+ I wrote this last night. Is somebody actually reading my blog? I don’t want to alarm you, but an entire country has disappeared off the map. It seems that Venezuela should no longer be of interest to us – since we’re simply not getting any news from there anymore. How could this be? Has the invasion plan gone off the boil? Was it really true that the supermarkets didn’t actually run out of goods? Did BBC correspondents run out of bin scavengers to interview? Or are we simply being asked to wait a bit longer for the impact of CIA-led subterfuge to be felt? No-one knows. But my guess is that the Venezuelan counter-revolution will be in full swing again shortly, depending of course upon what else our attention needs to be diverted from. Today’s news is of course that a coup is underway. Whether it succeeds is yet to be seen.
++ The BBC, or at least Radio 4’s PM programme is seeking listeners’ views as to how better to report politics. I’m not holding out much hope. The Beeb’s ‘Climate Change: The Facts’ came about 20 years too late, and I am wondering whether they will consistently and deliberately follow up its theme – or was it just a one-off tick box exercise? If I get round to responding to the call for listeners’ input I will merely ask for evidence based questions. If a politician (I choose Margaret Hodge, entirely at random) is invited onto a news programme merely so that she can rant about her opinions, then the least I would expect from the interviewer is to ask her for evidence for those opinions, and I would expect questioning to be persistent in that pursuit. If the evidence is not forthcoming, or is weak, or concocted, or is not fact-checked, or is unverifiable, then the whole interview should be binned. The same rule should apply to all political interviews. We should not be asking pols for their views, but for their evidence. If they haven’t a grip on this principle, they should be politically asked to eff off.
+ I came across this joke the other day: Theresa May – she’s like crime in a multi-storey car park. It’s just wrong on so many levels. I thought it was quite funny.
++ For the record, I did once invent a joke myself. What do you get when you cross a conspiracy theory with a Leylandii? Hedge of Darkness. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to understand the reference.
+++ I normally consider daytime television to be a creation of the devil. Anyone who has had to endure Jeremy Kyle whilst sat in a waiting room will know what I mean. But this Wednesday I will glue myself to the parliamentary channel to listen in to the Labour Party’s Opposition Day debate on calling a ‘climate emergency.’ Could this be a significant shift? I hope so, and not merely as a politically savvy response to Extinction Rebellion, etc. I hope too that Labour’s leadership will recognise the Paris Agreement to be a political fig leaf, barely concealing an utterly specious and inadequate attempt at action. I fully anticipate the government’s response to the debate to include fulsome mention of the Paris Agreement. If so, that will tell you all you need to know about this ‘commitment’ to solve the climate crisis.
+ The local elections are in full swing, but you’d never guess it from the mainstream media. For most of the fascist rags of course, whatever the result it will be a ‘crushing blow’ for Corbyn and a huge boost to Farage’s Falangists. I suspect it really will be a crushing blow for UKIP if the Brexit Party is standing local candidates. There doesn’t appear to be any of them in Scarborough, so UKIP may still pick up seats although they were hammered four years ago. Local elections were rarely about local issues, and of course only a small minority of people tend to vote in them. I’m standing in Seamer (I think I’ve mentioned this before) where Labour hasn’t stood a candidate for maybe 30 years. That in itself will make the outcome of interest to me personally. For various reasons, but chiefly apathy, these will be the elections that hardly happened. (Photo above): Here I am at Seamer railway station, looking at a timetable. The promised extra trains we were promised haven’t arrived. The ones we have got are more often late or cancelled. Remind you of anything? (Pic: Tina Davy)
++ Back to the ‘new’ politics. Change UK – Independent Party (or whatever they’re called) have rediscovered the Third Way but still haven’t (so far as I know) been endorsed by Tony Blair. Some think this is overdue. Chris Coghlan writing in the New Statesman opined “Tony needs to get his application in for a Change UK MEP candidate fast. If Tony Blair and Nigel Farage faced off in the Euros, it could whip up such a media firestorm that it would leave Labour and the Conservatives in ashes.” Chris clearly lives in cloud cuckoo land and perhaps hasn’t noticed that the media, such as it is, rarely pours water on the Corbyn ‘firestorm’ – so there’d be no change there. And for one thing, Tony was PM for ten years – Farage couldn’t even get elected to parliament, no matter how many times he tried. I said recently that the real new politics are the politics of climate change, and I’m pleased that Labour is this week putting forward a Commons motion to declare a climate emergency. It is also proposing a Green Industrial Strategy, which I read will be officially launched in Scarborough of all places on May 11th. On such subjects, Farage (with his ‘new politics’ side-kick Ann Widdecombe) has nothing to say since he only has one policy. And there are no clues on the Brexit Party website as to any policy substance on that issue whatsoever. You'd think it would be the go-to place to find out what life is going to be like after Brexit, if it ever happens.
