Since I’m often in BBC attack dog mode, perhaps I need to correct any impression that I’m merely an attack dog. There was a programme on Radio 4 tonight in the File on 4 slot about a disabled (cerebral palsy) woman’s dilemma about having children. This developed into a study of whether disabled people should even consider having children, given the negativity they face just as disabled people—let alone those that breed. I’ve rarely heard such an evocation of human love, delivered without any self-pity or reference to self-ordination. It was the kind of story—of ordinary people’s lives—that if I wished to be controversial would blow away the endless peddling of how others, living a life of great privilege have somehow led ‘extraordinary’ lives. I would thoroughly recommend listening to this programme on the BBC sounds I-player thingy to hear a formidably life affirming programme.
I guess the higher up you go in the C of E hierarchy the more anodyne becomes your mission statement. Usually along the lines of ‘let’s love each other to death rather than have another bun fight.’ But I was struck this evening hearing on the news the Archbishop of Canterbury, ex-oil industry exec Justin Welby declare that the funeral tomorrow is ‘absolutely about the Duke of Edinburgh.’ I was moved, almost (to turn the radio off). But I wanted to hear what other profound insights he had to offer. Surely the word ‘extraordinary’ had to be deployed? Indeed it was, when we heard that the Queen has shown ‘extraordinary courage.’ Courage? Is that the appropriate description of somebody grieving over the loss of a loved one? He didn’t but could have said she must be extraordinarily grieving (after 73 years with the Duke), which would have made more sense if sounding a little less heroic. As it is, if Welby is seeking to demonstrate the comforting power of religion he seems rather incapable, merely reciting the on message guff of gong seeking sycophants.
Before you know it, when this is all over we’ll hear from Justin how Prince Andrew is ‘courageously’ dealing with the fallout of his past liaison with the paedophile Epstein. Everything regarding this family has to be spoken of in hushed tones of admiration if you are the Archbish of Canterbury.
+I was alerted by Labour List to a story in the Huffpost which claimed that Starmer had got angry with some of his parliamentary colleagues because of their ‘unattributable attacks on his aides.’ The irony of this may be lost on those who spent a good part of every day of Corbyn’s leadership attacking him and all around him, although to their credit (in a limited sense) many of them did so publicly. The Huffpost article lists the names of some shadow cabinet members who leapt to Starmer’s side and for the life of me I can’t say I’ve heard of any of them. No doubt they would argue it’s difficult to make a breakthrough during a pandemic when nobody is listening to the opposition. There are other explanations of course, but now is not the time to ask. Not when there’s elections coming up (which for those of us who followed the Corbyn defenestration shambles piles irony upon irony)!
+I have been contacted by reader asking why I am not terribly enthused by Caroline Lucas MP’s private member’s bill on climate change, of which my reader writes ‘one of the main aims of the Bill is to strengthen the Climate Change Act by not allowing targets to be missed by planning on speculative negative emissions.’ That is a worthwhile aim, but a bigger ambition has to start with the targets themselves, and the targets which the bill refers to flow from the Paris Agreement of 2015, which are wholly arbitrary, voluntary and worse, delusionary. Passing a law to meet those targets would be nugatory.
It had to happen of course. It was what the BBC was invented for. I only went out for a walk at lunchtime and returned to hear the news that the Duke of Edinburgh had died, aged 99 and ten months. No telegram for you mate! The BBC had switched into its legally required full eulogistic mode, trotting out royal biographers and gong seekers, all of whom hadn’t listened to what the previous ones had said—meaning that the same words and lines were repeated ad nauseum. Extraordinary! Extraordinary! Extraordinary! What a life! This will go on for a few days yet. Then, perhaps by midweek, the yellow press will be speculating (if a swift funeral wasn’t arranged) whether Harry and Megs will be ever-so socially distanced, particularly from Wills and Kate at the ceremony. And quietly behind the scenes might someone in government think this is a good time to bury bad news? And will our Prime Minister comb what’s left of his hair at the funeral?. I suspect at some point the dapper D of E will have passed comment on our PM’s schtick. Bloody scruff! Who is he anyway?
Closer to home for me in many ways is the death just announced of Peter Ainsworth, former Tory MP for East Surrey. I got to know him when he chaired the Environmental Audit Committee. We became friends, sharing an environmental interest and a sense of humour, which was great fun when at one point (both no longer beholden to the Westminster political life) we thought it would be a great idea to write a book together. This provided the excuse for regular lunches, but little progress. I was pleased to call him a friend, even if he was a Tory. I think in later years he became less a Tory, perhaps just a TINO - Tory in name only. I shall greatly miss him.
