I have studiously avoided commenting on the career of my successor as an MP, Ed Balls. But his performance whilst co-hosting Good Morning Britain (GMB) the other day demands a break in this self-imposed iron discipline. Balls it must be remembered only just squeaked in to the newly created Morley and Outwood constituency in 2010, and so strong was his 1,000 majority then that within five years of living in a self-delusional fog he lost the seat to a Tory. I refer to a ‘self-delusional fog’ since in his own political memoir Balls confessed he had unquestioningly assumed he would retain the seat, so spent the election campaign being Gordon Brown’s great enthuser on the nationwide stage, thus forgetting that the first lesson in politics is to secure your own base. Ever since the constituency has been represented by a somewhat odd Tory (but aren’t they all a bit odd these days?) and poor Ed has now refashioned himself as a ‘TV Personality’ or celebrity if you will. This is a sad way to go for a once senior politician. It reminds me of the Hamiltons.
Still, given the task of trying to emulate the success of Piers Morgan in stirring up click bait, Ed decided to challenge a climate change activist on GMB with the charge that disrupting a fossil fuelled public event was equivalent to terrorism. Thus some slight inconvenience for F1 racegoers is on a par with the Bataclan massacre. One wonders what other balls will spout forth. Perhaps Emily Davison was a terrorist for throwing herself in the path of the King’s horse? At what point did Nelson Mandela cease to be a terrorist to become a saintly peace-loving grandfather? Balls’ inability to grasp the climate change agenda doesn’t surprise me. He and his mentor’s philosophy was (sometimes) to talk the talk but not to walk the walk, not least when there were more important issues to deal with—such as ‘growing’ the economy with such necessities as an extra runway at Heathrow.
The minor inconveniences the public may be put to because of climate activism is as nothing compared to what climate change is already bringing. Ed no doubt would agree with Parliament declaring a ‘climate emergency’ but as we know there has been little or no action to back that up. So some people are getting frustrated with the do nowt brigade. So good luck to them (the activists). Whether their exact tactics will alter the public’s mind is another question. If I had much to do with it the activists’ efforts would be wholly focused on MPs—it is the complacency of MPs that prevents adequate action being taken. And their complacency is boostered by people like Balls who can’t be bothered to examine the case for activism. How long will it be before Ed and his ilk appear as useful idiots in Murdoch’s domain? If the money’s there . .
The fossil fuel industry know the game’s up, but they have been thrown a lifeline by the pandemic and now the Russian war on Ukraine. Everyday we are hearing how in order to combat rising prices new coal and gas will be essential. This is a kind of normality for fossil fuel energy suppliers, who will always sit on their filthy arses with a self-satisfied glow and say ‘we told you so.’ Against this industry's proven hegemony in politics, a handful of climate activists are deemed outsiders, and described by glib attention seeking has-beens as ‘terrorists.’ The real climate terrorists sit in boardrooms.
+An instructive battle may take place in West Virginia in the US midterm elections, if an article in the Intercept (Joe Manchin May Not Be Kingmaker in West Virginia for Long (theintercept.com)) is anything to go by. The Democrats there lost control of both houses of their State capitol, their Congresspersons, the governership—and their only significant flag bearer is the awful, self-serving Senator Joe Manchin (on whose shoulders some of the blame for recent Supreme Court decisions can be laid, amongst many other crimes against people and planet). But, according to the Intercept, a grassroots rebellion has led to the near complete takeover of the local Democrat Party machinery by a progressive alliance. Some of them may have been motivated by the fact that in the Sanders/Clinton primary, West Virginia Democrats voted in every county for Sanders, but the Democrat hierarchy chose superdelegates to vote for Clinton instead. Manchin must be worried that his moribund party will revive and start fighting Republicans, unlike him acting as an echo chamber for every perversion Republicans stand for (such a tactic is of course common. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton alike both wanted to occupy their opponents’ territory, as if that represented a victory, rather than marking out their own. Note how the Trumpian Republicans are not playing this game and are nevertheless gaining ground. Now we have Starmer playing the same worn-out so-called triangulation strategy. And he’s so embarrassingly bad at it even Blair thinks he’s a plank. Apparently.)*
+I wrote a sentence mentioning floods yesterday before I heard on the news that a collapsing glacier in the Dolomites killed a few people. The reasonable assumption is that the current extreme heat in Italy contributed to the collapse. First comes the collapse, then the flood, then the drying up—i.e. no more abundant drinking water, hydropower or irrigation. Another once in a 1,000 year event? ‘fraid not.
