Brexiteers wanted to take the country back in time but instead they’ve fast-tracked the future

In my twenties, when Britain was politically apathetic and satirists like Rory Bremner used to make jokes like, “we don’t have politics in this country, we have Tony Blair”, I’d decry how ignorant and indifferent people were to our political system. One friend told me that politics had nothing to do with her; that to me, was a snapshot of the time. The old ideological battles had been settled, the country was broadly stable – if not at ease with itself, and we had a government who saw its role as compassionately administering the status quo. The public’s role was to be passive and resigned to the consensus.

The 1997 election was so vapid, so threadbare – Labour elected on the basis of 5 vacuous pledges and a guarantee not to raise income tax, that it seemed that only a country as politically ignorant as ours could have waved through such a campaign. Where was the scrutiny? The interest in political minutiae? If only people were better educated. If only politics was a compulsory subject in schools.

Why wasn’t it? Well, if you were cynical you’d argue it suited the political class for the polity to be as ignorant as possible. Ensuring politicos were self-selecting guaranteed that the majority would still be vulnerable to reductive political messaging, outright lies, and tabloid editorials aimed at those with a reading age of 11.

General Elections are designed to court the impressionable and the blinkered. The internet age offers the same people a chance to be brainwashed from the bottom up. The most dangerous thing a political party can do for its electoral prospects and those of the archaic and self-serving institutions that prop up the, for want of a better word – establishment, is to shine daylight upon magic; to funnel information and a historical perspective into developing minds before intellectual rigor mortis sets in.

Very little of what we think of as traditional stands up to that kind of scrutiny – parliamentary convention, the monarchy, the structure and funding of political parties, and yes – the media lens through which of all of the above is refracted and packaged for ease of consumption. This is why Brexit is a watershed moment. The cat’s out of the bag and the bag, containing Larry the Downing Street cat, is in the river.

Jonathan Sumption, at a recent all-day convention on Brexit, noted that since Parliament had endangered its legitimacy by effectively suspending itself and using direct democracy to settle a constitutional question; a process that culminated in it being instructed to act contrary to its settled will and informed position; the nature of public criticism had changed.

Historically, and understandably, Joe and Jacinda Public had concentrated their ire at politicians – politics for many being orientated around personalities and individual hypocrisy. But now, with Brexit acting as an acute focaliser, public scrutiny has shifted to parliamentary process and precedent, and its efficacy, for the first time since the 17th century.

What have the people learned from this intense period of political education? That the absence of a codified or written constitution, with clear and unambiguous checks on a government’s behaviour and use of power, has lead to confusion, paralysis and brinksmanship, in which only the most focused and perhaps Machiavellian characters can shape the agenda and prevail. All else are rendered impotent bystanders.

I’ve always respected our parliamentary traditions and quietly despised those who’d tear them up to make politics assessable to the dead-eyed who have no interest in educating themselves. Mystique need not mean mystification; the archaic is our tether to the past – it has value as a signifier of the esteem in which we hold something as valuable as our representative democracy.

Brexit is infuriating for many reasons – it’s mob rule, anti-intellectual, it privileges local interest over national interest, anecdotal evidence over scientific data; it has inflamed nationalism – both the reconstructed kind reviled by the left – the traditional blend that flaunts its bigotry, and the SNP’s new beans – a repudiation of our cultural Union, fuelled by a hatred of English power and influence, masquerading as outward facing inclusive internationalism – one of the greatest political con tricks of all time.

But for me, what grates is the failure of our parliamentarians to respect the institution to which they’ve been elected, with the result that the case for reform – that is, vandalism, has now become urgent and unstoppable.

Who, post-Brexit, is going to argue that Parliament didn’t eye its crumbling architecture and decide this was the perfect time to live up to the suggested metaphor? When the post-mortem gets underway, it would be a blind coroner indeed who didn’t note that the absence of a federated UK sold its nations short, or that it was astonishing that the courts were required to rule on political matters like revoking citizens’ rights, bypassing parliament on constitutional issues and opportunistic prorogation. Far too much, he’d conclude, wiping blood onto his gown, pivoted on a gentleman’s agreement – the gents in question long dead.

The irony is that Brexit has been ostensibly about preserving British identity. But the result is that the institutions most closely associated with it, along with its constituent nations, are likely to be forever changed by what has taken place. Brexiteers imagined that the day after leaving we’d return to a time before 1973, when we were broadly homogenous and largely monocultural. However, the result of a highly polarised and politicised people scrutinising the inner workings of our system like never before will be to catalyse a change in that system, and the relationship between its working parts, on a scale never before seen. The traditionalists saw a fire and reached for a full bucket, but that pail contained gasoline.

Historians might think it was right that a system based on a lot of junk thought and sectional interest was undone by just that.

Published in: on August 31, 2019 at 12:03  Leave a Comment  
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Ed’s All-Day Brexit

With Boris Johnson set to succeed Theresa May the only way possible, namely by circumventing the electorate and putting himself forward as the ultimate populist demagogue in a Britain where every party has to have one to be heard, our post-Brexit prospects look worse than ever. But how much shit are we really in and what does the future hold? To find out I inveigled my way into an all-day “Brexit and the Constitution” event at the British Academy (soon to be renamed the English Academy). What I learned there will erode your bone marrow. Duly warned, read on.

The day opened with an attempt by ERG plasm based lifeform, Bernard Jenkin, to reassure himself that his intemperate ideology hadn’t put a bomb under his kid’s school bus. This was styled as a “keynote speech” but was in truth a man standing shyly at a lectern, looking to an audience that included constitutional scholars like Vernon Bogdanor (who’d blank him afterwards when he was thanked for his question) and being embarrassed.

‘Fuck,’ he must have thought, ‘these people may actually know what they’re talking about.’ Consequently, he attempted to lull them to sleep with a lifeless, monotone recap of Leave’s most pernicious myths. ‘The vote could not be more explicit,’ he said, referring to the old imported chestnut that Leavers didn’t know what they were voting for.

However, by arguing this he inadvertently cast himself as less informed that the 17.4 million who’d autodidactically made themselves constitutional historians from a standing start. The issues were complicated, he said – look at the confusion over article 24 of the GATT, or the ongoing argument over customs arrangements in Northern Ireland. Political journalists, particular those working for the demented BBC, didn’t understand these things, Remainers didn’t understand these things – hell, even he didn’t understand them, but fortunately Leave voters in the 2016 referendum had. And although their counsel hadn’t been sought on how to proceed, there was no question they’d privately researched the consequences of leaving before casting their ballot.

As the day rattled on lots of useful titbits arose. From Lord Gus O’ Donnell, in a talk on central government and public bodies, I learned ministers were bedevilled by ‘an anglo-centric view on Brexit’, that poor civil servants trying to push for evidence-based policy had ‘been shot’, and that May’s creation of the Department for Exiting the European Union – where any actual experience of working with the EU counted against you – had been a monumental mistake that had bled power and resources from the Cabinet Office.

It wasn’t all bad news though, Brexit would mean a boon for civil service recruitment, meaning all the non-jobbers and overpaid wonks who’d been culled in the Coalition years would be back like all the dead people revived when the Avengers reversed the snap. Sure, we had no trade negotiators right now, said Jill Rutter from the Institute of Government, but in the world to come we’d have the chance to recruit many – “a cadre of people minded to stick with it”. The implication that the ones we had were not so minded, was met by silence from an increasingly despondent crowd.

Still, MP Nicky Morgan cheered up the room when she suggested that, like all disasters, there should be an inquiry into Brexit when it was all over. A judge would meticulously gather all the hitherto undocumented evidence, not already freely available in contemporary accounts by Tim Shipman, to find out what went wrong. It was not explained what would happen if the newly united Ireland and independent Scotland failed to cooperate – but at least the loss of that dead flesh would mean not having to deal with a multiplicity of processes across various public bodies in devolved territories. Phew!

So what about devolution? Would Brexit mean a new settlement in the unlikely event the Union held together? Lord Bew argued that the DUP’s vote in the 2017 Election should be read as support for the status quo. Only 3% of protestants had voted for a united Ireland, he said. Yes, but weren’t those protestants aging and being slowly replaced by virile, horny, prophylactic eschewing Catholics? No, and he’d bet the British presence in Ireland on it!

The Scots were furious of course. The EU Withdrawal Act, denied consent by the Scottish Parliament, had been given royal assent regardless, thereby breaking the Sewel convention. The government had misread the 2017 Election, imagining the SNP’s loss of Westminster wreckers meant support for Indyref II: The Reckoning, was on the slide. ‘The issue won’t go away,’ said Prof Nicola McEwen. This felt true, after all the stench of Scottish independence has loomed and touched many – just ask Alex Salmond’s former secretaries.

The Welsh were also furious. Why was it, asked Prof Laura McAllister from Cardiff University, that any kind of constitutional remodelling was always done the English way? Labour was losing to the nationalists – the people were apoplectic because theirs was the weakest assembly in the world, and fuck me, they only had forty backbenchers to deal with the post-Brexit settlement! Not only that, the English, now asserting themselves after years of keeping a low profile to placate their moaning neighbours’ grievances, still had the gall to call these elected parliaments – in Cardiff and Edinburgh, “devolved institutions”.

