In my dotage
I am a candidate in this year’s local elections, for the Seamer Ward of Scarborough Borough Council. We (that is the Labour Party) have not stood a candidate here, so far as I can tell, for over ten years or more so I will be interested to see what the outcome will be this year. Presumably I can expect a good drubbing, but who knows? A significant part of the ward is what I once would have called ‘Blair country’ which is to say it is new housing, possibly a fairly young family-orientated demographic, car owners with regular jobs and mortgages. I notice that Tony Blair seems to have been fairly quiet of late, and as I have written here before he may find himself in a bit of a quandary. Politically he probably would be inclined to support the so-called ‘Fringe Tingers’ of the Chukka/Heidi ilk, but with his historic fortunes resting on his Labour Party leadership he may feel a personal obligation to keep schtum so far as is physically possible. Anyway, what he does won’t be the first concern on the minds of the electors of Seamer (and Crossgates and Irton). Some may be more interested why their trains are so often late and jam packed. And other concerns will impinge which are entirely the creation of this dreadful government. Go on! Give them a good kicking! I doubt that any readers of this blog actually live in Seamer Ward, but if you do please have a look here.
Although politics has been so dominant in my life, I have not entirely given up in my dotage (Really? Only going on 66 and that’s already your dotage?), but I did feel it was time to part with my political archive before it rotted away in my shed. This is now deposited with Huddersfield University, which I think has done some excellent work on Left politics. I sent them about 90-odd boxes of material which I had collected not just from my own experience but also from the collections of others who needed to find a home for countless leaflets, etc. I have always harboured the belief that whilst record keeping amongst the ‘ruling class’ would be first class, and treasured by the nation in honour of the Great and the Good’s Enormous Contribution to Our Country, the records of for want of a better expression the ‘working class’ often would be neglected and destroyed as worthless, or too insignificant to merit preservation. Of course, minute books (even if minutes were kept) of Labour Party branch meetings might not have been riveting reading, but for, say, social historians at least they could be of equal worth with things like Mass Observation. So I kept everything and have now passed the whole pile on to Huddersfield, and I hope whoever has the unenviable task of cataloguing it doesn’t go mad. I’ve just discovered another five boxes at home. A summary of what they have categorised so far for anyone who’s interested can be found here.
I’ve just returned from a pleasant three day sojourn in Paris. Three whole days in which no news was good news, although the dreaded B-word did ensure that Eurostar kept sending messages to future passengers not to travel from Gare du Nord, due to French customs industrial action. As it was there was no sign of any French industrial action, and the longest bit of the queue was to get through the British Border Force’s passport control. We Brits don’t need industrial action in order to create a queue. Returning on the 29th March was I thought likely to be the last opportunity I would have to travel as a fully-fledged European citizen, but it seems I underestimated Theresa May’s ineptitude. Picking up today’s Guardian I may well have not bothered going away – the story is the same as a week ago, except the long grass has just got a little bit longer.
Sitting in the sunshine on the Left Bank, sipping an expresso whilst reading the New York Times, I came across an article outlining the dangers of the Israel/Trump love-in. Whilst some utopians still talk of a ‘two-state’ solution, the direction of travel is a one-state solution, which I suppose we could call ‘Greater Israel,’ and which clearly has the full support of Trump (as demonstrated by his backing of Israel’s colonial theft of the Golan Heights). As the article pointed out, this version of Israel will incorporate a large number of Palestinians. How exactly will Israel deal with this enlarged Arab population? Will Israel be able to maintain its ‘Jewish nation state’ presumption? If the Palestinian Authority ceases to exist (with little or no territory left to control) will the more aggressive Hamas become the main focus of Palestinian resistance? What will happen if more and more Palestinains are dispossessed and exiled? I do hope Netanyahu is locked up soon, it’s a pity Trump seems no closer to such a fate.
Whilst in Paris I visited the Pompidou Centre for a wonderful Victor Vaserely exhibition, of which more later under Perambulations.
