I have to confess the constant diet of moaning, criticism, sniping and general whining that appears in this blog might be a tad wearisome. So today I am taking a different approach. Leaving the grim world of total political failure behind for a day, here is a photo journal of one of my daily walks. This one's about three miles long and reflects the variety of landscape in the heart of Scarborough. There's always something uplifting about it, even on a grey, overcast day like today (walking 11.15 to 12.15).
A stone head looks wistfully out from the damp fern sprouted wall of the disused Dean Road cemetery chapel. It's a fine building, but needs a lot of money spending on it. I think it would make a fine house, though it could possibly be haunted.
One of the more grandiose memorials in the cemetery, and the only one so far as I know bearing an image of the deceased is this one, commemorating one Thomas Whittaker, J.P. a 'temperance advocate' who cheers me up everyday with the message 'Tell me not what strong drink has been nor what it is intended to be, I know what it is now, it is Britain's curse, it is the God of this nation.' I'll drink to that.
From the cemetery I immediately enter Peasholm Glen, an elongated park which follows a stream down to the sea. It's usually full of grey squirrels, but there weren't so many around today. They might appear if I got out a bag of nuts of course.
But there's always Canada Geese (and ducks, Herring Gulls, Moorhens, etc., etc.) once one has reached Peasholm Park lake. This is the place where each summer famous naval battles are recreated and people wonder what happens to the students who are inside the model boats when they sink.
Then it's up onto the cliffs of the North Bay, looking towards the North York Moors and in the far distance to Ravenscar. Once upon a time Scarborough had its own pleasure pier (it would have appeared in the foreground) but it was washed away in a storm in the early 1900s.
And looking to the right of the previous view is Scarborough Castle, a splendid ruin, thanks mainly to the parliamentary forces' bombardment during the Civil War, when it was in the control of the Royalist forces. After the Civil War, Parliament decreed that the west wall be destroyed. Perhaps they feared they hadn't quite won the war?
Next, coming towards the end of my walk is Anne Bronte's grave. I am sure that Vincent van Gogh would have stood on this exact same spot when he came to Scarborough (as will be revealed in my forthcoming publication van Gogh & Scarborough: The Lost Letters)
The final view from this walk is in St Mary's churchyard, above the old town, overlooking the South Bay. Two bays in a day? What could be more satisfying?
+The Leader of the Opposition for the third time is in self-isolation. I’m wondering if he, or his close associates are not following the covid guidelines. Hands! Face! Space! Somebody isn’t following the rules, and that makes Keir look a little bit silly.
+In another respect, the Labour leadership is quite out of touch. An Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons on Monday saw our frontbench arguing for a council tax freeze—coupled with a demand for more money for councils from central government. The latter part is quite justifiable, but on the point about being out of touch I suspect that practically every Labour-run council in the land will be putting their council tax up. They have to do what they can to maintain services. These have to be paid for somehow. But our leadership seems to think that tapping a Tory austerity policy of freezing council tax is a good thing. It doesn’t inspire confidence. And it didn’t between 2010—2015 when Labour thoroughly opposed council tax freezes.
In a thoroughly disturbing coda to my watching the US presidential inauguration last night, I went on to watch Til Kingdom Come: Faith, Trump and Money,* a documentary on the BBC I-player. This examined the evangelical Christian Right in the US and its relationship with Israel (putting ‘Trump’ in the title may have helped get it past the BBC censors). What we saw was a strange kind of lunacy, faith taken to absurd extremes. I don’t think these people themselves quite know what it is they’re expected to believe. They are ardent Zionists but seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with Jews. One could say that they are Zionists and anti-Semites at the same time. The creation of Israel fulfils biblical prophecy, but it seems that continuing in this vein one third of Jews must convert to Christianity and the rest must perish. I guess it’s OK in this context to have interfaith fundraising schemes (the ‘Friends of the Israeli Defence Force,' for example) so long as Jews accept what God says is coming to them. In this context, perhaps Netanyahu represents a good example of Stockholm syndrome. These evangelicals certainly maintained a good grip on Trump. Perhaps they were pinning their hopes of Rapture on him. Now all they’ve got is a good ‘ole fashioned Irish Catholic. He won’t be such easy prey, since we may assume he already knows what he actually believes in, unlike the Donald.
* Being a member of the Labour Party, I’m not sure I’m allowed to write about this. But since I haven’t used the expression ‘Freedom for Palestine’ in this blog I guess it will be OK.
P.S. The evangelical supporters of Trump will no doubt be contributing to the costs of Trump’s presidential library. Since the library will contain barely any books, this won’t be much of a burden.
