The fear of castration
The vacuity of thought behind Labour’s revival of patriotic, flag waving fervour was underlined this morning with a quote from Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, who in affirming Labour’s support for the Trident nuclear missile system said “Labour is the party of sovereign defence capability.” This word ‘sovereign’ I imagine is going to be implanted in many a shadow minister’s speech, even when it is blatantly untrue—that is, when we have no ‘sovereignty’ at all, as with the US controlled Trident missile system. I dread to think where the Party is headed to. With Peter Mandelson called in to help Starmer through these choppy times, how long will it be before we see Labour party political broadcasts reincarnating Mandelson’s famous castrated bulldog© from 1997? If we’re so concerned with so-called sovereignty, I hope to hear more opposition from the Labour benches against those enclaves of foreign dominion otherwise known as ‘freeports.’ Opposition? Is that a new concept? The party's leadership is behaving as if it were caught in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut without the faintest idea which way to turn (well, almost: anything to do with 'Corbynism' is being airbrushed).
It's doin' me head in
Keeping up to speed with what is being worked out in the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the moment seems almost as challenging as answering the Schleswig-Holstein Question. The legal intricacies of the case are demanding, the consequences possibly far reaching, the personal un-relationships excruciating. In other words, it’s all very absorbing and productive of much merriment for those who consider the current state of Scottish politics a standing joke—or, in other words, exactly where the English would like Scottish politics to be facing the possibility of an Act of Disunion.
I’ve followed Craig Murray’s exhaustive reporting on this subject, and one conclusion is clear—the British mainstream media are inclined to avoid giving any credence to Alex Salmond’s evidence—even though he was acquitted of all charges of sexual impropriety (at least such impropriety that amounted to alleged criminal behaviour). His accusers are protected by legal anonymity, and their evidence—or should I say the evidence Salmond claims to have which would help substantiate his side of the story cannot be revealed lest it potentially reveals their identity. No wonder he has been stymied in coming forward with his evidence—he’s not been allowed to use it. On the other hand, Nicola Sturgeon gets away with accusing him of not providing the evidence. In the meantime, the phrase ’conspiracy theory’ is kicked around largely to Salmond’s detriment.
From my distant perspective it is hard to decipher all that is going on, and I suspect many Scots may see the whole thing as a distraction, or at best a mildly fascinating political soap opera. It is a drama that on the face of it doesn’t really have any bearing on the independence debate, on Covid or on Brexit. It is a source of salacious amusement. In that context, whatever the particular outcome of this particular case, it will soon be forgotten, and both protagonists may end up on the same scrapheap, quickly to be shovelled over. Which of course means, at least from the SNP ‘loyalist’ side that there will be one or two already lining up to take Sturgeon's place - she's not coming out of this smelling of roses. As for Salmond, what can he hope for? A publishing deal?
+One of the questions now taxing Johnson’s enormous brain is whether we should be issued with Covid vaccination ‘passports.’ I’m all in favour of the idea (hopefully whatever emerges can’t be forged). But immediately I can sense an eruption of civil liberties arguments, since if everybody had to carry such a ‘passport’ to access certain services, there would inevitably be those who feared it would involve tracing their movements, and others would feel left out if they hadn’t, for whatever reason been inoculated. These days, such objections are a bit behind the times. Everybody who owns a mobile phone, shops with a credit card (a vastly increasing number given the hygiene issues surrounding cash handling), possesses a driving licence and basically has any interaction at all with the modern world will be ’tracked and traced’ whether they like it or not. Personally, I wouldn’t object to having what essentially amounts to an ID card. If I possessed such a thing, and if it came with utterly ID-theft defeating technology, it could come in very handy proving who I am. One hears too many stories of people whose identity has been stolen being forced into all sorts of arduous remedies to try to reclaim their legal status in disputes. Of course there are downsides. The prospect has to be thoroughly tested and safeguards built in. But I suspect whether we like it or not, a new form of ‘passport’ is on its way and we have to anticipate its dangers and benefits. I was in Parliament when Labour first considered introducing ID cards. Naturally, the idea was seen as an extension of New Labour’s authoritarian tendencies. At the time I was willing to consider it, if it could be combined with an application related to proposals I was also proposing at the time for individual carbon rationing. At this point, it all gets rather complicated so I’ll shut up.
