Listening to the radio sometimes does me ‘ed in. An item this evening on BBC Radio 4’s PM Programme covered what masqueraded as news the establishment of some new commission or other to examine how government works. One of the interviewees was a member of that commission, Baroness Sally Morgan. She was one of Tony Blair’s key advisors, so is clearly inimitably acquainted with the ins and outs of good government. Speaking in bland bureaucratese she explained what the problems were. Divining some sense out of what she said, one might assume ‘everything.’ The system is a proverbial tanker, hard to shift from its eternal course. What expertise the Baroness will bring to this probing study of government may be related to her directorships of failed private companies (check out Wikipedia) since she left the orbit of Downing Street. In her interview she called for, in effect a greater revolving door between the private sector and the civil service. These revolving doors are of course known to work very well, like in the defence and nuclear industries where basically government departments are ‘captured.’ I was upbraided once by a former chief whip for publicly criticising (in the Guardian, no less) the tendency of former Labour cabinet ministers et al to find their post-political fortunes in the private sector. Maybe that’s the kind of issue the new commission will look into? Ha! Only joking!
‘Writing for The Times, the Labour leader said the changes he has made to the party are "permanent, fundamental, irrevocable". He further described the party as unrecognisable from the one he took over in 2019. He wrote for the publication: "There are those who don't like that change, who still refuse to see the reality of what had gone on under the previous leadership. "To them I say in all candour: we are never going back. If you don't like it, nobody is forcing you to stay." (Daily Express, 15th Feb)
For someone like myself, with nearly 40 years membership of the Labour Party, the words of Keir Starmer, (now it seems the Dictator of Party Persecutions (DPP)) are chilling. Can anyone deny that these words suggest anything other than such an intolerance of debate that may fit the profile of a wannabe dictator? Is Starmer now going to put down any dissent with the same dismissive attitude of a Trump or Orban? I have to say I have pondered taking up his invitation, but why should I? Should I leave because one man has developed a Napoleon complex (Starmer too is quite short)? His attempts at creating out of the Labour Party a personality cult is doomed to failure. The only question is how long will it take to fail? It’s not even as if he has an ounce of charisma that would warrant a cult, and the suspicion remains that he has no driving vision (apart from getting the keys to No.10) but flip flops around depending on who’s whispering in his ear at any one time. A vassal who is hard on the surface but empty of content. As I may have said before, he is relying on Labour Party members—and voters—to be desperate to see the back of the Tories. That I think sums up much of Labour’s popularity in the polls—it has little to do with any policies Starmer’s poodles have produced. I doubt the average voter would be able to name a single policy, still less the name of the shadow minister who produced it. The big question is: who exactly has taken over the Labour Party? I don’t think it’s sufficient merely to say ‘Blairites.’
+I can’t say I’ve ever been the biggest fan of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. He seemed just another loyalist with a career in mind. But perhaps I should change my opinion. His pursuit of the ULEZ extension—that is, the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to all of London—has caused a stir, not least amongst London Labour MPs who fear a backlash against this imposition of extra charges for drivers who fill the streets with their fumes. Some people believe that if you can’t see pollution it doesn’t exist, but nitrogen oxide, for example, is a killer. There’s a lot of pressure on Khan not to extend the ULEZ. I wonder if even Beloved Leader Starmer—a London MP— is adding to the pressure behind the scenes. Starmer’s radicalism doesn't extend to doing anything challenging, after all. Go for it Sadiq!
+One of my regular readers has sent me a link to a site that has published some alternative maps of the world. Interesting stuff. Reproduced below is one which shows the full scale of the democratic deficit in the World’s Greatest Democracy, where votes are definitely not equal. I must see if somewhere on the internet there’s a map which places the world’s richest 1% in a map of country-by-country wealth. On this scale, Elon Musk ($185billion) would be the world’s 71st largest country, beating Jordan by $1 billion.
