Royalty felt as natural as breathing until Harry and Meghan’s hijinks started to make it look silly

Until the announcement that Prince Harry and Meghan Markles had unilaterally decided to reinvent their Royal roles, moving toward something both are more comfortable with like subsidised independence, the monarchy appeared to be a venerable institution.

It’s always made sense to me that a holdover from feudal times, in which a family ordained by and in service to the authority of a supernatural deity, purporting to represent the nation when it is by exception and design, less like the people of that nation than any part of society, should continue to enjoy a life of pomp and privilege on a hereditary basis; a principle that republican idiots continue to insist is in some way antithetical to a meritocratic, democratic society.

I’ve never questioned, as some have – we’ll call them seditionists, the idea that this effete and unaccountable family of dutiful clods, with their fascist and sexually deviant proclivities, thought by some to be diametrically opposed to the values cherished by the majority of British subjects, rule by consent. Sure, said consent is assumed rather than sought, and a monarch thought to exist above politics, a political choice, cannot be removed, even the will existed to remove it, but still.

I for one have always been happy with the failsafe position, the constitutional safety net, that our Royal family, whom God anointed in his wisdom, though this is disputed in Rome, who retain their privilege at history’s pleasure, could one day be abolished. It would only require a political party with a policy to institute a republic, of the kind that doesn’t exist, to be elected on that basis, and a referendum be held, as it never can be given the absence of the aforementioned mass political movement given representation in the House of Commons – a chamber so-named to formalise and indeed, naturalise, the stratification of society necessary to make the notion of a constitutional monarchy viable.

However, now, everything’s changed.

Megry, Harrhan, whatever, have ruined the integrity of this noble idea, this proud and intellectually justifiable institution, by attempting to force changes to the winning formula. Suddenly, with talk of fulfilling their Royal duties part-time, and spending half the year in Canada so they can live like rich people with media connections, enjoying easy access to the US Entertainment Industry, unburdened by the soul atrophying obligations demanded in exchange for the retention of inherited wealth and taxpayer subsidy, they’ve made the status conferred on them by the British citizenry look very silly indeed.

Only now, as the unhappy couple vie to capitalise on the name recognition and eminence wholly derived from their association with monarchy, but with the problematic parts like media scrutiny and accountability dialled down, does it feel like the millions spent on them, in service to an imbecilic idea, might have been a mistake.

Our unelected Head of State has every right to be furious. By exposing the flaws and contradictions of monarchy in this way, the Duke and Duchess have undermined a system that was hitherto beyond reproach. They’ve made a mockery of stupidity.

Some say Megry deserve to live like normal people. I’m no monster, I can empathise with that position. Why shouldn’t they be free to strike film and television deals, live in absolute seclusion under armed guard, and enjoy their wealth privately like everyone else? Well, it’s hard to reconcile that commoner lifestyle with the demands of Royalty – the public trips abroad, light-touch charity work, and hand shaking. For that reason, Harrhan should renounce their titles, lest their refusal to do so continues to invite critical commentary of, and pour scorn upon, the British Royal Family – the only continuity in an otherwise maturing world.

Published in: on January 9, 2020 at 13:07  Leave a Comment  
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The Missing Article on The Rise of Skywalker

A couple of years ago I stumbled out of Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi certain I’d seen an interesting movie that left me cold. It had its moments – Luke and Yoda having a fireside chat, others, but I was less than confident about how brightly the sequel trilogy middle-chapter shone in the Star Wars firmament. I had to re-watch the film and having done so concluded its ideas around legacy, exceptionalism, and heroism were bold and worthy choices that would stand it in good stead when the inevitable reappraisal conversation began – probably in the build-up to the next trilogy.

The fans hated it, apparently, at least the ones moved to say so. It politicised and deconstructed their cherished myth – you know, like a movie aimed at adults. It was an affront that required a Baby Yoda-sized reaction to melt away the accrued anger. Ah, Baby Yoda – a character that has all the hallmarks of a joke overheard by a marketing executive that became a thing.

Now we have the Rise of Skywalker, or a feature length exercise in Last Jedi erasure. It’s the movie equivalent of a Dad responding to his child’s disappointment at his gift on Christmas Day by going out, buying the expensive, bulky toy his son actually wanted, only to trip up when presenting it, falling on his boy top heavy and breaking his neck. You got what you wanted son, but you no longer have the ability to enjoy it. Perhaps your able-bodied ass should have been satisfied with that posture-correcting brace Daddy thoughtfully purchased in the first place.

