I wonder if we have ever lived in more deluded times. Is this the new normal? Or is it simply the case that in the information age we are given a greater glimpse of how things really are, which is to say that we are daily exposed to the fact that our leaders fly by the seat of their pants, with fingers crossed and ever hopefully listening to what astrologers have to say? On the latter point, it’s not really that long ago since rulers really did call in their astrologers, and if memory serves both Reagan and Hitler found some guidance in such things. Whatever is guiding our rulers now, it seems rationality, reason and evidence is absent. Of course, all’s well that ends well because as e.g. Tony Blair once said in relation to his Iraq catastrophe, ‘I’ll answer to God.’
Wouldn’t it be fun if Theresa May took up tweeting on a Trumpian scale? At least we might get a clearer idea of the true state of her mind and how she battles with her neurosis. As things stand, the only rational explanation for her behaviour is her obsession with keeping the Nasty Party together. I wonder where she stands on the Corn Laws.
Over in the States, where in Chicago temperatures are dropping in what must feel like The Day After Tomorrow proportions, El Trumpo has declared that a bit of global warming wouldn’t go amiss, which is to say look folks, there’s no such thing. Naturally his views, being delusional, lead him to make such asymmetric pronouncements – since the Midwest drought, heatwaves, fires and other signs of climate change never result in similar expressions of intellectual vacuity.
It seems to me that around the world conditions are developing which could precipitate some immediate disasters which in the context of climate change would serve as useful distraction activities (a bit like Brexit, or another financial crash) and our rulers will simply be bereft of the mental capacity to see the wood for the trees.
Reading Why We Get The Wrong Politicians (Atlantic Books, 2018) by Spectator assistant editor Isabel Hardman I was expecting to find a hack’s cynical demolition job of politicians in line with the view expressed recently that if they – the politicians – were running a business, they’d all be sacked. But no, the book I thought was sane and evenly balanced, and from my own experience accurate in the way it portrays the creaking, dysfunctional state of UK governance. A more accurate title of the book may have been Why We Get The Politicians We Deserve – in the system we’ve got. It’s a timely book, given the current mess, but doesn’t really help us discover how we might get the right politicians. A few tweaks to our parliamentary system won’t do the job. A hugely better informed electorate just might. An engaged electorate in a mature democracy – there’s a fine thought.
I watched a film the other night that was so ridiculous it has stuck in my mind – the sort of film you wonder how it ever got made. I hope one day it becomes a cult classic. Poorly acted, cliché ridden script, hopeless plot, hopeless special effects, hopeless all round, it was gripping in its hopelessness – and few films actually achieve 1% on Rotten Tomatoes, which says something about it. Ahh, the joys of a 50p film bought in CEX.
It was called Left Behind, starring Nicholas Cage as an airline pilot trying to steer his strangely stricken plane back to JFK after God has instituted rapture, removing almost half the passengers, leaving behind only their clothing and personal effects. Perhaps there’s a hint here that removing all the children from a flight is not such a bad thing. And certainly at 30,000 feet there’s a good chance that they’ll get to Heaven quicker.
Intercut with scenes from the plane were scenes from a shopping mall where all hell breaks loose when all the children there disappear too. Interspersed were some apposite attempts in the film to examine the value of God’s judgement (or lack of), which added to its whole sense of stupidity.
Could this have been the director’s intention? Looking on various Google search results for the film I am struck by the reaction from Christians – who seem to think that the film was meant to be a ‘Christian film’ – whatever that is, like maybe Life of Brian was a Christian film. Only God knows. But the important thing about this film is its unintended absurdity, which only reflects the absurdity of its very subject – rapture. On this level it succeeds in every way and deserves respect. It gave a Biblical heave of Hollywood proportions to a belief of such enormous religious stupidity it couldn’t have better accomplished the task of exposing nonsense.
And if you think that such a job is unnecessary, it might be worth remembering that Ronald Reagan believed in the concept of Rapture. He had his finger on the button. Thank God that Trump is unlikely to be one of the chosen few who leaves his clothes behind, come rapture.
I thoroughly recommend this film. For 50p its doesn’t get any worse.
And let's not forget that even today - according to polls - more than half of Americans believe in stuff like rapture. It's prophesised isn't it?
I was surprised on my trip to the newsagent this morning to see that none of the usual tawdry red-top suspects had the headline TRAITOR! on their frontpages, over the story of ‘Sir’ James Dyson ‘O.M.’s moving his HQ to Singapore. I had a look at two of the Brexit supporting papers’ websites, and the word didn’t crop up there either – more a sense of faint embarrassment that the billionaire apparently couldn’t give a fuck, to coin a phrase.