+Talking of authoritarian tendencies, we here in North Yorkshire are being denied county council elections this year, since the government is carrying out a review of our local councils’ structure. This has yet to report, so voting has been delayed until next year. The Secretary of State justifies the delay on the grounds that electors may be confused this year as to what they’re voting for. In other words, he thinks we are too thick. I would suggest that the minority of people who do vote in local elections are probably better informed than he gives us credit for. It’s a great shame, I was due to be a candidate (albeit of the ‘paper’ variety).
The Normality landings
+Bad show, Johnson. If our heroic Prime Minister really was Churchillian, he would have chosen the 6th of June for the long anticipated ending of all Covid lockdown measures. But it seems the 21st is the date when we will be allowed to breathe the air of freedom. The 6th of June would be more resonant of course, being the date of D Day, 1944 itself. I am surprised and disappointed that Johnson has failed to do a proper Winston. It doesn’t augur well. But all the talk today is of the Road To Freedom, which puts one in mind of Jean Paul Sartre’s famous trilogy, the Roads To Freedom. According to Wikipedia, “the Roads to Freedom as a trilogy reflects many of Sartre's best-known existentialist concepts, including bad faith, or self-deception, the acknowledgment of freedom that comes with both anguish and personal responsibility for one's actions, and how those actions embody the personal and social morality that one promotes.” Bad faith and self deception just about sums up Johnson, although I think there may be some issues around having bad faith and self deception at the same time.
+Far be it for me to jump on the Harry and Megs bandwagon, but I think on this one I do side with Her Maj. When she sees royal family mediocrities strike out on their own, it always seems to end badly, and that always reflects badly on The Firm. Is it safe to assume that the no-longer royal couple would be getting quite so much interest (and money) if they hadn’t once been part of our glorious pageant? Actually, given the amount of dosh they seem to be raking in (whilst the iron is still hot) surely it is time for the Queen herself to be interviewed by Oprah. That could pay the dole of the whole family for several years.
On the trail of doomsters
I have just finished reading climate scientist Michael Mann’s recently published book ‘The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet.’ It is a good read, and for a climate scientist it is rather pugilistic—scientists don’t usually write in such combative terms. But Mann, as the book amply reveals, revels in his status as a climate change defender—against various breeds of deniers, deflectors and doomsters (many funded by the fossil fuels industry). He’s popping up everywhere debunking their arguments, and probably as a result has been personally attacked (not least in the infamous ‘Climategate’ ‘scandal’ of 2009). He does a lot of debunking in this book, so it is a useful corrective for some of the latest tactics employed to try to defend the energy industry status quo. It made me wonder whether I should be classified as a ‘doomster’ for having written a book on climate change called ‘Too Little Too Late: the politics of climate change,’ published in 2009. But here we are in 2021 and some of the same arguments are still being had. So far as Mann’s analysis goes, I have little to quibble with. One of his main proposals is the introduction of carbon pricing, and I’m all in favour of that (I did in effect introduce a bill on the subject back in the 2000’s.) I have wondered, too, whether climate change solutions could actually be found within our current capitalist system. Some think that’s unlikely, Mann names Naomi Klein as representing that view.
But the book is fairly light on two issues. Firstly, do we simply hope and pray that various technical solutions such as renewable energy and conservation will be rolled out sufficiently to do the trick—that is, sufficient to the task? Secondly, when it comes to investment and maybe societal change, how do we know what is sufficient in the rapidly diminishing timescale left to solve the problem? Just as with Covid, we may be told (e.g. here in the UK) that we are world beating and will get on top of Covid-19, but what about the rest of the world? Climate change is a much deeper problem than Covid, and requires greater, permanent societal change. Until that’s recognised, efforts to stem it will inevitably be stymied, not least by the vested interests Mann names, but also the natural conservatism of politicians faced with polling day.