For the avoidance of doubt, Rise of Skywalker ruins the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t need to see it twice to say this emphatically, only to remind you what happened in it. Star Wars, as envisioned and retconned by George Lucas, was about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker and the emergence of his son as a galactic saviour. At the end of Return of the Jedi the Empire was defeated along with its führer, Emperor Palpatine, Luke became a Jedi and was therefore well-placed to rebuild that order of peacekeeping monks, and a trio of dead heroes, including a redeemed Anakin, looked on proudly, satisfied the galaxy had been saved. A fairy-tale ending.

Then the sequel trilogy came along. It reversed all those gains by introducing a rebranded Empire without so much as a glance at the New Republic our heroes had fought to create. Said Republic was later wiped out by a new super weapon. Han, Luke and Leia all died without seeing it restored. Luke, reflecting that both the battle and bid to turn a fallen family member back to the light had a familiar ring to it (I was behind his fleeting temptation to kill Ben Solo – why go through all that shit again?), justifiably concluded that in a universe where clockwork Gods like J.J. Abrams and Bob Iger were intent on nullifying his achievements and condemning the galaxy to a cycle of sense deadening repetition, the Jedi, Sith, and the God complex that came with force proficiency had to end.

The Gods heard that and were angry. Subsequently, Rise of Skywalker doubled down. Palpatine returned from the dead, his granddaughter killed the last surviving Skywalker, she appropriated both the Jedi and Luke’s family name, and finished the movie and the trilogy in possession of both unchecked Force ability and Luke’s family home. Luke, no longer questioning the direction of the sequels since his ascent to the afterlife, looked on approvingly, as did Leia. The thoughts of Anakin Skywalker’s force ghost are unknown but we can make an educated guess.

Still, it’s easy to mock a movie that so tied itself up in knots trying to give the fanboys and girls all the nostalgic goodies it wanted that it inadvertently undermined and destroyed the thing they loved – but what should they have done? Not have J.J. Abrams write the screenplay, you say? Nor allow him to indulge in a battle of egos with Rian Johnson – a battle he’d already lost? What about being bold enough to build on the themes of Last Jedi and try to fashion a story from those threads, instead of defaulting to the hack imperative and original plan – namely to remake Return of the Jedi badly?

Ah, you say, but Johnson didn’t leave Abrams with much to work with, and they only had two years to fashion a story. So to test the theory Abrams didn’t have enough time to think of something interesting, I went on a 45 minute walk and thought about an alternative trilogy topper. This is the rough outline I came up with. See if you agree that it’s more intriguing and relevant than the movie-as-made.

Two years have passed since the rebels were defeated at Crait. In the meantime, the First Order have tightened their grip on the galaxy. In an galaxy-wide address, using their newly constructed communications array, Kylo Ren declares the institution of a Second Galactic Empire.

Meanwhile, Rey has spent the time studying the Sacred Jedi Texts she stole from Luke. She’s used them to hone her Force technique, naturally, but has also noted several ambiguous passages that she’s interpreted to suggest that millions have latent force sensitivity and need only the guidance contained in the texts to better align themselves with the natural world, i.e. become one with the elements that bind the galaxy together.

Force Ghost Luke appears and says that said interpretation runs counter to Jedi orthodoxy, though in his final years he began to question the old teachings and think about the possibility that these “Sith-tanic Verses” – so-called as their inclusion was considered by ancient Jedi to be the double-talk of the devil, designed to undermine the Jedi’s sacred purpose and give succour to dark side amateurs and cultists, were genuine; the true will of the force.

Force Ghost Luke tells Rey that the implications of her interpretation are profound. The Empire has millions of men and women, ships, bases, vast resources and a unifying ideology buoyed by insidious propaganda. However, it relies on its enemies remaining disunited, ignorant and fearful. But if these once exclusive Jedi Texts were made available to all, and if those with latent force ability recognised their potential having read them – perhaps with a new message from Rey bolted-on to act as a call to action, then the balance of power would shift dramatically.

