+UK local elections are taking place on May 4th. This will be the first set of elections where voters will be asked to provide photo i/d at the polling station. This new rule was introduced by the Conservatives as part of their attempts at gerrymandering—following the US Republicans’ playbook to the letter. People who can’t afford to travel abroad (no passport) or drive a car (no driving license) will just have to lump it. Stuff ‘em, clearly, perhaps such people are just the type to expect welfarism from birth to death without ever having to think about it. But apparently old photo i/d documentation will be accepted. That’s great! For the last 50 years or so I have carried my miniature Canadian citizenship certificate in my wallet, so come my turn to vote I will present this. I don’t know about you, but whilst I know the certificate's picture is of me, I’m not sure that 50 year-old photo looks anything like me now. So slim! So handsome! I doubt polling station staff would accept it as proof of my identity, so of course I’ll take a back-up. Perhaps an old expired passport, with me and my beard before it all went grey/semi-white. It would be interesting to see how the polling station staff react. At what age would my appearance become acceptable? This could become a project worthy of a social sciences grant.
+Talking of social sciences, I read the other week that when Trump lets his hair down, he has shoulder length hair on one side. Can you imagine him coming out of the shower? Sorry, that was unfair. But as he and his octogenarian opponent go head to head, their hair might be an issue. There is no reason why Biden couldn’t follow Trump’s comb-over —he still has enough left (just) to do it— but as a Democrat he is clearly more honest about what he’s got left, and I admit it’s not a lot. As Silvio Berlesconi recognised, hair is important for a politician’s image (not just male politicians—remember Thatcher?). In the UK the last time a bald politician became Prime Minister was in 1945 when both main contenders were bald and nobody had TV. I suspect one reason people didn’t take to William Hague (one reason amongst many) was that he was bald. How can you trust a thirty-odd year old with no virile mop on his head? At this precise moment I can’t think of a world leader with significant hair loss. Oh hang on. Putin comes close. See what I mean?
+As Mephistopheles said [Marlowe's Faustus version] ‘Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.’ He was answering Faustus’s question ‘Where is Hell?’ Old Meph’s answer was very metaphysical and I have to say post-modernist. It broke albeit briefly (this was the 17th century) with all pre-conceived notions of what Hell was meant to be—i.e. that place so brilliantly captured in Gustave Dore’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a horrible place of physical torture. But Mephistopheles went on to say Hell was being ‘denied the face of God,’ which is to say to be outside of God’s grace, thus not a physical torture but a spiritual one. In other words, (to be aligned with the current state of our Established Church’s thinking) a metaphorically poor state of mind. It’s all metaphorical! Yet we are blighted by people who cannot recognise the metaphorical nature of their faith. This phenomenon doesn’t just manifest itself in the hands of Islamic so-called fundamentalists (for example) who seem incapable of thinking outside the narrowly defined box of their old fraudulent prophets, but pervades the ’public square’ all over the place. The Great Metaphor is given universal homage, more often than not by people of no actual faith whatsoever. That’s what is so worrisome. For the enactment of life’s rituals, many people still pretend they believe. But we know they don’t, and census data shows an inexorable trend away from the religious conformity of the past. The horrid abyss of Hell long ago lost its power over the imagination. The questions is: what’s replaced it (if anything)? And when is the BBC’s Today programme going to drop its dreadful God-slot, Thought for the Day?
+It’s Good News for old timers everywhere, said news being the announcement by Joe Biden that he’s standing for election as US President next year, when he’ll be 81 years old. Students of British history all know that William Gladstone was 102 when he started his last term as Prime Minister. The Queen of course was a head of state at the age of 95 and didn’t do so badly, until she shook hands with Liz Truss. But the President’s duties are perhaps more onerous—or so we’re led to believe. A previous old timer, Ronald Reagan famously took afternoon naps. And Trump spent a good part of the day watching TV. The ultimate test of a President’s ability is his (always been a his) golfing skills. Nothing captures their well developed presidential profile better than a swing of the nine iron. I’m not sure such an image would benefit British PM hopefuls though. Seeing a UK PM at leisure never went down too well, least of all when they holiday with such hosts as Berlesconi (for example) or other noble pillars of wealth and privilege.