Personally, I don’t feel any sense of loss. As the owner of a still exceedingly well performing hoover, which I’ve had for well over half my adult life I never saw any miraculous benefit in shelling out a small fortune for a Dyson. Indeed, I am convinced that the Dyson variety of sucker was more a result of miraculous marketing than technology. For me, anything with ‘Dyson’ written on it was a definite ‘mustn’t have.’ All the more so now. Good riddance. Hand your gongs in on your way out.
But Dyson isn’t the only one with an escape route is he? What about that business Rees-Mogg has a hand in, moving abroad? What about Lord Lawson living in France? Or Nigel Farage who ensures his children have German passports, takes 100,000 Euros in salary from the E.U. each year but only attended 3 out of 751 meetings (see Irish Times here)? Whatever happens with Brexit, the leaders of the leave campaign will still do very nicely, wherever they end up, if not the U.K.
The word ‘consensus’ cropped up in a news story the other day, inasmuch as Theresa May was rejecting the idea of a cross party Brexit consensus and wished merely to carry on with her only deal. In which case Jeremy Corbyn was perfectly right to reject the idea of entering talks with her. She might of course agree to a ‘consensus’ if it were entirely on her terms. The kind of consensus a prison warder may feel able to offer.
If it is correct that the public are fed up with the ongoing debates in Westminster it may be assumed that they would prefer it if consensus did break out – but I’m not so sure. As with the Brexit referendum itself, in which I suspect a great many people on both sides and the leaders thereof never even paused to consider the backstop or Norway plus plus plus, the idea of forming a consensus won’t have been given much thought either. But oddly enough, there was a de facto consensus during the referendum campaign – all the major parties, a good section of the media, the establishment, celebrities and others largely supported remain. That consensus was rejected and a motley opposition led by cranks, hard right pundits and yes – many xenophobes and some racists – won the day, albeit by a slim margin.
Perhaps we should now be asking ourselves whether the concept of consensus is actually useful in a democratic society. Does anything in history point to its value? In post war times, one might look at the notion of Butskellism, a combination of centrist Conservative and Labour forces in the 1950s which produced a watered down version of social progress – watered down that is from Attlee’s more evident socialism – but still, in the shadow of the war nevertheless committed to maintaining post-war recovery. That could be seen in say large scale council house building through to the post-imperial recognition of the need to decolonise.
Before that we had a National Government – all the way through from its formation in 1935 to the end of the war. Yet as hard as the Sun or Daily Mail may try to portray him, Jean Claude Juncker doesn’t quite equate to the threat of the little corporal with the toothbrush moustache. The E.U. is not an existential threat which demands a national government (which implies in the current context, right wing government). Who in their stupid minds thinks that a national government now, carrying on with all its associated austerity baggage has the slightest chance of flying?
When I chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change we commissioned a study on whether a cross party consensus on tackling climate change was desirable. At the time I thought that the scale of the challenge made it a necessity, but clearly in the hay day of a Labour government with a big majority it was never going to happen. Opposition parties would have resiled from joining hands with a government intent on putting forward unpopular climate change policies – and any policy effective enough to deal with climate change would have been unpopular. And even if the parties had got together to agree on such policies, how long would it be before they were all portrayed as part of some elite cabal up to some nefarious con? Climate change sceptics would have had a field day. But climate change is a crisis which makes Brexit look like a crossword puzzle.
In cases like this democracy is unable to resolve different views into anything like a solution. The greatest invention of civilisation is also its Achilles heel.
What a shambles the once preening, over-hyped nuclear industry now is. Claims that it would offer a carbon free, sustainable future for UK energy supply now appear in tatters, as yet another prospective power station builder pulls out. There is of course one way of reducing the prohibitive costs of building new nuclear – simply reduce the safety regulations! Strip away the safeguards, accept lower standards and hey presto, companies will flock in. Or possibly as an alternative (almost certainly to become this government’s choice) ramp up the subsidies. As the cost of renewable energy sources have dropped by 60%, the cost of nuclear continues to rise. It’s time our hapless government ramped up support for green energy, now that it is clear nuclear is less and less affordable.