Imagine, says Force Luke, hundreds of millions of force users, proficient in these skills, emboldened to rise up and use their abilities to neutralise Imperial aggression and technology. The Empire would fall victim to its own propaganda, as those sympathetic have been indoctrinated to believe the Force is a superstition from the Ancien Régime.

Rey agrees that this could be the key to both victory and democratising the force, spreading the Jedi ideals that were hitherto the province of a select few, but how to get the text and the message to the millions who need to see and hear it? When she presents her idea to the resistance – Finn, Poe, Rose and all those bastards, suggest infiltrating the new Imperial communications array – a transmitter designed to spread galaxy-wide propaganda, so powerful that it could transmit both the books’ contents and Rey’s message to thousands of worlds.

Thus, in a bid to usurp the illusion of Imperial invincibility with truth and the wisdom of a bygone civilisation versed in ethics, democracy and justice, Rey and the gang prepare to launch an assault on this most heavily guarded facility. They do, obviously, and succeed. Rey is killed by Ren before the transmission can be sent, but the others manage to push the button, tacking on news of her death. The story of Rey’s sacrifice sparks an uprising amongst ordinary people, inspired by the nobody who took on the might of the Empire, with adults and children alike using this new guidance to harness the abilities they’ve been afraid to express their entire lives.

The Last Jedi’s coda becomes a form of prophesy, with families everywhere turning on their imperial oppressors. Ren, who refused to be redeemed, is set upon by his own former underlings – his abilities no longer enough to hold back the tide of emancipating unity sweeping the galaxy. The movie culminates in Rey taking her place amongst Luke, Anakin and the like, with similar scenes repeated in households everywhere as good people who’ve lost family and friends to decades of oppression and war see their happy dead relatives looking on proudly from the force afterlife.

There you go, that would have given us more to chew on, wouldn’t it? A timely story, almost tailor-made for the hitherto indifferent Chinese market, about a rallying call to revolution based on information empowering the individual to see through the illusionary power of an oppressive regime and its lies. A story that would have built on Rian Johnson’s attempt to open up the Star Wars universe. A story with a simple message: knowledge is a great leveller and everyone has the power to change the world. A story devised in 45 minutes. 43 if you exclude the two minutes taken for an urgent piss in an alleyway.

That story’s just a madman’s dream of course. Rise of Skywalker was safety-first fan fiction. Nonsensical, sure. Assembled figuratively and literally from offcuts from previous Star Wars flicks? Certainly. Leaving the franchise with nowhere to go? Absolutely. See you in the queue for the first instalment of the next ruinous trilogy? Inevitably, yes.

Published in: on December 30, 2019 at 13:20  Leave a Comment  
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Election 2019 Review

The problem with democracy is that it’s such an imprecise snapshot of public opinion. We can infer what we like from a result, refract it through our ideological prism, but we cannot know the mysterious conglomeration of tribes that is the Great British Public. I’ve met some of them, I think that’s for the best.

Consequently, when trying to explain the Tory landslide we’re left with nothing but a set of blurry images. For the Corbynistas it’s inexplicable that Boris Johnson could be gifted such a big working majority. What’s to blame? Voter ignorance? Deference? Did the thought terminating call to action, “Get Brexit Done”, a sequel to “Take Back Control”, chime so profoundly with the anti-establishment mood induced by Dominic Cummings that it blunted all curiosity, all rational inquiry? Why are millions of voters so susceptible to three words slogans? How can it be that the asset rich but imagination poor, those that populate the shires and the chocolate box towns therein, can be so easily hoodwinked into voting against their own interests?

Well, one explanation might be that their interests and those of the new government are more aligned than we like to think. No one who really cared about their neighbourhood and the social housing prospects of others, bought their council home when Maggie offered it up cheap back in the ‘80’s. By the same token, Leave voters in England and Wales, skewing older and wealthier, cared more about the threat to their identity from Remaining in the EU and having Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street, than protecting the most vulnerable.

Maybe they knew their vote for Boris – for it was for he they voted, not the Conservative Party, would rob the young of debt relief, deny the poor lifelong learning, block home ownership for millions, and so on, but having someone in office who’d action their referendum decision and represent the national character, as they imagine it to be, mattered more. This was about conserving in its purest ideological sense and repudiating those who, intellectually aloof and deludedly superior, were intent on overflowing the banks of the River Tolerance, imposing a flood of alienating change.