Other maps available at: www.skyline725.com/maps-not-in-your-world-atlas/
Thanks to the Jewish Voice for Labour website, I’ve been made aware of a case in which a Holocaust survivor and member of the Labour Party, Stephen Kapos was threatened with expulsion (and as a result resigned) because he was due to make a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. In this regard, leader Keir Starmer, the Director of Party Persecutions (DPP) has sunk to a new low. A fellow Holocaust survivor tried to move the following motion at his party branch meeting:
“This branch and CLP are distressed by the action of the London Regional Labour Party which threatened Mr Stephen Kapos with expulsion for planning to participate in the Holocaust Memorial Day webinar organized by the Socialist Labour Network. Holocaust Memorial Day is the day when on 27 January we remember millions of Jews, Roma and Sinti killed by Nazis during the Second World War. It is an event that must be kept outside current politics. Stephen Kapos is one of the last Holocaust survivors. He survived Holocaust in Budapest as a seven-year-old child. To censor a Holocaust survivor for his willingness to speak about his life experience is simply unacceptable. As a result of London Labour’s threatening letter Mr Stephen Kapos resigned from the Labour Party on 27 January 2023. This branch and CLP believe that the Labour Party owes Mr Stephen Kapos an apology.”
Guess what? The London Region Labour Party ruled it out of order, on the grounds that it broke party rules on discussing disciplinary cases and that it somehow ‘targeted’ regional staff. Since Mr Kapos had resigned it clearly could not any longer be considered a live disciplinary case, and the motion does not ‘attack’ party staff members. We are all surely desperate to get rid of the Tories, but it is getting harder and harder to believe Keir Starmer and his acolytes deserve any respect. Sorry, I should have said ‘impossible.’
Liz Truss’s relaunch over the weekend received quite a lot of attention, with many a suggestion in the right wing media that she was right all along but was just badly treated. One headline, reported by the BBC suggested that she was done in by ‘the left wing economic establishment.’ This suggests several lines of enquiry, the first of which must be that when he was Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell on his many trips to the City actually did sell Corbynism to the Masters of the Universe. But I think that would be a step too far. Another explanation would be that the significant coterie of hard right Tory MPs who still support Truss’s agenda are much to the right of the market makers. These Tories may be described as extremists but never are, even by the Guardian’s standards. For these Tories, the best rewards come out of the destruction of the system. Tory Maoists. A third explanation is perhaps the most worrying, namely that Starmer’s Labour Party has now so closely aligned itself to the interests of the City that it has indeed become part of the ’left wing economic establishment,’ although the word ’left’ has been misappropriated. To discover the truth of this last supposition, we could do well to ask the current Shadow Chancellor, formerly of the Bank of England, Rachel Reeves. As regards Truss, we now face the unappetising prospect of her popping up every other week as she tries to rehabilitate herself and her destructive fantasies, such efforts never of course being accompanied by an apology. The reason she won’t apologise is that she actually believes she had a mandate to do what she did. The fact that this ‘mandate’ was largely delivered by a small bunch of racist gerontics in the Tory Party seems to have escaped her notice.
+So, the name Nick de Bois has entered the gentle tumble dryer of this blog. To recap, I bought three books in my local library’s book sale, one of which was called Confessions of a Recovering MP, by de Bois who was a one-term MP from 2010 to 2015. To be accurate, the book sale offer was two books for a quid, buy two and get the third one free. So this slight tome came free. In this context, its title would not have broken the Trades Descriptions Act, since there weren’t, so far as I could detect any confessions in it. Or should I say nothing which amounted to, metaphorically speaking, anything more than admitting putting three lumps of sugar in your tea rather than two (or perhaps running uninvited through a cornfield. Perhaps in that particular reference Theresa May didn’t tell us that she was naked at the time). So it was not a revealing read, unless you are interested in the quotidian existence of a backbench MP—and there was a lot of the quotidian in it. I was relieved to hear that de Bois’ second wife had a dislike for Prince Charles (over HRH’s affair with that woman Camilla) and didn’t want to meet still less curtsy to the future king at some Kensington Palace do. Thus, Confessions ends up in the book sale, unmourned and forgotten. But there is one striking thing about it. De Bois was a Tory MP throughout the austerity years and barely says a word about it—it is thus an accurate picture of life as a Tory MP, pretty much oblivious to the destruction his government wreaked. But what’s that compared to fretting over what to do with a £5,000 watch given to you on an expenses paid trip to Kuwait, and the agony on said trip of having to carry your own bags in a luxurious hotel? I think it’s time book titles more accurately described their content.
