Google Theresa May and Saudi Arabia and nothing emerges in the top ten searches detailing May’s condemnation of the murder in Istanbul of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A search on the No.10 website also reveals nothing – although there are several references to the Skripal case. May’s tight lips are also in evidence when it comes to the millions now facing famine in Yemen. So far, the government’s only response to the Khashoggi murder – which the Saudis have now confessed to – is our International Trade Secretary Liam Fox pulling out of the ‘Davos in the Desert’ trade event in Saudi Arabia on the 23rd of this month. It’s curious that it has been announced that he is ‘pulling out’ – the government’s line over a week ago was that his ‘diary hadn’t been finalised.’ In other words, they were hoping against hope that the UK would still attend, to glad hand our friends in the Saudi royal family and keep the flow of arms unimpeded. This ‘pulling out’ will come as a blow to Fox, as the vestiges of this government’s self-respect appear still to have the power to interrupt his free trade mission, although I suspect the interruption will be just that, and brief. But what of all the other countries we will want to do big trade deals with in the wonderful unfettered post-Brexit free trade utopia? Are we really going to let ethical issues get in the way? This will indeed be a test for the neo-con theory that market liberalism naturally begets liberal democracy. Every gun we sell is a blow against dictatorship isn’t it?
What MPs and other politicos do to earn a crust when they leave Parliament/Whitehall, within certain rules, e.g. to prevent lobbying should largely be a matter for them, but even if they are no longer in the public pay I am sure that there are some things to be avoided even if they are entirely legal and above board. They might consider for example issues of reputational damage, not just to themselves but to their party. Tony Blair’s post-government antics have helped neither his reputation nor that of the Labour Party. The sight of Labour peers rushing to be a ‘Lord on the board’ isn’t very edifying either. Naturally, no-one bats an eyelid when Tories do that sort of thing – it’s expected of members of a party that represents the rich, the City and the powerful. One hopes that that tendency, which of course a la Mandelson became prevalent with New Labour will be frowned upon in Corbyn’s Labour.
Of course, the inspiration for today’s blog is the news that ‘Sir’ Nick Clegg is joining Facebook as Vice President for public relations or some such life-enhancing activity. He wrote at length about his heart-rending decision to move to California in today’s Guardian but didn’t find the space to reveal how much the discredited Zuckerberg will be paying him. Now what could get politics a worse name? In answer to that, I doubt Clegg’s move will have much impact: his fifth column support for austerity couldn’t make his name much worse whatever he does.
Bernard Porter’s latest blog - on the subject of poppies and remembrance - caught my attention today. He sums up what poppies are meant to mean, and by and large I agree with his view that they are not some sort of triumphalist, militaristic symbol – although it needs to be said that for some that point will be missed, not least I suspect in the upper reaches of an establishment that wishes to conceal many skeletons in its cupboard.
Back in the 70s, when I was in the RAF I refused to buy a poppy, even though they were sold by the (formidable) Station Warrant Officer’s wife. My objection then was that the black plastic centre bore the inscription ‘Haig Fund’ and my limited understanding at that time of the First World War led me to believe that Haig, and a sizable chunk of his class callously treated their troops as a cheap disposable commodity. I also objected to the idea that the human cost of war – and in particular a war which should have been avoided – seemed to be considered a matter of charity, rather than something to be paid for by the state. Indeed, it is still the case that too many ex-service people are left with trauma, physical and mental, which our government seems oblivious to.
During the noughties, and particularly after the 2003 Iraq war, public attendance at remembrance services rocketed and I wonder if after the Iraq debacle politicians learnt a lesson, making them somewhat more wary of going gung-ho into new conflicts. On this I suspect Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in tune with public opinion. There are still, of course, MPs on both sides who would send ‘our boys’ into any situation if it gave them the thrill of looking decisive. I would hope that the poppy could act as a symbol of rebuke to such jingoistic hubris. And the words ‘Haig Fund’ were dropped years ago.
Just lately I have been receiving a few calls on my landline. Such calls have been such a rare occurrence that one almost feels compelled to stand to attention when the phone rings, as I’m sure my grandparents’ generation did when they first had telephones installed. Now of course I can predict with 97% certainty that the caller will have an Asian accent and will be calling from ‘I.T. services’ and will have some urgent and worrying news for me about my computer. Usually at this point my routine has been to hang up, but today, when the call came again, I decided to play the part of a vulnerable old git who didn’t understand anything. This meant that my caller became increasingly impatient, revealing his hand as just another cold-calling (and cold hearted) scammer. I would have kept him on the line for a while longer, but he may have heard my stifled laughter. He tried to call back straightaway, but on not receiving an answer I can only assume that he will have thought his first call had given the doddery old fart a heart attack and had keeled over.
I visited my bank branch a few days ago, to pay in a cheque using the ATM. Yesterday I received a text from the bank asking me to fill in a survey about my experience. I would like to think that somebody at XXX Bank plc thought (at 8.42pm) that this was something worth chasing up. Let’s ask Mr Challen (of all people!) how he managed to slip that cheque (a cheque!) into the slot? Was it the right way up? Did the machine snatch the cheque with suitable panache? Did the machine decode the handwriting accurately? Did you get a prompt receipt? Was anybody looking over your shoulder (like one of our assistants)? Was your intercourse with us exceptional? Fantastic? Amazing? Fabulous? (We’re not quite sure which superlative to use, so we’ll take a leaf out of Virgin’s playbook and use them all.) Thank you for completing this survey! It will help us blend our customer experiences into the electronic synaptic structure of our impenetrable consumer satisfaction matrix, which will shortly have a massive dump. On you. Thank you again. Your custom is apprecitited/(enter code)EXIT:ENTER:Salutation signoff
The ‘big’ news today – laughably – is that the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow has told his friends that he intends to stand down next year – ten years after being elected. This comes as no news to those of us who originally supported him, since he said many times that he thought two terms or ten years quite sufficient. The hacks know this of course, but it ties in nicely with the story of a bullying culture in Westminster. Naturally, leading the charge to oust Bercow are the Tories, who mostly never liked him and liked him even less when he allowed the Commons to have a greater oversight over the executive. Ministers hate being called to the chamber to answer for their cock-ups. Anyway, this ‘news’ will spark a race for the next Speaker, and I bet lobbying has already begun (probably started quite a while back, actually). Technically and by convention the next Speaker should come from the Opposition benches, since Bercow was nominally a Tory. But with a Tory Party on the ropes in the year of Brexit they will try desperately to get one of their own in. They might have a slight chance of success. Perhaps they should support someone from the DUP. There’s a cohort of individuals who understand democratic processes.
I watched a film the other night, Lord of War (2006) starring Nicholas Cage, who was perfect in the role of an utterly amoral arms dealer (I fear the word amoral to be redundant here, substitute ‘international’ instead). It grabbed my attention from the very start by its reference to Brighton Beach, New York. Google Brighton Beach and you will find that it is “Also known as "Little Odessa" due [to] its tight-knit Russian and Eastern European communities, Brooklyn's Brighton Beach is a lively neighborhood with many high-rise residential buildings. Traditional ethnic restaurants and food markets line Brighton Beach Avenue. The beach and boardwalk here are more laid-back than nearby Coney Island, catering largely to locals. Splashy nightclubs attract partiers in the evenings.”
Two people who had a particular interest in Brighton Beach were Donald Trump and Semion Mogilevich. Brighton Beach was a development opportunity for Trump. Mogilevich was (is?) a Russian Mafia ‘boss of bosses,’ close to Putin. Rather than me trying to sum up all the connections (which are complex) that tie Trump to the Russian mob, just Google Trump/Mogilevich and take it from there. It’s curious that this stuff doesn’t get more sustained attention in the mainstream media. I have reviewed a book on the subject for Lobster, available here. I do hope that the U.S. Special Counsel investigating the Trump-Russia connection comes up with the indictable goods.
I have been overwhelmed by the U.K. government’s condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s murder in Istanbul of a dissident Saudi journalist. It’s good to know that Theresa May has been in the vanguard of judges on the issue, but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find out how many Saudi diplomats have been expelled from the U.K. so far. None you say? Can that be true? Are we to assume our strong and stable leadership is in hock to the Sheiks? Perhaps one of the benefits of the further deindustrialisation of the U.K. economy post-Brexit will be a diminution of hypocritical sucking-up to places we shouldn’t be dealing with in the first place.
A report in today’s Guardian that the ‘Socialist Workers’ Party had been infiltrated by around two dozen undercover coppers has brought back memories of the revolution. I was living in Hull in the 1980s and was involved with a local community organisation that possessed an old building which we classed as our community centre. I became a member of the committee, and with one or two part-time members of staff, everything ticked over as well as it might in this inner city enclave of run-down Thatcherite Britain. One of our committee members was in the SWP, and was adept at applying for YOPS placements. The Youth Opportunities Programme was seen at the time as the future for Britain under the Tories – no real jobs, just pretend ones for up to a year in the voluntary sector. By today’s standards it might be seen as equivalent to FDR’s New Deal. Anyway, our fellow committee member crafted a successful application, and we soon found ourselves with 18 new employees and a manager.
Then the SWP took firm control. The crafter of the application resigned from the committee on the grounds that SWP members could not take management roles. Within weeks the turmoil started, as the workers’ ‘shop steward’ – another SWP member – took on the management with endless grievances which all could of course be anticipated on a YOPS scheme. The management committee, consisting of local residents soon found themselves cast as kulaks, to be exposed as Enemies of The People. The workers went on strike and a stand-off ensued. The playgroup became a no-go area. I wonder if three year olds crossed the picket line. Of course, the end result was that the whole scheme was wrapped up, and the revolution came one step closer. But I wonder now if any of those Hull SWP jerks was an undercover cop, gaining credits in capitalism’s covert battle to errr . . . make the SWP look even more stupid than it was.
This particular battle must have been one of the SWP’s few actual successes in the 1980s, not that it brought the house down. For some reason the Guardian article refers to the SWP as a ‘revolutionary’ party. I often wondered what that meant. Did it mean staying in the Welly pub for a lock-in? Or did it mean sourcing some explosives and blowing up Drax power station? Or even just a pylon?
Whatever the case, the story of the historic undercover cops still has value to the state. Who says there aren’t still state infiltrators in the SWP? I hope SWP top dogs look at each other with suspicion. Perhaps a purge or two, Stalin-style are in order. On the other hand, we taxpayers could question why any of our money should be spent on keeping tabs on a bunch of ‘revolutionary’ no-hopers.
For the second time this year I am switching energy supplier. I have lost all shame about being promiscuous. There was a time when being ‘loyal’ had a grip, largely I suppose because your supplier had your name and address – unlike swapping toothpaste for example, where you can do it anonymously. But even then, it took me about 40 years to realise that the toothpaste of my youth wasn’t the only one on the market. What’s prompted this latest switch is yet another absurd price rise – we’re talking of hundreds of pounds – and the email announcement which came with it, merely referring to a ‘price change,’ a rather coy reference to a whopping increase. Do these businesses really believe that toning down their language fools customers? I was always amused each year when my local buses had signs saying ‘fare changes in operation.’ Increases, never decreases.
Switching energy suppliers is thankfully a lot easier, and using moneysupermarket.com (yes, an unashamed, unpaid plug) helps it all along. But questions arise. I have used 100% renewable energy suppliers for nearly 20 years, and I have always resented the fact that despite paying a premium (from the days when it was just a fad for some middle class types) to today when the price of renewable generation is falling dramatically, there is no reflection of that in market. The market for electricity is hugely complex, and I suspect it is in the interests of suppliers (including network operators) to keep it complex. The price you pay for renewable energy is still related to what’s going on in the wholesale fossil fuel markets.
I hope any discussion of renationalising our energy supply will begin to take this into account. There needs to be a greater premium placed on buying fossil fueled energy, and reduced prices for renewables. To a certain extent I am willing to accept that fossil fuels are facing a stiffer challenge, but they are still given financial and other incentives which renewables aren’t. Fracking is a case in point, and of course the galactic subsidies nuclear gets are too great for most of us to comprehend. I am not confusing nuclear with fossil fuels – I am merely considering disparities in government funding and legislative support, which cramp renewable energy’s true potential.
And then there’s the IPCC’s latest report . . I’m still waiting to hear what Theresa May has to say about that.
Our state broadcaster’s top news item this morning was the identification by the Bellingcat website of the ‘true’ identity of the second Russian in the Skripal case. Mirthlessly, but with due gravitas listeners were told that sources in the intelligence service had no problem with Bellingcat’s revelation. Of course, Bellingcat has absolutely no relationship with said service, so in a sense MI6’s insouciance is explicable, after all deniability is their game and if Bellingcat had got things right or wrong it need be of no concern to them. Even if they had helped the website’s ‘investigative journalists’ along the way (which of course they didn’t). But politicians may want to ask if Bellingcat is doing so well all on its own, why are we pumping extra millions into MI6? Perhaps this is an area where there is now a proven outsource provider.
I am now looking forward to Bellingcat’s revelations about the CIA’s efforts to infiltrate Corbyn’s Labour. I wonder who the Americans' ‘assets’ are now? Surely Bellingcat will reveal all?
Following the confirmation of Trumps’ latest pick for the Supreme Court, speculation has mounted that the Republicans will do better in November’s mid-term congressional elections. Republicans it seems are energised by displays of misogyny, ill-will and arrogance. It seems the opinion polls are now painting a more complex picture, when not so long ago the Democrats looked a shoe-in for taking control of the House of Representatives and may even have had a long shot at the Senate. It has to be said that this time round the Democrats are defending far more seats than the Republicans, so it was always on them to win more seats, rather than the Republicans to lose them. Excellent analysis of the race(s) can be found on the fivethirtyeight.com website.
One wonders of course what difference it would make if the Democrats did win. One looks at the record of Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin for example. He supported Trump’s nomination earlier this year of someone who supported torture as head of the CIA; he supported Trump’s latest pick for the Supreme Court. Apparently Manchin represents a right leaning state and so wants to keep his seat. So he behaves like a Republican. Which only goes to show that if you want the real thing, vote for it. If I were a Republican why would I vote for Manchin?
The Democrats are in a mess and the right seems to be more accepting of Trump. The only reason I can think of for rooting for the Democrats is to clip his wings. Today we have seen the publication of yet another ‘landmark’ report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is destined to sit on top of a pile of previous landmark IPCC reports. With the now likely election of another populist in Brazil, who is threatening to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, there is developing an anti-climate change axis, and Trump will reap further endorsement for his Neanderthal mindset. The time has passed when it was felt sufficient to mock an allegedly dysfunctional Trump presidency. He appears to be in tune with the zeitgeist, not merely in the States but elsewhere. We may have had entertainment value from books exposing the inner workings of the White House, with juicy titbits from disgruntled former aides, but these exposés, illuminating as they may be of Trump’s psychological issues detract from the bigger picture. The alarm bells are ringing.