If you accept all politicians suffer from politicophilia by design, then campaigning is always an exercise in testing boundaries. Sure, these self-absorbed, weird, niche individuals, who bear very little resemblance to the population-at-large, may be keen to impose their lifestyle preoccupations/damaged childhood on the rest of us – and because there’s a machine of government to be manned, and we’re far too busy living our lives to do it ourselves, we patiently give them a hearing. Still, don’t ask too much of Joe and Jacinda Public.

The only time they’re prepared to accept radical change is when they’ve been subject to an existential threat or depravations so great that their focus and perspective has undergone a profound shift. The referendum in 2016 galvanised people to reflect on what they didn’t like about modern Britain. For Leavers it was cosmopolitan condescension and the attempt by successive governments to turn them into middle class liberals obsessed with capital mobility rather than cultural identity. For Remainers it was monocultural reactionaries; the people who loathed the rapid import of people and ideas from elsewhere.

Jeremy Corbyn, whose 2017 Election result was deferred until 2019, the first apparently an aberration based on factors like Theresa May, being a lightning rod for moderating Brexit rather than facilitating its cancellation, and his personal brand being fresher, discovered that he could be neutral on Brexit but both Leave and Remain voters alike could not be neutral about him.

Having made surprising inroads two years ago, Corbyn ignored calls to broaden his appeal and make his government-in-waiting look more credible, by drafting party grandees and MPs of stature into his shadow cabinet. Instead, they continued to resemble local councillors – third-rate apparatchiks and shifty opportunists like Emily Thornberry, who framed every debate as a moral argument while omitting to put the flesh on the bones of signature policies that could be sold and simply understood by the public-at-large. The row over Brexit occupied that space and burnt that oxygen. Consequently, because the opposition looked thin and vacillating, what increasingly mattered was the extent to which Britons identified with Corbyn as a leader, and what they thought he might do when asked to hold out his hands for the levers of power and nuclear button.

Sadly, on Election Night, Jeremy discovered that his inability to provide simple but intellectually coherent rebuttals to the Tory indictments of unpatriotic leanings, anti-Semitism, Russophilia, and sympathy for terrorist groups that had attacked British Colonial interests, and by extension the geo-political assumptions on which English identity in particular is based, had cost him the game, and perhaps presaged the end of the Labour Party – the result making marginals of the 203 red seats that, er, remained.

His hated predecessor, Tony Blair, knew that you worked out the intellectual case for an argument first, then sat down with a group of spin doctors to decide how to sell it with a series of easy to understand messages. The sequencing is crucial, because in theory you then have a well thought out policy with plenty of nuance and detail to dig into, when challenged on the soundbite.

Corbyn, when pressed on charges that he didn’t think like the man and woman on the street; that he was an oddball obsessed with early Twentieth Century ideas around capitalism and imperialism, who reviled Western governments and by implication the security measures to protect their hegemony, while looking further abroad to gangster states and dictatorships for inspiration, had no coherent answer. Instead, he was waspish and defensive, and repeated the script on domestic policy. Post-election he’d blame the media for dignifying these accusations with questions.

People sympathetic to the sentiments and virtues underpinning Corbyn’s agenda, worried he didn’t have the intellectual nous to deliver it. Not only that, they suspected that the man who couldn’t quite brush off the charges carefully laid by the Tories years earlier, when it was apparently Jeremy was secure in the job and would be sold on his integrity and history of activism; who handled those legitimate media inquiries like they were questions about his prostate exam; had much to hide. Some obfuscation is necessary when trying to obtain power – it can easily prejudice the outcome. Just ask Boris. But when voters looked at Johnson they saw a bounder and a cad, not a man who posed a threat to their capital assets, schooling options, local identity, and national character. Corbyn was a man with a bag of sweets beckoning you into his camper van. Would he take you home, as promised, or molest you?

Corbyn may have been aligned with Leavers on the big question, though he couldn’t say so, but beyond that he had very little in common with them. He hadn’t lived as one of them and had no intention of doing so. Johnson hadn’t either of course, but to some soft undecideds he was an aspirational figure; a model of bungling British eccentricity who shared their fears about Muslims and effete Europeans. Yes, he was a bastard – the quintessential shit, but when it came to reinforcing a newly resurgent English nationalism, buoyed by the promise of EU separation, he’d do nicely.