+I note that this blog has been going for five years now. I’m afraid I haven’t had time to acknowledge all the congratulatory messages flooding in for what bots describe as my ‘learning content’ but it does make me feel confident in my self-description in Who’s Who as amongst other things a ‘blogger.’ At some point I will have to seek a publisher for my book Confessions of a Blogger.
+A few more words on my bibliophilia. I am sitting on 20 years’ worth of Hansard—the official record of House of Commons debates, questions, statements and such and such. MPs could opt to receive the hard copy of these in nicely bound green volumes, and I did. On top of that, I inherited the entire collection of Hansards from my predecessor, John Gunnell. This enabled me to set up a display in my constituency office which would have made a country solicitor proud, should he or she for example want to impress clients with a good set of Halsbury’s Laws behind their desk. What better way of demonstrating your gravitas? But the internet has irrevocably changed the usefulness of these books. A Google search will take you to all the pearls of wisdom your MP dispenses faster than a physical search of volume after volume of physical record. I seem to recall some years ago the usual media suspects questioning the cost of producing these bound volumes--given for nowt to vain MPs (shock!).
But it begs the question why print anything these days? Thankfully, the evidence suggests that people like books. It seems more independent bookshops are opening, and reading on such gadgets as Kindle has plateaued. The book has not died, and in some cases the publication of a new book in its essentially centuries old form can be widely anticipated, as with—to choose one at random--Spare, by somebody called Prince Harry. For some reason, the publication of a physical book has more value than a release on the net. This is surely a good thing, since a book can have a second, third and forth life whereas anything on the net can be taken away by persons or corporations unknown at the flick of a switch. On the internet you don’t need a Farenhiet 451 just a delete button.
Also on my selves is a full set of Encyclopedia Britannicas from 1953, the year of my birth. These were bought in instalments by my parents as an investment in me and my brothers' education, so cannot be disposed of even if they are 70 years out of date—it would be sacrilegious. I once had a set (minus the volume for everything beginning with N) that was even more out of date, bought in a library sale for £10. This edition was published around 1931, so Hitler’s one paragraph entry had him down as an insignificant regional politician. If only the record had stopped there! Just occasionally it’s good to pull a volume out at random, open it at random, and see what you come up with, a similar serendipitous experience one could have delving into a library’s card index system back in the day. So, here at random I’ve picked out volume 5, Castir to Cole of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and once again randomly alighted on page 612. Here’s an interesting and somewhat topical entry:
CHMIELNICKI, BOGDAN (c.1593-1657), hetman of the Cossacks, but a Pole by descent, was born near Chigrin in the Ukraine. After serving with the Cossacks in the Ukraine campaign in 1646 against the Turks, he suffered Polish persecution as a royalist and a Cossack, and he fled to the Cossack settlements of the Lower Dneiper. On April 11, 1648, at an assembly of the Zaporozhians (see POLAND: History), he declared his intention of fighting the Poles and was elected ataman. As a result of his victory at Zheltnaya Vodui and Kruta Balka in May the serfs rose. Throughout the Ukraine Polish gentry and the Jesuits were hunted down and slain. The rebels swarmed over the palatinates to Volhnia and Podolia, and Chmielnicki routed the Poles at Pildawa (Sept. 23) In June 1649 he entered Kiev, where he permitted the committal of atrocities on the Jews and Roman Catholics. . . .[and the article goes on in a similar vein until] . . At Betersteczko (July 1, 1651) Chmielnicki was defeated. In 1652 he sent an embassy to the Tsar asking Russia’s alliance, and in 1654 he took an oath of allegiance to him.
I wonder if Tsar Putin has read this?
The last entry on p.612 is ‘Chocolate,’ which has a somewhat less contested history.
+I always felt there was something familiar about our Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. I’ve now tracked down the origin of this feeling: he used to play ‘Blakie’ in On The Buses—with the same goofy smile, the same perky incompetence (see below).
As my creaking house well knows, I am a bibliophile. I can’t stop myself buying books. I intend to read them all, but it’s beginning to dawn on me that’s there’s simply not enough time left. Perhaps this is because I don’t read fast paced fiction but puritanically stick to non-fiction, which can be heavier going. As regards fiction, my aversion these days stems from a belief that if you have read the complete works of e.g. Dostoevsky as I have (and a few others) there’s not much more to read—and certainly nothing better. I guess this makes me a little narrow minded. Still, there’s not much that can be done about it. Where do you start with fiction this days? There’s so much of it about.