There are other ways we can secure extra energy supplies of course. Ironically, one of the biggest will be building more interconnectors to tap into the European network. And in the short term we will import more LNG, as North Sea gas diminishes. Despite the massive growth in UK offshore wind generation, which I applaud (one of the few things this government hasn’t completely fucked up) I lament the opportunity cost of nuclear. It has been a distraction which has us cost dearly. It is a product of the asinine idea – long (sadly) touted by Labour in the 2000s – that ‘governments don’t pick winners.’ The chickens are coming home to roost, but perhaps it’s still not too late to shut the stable door before the horse bolts.
Oh, and just as an illustration of the nuclear success story, take a look at progress on the project to build a third reactor at Olkiluoto, Finland. I visited the site around 2008 (building started in 2005) and then they thought there might be delays. It was supposed to be finished in 2009, but now they're saying it will be 2020. The original cost was to be £3 billion. Currently, it stands at around £9 billion.
Doesn’t it feel fantastic to live in historic times, not least when (apart from a Labour MP’s) no blood has been shed? Here we are in a confounding, bruising battle which largely flows back and forth through trenches of verbiage and where the only mud is of the slinging variety? And tonight the lobbies of the Commons will be thronged by excited MPs casting their vote – perhaps for the first time in a long time hoping that they are truly in the cockpit of the nation. Such a sensation rarely intrudes on the fodder like instincts of our legislators.
But as the nation waits with bated breath for the result later this evening – I can see now whole families huddled around their wirelesses – I have to say many of the vox pop snapshots of public opinion reveal a very depressing trend. This is the weariness trend, often expressed in such phrases as ‘why can’t they just get on with it’ or ‘why don’t they stop squabbling?’ One version of this which I heard expressed on the BBC Ten O’clock News last night was ‘If they were directors of a company they would have been sacked by now.’ As if the whole country had been privatised. This is the most depressing line of thought for anyone who thinks democracy means anything more than just occasionally having a binary vote. It seems, from what the media has portrayed of public opinion that this exasperation has grown – and why of course wouldn’t it when the subject is getting wall to wall saturation coverage? People might be forgiven for getting bored with it. Don’t we just want the problem to go away, so, as one vox pop respondent said, they can just get on with their life?
If that is indeed the mood of the country then a second referendum result will dash the hopes of remainers. I hope MPs tonight remember that public opinion can be delusional – and contradictory. At the start of the First World War, going to war was overwhelmingly popular. It wasn’t four years later. Maybe that explains why appeasement was overwhelmingly popular in the late 1930s – but we know what happened there. These two examples demonstrate to me why MPs should exercise their consciences and not merely reference ‘the people’s decision’ and behave like dogs on a lead. They are representatives, not delegates. That may mean that some, perhaps many could be looking for a new job come the next general election. That’s the nature of the game. One just needs to remember that about one third of the public voted to leave, around one third voted to remain and about one third couldn’t be arsed. MPs have a duty to be fully engaged in their job – the public has no such obligation.
That the now infamous activities of the so-called Integrity Initiative have been revealed is a good thing, although nobody should be surprised that the British state has spent millions on what is effectively a mercenary disinformation and smear machine created to whittle away the reputations of our supposed political adversaries, at home and abroad. Such activities, I was reminded whilst reading 1941 Fighting the Shadow War: How Britain and America Came Together for Victory by Marc Wortman (Atlantic Books, 2017) have never ceased. He briefly relates the story of the ‘British Security Coordination’ (BSC) organisation in the U.S. in 1940 which was charged by Churchill to influence American opinion which was then overwhelmingly isolationist. It used all sorts of methods to do so, and it had to perform its mission in the utmost secrecy, since it was illegal under the U.S. Foreign Espionage Act. One thing it sought to do was influence the outcome of the 1940 presidential election. Plus ca change. Fake news? The novelist William Boyd wrote about it in the Guardian in 2006 (19th Aug.):
BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US "source" suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled.
Fascinating stuff. It’s worth reading the full Boyd article and the Wikipedia entry for the BSC. Quite how many other similar outfits we don’t yet know about would be an interesting research topic. I suspect there’s plenty of them. And if we're so worried about El Trumpo's isolationism . . .
I heard that Owen Jones, the left-wing Guardian columnist had a run-in with the odious Andrew Neil on the latter’s BBC This Week programme, so watched a bit of it on the i-player. Neil was clearly nonplussed that a young upstart like Jones might question whether the Spectator, whose board Neil chairs might promote racism, despite what in normal circumstances would be classed as racist commentary appearing in its rankling pages. Perhaps it shouldn’t be considered racist because it’s clever racism, or ironic racism, or something else that wouldn’t cause an upset in the Carlton Club. So well done Jones for rattling Neil’s cage. But what really annoyed me was Michael Portillo taking the opportunity in the piece to say – unchallenged (least of all by leading light Liz Kendall sat next to him on the sofa) – that anti-semitism is endemic in the Labour Party. As ever in these cases, no evidence whatsoever is brought forth to substantiate the charge, which as any objective observer would soon discover is absolute bollocks. Portillo may claim, as he did on the programme that he is no longer a member of the Tory Party, but beware – behind that soft-focus, urbane continental railway loving exterior there still lurks someone who adequately defines a member of the ‘nasty party.’ Thankfully, This Week is normally broadcast well after my bedtime so I never watch it.