In Scotland, Jeremy, though the only realistic prospect the Scots had of getting a second referendum on EU membership, rejected him as an alien irrelevance – the discredited head of a redundant political movement. Only one party spoke for them, their telescreens repeated daily, and that was the SNP – as provincial and therefore reactionary as the new Tory vote, but with an accent the proud populous could understand; a party you could identify with, not least because it had spent so many years hammering home the message that it alone spoke for all Scottish people.

Sure, there were problems with the SNP’s flag-carrying credentials. They represented less than half the vote and independence was still a minority aspiration, but that didn’t stop Nicola Sturgeon asserting that IndyRef 2, which she was desperate to have before the next Scottish Parliamentary Election in case, after 14 years, she could no longer form a coalition, was now the only legitimate way forward.

Brexit, though exploited by Sturgeon, as surely as it had been by Boris south of the border, would now be used as the excuse to trigger the poll, and this despite the SNP leader doing all she could to ensure the only parties with a chance of stopping it at Westminster were defeated. Sturgeon might have formed a pact with Labour and the Lib Dems; after all UK seats were less important post-devolution; but independence is a project built on grievance and the illusion of oppression. Boris’s victory has given the SNP a narrative it can work with. A left-of-centre coalition at Westminster, aligned with Scots sympathetic to the SNP’s New Labour domestic policies but hostile to the risks and upheaval of separation, would have been a disaster. So much for the importance of staying in the EU.

Then, finally, there were the poor Liberal Democrats. In the 2019 Election, when two flavours of nationalism triumphed either side of the border, the middle managers of British politics were crushed by these opposing revolutionary forces. Their offer, to maintain the status quo long after it had been rejected, went down like a paternity test in the Johnson household.

Jo Swinson wasn’t provincial enough to retain her seat, and her message, that the political class knew best and she wouldn’t endorse either outcome of a vote using a system she doesn’t like because she can’t make any headway with it; Lib Dems historical failures when it comes to convincing local voters to kick out their incumbent MP because they have better ideas; reinforced the idea that she was an advocate for cheating democracy rather than respecting it.

For the Liberals, like Labour, it’s a long, long way back, and the two ghosts of once mighty political parties may conclude that a formal merger and realignment of their policies and message may be the only way forward. More than the half of the electorate aren’t Tories, but they may share some of their innate ideas, and tapping into that, as part of a wider coalition of voters, could be the key to governing in the 2030s.

Such a party will be attempting to kick out a knackered Tory party that by that time may well have changed the country in ways it’s not yet possible to conceive. Johnson will want nothing less than a permanent realignment; a radical programme that signals as great as a shift from today as 1997 was from 1979. For good or ill, the country’s chosen its fork in the road. With luck it will still be here in five years so we can all reflect on how wise a decision it was.

Published in: on December 15, 2019 at 18:34  Comments (1)  
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Election 2019: It’s Time to put all the Nation’s Chips on Red

After the long tease of the 2017-19 parliament, in which the public invited MPs to decipher its garbled instructions, here we are, at long last, at the fork in the road. The cliché often bolted onto General Elections is that each is the most significant for many years. Sometimes – 1945, 1979, 1992 – the choice is real and the consequences are tangible, lasting a generation. Parties change, consensuses are forged or broken, lives are enabled or ruined. Sometimes, like 2015, the electorate make what they think is a pragmatic choice; a vote for continuity; only to see their timidity and self-interest blow up in their palsied, doe-eyed faces. But 2019 is the genuine article, a choice of futures so stark that the losers will become the subject of counterfactual novels. You know, like all that pulp fiction set in Nazi-occupied Sheffield.

What does getting it wrong look like? Well, if Brexit was a reactionary pullback; a consensus skewering, ruined orgasm for the political class, 2019 has the potential to be a counter-revolution of a different hue; a change of philosophy that could, theoretically, help the socially disadvantaged, if they have the nous and courage to vote for it.

The problem for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party (for it’s of them we speak) is that it’s always been harder to sell utopia to the masses than narrow self-interest. Prejudice and provincial exceptionalism, that talk up imaginary differences in character and values, whether it’s the Brexiteers in England and Wales, or the Nationalists in Scotland (same horse tranquiliser, different breeds) are potent. Talk of life changing innovations like a National Education Service assume different, and for many, abstract priorities.