Honestly, it was enough to make you think that this awkward, unequal and increasingly impractical decentralisation of power had been a terrible mistake that had laid the foundations for fervent nationalism and the ultimate break-up of the most successful social and cultural union in the world. Ultimately though, there was nothing to worry about, as the devolution panel agreed that no one would vote to break up the country while people feared for their pensions – pensioners of course, the last group of people who’d endanger the union.

We now moved on to a panel on what kind of democracy we wanted as the walls of the old came crashing down. Our government, after all, has no backing from parliament – it’s an executive entirely reliant on an uncooperative set of MPs to get its business done. How to break the deadlock? Well, agreed Prof Meg Russell from UCL, Lisa Nandy MP and walking argument against free movement, Gisela Stewart, it was simple: a citizen’s assembly. That’s right, people would be selected from the electoral register, representing every hue of voter, except the ignorant and impulsive kind who’d won it for Leave, and they’d sit in a hotel, with free tea and biscuits, as their Irish brethren had done when deciding on abortion, making a recommendation to government on all our behalves.

Would it be democratic? After all, 99 Irish men and women formed the policy the electorate voted on in their constitutional referendum. How would Remainers sell it to the 17.4 million? Wouldn’t they suspect that any evidence-based discussion would find for Remain? Er, I mean – wouldn’t the kind of people who wanted to do this be Remainers? No one asked so answer there was none. Instead Nandy quoted Gramsci – “the old is dying, the new is yet to be born” – but thanks to the Irish citizens assembly, there was no longer any guarantee it would be.

Regardless, we were still in the shit. Brexit isn’t done and it’s a legal and constitutional quagmire that’s stretched our parliamentary democracy to its limits, tested centuries old conventions, and worse, empowered John Bercow. Was there any way out under the current arrangements? Lord Sumption noted that our political constitution was flexible because it was convention based – so one could advise people not to break these conventions but it wasn’t strictly illegal. Conversely, just to make things clear, the UK was one of the few countries in the world that, sans a written constitution, could do something lawful but unconventional – say proroguing parliament.

Would Boris do it? Well, said Sumption, the constitution was only worth the political pressure applied to it. If Johnson called an election on Brexit in October, with no extension forthcoming, purdah would be effective prorogation preventing any MP – as there would be none, from intervening to stop no deal in those dying days of EU membership. But honestly, what were the chances of that?

So, certain that Britain was doomed, Boris would break it, and Brexit would break us all, it was left to Sumption to sum up the whole sorry state of affairs with one, withering, indisputable observation: ‘The referendum circumvented the most effective political process ever devised to reach a compromise.’ He was referring to our newly unfashionable representative parliamentary democracy, an old girl now trying to cross a busy road with two broken legs. ‘Give her some splints!’ I felt like shouting, but didn’t, as no one would know what the fuck I was talking about.

Why Gove Must Kill Boris a Second Time

What brought the tears that choked Theresa May as she announced the end to her embattled, dysfunctional and ultimately futile Gordon Brown (three years) as Prime Minister? Critics said it was self-pity, but I dared to be believe it was the cumulative effect of working so long for so little with so many obstructionist, mendacious colleagues. These were the kind of people it was impossible to placate, who, with two minor exceptions, enjoyed the luxury of a sustained arms’ length critique, while deficient in the skills that would have enabled them to do any better.

The new bastards, worse than any Major encountered in his factional, feckless parliament, had won. They’d killed the architect of a slow withdrawal from the EU; an agreement negotiated from a position of weakness, yet reasonable for all that; and succeeded in washing the Leave argument of any burdensome nuance and realpolitik. May wept because the Brexiteer’s dream of a clean break; an article of faith only strengthened in the face of the negotiated exit’s power-sapping provisions; was back on the agenda. There could be no greater measure of her failure, as leader and first among Commons equals, than that.

May’s Premiership won’t be mourned by anyone of any political stripe, regardless of who succeeds her, because it was a listless, chaotic government characterised by a complete and unforgivable breakdown of collective responsibility, collegiate decision making and political nous. Perhaps this was to be expected. No government in history had been forced to surrender its control over policy making and the principle that a representative democracy takes decisions on behalf of the people. No government had felt compelled to institute a significant constitutional change, with profound legal and economic implications, because it had been directly instructed to do so by Joe and Jacinda Public. Joe and Jacinda, whose only other vote in 2016 was for Denmark in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Can we say that no Tory could have done better? No. It’s possible a different leader wouldn’t have called the 2017 election, so wouldn’t have become the DUP’s hostage. Or called it and won it convincingly, thereby creating the space (assuming they’d also made May’s mistake of prematurely triggering Article 50) to hammer out a soft Brexit deal that commanded majority support in the party, and therefore the Commons. We’ll never know. What’s clear is that May’s disastrous death drive election, her one and only bruising encounter with the electorate, coupled with profound social retardation and an inability to persuade or build consensus, proved ruinous.

To the EU she was a curious oddball – the woman who never listened or understood, who couldn’t programme her brain to compute the gravity of her situation or its attendant complications. To the Cabinet she was a dictatorial recluse who lied to her colleagues while clandestinely conducting business amongst a Blair-like cabal. Not so much sofa government, as toilet cubicle government, with the instructions passed under the divide, written on freshly torn sheets. To the Commons she was a lifeless, repetitious pedlar of pre-recorded soundbites and intellectual vacuity. Forget thinking on your feet, May couldn’t think when flat on her arse, and this when faced with the lowest grade of parliamentarians since records began. May wept, because she’d made a Corbyn government look both credible and desirable.

Who will now replace her? At the time of writing the only name in the frame with any momentum behind it is the B-word. No, not bastard – Boris. That’s Boris, whose ineptitude in office and life has been forensically documented. Yet, for all that, he’s still loved by Tory England – a sinister cult that never smiles and congregates after dark in village halls. They love his accidental wit and bumbling charm, his patrician confidence and invulnerability to media scrutiny. To paraphrase Tony Benn, he kicks the investigate journalists and opinion formers away, as if they were little dogs nibbling at his heels.

But, with apologies to these degenerates, it would be quite wrong for this aloof marionette, controlled by the likes of Steve Bannon and other odious alt-right US interests, to benefit from May’s failure. Theresa, a hawkish loner in the Home Office, did at least try to marry the interests of the DUP and ERG with Tory moderates, albeit in the most naïve and tin-eared way possible. Finally, in her death throes, she’d reached out to a vacillating opposition that couldn’t quite decide whether it represented the 48% or not, belatedly recognising the virtue in a unifying proposition. Sure, no such reconciliation was possible; May was too beholden to the factions in her party and her zealot confidence and supply partners for that; but she came to see it was the only resolution  – something Boris still doesn’t understand.

For Boris to now bank disillusion with this collegiate approach and turn a narrow version of Brexit into a virtue, with the help of improved presentation and polished up rhetoric, would be an absolute betrayal of the electorate’s preference for a soft Brexit, as signalled by the 2017 Election result (the vote no one talks about when presuming to read the minds of Leave and Remainers). It would break all the laws of natural and political justice. It would also misunderstand the last three years – a cautionary tale about fantasy politics that would suddenly be reimagined as a justification for doubling down.

If not Boris, then, who? Well, assuming an election isn’t called, and the people, now alert to the danger of temporarily being the only country in the world without trade deals, change the calculus by throwing the Conservatives out, then the country’s faced with the unenviable task of deciding which Tory front runner they can live with.

When you eliminate joke entrants like Andrea Leadsom, Ester McVey, Liz Truss, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Liam Fox, David Davis and Dominic Raab – there’s not much left. Not even the Tories, desperate as they now are to fall in behind a talismanic mythmaker, could believe any of the aforementioned had the intellectual dexterity, presence of mind, parliamentary skill or rhetorical force to return the country to a place of respectability, prosperity and, if there’s any time left, fairness. The dog in the street could tell them that such people, shown in office to be second rate and divisive, the slag in the ship’s rivets, could be Prime Minister for thirty years and still not bring about glad confident morning. Not that they’d last that long as they’d each be defeated at the first General Election they contested.

Rory Stewart seems a nice and reasonable chap, but he’s got as much gravitas and vision as a baby mole rat. This leaves two Tory cabinet ministers, who on first sight make the heart slow to dangerous levels – Amber Rudd and Michael Gove. Rudd, a confident media performer, is tainted by the Windrush Scandal during her time as Home Secretary, and an irrelevant stint in the DWP. She’s sitting on a double figure majority which makes her vulnerable should an election be called – so vulnerable in fact, that Tory members might think it’s too great a risk. Oh, and she’s a Remainer – which in the post-May climate is considered worse than being a former member of the IRA.

Thus we’re left with ideological Brexiteer Michael Gove – the Gover – the Judas who knifed David Cameron and killed Boris on the morning of his leadership launch; acts of fratricide that looked awful at the time but with hindsight seem like shrewd moves against incompetent colleagues.