Have you stocked up yet?
Now that a government advertising campaign has begun advising E.U. citizens living and working in the U.K. to apply for ‘settled status’ (applications now free, but the original price tag I believe was £75) there was a rather shaming interview on the BBC PM programme this evening. It featured a woman who has been living here for years, with her two children – and I believe she said her husband had been working and living here for 20 years – saying the family was thinking of leaving. What a bloody disgrace this is. And how ashamed of one’s own country should we overly proud Brits be? Your children are at school, you're paying your mortgage, you’ve learnt the language and sufficient skills to have a job and pay your taxes – and then like some alien you have to register with the bureaucracy your existence as if you were a threat, a lesser human being? Remind you of anything?
But we have a government which co-incidentally sits on top (judging from today’s Guardian) of an Islamophobic volcano within its own ranks. There is something truly awful going on. What I wonder really explains it? I’m not looking for the explanation amongst those who voted for Brexit for the usual reasons, i.e. immigration, austerity, to kick the establishment – what I’m wondering about are the very keepers of that establishment, who seem to have accepted a course of self-immolation, harbouring some form of patriotic self-disgust to the extent that they can no longer be at ease with themselves unless they scratch this ’foreign’ scab until it is a deep wound. That’s what it feels like. It would be a price worth paying, perhaps (a big perhaps) if Brexit meant the end of the Conservative Party, which in most sane circles can now only be seen as unfit to govern. What happened to the ‘natural’ party of government? It seems to me like May is trying to keep something together which has already irrevocably fallen apart. I wonder if what we are suffering from now is the result of the Conservative’s greatest crisis ever (duhh), or if it is something which its natural survival instinct will save it from (with all the horrors that will entail). The trouble is, if we do get a no deal Brexit, it is likely the Conservative Party will be reborn, and its new self will be triumphantly of a Tea Party-like character. C’mon Jeremy, get stuck in!
I’m glad I was out of the country on Wednesday, so missed Theresa May’s ‘we’ll fight them on the backbenches’ speech to the nation. I have now seen a bit of it and she is a despairing vision, lacking authority, intellectual grasp or rhetorical flourish. Many have excoriated her speech, deservedly so, and that being the case I won’t bang on about it. But what bothers me is that she represents us, she is theoretically in charge of the nation’s fate, she somehow – incredibly - is the summation of British hopes and desires. She is none of these things of course, she could be better cast in some Coen brothers film, perhaps ‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There.’ I’m not sure that even the Coen brothers would be able to turn May’s hapless, witless character into something amusing. Perhaps we should look to Ken Loach, who could turn his camera to filming the sequel to I, Daniel Blake. This would be ‘I, Theresa May’ and would be an equivalent study of hopelessness, bureaucratic obstinacy and plain stupidity, combining to make all concerned suicidal.
To any readers interested in my Perambulations in the art world, I have just posted a review of an exhibition at Humber Street Gallery, Hull.
The failure of reason
My old friend Aubrey Meyer – one of the world’s most informed voices on climate change – has very kindly put up a page on his website which recounts some of the parliamentary activities on that subject he and I undertook in the 2000s. The framework Aubrey had developed, known as Contraction and Convergence, was the only logical and rational approach to defining a solution that I ever came across. It simply combined the principle of contracting greenhouse gas emissions to a scientifically defined ‘safe’ level whilst distributing the responsibility for achieving that goal on an equitable basis, which is to say by leading to a globally equalised per capita share of the problem. Whilst most politicians would give lip service to the former concept, the convergence part presented them with challenges. Nevertheless, to its credit the Labour government’s Climate Change Act did lift the Contraction and Convergence framework as its formula, although in typical fashion it was reluctant to acknowledge the source.
I now personally doubt that reducing carbon emissions alone will solve the problem. The multiplicity of global warming feedback mechanisms suggest that the climatic changes we face are irreversible. The hit and miss efforts (and money) to mitigate climate change will increasingly be redirected to adapting to it. The rich and poor divide will be exacerbated by climate change to an extent never witnessed before. Overly pessimistic? Just read the news.