In England and Wales, the threat Corbyn represents to vested interests and the monetarism of the last forty years will mean an unprecedented assault on the opposition leader. You’ll be told, as you have been for four wearying years, that he’s weak, a communist, a man who builds bombs in his mind, a Jew hater, and a dunce (in stark contrast to the intellectual colossus at the head of the Tory Party).

This is designed to invoke, amongst an impressionable cohort, unalloyed patriotism, soaking up other post-war bleeds like suspicion of Ireland, fear of fascism, and deference to the publicly educated. It’s as though the Conservatives and their enablers – yellow moderate Tories like the Liberal Democrats, think the public are suggestible, programmable, walking repositories of received wisdom with imperialist hangovers. Oh, and they’re quite keen to appeal to Leave voters too.

Corbyn’s path to power is blocked by two parties that, though ostensibly progressive, oppose Labour’s radical cocktail of bottom-up, top-down interventionism out of naked self-interest and, well, conservatism. South of the border, Jo Swindle’s Liberals – not one of the old establishment parties if you please, though extant in one form or another since 1859, a fact they tacitly acknowledge when talking about beating the Tories and Labour in a national election (the 2019 Euros) for “the first time in a hundred years”, have employed characteristic intellectual dishonesty and disingenuousness when trying to justify focusing their attack on a party that, in the minds of many voters, who look at the situation on its face, should be their bedfellows.

Corbyn wouldn’t nuke our enemies, the Armageddon-shy bastard, and worse, he’s a Brexiteer (which he is but so what when his party’s committed to a 2nd referendum?). Why there’s not similar ire directed at the Tories is known only to the leader’s inner circle, but it’s just possible that beyond Brexit – a threat to the old Liberal dream of imposing values when hearts and minds remain unmoved, there’s ideological kinship; the kind of sympathy King George V felt toward the Russian Tsar.

In Scotland Corbyn faces a similar enemy. Like the Liberals, the SNP have created a founding myth – that they speak for a group of voters who are morally and intellectually superior to their enemies. And like their English cousins, they flatter the pretensions and exceptionalist tendencies of their base in a bid to create and reinforce Stockholm syndrome-like identification. In Scotland, this is known as Salmond syndrome.

In reality, Nicola Sturgeon’s clan are motivated by something far more sinister and regressive than provincial pride. The former Tartan Tories are a party driven by ethic nationalism; the same hatred of English political power and cultural influence that attracted the young Sturgeon and Salmond to join the sad separatist cause, which now informs their unabashed and uncritical pro-Europeanism.

The SNP, to their credit, came to understand that the kind of bigotry and narrow conception of nationhood that remains the public face of less sophisticated nationalist parties the world over (but is common to all), would never make the Scottish people feel good enough about themselves, or confident enough, to back their 18th century grievance project. Consequently, they embarked on a New Labour-style makeover (with attendant political vacuity and aversion to radical social change), that built on the myth that Scotland had been targeted and disproportionately diminished by Thatcherism, an era their votes in the 1979 no-confidence motion against Callaghan’s Labour government initiated. SNP government has been sold as the logical corollary to the Scot’s imagined left-of-centre values, with independence as the ultimate expression of rebellion against and repudiation of Middle English small-c conservatism.

In this election they will make that argument once again, conflating a vote for them – the self-styled representatives of all Scottish people, with the unrelated question of whether Scotland would be a more inclusive and prosperous nation if it took an axe to the social and cultural union built over three centuries. Corbyn, who’s far to the left of Sturgeon, and would, unlike her devolved administration, actually institute radical, distributive policies North of the border, will be squeezed between these counterfeit changemakers and their clear-cut ideological enemies, the Unionist Tories.

Labour’s challenge is to have an adult conversation about wholesale reform of the British state, that would, on paper, improve the lives of all citizens, in a part of the United Kingdom that’s been brainwashed into believing it’s separate, distinct, unrelated and foreign. Fighting that pernicious lie, twenty years after a brazen and cynical nationalist movement began appealing to Scotland’s sense of its own superiority, will be a Sisyphean task.