Gove may be a shit – a weasel with no integrity and as far removed from ordinary Britons as Harvey Weinstein is from feminism, but – and there is a but – he’s exhibited traits sorely lacking in the current political climate – adherence to Cabinet Collective Responsibility, competence and a certain boldness, first in Education then Environment (the rights and wrongs of his tenures notwithstanding), and confidence as a Parliamentarian, which though no longer fashionable, is still arguably a prerequisite for commanding respect amongst colleagues and projecting strength to the country – two important competences if one’s running to be Prime Minister.

When Gove launched his ill-fated leadership bid, Boris’s blood still visible on his hands as he turned the pages of his speech, his was the only candidature bolstered by something like a vision. In fact, Gove had so many ideas that his address ran in excess of 5,000 words. By common consent, he’d typed it the night before, with Johnson’s corpse fresh on his rug and cooking by the fire, and this, said friends, was symptomatic of his mental agility – a man who had little to offer Terry and Trudy down the Dog and Duck, but had a keen, analytical intelligence; a sociopath’s brain perhaps, after all he wanted to be Prime Minister, but one suited to the task.

Post-May, has Gove’s time now come? It may read as absurd, but perhaps someone who can combine wonkishness with confidence; someone who’s remained committed to playing the political game long after his rivals have forgotten the rules, so might be in a position to remind them how it’s done – maybe he, if we’re stuck with the Conservatives, is someone we can send to Brussels without the EU thinking we’ve given up both on politics and life.

Choosing the right leader has never been more important for the Conservatives. It’s not just their electoral prospects that are on the line, not even their existence, though that can no longer be taken for granted, but the future of the British state itself. Eventually, maybe very soon, they’ll be an election, and perhaps the party that’s laid waste to every certainty of the past forty years will be destroyed by a vengeful electorate. But until then, the Tories will shape our collective destiny. That’s why they must choose someone who can both make the political weather and conjure hurricanes that will blow away indecision and gridlock, while leaving populated areas unscathed. Boris is not that man. Gove…?

Published in: on May 24, 2019 at 17:37  Leave a Comment  
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The Unimaginable Suffering of Afua Hirsch

Martyrdom, meet Afua Hirsch. Hirsch, champion of variegated discourse. Hirsch, reluctant spokesperson for oppressed peoples. Hirsch, friend of Times’ journalist Michael Henderson. Her solemn duty: to fight a rear guard action against the encircling indifference of privileged white (or ethnic minority brainwashed) commentators on Sky News’s The Pledge. Her burden: to educate those plucked from other points on the spectrum; big shitters like Nick Ferrari and Greg Dyke. Afua, a prominent advocate for people of colour (excluding lighter hues like Rose Gold and Champagne Pink), often rallies against racism on the show, but her appearance in the wake of Danny Baker’s dismissal over his controversial Royal baby chimp-in-a-suit tweet was the last straw.

For some reason, presuming a hitherto unevidenced race-centred worldview, the panel turned to her to rebut Dyke’s contention the BBC had overreacted when heeding the cries of the online mob, sacking Baker for his implicit racism. Yes, he denied any such intent and apologised, but a shameless bigot, lashing out at contemporary society would say that, wouldn’t he? What’s that – he’d say the opposite? Well who knew this blog had so many racist readers. Or any, actually.

Baker, outrageously to those who presumed to read his mind, claimed the joke was about the media circus around the Royal birth; the deference; and that he had knowingly invoked the circus monkey trope, rather than any kind of racial typing, when hurriedly adding his contribution to the sum total of Twitter non-jokes.

This was too much for Hirsch. She was outraged that any doubt could be cast on Baker’s motives, and launched a diatribe, first against those who’d deny racism (whites, Carol Malone), then her fellow panellists for forcing her, as a black woman, to defend the charge. How dare she be singled out this way! Wasn’t this making her a victim twice over? Hadn’t Baker’s aggressive and very public mockery of Archie’s mixed race heritage, whether he’d noted it or not, echoed decades of abuse? How could anyone not see Meghan Markle or her offspring through the prism of race, especially a Millwall fan like Danny? They were all white supremacists weren’t they?

When Afua went home after the recording, she was still furious. So furious, that the seething became a belated Guardian column that laid out her insecure case for making Baker’s insensitivity a hate crime against her and all minorities. Danny Baker, whether he knew or not, was everything that was wrong with Britain.

Her column told of how she was “exasperated” at having to debate Baker’s guilt, having wilfully and disingenuously conflated his admission that it was a stupid and insensitive joke, with an acceptance of her premise that the tweet was inherently, fundamentally racist, regardless of the author’s state of mind when he posted it. Baker had condemned it, she said, so what was there to talk about? Other than the thought that informed the joke, and therefore its character? Nothing.

Encounters like the one on The Pledge affected her deeply, she argued. Not directly, like the man who’d lost his job and reputation, perhaps, but greater for all that – for this was injury on a societal level; a reminder that the fight against bigotry was not yet won, the possibility this incident was unrelated notwithstanding.

Hirsch continued: “The reality is that while the other panellists walked away, another job done, their place in the world or sense of their own humanity unscathed, and the programme’s production team congratulated me on a “strong” performance, I was not performing. I was living another traumatic encounter with the denial of my experience.” Afua wasn’t the first to have her sense of humanity bruised by Danny Baker, but these were strong words all the same.

Trauma. Her experience. Yes, it had been about her in a way. Sure, Greg Dyke knew Baker personally, and had done for decades, and attested without reticence or doubt that his friend had no manifest racist proclivities, but what did he know? Afua was not moved. If Baker didn’t know the tweet was racist, as he claimed – the defence of a scoundrel – then he had a level of ignorance Hirsch could not contemplate; the unmappable brain of a man indifferent to identity politics. But more likely he was a liar, trying to cover his tracks, and regardless the image was intrinsically racist – i.e. its racial connotations existed independent of its use, and consequently Baker was guilty, just as man driving a 1969 Dodge Charger adorned with the Confederate flag was an advocate for slavery and not just a fan of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Afua, as she wrestled with her fellow debaters, the only one with privileged access to Baker’s heart and mind, was “dehumanised” by the experience, forced to “carry the burden” of all people of colour, who, like her, had to defend their narrative of oppression in the workplace. Such a narrative, she was telling readers, never required any form of justification. To question it was to deny it, to trivialise it, to erase suffering – even if the catalysing issue was bollocks.

“I had had enough,” she said, “– not just of having to deal with the content of an idea that compares people like me to another species, but of then being expected to persuade people why that’s bad.” No need to debate Baker’s motives then. Whatever he’d intended, whatever he said, he was guilty of racially typing Baby Archie, and Afua having to convince others of this – despite the lack of corroborative statements that might indicate a pattern of thought on Baker’s part, was an affront both to her and anyone else who’d taken groundless offence.

The more one read about Afua’s struggle the worst it became. She’d undergone a painful, bloody “emotional labour”, her colleagues were “complicit in injustice”, she was nursing a “sense of injury”, and if that wasn’t enough, Baker’s blatant and unquestionable racism had “torn the scab” off an issue that had effected 76% of ethnic minority Britons this very year. Sure, that statistic referred to targeted racist abuse from a stranger, but as Afua had already established, Baker’s blunder could safely be counted as such a sinister broadside. He was guilty. GUILTY! Talking about it only dignified his pathetic, half-hearted attempt at self-defence and call not to be vilified for life. “We are bleeding en masse,” she said, careful not to overstate the case for the prosecution.

People were on Afua’s side, she claimed in her devastating closing argument, because they recognised her blackness had been commodified on screen. Her politics and default assumptions about the character of white behaviour were incidental.

They’d recognised the “assault on her mental wellbeing”, whether real or imaginary, and reasoned that if she felt it was a slight, it was. We were left to ponder a new and terrifying world in which life is read like a text on an Oxford English degree – to explore intent is a fallacy. The text or, in this case image, is all that matters. All interpretations, if they can be supported in some way, are valid. I don’t know Afua thinks that way of course, but she read PPE at Oxford, so I choose to believe it. And believing it, as we’ve discovered, is the same as it being true.

Published in: on May 23, 2019 at 10:22  Leave a Comment  
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Why I’m backing Nigel Farage in the EU Elections: George Galloway writes exclusively for Opinionoid

As-salamu alaykum, comrades. Recently I was “trending” on Twitter in the UK for two days. I’m throwing some speech marks around the term to distance myself from it, but in truth I was delighted; attention is the best natural high. I can’t drink these days, the good Lord has an opinion on that apparently, so it’s all I’ve got.

Why was I trending? Because I’d declared my vote in the forthcoming European elections on May 23. This election is a grievous act of participatory democratic passive aggression against a people who’ve voted to give up their EU voting rights and citizenry, in-part, because of the disingenuous (that it is to say plain speaking) and demagogic (that is to say demographically focused) propaganda (that is to say, truth) of Nigel Farage – the man now leading the fight back against Tony Blair’s shadow elite. Yet we must take part to ensure we never again have the right to vote in Europe.

I’ll be voting for the Brexit Party. My decision’s proved controversial, much like the hasty, punch drunk appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United.

