverty. He bangs on endlessly about his Pakistan-born bus driver dad and so represents 50% of the token BAME representation in the Cabinet. He has done little to lift the burden of Theresa May’s hostile environment while he was Home Secretary under May.
He’s untested at the Treasury and it’s hard to predict how he will interact with Johnson’s planned spending rises. There’s a fair-to-middling chance this “government” will do the same as all recent US Republic regimes and let the debt and deficit rise to unsustainable levels. Or we may get random “slash and burn” cuts to public services not on Johnson’s “wish list”. The inevitable devastating effects will mainly hit the poor, the vulnerable and the disabled.
The Leave extremists’ Leave extremist. Has never had an intelligent thought, as far as I can tell. He has made some amazingly stupid suggestions in the past, e.g. profit-making state schools, diluting workers’ rights still further and cutting support for green technology. He’s the archetypal free market fundamentalist “true believer” and probably actually believes the shit about the UK benefiting from leaving the EU. Oh, and he’s also said that feminists are “obnoxious bigots” and that men get a raw deal. So, just a regular guy, then.
There’s a distinct possibility that Johnson appointed him so that Raab can win the “worst Foreign Secretary ever” accolade which Johnson himself currently holds. Raab is in with a good chance for this.
“Pretty” – in her ideas and beliefs – she most certainly is not. The other 50% token BAME Cabinet minister and a woman to boot. She was sacked by May for a very serious ministerial misconduct offence for which (like Liam Fox under May) she should never again have been appointed to high office. She has spoken in favour of the death penalty as a “deterrent” and suggested diverting International Aid spending to military purposes. Now presumably she’s busy looking for ways to make the Hostile Environment even more hostile – involuntary euthanasia for the disabled would be a logical end-point for her known views. About as nasty a person as you would never want to meet.
A wild card, in every sense of the word. Nobody really knows what he will do in his new role. When in charge of education, destroyed accountability in England and introduced reforms from which it will take at least 20 years to recover. He was hated by everyone I know in the field of education. He did do a better job at Justice, but that was simply by undoing Failing Grayling’s disastrous reforms. So maybe he’s there just to walk behind his new boss and pick up the shit he leaves everywhere.
He survived yesterday’s purge to remain at Health. He appears to have been rewarded for his spineless support of Johnson and his “no deal” threat as an act of unprincipled, opportunist sycophancy. My regard for him has fallen as a result.
Loathsome can be guaranteed to bring zero intellectual content to her role as Business Secretary. Her only other distinction was to be stabbed in the back by the “men in grey suits” in the dying days of her leadership contest with May three years ago.
An extreme a believer in free markets and all that evidence-free stuff as you can find. I can only say I’m relieved she didn’t get the Chancellor’s job. Another “true believer” with no redeeming features.
Now Environment Secretary, she failed to understand her brief when Northern Ireland Secretary, moving me to write in 2016 that she should be sacked for supporting Leave, ignoring the delicacies in the Good Friday Agreement.
Private Pike is an apt but flattering description of this waste of DNA. When Defence Secretary, he was fond of making threatening-sounding, but ultimately absurd, threats to foreign countries (e.g. telling Russia to “go away and shut up”). He always ended up sounding like a petulant schoolboy. He was sacked by May for “compelling evidence” of leaking information from a National Security Council meeting: a very serious offence.
Now, after just a few months, he’s rehabilitated and back to fuck up Education, about which it appears he knows nothing. He should stick to what he does best: posing in front of bits of military machinery trying to look tough. This sort of behaviour is usually associated with men with very small penises – in Williamson’s case, to go well with his even tinier brain.
She’s one of the turncoats who has traded power under Johnson for principle. She keeps her role at Work and Pensions. In the far-right atmosphere of the nouvelle regime, presumably she will be encouraged to intensify the Hostile Regime for benefit claimants, including the disabled.
At Defence there will be some photo opportunities posing in front of leaky aircraft carriers, our two warships and some penis-shaped missiles. Perhaps Private Pike can give him some tips. He has Home Office experience, so presumably knows how to look Hostile to foreigners.
He keeps his masochist’s role as Exiting the EU Secretary. Despite the name, more of a wanker than a banker.
Another resurrected minister sacked by May. Mostly harmless and in a minor role, but she did allow her Christian beliefs to distort her decision making when Education Secretary.
Our new Communities and Local Government Minister, apparently. Owns three homes, so should be right on top of the housing crisis. I’d never heard of him until yesterday.
A Right(-Wing) Shower
Given the potential for record-breaking temperatures today, we could all do with a cold shower. But not this lot.
We should take inspiration from Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist, who today encourages civil disobedience. Seems like a good idea. The rational and the civilised among us have to start the fight back from this insanity. Only 99 days to go until 31st October. Ideas?
There are 136 inhabited islands in the British Isles, according to Wikipedia. In this post, I shall concentrate on the two biggest: Great Britain and Ireland, country by country.
Republic of Ireland
My first visit to the Republic of Ireland was in 1974 with my first wife-to-be (as she was then). We did a circuit of the south coast and returned for a couple of nights in Dublin at the end of our holiday.
My recollection was that Ireland was a poor country: the buildings were a little shabby and the rural parts were still very socially conservative. The country felt oppressed under the heavy, authoritarian fist of the Catholic Church. I saw the deference with which locals showed to their local priest, a god-like figure in the community. All in all and coming from London, we felt we had stepped back in time about twenty years or more. Dublin had some interesting historic sites and buildings – I particularly remember Trinity College – but was in many ways unremarkable. The Temple Bar area was quiet and semi-derelict, a far cry from the youthful and vibrant quarter of the city much favoured by British (and Irish) hen and stag parties in more recent times.
Two things that struck me have not changed. The first – and most commonly commented upon by visitors – was the friendliness of the people we encountered. The second was the mixing of people of all ages, at a Caleigh, in a pub, to have a good time. (The English, then and now, seem to me to socialise within their own age groups, especially so in London and the South East. It might also be more of a middle-class thing.)
My only visit to the six counties of Northern Ireland was for work, during the so-called “Troubles” in the 1970s. A more honest term might be Civil War. I can’t even remember now what the purpose of my trip was. What I do remember is sitting in the restaurant, alone, at a table beside a very large plate glass window which acted as the outside wall to the street below. I was staying at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, Europe’s most bombed hotel. It was bombed 36 times during this period, according to Wikipedia. I remember thinking “Is this wise?” Happily, nothing untoward happened during my stay, but I do remember the oppressive and unnerving security checks everywhere I went.
The Good Friday Agreement brought peace and reconciliation to the north of Ireland, contingent on the UK and the Irish Republic both being members of the EU. Let’s hope peace continues, despite the stupidity of the current batch of politicians. The DUP are now mad that the UK parliament has voted for equal marriage for same-sex couples and abortion rights for women to bring this corner of the UK into line with the rest of us. Who knows what will happen next?
I’ve had several trips to Scotland, occasionally on business, but more often as a tourist. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. Scottish independence is certainly on the cards – I would certainly vote “yes” in the next independence referendum if I were fortunate enough to be Scottish – but I’m not. I have exactly as much say in Scotland’s independence as I do about who will be our next prime Minister: a hostage in my own land.
My wife and I enjoyed our trip to Glasgow last autumn: a vibrant and interesting city. We’ll be travelling to one of the western isles later this year. We can check out the vibes in a beautiful part of our islands.
Scotland’s form of nationalism seems pretty progressive and social attitudes similarly so: much the same applies in Ireland, especially since Sinn Fein modernised its policies and adopted progressive attitudes to women’s rights and same-sex marriage. The English form of nationalism, by contrast, verges on fascism.
The Welsh are something of an enigma to me. We’ve recently returned from a week’s holiday in Snowdonia, a stunningly beautiful part of these lands. In the 30-35 years since my first visit, I notice an increase in the prominence of – and perhaps pride in – the Welsh language. Recent opinion polls show a clear lead for Remain, in contrast to the 2016 result in Wales. Perhaps the message about all that European Regional Development Fund money is finally breaking through there.
Which just leaves the fucking English – of which I am one. Ah… England, land of inequality and lack of opportunity for most. The near certainty of yet another old Etonian as Prime Minister. The near certainty that he will be the third person in a row to earn the distinction “Worst PM in my lifetime”. What on earth is the matter with us?
A small consolation prize: the thug Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is in jail. Good! What’s this? His 12th criminal conviction, I think.
England v Ireland
All of this leaves me to ponder on one thought: the contrast between England and Ireland over the last 30-40 years. During this time, Ireland has progressed beyond all recognition: from a backward, relatively poor theocracy to a modern, inclusive forward-looking democracy. (Not perfect, by any means, but stupendous progress has been made in a relatively short time.)
England, by contrast, seems to be regressing into a divided, hateful, intolerant and bigoted place. Honourable exceptions are the cities: London, Cambridge and Oxford spring to mind – prompting accusations of elitism from me, of course. Sadiq Khan seems a breath of fresh air as Mayor of London after the embarrassment of his predecessor and his ludicrous vanity projects.
So why is there such a contrast between Ireland’s and England’s progress to modernity over the past three to four decades? Both countries joined the EU (EEC then) in the same year, 1973. I struggle to provide a convincing explanation.
Nostalgia and English Exceptionalism
A partial explanation lies in the phenomenon known as “English exceptionalism”. This seems to have been explicitly recognised and discussed only in the past few years – and especially as one of the explainers for the denialism and fantasies of many Leave supporters. A much longer-standing problem has been the whitewashing of our imperial past. It is only in the last decade or two that our education system has started to take a more critical and impartial view of the history of the British Empire. This means that anyone over the age of about forty was told by the state (i.e. at school) a wholly one-sided version of the imperial story.
The mix is made more toxic by a strange nostalgia for the second World War and “plucky Britain’s” survival of the blitz. Historian David Olugosa, writing in today’s Observer, makes an interesting, and much overlooked, point. Those old enough to have actually been alive during WWII and who saw the suffering first-hand, were “far more likely to oppose Brexit” than baby-boomers. (More details are available at this LSE British Politics and Policy blog post.) Olugosa describes my generation as “brought up watching war films rather than cowering in Anderson shelters”. One of my schooldays memories is that the climax of the school’s Film Club season one year was a showing of the film Dambusters – all stiff upper lips, bouncing bombs and militaristic music.
It seems that, unfortunately for those of us who voted remain, that 2016 was exactly the worst time to hold a simplistic “in/out” EU referendum. Yet this still does not fully explain why the English of a certain age are uniquely prone to this stuff. The Republic of Ireland, of course, was officially neutral during the war: does this sufficiently explain the difference? Or is it somehow bound up the English class system? Any ideas?
I was educated, from age 11 to 18, in a single-sex school. To make matters worse, my student days were at a single-sex college at a university where male students outnumbered female students by 7 to 1. So I spent my teens and the first part of my twenties in an environment where girls / women were hard to meet.
A 2015 post, First Doubts, touches on the fact that, in these formative years, I consider myself to have been a shy person. I leave it to those who know me to decide how well, or not, I have managed to overcome this problem in the following fifty years.
Why do I mention this now? Well, two recent news items (of which more below) prompted me to have some reflective thoughts on the psychological effects of single-sex education. The two stories both concern men who attended single-sex schools: Mark Field and Boris Johnson. Both Tory MPs: Field a minister (until he was suspended) and Johnson a backbencher (since he left the Cabinet). One a candidate for our future Prime Minister; both behaving in a misogynistic way.
The Mansion House Incident
The video of the incident involving Greenpeace activist Janet Barker and (suspended) minister Mark Field has been widely shared on social media. Here’s one link:
Predictably – and sadly – the incident has already divided opinion. There are those (almost exclusively in the Tory Party and its media supporters) who take the view that Barker got what she deserved. The rest of us, me included, see this is a wholly disproportionate reaction by a privileged white man to a peaceful (but disruptive) interruption to proceedings. It’s clear from the video that Field stays angry all the time he’s gripping Barker’s neck and pushing her out of the building. This is despite Barker’s repeated statement: “This is a peaceful protest”. Field’s final words when had pushed Barker out of the building are telling: “This is what happens when people like you disturb our dinner.” (My emphasis.)
People like you. We can all speculate as to what exactly Field meant by this. I’m sure that, in part, he meant “people who do not share my views”: the whole anger shtick at the audacity of people who challenge his rich, white, male privileged position. But there’s more than a suspicion that “people like you” also refers to women; women who do not know their place.
One thing’s for sure: a thug wearing a black tie is still a thug.
The Screaming, Shouting and Banging in Carrie Symonds’ Flat
Which leads us naturally to incident number two and Boris Johnson. (Carrie Symonds is Johnson’s current girlfriend, apparently.) Shortly after midnight last Friday, police were called to the flat where Johnson is living with Symonds. The police left after satisfying themselves that no-one in the flat was in danger.
The neighbour’s concern followed loud noises of screaming, shouting and the smashing of glass or crockery. Symonds was heard to shout “get off me” and “get out of my flat”. It came as absolutely no surprise to hear that Symonds had also yelled “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything.” The British public have a legitimate interest in the moral character of anyone standing to be our next Prime Minister.
True to form, three tabloid newspapers went into full attempts at character assassination of the neighbour who had recorded the altercation. Here’s an example from the Daily Mail in one of their full-throated “make the lives hell for ordinary people exposing inconvenient truths” mode. “Guardianista” seems to be a term of abuse for Mail journalists: it feels like a particularly puerile and infantile turn of phrase to me.
The neighbours were concerned for the safety of those involved after three tries to speak to the occupants and getting no reply at their front door. It subsequently emerged that three neighbours were concerned about the safety of the occupants.
Johnson’s private life is of no particular interest to me nor is it, per se, for judging his suitability for high office. But his character, and anything which throws light on this, is of serious public concern. Oh, and a “private” life that is so loud that it can be heard by three sets of neighbours in the small hours of the morning doesn’t seem to be so very private. What it reveals about Johnson’s attitude to women is also relevant – and disturbing.
Today’s tabloids, in search of a lurid headline, are pursuing the Johnson “complicated sex life” angle. Speculation is rife. The Daily Mirror asserts “Boris ‘wants to get back with his wife’”. The Mail says the opposite: “Despite bust-up, couple insist: We are stronger than ever”. Meanwhile, the Sun reveals “Boris and Carrie had 4 rows in 6 weeks”. Other papers concentrate on the “pressure to come clean” aspect. Taken together, it presents Johnson with an opportunity to play the victim: he’s being criticised for matters in his private life, poor dear.
Some of us are old enough to remember the scandal of John Profumo and Mandy Rice-Davies, where an out-of-control sex life threatened national security. But those were different times. Perhaps, on this occasion only, the last word should go to his former boss Max Hastings, who states that Johnson is “totally unfit” for office.
What do I conclude from these two very different incidents? Well, both illustrate the anger which is aroused in people like them who carry round with them an unswerving sense of their own entitlement. In that respect, they come from a very different upbringing from me. In retrospect, I feel that my “boys only” education meant that my teens and early twenties were, perhaps, a bit less exciting than they might have been. But I hold a strong suspicion that, for Field and Johnson, their single-sex education is a factor in their misogynistic attitude towards women.