*And now, just as the serial liar Johnson is once again on the ropes, what does Starmer want to talk about? Brexit! There are still a few embers spluttering under the ashes of the Leave vote (I’m one of them) but fanning this fire is precisely what people aren’t asking for. Every time Starmer thinks he’s extinguishing it, it merely reminds people what a flake he was over the subject in the first place.
So, a dip into the Venice Biennale was transformed into a Covid curse. I was expecting some of the art to be a struggle but as it was five nights in the Giovanni e Paolo Ospedale took the prize for a piece of inscrutable performance art. Following a slight dizzy spell near the Rialto bridge I was whisked down the Grand Canal in a water ambulance, sirens blaring, feeling very embarrassed to be causing so much trouble. I tested positive at the hospital and so was eventually confined in an isolation room, although not entrirely alone. The two-bed room already contained an old man whom I immediately knew would be trouble. Everything about him was inert apart from his respiratory tracts and orifices from which emanated a range of sounds akin to all the animals of the jungle. Being imprisoned with this human noise machine I knew would mean enduring a sleepless nightmare, and so it was. Thankfully, after three nights he was moved out, but I spent many hours wondering how a lack of sleep aids one’s recovery? My experience of hospitals tells me that a good night’s sleep is not necessarily part of the therapy, and it was certainly true here.
The saving grace of this particular room was its view, which featured the island of San Michele, the Venetian isle of the dead (now home to the tombs of Stravinsky, Diderot, Pound and other cultural luminaries). The tombs are protected by high fortress walls and the interior is crowded with Cypress trees, a sight which brought to mind Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, although that was inspired by an entirely different place. The only trouble with the view was that directly beneath my window people were freely wondering up and down on the promenade enjoying themselves, so reinforcing my sense of captivity.
Part of my condition (which was pretty much symptomless throughout) may have been exacerbated by the heat. In Venice it was around 30 degrees C, in Milan, a previous stop, a pharmacy sign showed 38 degrees C. This is way above my usual tolerance levels. 20—25 degrees is my comfort zone. I guess being pretty much symptomless throughout can be attributed to having been fully vaccinated and which also possibly led to a relatively quick return to a negative test. But the danger is now apparent—Covid rates are rising and being fully vaccinated is not 100% proof against getting Covid. A lot of complacency has set in and we may be in for a shock. A woman I met in the hospital’s emergency isolation room, who was fully vaccinated, had had a very bad Covid experience. She wondered why she was a victim. Working in a high-end jewellery shop in Venice, she wondered why she had to wear a mask all day when the customers could come and go without. A consistent approach to mask wearing has long since evaporated in the face of ‘If nobody else bothers why should I?’
A strange outcome of this experience seems to be that ever since my blood pressure and pulse have been more in the normal range than ever before. Has something been mysteriously adjusted? Am I the first to be blessed with a Covid benefit? Time will tell. In the meantime I note that tickets for the Biennale remain valid until it ends on the 27th November. Perhaps there’ll be a return trip later in the autumn. Then, it may not be the heat but the floods one will have to worry about.
Having now hopefully broken the Covid blogging spell, what is to be said about our current global situation? IT’S ALL WORSE!
A bit of a gap in blogging here, thanks to my getting Covid whilst on holiday in Venice. Belatedly back home, I hope to address this blogging dearth shortly. At least this little notice permits me a pun.
It’s déjà vu time for the Tory Party. Their hunger for power knows no bounds. Since the Second World War no Labour leader has been voted out by his comrades, still less successfully challenged whilst in office. The nearest it came to the latter was the challenge by (frankly speaking) utter nonentities against Corbyn in 2016. Labour’s record:
Attlee—resigned, election loss
Callaghan—resigned, election loss
Foot—resigned, election loss
Kinnock—resigned, election loss
Blair—resigned, worn out by Brown
Brown—resigned, election loss
Miliband—resigned, election loss
Corbyn—resigned, election loss
Starmer—yet to resign
Most of these resignations were precipitated by election losses, which seems to be the only way the Labour Party gets to be rewarded with a new leader. Compare that record to the Tories:
Churchill—clung on until 1955, left because of ill-health
Eden—resigned after Suez, pushed
Macmillan—a carefully staged resignation, Profumo, ill-health, age (71)
Douglas-Home—resigned, election loss
Major—resigned, election loss
Hague—resigned, election loss
Duncan-Smith, forced out
Howard—resigned, election loss
Cameron—resigned, Brexit loss
May—resigned, forced out
Johnson—forced out (eventually)?