I’ve spent a lifetime on the left. I joined the Labour Party at 13, confident my intellectual development was over and I had no future obligation to reassess my views. I spent 30 years in parliament as a tub-thumping man of the people. Simple people to be sure, after all they’d elected me, but I was grateful for the platform they provided. While standing on their broken backs I got to speak power to truth. So why am I voting for Nigel?

Ontology means a lot to me. It’s one of many words I picked up trawling through my thesaurus – resolved to deploy them like rockets on Jerusalem to best my political enemies. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no opponents. That would attribute an equivalence they don’t deserve.

Anyway, ontology: I recently made a documentary for RT called “The Patriot Game” which looked at a) Harrison Ford’s conduct against the provisional IRA and b) the history of the far right in Britain – the history of fascism. As an employee of Russia Today and a useful idiot for the Putin regime, I know what a gangster state with an agenda to annex territory under the pretence of unifying its ethic population under a secure umbrella, while oppressing their free speech and civil rights at home looks like, so I know the left’s tendency to apply the term “fascist” to anyone to the right to them misses the mark.

I know those who believe in ethic exceptionalism and the abuse of political power, and to paraphrase that old crook Ronald Reagan, Farage, though highly sympathetic to the tendency I describe, is no fascist. He aspires to fascism – the obliteration of his enemies, the annihilation of opposing points of view – he is not yet an enabled crackpot.

Farage is a populist. Sure, populism uses some of the tools of fascism – marshalling the fear and ignorance of the general population in the name of solving difficult and nuanced social problems with simplistic, authoritarian solutions – but Nigel’s aims are very different. It annoys me when people make him out to be the new Hermann Goering. I prefer to reserve any allusions to Nazi Germany for those who deserve it, like the Jewish lobby who smear Jeremy Corbyn and try to suppress any criticism of a genocidal racist state like Israel.

Nigel’s against the automatic right of free movement for EU labour, and that’s the whitest trading block in history! Sure, he doesn’t see it that way – he thinks of it in terms of Slavic peoples and other undesirables, but these people are mostly white, so it’s hard to see how any credible commentator can call him a racist.

Nigel, lest we forget, welcomes Commonwealth immigration – the blacks. Does anyone doubt this stems from a serious commitment to multiculturalism rather than an imperial, colonial hangover that sees people from those lands as readymade bus drivers, gardeners and cleaners?

In the many chats I’ve had with him off air, he’s never betrayed a sliver of racist thought. He’s done it on air, certainly, but that’s bravado for the cameras and a direct appeal to his degenerate base. My antennae for such things is sharp. Remember, I’ve spent my life surrounded by people who hate the West and are committed to its ultimate destruction, so I know a narrative that writes off millions as inhuman when I hear it.

You’d also do well to remember that I’ve represented more black and minority ethic voters in parliament than any other MP in history, and in three great segregated cities. Sure, I did it by appealing to the latent racism and hatred of those voters; whipping them up into an anti-establishment frenzy with a nod and wink to their imagined disdain for liberalism and humanitarian interventionism, but I won. Consequently, I know what populism at its best looks like. I look at Farage and see a man, like me, rallying ordinary simple people for a good cause – namely the prosecution of their own historic political grievances.

Listen, as that great socialist Michael Howard once said, there’s nothing racist about opposing mass immigration. It’s about the undercutting of wages at home and the loss of human capital in poor countries. No one who opposes immigration feels that, I accept, they see it as a direct threat to their identity and cultural milieu, but let’s pretend, for the sake of this argument, that there’s a strong moral and economic case for keeping foreigners out. On that basis, the key driver of the 2016 EU referendum result starts to look pretty sound, doesn’t it? Seen through this prism, Nigel is now the champion of the common man at home and in countries he regards as culturally inferior.

Some say my conversion to the Brexit cause is a proxy for the real fight of my life – my war against Tony Blair. The story goes I’ve never gotten past being expelled from the party of my childhood by a man whose creed – both theistically and politically, is diametrically opposed to my own. This is offensive, reductive nonsense. If Blair was for Brexit I’d still be voting for Farage, just privately and with a sense of shame. Blair, let’s not forget, killed a million people in his ugly illegal war. Farage, who’s never been an MP, opposed that and humanitarian intervention in Libya and Syria, from a sedentary position and at no cost to himself – a position that took real courage.

Brexit is being stolen from the people who voted for it without having any idea what it meant or how it should be delivered. That is unacceptable. Three quarters of Labour’s candidates in this election reject a referendum result imposed on them by a Conservative government and pig-ignorant electorate, on the back of an illegally funded Leave campaign that, like Nigel, won people over and made Europe a salient issue by appealing to their fear and prejudices. These people, who want to overturn democracy with more democracy, which is absurd, support Tony Blair. This, plus their conviction that reason and truth should win out, is why they must be defeated.

If the Remain side wins this election, it will signal a decisive shift from the politics of populism and disinformation; my bread and butter (Nigel’s too); to a more social-liberal and nuanced orthodoxy that will ultimately result in said principles gaining a stranglehold on the national consciousness. This is a horror I dare not contemplate.

So I’ll be voting for Brexit – its full and unscrutinised implementation, on May 23. You’re a moron if you thought I would or even could do otherwise.

Published in: on April 22, 2019 at 18:17  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.14 (End of Season Post-Mortem)

Critic’s Log, supplemental.

A little over a year ago we watched the Enterprise hone into view on Discovery’s anachronistic view screen, and reflected this was a show that had resolutely failed to establish itself as an independent storytelling entity. Here were its producers desperately reaching for nostalgia in a bid to boost interest in and anticipation for a second season. Well, that season is now played out, so did the inclusion of Pike and Spock, and with them an explicit tie to The Original Series, do the job and improve the show or simply make the Discovery’s cast look ordinary by comparison?

In keeping with the circular plotting of “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” to answer that, one must begin at the end, with our new heroes confined to the temporal ever after and the closing moments taking place on board the newly repaired Enterprise. A freshly shaven (and dress compliant) Spock took his post on the bridge – high tech retro chic – and a wry and cheerful Pike ordered the ship to warp. We were in the company of likable characters on a colourful bridge with an atmosphere of intense forward looking optimism. As Trekkies we were content at last.

Yet sadly, and I accept necessarily if further damage to established continuity is to be avoided, we will never see this crew again. They’d done their part – namely adding a little charisma and gravitas to a group of damaged and demented misfits; the Discovery crew’s imbecilic pronouncements and logic farts cloaked in pseudo-scientific terminology, their decisions a series of sacrifices to a clockwork God.

They’d held the Discovery crew’s hands, got them through their second year and, as we’d expect from the crew of the Enterprise, saved the day by dispatching them into oblivion – thereby ridding the twenty-third century of this threat to its values and identity. It is one of TV’s cruellest ever taunts that next year we’ll be picking up not with this fine body of men and not men, but the half-wits now trapped in the distant future. We’ve said goodbye to the good ship Discovery. I can’t be the only one who’s very happy to leave it at that.

Discovery’s second year has been a muddled affair – a year we (wrongly) trust was meticulously planned, but presented as a series written on the fly, the writers, as in season one, contorting wildly, a line of coke snorted from a prostitute’s bleached anus, in a bid to link ideas brainstormed in a pre-season frenzy. There’s been no shortage of said ideas, though most have been repurposed (stolen) from elsewhere – from sources Trek has no business flirting with, but few, if any, stood up to scrutiny when reviewed. “Just go with it” the creative staff seemed to say, “and try to like Mick will you? She’s Spock’s big sister for Christ sake.” Ah, if only it were that easy.

Burnham could and should have become a more equal part of a wider ensemble this year but Discovery’s writers were determined that she remain front and centre, and consequently this humourless bore of a character took on messianic significance; nothing less than the saviour of all life in the galaxy.

Though it made little sense, as though applied to the season’s plot setup retrospectively, Discovery spent the year first tracking a character whose raison d’être was to save Mick, then inadvertently tracking Mick herself, who infuriatingly was doing on screen what the writers were doing behind it, namely working backwards to reconcile open ended plot points established at the start of the season by a different set of showrunners.

The show’s hacks will claim this was the plan from the get-go of course, but if true it’s odd that each lurch forward in yet another densely plotted but underwritten serial, felt like the writers fighting fire. You could almost feel the heat emanate from our phone screens, while a show demanding our full attention played on the TV beyond.

So all-consuming was this terrible story – Starfleet engaged in an attempt to protect a sphere of alien knowledge from a Skynet-like AI with designs on full-sentience and galactic domination (to what end, we knew not), that second string characters were denied the oxygen of growth.

Culber returned to life to circle Stamets for half a season but neither character developed as a result and they ended up where they started. Tilly’s involvement in the story – becoming trapped in the mycelial network, being possessed by a fungus, was over at the point showrunners changed, and for the rest of the year she spouted infantile nonsense. Airiam, a background character from the first season, was developed and killed off in the same episode. Tyler and Georgiou – a traitor and genocidal mass murderer, lingered on board like observers from another franchise, contributing little – the former brooding for much of the year, the latter relishing in the kind of boilerplate evil pronouncements, “would you like to join me in making Leland scream?” that only served to remind us she had no place as a regular on a Star Trek series. The reply to said invitation, by the way, “yum yum”, underlined that away from the Enterprise a very low standard of discourse had become normalised – idiocy we’ve now exported even further into the future.