If Labour can find a way to keep the SNP at bay in Scotland and the Liberals contained in England and Wales, they have a shot at implementing a manifesto that will make both look ideologically vacuous and politically redundant.

A Corbyn government with sufficient numbers in the Commons, need only implement its 2nd referendum policy to make Article 50 revocation look extreme. How do you kill the spectre of Scottish separatism? By giving agnostic Scots a reason to feel proud to be part of the British state, and the easiest way to do that is to show that the majority of English and Welsh voters want, as they do, a country that’s more equal and socially conscientious; the kind of club where you flaunt your membership, where affiliation to that larger organisation, the EU, is an extension of those values, rather than their guarantor against the grain of a hostile government.

If the Conservatives win, as the polls at the start of the campaign suggest they will, then the last opportunity for a unified push toward a more fluid and multi-national society will have been scuppered. Instead, polarising forces, kicking against the reactionary new government, will break up the country; the politics of introspection and self-regard, masquerading as outward looking internationalism. I hope that won’t happen but fear that the recklessness, arrogance, and imbecilic stewardship of the country from irresponsible Tories since 2010, that’s given so much succour and impetus to the opportunistic fringe, make it a tough train to derail. Let’s hope Jeremy can successfully blow up the track. No, I mean – apply the brakes!

Published in: on November 9, 2019 at 14:49  Comments (2)  
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If you’re a Remainer, perhaps the only way to win the Culture War is to lose the battle

What is Brexit really about? It began as a bluffer’s argument about democracy; the incremental patriating of powers to a centralised European bureaucracy without informed consent. The authority for ever closer union? A 40 year-old referendum decision. Now, at this critical juncture, the cusp of our exit or the carefully managed annulling of the 2016 vote, it’s culminated in an argument about democracy in its purest sense – direct versus representative.

Our centuries-old House of Commons writhes and groans as it tries to find a semi-plausible (and wholly deniable) way to put the 2016 genie back in the bottle; a crude beast who windmills his dick and threatens violence. Remain, who cling to a majority in Parliament, hope to regain their authority in the face of a politicised electorate who, made King for a day by David Cameron, are determined to see their one and only decree enacted.

Assuming there’s any neutrals left (fingers crossed, Jeremy), there’s a lot of hypocrisy and self-interest to digest – a Nicholas Soames gutful. Those who champion the will of the people who were successfully gulled into voting to support the interests of those rejected by liberal Britain, believe their useful idiots are being undermined. They think talk of extensions and deals and governments of unity and people’s votes are a prelude to cancellation. And they’re right. Oh c’mon, you know it’s true.

Objectively, the argument is not whether this is happening but whether it’s legitimate or desirable for the nation as a whole. Sure, there’s mirth to be had listening to commentators like David Starkey lambast the elite (his word for undeserving courtiers from inferior stock promoted to positions once occupied by the noble dead) for holding the general public – particularly the working class public from Northern towns, whose accent he consciously chose to lose, in “absolute contempt”.

He’s right of course, but this is the same man who believes in the Victorian idea of the undeserving poor (and the social segregation that follows – the idle, uneconomically inactive mass pushed into suburban ghettos); the man who rolled his eyes at a prole who had the audacity to bring his uninformed half-bakery to a public forum, i.e. the BBC’s bear pit, Question Time. Then, when challenged on his views by this fellow made of dripping, the self-made intellectual was affronted. Seven years later, the idea that the presumptions of similar people on the country’s future direction should NOT trump Parliamentarians, a group for whom he has absolute contempt, is nothing less than an outrage.

Objectively, it’s hard to imagine that Gina Miller’s cracking pair of legal challenges to the government would have come about had she not hoped to empower a Remainer majority in Parliament, whom May and Johnson were trying to brush aside.

Though careful to deny it, lest she appear contemptuous of Leavers, and careful to frame both actions as providing legal protection for Parliamentary sovereignty, Miller clearly had two hopes. The first was that MPs would vote against the invocation of Article 50 (the stated desire of other legal commentators like David Allen Green, who fantasised it would never happen because he didn’t understand MPs would feel obliged to take the result seriously). The second, when that failed, was the dream that if MPs sat throughout September and October they’d force an extension to our membership – buying precious time to strategize a way to avoid leaving altogether.