One hand clapping
Here’s three cheers for Commons Speaker John Bercow for throwing a huge spanner into the Brexit works. Telling the government that it cannot bring back a substantially unchanged Brexit Bill which has been voted down twice before should hearten everyone who rallied behind the cry ‘take back control.’ It seems that his ruling, made without giving notice beforehand to the government caught them off-guard and left them furious. But they have no excuse – was there really no one in their midst who couldn’t have anticipated this possibility? Or are they so arrogant as to think they can still, despite their heavy defeats, ride roughshod over the Commons? I’m glad I supported Bercow when I had the chance.
But where does this latest impasse leave us? I suspect the Brexiteers will sniff a chance, which is to say they will tell May that her game is up so let’s leave with no deal on the 29th. After all, that is the law as it stands. So, on the one hand three cheers for Bercow. On the other, it’s the desultory sound of one hand clapping.
Wait for it . . .
I saw a tweet by Representative Liz Cheney (daughter of George W. Bush’s boss, Dick Cheney) reproduced in Counterpunch, which sounded eerily familiar: "[The Democrats] have become the party of anti-Semitism, they've become the party of infanticide, they've become the party of socialism." Were the last bit true, it would explain why the same specious nonsense that is thrown at Labour is so often repeated – although it has to be said I’ve not yet heard Labour being called the party of infanticide. It’s only a matter of time . . .
At the end of the day
I may not have been blogging every day these last two weeks but I’m quite proud of the fact I haven’t mentioned Brexit once during that time, well, not since the 2nd March. How often can you relive Groundhog Day? The only thing that seems to be changing is everyone’s general level of exasperation. But never fear! According to the Bishop on Thought For The Day this morning, what’s happening now is just a normal part of the natural functioning of democracy, and it’s just a question of being patient with our politicians. To a certain degree, I agree. Especially when the politicians have been presented with a sharpened stick which they are then asked to stick up a certain orifice . . . a crude analogy but it suffices.
Westminster and Whitehall are in turmoil, and like the public at large people seem ever more locked into immutable positions. They’re taking their lead from Theresa May of course, who if she can’t get her way must go down as a martyr. I wonder about the quality of the debate within the Commons. Putting to one side the jeering and point scoring, most MPs if they get a chance to contribute to a ‘debate’ will just read from prepared speeches and are obliged only to remain in the chamber to hear the speech of whoever comes after them. Prepared speeches were once considered a no-no but now they are the norm. The objection to coming with prepared speeches is that they pre-empt the idea of genuine debate, where you listen to the other side and respond to it. These days your allotted time is better spent making the points you want to see repeated in the local press or on your blog, or carved for all time into the great monument to democracy which is called Hansard.
Some MPs, who class themselves as orators, manage without notes or written speeches, but they will have nevertheless memorised their points and whilst speaking won’t want to be put off their stride. Sometimes they will want to make the same point over and over as if they were making different points. Such ‘orators’ could be the most automaton-like. John Redwood comes to mind. And what was it they said of Neil Kinnock, why use one word when three will do? Is this a glass, a beaker, a receptacle I see before me?!
The dynamics of the Commons generally precludes cross-party working (except in Select Committees where often a consensus will be reached that the government of the day is doing a crap job). One wonders why in the situation we are in now why more effort isn’t being made to achieve cross-party consensus. I realise that some alliances have been built, and of course there is the magnificent ‘Funny Tinge Group’ – but that largely came into being for an entirely different reason. I suppose (at the end of the day) Corbyn quite rightly doesn’t want to throw a lifeline to a hopelessly skewered Prime Minister. So roll on a general election.