Those responsible for “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” understood that these challenges – rebalancing the cast, refining the dialogue, injecting a sense of wonder and mystery to proceedings that weren’t choked by the imperatives of a suffocating, nihilistic blockbuster movie narrative, were for another day. First, this shitshow had to be wrapped up and Discovery had to be comprehensively, irreversibly removed from its prequel setting and catapulted to a safe distance – far beyond TNG, DS9 and Voyager, where a) it could do no harm and b) indulge in a reinvention of the Trek mythos, spore drive et al, without a backlash from tired fans. The question was, could this transition be managed with wit and intelligence?

This being Discovery the answer was obviously no. The episode, channelling the Star Wars prequels, was style overload – the screen awash with digital artefacts and animation. There was so much to look at, so many drone ships under Control-Leland’s Borg-like, er, control, there was hardly time to think about the mechanics of the high stakes plot. Discovery’s hacks, counting on as much, used the cover of this sound, fury and inconsequential noble sacrifice (so long Admiral Cornwell) to smuggle through some big revelations – the kind designed to boil piss and break hearts.

We learned that Mick’s future quest to spread red signals began in the present, during the battle for the sphere data, which meant Discovery had appropriated that laziest of plot devices, the ontological paradox, to explain the season’s arc. If you’ve patiently waded through this blog’s Doctor Who reviews, you’ll know this is an Opinionoid pet hate – the kind of time travel story you map out by drawing a circle on a big piece of card.

You do it because you’ll be fucked if you can think of a set of linear events, organic plot developments, that would facilitate the incidents you’ve already established. Instead, Mick realised that everything she’d already seen now had to be implemented to complete the loop and facilitate their escape to the future but, and I hope I haven’t lost you already, how did Mick know to do these things the first time around? What’s that? Her journey to the past WAS the first time around? Well, that’s the paradox and that, my friends, is why it’s so deeply unsatisfying and convenient.

It surely wouldn’t have been that hard to figure out a few events, a few moral dilemmas for the crew, that once pondered and decided upon, put them on a certain path that would later present them with a choice of futures? But instead, Discovery suggested that free will is a cruel illusion – a message it underlined by having Pike learn his fate was locked, even if he had foreknowledge of it, and having Discovery’s trip to the future take place, even though it had ceased to be necessary just moments before it happened.

If you establish the only way to save the present from Control is to fling the Discovery to the far-flung future, then it’s probably not a good idea to kill the threat while the ship’s still moored in the present.

Now you can argue that as long as the sphere data was freely available to visitors, someone or something like Control – possibly the Borg, teased throughout this season, could get hold of it and use it for nefarious ends, but that, as Riker once said is something we could sort out later. For now, the plan to dispatch Discovery was predicated on the immediate threat to the Federation, namely Leland; a plan conceived in extremis. When Georgiou announced that the man in question was dead and that Control was neutralised, someone really should have opened a channel to the bridge and asked Saru et al whether they still wanted to maroon themselves in the thirty-second century, consigned to a world where everyone and everything they know is long dead. “It’s okay, Control’s fucked – we can stick around after all. Hello? Bridge, hello?”

Instead, Discovery’s crew, who were now technically travelling into the future for nothing, Leland’s Control bots stowed in the Spore Drive chamber, were well and truly wormholed and vanished to a place we presume looks a lot like the dull religious colony of Terralysium some 950 years from now; a place where Mick’s mother, bored to the point of suicide, desperately hopes for enlightened company. Instead she’s going to get Tilly and Reno – a character who says things like, “get off my ass, Sir.”

Was there any real tension in this final rush to get Discovery out of established Trek continuity? We knew Mick had succeeded, however much Spock tried to bullshit his way through it, because the seven signals already existed in the past. Evidentially, it was history. Pike, by far the season’s most grounded character, had the right idea when he suggested being invulnerable to a ticking torpedo because he’d already seen the future and he was in it. Cornwell, the writers in her earpiece, persuaded him not to call their bluff and he left the admiral to her death, but this, in a scene, was the problem with the entire episode. Yes, it was a struggle for the characters to succeed, but the circular plot was a guarantor of their success. This is why the best time travel stories invariably, sensibly, leave the result of said meddling unresolved until the end. We suspected Kirk and co. would find those humpback whales and save Earth, but we didn’t know it until he returned to the present. It’s a simple thing but it makes a lot of difference.

Ultimately, Discovery’s second season, in a tacit celebration of its success in firmly rooting its characters in the world of Spock et al, ended with the ship classified as an official secret and the crew recorded deceased, following some deliberately misleading evidence to an inquiry back on Earth.

So paranoid were the conspiracists, that even Sarek and Amanda agreed not to talk about Mick in public ever again – just in case it slipped out, following a few drinks, that she was alive and living in the future. Thus, Discovery’s absence from future Trek shows – in thought, image and dialogue, was given due explanation. It’s almost as if the producers were agreeing with the audience that setting it in the past had been a terrible mistake – one any fan could have helped them avoid two seasons ago.

An open ending means Discovery’s future is a blank slate – its hacks gifted maximum wriggle room to remake it in their own image. Can it succeed where Voyager failed? Can a ship out of time with an archive of universe spanning knowledge find a new purpose? Unshackled, with nothing tying the show to Treks past or fan expectations, can this glib crew, with Mick sadly still on board, finally endear themselves to the franchise’s loyal acolytes?

If life’s more episodic and thoughtful in the future, with a greater emphasis on collective problem solving and sensible discourse, then there’s half a chance. It will effectively be a new show – one with the longest pilot in history at 29 hours. Those who saw that pilot may be reluctant to carry on, however. Damage resulting from this kind of slog can’t be undone overnight, but Trekkies are a forgiving lot. Well, until the Picard series premieres that is.

Anomalous Readings

  • Discovery’s first stop in the future should be a barren moon where Mirror Georgiou should be deposited and left. There she can bore herself to death.
  • “Women, stop talking.” Turns out Control was a misogynist AI.
  • Stamets graciously smiled through his battle injuries to give the impression he was happy about Culber joining them in the future. I couldn’t have.
  • “You saved me…you are my balance,” Spock told Mick in their final exchange. A potentially awful moment redeemed when Mick gave some advice about seeking out your opposites that we know will lead to lifelong friendships with Kirk and McCoy – two characters we’ll thankfully now never see on this show but must now watch, knowing Mick had a hand in their destiny.
  • “Someone owes me a beer,” said Tilly, showcasing more of Discovery’s razor sharp dialogue. By that measure, the writers owe us quite a few.
  • Clem Fandango was left behind to start his own Section 31 series. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would want to do this but I’d rather endure Clem’s secret missions than Georgiou’s. Did the writers forget she was supposed to stay behind and be in a spin-off? On this show, it’s possible.
  • The return of The Motion Picture wormhole effect was welcome. One last nod to nostalgia.
  • “Let’s see what the future holds,” said Spock. He looked more optimistic than I felt.
  • And that’s it for this year. Thank you so much for reading. Let’s do it all over again when Discovery sadly returns, though there’s really no need – not based on the way this season ended. But, you know, if we must…

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 


Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.13

Critic’s log, supplemental.

“Discovery has to go to the future,” said Mick, as the crew caught up with the audience and realised the ship’s status as a secure Hard Drive for the data coveted by Control in its bid to become sentient and destroy all organic life for opaque reasons, meant it was just too hot for the twenty-third century. It’s almost as if the good ship Discovery did not belong, that it posed a threat to Star Trek’s continuity and its universe-at-large.

In this, “Such Sweet Sorrow”, though there was none, played like a deranged stalker telling you their thousands of phone calls and text messages represented the fact they “really needed to talk”. On some level Discovery’s hacks know this show, in its current form, is a ruination machine that’s poisoning the well. They just can’t bring themselves to come out and say it. But they know. They know what they’ve done.

Confronted by blogs like this one decrying their decision to abandon Bryan Singer’s anthology concept, with seasons set in different time periods, opting instead for the creative myopia and storytelling headache of an unwanted prequel, week after merciless week, they’ve engineered a scenario that allows the show to jump from prequel to far future sequel in a single bound, without the need to kill the cast. But because they know we hate the cast, this setup did at least include a little red meat for the horde – a flash forward in which Control-Leland murdered the crew with brutal efficiency, saving Mick for last. She was picked her up by the throat and phasered through the head. Whatever happens from now on, we’ll always have that moment of beautiful catharsis.

So Discovery will soon jump into the future, core cast and all. Said crew improbably gave up their connection to everything and everyone they know to be trapped in space with Mick in perpetuity. Even Spock wanted to go, which made us wonder whether Control had reconstructed him too.