We can’t know Miller’s mind, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that “Parliamentary sovereignty”, for her, is another way of saying that the big decisions should be left to professional politicians, and that the public’s role should be limited to choosing which set of representatives gets to make the call. That the majority of lawmakers support her view, reflecting the pre-referendum consensus, makes such an affirmation as natural and wholesome as coffee shop breastfeeding.

The Liberal Democrats’ policy to revoke Article 50, if they win a majority, is a device to provide political cover for unashamedly asserting the legitimacy of Parliament over the capricious snapshot view of the wider-electorate. You know, the kind of snapshot taken on election day. Labour Remainers want that public vote because they think that they can convince soft, disillusioned Leavers to change their minds, in the face of economic uncertainty, and buoy their campaign with a fresh crop of rock-solid Remainery students. The intellectual argument for having another referendum based on updated information, a detailed choice of futures, and hindsight, is unassailable. But ideologically it’s a repudiation, and, hopes this coalition, a cancellation, of the public’s earlier decision.

The problem for Remainers is that self-interested cheerleaders have odiously simplified the Brexit dilemma. Consequently, there’s no way to win this battle of ideas without formally entrenching the paternalist notion that the electorate are children who must be saved from their untutored, (Mark) reckless imbecility.

The truth, that the public are capricious, eminently programmable, and have short memories – the recent assertion by many Leavers that they voted for a no deal, “clean” Brexit, persuasive evidence that they did not indeed know, care, or understand what they were voting for, happy instead to be fed an abstract principle that they could snap to fit whatever grievance they carried, doesn’t matter. It’s less important than the symbolic value attached to the Leave vote; the idea that it represents an underprivileged and hitherto voiceless majority’s one chance at making the political weather.

It’s not the first time the people have voted for community over country, identity over economics and global influence. What were the strikes of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s about, supported by the public, if not an attempt at tying Parliament’s hands, if it had hands, on industrial policy and pay?

The social upheaval and division that resulted from Thatcher’s fight back was class-based, like now. Economically high risk, like now. But the difference was that the government had an undisputed mandate to pursue its agenda. When David Cameron called the 2016 referendum he franchised out the decision on EU membership to the public-at-large, making any reversal a conscious political choice to openly affirm that the interests of Remainers must take precedence.

You think of all the Leave voters you know and it’s tempting to think, as Tony Blair does, that it’s absurd that people that devote little or no time to political thought, who don’t understand the intricacies of treaties, governance and economics, no longer defer to those who do. He and others are desperate to say, and surely do behind closed doors, “look, we conditioned the people to be selfish, apathetic, and base. We’ve been careful not to educate people politically else managing the mob would be very difficult. The common man and woman are as combustive as gunpowder, as sophisticated as porn. They can’t be allowed to have the final word on the country’s future. They’re idiots.” He may think it. It may even be true. But the only way out of this culture war is to let the idiots have their way.

Ludicrous, you say! Give in to demagogues, hedge funders, imperialists and Atlanticists, who lick their lips at the prospect of Brexit? Empower the nationalists, the anti-Western conspiracy theorists, the Russian sympathisers, and the Marxists? Yes, that could be the price of standing down and letting Brexit happen, deal or no. But if reason and nuance have lost their lustre, perhaps reality – cold turkey, is the only proof of concept the 20% of the population you need to form a hard, pro-European majority, will ever accept.

Yes, the parties that have tethered themselves to the people, handcuffed to a corpse in the desert, will make a show of blaming the EU for our economic woes and Remainer politicians for sabotaging the failed negotiations. But ultimately Leavers will have to face their own logic – that the country must go it alone. As the years progress, the contrast between then and now will be more vivid. Real life will cut through.

If Brexit is a success then Johnson’s doomsters and gloomsters will have been proved wrong and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the instincts and interests of the obtuse fortuitously set us on a path to prosperity and social cohesion. If it turns out there is something to intellectualism, education, and an understanding of the global economy and international power structures, then re-joining the EU will be a perfectly respectable political position. Not a betrayal of the people, or a repudiation of their vote, but a good old fashioned alternative future. It would be a legitimate policy to campaign on, and if successful, enact, while maintaining the plausible and comforting fiction that the people’s will matters to the governing class, her proxies and dependencies.

It’d almost be like the good old days.

Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 18:50  Leave a Comment  
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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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