My experience today teaches me that I am still imbued with this idea that I may learn more from the factual than the fictive. I popped into the library and in their book sale I found a copy of Thomas Piketty’s vast and seminal tome Capital in the Twenty First Century; a book by somebody called Seth Abramson called Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America and on a lighter note, Confessions of a Recovering MP by former Tory MP Nick De Bois. I suspect there won’t be many real confessions in this last volume, but I’m always interested in learning about how others got on in the mysterious Palace of Westminster. So I left the library with this bag full of rather heavy goodies (Piketty’s book alone comes in at nearly 700 pages) and I felt a warm glow of satisfaction that together they had cost me precisely £1. How could I resist? And there’s a reason these books were in the sale—their pristine condition testified to the fact that nobody else had read them. (This reminds me of when, in the opening speeches of a new parliament William Hague, as leader of the opposition responding to an address from the other side, noted that that speaker’s book in the Commons library had never been taken out. A cheap point, but we all laughed, since there’s a grain of truth in every joke, especially at the expense of someone who may expect a greater degree of respect for their literary endeavours. Not every MP could write a book after all, still less have it published, he said snootily.)
So all that remains is to find more shelf space.
We don’t seem to hear much about Venezuela these days. The UK government, in a brief statement to parliament on the 12th January this year said:
On 30 December 2022 the 2015 National Assembly of Venezuela democratically voted to disband the interim government and the position of constitutional interim President held by Juan Guaidó, with effect from 5 January 2023. We respect the result of this vote. We continue to consider the National Assembly elected in 2015 as the last democratically elected National Assembly in Venezuela, and take note of the Assembly’s vote to extend its mandate for another year.
The UK’s government therefore believes that a body whose term expired in 2020 remains legitimate, despite fresh National Assembly elections in 2020, which the government deems illegitimate. And now it appears as if a body whose five year term expired three years ago can extend its life at will. But as Vijay Prashad wrote in Counterpunch on the 10th of January this year:
When I met the leaders of Venezuela’s two historic opposition parties in Venezuela in 2020—Pedro José Rojas of Acción Democrática (AD) and Juan Carlos Alvarado of Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI)—they told me that the 2020 election was legitimate and that they just did not know how to overrun the massive wave of Chavista voters. Since the members of the new assembly took their seats, the 2015 assembly has not set foot in the Palacio Federal Legislativo, which houses the National Assembly, near Plaza Bolívar in Caracas.
I suspect that there may be many questions about the legitimacy of recent Venezuelan elections, but I do not know the facts. What is clear is that the UK government (and many other governments, including the US whom we slavishly follow) talk about ‘internationally recognised democratic standards’ only when it suits them. In Venezuela’s case, this enabled the Bank of England to sit on $2 billion of Venezuelan gold which de facto President Maduro claimed he wanted to help pay for his efforts combating Covid. That’s a real consequence of the UK government’s posturing over ‘democratic standards.’ If there were any consistency in these matters, the UK government would not recognise Putin’s government, nor many others. But Venezuela with a left wing government is in the US ‘back yard’ so has to be treated differently. It is unlikely that this hypocrisy will change with a Starmer government. Venezuela is too close to Corbyn’s heart for that to happen.
Presumably at some point the self-perpetuating 2015 National Assembly will choose another ‘interim president,’ surely they must if they want to be internationally recognised as an ‘administration.’ But who would they choose? Who would be the kind of figure that would earn the plaudits of Western leaders? Of the last ‘interim president' Noam Chomsky wrote (The Precipice, Penguin, 2021, p.210):
Maduro has been a disaster, and the best the opposition has to offer is the self-declared president Juan Guaidó. About him little is known, apart from his great admiration for the neofascist Brazilian president Jair Bolsanario whom Guaidó praised for his commitment to “democracy [and] human rights,” as illustrated for example by his criticism for Brazil’s military dictatorship-because it . . . didn’t murder 30,000 people as in neighbouring Argentina, the worst of the vicious military dictatorships that swept across South America from the 1960s.
Yes, the UK government would be happy with one of those.