Ahhh, politics! Mann’s book was completed before we saw the results of the US election last year. On climate change Biden is undoubtedly better than Trump (if he delivers). But the fact that Trump’s popular vote went up to the second highest ever in US history (second only to Biden) tells us we still have a lot to worry about politically. But Mann is, for all his insights, a scientist not a politician. Never once in the book did I see the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ deployed. Still, after reading this book, perhaps I’m just a little bit less of a doomster than I once was.
At least he's made a start
Whatever else one might think of President Biden, that is, whether he really represents a significant change from Trump (and some commentators don’t seem so sure, apart from his being more civil) his promotion of the climate change agenda merits attention for what it includes (and doesn’t). The headline favoured in the media is that the US will return to the Paris Agreement. That Agreement, to recap, allows signatory nations to create their own ‘Nationally Determined’ plans which they can and probably will use as a fig leaf for not doing all that is required to solve a global problem. So it is not clear whether lots of useful, but insufficient policies will actually get us to the top of the down escalator. But one of Biden’s policies contained in his Executive Order caught my eye:
'Sec. 215. Civilian Climate Corps. In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 214 of this order, the Secretary of the Interior, in collaboration with the Secretary of Agriculture and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall submit a strategy to the Task Force within 90 days of the date of this order for creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, within existing appropriations, to mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs. The initiative shall aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.'
Perhaps this is something we should emulate, not least to find work for the millions made redundant because of the pandemic. A feature of this policy and many others in the Order is that action has to be formulated ‘within 90 days.’ That would be a challenge for the Johnson government. Another difficulty the Tories would face is the use of the language creating union jobs which is sprinkled throughout the Order.
What to believe?
+I may have slipped up comparing Alexei Navalny with Julian Assange. Whist they both share the characteristic of being thorns in the side of government, I was alerted by Counterpunch to an article that appeared in the New York Times on the 9th March, 2011:
‘Five years ago, he quit the liberal party Yabloko, frustrated with the liberals’ infighting and isolation from mainstream Russian opinion. Liberals, meanwhile, have deep reservations about him, because he espouses Russian nationalist views. He has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, “I recommend a pistol.”’
The West loves him because he hates Putin, is media savvy and came close to martyrdom. But actually we don’t really hear very much about his politics. Maybe he’s changed in the last 10 years. We may never be told—after all, all the leaders in troubled countries backed in Western coups were devoted democrats, weren’t they?
+ The Tories have today leaked a 'draft White Paper' which proposes reining in some of the NHS reforms they (along with the LibDems) introduced in the early years of their rule. These reforms introduced a much higher level of private sector competition into the NHS, notably in primary care. We are going to hear quite a lot about this 'u-turn' in the next few days, and my suspicious mind tells me that they are flying a kite either to distract from their Covid cock-ups or are really totally sincere in their desire to repair the damage they have done over the years. Now which could it be? There is a third alternative, which is to say they are so fearful of Starmer's New New Labour Party they are trying to steal Labour's strongest suit. Yes, maybe that's it, and if so Labour should be very worried indeed - if there's any substance to the 'draft' leaked paper, it signals a very difficult battle to come.
Our glorious liberal media are reporting every detail of the Alexi Navalny case. The man ‘Putin poisoned’ has been condemned by a Russian court to serve out a three and a half year suspended sentence on what the defence claim are trumped up fraud allegations. That may well be true, and I certainly doubt that a high profile opponent of Putin would be so stupid as to engage in any form of criminal activity that would give Putin’s regime the opportunity to imprison them. But what luck Navalny is not called Assange, for if he were we would hardly hear anything about him, or of the nefarious treatment of this government critic, banged up in jail on trumped up charges. As far as I’m concerned, they’re two peas in the same pod, or perhaps I should say cell.