The resignation of Dominic Raab, our bullying Deputy Prime Minister (a non-job if there ever was one) was it seemed to me entirely predictable (except I didn't predict it) for as soon as PM Sunak decided to spend some time poring over the report into Raab’s alleged bullying the game was up. If he had to spend any time at all poring over it, that in itself signalled that there was substance in it. So Raab took the signal from Sunak and fell on his sword. This of course is all very welcome, although Tory backbenchers will be non-plussed. From their time spent in public schools, Tory MPs will know that bullying is just a normal part of life, part of what it means to grow up. This I suspect forms part of their enthusiasm for the so-called ‘culture wars,’ a conflict that has metastasized in the collective Tory brain (sic) into something unstoppable, taking their cue from the ever insistent Trumpian model of aggrieved loudmouthing. In his resignation Raab has referred to ’activist’ civil servants who it seems won’t accept the democratic mandate of their ministerial bosses. At this particular juncture perhaps we should share a rare appreciation of the Deep State.
As reported Exclusively in this blog last month I wrote to Keir Starmer expressing my view that his treatment of Jeremy Corbyn was more a display of weakness than strength. I have now to report that Sir Keir has not replied. I can’t say this comes as a surprise, although I had hoped that he may at least have been able to respond with some generic AI reply. But no such luck. Meanwhile he trails Rishi Sunak in the polls of personal ratings, whilst the Labour Party’s lead over the Tories is beginning to fray. Locally, a Labour councillor has resigned with an excoriating attack on Starmer’s leadership and a by-election beckons. Today, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary singularly failed to support the next wave of nurses’ strikes (didn’t they feel rewarded enough when we all clapped them?) Labour leaders have nearly always preferred to stress their concern for public inconvenience rather than for public service workers whose dedication is routinely taken advantage of. Not for the likes of Wes Streeting or the blessed Starmer any mention of solidarity—and crucially how to build it. On the other hand we now have almost total silence from left wing Labour MPs who are in some cases members of the Socialist Campaign Group. I suspect some of them fear deselection at the hands of Starmer’s thought police. So the Labour Party is diving deeper into a nether world of co-existence with the same old same old politics of uninspiring managerialism (hence the ‘mission statements’) and voters will be offered a Hobson’s choice come the next general election. Labour strategists may think hang on, didn’t Gordon Brown in 1997 say we’d stick to Tory spending plans for two years—and we still won a landslide? There’s the rub. It’s often been said generals fight the next war as if it were the last (i.e. previous) one. So—the message to the Labour faithful is one more heave! No matter the cost, we could yet advance 20 yards!
Which spark is going to start the next nuclear war? (Let’s not forget we’ve already had one.) Could it be Ukraine, should Putin lose what’s left of his marbles? Could it be India/Pakistan, both ruled in shall we say less than responsible ways (I think as the Himalayan glaciers melt, river systems which support hundreds of millions may become sources of conflict), will it be Taiwan, where China wishes to re-establish territorial rights? Or perhaps something in the Middle East, where the nuclear armed to-the-hilt Israel fancies a knock-out blow against Iran? (Palestinians don’t have to worry about that, which illegal Israeli settlements would ever be built on irradiated land?) It looks to me that Taiwan is actually the most volatile of the bunch. Taiwan (as it’s now called) was always part of China—the Chinese have an abundance of evidence to show that that was the case. But I suspect the Chinese recognise that the cost of recovering the island may be too great. I’m sure that President Xi lies awake at night remembering how the Malvinas were bravely recovered after our legitimate intervention restored our beloved Falkland Islands to colonial rule (and apparently Thatcher did send to the South Atlantic a nuclear armed submarine if things didn’t go quite her way). Well, there really are a number of flashpoints here where the button could be pushed. And it is precisely at this juncture that the UK party of government in waiting has told its members they should have nothing to do with Labour CND. It’s so depressing. At least I can say that here - since nobody at Labour’s head office has yet discovered this website. But I need to be on the safe side, given the way that algorithms work, so I am compelled to sign off with WE NEED MORE AMERICAN NUCLEAR WARHEADS. That’ll put me in good stead with Starmer’s thought police.