In a rare breach of my rule not to watch day time television,* and fortified with a large G&T with a side dish of peanuts, I watched the inauguration of President Biden. He didn’t wave as he came down the steps of the Capitol, so I’m not sure he’s into multi-tasking, but at least you could tell he remained alive during some rather dull speechifying (his mask was going in and out). One speech was made by the Chair of the Congressional Inauguration Committee. This is a task equivalent to a report being made to a catering committee on the number of cakes produced prior to the oven overheating. Following Lady Gaga’s spirited performance of the national song, the PA announcer, clearly recruited from an all-in wrestling tournament, introduced the Vice Presidential oath taking. You’d have thought they would have done the Prez first, but there you are—it’s America! Then we had Jennifer Lopez, who is also a pop star singing a medley of patriotic songs, including that everlasting hit, ‘this flag is made for you and me.’ Then came the big deal. This was when the world learnt that the ‘R’ in Joseph R. Biden stands for Robinette. Robinette? That’s a bit weird. As weird I imagine as ‘Hussein’ was to many Americans.
Biden spoke! He pointedly regretted that ex-President Carter couldn’t be there today. Optimistically, he said the pandemic was ‘once in a century.’ At least there’s a kind of acknowledgement there that at least this one is not unprecedented. As he rambled on with his brand of apple pie, unity was the core message, contrasted with the thought that the historical disunity of the US is ‘perennial.’ Then on the other hand ‘We have never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever failed in the United States.’ He went on and on in this vein, hoping no doubt that his message, directed almost entirely at Donald Trump (who was probably playing golf) was being heeded. But there’s Truth! And Lies! The only way through is a little humility, etc., etc. As the speech dragged on, it felt more and more like sitting on grandpa’s knee, learning what the word ‘cliché’ means. As usual everything will be done under the eagle eye of God. Atheists never get a look in at these holy events. That’s not very inclusive is it? The community singing of ‘Amazing Grace’ was completely drowned out (as it were) by the fact that everyone was wearing face masks. Then a young black poet delivered a far better speech than Biden. He might have wished she hadn't been chosen, since she’ll end up being the real star of the show.
+Alas poor Trump, I knew him well. As indeed we all did. I wonder if we’ll miss him. Let’s face it, there were some times when he provided comic light relief . . injecting disinfectant, making friends with Kim Jong-un, winning the Nobel Peace Prize (twice), etc., etc. One of his last acts was to declare Steve Bannon guilty (you can’t be pardoned for something you haven’t done, can you?) Now, he’s moved to somewhere where his neighbours don’t want him (Mar a Lago apparently doesn’t have planning permission for permanent residency). Of course, we’ve not heard the last of Trump and his anally retentive supporters, but at least he will have relinquished the nuclear football.
+Keir Starmer continues to build confidence in his leadership (not). The Electronic Intifada has reported that Starmer has recruited an alumni of the Israeli school of spying, Unit 8200 to lead on monitoring social media. “Unit 8200 specializes in spying, hacking and encryption. It carries out blackmail, mass surveillance and systematic discrimination against Palestinians.” - Electronic Intifada. Presumably, this will be a context in which it’s permissible to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word. Unit 8200, and its graduates get up to a lot of other things too. It’s reach is global. It deserves much closer examination.
In something of a contrast to Anneliese Dodd’s lecture on which I commented in my last blog, I today logged into the launch of Jeremy Corbyn’s Project for Peace and Justice, where the take was somewhat different. Forget the triangulation (shouldn’t that be strangulation?) here we had a taste of resistance and rebellion (civilised rebellion, of course). Yanis Varuofakis summed things up rather neatly when he said democracy has never failed because we’ve never had it. For all our talk of democracy, we’ve never gotten rid of oligarchs. As long as they survive, it would be fair to say that democracy is but a dream. Of course, it’s not just the oligarchs, but their lickspittle servants in politics, the media and in every corner of our power structures that serve to strip the vote of its power to change things. Plus ça change. This kind of talk can be a bit demoralising, but Jeremy is in this respect indomitable, not one to give in. I often feel the weight of vested interests is indeed too heavy to shift (e.g. in tackling climate change) but the premise of the Project for Peace and Justice is that history is on ‘our’ side. The trouble is, not least in the case of climate change, history may well be running out of time so far as homo sapiens are concerned. Still, there has to be a counterbalance to the managerial, steady as she goes ‘forensic’ style of opposition which studies the details whilst studiously ignoring the overarching picture. I never had anything much to do with Jeremy whilst in parliament (I fully understand why he is perceived in the wider country as something of a metropolitan type) but at least with this project there is the possibility of something to counterbalance New New Labour.
Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor has set out a well-meaning framework for a future economic strategy in her Mais (Business School, City University London) lecture. The key word, repeated almost ad nauseum is ‘resilience.’ The task of government is to make the UK resilient, and that means longer term planning, a focus on value for money in the public sector and tighter supervision of economic policy, amongst other things. Sadly there was not one mention of the City and its obsession with short-termism. There was no critique of the current capitalist model. No hint of even the mild analysis of the latter once proffered by Ed Miliband. He was much ridiculed for suggesting there was anything remotely wrong with the current capitalist model, and that experience I fear will drive a Starmer-led Labour Party into what I think will eventually be called the ‘resilient capitalism’ model, which only seeks to tweak the Third Way of the Blair era. Purely by coincidence I watched ‘The Big Short’ last night, which whilst very entertaining was also a very good examination of the forces at work behind the financial crash of 2007/8, forces which continue to drive financial dealings today. Dodds made no mention of these forces. Perhaps she thinks we can accommodate them?
Financial services are barely touched upon in the Brexit deal, and it would in current circumstances be entirely reasonable to conclude that the City will be encouraged to maintain its primacy in global markets by every breath of our government of financial service millionaires. Dodds doesn’t really tackle the question of how Labour will oppose further deregulation in the next three or four years. She doesn’t address the considerable issue of how the City will be further developed as a global tax haven, with the inevitable deleterious consequences for the wider UK economy. For the Tories, this is what ‘sovereignty’ means—the sovereignty of unfettered financial markets. And should it go belly-up again, it will be the taxpayer who picks up the tab, it will be more austerity. Dodds may talk of a long-term economic approach—perhaps reaching out 20 years—but that is diametrically opposed to the City’s philosophy. Her speech owes much to Gordon Brown, whose love affair with the City became evermore apparent when during and after the crash, various gongs had to be returned and speeches embarrassingly recalled. With Starmer’s Labour’s new born lust for economic respectability, even the old tired phrases like ‘we’ll balance the books over the cycle’ are being trotted out again. If the Tories couldn’t ‘balance’ the books why do we even have to promise it? We’re in a world facing far greater issues, the biggest being climate change. At least that subject gets a mention or two in the speech, but I’m not convinced the scale of what is required has been understood. It’s still an Inconvenient Truth.
I bet Tory MPs haven’t read their own government’s advice (National lockdown: Stay at Home - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)) on what constitutes a reasonable excuse for leaving home during lockdown. They'd be mightily displeased if they did:
There are further reasonable excuses. For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations, or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, for the purpose of picketing, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum.
PICKETING!! This heinous activity is permitted—or is it?—it’s not later on listed as one of the reasons for meeting other people. Thankfully, nobody who organises raves, etc. is likely to pick up on the point, but one could see how, provided they chose a suitable target, brought some banners and devised a slogan or two, picket parties could become the new rage. But do we have anything to rage about? I’m scratching my head.
I am regular listener to BBC Radio 3, often from 5.30 in the morning. Starting the day with a bit of Schubert is infinitely preferable to a dose of the Today programme. But there is an irritation, which is to say the BBC loves repeatedly telling you about forthcoming programmes and all the ways you can access them, as if every listener was a first-time listener who hadn’t a clue there might be more programmes on later in the day. Now there’s a new announcement, which tells you that you can tell ‘Alexa,’ your smart speaker to find these programmes for you. This is pure advertising for the makers of these home spies (it doesn’t really matter who makes them) and I don’t think it’s any part of the BBC’s job to promote them. If people want to buy a home spy, aka Alexa that’s their choice. It’s no different to the BBC saying ‘we would like you to listen to this programme on your Bush radio.’ But that’s only part of my complaint. These announcements don’t come with a health warning. What am I talking about? This is a good place to find out, if you have five minutes.
I am ploughing through my (borrowed) copy of Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MPs Wife. Sasha is the wife of former Tory Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire. The diary is pretty much a catalogue of clashing egos, including the diarist’s own, during the years 2010-2019. I felt the urge to read it after I read a couple of appalling reviews—so bad you had to locate a copy. It ought to be a bestseller in a new genre simply called ‘backstabbing.’ Swire’s delivery is at least direct. Here’s the 11th July, 2016 : ‘Almost immediately [newly anointed PM Theresa May’s] new bezzies were squirming around her like snakes in a bucket. And Conservative MPs are good at shedding their skin when they sense power might be drawn away from them—and they are even more slimy if they think they are in with a chance of some of that power.’ At least Labour MPs would never behave like that, although a handful do seem to squirm up to the Tories when there’s a peerage on offer (Ian Austin and John Mann come to mind immediately). All in all I would heartily recommend Swire’s book, even though I suspect some of it was re-edited to reflect later assessments of who and what was up and down. Or maybe she really did have a crystal ball. She’s a kind of ballsy type, is Sasha.