+There’s a lot of handwringing going on about the re-emergence of street riots in Northern Ireland. Tory ministers, who lied so much about there never having to be a post-Brexit border between the province and GB are now fretting that 12 year old Molotov cocktail throwers have picked up on this injustice, and are expressing their dissatisfaction with the Northern Ireland protocol in the only way they know how. Yes, of course there are a few other considerations to be taken into account, such as longstanding traditions of religious-aligned criminality. In truth, it probably doesn’t take much to strike a match in parts of Northern Ireland. When I once visited such world famous avenues like the Shankill Road, I saw the militarised police fortifications and the ‘peace’ walls, the painted curbstones, the gable end murals, the flags, the sinister looking black cabs, the decorated scaffold arches—none of this cultural war was eliminated by the peace process. I doubt that we’re really heading back to the 1970s, but as we’ve seen it doesn’t take too much to kick off a good old fashioned round of rioting in Northern Ireland, and I’m quite sure that there will be ‘real’ nationalists and unionists figuring out how they can capitalise on this latest burst of trouble, assuming of course that they will have encouraged it in the first place. Brexit has left the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ looking decidedly dodgy and as I have blogged before I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. The way that the ‘fringe’ countries attached to England have been marginalised, colonised and abused has a long history, and one feels that self-determination is the answer to England’s post-colonial malaise. The ‘United Kingdom’ is increasingly a fiction, and it perhaps wouldn’t do any harm in Northern Ireland particularly if the concept of self-determination came to fruition. What if there were two republics of Ireland (for the time being)?
+I turned art investigator today. This was prompted by the appearance in a local art auction of a picture by the Russian artist Nikolai Suetin (1897-1954), ‘Geometric Composition’ in pen, pencil and watercolour, estimated at between £300 and £400. Suetin studied with Chagall and Malevich (he of the black square) and can be said to be a significant figure in early Soviet art. So it looked underpriced, except of course for the words ‘attributed to’ which means you can’t know whether this picture was actually made by the hand of Suetin. A search on the web revealed an identical painting being offered in a Brussels auction in 2017 for between €2000—€3000 (update 9th April - it sold for 4,500). Enlarging both pictures on the screen, they really did look absolutely identical. I don’t know what the Brussels picture actually sold for, but given the plethora of forged Russian art of the modernist era, it seems hard to imagine that a genuine Suetin could be picked up for £300—hence the phrase ‘attributed to.’ Still, money aside I’d probably rather have a fake Suetin to errr . . . a genuine Hockney.
+There’s many things to miss in this Covid lockdown, and perhaps one of the things I miss most are my little trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges and occasionally Copenhagen. All cities with art galleries that I particularly enjoy, all the more so when you can feel a sense of familiarity borne out of maybe only one visit a year. Old friends as it were. It’s clearly not quite the same thing but at least the BBC I-player has filled some of the gap since so far as Paris goes I’ve been going there practically every night, binge watching Spiral. I don’t know if anything comes close to this in current Anglo-Saxon crime thriller TV, I confess I’ve never watched Line of Duty. Indeed, it is probably the case that the last Brit crime TV I regularly watched was Z-Cars and Dixon Of Dock Green. Perhaps that experience developed an aversion in me. So the exploits of Ch. Insp. Laure Berthaud, Inspectors Tintin and Gilou, Judge Roban and totally amoral lawyer Ms. Karlsson, and all the rest, with Paris streets in the background has sufficient exotica to keep me entertained. The other important feature of this is that with subtitles I feel I’m able to keep up with the dialogue even if the sound recording sometimes might be dicky (and it doesn't help not to speak French). And now I can tell when the subtitlers drop repetitive ‘merdes!’ (etc., etc.) I imagine there wouldn’t be enough space at the bottom of the screen to capture all the expletives.
+The BBC has not responded to my request that they substantiate the claim made in one of their news bulletins that Boris Johnson ‘nearly died’ of Covid. I take their silence to mean they can’t defend the statement. But they could still prove me wrong, although I’m not holding my breath.
+Following China’s initiative, I am wondering if there are any other countries that could sanction ‘Sir’ Iain Duncan-Smith, the obnoxious pillock who once, briefly led the Tory Party? Could he for example be banned from visiting or living in the UK? Given his concern for human rights, he could be exiled to one of Pritti Fatal’s new island asylum seeker detention centres—to keep an eye on the UK’s abuse of human rights, of course. Peu de chance!
+Alex Salmond, former SNP leader and all-round (reader to supply word) has founded the Alba Party, which almost sounds like the Albion Party, and will contest the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. Dear old Alex has united all the other parties, with each of them singing from the same hymn sheet, which is to say they all think ‘Now is not the time, during a pandemic, to be playing politics.’ This response is, of course, total crap. There is never a good time to be playing politics, oh, and by the way our party is the only serious game in town because we would never dream of ‘playing’ politics. So shove off with your new party and stop imagining that you have any right to throw your hat into the ring, during this errr, what’s it called? Oh yes, election! Failing this profound blitzkrieg of condemnation, the next step is to play the man, not the ball, and listening to the news yesterday this wasn’t long coming. Scottish politics gets interestinger and interestinger. Some SNP wally on the radio along with many others simply choke on Salmond’s innocence verdict. Once upon a time his erstwhile colleagues praised him to the skies without ever noticing his apparent ‘appalling’ behaviour. . .
+The Daily Mail, always a trustworthy source of accurate and unbiased information has produced a graph to illustrate how far ahead of Labour the Tories are in a poll. They’ve taken a leaf out of the LibDem playbook, whose abuse of graphs was (and probably still is) notorious. In the illustration below one can see a somewhat mysteriously large margin representing the difference between 4% and 6%. The devil’s in the detail, as they say.
+How many cabinet ministers can you name? How many shadow cabinet ministers can you name? I’m sure I’m indulging in a generational sort of thing here, but I have this fond idea that ministers and their counterparts 30 or 40 years ago were in some way more substantial, that is they had ‘bottom,’ could actually write books, sounded authoritative and were often household names. This is strictly not a party political point. It just seems to me that in my living memory, the 1960s and 1970s and even in the 1980s UK politics was a scene inhabited with political figures who had something resembling stature, even the seriously flawed types like Reggie Maudling and George Brown. Yes, this sounds a bit preposterous, rosy tinted spectacles and all that, but where one might ask is today’s Barbara Castle, Michael Foot or Tony Benn (and there are names on the other side too)? Now we seem to be stuck with more sycophantic crews on all sides who owe their position not to some serious and weighty political presence but merely to their obeisance and on-message discipline.
I’m not sure I should have mentioned Reggie and George in this context but at least they didn’t resemble cardboard cut-outs.
+Prime Minister Johnson thinks Covid-19 shows or has ‘an insensitive and cruel disregard for others,’ in a word he thinks the disease is ‘callous.’ This abuse of language is his metier and a lot of people seem impressed by it, as if it made him very witty. I accept that if he truthfully described the disease as ‘indifferent’ it wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect. So we’ll have to live with a heartless and cruel ‘mugger’ which (who?) lurks in wait for innocent victims. One day it might serve us well to learn that nature is totally and utterly indifferent to human sensibilities which is not quite what ‘heartless’ means.
+It’s that time of year when building society AGMs take place, and voting forms plop through the letterbox. I always take pleasure in voting against the executive remuneration packages, but it makes no difference. Despite being told that by voting I ‘can make a difference’ one AGM report notes that on this topic votes are purely ‘advisory.’ So I can’t make a difference after all, unless re-appointing the auditors and re-electing the board takes us into a new world. The top dog at one of my building societies got £646,000 last year. That might sound a lot, but compared to the City, it’s peanuts. Votes tend to make no difference there, either.
The ‘culture wars’ are hotting up and could partly explain why the Tories are riding high in the opinion polls. Their latest ruse is to declare that all government buildings must fly the Union Jack all the time and not just on Royal birthdays, etc (I hope they consulted the Queen on this implicit downgrading of Her Maj and Co.). Even some journo on the BBC was prompted to ask whether this new era of flag waving was designed to wrong foot the Labour Party. Of course that is one of the intentions, but it cannot be pure coincidence that this flag fervour comes in the same week as the British Army’s establishment is to be slashed from 82,000 to 72,000. It is another aspect of the government’s deflection strategy, or I suppose these days it’s called the dead cat ploy. Poor old Keir Starmer’s flag hugging will look even more insincere (even if it isn’t) since he will be the one called upon to defend his sincerity. We can expect to see a lot more of this crap as time goes by, and I wonder if we will see as a consequence an increasingly partisan politics, as we have witnessed in the US. There—demonstrating a clear cultural difference—flag waving is not a partisan issue, they all do it. But here it signifies something else altogether, with the Tories always using it to mark their peculiar brand of patriotism, e.g. incorporating the Union flag into their brand logos. That’s one reason why many people will find this latest initiative repellent, me included, and probably most of Scotland too.
The BBC PM Programme’s lead news bulletin yesterday contained the phrase (when referring to the anniversary of the first UK Covid lockdown) that ‘Boris Johnson nearly died.’ This was news to me, and it’s the kind of thing one suspects came straight out of a No. 10 press release. So I’ve written to the BBC to ask them to furnish proof that he ‘nearly died.’ Being very ill from Covid is not the same thing. I think introducing this statement at this time will have been part of a deflection strategy to help erase our memory of Johnson’s serial errors of judgement which did indeed lead to one of the worst death rates in the world. At the same time we were told that we are to have a ‘national memorial’ to commemorate all those who died from the pandemic. I wonder if we’ll hear about those ‘who gave their lives’ and will Johnson have the nerve to be present at its unveiling? And all the while he doesn’t want a public inquiry.