Just out of interest, and having some time on my hands, I sought out Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation statement. On Google, the first result was carried in the Spectator. It’s probably one of the longest, self-justifying resignation statements on record, a soliloquy of semi-introspection and barely believable sincerity. No mention of an alleged missing £600,000, which we learn this morning has led to the arrest of her hubby. Sturgeon says the SNP is the most trusted party in Scotland. If that were true, then there’s an awful lot of delusion north of the border. I’m wondering if this could be the moment the SNP’s meteor finally fades. Perhaps the ‘atomic dud’ (© George Foulkes) Alex Salmond will once again ride to the rescue of the independence cause.
All this of course when Donald Trump, playing his duly appointed role as national martyr appeared in court. It makes one wonder about politicians, doesn’t it? Including the Congresswoman who told everybody who cared to listen that Trump was on a par with Jesus and Nelson Mandela. I often wonder how civilisation got this far.
Conservative politicians are crowing over Nigel Lawson’s ‘achievements’ since the news of his passing was announced today. I well remember one of his achievements. That was when my mortgage interest rate hit 15% in the late 1980s. ChatGPT provides a balanced view of what Lawson was best remembered for “Today, the Lawson boom is often seen as a cautionary tale of the dangers of economic overheating and the importance of balancing short-term growth with long-term stability.” In that regard he might be seen as a patron of Trussonomics, which 30-odd years later also aimed for short-term growth at the expense of stability (of any variety). There’s no doubt Lawson played a critical role in Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, for which we should be grateful, but his resignation from her government did nothing to stem the tide of deregulation and the sell-off of publicly owned assets, and the continuing influence of finance. He was just one amongst many Chancellors whose duty it was to keep the financial top spinning. After his retirement Lawson’s baleful influence continued with his founding the so-called ‘Global Warming Foundation’ climate change sceptic think tank. Eventually even the BBC had to recognise that his views should not be broadcast without the equivalent of a health warning. He also played out a role as high priest to the Brexit mob, for which, whilst they stew in their coaches stuck in Dover many holiday makers this Easter will no doubt feel grateful. Rishi Sunak when Chancellor had a portrait of Lawson hanging behind his desk. Let’s hope he still hasn’t got it now he’s Prime Minister.
+My blog on the 31st March lamented the way some judges are chosen in the US, i.e. often based on partisanship more than objective judging skills. Now, days later the New York Times reports on an election for a Wisconsin Supreme Court judge which they describe as one of the most important elections in the US this year. Two quotes make plain the stakes:
A victory for the conservative candidate, Daniel Kelly, would mean abortion remains illegal, the gerrymandered maps stay in place, and Wisconsin remains a dysfunctional democracy for the foreseeable future.
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court was the only one in the country that agreed to hear Donald Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election, eventually rejecting — by a single vote — his attempt to throw out 200,000 ballots in the state’s two big Democratic counties. Kelly, when I interviewed him in February, declined to say whether he agreed with the decision to uphold the 2020 results.
Whoever wins will determine the majority on this court with consequences dreadful to contemplate.
+I thought my April’s Fool joke was wholly appropriate—but sadly it seems the nation’s fool will be with us for some time yet.
The news that Boris Johnson is taking the Chiltern Hundreds (a way of resigning from parliament) is a bit astonishing, but anticipates the outcome of the House of Commons Standards Committee inquiry into his baleful behaviour re: ‘Partygate.’ Does it signal the end of his political career? Does it mean the gravy train of his after dinner speaking career is about to move into overdrive? Of course his resignation means the Standards Committee no longer has a serving MP to ‘convict’ so has to end its inquiry without result, even if Johnson’s departure from the House of Commons was always desirable. But I’m sure his popularity with Tory party members will last, and that—dread the thought—could lead to his eventual return. His political obituary hasn’t been written yet. Still, one episode in Britain’s decline is over for now. I’m particularly grateful, it has to be said that he didn’t have to use the other method of resigning, which is called assuming the Manor of Northstead. Northstead is in Scarborough. We wouldn’t want him here would we? (Rumour has it, not for the first time, that our current Tory MP is not standing at the next general election).