Until today I hadn’t realised that Ken Livingstone was a big fan of space exploration, but an article on the RT website has corrected that misperception. Ken writes enthusiastically about China’s dark side of the Moon landing and posits that “The threat to human life on our planet from climate change and the super volcanoes means that the only way humanity can survive is by spreading out to other worlds.” I don’t know where he gets his super volcanoes stuff from, but it is highly unlikely volcanic eruptions will threaten human life on a global scale. We will see natural occurrences such as volcanoes and earthquakes making significant impacts as time goes by, but they will be localised. Indeed, where there are global impacts they could be benign in the context of climate change, as some of the volcanic gases released into the atmosphere can have a cooling effect. But I’m prepared to accept e.g. that if the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands suffered a ‘theoretically possible’ massive collapse it could send a tsunami racing towards New York. Wall Street wouldn’t like that so naturally, neither would we.
As regards climate change, if the only hope for humanity is for us to spread to other worlds, then this is madness indeed. If we had such technology on any scale we would almost certainly have the technology to address climate change, i.e. the ‘geo-engineering’ option. But neither exist at the moment and we’re already learning how to live with climate change. I suspect that even if global temperatures rose in the next century by five degrees Earth would still have an atmosphere more conducive to human existence then that of Mars. Which is not to say that such a temperature rise here might not obliterate billions of human lives, but with existing technologies adaptation for some would be achievable for far less effort and cost than hopping on board a Virgin Galactic rocket to some unsustainable colony on a very hostile planet. What on earth is Ken thinking?
Should we exist for that long, then in about four billion years’ time it will be absolutely correct to look elsewhere for a new home, as the Sun begins its final trajectory to becoming a Red Dwarf or whatever, which will start with its massive expansion. I imagine by then humans will have been transmuted into strange artificial intelligence beings, possibly not even organic, and able to survive without oxygen. I don’t think we’ll recognise ourselves in a million years’ time, never mind four billion. Homo sapiens from just 250,000 years ago would have some difficulty identifying with us. Which has nothing to do with Brexit. We were connected to the European continental land mass in those days. Just thought I’d mention it.
I’ve spoken with a number of people on the left of politics who are becoming a little frustrated with Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit – by which they mean supposed non-stance – detecting an absence of leadership. I wonder if that is justified. He made a speech in Wakefield a couple of days ago – I know that because the Guardian had a big picture of him at the venue, albeit without any substantial report of the speech – and it seems he is sticking to his line that what we need is a general election. It is curious how in the eye of the media the idea of a general election seems secondary to another referendum on Brexit. Why we need a general election is daily made clear by the fact that we have a dysfunctional government – look at Universal Credit, the shambolic collapse of decent railway services, the housing crisis (here in Scarborough shop doorways all have their sleeping bag occupants), the ongoing collapse of our military (not I realise an issue that grips the left), the growing challenge of data abuse – we have a so-called government which has the decisiveness of a rabbit with myximatosis caught in the headlights. May has lost control and what’s worse within her own ranks there is no credible replacement. But as I have said before, the Tories (and DUP) consider a Corbyn government worse than no deal, so the actual likelihood of a general election still seems slight.
In these circumstances Corbyn is right to keep on banging on about a general election. A new government would have a mandate to do quite a lot about Brexit – not least to park it for a while and remove the sting. We’re still in a post-referendum period of confusion. Don’t we all know by now that the referendum was only called to try to resolve a Tory infighting problem? Isn’t that obvious by the way they are now behaving? Wouldn’t it better to have a new government unshackled of all that baggage? I think Corbyn is taking the right track – he doesn’t want to be defined by Brexit, but would rather be defined by the culmination of his lifelong political aspirations. That may eventually lead to Brexit of course, but not in a way forced along by the likes of your Rees Moggs. Interesting that Labour doesn’t have any equivalents to him or for that matter the wretched Boris. Corbyn increasingly looks like the adult in the room, but he will sadly get no credit for it.