Stop the plane, I want to get off
The crashes of the Boeing 737s in Indonesia and Ethiopa have focused attention on the complexity of today’s airliners. How is it possible that a computer can over-ride a human? Trump’s tweet on the subject is possibly the first time I’ve ever agreed with him, and has led to all 737s being grounded. I don’t doubt that at some point the pilots of the two downed aircraft (Indonesian? Ethiopan?) will be blamed, at least for being poorly trained (i.e. not up to our standards).
It seems Trump also tweeted about unnecessary developments in technology which nobody really needs. He is, of course a generational reactionary – even though he tweets to his heart’s content. Doesn’t he know what social media is doing – unnecessarily – to society? The name for this phenomenon is creative destruction, which capitalism relies upon to generate profit, it is akin to the Shock Doctrine technique in many regards. And anybody who uses the latest tech is drawn into the never ending vicious circle of upgrading for fear of becoming an outcast.
Now I’m considering buying a new mobile phone because my current model, which I think I bought maybe seven or eight years ago has developed a ‘fault.’ But how do I know it’s a fault? How could I possibly know, since what goes on inside a mobile phone is a mystery to me and for that matter 99.9% of the world’s population (and probably more than that)? Apple were caught out deliberately making their older model i-phones useless. And I feel sorry for people who believe that Alexas are the latest must have. One day it is certain that their lives will be disrupted by this – what? Time saver? Convenience? Eventual partner? I sincerely hope my driving days will be over before driverless cars hit the road. I hope they are kept out of pedestrianised areas – but if they are deemed safe why should they be excluded? Somebody will no doubt argue that they’ll be no more dangerous than mobility scooters.
The politics of this stuff, stemming from the 737 crashes is explored in an excellent blog by Louis Proyect, here.
Quite a coup
Back with Chavez: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. I don’t know how I missed this film back in 2003. It must be because it came in a DVD insert in the back of the book which I never got round to reading. Nor did I watch it when shown on the BBC that year. As an MP at the time I may be have been preoccupied with other things in 2003.
So despite the current mess Venezuela is in today, and despite the separate debatable issue of Chavez’s alleged anti-semitism, the film is as topical today as it was 15 years ago – and very watchable, gripping even, as it follows the short lived coup attempt against Chavez in 2002. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it isn’t used as a training video by the CIA.
Complaints were made about the film by Venezuelan oppositionists, and following the BBC screening both the BBC and OFCOM investigated these but found no case to answer. At the time, the BBC said it wouldn’t show it again whilst it was under investigation. I suggest that they now do show it again, as something of a corrective to their own rather partial reporting, which I’ve mentioned in previous blogs.
Back to the book – which analyses the film’s production and reception – and I found this entertaining anecdote:
It is clear that substantial resources and direct efforts are being made to counter and contain what the U.S. State Department sees as a ‘strategic threat’ to the region In 2005 $6 million was allotted for its interventions. At this point evidence for U.S. involvement in the coup remains fascinating, but circumstantial, such as the extraordinary incident days before the coup on 8 April where a U.S. Marine officer David Cazares mistook Chavez loyalist General Roberto Gonzales Cardenas for coup-plotter General Nestor Gonzales Gonzales at a formal farewell reception for the departing Chinese military attache in Caracas. Not realising there were two General Gonzaleses in the Venezuelan military High Command, he approached the wrong one (the name tag on a general’s uniform only says the first last name). Apparently he said ‘Why haven’t you contacted the ships that we have on the coast and the submarine we have submerged in La Guaira? What has happened? Why has no-one contacted me? What are you waiting for?’ Puzzled by the questions, the wrong Gonzales merely took his business card and replied ‘I’ll find out.’ (Chavez, etc. p.100)
Whilst amusing, I’m not sure this story stacks up. Is it really possible the American could have been so stupid as to mix two high ranking officers up when one of them was in on the game? At a reception of all places? Perhaps in support of it, the film does reveal that an American registered plane had landed on the island where Chavez was briefly held during the coup.
Yes, the BBC should definitely show the film again. At prime time. I think it would be quite a coup.