+++ Anyway, what is meant by ‘new politics?’ Since the two leading Democratic presidential contenders, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have a combined age of 153, they cannot claim to be exactly new. But we can’t afford to be ageist. Wasn’t Ronald Reagan one of the most successful Presidents ever (some people seem to think so). Yet the question stands, since our general ability to dissect issues and come up with policies that address them now firmly takes second place to what sometimes may laughingly be described as ‘charisma.’ The repellent Boris Johnson comes to mind. His disastrous time as London mayor, punctuated by one policy cock-up after another has done little to dissuade some that he could lead the country. What system could be devised to rid democracy of the curse of ‘charisma?’ Attlee wouldn’t stand a chance today.
What’s the matter with me? Why am I not slavering at the mouth in gushing enthusiasm for next week’s ‘Tour de Yorkshire?’ It can’t be because I’m anti-cycling – I’ve been a member of Cycling UK (what was the CTC) for over 20 years. It can’t be because as a brand new sporting event, the ‘Tour’ still operates on gender divided lines. It can’t be because the event’s chief author, ‘Sir’ Gary Verity has resigned whilst at the same time repaying over £40,000 in expenses, and according to some people may face a police inquiry. It can’t be because both Welcome to Yorkshire, and the co-organiser the French Amaury Sports Organisation are financially unaccountable bodies. It can’t be because some supposedly cash strapped local councils can still pour millions into the event. It can’t be because its chief private sponsor this year is the aggressively pro-fracking firm, Ineos. It can’t be because our roadsides are adorned with signs saying ‘expect delays’ (this on a bank holiday weekend). It can’t be because people feel compelled to dig out old kids bikes, paint them yellow and dump them on verges (a better idea would be to create a bicycle bank, so kids in poor families can have bikes). It can’t be because the alleged financial benefit to Yorkshire of this event is grossly exaggerated (£98 million).
No, it can’t be because of any of the above. It can only be because I am a grumpy old Tyke who was never invited in t’VIP hospitality tent. Tha nose.
What a laugh, listening to Stephen Dorrell on BBC 4’s PM programme this evening. After 49 years in the Tory party, supporting Thatcher and austerity without complaint, he now finds himself in the ‘funny tinge’ ‘Change UK’ party, which like Farage’s Brexit party has become a repository of has-been wannabes seeking to discover the ‘new’ politics that will lead the UK out of its Tory-induced Brexit shambles. Am I behind the curve, I wonder, in not quite understanding that Brexit has changed all the rules? These allegedly ‘new politics’ parties have more in common than meets the eye. In other words, their shared newness does not seek to delve into any of the underlying issues that brought the Brexit vote about, they only express a wish for what each side considers a long standing normal, where longstanding either means the last 40 years or the last 400 years. Both versions of the ‘new’ politics are as outmoded as they could possibly be – but like New Labour, their media hype will tickle some nerve in a long suffering electorate, and should the Euro elections take place, the established parties will receive a good kicking. I’m in no doubt that once the protest vote is out of the way, there will be a lingering, deepened dissatisfaction with the two main parties – who of course will pledge themselves to listen. But who (or what) should they be listening to?
Perhaps they should listen to the science of climate change. If there were ever, possibly, a ‘new’ politics to take root, it might for once be evidence based. It might for once consider the possibility that as somebody once said (I paraphrase) ‘popular wisdom is the sum of the collective ignorance of individuals.’ Dorrell tonight gave a vague nod towards Extinction Rebellion (without mentioning their name) but like those (his Wikipedia entry makes interesting reading) whose main concern is the conservation of their personal economic advantage he has no credibility. The real, ‘new’ politics will depend on the party that tackles climate change getting elected into government. One hopes Jeremy Corbyn understands that this is the new politics. The only impediment is ‘popular wisdom.’ It’s a tough call.
A letter to the Guardian:
I admire Greta Thunberg’s actions on climate change, but I can’t wholly agree with her that ‘MPs have lied.’ MPs are held to account by their electorates, and as is clear even in the advertisements which appear in the Guardian, even the best informed voters like cruises to ever more exotic places, they like ever bigger cars, they aspire to lifestyles which come with higher carbon emissions. In other words, we are all deceiving ourselves, and elected politicians who challenge our cognitive dissonance will fear paying a high price for it. Whilst Extinction Rebellion represents one train of thought, the Yellow Vests in France seem to be motivated not by climate change (Macron’s supposed justification for higher fuel prices) but by personal economics. A courageous government would swiftly introduce carbon rationing, with diminishing, tradable rations for each of us. The price of carbon would be determined by a formula based on the Contraction and Convergence framework, to ensure globally equitable burden sharing. Will it happen? Not until London is inundated I suspect.
The Ukrainian presidential election will have given hope to comedians everywhere. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with no political experience apart from playing an accidental president in a TV series is another example of the electorate giving two fingers to the establishment (whilst probably at the same time letting a different establishment take over behind their new front man). But Zelenskiy sets no precedent. From B-film star Ronald Reagan to TV Apprentice buffoon Trump, from (on a much smaller scale) a Hartlepool football mascot to (quite possibly) Boris Johnson, the perception that a political ‘outsider’ could somehow do a better job running things has gained appeal. The old saying ‘you’re all the same’ has found a new expression, which is to say experience is no longer important because for all that experience politicians still make a hash of it. Why not take a punt on an outsider? This could of course work to Jeremy Corbyn’s advantage, he is the archetypal outsider, almost to the extent of finding himself in a position he’s not sure he really wanted. For those in the right wing media who have so far failed to destroy him, perhaps their best tack now would be to portray him as just another wannabe insider. Perhaps we saw something of that new approach in what has generally been received as a ludicrous book by Tom Bower (which I have no intention of reading) serialised in the fascist press. It is a pity that voters who support ‘outsiders’ rarely seem to spend time looking behind the image. In Corbyn’s case it would be hard not to see what lies behind his ambition, since his 30 years or more as an MP lays bare his politics and who his backers are. It couldn’t be more obvious. But what about Johnson? What about Farage? Both treat politics as a bit of a joke, and like Trump probably don’t feel too encumbered with notions of accountability or transparency. All they care about is their entertainment value, keeping up their name recognition scores on social media.
+To cheer you up, here was the scene in the Hole of Horcum at 11.10 this morning. This I think is the best place to gaze at the famous hole, not from the car park at the top, on the Pickering/Whitby road. Here, Yorkshire is distilled – a derelict cottage amidst daffodils and heather, and not a hint of Brexit in sight. (I am allowing for the possibility that some farmers in the area may be recipients of generous E.U. grants, of course.) Actually, ruminating on my walk I did consider the need to erect a wall after Brexit, after seeing some continental types coming the other way let their dog off the lead despite multiple signs on the gates saying “Keep Your Dog On A Lead,” this being the lambing season.
++ I got a leaflet through the door this morning from our local Tory candidate, who claims ‘Your priorities are my priorities.’ I’m not sure this patronising approach is very wise. He doesn’t mention ending austerity anywhere. He doesn’t mention how many of the problems faced by local government have been caused by Tory government cuts. When will the chickens come home to roost?
I've set finger to keyboard in response to a piece in the Guardian today which reveals that Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, has apologised for saying that "The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists, and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people." Since the political and historical context of Zionism's impact on hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Palestinians is incontrovertible, it is hard to see what is controversial about Burgon's remarks, not least since he specifically says the problem 'is not the Jewish people' per se. The conflation of an attack on Zionism with an attack on Jewish people is par for the course these days.
One trembles at the thought of gainsaying the Board of Deputies or the Jewish Labour Movement, but there are forms of Zionism which deserve criticism. What about Christian Zionism, for example? A quick search on Wikipedia reveals "The Reformed Church in America at its 2004 General Synod found "the ideology of Christian Zionism and the extreme form of dispensationalism that undergirds it to be a distortion of the biblical message noting the impediment it represents to achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine." One could argue that Zionism is Zionism is Zionism, but cannot argue that all Zionists are Jews, nor that all Jews are Zionists. Everyone should choose their words with care, and that goes for the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement just as much as it does for Richard Burgon or any politician who has the courage to speak on this issue.
After the immediate shock wears off, things don’t necessarily look quite as bad. It seems the stonework has survived more or less intact, the bell towers are more or less untouched, the grandeur of the building, even after the fire will only be marginally compromised. Thinking about what happens now, there will be a rebuilding programme which will boost the Paris region economy significantly, and in a very special way. The demand for stonemasons, gilders, carpenters, joiners, glassworkers, carvers and all the other medieval trades will boost training schemes and a rediscovery of the crafts which come from working with your hands – perhaps there’ll be a localised renaissance of such things. I hope so. Much of it paid for in the good old fashioned way, through the patronage of the rich. Has Notre Dame tweaked the conscience of a few who sit on their billions doing nowt? After a relatively short break, even the new scaffolding that will emerge won’t be a deterrent to tourists. One only has to think of Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, to realise that once something has achieved iconic status, it will attract the tourists regardless of a bit of building work. At some point in the future, Notre Dame will be restored and many visitors will not be the wiser. Some may look for a new beginning, just like the Houses of Parliament today – who’d want the old (1830s) stuff back? (Having said which, I’m not confident that the Palace of Westminster authorities will be up to speed on what lessons need to be learnt from Notre Dame.) I’m just glad I visited Notre Dame in its ‘original’ state whilst I still could.