It is therefore generally the pattern that Labour leaders only resign after losing an election, whereas there have been several successful Tory leadership putsches mid-term. This may explain why Labour has been in power for only 30 of the past 77 years. Each party may have its own tribal instincts, but Labour members should perhaps shake themselves out of their habit of slavish loyalty to their leaders. It is interesting that Blair is the only Labour leader to suffer a mid-term fate similar to some Tory leaders. I wonder when Blair and Brown last spoke to each other?
To be honest, until today I had never heard of Bambos Charalambous, the Labour MP for Enfield. But he’s Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East and Africa, and he began an article in today’s LabourList saying “When it comes to the question of achieving peace in the Middle East, Labour is clear: in government, we would immediately recognise the state of Palestine. We want to see a two-state solution, with a sovereign and secure Palestine and Israel existing in peace alongside one another. But we must acknowledge how far away that goal is.” Mr Charalambous writes about the practical difficulties Palestinians face living under the apartheid regime, although he doesn’t go so far as to call it that. Still, it is welcome that he says a Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine, although that state, under so much illegal occupation looks more like scattered jigsaw pieces than a coherent whole. Labour needs to spell out what boundaries this state would have, and on what basis it could claim sovereignty over its territory. The goal of a ‘two state’ solution is indeed ‘far away’ and we must be vigilant against any cynical use of the term. As far as Mr Charalambous’s article is concerned, with its sympathetic stance towards the plight of Palestinians, one wonders how long he’ll retain his job.
Perhaps Labour could show more support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Correction: we already do. BDS is fine when used against Russia.
I usually have some time for BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme, which has produced some decent investigative journalism. It is generally not afraid to unearth facts which embarrass the government. Today’s programme was somewhat different—it seemed to be based on the idea that in academia there is an infestation of professors who are acting as Putin’s useful idiots in the disinformation wars. The programme kicked off with the Tory chair of the Education Select Committee demanding that government takes immediate action to root out this odious cadre of propagandists. But in 40 minutes we only heard of two, although we were told there are ‘many others’ in all walks of life, including (shock horror) musicians. The underlying assumption is that these people are ‘leftists’ (whatever that is supposed to mean) - an assumption stated as such in the programme and not challenged. I personally doubt that anyone genuinely on the left has any time for the arch-rightist Vladimir Putin. Nor did the programme ask why it is that enquiring academics might want to question official narratives. I recently reviewed a book on the history of disinformation for Lobster which makes it plain that disinformation is a tool used by all governments—so it seems perfectly proper to question the NATO line. That doesn’t mean we support Putin. As one of the academics said, if they have to start toeing the line we’ll be well on our way towards authoritarianism, indeed the very approach which in Russia makes it a crime to call this Ukrainian ’special military operation’ a war.
In the final minutes of the programme we heard from the UK’s ambassador to the UN who said that Russia’s use of disinformation makes it harder for member states who are ‘less well informed than us' to come to sound judgements about what to support. One was immediately reminded of Colin Powell’s masterful disinformation speech prior to the Iraq war. And whilst we’re in the neighbourhood of whataboutism, what about the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Presumably we shouldn’t question such things. But we do. And it wasn’t that long ago that the BBC itself had a policy of airing ‘both sides of the argument’ on climate change, long after the science had moved irrevocably in one direction. Perhaps this week’s File on Four was a subtle form of establishment disinformation?
I’ll save some comments on another Professor, David Miller who was sacked from his post at Bristol University on disproven grounds of anti-semitism (i.e. questioning the Israeli government’s narrative), or indeed the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery whom Manchester University wanted to dispatch on the grounds that some people didn’t like an exhibition by the group Forensic Architecture relating to the plight of Palestinians. If there is a cancel culture developing in this country, it is very definitely being propelled by a narrow, establishment worldview which in our own polite way seeks to squash dissent. Or perhaps I should say, with respect to Pritti Patel’s latest legislative fits, not so polite.