We know the real Spock can’t leave, after all, not if we’re still pretending this show sits within official canon, so what will prevent the bearded Vulcan (coded thus as a doppelgänger perhaps – we know how Discovery loves those) from making the galaxy’s worst career move? If the show’s hacks had a sense of humour they’d end the season with the real Spock found bent up inside a storage unit, his nanite-inseminated double allowing himself a wry grin as the Discovery’s floating library materialised in twenty-ninth century Earth orbit – the equivalent of that scene in The Simpsons where the infectious Koala Bear clings to the landing skid of the family helicopter, looking malevolently to camera. But that of course would be a great joke and the writers of this show don’t do those.

Whatever the in-series explanation, we understand that the Discovery’s about to become a relic so the show’s aesthetic and sensibility can catch up with its content, and people can finally enjoy it as a series in its own right. In theory it will become an uncomplicated sequel to Treks past, in which every variant introduced can be marked as the plausible evolution of what’s come before, rather than a misjudged overwrite.

Trek, as we’ve discussed, was once unique in that it owned its anachronistic old future tech and canonised it – even joked about it, so that each era of the show could be enjoyed as one long legacy. Indeed, the people who owned Trek used to care about this enough to spend millions remastering TOS episodes with new effects that complimented the look and feel of those stories.

Discovery, whether for licencing reasons or because Secret Hideout, JJ Abrams’ TV production company, were obliged to follow the Bad Robot aesthetic, tore up that contract. Fine, we say, if you’re minded to vandalise the iconic don’t make a prequel. We begged them not to. They did. And we’ve had two seasons in which Original Series paraphilia has been dangled in front of us, to maintain our interest, while being subject to this policy of retrospective redesign. For this reason, if nothing else, can there be anyone who isn’t counting the seconds until Discovery disappears into that time wormhole?

But Discovery wouldn’t be Discovery without a final fuck you to Trekkies. So, having introduced the Enterprise in the dying seconds of last season, but keeping it at a distance for most of this one, so we could dare to imagine it was old enough to retain its original series’ aesthetic, the spell was finally broken with a full bridge reveal that indelibly and irreversibly confirmed the show to be a cast iron continuity breaker.

Yes, Discovery’s declared just at the point it might have avoided ever having to do so. Here was the Enterprise bridge – a sort of half-way house between the new and old, complete with historic sound effects, and whereas it was a lot closer to the old look than the 2009 movie, it nevertheless served to remind the audience that whatever future the Discovery ends up roaming in (here we assume something will go awry and they’ll end up somewhere unanticipated – a popular trope on the show) it won’t be an extension of the unbroken timeline of stories produced from 1966-2005. Thus, on the dawn of a new era for this oddball series, and ahead of its certain early cancellation, we’re once again forced to ask, do we care?

Caring about the Discovery’s crew, Mick in particular, has been hard graft for the audience throughout this second year, and “Such Sweet Sorrow” underlined this by asking us to shed tears for people and relationships that had been given cursory attention by the writing staff at best.

Did your mascara run when Mick and Clem Fandango bade a last, grasping farewell? Did your eyes get red and puffy as the show’s peripheral characters recorded messages for their families, trying to justify their inexplicable decision to give up their lives on a whim? Did you lose an erection when Mick embraced Sarek and Amanda, referring to their son, singular, with neither parent correcting her? Poor Sybok, he’s been forgotten by everyone. And what about Pike’s fond so long to a crew he’s mostly not fraternised with on screen at all? Well, actually here there was a moment. But this had more to do with Anson Mount’s solid and likeable contribution to the show, rather than anything the writers have done.

For the most part these goodbyes meant very little, because after two full seasons we barely know these people. In truth, they were saying adieu to the show as conceived, readying themselves for a much needed soft reboot. We’ll watch the final episode to make sure phase one of the show is buried, but it’s really the following episode that’s going to either reignite interest or kill it stone dead.

Anomalous Readings

  • Mick’s easy acceptance of Spock’s decision to go to the future made very little sense given she’d just finished taking comfort from knowing that in her absence Sarek and Amanda would have him, and they would now have the chance to rebuild their relationship. Perhaps the multiple writers crafting this episode forgot to talk to each other. Or indeed check Memory Alpha to see if Spock had any other siblings.
  • Ship to ship evacuation took place via walkways fortified with forcefields. Seems odd and unduly onerous in the age of the transporter (and in an emergency), but maybe some just like to walk.
  • So Mick sent the signals – at least that’s Spock’s unproven thesis based on the similarity between Mick’s RNA/DNA and her mother. But with one episode remaining we still don’t know if this is true or what half of them mean. Let’s hope the hacks remember to explain it before next week’s finale ends.
  • Pike looked apprehensive when faced with Leland’s armada, but why? He’s already seen the future and he knows that both he and Starfleet will still be around years hence. Perhaps he should have reassured the crew.
  • Will Reno survive the trip to the future? She touched the time crystal and saw a flash forward to a bomb in the Enterprise’s saucer? The look on her face suggests she’ll tell someone which is more than Mick did when she saw the same thing in her apocalyptic vision. Might Spock break off to save his ship? As Discovery’s writers get 15% of their ideas from Wrath of Khan, it’s a safe bet.
  • When talk turned to planting antimatter bombs in stars to make them go supernova, the episode’s score referenced Michael Giacchino’s from Star Trek 2009. This chilled the blood because it suggested a connection between that series and this one, and also because it possibly foregrounds a plot point in the forthcoming Picard series, which if rumour is to believed, won’t be canon either.
  • I suppose Ash staying with Section 31 helps to set up that unwanted series. Will that be the show that picks up the Borg thread? Or can we hope that was just a tease – a sadistic in-joke from a coke fuelled writers’ meeting?
  • Next week the future begins! At last! But will the cruellest of all cruel twists be a final shot of the Discovery being caught in the tractor beam of an early twenty-fifth century starship, observed by a certain Admiral Picard? Could the writers really be that unkind? Have we dodged the possibility of Discovery ruining one era of Trek only for it to screw up another? You know the answer, so keep both cocks crossed.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 


Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.12

Critic’s log, supplemental.

If you’ve been watching Discovery for twenty five episodes or so, chances are you feel like Captain Pike in his bleep chair – immobile, irradiated and pained; a victim of locked in syndrome from which there is no solace and no escape. Life, you think, isn’t really worth living, and it’s unlikely that a group of telepathic aliens, gifted with the ability to change perception with thought, are going to turn up and save the day by freeing you to live as you were in a land of pure imagination.

This week on everyone’s favourite Trek, Pike, who last time was told the future was bleak but ignored the tease, volunteered to visit the Klingon monastery on Boreth, home to Voq and L’Rell’s son, and now conveniently a repository of time crystals, the show’s literal maguffin, to learn what the future had in store. A red signal had appeared there, apparently left by a time traveller other than Mick’s mother (so Mick or Mick’s Dad) and consequently the crew was bounced into believing the site had significance in their fight against Control and its genocidal scheme.

It wasn’t clear what information could be gleaned from the sacred site, and in any event it proved pointless, as the crystal-induced flash forward turned out to be a very personal affair – but the mission did land the ship, now confirmed as a stand-alone repository for the Sphere’s crucial knowledge archive, which “cannot be removed or deleted”, with its own time travel fuel. At least I think so, as I got bored and lost the thread.

What was more interesting, in an episode made entirely from the sophomore season’s detritus, much of it incidental filler, was Pike’s Empire Strikes Back, Luke on Dagobah moment. He had a dark vision of the future in which he’d become the monster we love. The question was, why?

Even the people sleeping in a box under the Embankment know that Pike will one day have a horrific delta radiation accident, so bad that twenty third century medicine can do nothing, except consign the Captain’s scarred, immobile remains to a cabinet on wheels with a single light to indicate yes or no. This is the character’s iconic destiny, as shown in the TOS two-parter “The Menagerie”, and it was reprised here in gory, horrifying detail. But what purpose, other than underlying Pike’s selfless nature, did giving him foreknowledge of the accident serve?

Voq and L’Rell’s son, now a fully grown time guarding monk, thanks to the accelerating properties of the crystals, warned that if the stuff used to peer into the future was broken off and taken back to the ship, because you can do that with a literal piece of time travel, then the fate it showed would be sealed.

Again, it wasn’t clear why this should be, as crystal or no Pike now had foreknowledge that could surely be used to save him – like wearing a protective suit in all cadet training exercises involving nearby reactors, but perhaps Discovery’s hacks just saw an opportunity to rip off their favourite scene from their favourite Star Wars movie, while crowbarring in a beat that would underline how far Pike was prepared to go to save the day. If anything, the accident should have been a great comfort, because the fact he had moved on to training cadets and was in a relatively benign Starfleet set up, instantly suggested that he’d dealt with the current threat to the galaxy and life had moved on. Talk about spoilers.

So while “Through the Valley of Shadows” meandered along, attempting to generate pathos and intrigue using recycled material, Mick and Spock investigated radio silence from a Section 31 ship and had another run in with Control, who this time had “reconstructed” the body of a forgotten crew member from the Shenzhou – a bit character who, like most on Discovery, required a flash back to remind the audience he’d ever existed.

Did this encounter advance the plot any more than Pike’s mission (bearing in mind there are now just two episodes to go)? Not really. We learned that Control was ruthless – it ejected an entire crew into space, and when no longer able to manipulate a human body became a T-1000 inspired stream of nanites, that Spock immobilised by, er, magnetising the floor.

So what was the point? To emphasise, once again, how integral Mick was to foiling Control’s plan, as it had lured her there to kill her, Skynet style. Mick – the mother of the future, whose mother is in the future. But we remembered Project Daedalus, and Icarus, and sadly, once again, began to speculate that a time travelling Mick may yet appear to save the day, though we’ll need a whiteboard and a healthy suspension of disbelief to understand how and why.

The episode culminated with Control, er, controlling Section 31’s fleet of 30 ships, which bore down on Discovery in the hope of seizing her precious data. We ended on a cliffhanger, with the ship primed for auto destruct. It would have been great to think its destruction was a real possibility, but that Short Trek “Calypso” and the creeping certainty that Discovery may have to vanish into the future, put pay to that. Perhaps Tilly was already there, as she was nowhere to be seen the entire time, not even during lunch with the crew. No wonder this episode felt so inconsequential.

Anomalous Readings

  • No Tilly this week but sadly a bit of Stamets and Culber with Reno acting as a go-between. Culber’s resurrection was once teased as a prelude to something sinister or transformative. Now it’s starting to look like a cheap device to complicate this boring relationship. Please God let this subplot be going somewhere other than a commitment from both characters to give it another go.
  • The pillar of the past for me will always be the late Michael Piller – one of Star Trek’s best ever scribes.
  • Wait a minute, Section 31 escalated the use of Control to plan for war-avoiding scenarios following the Klingon conflict. So Mick’s indirectly responsible for this too, and all the deaths that have followed. Jesus Christ, can someone lock her up before she kills us all?
  • I hate the concept of time crystals. It’s literal and stupid. Yes, I know there was a Bajoran Orb of Time that was powered by some kind of crystal, but that was a crafted artefact, not a commodity that could potentially be mined and used to make the thing it describes ubiquitous. Trek usually deals with this using cosmological curios and warp field physics. Those were the days (and will be again).
  • Perhaps we can infer that Boreth’s crystal deposits will be destroyed or removed sometime between now and Worf’s visit a hundred years hence, as that TNG episode conspicuously didn’t allude to the monastery’s precious holdings.
  • So two episodes left and it’s an open question how this weird and uneven season is going to end. With Discovery consigned to the far future to protect the present, once Pike and Spock have safely alighted? As a space submarine with the ability to explore different periods and investigate the many events described in the Sphere’s archive? Or will it be something far more bland? Time will tell, I suppose. Oh fuck you, I’m tired.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 


Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.11

Critic’s log, supplemental.

A few weeks ago we speculated the writers of Star Trek: Discovery were science fiction dilettantes. In other words, they knew a little, about the same as a non-genre fan picks up by osmosis, but certainly not enough to write for one of TV’s biggest universes.

‘You’ve seen Star Trek, right?’ This, one imagines, was Alex Kurtzman’s interview question to the men and women he’d met on other shows, who’d worked on just about everything bar science fiction, but said yes anyway because the opportunity was too great to pass up. Besides, was familiarity with the brand a pre-requisite for success? Nicolas Meyer knew nothing about Trek and had to binge watch it ahead of his hasty re-write of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and yet his natural intelligence and storytelling acumen somehow allowed him to draw on different influences, Hornblower for example, and produce something true to the spirit of the original series.

What do Discovery’s writers draw upon when stealing their story ideas? The literary sources of Meyer and Trek writers past? After all, we see a lot of Wikipedia sourced allusions to Greek myth in the not displayed episode titles. No, it seems their primary frame of reference is the franchise crud that both they and the desired audience – i.e. they with less esoteric tastes, would be familiar with.

We now know that the second season’s big bad is Section 31’s semi-conscious artificial intelligence system, Control. Control is a crude reprise of The Terminator’s Skynet, complete with the time travelling hero whose purpose is to go back in time and frustrate its ambitions. But in “Perpetual Infinity” (not a song by Jamiroquai), the agony of the writers room’s influences became more apparent. Not content with ripping off Robocop, Terminator, Quantum Leap, and lots of other popular but largely dystopian fantasies, which one might say are distinctly untrekian in character, it’s beginning to look like somebody saw Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels and had a fan fiction idea so bad that it wouldn’t even have made it past Brannon Braga; what about the Borg’s origin story?

The Borg were, very briefly, Star Trek’s greatest ever villains. They were later given a leader to fulfil the requirements of an idiotic blockbuster movie template, eventually died of overexposure on Voyager, but from their introduction in “Q Who?” to their finest hour in “Best of both Worlds” they were unassailable; the quintessential threat to the Federation and its utopian ideals – a faceless, pitiless, relentless metaphor for groupthink. Crucially, they belonged to the era of The Next Generation. They were discovered there and they died there. Enterprise, desperate for attention, dared to feature them briefly. But this was uninspired fan service and no threat to what had come before.

Given Discovery’s fan fiction approach to storytelling, its compulsion to make the Star Trek universe smaller, more contrived and back formed, it’s not a surprise that somebody, maybe somebody like Alex Kurtzman, might have suggested an Alien-style creation myth for everyone’s favourite technology assimilators. But a serious writers’ room would surely have turned the idea down flat. Even if this were a good idea, which it isn’t, this would not be the group of writers to attempt such a delicate task: the retconning of an iconic antagonist.

Discovery’s writers are idiots, whose instinct is to cannibalise the past – a tip that they’re lacking original ideas. We know this but they insist on underlining it week on week, threatening to overwrite the very best of the franchise to fulfil their Hannibal Lecter fantasies. They’re like casual fans of fine art who buy a Goya but store the painting in their damp, mouldy basement.

So when Leland was inseminated with what looked suspiciously like an early version of Borg nanoprobes, exhibiting the pallid complexion of the prototypical drone, complete with a  lack of emotion, and hunger to assimilate the cultural and technological information of countless other civilisations, we had to hope this was just a riff on an old idea rather than a literal harbinger of the Borg. But as this is Discovery and often what you imagine is precisely what transpires, because this is a show written by hacks, it’s likely to be just as bad as it looks. We’ll know soon enough and then, when it’s confirmed the Borg began as Federation intelligence software – then we can get truly angry and fight to have the show cancelled before it introduces a young James Kirk and establishes he had a long and passionate affair with Mick, the pair discovered in bed together by an eyebrow raised Spock.

The Control story was only the action content of this boring, derivative episode. The emotional content was the relationship between Mick and her resurrected mother, Gabrielle, the time traveller who for inexplicable reasons was tethered to a point 950 years in the future, despite starting from 20 years in the past. It was never explained why the Red Angel’s anchor was so far ahead, but our suspicion was that this was to facilitate the apocalyptic plot, and line up with the Short Trek “Calypso” that nobody saw.

We learned Dr Gabrielle had been lost in time for many years and had to go through the awful experience of saving Mick’s life on countless occasions, something which must’ve really hurt. Some of us imagined Mick was arrogant, hard-faced and emotionally stunted because she’d gone through life believing her parents have been brutally murdered by Klingons and then had to go and live with the emotionally repressed Vulcans. In “Perpetual Infinity” we discovered that she was cold and arrogant and prone to mawkish sentimentality because Mother was too. Mick’s a bad enough character on her own, but the coupling of her with an older version, in the form of her egregiously sentimental template, just took the space biscuit.

The interaction between these two characters was awful; two dislikable harridans arguing over which was more damaged, while attempting to provide exposition for a plot that made absolutely no sense. Mick lost her mother to time in the end but because our hero had spent most of the episode either looking stunned or teary, it was almost impossible to care. Some may have been moved by Mick’s plight and the reunion with her dead Mum (Dad’s fate remains undetermined), but some people probably believe it’s a good idea to tell the Borg’s origin story. These people should not be allowed anywhere near a Star Trek television series.

Anomalous Readings

  • Mick’s mother didn’t know anything about the red signals, confirming Spock’s suspicion from last week that they didn’t fit the pattern of her interventions. So what are they about and how do they fit in with everything else? A point of genuine intrigue so expect the answer to be terrible – like Mick’s Dad leaving a breadcrumb trail.
  • Apparently the expression “baby girl” is still popular in the twenty third century.   
  • Lots of talk of supernovas, dark matter and other echoes of the JJ Abrams movie this week. Is Discovery gearing up for a change in the timeline or better yet, the unmonetizable uplands of the canon universe?
  • “How long before the universe wins?” Discovery’s hacks love clunkers like this, so thank God they’ve got Anson Mount, the season’s breakout presence, to deliver them.
  • Mick’s mother alluded to Pike’s fate – the bleep chair, but he bravely chose not to ask for more information. A stoic Captain through and through.
  • Mick joins the long list of crew members who’ve died and come back to life. In fact she was revived by Culber – her immediate predecessor.
  • Mick’s mother appeared to Spock because, er, he was a Vulcan with dyslexia? This made him the “only person” in all of time who could help her. Apparently, his future family link with Mick and relationship to the Discovery’s acting Captain were not factors, just happy coincidences.
  • Control is to be defeated by uploading the sphere archive into the suit and flinging it into the far future, so out of reach. Technobabble aside, this seemed like a reasonable idea but…
  • The aforementioned “Calypso” gave us a story in which Discovery existed a 1000 years hence, piloted by a sentient AI. Can we infer from this that the sphere’s knowledge will end up locked in the ship’s databanks, and consequently she will have to run off grid for the rest of her days to remain hidden from Federation intelligence? Might the secret ship concept by the ‘game changer’ Cuntzman spoke of, that reconciles Discovery with other Treks? It would be different at least and render the Discovery’s missions, driven by her secure archive and ability to jump to any location, invisible to history – a sort of Back to the Future Part II, Marty and the Doc keeping out of sight while they fix things, idea. Fuck, it could work, though it does smack of those massive format changes that used to signal a sci-fi show in trouble that’s usually cancelled shortly thereafter.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 


Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.10

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Regardless of any talk of the Red Angel, the real mystery behind Discovery’s second season is how a writers’ room this poor can continue to work on a lynchpin series with a blockbuster budget.