+I often wonder who exactly comes up with daft ideas. Daft ideas can plague our lives from the parochial to the national and even international levels. It’s not just the people who have daft ideas that should worry us of course, but also the people around them who let stupidities pass without any checks or balances. They are equally to blame. Every so often a daft idea will be launched, will be promoted and eventually quietly dropped as its sheer daftness is revealed more often than not after a significant dip into the public purse has taken place. I think you probably know where this is going. The airport island in the Thames. The ’garden bridge’ over the same river. A bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. A double decker bus in London that made people ill and never operated as promised. A false promise here (£350 million a week for the NHS) and a let-down there (levelling up).
Now we have an inquiry into whether Imperial measurements should be re-introduced. If that were to happen a lot of time will be wasted in the classrooms. Perhaps it won’t be long before we are asked to consider the return of pounds, shillings and pence. That wouldn’t perhaps go down too well with the Conservatives’ core demographic, who have long gotten used to a simpler metric system, and who may be shocked that you can’t today buy a Ladybird book for 2/6. Or 12½p (they’re about £6 now, I think). Who still thinks in ounces? What’s the point? Younger people will have little or no knowledge of such things. This ‘Imperial measurements review’ the government has set up is of course just a symbolic dead cat, a pathetic attempt to reclaim Britannia’s glory coupled with this weekend’s Ruritanian extravagances. I suppose in the end the best way to respond to this, short of revolution, is to marvel at the incompetence that has taken us to where we are today. That’s not such a daft idea.
+By the way, I wish all the best to Zenouska Mowatt. Who she? Well, in our strictly hierarchical society, she is 64th in line to the throne (the last name I could find online in the line of succession). I hope she gets to launch a few ships, although that’s a remote possibility in British shipyards these days. And of course there’s rather too many kind hearts and coronets to bump off beforehand.
+ I'm just catching up with the news. Congratulations to Euan Blair, son of Sir Tony and Lady Cherie on being awarded an MBE. You are the living proof of your father's oft repeated mantra that we should live in a society that offers equality of opportunity. Hurrah!
+Every so often I feel an urge to criticise religionists (why, why, why?). This morning I was given a perfect prompt to satisfy this urge when two of them debated head to head about the latest appalling massacre of schoolchildren in the U.S. This debate occurred on the BBC’s Sunday programme, which often finds devout Christians and other religionists tearing into each other. From my point of view that’s quite entertaining. This time we had one preacher (as I think Revs are commonly called in the States) saying how gun laws need to be tightened up. The other, perhaps bidding to become Donald Trump’s chaplain was convinced that Jesus himself had authorised the liberal supply of weaponry now in the possession of Americans, sane or not. Naturally the to and fro involved a number of quotes from the Good Book, which did little to enlighten us as to what Jesus actually said about the possession of assault rifles. The Trump leaning preacher claimed that owning a killing machine was a God given right (never mind the Second Amendment). I assume he stands firm with the sixth commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ but I am sure there are many caveats to that—its interpretation is purely contextual (which is to say it’s not a commandment at all).
Co-incidentally, today being a Sunday a leaflet was popped through my letterbox asking ‘Are YOU ready? Don’t be left behind.’ This came from some unnamed religious outfit concerned about my salvation and eternal life. One doesn’t need much of an imagination to grasp its message, which is to say I must repent my sins and join the queue for Heaven. With only hours left of today, I am a bit worried since it says ‘Today is the DAY OF SALVATION.’ Can this really be true? And what, I wonder has Putin got to say about it (he is the Evil One)? And what happens if you don’t pick up the leaflet until tomorrow?
The worst aspect of all this is that it is clear that the Republican party is now more than ever in the grip of religious nutters. It’s deeply worrying, more so than even when Reagan was President (who apparently believed in Rapture but still it seems listened to his wife’s advice borne from astrology or some such). In this regard Biden’s religious beliefs seem very old fashioned and tame by comparison—he as a Catholic, but is nevertheless prepared to tolerate a woman’s right to abortion. I suspect he will be quite incapable of holding back the retrenched Trumpism sweeping the only country in the world with a God-given Manifest Destiny.
+God bless yer M’am on yer Platinum Jubilee. I hope you reign for many more years to come, as each extra year will be one less for your dreadful son’s reign.