You and I, we’re just pundits – we sit in our padded cells and mount our dirty protests, because it’s Friday, and that’s what we do on Fridays even if we’ve forgotten why – and we write on those walls, in our own excrement naturally, our predictions about the show’s plot. These are the very first things that come to mind. Yet, there must be method in our madness because every week the hacks that pilot Starfleet’s most dysfunctional vessel do exactly these things, leaving us frustrated and bored. We’re the idiots whose expectations are supposed to be routed by geniuses. But you and I could work on this show, and we’d be welcome. Think about that for a moment.

Last week we speculated, following the thumping great clue/reference that was ‘Project Daedalus’ that the Angel was either Mick or Mick’s parents. As always the simplest answer proved to be the correct one, though incredibly, “The Red Angel” attempted to intrigue us by first sticking the time travelling credentials on Mick, rendering the episode’s plot idiotic for reasons we’re explore momentarily, then revealing the literal quantum leaper to be the heavily trailed mother of Mick – a character that, as enshrined in the Discovery series bible, was only given a proper backstory and prescribed the necessary importance in the self-same episode.

When the season began we were excited (though cautious) about who or what the Red Angel might be, and what the fucker might want. A universe of possibilities opened before us. Hark, we cried, Discovery’s team have learned the lesson from season one, namely that focusing on Burnham – a dull and ill-conceived character written to a standard that fell far short of the values and intellect she was supposed to represent – instead of the crew’s celestial exploits, was a mistake.

The second season would be a corrective, we hoped – more an ensemble affair with some spare faring mysteries at its core. In time we grew despondent as we realised the Angel’s story was bound up with the unwanted shadowmen and women of Section 31 and their out of control Control – an AI, but worse was to come. Finally, in the wrap up phase of the season, it came to pass that Mick – yes Mick once again, was the talismanic puzzle piece on which the fate of the galaxy, indeed all sentient life turned. That’s Mick – the show’s sixth most interesting character. Mick, whose forced relationship with step brother Spock has only underlined how superior the template character is to his Discovery proxy. Mick, a human bereft of warmth or charm who substitutes real conversation for lofty, empty rhetoric – incredulity and crying. Mick, apparently one of the most important humans of the 23rd century.

In fact Mick’s so shrewd that as “The Red Angel” opened, it hadn’t occurred to her to follow up Airium’s reference to Project Daedalus. Sure, her colleague and friend (we’re told) had committed suicide to protect Mick from whatever it was about and had given her this information in her dying moments, but apparently Mick had forgotten about it, because when Tilly, babbling as usual, entered the conference room with news from Airium’s autopsy – that a reference to said project had appeared in the dead woman’s cyberbrain along with, conveniently, a DNA profile of the Angel, only then did it occur to our hero to pipe up. Oh, and in other news, the Angel’s profile was a one hundred percent (note that figure down, we’ll return to it later) match for, who else, our very own Commander B. ‘Michael, it’s you,’ squealed Tilly, and hearts around the world sank faster than Clem Fandango’s erection when handed human porn.

When discussion turned to trapping the Angel, using Mick as bait, as the only pattern that could be discerned by anyone in respect of events the show’s writers hadn’t thought through properly, was the time traveller appearing to save, er, itself – it was clear that Burnham should no longer be involved in the conversation. We knew it, the dog in the street knew it, but apparently it didn’t occur to anyone writing the show.

If Mick was the Angel then including her in a plan to capture her future self could only result in failure. Mick, being present and all, would remember whatever scheme they came up and would have all the time in the world, quite literally, to formulate a counter strategy. Yet, despite this, not only did Pike, Cornwell at al discuss the intricacies of the mousetrap plan with Mick, she insisted on being the bait to capture herself, with no one pointing out that if the Angel was free and operating in the future, and assuming the Angel was Mick, then the plan must have failed. One could infer Mick survived her planned brush with death and the Angel got away on account of them having a future Mick to ensnare in the first place.

This was surely the point when one of the crew’s brains should have said, ‘this is a plot written by an idiot, it can’t be Burnham, it must, for these obvious reasons, be someone else,’ but the show had doubled down, having Culber confirm Tilly’s findings, so there was no getting out of it – we had to go along with this sham to the bitter end.

Assuming, as no one on Discovery did, bar Ethan Peck’s refreshingly Spock-like Spock, that the Red Angel wasn’t Mick (Spock pointed out it wasn’t logical – which it wasn’t), the team behind Operation Mousetrap weren’t giving the time traveller – who was intelligent enough to have invented a time travel suit – much credit.

They manufactured the galaxy’s most obvious trap – creating a scenario that could exist for no other reason than to provoke the Angel into appearing and saving Mick’s life. This involved travelling to a hostile planet and strapping Mick to a chair in an abandoned warehouse, where the vents would be opened and she’d then suffocate, surrounded by an assembly designed specifically for the one-off purpose of neutralising a time travel suit and containing the pilot. At this point Mick was still thought to be said pilot, so the Angel could reasonably be expected to know the mechanics of the trap, but if it wasn’t Mick, might the conspicuous nature of the setup not have acted as a tip off?

If the crew were serious they’d have met in secret while Mick was asleep or masturbating and said, ‘okay, we’ll manufacture an order for an away mission to this hostile world, make sure Burnham’s on the away team, and then sabotage her bio-suit so she gets into trouble on the planet surface – a real risk to life. Then, we sit back and wait for the Angel to appear. In the future it will be logged as an accident, death by misadventure. It should work, after all Burnham saved herself all those other times despite originally dying on several occasions. Wait, if she died, how could her future self know abo- ah, never mind.’

Yet the Angel fell for the trap, as the plot demanded and was caught, so perhaps they were right to presume the pilot was stupid. Inevitably, it was not Mick but Mick’s mother – a twist that had been obvious from the moment Section 31’s Leland told us she was the inventor of the time travel suit that ran on, er, time crystals (a commodity for which one imagines there’s only one use so it was a surprise to learn S31 were surprised they needed one).

The arrival of Mick’s mother was good for a couple of reasons. One, it puts some distance between Mick and Spock’s family and two, it means Mick isn’t quite as integral to the future of the galaxy as all that. Now we know this season will end with an odd battle to frustrate the genocidal ambitions of Section 31’s AI using a time travelling iron man suit. If you hoped for more at the start of the year, you’re not alone.

Anomalous Readings

  • If the Angel was Mick’s mother and not she, why was the Angel a 100% DNA profile match for Mick? Assuming Burnham is a product of her mother and father like most of us, and not grown in a lab from her Mother’s cells, then she’d have her own DNA profile. And wouldn’t Discovery have access to Mick’s mother’s medical files – after all, she was a Federation scientist. Why didn’t they match her to the Angel straight away?
  • Airium’s funeral was a big deal. Apparently the augmented extra was a favourite amongst the entire crew. They all turned out for the Wrath of Khan inspired ceremony, leaving the ship on auto pilot. When Tasha Yar died only her bridge crew pals attended the holodeck ceremony, but apparently a hundred years earlier it was the tradition to leave the ship crewless and vulnerable to attack or misadventure, by dropping everything to send off a crewman that only a select few would have known. Still, her friends spoke and it was nice, until Mick ruined it with one of her abstract soliloquys.
  • Culber spent the episode walking around with a contemporary suit jacket and shirt combination. Very stylish, but this is the 23rd century – shouldn’t he be wearing something weird? See TNG for casual future dress tips.
  • Culber needed therapy so it was fortunate that Cornwell was a former counsellor. Still, the writers needed that scene, so…
  • Airium’s replacement is Lt. Nelson. I wonder if she’ll ever get any lines?
  • The episode was notable for one very odd scene in which Mirror Georgiou had a baffling, passive aggressive conversation with Stamets and Culber about their sexuality. She implied that in the Mirror Universe they swung both ways and had engaged in a threesome with the Empress at her pleasure. Stamets, not unreasonably, was offended by the implication that his sexuality could differ in another timeline, and we were left agog at how clunky and awkward the scene was. It was left to Tilly, who looked as confused as anyone at this discussion using 21st century terms around sexuality, to ask, on behalf of us all, ‘what just happened?’
  • Watching Mick choke to death was, of course, great.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage